Welcome to Green Gal's blog, where you'll find stories, recipes, gardening updates, and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems. This blog is written by a young woman entrepreneur who is also a beginning farmer-gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cranksgiving: An Alleycat to Support the Santa Cruz Community

Today I participated in my first bike race, totaling 18 miles in 2.5 hours around Santa Cruz, Soquel, and Aptos. Unlike you might be imagining, there were no fans lining the streets, no blocked off or set course of direction, and most people who saw me pedaling up Soquel Avenue with a huge backpack probably had no idea I was racing from grocery store to grocery store, gathering food based on a list I'd been handed at noon.

The ride was an alleycat ride called Cranksgiving, organized by Santa Cruz Bike Polo and Clutch Couriers. I had been invited by my friend and fellow bike generating enthusiast Jonny. He helps out with the Student Environmental Center's bike-powered energy generator at events, and he invited me to join his team a few weeks ago. All I knew was that I was supposed to show up with some money and that I would be racing around the Santa Cruz area picking up food that would be donated to families in need for the holidays.

Jonny stoked for the race before we left San Lorenzo Park.

When I arrived by bicycle at the duck pond at San Lorenzo Park at noon, Jonny and I paid our $5 and were handed cards to place in our spokes. I chose "The Killer Whale" as my card, and Jonny chose "Bike Polo." Then we set to work using Jonny's smart phone and my spatial understanding of various grocery stores in Santa Cruz and Aptos to determine who would bike to which store and which items we'd pick up. We had a list to follow and had to get a receipt from each store and return with each item on the food list. The food items had been requested by The Familia Center, a family resource center serving low-income Latino residents of Northern Santa Cruz County, and all proceeds from the ride would benefit the Center.

We put all the bikes between those redwood trees. After the organizers explained the race, they counted down and shouted "Bike polo!" We all raced to grab our bikes, and then it began. Watch a video of the start of the race here. If you look closely, you'll see me in the bright green helmet and tan shorts grabbing my bike.

Because I had better spatial awareness of the Aptos-Capitola area, Jonny and I decided that I would bike the farther distance to Aptos Natural Foods and Aptos Safeway, also getting the three grocery stores on 41st Avenue. He rode with me to Soquel to the midtown Staff of Life, Whole Foods, and Safeway, and then he returned to downtown and Westside for a few more stores.

I didn't realize how far Aptos is by bicycle until I was sweating and huffing and puffing along Soquel Drive for what felt like a long time. Other participants in the race kept passing me, speeding along and sometimes running red lights (I knew who was a participant because everyone had spoke cards). I abide by traffic laws whenever I can (sometimes stop signs are more like yields on a bike, and at times, staying safe in busy traffic lanes might require bending a rule or two), so I was a little slower than some who breezed right through red lights. I can blame it on lawbreakers all I want, but when it comes down to it, many of them were just plain faster on a bike than me. I resigned myself to that fact and realized the most important thing was that we were all working to gather a lot of food for people who need it. So I kept on pedaling, finally reaching Aptos Natural Foods about 45 minutes after the race had begun.

I won't bore you with the details of each store I ventured into, but there are a few things I learned  and had reaffirmed today on the ride.
  1. Bike racks in visible locations are important, and I definitely have more respect for stores with bike racks right out front. Don't hide your bike racks, stores! I had to ask some nice looking radio folks outside the Safeway on 41st to watch my bike because there were no bike racks... How can they not have bike racks? I know we aren't in Copenhagen or anything, but seriously...
  2. Nourish your mental map, and you will become a more confident road user. Understanding your city's street layouts is really important if you want to be efficient and safe on a bike. I'm not super familiar with the east side of town, so I wasted a lot of time by not knowing when to begin merging left on my bike to turn into parking lots (on 41st especially). When I did know where I was going, I felt so much more confident and didn't have to hestitate. In my opinion as someone who refuses to get one, smart phones aren't helpful when you're riding along, needing to make split second decisions. It's better to use your mental mapping skills, and I am so glad I don't have a smartphone because today's ride forced me to rely on my mental map skills... and certainly my mental map increased in detail for east side of Santa Cruz today. Sure, Jonny used his smart phone to tell me cross streets before I left, but I had to rely on my own version of Google Maps once we parted ways on the ride--my brain and its ability to recall details much faster than stopping, typing something, and then reviewing it on a screen.
  3. Bicycling is a completely feasible means of transportation, and Santa Cruz is a really great place to use it as your main method of getting around. I felt really safe on my bike today, especially on Soquel, and while there are scary places that make merging difficult (like freeway entrances), we live in a place that has a ton of bike lanes. Most definitely we can do way better as a community on a number of levels to become more bike friendly (we're nowhere near as safe or friendly toward bikes as we could be), but I didn't sense any hostility toward my presence today on the road, and I traveled farther by bike and into new places today than I typically do. That felt good to me, and I realized, too, that sure, Aptos is far, but it's not too far, and I was racing, so no wonder I felt a little ragged. Without the pressure to race others, that trip is totally doable.  
Though Jonny and I didn't place on the ride (I think we came in last for 2-person teams), we did get to celebrate afterward with everyone in Harvey West Park. Burgers, chips and salsa, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery keg, and good bike conversation... and then everyone got some prizes! I rode away with two new water bottles that are perfect for biking, as well as a sense of accomplishment and connection to my community.

Grateful for burgers, beer, and bikes.

Cool bike prizes. Everyone won something!

The food that was purchased throughout the race! In addition to actual food items, part of the race requirements including purchasing a $20 gift certificate to a grocery store, and there were bonus prizes for teams that purchased $25+ gift cards to clothing and book stores. 

It felt really good to know that my fun bike experience today will also provide families with food this holiday season. I found out on the Facebook event page that everyone on the ride today purchased collectively nearly $1000 worth of food and gift cards! Talk about pedal power!

How else can bicycling benefit our communities? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ride, either in the comments or on the Green Gal Facebook page here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Look What Arrived in the Mail!

My life has been pretty bike-centric lately, with numerous bike rides around and down and up to campus each day/week and the biggest bummers in my day-to-day life being bike lights that don't work when you need them. I've been reading countless articles about transportation and bikes, and I'm working on a longer blog post about my transportation history that is proving more difficult to articulate clearly than I originally thought. Transportation is a complex topic, far more complex than you might think.

In my stumblings through millions of open web browser tabs of bike articles and blogs, I came across a book titled Bikenomics by Elly Blue. It was posted on a blog called Taking the Lane, which I have since spent some time reading and have greatly enjoyed. Many of the larger issues like civil rights and women's rights that have been floating around in my mind lately as I bike and find obstacles to feeling safe on my bike are presented in clear, poignant ways on this blog. More writings about my thoughts on these topics to come.

So I saw the book title, read the description, and decided to purchase the book. I forgot I'd purchased it until I opened my little PO box in the mailroom just now and a little package was there with my name on it! When I opened it up, I was surprised to also find a couple stickers and a unique bike postcard alongside the beautiful book:

I can't wait to start reading! I'll certainly post an update on what I learn from the book as I get into it.

Here's the description of the book from the blog where I found and purchased it:
"Bikenomics provides a surprising and compelling new perspective on the way we get around and on how we spend our money, as families and as a society. The book starts with a look at the real transportation costs of families and individuals, and moves on to examine the current civic costs of our transportation system. The book tells the stories of people, businesses, organizations, and cities who are investing in two-wheeled transportation. The multifaceted North American bicycle movement is revealed, with its contradictions, challenges, successes, and visions."

Doesn't that sound like a great and important read? Happy Cycling, my friends!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

UCSC Strike Leads to Philosophical Reflections on Automobile/Bus-Free Roadways

Imagine the UC Santa Cruz campus without cars or buses circling its horse-shoe shape. No cars driving up behind the sea of pedestrians on Steinhart Way, cramming people off the road or forcing people on bikes to give room to the large metal isolation machines (commonly known as cars) that keep people separate from their fellow slugs. Think of the roads that could become walkways and bikeways (as Steinhart really is and should be since only authorized vehicles are allowed through), people reclaiming space and not having to stop and let cars and buses pass when crossing guards are directing traffic. No bus pollution right in your lungs as you bike up Hagar behind a Metro or loop bus. Walking and dancing in the street, more people walking through forest paths instead of busing around campus, bikes zooming around instead of rusting in a sideyard. Healthier people, healthier air, more human powered transportation.

Today, while biking through rain and fog up the bike path and around Porter and then through the middle of campus, it wasn't difficult to imagine this vision of a car and bus-free campus reminiscent of Santa Cruz Open Streets. With the strike activity at the base of campus, only a few cars are roaming around on campus roads, and everyone is either off-campus or in their dorm. If they are out and about on campus, they're walking or biking through the rain to attend a class that managed to still happen, go to the dining hall, or visit the strike activity.

Roads are pretty empty, especially compared to a typical rainy day. Normally, rain freaks everyone out and they cram onto buses or drive to campus. (Little do they realize how wonderful being slightly soggy after a rainy bike ride can be!) Rainy days are usually crowded traffic days, but since no one's here today, the streets are empty, except for the rain and wandering deer.

I realize that buses and cars are sometimes necessary to access our hilly campus. Not all people have the physical ability to walk or bike to campus, though many who think they don't have this ability would be surprised to find out they do if they tried. Sometimes we transport things that require more space than a bike can handle, and most people don't own bike trailers (even if they maybe should). Also, when we're sick or hurt, the bus and car are solutions to still get to campus without jeopardizing our health.

With those limitations expressed, however, visioning our campus space without (as many) buses and cars is fun and actually opens the door for the mind. Imagine how the spaces we currently have on campus could be better used to support walking and biking so that people who are capable do so voluntarily and not just when there's a strike.

One really obvious thing I realized while biking up the bike path is that there are no designated walking paths to reach the west side of campus. To get to the east side, there are shoulders along Coolidge and a sidewalk near the bus stops followed by a path parallel to and separated from Hagar Drive... but the only clear path to the west side of campus is the bike path, which is technically closed to pedestrians. On days like today when the only way up or down the hill is walking or biking, many people use the bike path for walking. As a person on a bike heading uphill and having to breathlessly squeak "on your left" to a group who has taken over the path, my first impulse is to inform them that they aren't supposed to be on the path. I always catch myself before I say anything, of course, because at the end of the day, I love that they are walking and not busing or driving. What I'm really feeling is a need for a designated pathway for them to use so that they are safely out of the way and I don't have to swerve or slow down when I'm in the groove of biking up to campus. I've met other people who bike to campus and get angry at pedestrians on the bike path, so I know that people walk it often and that there is some resentment from people on bikes who see the sign at the top and bottom of the hill and do not expect to be swerving around pedestrians. This solution seems so simple--just widen the non-grassy area to the side of the bike path and indicate at the top and bottom that pedestrians are to remain to the side of the bike path.

Another thing that's interesting to think about is what we could do with all the parking spaces that could be vacant if fewer people drove to campus. This isn't my idea--it's been done at other universities and cities on a temporary basis and was mentioned this morning at a meeting I attended off-campus. The event others have done is called (Park)ing Day, and the description on the event's website states:

(Park)ing Day is an annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!
With fewer cars on campus and some lots empty (like the one above near McHenry Library), this kind of project could engage students, staff, and faculty walking by in thinking about how we can better use spaces in our community on campus and turn them into places that have meaning and purpose beyond simply being a place to store your giant hunk of metal transportation when you're on campus. There are so many reasons not to have a car-centric campus and community, and opening spaces up in communities to convert them from parking spaces to something more community developing and inspirational is one reason that people don't often think of.

I've been pondering transportation and its relationship to my life, social justice, sustainability, and other topics lately, and I've been working on a blog post for awhile about my transportation history. I will post it soon and perhaps it will better frame the context that I'm coming from in writing this piece about rethinking our roadways and transportation-related places on campus.

I want to also say before I end with some more photos that there's an entire other blog post that could be written about how the strike and these reflections are related, how lack or limit to access to transportation and access to education and access to fair wages are part of the same systemic problems that are a huge challenge in our community, culture, and world. I promise reflections like that will come soon, and even if it takes awhile for those reflections to be written and posted here, they are brewing strongly in my mind and I've been sharing them with people I see day-to-day.

I rode around and took pictures on my way back to my dorm today... There were not only empty parking spaces but also empty bike spaces, as seen below.

But the Bike Co-op (sandwich board sign below) was one of very few entities open today on campus, and it made me smile because I knew that the people running the co-op today must have biked up the hill or live on campus. The more full bike rack in the back of the photo was cool, too.

And this last photo is me when I returned to my dorm covered in rain water, my hair frizzing and curling, and my spirits high. Biking in the rain is fun! I can't wait to bike downtown for sushi tonight with Green Guy--I hope the rain is gentle on us when we bike back up the hill to this city on a hill that I call home!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Camp Creations

Tule rope braided at camp. The white rope is made solely from the interior fibers of the tule plant, and the green ones are from the outside part of the plant. Experimentation in rope-making during lunch!

Valley oak gall toys. The one on the left is a deer, made by Green Gal. The one on the right is a turtle, which was tragically abandoned by a camper at the end of the day. I rescued it and put them on my shelf, next to the tule rope. The native people of this area used to make toy animals out of Valley oak tree galls, like these pictured. The kids had a blast at camp making helicopter toys, hats, snowmen, and fun animals with their oak galls.

What do you make from nature's arts and crafts supply?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Facts: Pets, Venom, and Backpack Precautions

Here is an assortment of random facts and thoughts on nature that I've learned so far this summer at camp:

Capturing Animals as Pets
You never want to capture and take home with you an animal or insect or fish from nature to make your pet. Each has its own role in that habitat, so to remove it makes it harder for that ecosystem to thrive and harms the animal you're removing. If you want a pet spider or snake, look for captive-bred animals, not live-bred animals because this means the animal you're getting was not taken from its natural environment but was raised in captivity from birth.

Another thing to realize is that putting sticks and leaves in a jar does not recreate a habitat. Ecosystems are diverse and full of organisms big and small that animals and insects depend upon. Observe and learn from animals in their habitats, but leave them be. If you really love them, leave them.

Baby Snakes are More Poisonous than Adults
Fortunately, I didn't learn this from experience or observation, and it's important and interesting to know. A lot of energy is required for a snake to create poison, and they use this poison to digest food, so they really avoid releasing poison when biting if they can help it. But baby snakes haven't quite mastered the ability to distinguish between something they want to kill and something they simply want to scare off, so they release poison every time they bite. One should always be aware of the creatures on either side of the trail and leave them alone to avoid danger, but if you see a baby snake that might be poisonous, be especially sure to steer clear and do not bother it.

I took this photo of a rattlesnake on the trail one morning. Fortunately, it didn't demonstrate its venom releasing abilities, but I'm sure it has 'em! It's rattle certainly was telling us so.

Murphy's Law Applies on the Trail, Too
If your backpack has electronics in it and is really heavy, crossing a water obstacle means it might (read: will) land in the water. Pack carefully and put all electronics and sensitive objects in sealed ziplock baggies when you aren't using them--and especially when crossing water! This one I did learn from experience, but fortunately my backpack was waterproof enough that nothing was damaged and the camper who passed it only got slightly soaked... up to his neck... Maybe I should pack lighter for camp...

More facts coming your way next Friday! Thanks for reading!

Green Gal

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"We should enjoy our happiness and offer it to everyone."

"Our True Heritage" by Thich Nhat Hanh

The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.

It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flowers blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of your beloved.

You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.

Thank you to my friend Collette for sharing this. Collette has a wonderful blog about Deep Nature Connection at www.awakeningwild.com. For more inspiration, visit her site!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Soundscape ecology and what listening can teach us about nature

This is a remarkable video about how scientists can use sound to diagnose the health of ecosystems. I highly encourage you to watch it, full screen, with no other windows open to distract you. Listen to what he's saying--it's quite incredible.

July 18 was World Listening Day, and lately I have come across a number of sound-related articles, activities, and experiences that have made my ears more attuned to the world around me.

Yesterday at camp, we did an activity called Graveyard, which can also be called Sit Spot. Each child and counselor found a space around a pond where they could stay silent and observe. We sat for twenty minutes, using our eyes and ears to become attuned to the pond. Our silence and immobility allowed birds, dragonflies, and frogs to return to the pond as though we weren't there. One camper told me a frog had hopped onto her arm as she sat silently observing its journey around the pond. Dragonflies helicoptered their ways across the water. Birds rustled in the tule, flying swifty to high tree branches and swooping to eat flies around the pond.

Next time we participate in this activity--or when I do so on my own--I will pay special attention to the sounds I hear and try to decipher what they might be saying about the ecosystem or habitat. Once during an all-day field day class at UC Santa Cruz, we ventured outside to a meadow for a lesson on deep nature connection. We had just that morning learned about how bird sounds can mean a number of things, including warning, hunger/crying, mating calls, and other things. We were seated near a garden adjacent to some woods that bordered the meadow. It was late afternoon and we had been immersed in nature activities and discussions all day. The guest lecturer speaking that afternoon suddenly paused in her presentation and turned, pointing to some bushes where a bobcat stalked out, as though he knew we were waiting for him to appear. She had heard the birds squawking in the nearby trees and figured something was on its way. The lovely little cat strutted down the meadow, and we all moved slowly to get a better view. Talk about using your ears to identify something in nature! She was so attuned to the world around her--even while lecturing--that she sensed the presence of the bobcat even with her back toward it.

I didn't snap a photo of the bobcat, but here is a photo from class that day. The bobcat walked onto the scene behind the instructor on the left (the fantastic David Shaw, of Common Ground Center). The guest lecturer on the right was the one who heard and then spotted the bobcat.

Bird sounds don't always indicate a bobcat is coming or that something amazing is about to happen, but oftentimes it can indicate something to us if we're paying attention. Don't forget that you have ears and that they are meant to hear things--not just your iPod or traffic noises! Go outside, count the number of things you hear, listen carefully for the birds and insects. Pay attention to geophony, biophony, and anthrophony (watch the video for more on this). Perhaps you'll hear the honk of migrating geese (one of my absolute favorite sounds that I associate with childhood) and get a glimpse of them flying overhead. Perhaps you'll hear a squirrel on a fence post or tree, nibbling away. Maybe a nearby creek will serve as a background sound. It may be that you have to wait until the evening, when the crickets chirp... perhaps you have to walk to a nearby park if your neighborhood is too noisy from anthrophony to hear any of the local biophony...

What can you learn from these sounds? What do they mean to you, and how do we protect them and their sources from anthrophony and human destruction?

Thanks for reading--keep on listening!

Green Gal

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wildflowers in the sidewalk: How to make the best of being stranded

Our backpacks were full of dehydrated food, trail mix bars, warm clothes, and all the fixins for a weekend away on Mount Tamalpais. We already had our hiking clothes on, and we were looking forward to spending the evening outdoors and falling asleep in my new backpacking tent. We didn't have a campsite reservation, but we figured it would all work out. The weekend was ahead of us in all its unknown adventures.

After driving for about an hour, we got onto Highway 101, excitement setting in because we had just had our first glimpse of Mt. Tam. A few minutes after getting on the highway, though, Green Guy tells me the car has stopped working. It felt unreal to me--we were so close we could see the mountain!

We pulled off to the shoulder and Green Guy checked under the hood. Unsure of what it was that had happened, he got back in the car and started it back up, driving us safely to the next exit. You could feel it as the car died on the off-ramp. Using gravity, we rolled into a nice looking neighborhood right off the highway and found a legal parking spot in front of a well-kept yard and brick home. We were very thankful that the car had gotten us at least off the highway and to a secure location.

Neither of us were incredibly surprised by the car not working--after all, Green Guy's car is a 1975 BMW model 2002. It's red, adorable, and named Rojito. I figured Green Guy would know what to do, and after tinkering around and testing things, he concluded it was the fuel pump that had gone out. It was already almost 7 PM and the sun was starting to set. Not completely sure how safe the area was, and not wanting to wait in the dark for a tow truck, we called our parents and figured that staying at a hotel for the night and towing home tomorrow was the best plan. Not exactly backpacking, but still an adventure!

We called the first hotel, asking for a rate. "Sorry we're sold out for tonight." Same phone call sequence about four times in a row, and finally we started asking, "Do you have any rooms for tonight?" Finally, we found a place that had vacancy, and although Yelp only gave it a two-star rating, we packed up our backpacks and set off into the sunsetting evening to the hotel 1.6 miles away.

Green Guy was pretty bummed--this was supposed to be his first backpacking trip, and now his beloved Rojito was not working. I, on the other hand, thought the setting sun and hiking adventure through suburbia and nearby freeway bridges was fantastic! We crossed a bridge over some water, and I glanced toward Mt. Tam. What a glorious view! The silhoutted mountain, the setting sun, the lovely waterway--I felt incredibly blessed to be stranded there of all places. My spirits were high, and after awhile, Green Guy was able to let go of his stress for the evening and have fun, too.

As we walked down sidwalks past businesses--outdoor stores, fitness centers, offices--I noticed all of the natural aspects of our hike, despite the concrete and stoplights. I think a large part of this is the fact that I am a counselor for a nature day camp this summer, so I've been training my eyes and ears to spot wildlife on the trail and breathe in adventure. I heard geese flying over us and looked up to see them pass us in the evening sky. I was aware of the wildflowers sprouting up through cracks in the sidwalks, well-maintained trees lining the streets, and the beautiful color of the sky. We passed a multi-use trail that had a stunning view of Mt. Tam, and we tucked it into our memories to explore the next day.

We finally made it to the hotel, located right next to a yummy-smelling restaurant and Highway 101. We checked in, put our Gatorade in the refrigerator, and played 20 questions for a couple hours to pass the evening. Despite the two-star Yelp rating, it was pretty comfortable.

The next morning after 11 AM check out, we hiked to the multi-use trail after a double back to find my sandals that had fallen off my pack. This was a weekend of learning from mistakes--I will from now on loop my sandals through a more stable loop so they won't fall off.

The multi-use trail with the view of Mt. Tam was busy with cyclists, runners, walkers, dogs, and children. We walked until we found a place where we couldn't see the road, took our packs off, and set up the camp stove to boil water for instant breakfast and coffee. Passersby did plenty of double takes, and one couple asked if we'd camped there. We played cards, ate dehydrated pad thai, and sipped some instant coffee. All in all, breakfast was lovely, and if you didn't look at the fences and distant buildings, you would have thought we were in the wilderness.

On the walk back to Rojito, we called AAA. The first thing the woman on the phone said was "It will be about two hours." Given that she didn't know where we were or what the situation was, that was a red flag that something was wrong with AAA that day. The ETA was two hours, though, so we got back to the car and got out the deck of cards.

Two hours had gone by, so we called in to check on the tow truck. They couldn't access the record of our first call, so they placed a second service call. ETA was an hour or so. More cards, and more dehydrated backpacking food. The day was warm, so we sat on the sidewalk in the shade of a tree in the neighborhood. People walked by with dogs and children, and most of them were friendly enough to ask if we were okay.

Throughout the day, we called in to check on the tow truck, finally realizing that AAA was having technical difficulties and really had no idea if a truck was on its way or how long we'd be waiting. Frustration started to set in, and the neighbors began asking when we'd be gone. The woman who lived in the house we were parked in front of came outside. She said, "Just want to let you know that we've had some robberies around here, so our neighbors called to see what was up. We told them your situation, but they may very well call the police." Great!

A couple police cars had driven by during the day, and after the woman told us about her suspicious neighbors, a private investigation car parked across the street from us. He left after a few minutes, figuring we were legitimately waiting for a tow truck, I suppose. Neither of us had even been suspected of being troublemakers or people to watch out for, so it was a weird feeling. We definitely wanted to be out of there just as much as the neighbors wanted us to be gone.

Around 6 PM, some kids started selling lemonade on the street corner, and I was their first customer. $1 a cup for overly sour lemonade, but it was worth it to have some variety from the water and trail mix we'd been eating all day.

At some point, I closed my eyes and prayed that we get out of the situation soon and safely. Less than an hour later, a BMW pulled up behind us out of nowhere. A nice-looking couple named Dave and Vanessa got out to ask if we needed help. Dave had owned a 2002 at some point in his life, and though they couldn't help us directly, they called a friend who is a mechanic and also gave us their cell phone number in case we needed a place to stay the night. The friend didn't answer the phone, but we thanked the couple and went back to waiting once they left. We never really learned how they had seen us, given that they don't live in the neighborhood and were on their way to a concert that presumably was not accessed by the street we were on.

More phone calls to AAA, restroom trips to the nearby Chevron, texting our families to give them updates, and all the time hoping my phone wouldn't die before we sorted out the situation. Green Guy owns an iPhone, so we had used up most of the battery on his searching for hotels and other tow companies throughout the past 24 hours. My phone is a pretty old and reliable flip phone that doesn't have Internet, so it was lasting longer than the iPhone and had become our main connection to the world outside the neighborhood that had become our camp for the day.

When we were starting to get desperate and feel like we were stuck in the movie Groundhog Day, Dave and Vanessa returned with a mechanic named Ryan. They told us that they had happened to get ahold of Ryan, their neighbor, and that he was a great mechanic. What a relief to have someone with the skills to fix the car there! He checked out Rojito and determined that it indeed was the fuel pump, and then offered to go pick one up from a nearby auto shop. Since he's a mechanic, he was able to get the wholesale price. Of course we said yes, having no idea if or when AAA would arrive.

It felt to me like angels had been sent to help us out after five or six hours of waiting. It definitely felt like that prayer I'd made earlier was being answered by these really friendly strangers.

Ryan returned with the part after a little while, and just as he was parking, guess who showed up! The tow truck, of course. We felt confident that Ryan could fix the issue, so we sent the tow truck away. Thanks, but no thanks, especially since Ryan had already gone to the store and was confident that the fuel pump was our only issue.

After about fifteen minutes, Ryan had installed the new fuel pump, all the while telling us about his adventures salmon fishing in Alaska. Green Guy watched closely as he worked to learn how to install a fuel pump in the future if this one ever stops working.

Then, the big moment: Green Guy got in the car and turned the ignition on. It turned over a few times, and then it started running again. What a sweet sound that was!

We paid Ryan for the fuel pump and gave him a tip, thanking him a number of times for his generosity. He essentially had dropped whatever he was doing to help us out, and we were extremely grateful.

After stopping by the Chevron for some gas, we hit the road again, and drove home just as the cold fog was rolling in. Boy, did it feel amazing to be moving toward the comfort of home again.

Although the backpacking trip didn't turn out as we'd planned, and we didn't quite get the hiking experiences we were hoping for, we are incrediby grateful that the situation was as fortunate as it was. Safe neighborhood, beautiful views of Mt. Tam, a hotel within walking distance, plenty of food and water and warm clothes, and the miraculous appearance of Dave, Vanessa, and Ryan... Someone was looking out for us, it seems!

The moral of the story is to make the best of the situations that life hands you and to see wildflowers where others might see weeds. People can be really mistrusting or extremely helpful, and you never know what kind of people you'll encounter on difficult journies, but you get to decide how you react. It sometimes takes patience to wait for those who are willing to help you, and it never hurts to have supplies in your car for emergencies. A pack of cards and a good friend to pass the time helps, too.

I just want to send out a huge thank you to Dave, Vanessa, and Ryan, the neighbors who walked by and were friendy enough to say hello, the kids selling lemonade, the sunset, the guy at Chevron who let us fill up a Camelback with water, our families who offered to pick us up if all else failed, AAA for eventually arriving (after 6 hours...), and to Green Guy for making the best of the situation with me and for being a fun person to spend 6 hours on a sidewalk with! What a fun and interesting weekend!

Peace out,
Green Gal

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Musings on Children, Nature, and You!

It's only the second day of nature camp, and as a counselor I have already spent many hours of my free time after work studying things that I have missed so much during the past school year of papers and assigned readings...

Last night, I studied Ohlone culture for an hour or two, taking notes for a lesson that I am facilitating on Friday about technology (mortar and pestle, bow and arrow, nets, snares, hot rocks, etc.), the natural landscape as it was 200 years ago in my hometown and surrounding area, and medicinal and useful plants. These are topics I avidly studied in high school on my own, back when I had more free time. Once I create the lesson plan for Friday, perhaps I'll post it here so others can use it, too.

Tonight, I spent some time re-reading the biography of Opal Whiteley, an inspiring American nature enthusiast and writer who at the age of 5 began writing a nature diary in the woods near her home in Oregon. She was a remarkable person, and I remember being very drawn toward her when I first came across a book about her that contains her diaries, The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow. I just glanced at the date when she passed away, and it was two months before I was born. My first thought was that if reincarnation exists, perhaps she and I share a link--the same soul, the passing on of wisdom and light and awareness of nature as she left the world and I was brought into it? At the very least, her words link us together, for I understand in her writings something magical in nature that I have experienced myself and work to inspire in others, especially children.

Opal Whiteley (Source)

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I'm working at a nature camp as a counselor, which is partly why I pulled the book about Opal off of the blue shelf in my closet yesterday while searching for native plant and Ohlone books. Nature-deficit disorder is a serious problem in our society, and to be inspired and awed by Opal's engagement with nature at such a young age makes me think of the children at camp. Though the kids in my group are a little older than Opal was when she began her journal, they are children with the capacity to fall in love with nature--and certainly, many have. It is my hope and the purpose of the camp that the children in our community are exposed to the natural world and come to respect and appreciate it. So many children these days have never even set foot in a creek, do not know how to be quiet on a trail, are unaware of the whole world in their backyard. I am blessed and so grateful to have parents who brought me outside and camping from an early age. The fact that I have stories about being eye to eye with a coyote as a kid, about seeing bears in Yosemite and other places, about seeing snakes around Pinecrest Lake, and so many other tales that I can share with the kids at camp makes me feel so privileged. I remember a time before our family had a computer, before every kid had a cell phone, before iPhones were a thing, and before digital cameras were the lens through which we saw our lives. I refuse to own a Smartphone because I see what it does to the attention spans of my friends and family, how it becomes a safety blanket from knowing where you are, and how it leads to overconsumption of email and Facebook--something I already struggle with simply with a laptop computer.

It's these technologies--so different from those of the people who lived here 200 years ago--that are harming our relationship to our world and our sense of place on earth. Videogames, computers, homework, and other indoor activities take away the attention of today's naturally curious young people, reducing their ability to even access that curiosity outdoors. I believe it is the role of those who are aware of their lack of nature time to foster their appreciation for and desire to be outdoors. I often have to remind myself to get off the computer, write in a notebook instead of a blog, go on a walk, or simply sit in my backyard and pay attention. For today's children, the habits and memories they are forming now often do not include nature time--how can they remind themselves to go outside and be quiet and listen if they have never done this before?

On a similar note, I was just checking my email and came across an article called "THE WISDOM OF ONE PLACE: Why We Need to Know Where We Are" by Fred First. It talks about the value of knowing intimately the natural world around you and building a relationship with it and your community in order to have a greater appreciation for all natural spaces and our world. The thoughts expressed in the article totally reflect thoughts I've had the past few years about the importance of knowing where you live--the community, the animals, the plants, the nooks and crannies of vacant lots and buildings--in order to care about your world. Each place I've lived or spent a lot of time in--which includes home, mountain vacation and camping places, and UC Santa Cruz--I have taken the time to get to know as much as I can about the natural, social, and cultural worlds there. I feel deeply connected with these places. I have always been drawn to understanding geographically where I am. I love maps and having a clear sense of direction, and thinking about this in terms of knowing place, it makes a lot of sense to me this evening. I do not know what it feels like to be disconnected from a place for very long. I crave connecting to the heart of places, to the histories--human and natural--that exist there and influence the way things are. It makes life infinitely more interesting and fun for me--I know this because I have spoken to people from my hometown who hate it there, have no connection to civic life or natural areas or community beyond their group of high school buddies. When I go home for the summers, as I am home now, I feel truly at home and connected to a network of people, places, stories, memories, and history. When I'm at school, I feel a similar connection to place that is becoming stronger the more I spend time off the hill and in the Santa Cruz community.

Your own backyard can be a whole new world full of things to study and learn and experience. For a small child, this weedy lawn could be a jungle and the worms and bugs in its depths the most exotic of creatures. 

For children, this sense of place and rootedness is important. If they do not foster it where they grow up, a time when they have more curiosity and free time than later in their lives, I worry that their ability to create a connection or desire to understand the world around them will diminish. It makes me think of a plant that cannot take root anywhere, but floats around, unable to find a place to live and grow. Perhaps I'm being overdramatic, but given the distracted, pointless, disconnected conversations and experiences I observe in my own peer group--who grew up for part of their lives without cell phones and computers--I fear for the next generation of children who are growing up completely surrounded by technologies that distance them from the real world out there. Who wants to live through a screen that tells them what's happening in the real world? Isn't that what Twitter, Facebook, even blogging is?

I say go outside, right now. Breathe in the air, whatever time of day it is. If there are stars, say hello. If there is a sun, thank it for the warmth and life it provides to each of us every day. If there's a moon, howl at it! Set the example for the children in your life by balancing your indoor, technology time with nature time. Be grateful you're alive, and start behaving more like a human being--which means knowing where you are, using your senses, experiencing the real world, and loving one another a little more!

Happy Tuesday,
Green Gal


Additional Information

Thursday, May 9, 2013

UC Santa Cruz Bike to Work & School Day Adventures

On a typical Thursday, I wake up around 9 AM and make my way by bike or leg power to work in the Sustainability Office on campus. But today was no typical Thursday morning. Today is Bike to Work & School Day, which meant that my day began at 6 AM when my phone alarm went a-buzzin'. I hopped out of bed around 6:15 AM, ready to zoom down the hill to the base of campus.

UC Santa Cruz is a pretty cool place to be a cyclist. You get a real challenge on the way up to campus and such a fantastically speedy and beautiful ride down after the day is done. Since I live on campus and I was volunteering at the base of campus to serve breakfast to cyclists, my morning began with that awesome ride, the bay in view and the flowery meadows in my peripheral vision.

The view from the UC Santa Cruz bike path on a typical afternoon. Glorious!
It was great to connect with fellow students and community members who were also helping out at the breakfast station. At UCSC today, there were three breakfast sites: base of campus, top of the bike path, and Quarry Plaza. Throughout Santa Cruz County, there were more than 60 sites for folks to grab free breakfast after their ride to work or school.

At the base of campus, I saw students, staff members, and most likely some of the folks who came by were faculty members. I also saw kids on their way to school who were stopping by our site before continuing to their school breakfast site. We cheered when groups arrived, gave out free helmets from Transportation & Parking Services to those who needed a new one, and enjoyed the morning with others who saw value to biking their way to destinations over driving or busing.

Each person who received breakfast was required to fill out a brief survey, and I cannot wait to see the results of all the surveys from UCSC. I'm hoping to participate in the Impact Designs: Engineering through Sustainability and Student Service (IDEASS) program next year and work on a bike-related project in Santa Cruz, so it'd be awesome to see some statistics from this year regarding how often people say they bike to campus and why they do so. I'm planning on helping Ecology Action, the local non-profit who hosts Bike to Work Day in Santa Cruz, enter some data from these surveys sometime next week. It will be an opportunity to begin building relationships with those in the organization so that I can find ways to collaborate with them next year.

I also want to give a shout out to People Power, who had one representative at our base of campus breakfast site, seeking signatures to show local city and county governments that residents are stoked and ready for the creation of the Coastal Rail Trail. To find out more and sign the petition, click here. (On a similar note, People Power's Tawn O Kennedy and Santa Cruz Bike Party organized a Bike Party that cycled around Santa Cruz and Capitola a couple Fridays ago. Check out the photos from that event here and here!)

After helping out at the base of campus, I rode up Hagar Drive to Quarry Plaza for some orange juice and to chat with some friends I've gotten to know through getting more involved with bicycling at UCSC this year. The Student Environmental Center's People's Bike Generator was hooked up to some speakers, bumping some tunes powered by student leg energy (a renewable resource when the student is fed coffee and bagels).

One of the Student Environmental Center Transportation Campaign interns asked me if I'd like to be interviewed for a video they're making, and I said sure. Sitting on a rock in the Quarry beside my Specialized "Dolce" road bike, wearing my "One Less Car" t-shirt and my bike necklace, I spoke about why I love cycling in Santa Cruz, about how more young girls should be out on their bikes and at the high school bike racks in their skirts and heels to show the world that the cycling world isn't just for guys, and about how new cyclists should talk to other cyclists to find safer and easier routes to get where they need to go. Once that video is made and ready for showing, I'll be sure to post it here!

Woah, it's only 10 AM and I've already had so many bike adventures this morning! Time to pedal on over to the Sustainability Office and then bike on over to class with my favorite professor, who though he's been around UCSC since its founding still rides his bike to campus some days.

How was your Bike to Work/School Day? What keeps you from biking as transportation to work, school, or errrands more often? Share in the comments!

Thanks for reading, and Happy Bike to Work Day!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My 21st B-Earth Day

Yesterday, Monday, April 22, was my 21st b-earth day, and at 6:30 AM my phone buzzed with a text message from my aunt and uncle wishing me a happy birthday. Normally, I would respond thank you and then fall back to sleep for another couple hours. But something about knowing that it was Earth Day and my birthday made me think twice about closing my eyes. Ultimately, the morning mystery of early sunlight that I could see through my window got me up and out of bed and out the door into the morning.

I walked to a garden near where I live and spent some time observing the little lettuces and other plants growing there. The view of the bay from the garden was stunning, and I felt so blessed and grateful for the morning and the place where I live.

As I walked back, I noticed a sqaushed plastic water bottle by the grass, so I picked it up to recycle it. I kept walking and saw cigarette butts on the ground near some benches, so I picked them up and put them into the little ash tray bucket next to the bench. Though UC Santa Cruz has to be "tobacco-free" by 2014 as per a declaration made by the UC President, smoking is really prevalent on campus. Unfortunately, many students not only smoke but also have no sense of responsibility for properly disposing of their cigarette butts, which are plastic and not biodegradable.

I realized after I put the first handful of cigarettes into the bucket that they were everywhere and that to make my cleanup effort have an extended impact, I began collecting all the cigarette butts and trash into a plastic baggy I had found on the ground. I collected for about twenty minutes and then laid out the results on a picnic table to photograph them.

When I finally made it back to my room, thew away the garbage, recycled the bottles, and washed my hands, I uploaded this photo to Facebook and shared some thoughts with my friends, many of whom live nearby:

"I picked up some trash & recycling this morning on the Knoll in celebration of Earth Day. Just wanted to remind those who visit our beautiful knoll overlook that cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, and plastic bags do not biodegrade. Considering you can see the Monterey Bay from the Knoll, please be conscious of what you leave on the Earth, especially since it may find its way to the ocean. At the very least, this is a reminder that as you enjoy the beauty of our campus and the views of the Bay to be considerate of the other visitors to our grassy, wildflowery hill and throw your butts and garbage in the trash and any recyclables in the recycling bins. Happy Earth Day!"

Since yesterday morning, I have become even more conscious of the trash I see around me, and I have made a commitment to pick it up when I see it. It's easy to walk over a wrapper on the ground when no one else around you seems to be picking up others' garbage, but eventually, someone has to pick those items up and place them somewhere less uncontrollable. I don't want to say somewhere better or the right place because there's really no such thing--ultimately, that stuff ends up in a landfill. But certainly it's true that putting trash in bins that are more controlled keeps that stuff out of the ocean and out of animals' bodies.

When it comes to waste, we really can all make a difference in what ends up in natural ecosystems and what ends up in those poor parts of the earth that we've relegated to collect our waste. We can also choose to consume fewer wasteful products and see the results in the reduction of trash in our own garbage cans and recycling bins. Waste is probably my favorite sustainability topic because of this tangibility. What can I say, I love talking trash.

In closing, I am grateful to my aunt for waking me up yesterday morning with her text message, and I am also incredibly blessed to have wonderful people in my life who celebrated my 21st with me yesterday, including my mom who visited me and took me out to breakfast, and my friends, who joined me for sushi and drinks downtown last night. I also received a countless number of birthday wishes, cards, hugs, and phone calls yesterday that made it all the more special. Finally, I am so thankful for and in awe of this remarkable planet we all call home.

Thank you for reading! How did you celebrate Earth Day?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Alviso Adobe Community Park: My Experiences

I have been visiting the Alviso Adobe Community Park in Pleasanton, CA, since it opened in 2008. This video documents my amazing journey of learning experiences there, and it also serves as a way to share about the park's history and beauty.

I have written a lot on this blog about my experiences at the park. Please click here to view those posts.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hiking: A Social Cure for a Disconnected World

In addition to being great exercise and a way to get to really awesome places in the world, hiking is also one of my favorite social activities. Since the time I was old enough to hike around Pinecrest Lake, I was making the trek with my family, trying to keep up with uncles and cousins in my little hiking boots and sunhat. I've always been a hiker, and I continue to be one, especially since I live in a hilly forest off the coast of the Pacific Ocean. How can you not be a hiker when you live two minutes from hiking trails and views of the ocean?

Given this interest in hiking and the opportunities for social engagement and community building that it offers, this past fall, a fellow student sustainability leader at UC Santa Cruz and I organized a hike into the Upper Campus trails that meander through forest and meadow above our university home. The goal was to bring together students, staff, faculty, community members interested in sustainability at UC Santa Cruz for a day hike to explore the natural space where we live, learn, and work.

My fellow sustainability hike leader and I had met at the Harvest Festival at the campus farm at the beginning of the quarter, where he served me countless bike-pedal-generated smoothies that he had made himself as I sat tabling for the Sustainability Office in the sweltering September heat.

A few days later, we spoke during dinner at the Student Environmental Center's General Gathering, and we realized we both had an interest in getting students from sustainability orgs on campus to spend more time together outside of org events. We swapped numbers, met in the library a couple times to draft an email, and then sent it out to everyone involved with sustainability work on campus, using the list-servs and email addresses that I have access to as the Education & Outreach Coordinator for the Sustainability Office (not an abuse of power, given that these hikes serve to further the aims of my job, even if I don't count those hours toward work). We even made a Facebook event for the hike. We were stoked.

The day came to meet up in the North Remote Parking Lot. I showed up first with my hiking shorts and hiking boots and reusable water bottle. No sign of anyone.

A few minutes later, I got a text message from my co-leader, who is the Transportation Coordinator for the organzation who hosted the General Gathering. He was on his way, and walked up from his redwood-surrounded apartment a few minutes later.

We waited. And waited.

"Well, it's time to go. Should we just start hiking?" No one else had shown up, and I'd received at least one text message from a friend who wasn't coming after all.

"Yeah, let's go."

We hiked up into the forest, just the two of us, on what would become not only the first of many sustainability inter-organizational hikes, but our first hike together, our first date, and our first chance to get to know each other through awesome conversation on the trail.

Hiking is a great social activity with both people you don't know well and people you do know well. You're moving around, exercising and getting high on endorphins, immersed in wild places that feed your soul, and there aren't really awkward silences. You're hiking outdoors, and silence is never awkward in the outdoors--there is so much to hear and experience and learn from when you are silent in a natural space.

We ended up hiking through Wilder Ranch State Park and all the way to the Highway 1, crossing the asphalt to reach our destination: the coast of the Pacific Ocean. We settled into some cliffs by a little cove, where the water rushed in at every wave and then receded. The sounds were soothing, the sun was warm, and we ate our lunch, enjoying the day, kind of glad that no one else showed up on the hike because of the opportunity it gave us to spend time together.

"I heard that some study found that chocolate is detected in the brain to cause more pleasure than kisses," he said to me. "But I don't really think so. What do you think?" I thought people only said those kinds of things in romantic movies, but I guess I was wrong. We had to test the theory, of course, so he shared an M&M with me, and then we shared a kiss. Like I said, hikes really are the best way to get to know someone.

Since then, he and I have organized a few other hikes, bringing together our friends, coworkers, and people who heard about the hike from Facebook or campus newsletters. I've had interesting conversations on the trail with people I never would have met otherwise, and I've realized how simple and worthwhile organizing hikes can be. People in the sustainability world of UC Santa Cruz now know about the hikes, and many who haven't come before have expressed interest in coming in the future. I cannot wait for spring quarter and the sunlight and flowers, which will hopefully draw even more people out to our hikes.

A photo of the fantastic group who came on our second inter-organizational sustainability community hike. I got to know some people on this hike who have brightened my life, and they continue to remain in my life either in person or through the perspectives I gained from talking with them.

As for hiking dates with my transportation coordinator friend, who has since become my boyfriend, we definitely continue to hike together, getting to know each other better every time. We just went on a gorgeous hike yesterday at a county park near San Jose, and we had a really good time enjoying the view from the top of a hill.

I believe that in addition to the conditions for conversation that hiking creates, the energies and connections that happen in nature between self and wilderness transform human social interactions into deeper connections when you spend time outdoors with someone one-on-one. Observing natural space, viewing the soil and vegetation and ecosystems, getting to know the environment, talking about where we would choose to live if we had been people living there thousands of years ago, and having moments of connection with nature together--all of this connects us to nature and ourselves.

Ultimately, hiking is a connecting activity, and in this digital age of social and human disconnection through overconnection with technology, hiking is a cure that I cannot get enough of. I encourage you to consider organizing a hike with your friends, significant other, or family. It's easy, fun, really inexpensive, and the opportunities for engagement with yourself, nature, and others are so rewarding!

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Family of Writers, and Why You Should Visit Jeune Gal's Blog

Before I introduce my younger sister, who last night began a blog of her own (Jeune Gal), I want to provide some background about my family.

I come from a family of writers, each of us with a unique style and method of sharing our hearts and thoughts with the world. I have so much gratitude for the way I was brought up, always being read to and encouraged to write. My father recited Shakespeare to me when I was a really little kid, and perhaps the nectar of Shakespeare's language flowed into my developing brain and planted a seed that continues to grow each time a line of poetry or a storyline comes into my head.

When I was seven, I applied to be a poet laureate in my hometown at the suggestion of my father, who later did become the poet laureate. Though I knew I wouldn't be selected, going through the process of submitting poetry and receiving a personal letter of encouragement from the committee was an empowering process that no doubt contributed to my continued inspiration as a poet.

Every year that our local Poetry, Prose, & Arts Festival has taken place, my sister and I have attended, writing poetry, reading others' poetry and stories, and hearing from famous and local poets about why writing matters. We were even featured on one of the promotional postcards for the Festival one year.

A major reason that I've pursued the world of writing is my parents. My father is a journalist, community college English teacher, former poet laureate, television book show co-host, and writer of short stories. My mother writes every morning in a journal, relies extensively on her writing and communication skills in her job, and has many times in her life written letters and poetry. This barely scratches the surface of how my parents have been role models to me, not only in writing, but in everything they've done and how they've done it.

Beyond my parents, there are many other writers in my family, too, including my grandmother (and faithful Green Gal blog reader!), who has written a number of short books with stories and poems that she's given to family members and friends. I could go on about how family and friends in my life who write or express themselves artistically have inspired me to be the writer, poet, and artist that I am today, but that could take up ten more blog posts. This post is about my sister, one of my biggest inspirations and supporters.

Given the history of writing in our family, it's no surprise that my younger sister also has a knack for sharing her thoughts with the written word. Though I'm well aware that she was exposed to the same inspirations and models of writers as myself, she hasn't been in the habit of sharing her words as often as I have with my blog, so this morning when I read her latest blog post on her new blog, Jeune Gal, I was impressed and so proud of her. Her ability to communicate her thoughts into a story through blogging is something I've been trying to teach my peers about at college; it is not often that someone actually writes their blog in a way that captures "story-telling" in a very real sense, but my sister has managed to do this without anyone telling her how. She not only shares the heart of her story in a succinct way, she also organizes her thoughts in a way that ties everything together.

Her blog is a space to share her experiences with having a rare genetic disease called Jeune syndrome, which makes her small (among other symptoms and conditions). She is fortunate enough to have a very mild case, but it has still greatly affected her life in large, visible ways and in more subtle ways.

She also hopes that writing this blog will open up the door for connection with other older people with Jeune syndrome. Because the disease can be quite severe, most babies who are diagnosed with the disease die very young. My sister has been doing research to find others who have survived the condition, and so far she's only found one or two people who are old enough to connect online. Everyone else writing about or asking questions about the disease online are parents of children with the disease.

It's inspiring to see her putting her ability to write to the service of connection with others who are struggling or have struggled. Like I said, each of the writers in my family has a unique way, purpose, and skill in sharing through written word.

Please visit her blog and read about her experiences. Beyond the audience of those with Jeune syndrome or who have children or know children with the disease, the blog is written for society in general, so that we can all gain some perspective on what it means to be treated differently by people in our world based on appearance and how we can all have more compassion and respect for all people.

Perhaps the more people who read her blog, the higher the chance is that someone with Jeune syndrome will come across her posts. She would love to connect and share experiences with someone else in the world who has faced similar obstacles to her.

Her blog can be found at http://jeunegal.blogspot.com/

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why Fruit is Sustainably Fantastic

Have you ever realized that the most sustainably packaged, healthy, and portable snack out there is fruit? It comes with its own wrapper (its skin), it's good for your health and your soul (as my boyfriend always reminds me, fruit is designed by nature to be attractive and taste good... I say that anything whose sole intention is to make you feel good is good for the soul), and you can take fruit with you without hassle. Apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, and other hand-held fruits are especially portable, but strawberries, berries, and other smaller fruits are easy enough to carry in hand or in a basket.

Can we all just take a moment to be grateful and exhilarated by the beauty that is fruit?

Mmm, peaches at a local farm. Juicy and delicious and portable and not wasteful! Gorgeous, too!
Organic strawberries at the local farmers' market

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Philosophy of Teaching Statement

Effective teachers, educators, and mentors learn with their students, and they never stop seeing themselves as students. They are my third grade teacher who was actively involved in her community and took the time to learn about our families, to bring our families into the classroom, and to bring our class into her family’s home at the end of the school year. They are the college instructor who admitted his own philosophical questionings right there with us, giving the floor to students who were inspired by what they knew, empowering students to share and engage in class by acknowledging the value of their thoughts and passions. Even outside the classroom, every individual we meet—whether younger or older, student or teacher—has something to teach us, an ability to open up our perspective on the world so that we can make a connection and learn. Being open to listen to others’ teachings and the opportunities they bring to nourish the lives of those around them is what it means to live in a community and be engaged with life. Teachers have an opportunity to create a community in which everyone is heard, something we all need in order to feel valued by others and to value ourselves and our ideas.

A teacher’s job is to first, support her students in their fullness as humans, to see them for who they are and not who they appear to be, and to ignite their engagement with learning by helping them make connections between what they care about and what they are expected to know. Teaching concepts and facts can only happen at the level of student learning when this first piece has been cultivated and students can at least begin to see what’s happening on the whiteboard or in their textbook as related to their lives.

In addition to fostering connections between life and learning, teacher and student perspectives on learning must come from a place of growth. Being “smart” is not something that a student either is or is not; rather, one’s “smartness” or one’s “intelligence” is an ever-changing ability to critically think, understand concepts, make connections, and to most importantly never stop asking questions. In the Spanish language, the verbs “ser” and “estar” both mean “to be,” but “ser” is used to describe more permanent statuses of being, and “estar” is used to describe more transitory statuses of being, things that can change over time or in different situations. After studying Carol Dweck’s growth mindset concept, getting to know students who are facing family life or social challenges beyond academic work, learning about the struggles of students whose first language is not English, and recognizing that every culture and every person values different aspects of life, my current understanding of “smart” is that a student “está” smart for particular reasons or in particular areas, not that a student “es” smart all the time or in every circumstance. We can become smarter about certain things, we can become more critically engaged with life, and we can always keep learning.

I bring Spanish into my philosophy of teaching statement because learning and understanding different languages teaches us so much about life and about how learning happens. It opens up our cultural perspectives when we learn new words, and it allows us a glimpse into how a different language’s use of description and metaphor might signify a difference in perspective or emphasis on aspects of life that in English-speaking cultures might be completely different. To live in California and want to teach and to not see the value and necessity of allowing Spanish to flourish in all of its vibrancy in the lives of students in their educational settings is absurd. Spanish speaking students are going to continue to be part of the community in California schools (and I hope they continue to be Spanish-speaking students as they grow up), and differences between teachers and students are always going to exist. Learning to see students as fully alive, culturally rich, knowledgeable, and capable human beings is necessary for creating a classroom or learning environment where each student feels connected to the community of learning and is willing to engage with all of her or his being. 

Before taking Education 180 and really thinking about what intelligence means, I thought of it as something people just did or didn’t have, that they could learn different things and develop different skills, but that the level of one’s “smartness” was what you were born with. Articulating this sounds ignorant and problematic, and if I had articulated this in words prior to taking this class, I hope I would have questioned it; but subconsciously and throughout my educational experiences, I came to think of learning and school in that way. Growing up, I was often told that I was smart and I could see the result in the kinds of grades I got, but I never thought about why I got those kinds of grades or what factors (family life, inspiring teachers, personal perspectives on learning, etc.) allowed me to succeed in the ways that were expected of me. My mindset was that intelligence was “fixed,” and I saw other students struggling and figured that there was something inherent in our abilities that was different. It didn’t really occur to me that the conditions for learning in a traditional classroom are only supportive of some students, as was discussed throughout the quarter and particularly when Downtown College Prep visited and share about how they engage students in their classes in non-traditional ways. Almost (and I say almost because I do not know if this is always true) all students are capable of understanding concepts and making meaningful connections, but for many, the ways in which school and learning are presented to them does not inspire or motivate them, given the many factors that affect a student’s ideal learning environment or the conversations and experiences that she or he needs in order to grow as a student.

 Learning cannot happen if students are not asking questions and creating their own paths to understanding by studying what they love and learning how it relates to what they need to know for school. Part of why I do well in school is that I have always found connections between school material and my life and interests. Once I can make a connection between a subject and something I care about, I suddenly see the subject in a new light, and I want to learn more. Though this can narrow learning opportunities in the long-run, this first step is vital to creating motivation and inspiration for students to pursue their work. When they can see how learning something new will enrich what they already know about subjects that interest them, they’ll actually want to learn. I saw this happening in my placement, where students were doing research projects on subjects of their choice, and they were actually engaging with learning in ways that rarely happened with other class assignments.

 To guide students to their own paths of understanding, teachers must know their students as individuals with the capability of engagement in life in order to support them. Ultimately, though, students must be the ones making the connections. Many students are not brought up to see their passions and interests as worth pursuing because of economic or social reasons, and this may be what inhibits them from bringing their interests into the classroom. As a teacher, the role in fostering this connection-building is to encourage students to be fully who they are, to bring their passions and interests, whatever they may be, into the classroom in meaningful ways. For example, students often get in trouble for bringing skateboards to school or for talking about non-academic subjects during class, but given enough freedom to engage with these “extra-curricular” interests in the classroom with the teacher’s support, students can become more engaged in both their studies and their interests. This might look like students working on research projects on topics of their choice or leading presentations in class to demonstrate things they know about and enjoy doing. In section we saw a video project that students had made, which was an opportunity for them to become the “teachers” and create something together. These opportunities can empower students, a vital aspect of learning that can inspire them to engage fully with their education and learning.

Students also must be engaged with their natural environment and community in order to be fully engaged in the classroom. We are surrounded by nature and live in a physical environment; to not know this space and the other living beings around us is to be disconnected from our very basic existence. How can students be expected to engage with historical information from 100 years ago, with biology terms they cannot pronounce, with mathematical equations, if they have never even truly seen the space and nature around them? Nature is a space for learning not only about the world, but also a space to discover through silence, reflection, and observation, what it means to be a human being on this planet. The same is true of engaging with community and seeing oneself as a valuable and connected part of a community of people. Engagement outside the classroom will ultimately bring engaged perspectives and ideas into the classroom, and teachers can help foster this by asking questions about the social and natural worlds students live in and by bringing students physically to nature and their communities through field trips.

 School is an enormous portion of our lives from the time we are in preschool to when we eventually graduate. Rather than sectioning off “school” from “real life,” school can be part of students’ “real lives” when teachers and schools help bridge connections between the communities of class, school, family, and the neighborhoods students live in. What would it look like if students from childhood to graduation and beyond lived with engagement to all aspects of their lives, aware that school is real life, not just preparation for real life? As a teacher and as a human being, I see every moment as an opportunity to engage and be present with the teachings and inspirations that exist in each member of a community, in nature, and in our ability connect with both.


This teaching statement is my final for my Education 180 class the University of California, Santa Cruz. Throughout the quarter, I spent 30 hours in a local high school classroom, observing an English teacher and helping students.

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