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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Samhain (or Halloween)!

Happy New Year, Pagans and Wiccans!
Happy Halloween, everyone else!

Here's some information from About.com about Samhain and Halloween:

"What is Samhain?:

Samhain is known by most folks as Halloween, but for Wiccans and Pagans it's considered a Sabbat to honor the ancestors who came before us. It's a good time to contact the spirit world with a seance, because it's the time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.

Myths and Misconceptions:

Contrary to a popular Internet-based (and Chick Tract-encouraged) rumor, Samhain was not the name of some ancient Celtic god of death, or of anything else, for that matter. Religious scholars agree that the word Samhain (pronounced "sow-en") comes from the Gaelic “Samhuin,” but they’re divided on whether it means the end or beginning of summer. After all, when summer is ending here on earth, it’s just beginning in the Underworld. Samhain actually refers to the daylight portion of the holiday, on November 1st.

All Hallow Mass:

Around the eighth century or so, the Catholic Church decided to use November 1st as All Saints Day. This was actually a pretty smart move on their part – the local pagans were already celebrating that day anyway, so it made sense to use it as a church holiday. All Saints’ became the festival to honor any saint who didn’t already have a day of his or her own. The mass which was said on All Saints’ was called Allhallowmas – the mass of all those who are hallowed. The night before naturally became known as All Hallows Eve, and eventually morphed into what we call Halloween.

The Witch's New Year:

Sunset on Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The old year has passed, the harvest has been gathered, cattle and sheep have been brought in from the fields, and the leaves have fallen from the trees. The earth slowly begins to die around us.

This is a good time for us to look at wrapping up the old and preparing for the new in our lives. Think about the things you did in the last twelve months. Have you left anything unresolved? If so, now is the time to wrap things up. Once you’ve gotten all that unfinished stuff cleared away, and out of your life, then you can begin looking towards the next year.

Honoring the Ancestors:

For some of us, Samhain is when we honor our ancestors who came before us. If you’ve ever done genealogy research, or if you’ve had a loved one die in the past year, this is the perfect night to celebrate their memory. If we’re fortunate, they will return to communicate with us from beyond the veil, and offer advice, protection and guidance for the upcoming year.

If you want to celebrate Samhain in the Celtic tradition, spread the festivities out over three consecutive days. You can hold a ritual and feast each night. Be flexible, though, so you can work around trick-or-treating schedules!

Samhain Rituals:

Try one -- or all -- of these rituals to celebrate Samhain and welcome the new year.

Halloween Traditions:

Even if you're celebrating Samhain as a Pagan holiday, you may want to read up on some of the traditions of the secular celebration of Halloween:

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I will hopefully find time to post again soon.
Enjoy your Halloween/Samhain :-)

Green Gal

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change: Denmark and a bit about the economy


Today is Blog Action Day, as you probably have heard. The theme for this year is climate change, which isn’t a stretch for me to write about at all—which you would obviously know if you’ve read my blog.

But today I’ve decided to write about something that is beyond my breadth of knowledge: Denmark, and a bit about the economy. I have a friend named Emil who is from Denmark, and he and I were talking recently about climate change. He started talking about all the great things Denmark does that makes it sustainable and it was so interesting! I asked him if he would give me some information for my blog and he did.He mentioned that wind energy supplies one fifth of all energy used there, adding that “a large part of the coasts and green fields” are covered with wind turbines. I’m not a huge supporter of covering every windy space with wind turbines, but I also don’t have another solution, other than that we reduce the demand for energy and live simpler. That can’t solve the use of energy, of course, but it can help to reduce the need. I’ll be honest and say I’m fairly conflicted on “green” technology. While I see some of it as necessary, there’s a part of me that says it’s leading us in the wrong direction. (Read What We Leave Behind if you want to see why I feel that way.)
Anyway, the best part of what Emil was telling me is that “Denmark is very community based, it is easy to find everything you need within a small area, and thus simple transportation such as riding bikes and public transportation is more common and easier [than in other places].” That is so vital. So vital! Without that community-based living, we cannot become sustainable. Globalization has made us dependent on China for our cheap plastic bins (as my world history teacher Mr. Murphy always used to remind us), and we now expect to have certain things because we’ve been spoiled by their cheap availability at Walmart and Target. Community-based living provides you with the things you need without the need to import or export. Food grown locally is distributed locally. Clothing is made locally. Everything you need is made within the community and you stop depending on foreign imports. It’s sad to me that we have lost the ability to consider that feasible, since we lived that way for centuries before the industrial revolution. Now we have created this tangled web of reliance—oil being the most well-known, problematic thing we depend on (read Josh Tickell’s Biodiesel America or watch his film based on the book…I don’t exactly agree with everything he says, but he does a nice job of showing how oil is a serious issue and how it causes war and cancer, among other problems.) While globalization can be a good thing—bringing countries out of poverty, connecting people across the globe—it seems to me it brings more problems than solutions. It encourages rapid development and intertwines and encourages the widespread use of economies based solely on exploitation and the sale of landfill-destined product (like ours).

Check out this excerpt from a thought-provoking article I came across (New Green Deal or Not: Industrial Capitalism Is Assured Death by Dr. Glen Barry). We need to be having discussions like this if we want to make the best decisions at this critical time. We need to question all the steps our governments and decision makers are taking to reduce climate change and we must be a voice for the physical, living planet, rather merely than for the growth of the economy:

The web and hallways of power are abuzz with the promise of green technologies to fix the financial system, solve climate change, all while providing jobs. Who can be against green jobs? It has become as American as baseball and apple pie. Yet in this single-minded pursuit of the holy grail of green growth, we are putting all our money and efforts into reforming an economic system whose dysfunction -- equating growth based upon ecosystem destruction with progress -- is precisely why we find ourselves in twin crises of growing poverty for the formerly affluent, and collapsing global ecosystems.

I am against green jobs, if the emphasis upon jobs includes more economic growth on the back of ecosystem harm. Nothing grows forever. And certainly not industrial and speculative capitalism which kills all it encounters through explosive growth. Economic stimulus is like feeding a cancer cell. There are few new wildernesses to liquidate in order to bump up GDP, and more growth is not the answer to anything but protecting the narrow interests of the ruling elite. Something was lost when capitalism went from providing local markets to exchange surplus, to becoming faceless global corporations pushing growth above all else, and finding all types of speculative tomfoolery to do so.

Now I don't know an extensive amount about the economy, but I do live in a developed country and have gone to school (where a lot of the time we just learn the way the world works) for the past 12 years of my life. From that basis of experience, it seems to me that our governments and many actions taken by people in the world (Fast Food Nation gives some great gory examples) are often persuaded in the favor of those "faceless global corporations." Yes, many of our economic lives depend on the function of those corporations because we've invested in them and their downfall means the downfall of the entire economic system. But that is not the only way to live--we may have reached the point in civilization where turning back to a life not run by the stock market would be catastrophe and utter chaos, but living with such realiance on the economy that we have today is not the only way to live. The alternative may not be pretty, but it may be necessary. I don't believe I have enough evidence to support that on my own because, like I said, I'm not an expert on economics. And perhaps I shouldn't even bring it up because I will most likely lose the battle on that discussion at this point if someone chooses to pick one with me (but, hey, it's Blog Action Day and making statements like that creates dialogue and that is precisely the purpose of posting about climate change all over the planet!). But there are people out there who get how economics work and can explain why the way we're living isn't going to work. We can't keep this culture and economic system and survive or continue to live on Earth. We certainly cannot have rainforests and biodiversity and keep our culture at the same time; that much is definitely clear to me. Dr. Barry (the guy who wrote that excerpt up there) puts it this way and I had thought the same exact thing before even reading his article: we cannot have our cake and eat it too.

I realize some of the things I'm saying may sound naive. However, I'm not making them up--I have a reason for saying them. The evidence is clear to me, even if I can't articulate the facts clearly. I haven't studied this stuff in detail; I've just heard the argument and it makes sense to me. I first read about it in What We Leave Behind by the passionate and honest writers Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay. I bought their book at Bound Together, an anarchist bookstore on Haight Street in SF (no I'm not an anarchist in case you were wondering...I just happen to have a weakness when it comes to bookstores), but I also saw it on the shelf at Borders, so people who avoid anarchist bookstores can read it, too. Let me warn you, the book is not G rated in all its content, BUT what they are saying needs to be heard and given some thought. I'm not saying I agree with everything they say, but I definitely think they have many valid points that have not been adequately questioned or addressed--similar to Dr. Glen Barry's article.Now for the fun part--discussion time!
If you've read this post, please let me know your thoughts. I think the most important part of Blog Action Day is the discussions it raises. I want to know what you agree with, disagree with, think is insane, crazy, legitimate, etc. Add something to what I'm saying or at least let me know what you think.

I'm waiting,
Green Gal

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Autumn leaves and graveyard stories

I have found that walking can slow down time, force you to live at a slower pace for a bit and make you aware of your surroundings. Driving is so fast and so much about what's next, where you're going, how fast you can get there. Walking is about the journey, or at least it lends itself to be.

I've been walking to and from school when I've had time and it's a lovely mode of transportation when you can slow down and appreciate your environment. Part of my walk home takes me through a park which I have been in thousands of times but have never truly slowed down to appreciate. When I ride my bike, I have hardly enough time to appreciate the sunlight on the leaves, the curve of the paths, the bark on the various trees or the hills and dips of the grassy knolls. Walking offers you quiet time to think and observe. It creates a sense of place.

Fall 2006, A picture I took at the local pumpkin farm.

Reduce Footprints's Change the World Wednesday challenge for this week was to take a walk and pick up trash. I planned on going on Sunday to the creek to pick up trash there, but my sister doesn't want to venture down there in the morning. So instead, my sister and I went on a walk through the park with the intention of picking up some of the autumnal-tinctured leaves on the ground, and perhaps collect any trash we found along the way. My step-mom asked us to also go to Safeway, which is just across the street from the park, and we agreed.

My sister scootered and I walked and we stopped every once in a while to pick up leaves. I threw away a Ring Pop someone had left on the sidewalk and then we came across a note attached to a piece of ribbon attached to a tree branch. We read it. It was part of a invitation to take someone to the upcoming Homecoming dance at my high school. I started to pull it off of the tree branch to throw it away, but then realized that the clue may not have been read yet and the surprise invitation not yet completed. I left it on the branch so it wouldn't ruin the fun. At one entrance to the park was a popped balloon and the first clue for the invitation. I pulled the poor balloon from its place around a light post and stuck it in my bag to throw away later.

Safeway had some really neat, warty-looking pumpkins...I just looked it up and it seems they may be called "Super Freak pumpkins." My sister and I decided we want to buy local pumpkins rather than from Safeway this year. We don't even want to buy those cute little baby pumpkins from Safeway. Yeah for locally-grown pumpkins! I think it also would be neat to make food out of the pumpkins, like pie or bread or toasted seeds. We never have and it seems like such a great opportunity to make something yummy and such a waste not to.
Photo Credit: The Grower Magazine

After leaving with our reusable bag filled with ingredients for our calzones tonight, my sister and I walked back toward the park. Growing between the curb and the asphalt was a green plant, choked with fallen leaves around its base. I pointed it out to my sister. "Life will find a way," my dad put it when he encountered a similar flower growing up through a crack in the street when my sister was still in the hospital. We continued our walk home. My sister picked up a pine cone and we both picked up more fallen leaves. I found a discarded Starbucks straw (grr...straws...) and picked it up to throw away at home. Our walk ended with a bag full of fall leaves, one pine cone, ingredients for dinner, and two pieces of trash. Okay so we didn't exactly clean up the world--at least we enjoyed the autumn air and afternoon sunlight.

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Earlier today, I did continued research on the uses of aloe vera, yarrow and willow. I'm participating in a Halloween event at the nearby Alviso Adobe Community Park. I will be dressing up as a Native American medicine woman to teach attendees (mostly children) about the medicinal uses of various plants to show that it isn't witchcraft that gives these plants the abilities to treat illnesses. The event is being put on by the City Naturalist, Eric Nicholas. It's the first year this event is taking place, so my role in it is not set in stone and can be as elaborate as my imagination makes it. I'm creating a script or general outline for my presentation that will be used in future years. It's a fun experience and I'm excited to come up with more ideas.

My step-mom, sister and I ventured downtown this afternoon for lunch. I went into the local bookstore to speak with the owner about an upcoming Neil Gaiman party they're putting on relating to his book, The Graveyard Book. As a child, Coraline was my favorite book, so I am excited to read Gaiman's new book and help plan and participate in the Halloween party. After all, Halloween is my favorite holiday...perhaps its the actor in me that enjoys dressing up and being a part of the huge production that is Halloween night :)

We also went by the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop to look for some decorations for my "witch's kitchen" display for the Alviso Adobe event. I found two perfect decorations and a book of holiday crafts--including Earth Day crafts! I will post pictures if I make any of the Halloween crafts sometime this month. It looks like it will be a very fun way to celebrate holidays throughout the year.Sometime before the event I hope to find time to go down to the creek and harvest some bay or eucalyptus leaves for the Alviso event. Eric told me how to harvest them, so I hope I am able to correctly identify some trees and collect some leaves.

I've been thinking about what to write about for Blog Action Day October 15. This year's action day is all about climate change, so I'm looking forward to participating in this world-wide blogging day! I have been talking to my friend who's from Denmark about the way the environment and climate change is viewed there, and I do have some idea of what I'll be writing about. If you have a blog, you should really consider participating. It doesn't take a lot, just one post relating to climate change on October 15.

Have a great weekend!
Green Gal

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Ask who keeps the wind
Ask what is sacred.
-- Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lunchtime alternatives to wasteful things

This week I took on Reduce Footprints's Change the World Wednesday Challenge and avoided plastic wrap and aluminum foil. I didn't directly encounter either this week, but I thought I'd share with you some alternatives to those wasteful items that come along with meal time, especially lunch.

1. I bring a reusable lunch bag to school each day, which both reduces my waste as well as protects my food better (It's also quite cute if I do say so myself!). The one I use most often used to belong to my step-mom, but over time I used it more and more and now I'm the only one who uses it. I also have a metal "I Dream of Jeannie" one, but it isn't large enough to hold my thermos when I take soup and it causes apples to roll around and become dented. If you don't have a reusable lunch bag/box, you really need to get one.2. When I take sandwiches, I bring them in my plastic Wonder Bread container (yes, it's made of plastic which is rather unfortunate, but at least I'm reducing my use of plastic baggies/plastic wrap). Some days my mom or I forget to use it, so I try to leave it in the plastic baggy drawer so we'll see it before it's too late. The container is also great for small pieces of bread, like pita bread, and could really be used for a variety of things. You could put chips, pretzels, cookies, brownies, dry cereal, etc. in it to avoid the plastic bag. Check out this stainless steel sandwich container I just found online; perhaps I'll look into purchasing one.3. Because I do try to avoid putting food in plastic containers, I have little glass Tupperware-like jars for a variety of foods. They're excellent for dips, hummus, thick salad dressing, nuts & seeds, chocolate chips, Corn nuts--the possibilities are endless. I have some 1-cup sized containers, which work for smaller things, but they do make larger sizes that could replace your plastic-leaching Tupperware. They're microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe and are BPA-free. The ones I have are from Anchor Hocking Company (which also sells a ton of other awesome glassware).4. I have switched over to using cloth napkins whenever I can. I try to keep one with me when I'm out, and have tried to become better at putting one in my lunch bag. I use them at home, but remembering to bring them in my purse or backpack when I'm out is more difficult. That's definitely something I need to work on.

5. While this is most likely something most green-minded people already do, don't forget about bringing a reusable water bottle and/or coffee mug with you at lunchtime or whenever you're out. I've stopped drinking individually-bottled drinks on a regular basis and choose to just drink water at lunchtime. There are, of course, occasions when I'll have a canned soda or a bottled tea, but for the most part I stick with water or coffee/tea in my reusable mug.

6. Having variety in your lunch is always important so you don't become bored with the same old thing. Creating variety also reduces the chance that you'll go out for lunch, waste some paper or plastic, and buy something that really isn't very good for you because you're really just craving tasty food. Soup and chili can create that variety--especially as the weather cools down. You'll need, of course, a thermos. I have two or three thermoses in my house that I use quite often. I still use canned soup, but I'm hoping to experiment with making my own soup sometime soon. They make smaller thermoses that are less of a hassle to lug around, but I also have a larger one that fits perfectly in my lunch bag. Choose whichever size works best for you to carry--and for your appetite.
I don't have this particular thermos, but it looks like it would be a durable, nice and compact thermos to have.

7. Don't forget the utensils! At my house, I have a section of my utensil drawer filled with old plastic utensils that I've washed after use. Rather than buy them for use when bringing lunch, save the ones you are forced to use when out for takeout and have forgotten to bring your own. You can also just bring actual silverware from your house and then you won't have to deal with flimsy forks and knifes. Just be careful not to throw them away when you've finished eating--but if you have a reusable lunch bag that shouldn't be too much of an issue.

8. Snacks like Clif Bars and other individually-wrapped foods are great for hikes and times when you need a quick snack. But they do create a lot of waste if you're using them everyday. Trail mix is a great alternative that you can make yourself and add whatever you like. Personally, I like almonds, sunflower seeds, and vegan chocolate chips. Stores that sell bulk seeds and nuts are the perfect place for getting trail mix ingredients. And you can put them in those handy glass containers I was telling you about!

How do you reuse or reduce your lunchtime waste?

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Last month I posted some links to various websites, including one to the WILD Foundation's World Wilderness Congress. Here's some updated information about the event:
Besides live blogging, tweeting and slide shows that will be available on a central splash page, a dedicated channel will be established on Qik. This channel will allow individuals in attendance to stream live coverage on their cell phones. Furthermore, USTREAM will also have a dedicated channel that will feature all of the keynote addresses....More information...is available in this blog post (http://www.wild.org/blog/social-media-coverage-of-wild9/).
Although I won't be attending the event, I'll definitely be following the website to watch videos and read about its progress when it takes place this November 6-13. It definitely sounds like it will produce some great discussions that will be useful to watch and learn from.Thanks for reading!
Don't forget to check tomorrow for the newest Change the World Wednesday at Reduce Footprints's blog.

Green Gal

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