Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Greener Stairway to Heaven

I apologize in advance for the morbidity of this post... and the length of that morbidity.
*song playing in the background: Bursting Through, by Bic Runga*

My brother's family is bracing themselves for the blow, it won't be a fatal one, but it will leave permanent scars on the entire family.  His father-in-law is dying--has been for months--and is now with only days left in his long, hard battle with cancer.  My two nephews have never really had to deal with death before.  The eldest is 16, old enough to completely understand what is going on and the extensive affects it will have on all of them.  The youngest, 7 only knows that “Jah-Jee” (polish ‘grandpa’) is about to go to heaven. My family is very close, and we've been preparing ourselves for this for a while, but as it breaths down our necks our chests constrict and throats dry.  This is gonna be bad, almost as bad as when my grandmother died... almost.

So why the post? Well, not even an hour ago whilst talking to my eldest nephew about his day, he completely went to pieces, asking the proverbial 'Why?' and 'What are we going to do now [without him]?'  No amount of consoling, holding, or soothing words will make this hurt less--for any of them. I hate to see family members cry--especially men, since they're all very masculine, alpha and chivalrous. Seeing my nephews in tears knocks the wind out of my chest, seeing my brothers is crippling, and thankfully I've only seen my father cry once.  His break down made me cry, made me wish there was some way to make his grandfather's passing easier.  Which got me thinking about funerals.

Now, I've long abandoned religion... however, I'm quite sensitive and tender-hearted--one could argue that I am spiritual even.  I understand the idea of hallowed ground, but I always found funerals to be... well, morbid.  Even as a child I could not see how laying someone in a box--no matter how elaborate--and putting them in the ground was an appropriate ending to theirs lives as a cherished member of the family. Especially children, of which my family has buried three.  Cremation also never sat will with me, especially during my questioning of religion 'You're going to set them on fire? Like in Hell... to get them to Heaven?'  …And then when you go to the cemetery there's a cold stone marker, dark and dreary no matter what the color of the headstone or the weather outside... and you sit there, thinking of that member and just feeling empty.  That is in no way how I want to remember beloved members of my life; it's not befitting them or appropriate, and that's why I rarely go there to remember them.  'Remember the good times,' people always say, but how do you do that--when the wound is fresh especially--knowing they're rotting in a box beneath a cold stone slab? 

Now, this post isn't to lecture about how 56 million people die every year, or that 50 million trees are cut down (releasing 8 million tons of CO2) for coffins... it's not about that at all, because honestly, when you're hurting that shit doesn't matter one iota to you.  No, this is about something deeper.

It is about greener funerals, but it's also about better healing.   I know very few people who are not comforted by Nature, people who are not soothed by sunshine, a soft breeze whispering through trees while birds sing.  The Green Burial movement was not just born of people wanting to reduce their final footprint (because traditional burial methods are incredibly impactful), but by those wishing to send off, and remember their loved ones in a way that more appropriately celebrated their life.

There are several forms of green burial (all of which I will not go into), including Promessa, woodland burials, & living markers. Every method forgoes embalming and all the toxic chemicals associated (and therefore put into the system), and decedents are placed in simple & sustainable pine boxes, cremated or are simply wrapped in a shroud and then buried in a natural setting.  Some chose their eternal resting place to be by a river, or an outlook, and many chose it to be in close proximity or directly under a tree. Small placards are placed at the site to mark it so that you know exactly where your loved one lies.  The scene is remarkably different, as opposed to a little bit of grass and flowers among row after row of cold stone, imagine being surrounded by life: trees, flowers and birds. Encompassed by life vs. encircled by the death.

The creator of the Promessa method remarked “I feel very calm in knowing that I will be a rhododendron when I grow up.”

Take these next few lines literally in the biological sense, or in the metaphorical/spiritual sense.  Wouldn’t becoming a part of a tree, forest, the natural world in general be a more appropriate tribute to loved ones lost?  So that every time you go to visit them you can see how their passing gave new life, see the visible growth in the tree they were planted beneath, feel their essence breathing still in its leaves and flowers… Wouldn’t it grant you more peace to sit next to this beautiful living being, and sense that your loved one is still present.  No matter what God to subscribe to I’m sure s/he would be extra pleased to know that you selflessly gave back to his creation after your passing.

We have all experienced grief; thinking back on that grief, wouldn’t this seem a more suitable alternative? Isn’t it easier to remember the good times sitting under a tree, or next to a flowering bush instead of standing in front of a large, cold piece of stone with their name carved into it?  Even for those who aren’t into the spirituality or environmentalism of these ideas, the more selfish, skeptical of people: think of it as a way to live forever.  Like the character Yossarian, in Joseph Heller's novel Catch 22, who decided "to live forever or die in the attempt."

Thinking about the pain my nephews, as well as my brother and his wife, will soon be in makes me think of the pain my son will be in when I pass (hopefully not for a very, very long time!) Do I want him to stand before a headstone with the same feeling of emptiness? Or do I want drive home in interconnectedness of all life on Earth, and contribute to the life of another?  Like I said earlier, burial and cremation never made sense to me. This does.  So this is the route I’ve chosen to go. Of course, research and loose plans will not be made immediately—being there and consoling my family is the first priority, but once they start to pick up the pieces and move on I’ll look into it a bit more and will probably post more information on this topic then.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Works in Progress

The semester is winding down and coming to an end.  Many students have summer jobs and internships lined up while others prepare to spend the next four months having fun, partying and relaxing...  I get to do none or all of that.  Due to a minor (and by that I mean major) mix up with the administration I was unable to lock in an internship or related job offer, and so it'll be another mind-numbing summer of temporary (most likely retail) work. Oh joy.  But maybe I"ll luck out and get something awesome. Who knows.  One thing I DO know is that regardless of what kind of job I find I have a lot of other things to work on this summer as well: some for myself personally, some in regards to my son, and others that apply to my way-of-life in general--which are as follows:

Personal Works in Progress:
  • Read!!  I get ZERO personal/enjoyable reading during the semester, and only get to read books I WANT to read during breaks...thus far my To-Read stack numbers around 30 (and I cannot wait to dive into it!! (There are a few rereads in there)).
  • Stop drinking Pop!!  It is my only addiction, and for someone who's never even tried ANY drug, (I'll toot my own horn here) that's impressive.  However I drink only cans (not very eco-friendly of me) and between 3-6 a day.  That's a lot of unneeded sugar and resources used!
  • Tone-up/Lose weight... going off of the last one and my insane consumption of my beloved Pepsi... but I'm also very housebound in the winter, so it'd time to get my bikini body back!!Also, I am so very  tired of being single (and since many find me intimidating, a smoking bod will have to make up for the lost ground)--got to reel the fellas in!  :)
  • Think of new adventures to take Gabriel on!!  I have to keep that little brain working and open! None of this sitting around at home nonsense, it's time to explore the world & captivate that imagination!

Works in Progress for Gabriel:
  • POTTY TRAINING!!  Oh I rejoice the upcoming banishment of disposable underpants!!  Not to mention the money that'll remain in my bank account thereafter! Just FYI to those who aren't parents yet: Pull-ups are 4-5x as expensive as diapers!!  $20 for a week-10 day supply! I could make a mega box of diapers (around the same price) last a month!
  • Dressing himself.  Who doesn't love having someone do things for them? Who doesn't love doing things yourself and not needing someone else to do them for you? My son plays for both teams... and I'm looking to convert him to Team Independence!  He tries... usually.  Guess its time to start working some bribes!
  • Eating family meals.  I could not have anticipated how irritating it is to fix a child a separate meal... not as far as timing goes, as far as "I'm not eating that!" goes.  This child loves chicken nuggets (what child doesn't?) but refuses any other kind of meat save for a hot dog!  So we're going to be pushing new foods hard-core this summer!  Lucky for me he LOVES fruit and vegetables (score!), now we just have to get him on board with other staples like meat, & pasta etc.

Lifestyle Changes:
As eco-conscious as I already am, no one is perfect and we can all do more to lessen our impact on the Earth.  Many of my shortcomings are induced by a lack of monetary cushion so-to-speak, never-the-less we're going to try to implement some small & large changes in the coming months.
  • Farmer's Markets.  Now that they are up and open I'm going to try to buy most (if not all) of my produce locally (hopefully even organically).  Hopefully Gabriel will cooperate/go along and view it as a new adventure (with food!).
  • Green cleaners!  So My goal is to phase-out conventional cleaners and start making my own green cleaners, I already have the 'recipes' so now it's just a matter of getting the supplies, mixing them up and labeling the bottles--and then it's onward with chemical-free cleaning!!  "Hooray," rejoices the OCD side of me!  Hopefully this will help out with little man's allergies too!  natural-cleaning recipes
  • Reducing waste/recycling.  As mentioned above I intend to seriously cut down on my consumption of the oh-so-delicious (but essentially liquified corn) Pepsi--if not completely cut it out, reducing both my consumption of resources and cutting all of that out of the cycle.  On top of that we're going to work at buying in bulk and therefore reducing the waste in packaging associated.
  • Laundry.  I've used dryer balls for years, but somehow--much like socks--my dryer seems to enjoy eating them.  So I have to get more (and spares), in addition I'm going to shell out the $40-ish for the balls you toss into the dryer that deodorize/ionize and aerate the water (allowing detergent to work better and therefore requiring considerably less of it, if any at all).  **All balls available at www.greenfeet.com** Furthermore, I'm going to get one of those static sticks that you stick in your dryer as opposed to the ridiculously wasteful dryer sheets.  And lastly, hang drying more clothing.

 These are just personal things that I am going to be working on this summer (before things get hectic and chaotic with the start of a new semester).  I will keep you updated on my progress and any further undertakings!  For those of you only in this for the class/semester: Have a good and safe summer!

**These are the Environmental books I'm re/reading this summer.   How Much is Enough by Durning is a great book to read!  The Sacred Balance is one of my favorite books, and if you only read one of Suzuki's books I'd go with this one (though they are all fantastic, as are all of E.O Wilson's books)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Disposable kids

This past week I've had to do alot of talking about generation gaps.  My mother and I were discussing the vast changes (improvements?) between when she first became a parent and when I did--the most glaring of which was how disposable today's youth is.  When I first learned I was expecting I did the research about diapers--and was totally committed to the most eco-friendly option.  Surprisingly it turned out to be disposable ones as the start cost, soap, water and energy costs for cloth diapers would have far exceeded both Huggies and my budget.  This is when my mother chimed in that she would've loved to have that option when my brother was born--to my surprise.  I hadn't realized that cloth was the norm until just a few decades ago.  In the span of my mother's parental experience almost everything about raising kids changed--and became more disposable.  Apparently when I came around disposables were new to the scene, and now cloth diapering is viewed as primitive and almost torturous.  But the contrasts go beyond the butt.

I try very hard not to look at people, inventions and thought-processes as lazy, but its very difficult not to when you walk down the baby aisle of any given store and see 'toss n go' flatwear, disposable/one-use bottles and a slue of other products meant for quick on-the-go use and dumping.  Do today's parents even realize what a novelty babywipes are? On top of cloth diapers my mother used wash cloths on my older brother--imagine the laundry that poor woman had to do on an almost daily basis!  So in NO way am I saying all of the innovations geared to babies since his birth are frivolous or wasteful--but some have gone too far, and we should be demanding better.  Need an example?

It's around $1 for a 2oz jar of baby food.  Depending on the child's age (& appetite) they'll eat 1-4  per meal, to a cost of up to $15 a day.  During growth spurts they eat even more.

Money aside, think of all the resources that went into producing just one jar: the electricity, glass, plastic, metal, water, transportation & on and on. Why aren't we demanding larger jars? Jars that could be used for days?  An 8oz jar of carrots would have been a godsend 2 years ago, not just because my boy sucked that down like it was oxygen, it would've saved money, to not have a door -shelf wasted in the fridge for a few tiny jars, & would have saved an incalculable amount of water, energy and resources. And that's just ONE baby item. 

I could go on for days belaboring the point and going through the whole list--but I won't. Instead I'll go back to hand-me-downs (as ranted about in the Donating post from last month.).  In my basement--at this very moment--is stuff from when my nephews were first born--my nephews who are 16 and 7 years old!  For years I've been begging and threatening my brother and his wife to either take them home, sell/donate them, or have me do it for them.  WHY would you just let perfectly good things (clothes, swing, high chair, bouncer etc) just sit there collecting dust when someone else could be using it?  Now I understand the first few years when they weren't sure they wanted another one or not, but once that decision had been made one should have been made about the crap in my basement!  My point mentioning this is the irony that we're buying all these disposable bottles, forks, tiny/over-packaged things for our children and then holding on to the big reusable things long after they are gone... for what?  It's incredibly wasteful, lazy and environmentally irresponsible!  Our hoarding just means we all 'need' bigger houses to store the crap we don't/won't use again--therefore wasting land as well as resources!

*My son flanked by his two older cousins*
My point is that we all want what's best for our kids, we want them to have everything they could ever want and need--but chief of those is a healthy planet they can live on and off of! Our sloth and carelessness is robbing them of that. Most children are up and walking around the age of one--meaning the bouncer, swing, and walker will be seeing no more action, so donate it and give the kid more room to run!! Hell, it's one less thing for you to trip over while chasing them!  The fact of the matter is we're raising these kids on all things disposable: they don't learn the value of things anymore because they get a new phone everytime a new one comes out regardless of if the previous one worked, fastfood & paper plates, while their parents hoard all the things of days gone past.  That glaring disconnect can only spell disaster for the children we work so hard to provide for.  But instead of spoiling/showering them with objects, maybe we should be showering them in values--like "anything worth having is worth working for" and that anything worth having is NOT disposable.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Daily Investments

Like I’ve said before it doesn’t take grand outings to forge a relationship between the outside world and children.  And it doesn’t have to be in completely ‘natural’ or virgin areas. For example, I live in a fairly large complex, dozens and dozens of townhouses sandwiched together in tight little rows and horseshoes. Twenty to thirty share a parking lot and back up to others with a communal backyard between them—so it is in no way a pristine natural environment, but nature abounds regardless. 

Even in this clearly urban area nature is present sun up to sun down.  My son’s highchair faces the backyard in the morning because he likes to watch the squirrels, chipmunks and birds while he eats breakfast.  Weather permitting, when he gets home from ‘school’ (daycare) we play outside and take a walk (to burn off some energy so he doesn’t destroy my house on a nightly basis!).  In the evening he’ll try to find the moon and some stars and in the summertime lightning bugs.  They’re all just tiny little details in the day that reinforce nature as a part of his life and routine. 

*Here is a list of other small daily investments made this week:

Monday—abandoned his trains to watch carpenter ants (to my delight) for almost a half an hour, while repeatedly squealing “Hi bugs!” And “Bugs are nice!”

Tuesday—played a search & rescue game with his 2” trains in the grass & later hide & seek (with the trains).

Wednesday—played I-spy & name-that-animal on our walk.

Thursday—watched Maintenance dig holes (with giant drill attached to bulldozer) to plant flowering trees & bushes as part of their Community Beautification project. We followed them around for almost an hour.

Friday—walked around and looked at all the trees & bushes that had been planted the day before, and played animal I-spy on our walk.

Like I said, alone they are insignificant little details in the day but in an age where kids spend sun up to sun down in front of a television watching mindless shows or playing video games these tiny details make an enormous difference.  How different the world might be if children itched to get outside and explore the REAL world instead of closing themselves off in their rooms and getting lost in the world-wide web.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Guides saves us!

Few things will fill you with as much pride as seeing your teachings in a child.  Nephews, nieces, neighbors or strangers—hearing your knowledge come out of their mouths and guide their actions is a feeling like no other.
While working for the National Parks I interacted with hundreds of people, many of them families--during my guided hikes and cave tours, answering questions at the visitor’s center, my biweekly wildlife talks or while I was out in the park on my days off.  And I’ll tell you from experience, nothing guarantees a family enjoying themselves like entertaining and educating the young ones!  No parent enjoys any outing or vacation if their children are running amok and acting a fool.  So it’s always a good idea to focus on and engage them first.

*Teaching kids about responsible caving & bats!*

My time there has served me well in the short time that I’ve been a parent, focusing on and engaging my own child 24/7.  And yes, whether it’s a shopping trip or a walk around the block—no outing is enjoyable (or sometimes bearable) when he’s in the throes of a ‘terrible-twos’ tantrum.  The worst ones are on the way home—because for whatever reason you HAD to go and ruin their good time.  Kids on my guided tours would do this too—and I soon discovered that playing games kept the good times going.  The kids at the park were old enough to play trivia games on the hike out, so I quizzed them on things I’d taught them and gave them suckers or pencils—& they loved it, so did their ever-grateful parents.  My son may not even be 3yrs old yet, but he knows his colors, shapes, numbers, letters, and a vast variety of objects—including over 35 animals & the sounds they make (yes, I have counted)!  So to keep him from getting too bored and acting up we play those same guide games, and many times HE is the one that initiates these games.  They have saved my sanity on more than one occasion.

Believe me, kids need little coaxing to demonstrate how smart they are!  And they’ll damn-near do back flips to show off if it merits some kind of reward.  So whether you go off to work for a local, state or National Park, or a community outreach program, or just have children of your own one day—guide games save the parents!!  Like the old adage says: “If mom ain’t happy, no one is happy,” and nothing makes mom (parents in general) happier than kids who are busy learning and happy about it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Carbon Footprinting

There are several sites you can go to if you want to see what your carbon footprint is: that is how much carbon dioxide you yourself (via your habits) put into the atmosphere. There are also sites that calculate your impact on the Earth's natural resources.  This week I had to do one for two different classes using two different calculators.  The first is a resource calculator while the second is solely a CO2 calculator.

The first was  www.myfootprint.org
This site asks an array or questions ranging from your diet, and transportation to your spending habits!!  At the end it doesn't tell you how much carbon you put into the air but rather how many Earth's would be needed if everyone on the planet lived the way that you do!!  I consider myself a fairly ecologically and environmentally responsible person and yet it would take 2.5 Earths for the 7 billion people on the planet to live the way that I do.  That is an awful lot of resources!! The site also gives you graphs and charts that break down what areas you have more impact.  For example my food requirements (just me) use 55 acres of land. That's alot of land to feed this one mouth!!  I also impact forrested land more than I do cropland, pastureland and marine fisheries.  So clearly I still can make changes to live a more sustainable life.  Below is the average... however the range in the class room alone went from 2.5 earths (me) to 10!!

The Second site was www.safeclimate.net
This one solely measures the amount of CO2 that your lifestyle contributes to the atmosphere.  My household of three emits 714lbs per month!! 62% of my emissions are from transportation.  I'll admit, I was quite deflated with my results.  But unfortunately I'm not in a position to change alot of those habits.  Financially speaking I can't afford to move closer to campus, and because I'm not the only adult in the house I have to compromise on practices (such as not using the AC every day!).  Again this is a generic breakdown, and it'll vary from person to person.

For comparison purposes I also did the footprints for my two younger siblings (I was too afraid to include my older brother!)  Because they live within a mile of their workplace & therefor usually walk, as well being smaller households their footprints were much smaller: My sister emits 442lbs of CO2 per month while my brother & his wife emit 411lbs.  With those numbers in mind, and knowing they aren't nearly as eco-minded as I am I was encouraged to know that when I am the head of the house I'll have a much smaller footprint.  But until then I will try to find ways to further reduce my impact on the Earth and her resources.

Freak of Nature

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day outside!  It was 83 degrees outside and couldn’t have been more perfect after such a long, wet and cold winter. It was the first day my son got to play outside for more than an hour and he couldn’t have been more thrilled!  That being said, I didn’t just unleash him and let him run wild—though he did essentially do wind-sprints between our house & the neighbors he was so excited!  My little man is extremely inquisitive and (once his initial frenzy has worn off) likes to examine everything and explore.   

These teachable moments are perfect for not only teaching him about what plants, animals, and things he is seeing, but how it ties to the world, what they do and why they are important. Naturally you have to be conscious of their age and your explanations have to be simple and in some cases creative, but taking advantage of these teachable moments will effect every outdoor experience they have there after.

For example, late last summer my son discovered bees… or rather, he discovered he could now keep up with them.  Fearless as he is, one day he saw one pollinating a flower and reached out and grabbed it!  Those watching were initially concerned and attempted to go to his aid before I stopped them.  This is how they learn.  Gabriel held the bee up close for a minute, literally studying it before he let it go.  The bee stung him once it was released of course, and once he stopped crying I explained to him that he scared the bee and it just wanted to get away.  Now he was 2, so I know he doesn’t remember that. So yesterday he saw another bee and went to investigate, but before he got too close I told him to be careful not to scare the bee and to just look. Which he did, he sat down and just watched it while I explained that the bees help the flowers grow big and pretty. After the bee flew away he went and examine every different kind of flower and plant he could find.   (See photo)

We also found bugs (which of course he studied--
See Photo) and we talked about trees and birds and squirrels and all kinds of things and spent the entire day outside. Of course the entire day wasn’t nature or lesson based, he played with his dinosaurs and trucks as well. But my point is that he can get to know the world around him intimately without it being a chore, work or lecture. And the more he experiences it the more he’ll care about it.

I introduced him to the outside world within a few weeks of his birth, and we regularly spent whole afternoons out there, taking naps and watching the trees dance and the birds flutter around.  As a result my son is drawn to the outside world almost as strongly as he is to the ground via gravity! 
Before he could walk he would crawl to the door and bang on it to tell me he wanted to go outside.  If it was too cold or raining he would just sit by it and cry.  As heartbreaking as the scene was at the time it thrilled me that he was so enamored with being outside, and while he no longer cries (usually) when he can’t go outside he is still addicted to being outside—partially, I think, because I’ve encouraged his exploring and taught him about what he’s seeing.  I don’t tell him not to touch things or splash in the mud, because doing those things—even if he gets hurt—teaches him and gives him confidence, while fostering his desire to learn more on his own.

Days like yesterday reinforce my desire and commitment to raising him as a conscious and ecologically responsible citizen of the Earth. As well as encouraging me to continue it shows me that its working, and worth it.  So yesterday was glorious not just because of the weather, and the fact we spent the whole day outside, or brought out the grill.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dirty Little Heathens

*moves soapbox to centerstage*

I begin typing this as the teenager next door’s shower passes the 20minute mark. And before I continue I will make the disclaimer that you will learn more about me in this post than I’m sure you want to.  But it’s for a good cause.  So have the eye-bleach ready, & your selective-reading glasses on.

I have never understood daily showers. Honestly. Never in my life have I felt the need to take a daily 10 minute shower. Ever.  Not even when I worked in the middle of the California desert for the National Parks (and not just for conservation purposes).  I just don’t get that dirty.
And it, to me, is just a colossal waste of water.  

For example, my best friend of 15 yrs is a stunning woman, just gorgeous. And not because she spends hours gussying herself up.  It’s not uncommon for her to take two showers a day, at least one of which is rather lengthy.  She’s always been that way. A lot of girls/women are.  In her defense, my friend is in the medical field (to control the flow of germs she must be clean) and has OCD, but my goodness!

What is the excuse for the girl next door?
The times have not changed so drastically in the decade since I was in high school to suggest that teenagers have become markedly dirtier in their time at school, and day thereafter to suggest they need half hour showers.  I have half a mind to inform the youth that in bootcamp you’re allotted 2 minutes to shower—and you get all the way clean! But I know such information would mean nothing to them--& might instead drive down enlistment rates further.
But back to the point: what in the hell are they doing in there so long? 

Now, I’m not without guilt.  My hair is insanely thick—thick enough that I have my sister thin it by over 50% twice a year, and still it takes me 5-7 minutes to wash it. But I multitask, while the hair is rinsing, or the conditioner is setting its recommended 2 minutes (which I double) I’m washing the rest of me.  And again, this is not daily.

Now, unscrew your faces and keep in mind that humans were never meant to bathe daily.  Your skin and hair produce oil necessary for health and maintenance. Washing it away everyday before its done its job is part of the reason people ‘need’ so many products: lotion, hair oil, etc. So by NOT bathing daily you’re saving water, allowing your body to better take care of itself and cutting down the products you use (and all the resources that went into making them). YAY!   I should also point out that using hot water isn't good for you either (not only because it dries out your skin, damaging it and making it harder to absorb that lotion you're slathering on--but think of all the energy you're using just to heat that water up! Warm water is better, cool water is best as its more easily absorbed). OH, and air-drying it the way to go--your body wants to suck in that moisture not have you wipe it (and skin cells) away (PLUS it saves laundry! Another bonus!) See people, what's good for the planet is very often good for you too!!

Also, for those who feel the need to continue daily bathing habits, why do you shower in the morning? If you truly believe you get filthy enough to need scrub off the day, why would you bring that to bed vs. washing it off before you climb into your nice comfy, cozy bed? If you need it to wake up try just splashing cold water in your face in the morning, and enjoy washing your sheets less.  :)  Bonus!

The world is changing. Unpredictably and uncontrollably. We all need to be conscious of our habits and how we are impacting the world around us. Water WILL become scarcer—in many parts of the world it already is.  **Click on the images on the left to get a better look of how such shortage will most likely affect you!** 
Soon it’ll be too expensive to indulge in 20 minute showers regularly, but why wait until then? Turning off the water while we brush our teeth is a good start, but there are lots of ways we can further reduce our water wasting.  Take a look at your daily routine and see how you can reduce your use. Even if it’s just fixing a leak. 

When I worked in a nursing home we had a constant leak in the kitchen—which I calculated to leak over 4,000 gallons of water a year. As soon as I gave management that number and they converted it to dollars it was fixed—in under an hour! Again, these are simple, EASY to incorporate changes that aside from helping the planet help your budget!!  And until the former becomes as important (more so!) than the latter, I will continue to emphasize that point!

***By the by, grand total shower time for the 15yr old next door: an absurd 44 minutes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ten Greener Steps

There are many surprisingly easy ways to be eco-friendly.  It's hard to be perfect–and even the most conscious of us make certain guilty concessions to make life a little easier.  Below is a quick list of easy changes that are easy, green and might even save you money!!  Best of all:  What is good for Mother Earth is usually also really good for you! For everything below that is true!
If this list seems overwhelming, challenge yourself to make one change at a time.

1.) No more disposablesthe big one for adults is water bottles. I won’t dump the stats on you because honestly it’d take a whole post. But if you’re not going to do it for global health, or personal health then do it to save money! College students buy 1-3 a day—for the sake of ease & argument we’ll say @ $2 a pop) that’s between $60-180 a month! On water!  If you like your water really cold just toss the stainless steel bottle in the freezer. Easy. Cheaper. Greener.
2.) Reduce Consumption of MeatAmerican’s consume nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.  Challenge yourself to one (or more!) meatless meal a day.  Substitute other proteins in your diet like beans, nuts and eggs to make up the loss.  When you DO choose to eat meat buy local, free-range and organic livestock.
You can find local, sustainable and organic foods here: www.sustainabletable.org
3.) Make Your Own Household Cleansersit is amazing what you can do with castile soap, vinegar, baking soda, essential oils and water. I’m sure you’ve all seen the prices of cleaners—I saw one last week for $7! –staggering since all the items listed above are around $2  ‘Recipes’ for every kind of cleaner you could ever want can easily be found online--and the quantity those recipes make can easily last you a whole year or more!
4.) Do Laundry smarter I’m sure you all know to wash in cold water vs. hot, and you’ve all seen the dryer balls in Wal-mart but there are two other things you can do to save money and be a more eco-friendly launderer!  Use powder detergent—more than half of the volume of liquid detergents is water (costing you more money for less soap AND for more packaging).  Better yet—buy one of the washer balls that helps you use less (or no) detergent  and lasts over 2,000 washes! Available at Gaiam.com and Bed, Bath & Beyond & many other retailers.
5.) Eat Locally Grown Foods as Much as Possible– eat healthier, support local farming, help the environment. Not to mention local, organic food tastes better (since you get it fresher), and is very often priced similarly or cheaper!
6.) Eat smarterIn the early 80s there was the Raw Food diet—that is you ate what came out of the ground, how it came out. Doritos do not grow the way you buy them, so you don’t eat them.  That was the idea.  About a decade and a half later came the Real Food diet, similar idea, but you didn’t have to eat everything raw (yay for cooked carrots!).  Now I’m not asking you to follow either regime. I AM asking you to think about how your food is made/processed.  What steps took it from the ground to the state it is in now? How much water, fuel and other resources were needed to do so? Was it necessary? And can you find smarter/greener substitutes? What was great about these diets was that it was healthier for you AND the globe! 
7.) Read Labels!continuing with the idea of #6.  We all know we should avoid high fructose corn syrup, sugar, hydrogenated oils, and preservatives. But take it a step further—if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.  If you can’t even say the word its safe to say you don’t know what it is or what kinds of effects it can have on your body & health—so skip it all together. In this I apologize to all those who love or survive on Ramen Noodles. Sometimes you just have to eat what you can afford—if this is the case, don’t beat yourself up, just commit to eating smarter as your paychecks grow.
8.) Cut out plastics--at least as far as food goes.  That is: do not eat off of, heat or freeze food in plastic containers.  Plastic is made from oil and an array of chemicals, admittedly not something any of us are eager to ingest.  Yet we all heat up food in plastic containers (or worse Styrofoam) in our microwaves, leeching out all those chemicals and contaminants into our delicious food. Yummy.   
9.) Leave off the lights—we all know we should turn off lights when we leave a room, but have you ever noticed more lights are on in your house the later it gets?  My mother turns on every light in whatever room she is in, then she turns them all off and takes a sleeping pill when she goes to bed.  Most insomnia problems stem from disrupting the body’s natural cycles, the decrease in light as the day goes on signals the brain to shut down and readies it for rest.  So try using fewer lights at night, only what you need for the task at hand, and both reduce your energy bill and the amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere AS WELL as get better sleep!  
10.) GO NAKED!!sorry, I just had to make sure you were still paying attention! This one is primarily for the ladies and metrosexual guys. Next time you go shopping for hair gel or makeup take a gander at the labels on those.  They are even more chalked full of chemicals (even animal fat) than the food you’re eating!  So either chose from eco-friendly products (Aveda, Burt’s Bees, Origins etc) or go naked!

**I don't know what was going on with the font, but after an hour of trying to fix it I gave up!

      Tuesday, April 5, 2011

      Safari Guide on a Soapbox

      Whatever You Do, Don't Run: Elephants and bullets:

      My pal & Safari Guide Peter Allison, talks about rich CEOs and why they should never travel unsupervised!!
      I am very impressed he didn't go off more than he did! And I hope many of us follow his lead.

      Monday, April 4, 2011

      Can we survive Eaarth?

      I don’t think there is a (rational) human being alive that realistically thought that mankind would inhabit another planet.  Yet that is exactly what Bill McKibben suggests in his latest book Eaarth.  He argues that we no longer live on planet Earth, because the planet we stand on now doesn’t look or behave like the one that birthed mankind 50,000 yrs ago.  This new planet—Eaarth—is more aggressive and hostile, more turbulent and chaotic, and completely unforgiving of our past sins.  

      The numbers in the book are staggering, and no matter how avidly people try to refute them—accurate. Confirmed.  This is our fault. No questions asked.  The people who contest this are in denial, and/or scared stagnant.  The biggest problem with ‘Going Green’ is that it calls for a complete overhaul of our way of life—and that scares the shit out of people.  No one likes change on any scale, be in individual, national or global.  No matter how obvious the need (for change) is people drag their heels until they crash into the ‘now or never’ wall.  Bill McKibben in this book is essentially saying that we crashed through that wall just as we were learning where it stood, and we did so because we were too focused on NOT losing everything we’ve worked so hard for.  Hmm, maybe ‘worked hard for’ isn’t the right wording since one barrel of oil equals ten years of manpower! Worked ‘smarter’ might be a better term, if the means hadn’t driven us to the catastrophe we’re now facing (even reluctantly). 

      So what do we do now?  Other than being brutally upfront and honest on where we stand as far as this global crisis, the big message in this book is that we need to stand, legs spread, bend over and forcibly remove our heads from our asses and get cracking on adapting to the new planet we now find ourselves living on.  I apologize for the visual, but Bill didn’t hold any punches in his text so neither shall I. 

      Whilst reading the first two chapters I was reminded of two quotes from JFK that I feel need to be adopted with fervor:  “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man… No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

      The second, while referencing our greatest achievement as a species, showcases what amazing things we are capable of when we give our all to a goal.  We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”   

      If we could commit to go to the moon in a single decade, WHY can we not solve thins problem?  Yes, it is inherently more complicated, complex & difficult —as I said would involve a complete overhaul of how we live our lives… but if we can do something as wholly unnecessary as space travel, then how can we not tackle the issue that threatens our survival as a whole, and win?  This challenge requires creative thinking, ingenuity, & problem solving on a scale few could ever imagine.  It can’t be solved by cynics, skeptics, or those in to turn a quick profit… but I believe it CAN be solved.  Oil (all fossil fuels) is not the answer, it’s the cancer… and now we need to find the treatment(s) to heal & revitalize the entire world.

      Sunday, April 3, 2011

      Cartoons to the Rescue!

      Two of my heroes are animated. I’m not kidding.  I won’t rant about the degradation of cartoons & their content here; we’ll just say that I’m very choosy about the programming I let my child watch.  When my eldest nephew was born I was horrified by the shows—my second hero (named later) had departed and in came King of the Hill, Dragon Balls, South Park and a slue of other shows that were vulgar, centralized upon combat, or born of psychosis (prime example: Spongebob Squarepants).  So poor ‘Domo’ was raised primarily on Disney movies and the shows that we (his aunts & uncle) were raised on.  The same thing happened with his brother ‘Amp’ a decade later, because the cartoons today are trash. Most of them spark random homicidal/suicidal thoughts for parents: Dora the Explorer, Backyardigans, Wonderpets... I could go on for days!!  Now there are some good preschool shows out, shows that teach ABCs & 123s, colors, shapes and all that. But sometimes kids just want to watch a story play out, while parents want them to take more away.

      Amazingly, out of the mental breakdown that is Dora, came a gem: Go, Diego Go—a spin-off featuring her animal rescuing cousin.  Diego is far and away my son’s favorite show. He could watch it for weeks ceaselessly, sometimes it’s the only thing that comforts him when he is sick, and always it settles him when on I’m the verge of snapping.  But I sing not its praises because it can be likened to visual Ritalin.  In the show Diego goes around rescuing animals, but while he does so he’s teaching about the natural world, the animals themselves and values.  Values? Yes.  Respect, kindness, responsibility, manners, on top of the preschool ABCs/123s and such other shows do.

      But while my son goes around imitating animals and educating the family on them, sadly his Diego years are limited.  Wherever should I turn then?  Why, to one of my childhood heroes! Captain Planet!  Captain Planet went off air in 1996 but that doesn’t mean my son will never know him!  I’m buying up the season dvds as I type!

      I can think of no show more deserving to be brought back— especially with the issues we’re now facing—and promoted (heavily)! I might even argue its need to be shown in elementary science classes. Alright, so that might be a bit much, but the point is that it not only continues on what his favorite show is already teaching him but also broadens his horizons.  As kids we knew nothing of the great big world beyond our neighborhood, nothing of just how connected we (and our actions) were to those on the other side of the globe. My son will not be so ignorant.
      Ignorance breeds poor choices and apathy. 

      But Captain Planet isn’t fantastic just
      because it’s centered on the environment.
      It focuses on young people facing problems head-on & hands-on. It demonstrates the power of working together.  Its catch phrase was “The power is yours.” The 5 ‘Planeteers’ come from all corners of the earth, varying cultures and backgrounds.  So we’ve gone from respect, kindness, responsibility and manners to environmental responsibility, integrity, teamwork & compromise, encouraging confidence, equality & the value of diversity as well as thinking outside of yourself.  …Just to name a few…
      I’m SO on-board with that!

      The Power of Donating

      If there’s one thing that drives me insane it’s when people throw away perfectly good things.  Last weekend I watched one of my neighbors haul out a huge couch and equally large desk, down from their second floor, out across the parking lot and then heave it up above their heads to dump it in the complex dumpster.  Part of me wanted to laugh at them, another wanted to lecture them, but I settled on advising them that they could’ve donated such items vs. throwing them away.  Their response stunned me.  “We don’t have a truck & I’m not gonna rent one just to give it away.”  To which I responded: There are places that will come get it for you.  “You mean I’d have to go through the phone book and then have a stranger in my house?”  I walked away before my mouth unleashed itself, seething.

      These people decided it was easier to haul a few hundred pounds to the dumpster vs. spend a few minutes on the phone & with ‘a stranger’ in their house. Generations in a landfill vs. being used and enjoyed by another family. Really?  
      If you’re going to be lazy, do it the right way!

      It still boggles my mind that people junk things as opposed to donating them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  When I was a kid hand-me-downs were just part of life--but no more!  My best friend’s daughter has no idea what that term means—& not because she’s the only child in the family.  At some point in the last 20 years it became unfashionable to donate and share things when we could just toss them and go buy shiny new ones. Worse, is we don’t even wait for things to break before we toss them. Those neighbors just bought newer, nicer versions of what they tossed. 

      Who says that items can only be utilized by one family?  Moreover, who says that item is useless just because you’re done with it? It’s not broken, it’s unwanted (by you)—and unwanted doesn’t equal trash.  Donating makes things available to people who normally wouldn’t be able to afford them.  Many people (not just single moms & college students) survive off cheap—but cheap doesn’t need to mean chintzy, disposable or of poor quality. 

      We need to sever the line of thinking that goes from not wanting something anymore to throwing that item away.  There are three obvious alternatives: giving it to someone you know, donating it or having a garage sale.  Garage sales are an awful lot of work, and are sadly going the way of hand-me-downs. So donate your unwanted (perfectly usable) wares—to better the lives of another family and keep them out of our landfills!

      Below are just a few local donation centers.

      Goodwill Donation Centers:
      411 Milham (269) 552-5260
      420 Alcott  (269) 382-0490
      5609 West Main (269) 372-6127

      NuWay Thrift Store
      211 cork street
      (269) 343-7108

      Habitat for Humanity
      Habitat for Humanity--ReStore
      1810 Lake street   (269) 381-5523
      **Will come pick up large furniture & other items
      **shopping here also generates money to build homes for struggling families