Tag Archives: sustainability

Clean Air Starts with Me

Years ago, when I began my formal learning on environmental topics, I thought I had all of the answers about pollution.  It was industry, manufacturing, agribusiness, and big corporations who were responsible for pollution.  They were the problem.  They needed to clean up their acts.

It didn’t take long for me to see the flaws in my thinking.  The more I studied, the more I realized that my own actions had a bigger negative impact than I thought.  My car released too many pollutants.  My appliances used more than my fair share of electricity.  I wasted more food and threw away more trash than I should.  For a short while, I felt guilty and sad.  It wasn’t them, it was me!  But here’s the good news: If I’m the problem, I can make a difference through my own actions!

I didn’t have to fight huge corporations; I could start by making changes at home.  Our family started on the path to a more sustainable life by growing and raising most of our own food, which is my heritage.  I quit my bottled water addiction, realizing along the way that stainless steel water bottles full of my own (free) well water were much more fashionable.  We lowered the thermostat in winter and did the opposite in summer.  I started timing my showers to reduce water usage.  We cut our food waste and learned to buy less stuff.  We learned to live simply, more sustainably, and along the way we found our lives to be more fulfilling.

And now, over 7 years later, I’ve come full circle.  I feel that I’ve made as many changes to my lifestyle as I’m able or willing to make.  I don’t feel like a hypocrite when I say that it’s industry’s turn, and I’m going to do my best to see it happen.

I need to be politically active if I want to see positive changes happen on a larger scale.  Though I’d much rather watch the Science Channel than C-SPAN, I’m making efforts to be more aware and involved in environmental legislation.  I need to be an educated citizen; I need to vote; I need to take political action. 

I’m joining the Moms Clean Air Force, who has the mission of joining together to fight for our kids’ right to clean air.  Come join in the fight!

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Mean Moms

I don’t consider myself to be a “Mommy Blogger.”  This probably stems from the fact that I had been blogging for a full two years before I became a mother.  I guess if I had to pick a category to fit into, it’d be “Green Blogger.” 

When I joined the ranks of the Green Bloggers back in March of 2008, I was amazed by the wonderful support, encouragement, friendliness and fun of the Green Blogosphere.  I loved joining challenges with Crunchy Chicken, Green Bean, Chile, Arduous, Crunchy Domestic Goddess, and I’ve found wonderful friends in Laura and Jena.  Along the way I’ve had lots of fun with Amber, Retro Housewife Goes Green, Green Mamma, Aisling, and been inspired by Jenna, Country Girl, Matron of Husbandry and Sharon.  (So sorry if I forgot anyone!)

Since becoming a mom, I’ve gotten more involved in parenting topics and have made some nice new friends.  I’ve also seen some moms be really mean to each other.  It’s been kind of shocking because my old circle of Green Bloggers lacks this mean element.  In working toward the common goal of sustainability, there’s no reason to be mean to each other.  There are disagreements, sure, but not the drama that I’ve witnessed in Mommy Blogs and Mommy tweets.  I’ve found myself following along with some of the squabbles and taking sides, but trying to keep out of the actual argument.  I might comment on the topic (for example, with my Bark It Out post), but I try not to argue.

I don’t want to fight.  I don’t want to start  drama to drive traffic to my blog because I blog for me, not sponsorship or free stuff or anything else.  I think the “Mommy Wars” are unproductive and I’m taking a hint from my family of Green Bloggers.  I’m hoping to encourage, help, support, have fun with and maybe even inspire other moms.  I refuse to be a Mean Mom and I challenge other moms to do the same!

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Perfectly Sunny Day

solar-cooking-contest-005

Today we had our solar cooker competition at school.  It was fantastic, and even the weather cooperated!  I was so proud of my students and how well built their solar cookers were.  They were also so creative!  The menu items were amazing, and the only ones that didn’t really cooperate were the cookies, but I suspect if we left them out until around 5 intead of 1, they would have cooked through.

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It was an exciting day that started with setting up the solar cookers in the morning.  Throughout the day, I was surprised how many of my students I spotted skipping their free time to go check on their cookers.  Many had even agreed to keep an eye on their friends’ cookers, even though it was a competition.  When someone’s cheese sandwich mysteriously disappeared from their cooker, another group jumped to volunteer some of their extra food.  It was really touching to see all of my students getting along, working together, giving suggestions, and helping eachother, even though it was a contest.

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I specifically didn’t give bonus points as awards.  Advanced students can be cut-throat when it comes to grades.  I should know, I was one of them.  Instead, I gave “surprise” prizes, and students didn’t know what they could win until the end, but they did know prizes were not grades.

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Teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, and former students were judges.  They walked around, spoke to the contestants, and sampled the food.  Then they made the tough choices between s’mores and chocolate-covered strawberries, mexican dip and pizza bagels, clam chowder and steak.

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In the end, there were lots of ties, since the choices were so tough.  The awards and the winners were as follows:

  • Best Appetizer- tie: Clam Chowder and Mexican Bean and Cheese Dip
  • Best Main Course- Steak and Potatoes (I was shocked when the steak was not only cooked, but well-done!)
  • Best Dessert- Chocolate Fondue with Strawberries, Pretzels and Marshmallows for dipping
  • Best Design and Construction- A parabolic design used to make Cheese Quesadillas
  • Green Award (for use of recycled materials)- tie: Cheese Quesadillas and Chili Con Queso Dip
  • Most Creative- tie: Chocolate Fondue and Cheese Quesadillas
  • Hospitality Award- Cinnamon Buns (they didn’t cook all the way through, but the icing and the smiles made up for it)
  • Smarty-Pants Award- Cheese Quesadillas (for demonstration of understanding while talking to the judges)

And finally, the Grand Prize was also a tie!

  • The Cheese Quesadillas in the parabolic cooker.  This wasn’t a surprise after they won 4 other awards!
  • Rice Krispies Treats with Chocolate Drizzle.  These ladies melted the marshmallows, butter, and chocolate, then assembled them right before the judging.  We were all surprised by their creativity!

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After announcing the awards, I told my classes what they had won.  Each winner got to choose a seed packet from a wide variety of vegetables and flowers.  The Grand Prize was a stylish reusable bag for each member of the group.  Acutally, since it was a tie, I didn’t have enough and I’ll be picking up two more bags.  My kids were delighted with these prizes, and I was so happy to not be giving out junk.

The judges went on and on about how knowledgable and friendly my students were.  So did the teachers that brought their classes by to visit.  All in all, it was a wonderful day and I was so incredibly proud of the 63 kids that participated.  Many of them mentioned that they planned to cook something for their families this weekend, or that they’d like to make modifications and try again.  As I’ve said before, these kids really do give me hope for the future of our environment.

If you’d like to build a solar cooker, as many of the teachers said they’d like to try with their own children, visit SolarCooking.org for a wide variety of information, plans and recipes.

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A Winning Week

This has been an exciting week for me, and not just because it was my birthday.

On Tuesday, I received a call at school informing me that I’ve been chosen for an award.  The local League of Women Voters honors women each year in March, since it is Women’s History Month.  Their theme for the award in 2009  is “Taking the Lead to Save the Planet,” and someone nominated me.  I’m so honored to have been selected for this award, since I don’t try to push my lifestyle on others and I don’t really see myself as a leader.  When I was speaking to my friend and mentor, Sue, I said “I feel like I don’t even deserve it.  I’m just a teacher.” 

As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized just how wrong I was.  I try hard to be a good role model in many ways for my students, and one of the things I focus on most is being a steward to the Earth.  I could speak on and on about the Pacific garbage patch, animals dying from plastic ingestion, BPA, dioxin, and the costs and benefits of recycling versus reducing, but all of that lecturing would be negated if I took a sip from a plastic water bottle.  I can’t just talk about it, I need to live it.  For example, my mother gave me a new stainless steel water bottle (blue and green) for my birthday.  I gave my dented, orange bottle a rest, and at the beginning of my first class, a student said “Hey! You got a new water bottle! I like it.”  They notice what I do, even if I feel like they don’t listen to what I say all the time.  I guess in that sense, I am a leader.  Still, I feel like I’ve only been at it for a relatively short period of time, and maybe in ten more years I’ll be deserving of an environmental leadership award.  Either way, I’ve taught environmental science to over two hundred students, and I’m sure I’ve passed on my environmental values to at least some of my biology, botany, and forensics students, and even my study hall students, over the past six years. 

I won again yesterday, when my butternut squash pie won the Pi Day baking contest at school.  I was pretty excited about that, too! I won a gift card to a local bookstore and a pi T-shirt made by students.  I was thrilled to hear my pie announced for first place.

This morning, my mother and I attended an organic gardening workshop at a local garden center.  While I felt like I already knew most of what was discussed, since a lot of time was focused on topics I teach in botany or environmental science, I did learn about an organic gardening magazine for New England gardeners and got to stroll through their pansy, viola, and daffodil filled greenhouses for a dose of spring.  Also, everyone who took the class was entered in a raffle for a bag of organic lawn fertilizer, and guess what? I won.  The amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are small, and it’s also a time-release formula, with water-insoluble nitrogen, which will decrease runoff.  It also contains corn gluten, which will help to prevent the germination of crab grass and other weed seeds.  I’m not opposed to these weeds, but hey, it was free. 

I typically never win anything, so I was excited to win three times this week.  I’m most proud of the “Taking the Lead to Save the Planet” award, but the other two were nice additions.  The League of Women Voters award ceremony is in a couple of weeks, and six different women will be honored there.  I’m going to have to make a speech, and I’m nervous.  But then again, speaking about my environmental ideals to a room full of people is nothing new to me, just ask my students.

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Teaching on the Phone

ngjune04Even though it was a snow day, I still got to educate someone about sustainability.

RING!

Me: Hello?

National Geographic Representative: I’m calling from National Geographic.  We’re going to send you a free satellite map and a trial of our new video to thank you for being a customer.

Me: Oh, that’s nice. 

NGR: After your 14-day trial, you can either purchase the video or send it back to us for no charge.

Me: Oh, then why don’t you just cancel the video now.  I’d like to save on any unnecessary shipping.

NGR: Well we won’t ask you to pay for shipping.

Me: Haha! I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about fossil fuels.

NGR: What?

Me: You know, greenhouse gases.  I’d prefer to limit those.

NGR: I don’t understand.  Us shipping a video contributes to greenhouse gases?

Me: Yes.  Shipping items across the country burns fossil fuels, leading to pollution and greenhouse gases which cause climate change.  I’m not going to purchase your video, so sending it back would mean more shipping.  I’m just trying to do my own little part here for the environment.

NGR: Um, okay…  Well if there’s anything else we can do for you give us a call.

Me: Thank you!

Haha! Have I turned into that crazy person who’s trying to educate anyone unfortunate enough to talk to me?  But seriously, I would expect someone who works for National Geographic to be educated on the issue.  I do love National Geographic.

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Filed under Home, Sustainable Living

Island School

When I updated my site design today, and added the picture of myself in the ocean in the Bahamas, it got me thinking about the Island School.  My mom and I went to a teacher’s conference there last August, and it was a life changing experience.  Island School is a self-sustaining school in Cape Eleuthera on the Island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas.  It took us three flights and a 2 hour car ride down Eleuthera’s only road to get there.  The school makes all of its own electricity through solar and a wind turbine, heats water with solar energy, grows much of its own food hydroponically, raises pigs, composts, collects rainwater for drinking and other uses, has “poo poo gardens” to deal with human waste, builds furniture out of invasive species, builds artificial reefs to protect its own coastline, collects waste cooking oil from cruise ships to make biodiesel to run its cars and buses on, and oh yeah, they educate kids.  The Island School’s curriculum is focused on place-based, experiential learning, which I try to incorporate into my Botany and Environmental Science classes.  It just so happens that they have an awesome “place” to learn. 

Their mission states: 

The Island School is founded on the belief that young people,

given the right tools, can build anything.

And build, they do.  In fact, many of the buildings and systems of the Island School were constructed by students.  These projects allow students to permanently leave their mark at a place they love.  Many students will return for internships in college or will go there for a summer to help build more, or help with the Teacher Conference.  I would strongly recommend the Island School to students that care about the environment or enjoy nature and science, and to teachers that want to change their lives and teaching over the summer.  I would like to someday return to the Island School, perhaps to visit my future children during a semester there.

OK, away from the ideals and back to the reality of living a sustainable lifestyle.  It’s hard.  But you get used to it.  For one thing, there’s no air conditioning, which makes it hard to sleep at night because, first it’s hot, and second, there are bugs everywhere since the windows have to be left open.  Also, you have to really try to conserve water.  The drinking water is “air temperature” (read: HOT).  You have to take “Navy Showers” which means turning on the water, getting wet, turning off water, soaping up/shampooing, turning on water to rinse, turning off water, conditioning hair, turning on water to rinse, turning off water, getting out of shower.  I would estimate that the total amount of time that water ran while I took a shower was 2 minutes, because I have long hair.  Try to replicate that at home!  Oh, and in terms of toilets, “If it’s yellow let it mellow… etc.” 

In terms of contact with the rest of the world, students are only allowed to use the phone once a week to call home.  And the only internet access is for research, not email.  I think that a lot of my students could use that cut off from technology.  But it’s got to be hard to be away from home and not be able to talk to your parents.  Fortunately, the same rules did not apply for the teacher conference, and my mom and I called home every night on her cell phone.

I have to say that the food was awesome.  Very healthy and fresh.  Certainly not resort food, but there was always plenty and you never felt guilty about eating it.  Although when we did venture off campus, the first thing most teachers did was stop in a little store to buy warm soda and melted candy bars.  We joked that we had escaped from fat camp.  We also exercised every morning before breakfast, which I really enjoyed.  It included snorkeling, running, swimming, yoga, and other interesting activities.  Students there will also exercise 6 days a week in the morning, not to mention all the other activities they participate in throughout the day. 

I loved learning about the sustainable systems, learning how to be a better teacher in the field, helping with ongoing projects like building artificial reefs, snorkeling, kayaking, learning about Bahamian culture, getting to know other like-minded teachers, and spending time in nature.  Although it was tough to be away from Ed for 8 days and to be away from technology and luxuries like air conditioning and a long, hot bath, it was a lot of fun and definately changed the way that I look at the world.  Below are a select few of the pictures from my experience.  There are literally hundreds, so I had to pick and choose.

My mom and me snorkeling on the first day.

My mom and me snorkeling on the first day.

A classroom, great for interactive discussions on the environment or literature.

A classroom.

Artificial Reef construction.

Artificial Reef Construction

Cliff jumping.  Everyone who knows me knows that I am not the kind of person that jumps off cliffs.  But a 60-something man jumped… so I had to.  Right as I was about to jump, a spotted ray swam by and I had to wait for it to be clear.  So awesome!

Jumping off a cliff.

Our accomodations.  This is the girls’ dorm.  Note the solar panels on the roof.

Girls\' Dorm

Pam Maxey, Christian Henry, and Chris Maxey, founders of the Island School, fantastic hosts, and great people.

Founders

The Maxeys’ son, with lobsters he speared for our celebration on the beach the last night.  Talk about local food!  They also had two little girls that also speared some lobsters.  What a great way to raise kids, with such a connection to their food and nature.

Supper

Yoga in the cafeteria/classroom/theatre/meeting place.

Yoga

Enjoying the ocean on the last day.

Enjoying the ocean

Teacher Conference teachers, Island School teachers, and Lucky the Island School’s dog.  I would imagine that Lucky helps ease being away from family as much as the staff does.

Teachers

To learn more about the Island School, visit the website: www.islandschool.org.

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