Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011

It's true.  I have literally hugged a tree before.  Although that's not necessary and not really what Earth Day is all about.  It's just a reminder to appreciate the beauty around us and maybe make an extra effort to be conscious of how our actions affect the environment.  We don't have to be "crunchy" to make a difference.  Here are some simple ideas:
  • Take shopping bags with you to the store today.
  • Buy fresh food with little or no packaging. (Do my carrots really need a plastic bag?)
  • Set a timer for the sprinklers so you don't overdo it.
  • Hide hard-boiled eggs for Easter instead of plastic ones.
  • Or reuse the same plastic eggs each year.
  • Borrow or rent items that you may only use once instead of buying them.
  • Take your kids for a walk in the park and enjoy the buzzing bugs and chirping birds.
If you'd like more information on Earth Day, how it started and what people all over the world are doing to celebrate check out the Earth Day website. 

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mr. Lizard

There's something truly wonderful about being outside.  And there's something even better about being a part of the outside.  I think many of us rush around from place to place and being outside briefly is just a part of our journey rather than the destination.

Last week the patio furniture we ordered arrived and needed to be assembled.  Since it was a beautiful 72 degrees I set to work and eventually got it all put together.  After two hours of hard work I sat back in the shade on my new loveseat, drank a glass of water, and became part of the outside.  Soon a hummingbird came along and hovered on one side of the yard and then the other.  I think he was watching me too because I had to flinch when he flew right at me and then quickly away.  I didn't even know we had hummingbirds around here.  As I continued to enjoy the warm afternoon I heard more birds chirping and watched the bees buzzing from yard to yard.  I looked at the tall palm tree peaking over the rooftop and then over at the cell phone tower disguised as a eucalyptus on the other side.  Maybe the melodic sounds of the freeway aren't intoxicating to everyone but it's become white noise to me.  Ahh, what a life.

The next morning came the icing on the cake.  As my hubby and I sat out back- him journaling and me eating my Cheerios and admiring the progress of my micro-farm- I saw Mr. Lizard.  We have tons of little lizards that run around outside our apartment complex but there's one in particular I've noticed that is very dark, almost black.  He's about eight inches long and he likes to jut out from behind things in my backyard and nearly give me a heart attack.  But today I spotted him sunning himself on our doormat.  I said to Kyle, "He better not go in the house!"  Instead of closing the door I just watched as he did several push-ups on the patio.  It was really cute, like a cartoon or something.  Mr. Lizard wasn't interested in going inside.  He was too busy being a part of the outside.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is It Possible?

I'm a bit of a nerd.  I watch a lot of documentaries.  There's just so much to know.  Today I watched a documentary called No Impact Man about a man (along with his wife and child) who decided to live for one year without making any negative impact on the planet.  To most people this probably sounds crazy especially because they live in a Manhattan high rise!  I really liked the honesty of this film because the transition was not made out to be a walk in the park.  In fact, the man, Colin, and his wife, Michelle, both had their days of doubt and even fought the process a bit.  They made changes in phases that built upon each other rather than doing everything from the beginning.  Around the six month mark they flipped the breakers in their apartment and went completely without electricity for the remainder of the year.  Yup.  That means no refrigerator.  Yikes!  All they had was a used cooler with ice in it to keep the daughter's milk cold. 

It was about the second or third night of sitting in a candle-lit room that Colin had an epiphany.  He realized that this movement to live more sustainably isn't about deprivation.  "It's about: How can we have a good life and waste as little as possible?" I think that's one of the bigger barriers critics of the movement have.  We have become so entitled that to suggest sacrificing something we like or are simply accustomed to seems appalling.  I'm not talking about living like a caveman but perhaps it would be wise to rethink why we are so attached to certain things like overly packaged products or leaving every light in the house on. 

One of the things I was most excited to see was how Michelle's relationship with food changed.  When they started she was a self professed take-out-aholic.  She never cooked and never knew where her food was coming from.  The couple made a commitment to only eat things that came from within a 250 mile radius of their home.  This meant that they frequented the farmers' market, built relationships with the people who were growing and producing their food, and even visited a farm and dairy upstate.  It took several months before Michelle attempted to do some of the cooking but she finally braved that new world.  She came to truly appreciate what she was eating and how it was affecting the community around her.  She had a love affair with food. 

But the best part of all this was watching their two year old daughter experience it as well.  Isabella got to pet the cow that produced milk for her, help her dad stomp on the laundry in the bathtub to clean it, and ride on the back of her mom's bike everyday.  All the while she grinned from ear to ear.  Of course, at the end of the year there were elements they added back into their lives.  But there were many things that stuck even after the experiment was over.  People always ask, "Can one person really make a difference?"  I believe that the answer is yes.  If something you choose to do or not to do impacts others (and it does!) then you have effectively made a difference. 

"The most radical impact you can have is to be an optimist."  -Colin Breavan, No Impact Man

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Water Day 2011

Today is World Water Day, a day of awareness started by the United Nations in 1993. Water is something that so many of us in the United States don't really think about.  We've always had clean water and have never thought about what it might be like if we didn't.  We live in one of the few places in the world where the kitchen faucet reliably produces safe, clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing.  But not everyone is so lucky. 

What can we do to help?  Well, for starters we can change small habits at home.  Here are some ideas:
  • Only turn the faucet on half-way instead of full blast
  • Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or washing your face
  • Turn off the hose if you have to go inside for something
  • Don't linger in the shower
  • Use leftover water from cups or pots to water plants or rinse other dishes
  • Adjust your automatic sprinklers when there's been rainfall
How is that going to help?  Many places must import water from other communities because of overuse.  Southern California is a prime example of that.  Being wasteful causes us to seek water from Northern California and even Arizona, a process which consumes tons of energy.  If there were ever problems with those aqueducts we would be in serious trouble.

There are so many ways to conserve.  If you already have great conservation habits at home and would like to go bigger, consider making a donation to an organization that builds wells or rainwater collection systems in other countries.  Here are a few options:
Today, when you drink a glass of water, remind yourself that you're one of the lucky few.  Spread the word and talk to friends and family about helping with a donation.  Every drop counts!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I was never one of those teenagers who did things just because her parents would disapprove.  My rebellion has always been much more subtle.  It usually comes in the form of not following directions.  Chalk it up to a more creative brain, I suppose.  But the fact is that I often choose to do things my way rather than according to the expert directions.  The main exception to that is when a person gives me directions.  I'm good at following a direct order.  The most recent example of my rebellion came when I was planting my tomatoes and peppers.  Everything I read told me to plant the seeds in little containers indoors and when the seedlings got to a certain size they could be slowly introduced to the great outdoors and later transplanted in the ground.  Here were my thoughts...
  1. Where am I going to put these things in my little apartment?
  2. I don't want to spend more money on little containers to start these things.
  3. This is Southern California- it's probably warm enough outside.
  4. If they don't grow I'll just buy some plants from Home Depot.
So I figured I would give it a go outside.  Worst case scenario? I'm out the three bucks I spent on seeds.  Well, good news- they grew!  Maybe they took a couple weeks longer than they would have indoors but I don't mind.  The tomatoes have just gotten their true leaves this week and they've been in the ground for a month.  And today three little pepper plants just popped up after three weeks in the ground.  I guess sometimes it's OK not to follow directions as long as there's a logical reason for it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

First Harvest

Today is a great day.  It's the first time I've picked something out of my yard to eat!  I noticed that some of my lettuce mix was prime for picking.  In fact, I measured one piece at 7.5 inches tall.  So I plucked several of the larger leaves and added them to my sandwich.  What a treat! 

For anyone who is new to edible gardening, I would definitely recommend growing lettuce from seeds.  There's something really amazing about watching a pile of dirt quickly turn into lunch.  And I do mean quickly.  I planted these seeds only 32 days ago.  It took just a few days for them to peek through the soil and it's been a joy to be able to notice growth even overnight.  Everyday when I go outside I get excited about big everything has gotten.  If you want to know how excited, just my hubby.  Nearly everyday when he gets home from work I drag him out into the back yard and point out every bit of growth I've noticed.  Ha ha!

I am now starting to see true leaves appear on the swiss chard, carrots, and beets.  And I can't wait to get my hands on that first beet!  Luckily I have my lettuce varieties to keep me patient until then. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Crazy Cousins

Last week I noticed that something had been chomping on my lettuce.  So I took a couple of the snacked-upon leaves to my local garden center to get some expert advice.  I found a man who said he could help and I showed him the evidence while explaining that I was looking for an organic solution to this problem.  He stared at the leaves for a moment and informed me that it must be caterpillars.  Then he handed me a product called Sevin and told me that it would take care of my little problem.  I asked him, "Is this organic?"  He said that it was.  But as I inspected the bottle I got suspicious.  The front of the packaging clearly named the chemical that was going to kill my bugs and nowhere did it use the word "organic."  (Now in this day and age when something is suitable for use on organic gardens, they advertise it.)  Then the man said to me, "Well, you wash your vegetables before you eat them anyway, so it'll be fine."  I quickly put that product back.

I ended up buying a product that said "safe around pets and kids," "can be used up to the day of harvest" and "for use in organic gardens."  Upon further research I discovered that the chemical used in Sevin is classified as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA, is illegal is many countries, and kills beneficial insects like honeybees as well!  Holy Cow!!!

I had to find out what was really eating my plants since I no longer trusted the man at the garden center.  The only bug I found was the classic childhood toy, the roly poly.  Otherwise known as Pill Bugs or Armadillidiidae.  I found out that they usually eat decaying things but will also munch on little seedlings.  And get this, they are not bugs at all.  They are crustaceans!  So I set out pluck as many as I could find from my garden and drown them in a cup of water.  My goal is to remove enough of them that they won't overwhelm my garden before the plants get big enough to survive.  As I collected them I became much less shocked about them being a cousin to shrimp.  Even though they sink to bottom of the water like a rock, they were still kicking after 30 minutes!  Gross!  So I put them down the garbage disposal and now I'm nervously looking at the sink every hour hoping they won't be resurrected.