Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Can We Change the World?

A friend sent me this article this morning, called We Cannot Change the World by Changing our Buying Habits by George Monbiot:

• In a consumer democracy, some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to change a system that has served them so well.

• A change in consumption habits is seldom effective unless it is backed up by government action. You can give up your car for a bicycle - and fair play to you - but unless the government is simultaneously reducing the available road space, the place you've vacated will just be taken by someone who drives a less efficient car than you would have driven (traffic expands to fill the available road-space). Our power comes from acting as citizens - demanding political change - not acting as consumers.

• We are very good at deceiving ourselves about our impacts. We remember the good things we do and forget the bad ones.

Read the whole thing here.

So....huh. What about that? I have to agree with a lot of what he says in that people think that by doing some fairly simple and popular things, such as recycling, they can identify themselves as "green". Personally, I think that the whole idea of promoting things like recycling and eco-products as "environmentalism" is misleading at best, harmful at worst. By giving people the impression that recycling, for example (can you tell this is one of my pet peeves?) helps the environment they can continue consuming away without a thought as long as they separate their plastic and glass at the end of the week. In reality, though, while recycling is better than putting waste in a landfill, and better than mining or making raw materials, it requires just as much energy, if not more, to make something out of something old, not to mention that there is considerable waste produced in the process.

I also agree that personal action is not enough, and we need to advocate for human rights, animal protection and the environment every chance we get. However, I think that personal action is important, both for the positive impact it makes and for the positive psychological impact it has on activists. It can be frustrating to work for change, but as long as we can see ways that we are making a difference in our own lives we can continue to feel good and hopeful in a way we might not otherwise be able to.

So I think this article is right and wrong. For people not inclined to look more deeply into the issues, they may be lulled into a sense of green-ness by some relatively insignificant actions, but I think these actions are still helpful. And for those who are willing to look deeper, then I think personal action is the wellspring from which all change will flow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

If I Ran the Zoo

(I'm on a kind of Dr. Seuss kick these days....)

Last week we took the kids to visit the Bronx Zoo. Therefore, I also got to re-visit my ambivalence about zoos in general.

Of course, the Bronx Zoo is one of the better ones. Most of the enclosures (with the notable exception of the polar bear exhibit - YIKES!) are not so bad, and they are given some enrichment activities. They have animals there that do not exist any more in the wild, and I had lots of chances to talk with Bess about extinction, and habitat loss, and hunting, and "do you think the animals like being here?" and respect. I do think there is nothing quite like the experience of hearing a lion roar twenty-five feet away from you to help people get a very real connection to the natural world.

That said....they're still in cages (okay, "enclosures"; To-may-to, to-mah-to). They're still away from their natural habitats, and unable to exhibit many of their natural behaviors. It may be good for the species, but I don't think anyone could argue that the individual animals benefit from their captivity. I just don't know.

As for Harry, he was in a pretty foul mood that day. I don't really blame him, he got two molars the next day:

I'll try to get up some more photos later, but Blogger isn't feeling cooperative today and I'm done fighting with the computer for right now.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cultivating Compassion

I have been a little spotty on the blogging lately. I am focused on my thesis, which is about how parents can help their young children to be humane. I just sent my introduction to my advisor, who gave me some phenomenal feedback as to a major element missing from my project.

Namely, this: why bother? Why do we want to teach our children to be humane? What's in it for them?

Good question. I've been giving it a lot of thought, and quite honestly I'm coming up seriously short on answers. It feels good to be compassionate, in my opinion, but why? Is it some complicated "Selfish Gene" calculus that tells us if I'm nice to someone today, they'll be nice to me when I need them tomorrow? Is it a social construct, related to religion or a secular Golden Rule? Why does being nice make us happy?

I'm open to suggestions, but in the meantime I turned up something worthwhile in my research:

A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life

Check it out. I especially like #3, the Commonalities Practice. "Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life," etc. Good stuff.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hate Doesn't Heal Anything

Yesterday I went to the Natural Living Conference put on by the Holistic Moms Network. It's a wonderful, inspiring event every year and this one was no different. Naomi Aldort spoke in the morning, and though I think she can be a little hard-core on the Attachment Parenting thing sometimes (especially her view on schooling) I got a lot of great ideas from what she had to say. There were lots of great vendors and it was nice to connect with some friends during lunch that I don't get to see very often.

The first afternoon session was a breakout session, and I attended a talk by Pamela Rich about the Heal Your Life work of Louise Hay. I was so impressed by the speaker - she was genuine, real and funny. She said a lot of thought-provoking and profound things, but one thing really stuck out in my mind. She asked us to think of a limiting thought we have, and one woman volunteered that she often thinks about how polluted our world is.

As background....the Heal Your Life work (as I understand it, anyway) is based on the idea that our thoughts are creative, and that we can transform our experience of reality by changing the way we think about it. I believe this to be true; however, the participant had a valid question. The world just is polluted, no matter what we think about it. In fact, perhaps by choosing to ignore the pollution around ourselves, we may even contribute to the problem. How can we transform this thought in our lives into something positive?

I thought Pam's answer was fantastic, and something that we all can incorporate into our lives. We cannot change other people's behavior, but what we can do is hold people in compassion and understand that they are doing the best they can with the knowledge and information they have in the moment. Nothing, she said, has ever been healed by hate. The only way we can heal anything is through love.

Wow. How true.

What an amazing lesson this is for parents and for activists. We may not like what someone is doing - hitting her brother, eating meat, dumping toxic chemicals in a local river - but the only way we can ever make a positive difference is by choosing love. Getting angry at our child for hitting someone else only escalates the anger - instead, we can choose to feel compassion for a child who is so angry or frustrated that her only way of expressing herself is through violence. We can judge someone for eating something we wouldn't, but that only closes off our hearts (and theirs as well, probably) - instead, we can choose to be thankful to the animal who sacrificed his life to become another person's food. Waging a war of words with a corporation over their polluting practices will most often result in a stalemate, where we judge them as irresponsible and they judge us as fanatical - instead, we can choose to find common ground and start to build a friendship from there.

As Pam said, forgiveness does not imply in any way that the other person's behavior is at all okay with us. It simply means that we let go of our anger about it, and accept the situation for what it is, and move on. I love that - it goes along with the whole Buddhist idea that suffering comes from our failure to live in the moment. The past and the future are not real, but when we remain attached to what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, we suffer. If we can let go of that and simply live in the present, our anger disappears. What a beautiful, peaceful, sustainable world we would live in if everyone did this!

Friday, October 16, 2009

First Snow

Yesterday we had our first snow of the season. It wasn't much - a couple of very wet inches, barely enough to make a snowball or a snow angel, but definitely enough to make everything white and sparkly. I know a lot of people don't really like the cold wetness of winter in these parts, but I love it and I think it is pure magic.

Somehow, the house suddenly feels smaller when it begins to snow, but in a good way. When the weather is nice the windows are open, the door is usually open to allow the comings and goings of dogs and kids, and it feels like the outside is an extension of our house. But when the winter comes, suddenly the outside becomes less like an extra room and more like a photograph that we look at through the windows. I love the cozy feeling of being hunkered down inside, together, making our traditional first-snow meal of chili in the crock pot and drying mittens and boots in the laundry room. Especially when we don't have anywhere to go and anything we have to do, and we can just sit on the couch cuddling under blankets and reading a book, and time becomes long and lazy, the passing of hours almost too slow to notice until it's suddenly night and time to have dinner, take a nice warm bath and slip into some toasty PJs.

This morning, Bess and I were up early hanging out in the living room, and she called to me excitedly to look out the window. There were three of our neighbor deer grazing in the snow in front of our house, and they all picked their heads up to look back at us. There were still a few flakes falling and it reminded me of a holiday card, so beautiful, serene, sublime.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Global Climate Change - What's Trash Got to Do With It?

In honor of Blog Action Day powered by Change.org and the final day of our trash reduction Eco-Challenge sponsored by the Northwest Earth Institute, I decided to try and count the ways that reducing our trash output reduces our greenhouse gas production.

1. Less fuel burned to ship trash to landfills.
2. Less methane produced as trash degrades in landfills.
3. Less packaging produced = less fuel burned to produce packaging.
4. Also less fuel burned to mechanically package products, and to ship packing materials.
5. Recycled products require less energy to produce than products made from virgin materials.
6. Using fewer raw materials requires less destruction of carbon-sequestering plants such as trees.

Anything else you can think of???

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mindful Parenting Meditation

So, I'm on a big mindfulness kick right now. Bear with me.

One of my big struggles is being present when I'm with my kids. I'm not one of those moms who loves sitting on the floor playing trains for two hours (not that I've met many who are, now that I think about it) and my mind is always racing with the dozens of other things I could be "getting done" with that time. When Bess was very small I found a quote by Patricia Clafford that I really liked and hung it up in my home office:

The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won't wait while you do the work.

I try to remind myself of this, that the laundry and the bills will always be there but I have only a short time to spend with my children before they grow up and away. So here is my new Parenting Meditation:

Breathing in, I know that the work will wait.
Breathing out, I know that the rainbow will not wait.
In breath, work will wait.
Out breath, rainbow will not wait.

Try it!

Monday, October 12, 2009

I am home.

The day and a half that I spent with Thich Nhat Hanh and the monastics of Blue Cliff Monastery was nothing short of amazing. I left feeling rested, energized and inspired, and anxious to learn more about Buddhism. We had two dharma talks

morning chants, lunch meditation, deep meditation

and the most amazing walking meditation outside on streets closed to traffic.

I've always been fascinated by the lessons of compassion, peace and patience taught by Zen Buddhism, but could never quite figure out how to incorporate a practice into my life. I am anxious, after this weekend, to find a way to do so.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peaceful Action, Open Heart

I am very excited that I will be spending tonight and tomorrow learning from the beloved Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. So for today, a quote:

"A bodhisattva is someone who has compassion within himself or herself and who is able to make another person smile or help someone suffer less. Every one of us is capable of this.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Garbage is Boring.

There, I've said it. Boring. B-O-R-I-N-G. We've been doing this challenge for less than a week, and I don't know what else to say about it. I'm tapped out.

We're still doing it, of course. Buying food with less packaging. Carefully recycling. Composting. Re-using. Blah, blah, blah. It makes a difference, and it is definitely an area where my family NI (needs improvement, in the jargon of kindergarten report cards) but...it's not sexy. And it's not fun to write about buying carrots that are tied together with a rubber band instead of a plastic bag.

I am finding myself thinking that this BORING factor is one of the biggest obstacles facing the environmental movement. We know we need to save power, save fuel, throw out less stuff, decrease our carbon emissions, and those are the really important things. But when I surf around looking at "green" blogs (and believe me, I read a lot of them, though I am aware that there are probably literally hundreds of thousands that I've never heard of), these things are rarely mentioned.

One of my pet peeves are "green" blogs that feature frequent giveaways. I am sure that these contests drive traffic to the blogs, but is that really green? Should environmentalists be looking for the next slightly-lower-impact-product (and figuring out ways to ship said product to a reader who is potentially thousands of miles away)? Or should the goal be to decrease consumption overall? Are eco-friendly clothing/books/toys/whatevers turned into garbage any less frequently than their less-green alternatives? Is the green product boom just a way for us to continue our consumerist mindset while feeling less guilty about it?

So...I've digressed from garbage. But I'm sure you'll forgive me. Garbage isn't any less boring to read about than it is to write about.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Homemade Notebook

One of our family's big areas of focus during our Trash Reduction Challenge is to find other ways to use "garbage". For one thing, it reduces the amount of things we throw out, but for another, if we can make things we need out of things we already have, we don't need to buy as much.

This weekend, Bess wanted to create a nature journal where she could draw and collect leaves and flowers, so we made one ourselves out of things we otherwise would have thrown away - scrap office paper, cardboard, and packing paper.

There are several websites that show how to make fancy bound books at home. I can't vouch for any of them since I haven't used them, but if you're really interested in the official way to do it, a Google search will return more ideas than you know what to do with.

First, we cut two pieces of stiff cardboard slightly larger than a standard sheet of office paper, and a piece of packing paper slightly larger than the two pieces of cardboard with a small space left between them for the "spine" spine of the book. We glued the cardboard to the paper, and then wrapped and glued the edges.

Next, we took about thirty sheets of scrap office paper and punched holes in them using a three-hole punch. We used twine to tie the papers together so that they would lie flat.

We glued the first and last pages to the covers so that the edges of the paper were in line with the inside edges of the cardboard covers. We propped up the inside pages so that the covers could dry without the pages sticking together.

And - voila! Bess decorated the cover and we're ready to journal!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Just Two Words

Today's thought for reducing waste:

Diva Cup

Need I say more?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Garbage Haiku

Our family is participating in the Northwest Earth Institute Eco-Challenge, and our challenge is to reduce the amount of trash we produce as a family. When I told my husband that the goal is to throw out less garbage, he asked me, "Then what are we supposed to do with it?" Make less, silly!

So in honor of the start of our challenge, I have written a Garbage Haiku:

We toss too much trash.
Two full cans a week sometimes!
This week, just one bag?

I'll continue to blog on our progress throughout the Challenge, which ends on October 15. If you'd like to make a pledge on behalf or our family, please click here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Auspicious Day

AhimsaMama would be remiss if she did not take a moment to acknowledge Mahatma Gandhi, who was born 140 years ago today.

Here is my favorite explanation of the concept of Ahimsa - it comes from a conversation between Gandhiji and Dr. Howard Thurman, an African-American minister and writer:

...without a direct active expression of it, non-violence to my mind is meaningless. It is the greatest and the activist force in the world. One cannot be passively non-violent. In fact 'non-violence' is a term I had to coin in order to bring out the root meaning of Ahimsa. In spite of the negative particle 'non', it is no negative force. Superficially we are surrounded in life by strife and bloodshed, life living upon life. But some great seer, who ages ago penetrated the centre of truth, said: It is not through strife and violence but through non-violence that man [sic] can fulfil his destiny and his duty to his fellow creatures. It is a force which is more positive than electricity, and more powerful than even ether. At the centre [sic] of non-violence is a force which is self-acting. Ahimsa means 'love' in the Pauline sense, and yet something more than the 'love' defined by St. Paul, although I know St. Paul's beautiful definition is good enough for all practical purposes. Ahimsa includes the whole creation, and not only human. Besides 'love' in the English language has other connotations, and so I was compelled to use the negative word. But it does not, as I have told you, express a negative force, but a force superior to all the forces put together. One person who can express Ahimsa in life exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


As my readers know, I love books. LOVE them. I had a library built to house them in my house. I still have boxes of them in the attic, even after filling all the shelves in my library. I use them as decorations, as furniture, as friends, as escape...I cannot fully express my love for books. Like, my list of my greatest loves in my life would do like this: my kids, my husband, and then tied for third would be my mom, grandmother, sister, and my books. Okay, maybe books would be fourth, but it would be close. ;)

I like to own my books, because I like to loan the ones that move me to other people - to set them free, as it were. However, I have come to realize that not only is this expensive, but it is not exactly green. There are many things about the publishing industry - paper, printing, distribution - that give me pause. I started trying to buy books used, but that's still expensive. Now, I try to take them out of the library, and then only buy them if I really feel that they are a necessary addition to my personal collection. Luckily, the reference librarians in town here are just lovely, and don't seem to mind tracking down obscure titles from libraries three states away. So far.

Anyway....I just came across a website for a company called Better World Books, and I am in love with them! They sell new and used books (with no shipping charge) and donate a portion of their proceeds to high-impact education and literacy organizations around the world, such as Books for Africa, Invisible Children, Room to Read and Worldfund. They sponsor book drives and collect used books, saving them from landfills and turning them into money for literacy projects. I love it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just Another Day on the Farm

This week during Farm Chores, the kids collected all the walnuts that had fallen from the trees

and learned how to open them with the "cracker" (I'm not sure if that is the official name of that particular piece of farm equipment).

Even Harry got in on the act

until one fell from the tree and clocked him - then it wasn't so much fun any more. Otherwise, another great day at Soulshine Farm.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Great Play Doh Experiment

Bess' teachers had mentioned that they wanted to do play doh this week casually, but it was nothing but casual to me. She has Celiac Disease, and even touching gluten can cause her a reaction - so regular play doh is out for her. Luckily, I had a few recipes for gluten-free play doh and I offered to make some for the class.

We tried all the recipes I had (four of them), and this one was the winner:

1 1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup corn starch
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
2 cups hot water
food coloring, if desired

Mix all ingredients together and cook over medium heat until the mixture comes together and starts to pull away from the side of the pot. Add food coloring a little at a time while cooking until you achieve the desired color. Turn the mixture out onto a cutting board or wax paper and allow to cool. Once cool, knead until it reaches the desired consistency. Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to six weeks.

The winning recipe (a.k.a. Blue) went to school with Bess, and she created a centerpiece with the others:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Shades of Gray, Part Two

I am plowing my way through the August 23 New York Times Magazine - the one with the theme Saving the World's Women, that was inspired by the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. I am really interested in the Girl Effect - namely, the idea that we can best make an impact on the world by investing in the health, education and empowerment of girls and women. Unfortunately, with the chaos that has been swirling around my home and family for the last month, I am finding it hard to get through all the articles.

Anyway....last week I was reading the excerpt from the book that was included in the Magazine, and there was a quote that stopped me dead in my tracks: "The only thing worse than being employed in a sweatshop is not being employed in a sweatshop."



I've been thinking about that one all weekend. I guess I can see the point that at least women who work in sweatshops (and it is almost ALWAYS women) have some money as opposed to none, which is a start. I guess that, when the other options are things like prostitution and being beaten and raped by your husband, a sweatshop might not be so bad.

But still...it just doesn't sit right with me.

If we refuse to purchase items made in sweatshops, are we taking money out of the pockets of poor women, who inevitably invest their earnings in the education and well-being of their children? If we accept that sweatshop employment is the lesser of two evils, and choose to purchase items made there, how do we advocate for the rights of the women who work there to be treated fairly, to be paid a living wage, to have reasonable hours and safe conditions? Perhaps if we boycott these products, then employers will offer them better pay and better treatment, which is still way less expensive than in more developed countries. Or, are we just lowering the bar, so that employers will offer their workers even less in order to maintain a profit margin?

Are we right to take work away from desperate women, women who may (or may not) consider a meal and a roof to be adequate compensation for eighty hours a week at a sewing machine when compared to their other alternatives?


I am not saying that these conditions are fair, or acceptable. Personally, I think that the more we speak up, the more visibility we give to the issue, and the more we pressure employers to treat their workers fairly, the better off those workers will be. However, I do have to admit that coming from Kristoff and WuDunn, who worked in Asia for years among these people, the idea that sweatshops might actually be elevating the position of women did give me pause.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shades of Gray

When I first started on my humane/sustainable/green/social justice path, I was pretty rigid. I think that, like many people who concern themselves with the issues that I care about, I considered my carefully-crafted and well-researched opinions to be sacred and I had little tolerance for other points of view.

In my old(er) age, I've softened quite a bit. For one thing, as a mother of two young children, I no longer have the energy to get hysterical over what other people do, since the only thing I have any control over anyway is what I do. I have found that living an authentic life is the best PR around. But more importantly, I have become a student of diversity. Not diversity in the sense in which it is commonly used (i.e. a group of people with varying race, religious beliefs, cultures, etc.) but in the way that the word applies to the natural world.

Take pandas, for example. They eat one thing: bamboo. If something happens to the bamboo for some reason, like bad weather or some sort of invasive pest, the pandas are in big, big trouble. On the other hand you have rats, who can eat anything and will probably outlive us all (as a species). When you rely on one small niche for your survival, you are likely to run into problems at some point. If you can view all the world as your dinner, metaphorically speaking, you are in much better shape.

In the same way, I have come to see that there is no one path to compassion. Different people can move towards the same goal along very different paths. Take, for example, an article in the latest issue of Newsweek called "Are Locavores Really Green?" James E. McWilliams, author of a new book, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly argues that we need to come at the food issue from all angles - local food and global food system, organic food and pesticides and GMOs - in order to meet the world's needs.

While McWilliams supports local food and organic farming in principle, he thinks that we cannot possibly feed the entire global population using those methods. It may work for some and be sustainable, but we have to accept that the local food movement is not THE answer. (Nothing is THE answer, I would add.) It may take more energy, he says, to ship a few crates of food back and forth to the farmer's market than to ship tons of food over thousands of miles. When you consider that some of that non-local food may have been produced in a more appropriate environment for that particular plant, and therefore may have required less energy and water input, it may turn out that the net energy cost of a global food economy is lower than that of a food system built on local farms.

Maybe he's right. Personally, I think there is something to be said for his argument, to a degree. I happen to live in a part of the country where I can get much of my produce right off the farm, grown in season, for much of the year. Most of it is not grown organically, though I believe that a short farm-to-plate turnover renders it healthier than some organic alternatives on many different levels. I like to rely on local food as much as possible, but am not married to the concept. When I buy things that were not grown locally, I try to get them from neighborhood stores or small co-ops so that I am at least supporting a local business if not a local farmer. However, I also recognize that if I were a starving mother of six in Mozambique, some highly-processed GMO corn would look pretty darn good to me.

I think that any time we become really hard-core about anything, it is probably a good idea to take a step back and try to appreciate the nuances of the issue. Perhaps we are on the right track, and there is something to be said for passion and commitment...but there is also something to be said for diversity.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Learning Compassion

Well, the highlight of our week has once again been farm chores at Soulshine Farm. We were running behind and I was tired, so I didn't think we'd be able to make it, but Bess insisted and I'm glad she did. The project for this week was cleaning out the pond, which was great fun and gave the kids an excuse to get uber-slimy.

They walked the fence to make sure there were no holes or loose posts where foxes could get in, and they helped to collect the eggs from the hens. Then, the ultimate in cool - Bess helped Farmer Brad to feed the bees!

Last week when the kids were helping to collect eggs, I heard Bess crying from the hen house. Apparently, once of the hens had scared her - she wasn't hurt, the hen didn't peck her, but she was startled. I made sure she was okay, but she didn't really want to talk much about it. I was concerned that she was going to have an ongoing fear of chickens, which would definitely put a cramp into my chicken flock scheme! But, the next morning on the way to school, she said, "You know Mom, I've been thinking about it, and I think that the chicken didn't like me taking her egg. She can't use words to tell me what she wants, so she flapped her wings to tell me to leave it alone." That's my girl! And this week she bravely helped Farmer Julie with the chickens again, though she wouldn't go in the hen house.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nurturing Creativity

I have always been interested in children's art, and in watching the way that they create and progress from scribbles (or, even earlier than that, eating crayons) to creating recognizable drawings. I often feel stress about Bess' art skills because they seem to lag behind those of her peers - she is still in the scribbling stage while others can write their names and draw things. However, I also feel that she will master those skills when she is ready, and that it is more important for her to explore her creative urges than to perform art in a certain way.

I signed her up for a local art class, more because I like the idea of her being around creative people than because I hope she'll learn some sort of "skills" from it. (I'm still not sufficiently evolved to allow Bess to paint with reckless abandon in my house, but I'm working on it!) So far, I haven't been disappointed - the teachers are wonderful and the projects are sufficiently open-ended that she is free to create whatever she wants. Here are her creations from last week:

and you can read some interesting articles about children's art here and here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Green Travel

Something that is always a hot topic among Humane Educators is the question of travel and its impact on the environment. On the one hand, Humane Educators as a group like to travel, to see different places and people, and often go to conferences as attendees or as presenters. However, we are also aware of the huge impact that travel, and air travel in particular, has on the environment.

So, when I went to Vancouver to give a talk on Humane Parenting in the spring, I became interested in the idea of using carbon offsets to help alleviate the impact of my trip. My travel agent, Roz at Skyland World Travel here in New Jersey, referred me to Carbonfund.org. This company allows you to purchase carbon offsets and even decide which program will be funded through your donation. In addition to carbon offsets, you can also purchase offsets for radiative forcing, which is the effect of the frozen vapor trails, called contrails, that are generated by aircraft and cause a net warming effect.

I am happy to say that my donation will be used to fund renewable energy projects such as the construction of wind farms, landfill methane projects (where the methane produced by landfills is destroyed), and a waste-to-energy biodigester. Of course, this is not a perfect solution to the problem of the impact of travel on the planet, but at least it's a start!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Building our New Family Rhythms

This week we are working on getting the hang of the whole school thing. Honestly, I think it's harder for me than it is for Bess. The separation is hard, but I'm also not used to having restrictions on my schedule and it's hard for me to get it all straight. I feel like an air traffic controller, trying to get all my charges to where they need to be, when they need to be there, with clothes on their bodies and food in their stomachs as appropriate.

The most relaxing hour of our week was undoubtedly the one we spent at Soulshine Farm helping out with farm chores. To be quite honest, I'm not sure how much help the kids were, but Julie is extraordinarily patient and the kids sure had fun! Harry and I hung out and watched the animals while Bess helped to feed the chickens and collect the eggs, and put the horse and alpacas out to graze, and collect sunflower seeds and water the garden...all followed by a little fun in the pond.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Kids *heart* Farmed Animals

Well, it's been quite the busy week here at the DiNorcia home! Bess started school - and is doing fantastic so far, I might add. In fact, I'd say it's been much harder on Mommy than on Bess. We had a big weekend too - we went to see a youth production of Seussical the Musical to celebrate the first week of school

and on Sunday we went to the 1920's Country Fair and Harvest Festival at Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morristown. We learned all about the music of the era, about making butter and cider - but the best part was, of course, the animals! Harry loved them so much he actually climbed into the sheep enclosure, and I could not peel Bess away from the chickens and Ginger the one-eyed horse. I may convince John to agree to getting a flock of chickens yet!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Art is Sacred

This morning we had nursery orientation at Bess' school. I have mixed emotions about her starting - mostly I'm excited, but I'm also a little sad that she's growing up and away. I'll enjoy the quiet time in the mornings, but I'll miss her too.

One of the new teachers at the school, Darcy, worked at an early childhood center and talked about their approach to art. "Art is sacred" she said, meaning that adults should never interfere in the creative process of a child.

I believe that is true, and I wish I had heard it sooner than I first did which was about a year ago. Prior to that time, I would try to entice Bess to color or draw by sitting down and doing it alongside her, but I found that all she wanted to do is watch me color and draw. I think that she became frustrated when her creations didn't look as "good", or polished, as mine, so she decided not to even bother trying. It has been a year since I learned of my mistake, and it has taken that long for her to overcome her art aversion. She is just starting to enjoy coloring and drawing, and especially enjoys making collages with paint, beads, glitter, and whatever else is around.

I look forward to a year of creativity and support at her new school!

Monday, September 7, 2009

No Opportunity Wasted

John's hockey team won their morning game today, so we had some time to pass until they played in the finals at 2 pm. We went back to the hotel to swim (Bess) and nap (Harry), but I wanted to make sure the kids were good and tired before we packed them in the car for a long and potentially traffic-filled trip home.

We went to a nearby playground so they could blow off some steam. The place was great - they had a big play structure for the big kids and a small one for the little kids (perfect for Harry's size), and a skate park, basketball courts, and walking/biking/skating/scootering trails. I unleashed the kids, and then noticed something that I had observed a few times before. They didn't really care for the play structures and seemed kind of bored. Harry wanted to play with a basketball he found, rolling it down the stairs and watching it bounce, and all Bess wanted to do was make new friends. Compare this with the time they spent at the Botanical Society yesterday or Walden Pond the day before, where they were entertained for hours making fairy houses, watching the fish swim and wandering through the woods.

I began to think about this as a metaphor for modern parenting in general. We structure so much of our children's time and give them ready-made playthings, when all they really want to do is check out their world and use their imaginations. We want their playtime to be efficient, and give them slides, swings, and monkey bars to play on so they can get their exercise in a limited amount of time and space. (As a side note, the play structure also had the alphabet, the numbers through twenty, and several geometric shapes with their names carved onto the side, I guess in case the structure itself were not enough intellectual stimulation for the pre-verbal children using it.) In the city, I can see why this is desirable as places for safe play are in short supply. But Marlborough, Massachusetts? You can't throw a stone without hitting a beautiful outdoor setting where children can run, play and explore.

All in all it ended up fine. Some of the sisters from the team played Aliens with the kids while I watched the game, and we made it home in record time and with minimal screaming from the backseat. But consider the lesson learned.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Most Perfectest Day

Today was absolutely the most beautiful day - ever. The sky was clear and blue, it was cool and breezy, perfect for some outdoor fun.

First we visited the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Wellesley, which was breathtakingly beautiful. The perfect place to spend time on this perfect day. We enjoyed a couple of hours in Weezie's Garden for Children, which features kid-sized birds nests, an awesome treehouse, a goldfish pond, and a huge sand pit where Bess decided to build a Fairy House.

We also checked out the formal garden and the herb garden. I am inspired to turn my backyard into a vegetative wonderland next summer!

The mom of one of Bess' sand pit playmates told us about the nearby Natick Community Organic Farm, so we decided to check that out as well.

We visited with cows, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys and rabbits - and made a new friend named Miles. All in all, a great end to the summer.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Walden Pond Today

We got to Walden Pond early this morning, really before it was warm enough to swim - not that it stopped us.

We decided to hike a bit until it warmed up, and we made it all the way around the pond (which was level but pretty far, I'd say 2 miles or so).

And we visited the site of the famous "house" - which was a room with a bed, desk, table and fireplace. They do have a replica of the house, but after all the swimming and hiking we did, all members of our party were way too tired to visit it.

The last time I was at Walden Pond was five, maybe six years ago. I read Walden while sitting on the shores of the lake enjoying the serene, beautiful setting and imagining what it must have been like to live in that tiny cabin. It was nice to visit and share the stories of Walden with my kids.