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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Gratitude for Rain

National Novel Writing Month is officially half-way through, which means I should be at 25,000 words... Sadly, I'm not, but I am doing pretty well at 18,354 words! It's definitely more words of fiction than I've written in the last two years combined! So now you might be able to guess why I've been absent from the blog since November began, and likely between now and December 1, I'll be spending all of my non-work typing time trying to crank out enough words to reach 50,000 before the month ends. You can learn more about NaNoWriMo here and read my author page on the site here.

Despite knowing that I should be typing words on my novel right now, I wanted to share a quick story about how I've been able to go more than a week without turning on the tap specifically for watering the garden. I also want to share some photos of the garden.

It rained last Sunday, giving my plants a happy dose of water straight from the natural source. It's only rained a few times since we moved to this house, but we had noticed that water comes gushing off the corner of the roof near our bedroom window when it rains. Thinking it was a huge waste for that water to just go plummeting into the ground in one spot when it could instead be dispersed throughout the garden to water some plants, I stuck a bucket under the falling water and was able to obtain a whole bucket-full. I stuck some empty jars under there, too, and got even more rainwater. It didn't look like the most pure water (it was actually kind of soapy looking for some reason), so I decided only to use that water on non-edible plants in the garden later that week when the soil dried.

My other main source of water this past week for the garden was from the shower. A couple months ago, we began collecting water in the shower while we wait for it to heat up (we can't quite make the switch to just jumping into the cold water... especially in these cold weather months). Instead of wasting that water, I pour that water into my watering can and water the garden with it. Most weeks when there isn't rain, I have to supplement the bucket with about another bucket full of water from the kitchen sink. I know that we should also really be collecting the soapy water from while we're showering and use that to flush the toilet. We haven't quite gotten to that step yet, but we probably will soon.

One other way that I repurpose water is by saving the water that's used to cook vegetables and pasta, so long as there isn't salt in it. This past week, I saved the water from green beans, for instance. You have to let the water cool before you can use it on the plants. I have a pitcher on my kitchen counter where all of that extra water goes.

Between the rainy day, two buckets of water, the veggie water, and a couple random jars of rainwater, I didn't have to turn on the tap specifically for the garden this week. And this morning, Mother Nature gave me a break from my watering duties and watered the garden for me! I am loving this rainy weather we're finally getting. I'm praying that we continue to get the water we need but that El Niño doesn't wreak too much havoc...

Here are some photos of the windowsill and the backyard garden. To see even more photos, scroll through this album on Facebook (you don't need to have a Facebook account to view). You can click on the images below for a larger view.
 Either kale or arugula--I can't remember what I planted!
  Either kale or arugula--I can't remember what I planted!
 A new chard plant from my grandmother, who visited yesterday with my dad and step-mom. We had such a great time spending the evening with them and enjoying a meal of delicious grilled veggies and salmon. Thank you for the plant, Nanny!
 Baby cilantro seedlings in the jalapeño pepper pot
 Tomatoes, basil, and baby cilantro seedlings
You can see where the rain danced on this succulent's leaves! 

Okay, time to get back to writing my novel. My goal is to try and get as close to 25,000 words as possible today. I wish I could count the words in this blog post as part of my word count!

Happy Sunday, and thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Worm update & photos from the garden

Our sunflowers are almost blocking our back mailbox, which is where our landlord collects energy and water bill checks from us. We might have to figure out how to divert its growth to one side or the other... but hopefully, he likes sunflowers!
The other day, I planted a number of seeds, including some kale in an old soy yogurt container. I set the container inside an old Earth Balance butter container so I can water it from the bottom. I also moved a tomato plant from inside to the backyard, and put one of my aloe plants from the front porch into the back because I think it needs more sunlight.
Tomatoes, basil, jalapeños, cactus, aloe, and some pots that haven't sprouted yet but contain pea seeds (I think!). I moved the little hippopotatomus to this side of the garden.
Some more new seed plantings, including broccoli, kale, and arugula. The broccoli from this summer is still alive but has been devoured by caterpillars (I think). The nasturtium on the side yard is growing well, too.
I've been adding dried leaves and dried weeds from the garden to the worm bin lately.
The worms have been doing great! I add food every few days, and their population has continued to grow as far as I can tell. Most recently, I fed them really old, nasty-smelling arugula and spinach from the fridge, an old apple cut into small chunks that had also gotten a bit moldy, and some bell pepper stems. The worms can break down the food faster if it's already started decomposing, so my new strategy is to put food scraps in a plastic bag (I've been using old bread bags), and tie the bag closed so no smells come out. I leave it on the counter for a day or two until it looks moldy and then I add the food to the bin. Kind of gross, but it makes it easier on the worms! I also continue to give them avocado skins, which they love to hang out underneath, so I tend to put the skins on top of other food as a protective layer for them and so they can enjoy any remaining avocado bits. It was hard to get a photo of the worms since they hate the sunlight, so just imagine them below the food scraps, munching away happily and squirming around!
The green onions in the window sill are happy and tall!
Cilantro on the window sill is doing really great.
 Arugula on the windowsill seems to be doing well after separating the three plants into their own containers. One of them is very shrivelly and dead-looking so I didn't photograph it. But the one above and one below look okay.

 A younger cilantro plant on the window sill.

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My First Bioneers Experience, Part I

"For 25 years, the National Bioneers Conference has connected thousands of people with practical, visionary solutions for humanity's most pressing environmental and social challenges." This year was my first time attending the National Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, CA, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I've had in the realm of sustainability work. To capture why it was so incredible, I will start with a metaphor that continued to make its way into workshops and conversations throughout the weekend: Bioneers, for me, brought the many threads of "sustainability" - environment, people, ecology, biodiversity, diversity, justice, equity, celebration of difference, purpose, conversation, art, climate, water, community, etc. - into a beautifully, vibrantly, amazingly woven cloth that held all of us in its embrace for a weekend, bringing us in contact with new ideas and new people, encouraging us to smile and relax and sink into the realities of our world in their fullness. It was challenging to face those realities in their fullness but also necessary and also motivating. And some of those realities were beautiful examples of ways humans have brought justice and love and compassion into the world and into their work.

Eight year old Lorelei Browman hangs her wish "of black and white together" for the Singing Tree Mural Collective Project at Bioneers 2015. Photo via: Susanna Frohman Photography

Those realities--such as the truth spoken by panelists in the "Racing Up Your Movement" session, among other examples--also presented the opportunity for me to confront my own biases, assumptions, challenges, struggles, misunderstandings, suppressed passions, and unarticulated frustrations that have been buried but have been there all along, waiting for a chance to be acknowledged and addressed. I am still very much working through how I do my work in the world with a full commitment to equity, justice, compassion, creativity, self-care, community building, and presence. I know that I will always be working through my personal opportunities for growth and awareness; it is an ongoing process and journey that we each must walk and struggle to understand. But I feel like Bioneers turned something on to full blast in my sense of self that has made it really uncomfortable/challenging/painful for me to ignore the ways in which my work sometimes does not bring its most justice-seeking, conscientious, compassionate, caring, or purposeful self to the world. I can no longer simply turn away when I face something challenging or new and say, I'll deal with that later, or I'll bring writing and art into my life later, or I'll change how we do this so it is inclusive of more people later. And at that painful, difficult place where we face that choice between now and later is often where change does and must begin.

Since attending Bioneers, I continue to return to those hard places where I don't quite feel proud of my initial thoughts or comfortable with having particular conversations or motivated to be an artist/writer/creative being and I try to ask myself what's really going on. How can I learn something from that discomfort or sense that I am not the person who can do that work to create change?  Because I know that I can always learn something when I lean into challenge, and when I feel that discomfort or pain as a result, it probably means that I am the person to do that work, at least in some way. Otherwise, why would it be presented in my life as something so profound that it stirs things up inside me?

For those who don't know what kind of work I do and why these issues would be coming up, here's a brief description: I work in a University Sustainability Office as someone whose role is multifaceted: to support sustainability education through events, student outreach, and online media; to provide guidance to numerous students who are also working on sustainability education and outreach; to create space for student learning, professional development training, and growth; to support the day-to-day operations of our Office; and to do all of this while working to change the definition or perception or understanding of "sustainability" so that the environmental piece no longer overshadows the social and equity pillars. Inclusion, equity, social justice, and environmental conservation are all part of the "sustainability" that I want to support in my work, not only in the content that we discuss and work on, but in the methods and processes through which we do that work. We can't do good sustainability work if we are not critical of how our own privilege, the history of environmental work in mainstream consciousness, and our own biases get in the way of creating spaces for sustainability work that are inclusive, inviting, and open to the participation and ideas of all people. What I mean when I say there is pain and discomfort that I must lean into and work through is that I/we must be critical and conscious of where and how our personal / societal issues actually get in the way of doing collaborative, exciting, important work we want and need to be doing.

Here is one way to visualize the concept of "sustainability." There are many different graphs and ways of thinking about it, and I think this one is simple yet also goes into more than just the three standard "pillars." (Source)

After all, "sustainability" is about whole systems thinking, recognizing that what happens over there affects us here and vice versa... but right now, our work is largely siloed into "environmental work," "social justice work," "equity work." This process, the separated way we are doing this work, is not supporting the purpose or whole systems approach that is required for us to solve the many crises and challenges we face in the world. A reason why we are split up like that is because we are working in a society with very "western" notions about ordering the world into sections, and there are also ways that our economic system of capitalism does this, too. Once you stop to think about the many ways we split up life into categories, subjects, and orderings (and how "normal" that is to us) and then compare that with how life actually functions as a system, it becomes evident why we have such trouble working together across those boundaries: everything else in our society challenges truly interdisciplinary work. Yes, certainly there are many people and organizations breaking down the siloes and doing excellent work, but because we are told from day one in this society that things are ordered into separate categories, it can be hard to unlearn those imagined boundaries.

I want to return for a moment to something I said two paragraphs above, where I emphasized that I was talking only about mainstream consciousness regarding who is involved in sustainability work. I did so because we have this myth in our society that for various reasons, people of color, poor folks, and those who we don't see on the leadership boards of large environmental organizations (often old white men), are not interested in environmental conservation, protecting our planet and ecosystems, etc. While there are many people of color, people with lower incomes, and others who don't focus their attention on environmental conservation, the same can be said of white people and wealthy people. Right? And yes, certainly there is data that shows that higher numbers of white people have historically gone camping, perhaps, or participated on leadership boards for environmental orgs. Sure. But to say that all people of color and lower income families don't care about the environment because they have other things to worry about is a stereotype that, like all stereotypes, is probably true for some folks but not true for all folks.

This myth has been somewhat perpetuated by focusing media and public attention upon the white, often politically powerful, often wealthier environmentalists and environmental groups whenever we talk about environmentalism. Just because the media doesn't give them screen time doesn't mean there are not people of color and people in poor neighborhoods who are working hard to protect our air, water, and land. In fact, environmental justice work is explicitly about recognizing the disproportionate effects that environmental degradation and pollution has on lower income neighborhoods, which are oftentimes neighborhoods of color. I could write an entire blog post about this, but I'm certain there are folks out there with more knowledge and experience with this subject who have written extensively about it. In fact, there are most definitely people of color who have written about this, but oftentimes those articles don't show up on your Facebook feed or on NPR when we are looking for environmental discussions. For example, here's an excellent piece on this subject by Brentin Mock titled "Think people of color don’t care about the environment? Think again." Part II of this Bioneers Report, which I'll post later this week, might shed some light on the conversations that took place at Bioneers that have helped me to really see the problems with this myth.

Rinku Sen spoke about inclusion and social justice as a keynote speaker and as moderator of the "Racing Up Your Movement" session at Bioneers 2015. Photo: Josué Rivas Fotographer

In addition to the challenging emotions and reactions that Bioneers presented for me, it also opened up a huge channel of inspiration that I hope to be able to thrive on and regenerate on my own in the coming year before next year's Bioneers! For months, I have felt like my connection to sustainability work has been frayed through repetition, stress, lack of creativity, and lack of connection. Bioneers not only helped strengthen the frayed connection for me to this work, but it also found and exposed new connections that I didn't realize were quite there before. It showed me how to see the world and this work in new and revealed ways, as well as removed the dust and veils from ways of seeing that I had forgotten were there. It was what I needed so very much, and it gave me fuel for my work in ways I couldn't have imagined before attending.

"The deepest part of the human soul is imagination." - Michael Meade performs with John Densmore at Bioneers 2015 during one of my favorite presentations. Photo via Josué Rivas Fotographer

The most profound experience that I had at Bioneers was at the dance party on Saturday night, where I let go of all of my self-judgments and danced more freely than I ever have in my known memory. I moved with fluidity and openness, galloped across the dance floor, twisted and jumped and moved my arms around like a jelly fish. I stopped thinking so much and let myself feel the music, process the day through movement, and settled into a somewhat meditative and entirely relaxed state. I don't quite know how to describe it, other than to say that I became so entirely unself-conscious that I let feeling and movement take over, which was exhilarating, fun, and probably very good for my muscles and lungs. It might have been one of the greatest evenings of my life simply because I had never been that free in my body before.

I have an entire notebook of quotes, thoughts, insights, and ideas from the conference that I haven't had time to process yet, but I hope to do so this week. Those nuggets of insight that I gained will be shared on this blog very soon!

Thank you SO much to the Common Ground Center at UCSC for providing me, my colleagues, and fellow banana slugs with a scholarship that allowed us to attend this incredible conference! Thank you also to the Bioneers organizers and speakers and to everyone who attended and was part of the experience with me two weekends ago. I am so grateful that I had a chance to be there and experience something so catalyzing and important.

Learn more about Bioneers and the National Bioneers Conference here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Photos for Friday

This afternoon I've got a photo summary of what's growing on in the garden to share with you all. I've been busy preparing for National Novel Writing Month, and work at UC Santa Cruz has gotten a lot busier lately--but I haven't forgotten about the blog! 

I attended the National Bioneers Conference this past weekend in San Rafael, and I will be writing a report of what I learned and experienced this weekend. I'll post it on here soon!

Enjoy the photos, and let me know if you have ideas for plants I should start growing in the garden this fall! Remember that you can click on them for a larger view.
Surprise mushrooms appeared one day in this pot that should be growing peas. They look like Dr. Suess trees to me!
A photo from the National Bioneers Conference I attended last weekend. More on this coming soon!
The sunflowers are getting huge!
 Sunflower bud.
Lots of green growth under the sunflowers.
 Jalapeño peppers.
 Younger sunflower.
 Nasturtiums on the side yard.
 One of the last couple bell peppers.
 Indoor nasturtiums.
 Johnny Jump Ups sprouting.
 Arugula. I ended up separating them into three containers this morning after I took this photo.
 Cilantro on the windowsill seems to be happy!
The main garden area in the backyard.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Garden and worm bin update

 Awhile back, I planted some tomato and cilantro seeds in the same container.
They've grown a bit since planting, and today was the day to transplant them into separate containers. The cilantro are most valuable to me since it's a little past tomato season anyway, so I transplanted the two tomato plants to new containers and left the cilantro in this one. Even if the tomato plants die from being transplanted, at least my cilantro will (hopefully) survive and thrive.
I also decided to incorporate a small handful of worm compost into the tomato plants' new homes. I searched through the worm bin for small bits of worm-free, decomposing food-free worm compost. I added a small amount to each new tomato plant container and mixed it together with potting soil.
I was careful in transplanting so that the roots of each tomato plant were only exposed for a couple seconds. Hopefully they survive this change. I have kept all three plants on the windowsill inside the house, and I'll monitor them to make sure they are doing okay in the next few days.
In other news, the tomato plant my dad and step-mom gave me has begun producing tomatoes!
The sunflowers are getting really tall.
Some unidentified seeds from something I put in my worm bin have sprouted into these yellow-headed sprouts.
This bell pepper is dong beautifully!
The unknown bulb I described previously has sprouted up ALL OVER the place! I am still not sure what it is, but it's pervasive on the left side of my garden.
More mystery bulb sprouts.
The green onions in the window sill continue to produce at a consistent rate. Each time we've previously bought green onions and cut them up, I put the root end into the water jar. We have a never-ending supply of green onions!

Thanks for reading! 
Green Gal

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