Ready for Change: Surviving and Thriving

In my post over on the “Keep It Green” blog on HalogenTV.com, I talk about how simplifying my life and going green brought into greater relief my lack of basic survival skills or tangible talents. It started when I was living in Guatemala:

I started noticing how the people who had trades were in a pretty good position to make money and get grounded in their communities. Hairstylists, gardeners, massage therapists, yoga instructors, artists, builders, cooks, and more – they worked with their bodies, not just their minds. And they could take those skills on the road.

It seemed like all of my so-called skills were meaningless outside of corporate or political life. No one in the little village I lived in needed a position paper or a media packet.

I started questioning my own knowledge base. What did I know? Was it truly important and useful? What else was there to learn about the systems we live in – and how we might change them? I decided to get more grounded.

I came back to the States and got back into professional American work mode. But sandwiched in between developing more skills in web, social media and entrepreneurship, I’ve focused on building skills that I can take on the road.

I’m a certified Kundalini yoga teacher. I’ve finally started gardening and was thrilled that this year I grew kale, tomatoes, basil, oregano, chard and a mix of salad greens all from seed! I’ve also been learning more about the systems I used to take for granted and what the more sustainable solutions are – from permaculture farming and solar power to hand-built cob housing and natural medicine.

Read more over at the “Keep It Green” blog about my journey into self-sufficiency and take the quiz to test how resilient you are in the face of big change and survival needs.

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Take Your Green Habits to Work: 5 Simple Tips

It’s often easier to be green at home (where you’re the boss), than at the office, where you might not be.

But even if you work for a company with little awareness about office sustainability measures, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to bring eco-friendly actions to the job.

On my “Keep It Green” blog for HalogenTV, I talk about the reasons for going green at work:

Most of us spend the majority of our time working, but we don’t always take our green habits into the office. That’s a major missed opportunity, because businesses are usually much bigger contributors to waste, pollution and global warming than individuals or families.

For example, according to Californians Against Waste, while California as a whole diverts over 54% of its waste from landfills, large office buildings divert only 7% of their waste.

If you’re not ready to lead a sustainability overhaul at the office – or if you don’t think your co-workers are open to it – I offer five simple tips for your green actions, e.g.:

Tip #1 – Save paper

  • My friend Mike, who works for an auto company in Detroit, has his printer set to print double-sided by default. This simple measure can cut your paper costs in half! I do another version of this — I reuse paper already printed on one-side as my printer paper or note paper.
  • At my friend Sarah’s law firm, they’ve gone paperless. She told me, “It’s an accomplishment I thought would be impossible! When I transitioned from a large to a very small law firm, I thought there was no way I could work in a paperless office — I used to go through reams of paper at my old law firm. But finances dictated the change, and I find it very easy now!”
  • And, of course, once you’re done reducing and reusing, you’ll want to recycle paper and cardboard.

Read more tips over at the Halogen Blog: Take Your Green Habits to Work.

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From Farm to Table: The Joys of Fresh Food

I’ve realized more and more lately that food is a major part of my efforts to live more sustainably and consciously.

I guess it’s partly because I love to eat, so it’s easy to focus on food! And as a vegetarian, it’s something I’m used to paying close attention to.

It’s also a part of my life that I have the most control over on a daily basis. I’m lucky to live in an area with plenty of grocery stores stocking tons of options: conventional, organic, fair trade, processed, fresh, gourmet, imported, local, etc. I can choose each day to spend my money on healthy foods that are good for me and the environment.

As I’ve gotten more interested in the quality of food I put into my body, I’ve become more fascinated with the process of growing food.

I wrote this blog post for Halogen because I wanted to share my experience of getting to know where my local food comes from:

For about two months, we’ve been getting produce delivered every Friday from Farm Fresh to You. We started for a few reasons: it would be convenient not to have to stock up at the store every week, we’d be supporting local farms, and we’d primarily be eating fresh, seasonal produce.

They have a farm about a two-hour drive from us, so we decided to visit last weekend for their “2nd Saturday Farm Fest.” It was a chance to see where some of our food comes from, relax with a picnic, and pick some fresh veggies for ourselves.

Read the rest at HalogenTV.com!

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My Green Heroes

My first blog post for Halogen describes how some amazing leaders in sustainability and social justice catalyzed my journey toward a greener and more conscious life.

I don’t think I would have shifted my habits, my perspectives and my values so quickly if it weren’t for some incredibly thoughtful, inspiring and passionate people who opened my mind.

Read the rest on HalogenTV.com.

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Rain, rain, down the drain

stormwater runoffMy drive to the office today was a bit stressful. Our first real rain of the season came in last night, and with it, blustery winds and a constant downpour. It looked beautiful from the comfort of our living room this morning, as I gazed out the windows at the hills and valleys of my town, watching the hummingbirds disregard the showers to get their drinks from our feeder.

But then I went outside. Got blown around and a tiny bit soaked. And drove – very slowly, very carefully – through freeway traffic.

It wasn’t just the scariness and inconvenience of driving through a rainstorm that got to me. I look at rain differently now.

When I see rivers and mini-lakes of water in our streets, I don’t just think about how to drive or walk through them or around them. I think about where that water’s going.

I learned two important things about water runoff a few years ago, when I first started getting into this whole ‘green’ thing:

  1. Pollution – Water running down the street is picking up all the toxic chemicals we put there (oil, gas, pesticides, etc.) and swishing it right into the body of water it’s heading towards – in many urban areas, that’s the nearest ocean, bay or lake.
  2. Waste – The water that’s being whisked away like a slip ‘n’ slide down the street isn’t able to sink into the ground where it fell as rain. So natural cycles of localized rain and absorption are disrupted. For example, an inland town’s  groundwater isn’t replenished when the rain gets shot to the ocean miles away.

I can’t stop the rain, but I can prevent water runoff in many other ways – and you can too! Here are my top two water-wasting pet peeves that are easily prevented:

  1. No DIY car washing! Most carwashes are regulated and must treat, conserve and recycle water. Car owners who wash their own send gallons of soapy water down the street.
  2. Don’t use a hose when you can easily use a broom to sweep off sidewalks, walkways, and steps.
  3. Bonus: When watering your gardens or lawns (using a hose, sprinkler or irrigation system), be aware of water that is not hitting your plants and then fix it. Sidewalks and driveways don’t need watering.

The EPA also provides a great overview of stormwater runoff – problems and solutions.

What do you do to conserve water? What’s happening in your community – water runoff, drought, floods, or smarter development and sustainable measures?

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Animal shelter volunteers bring together pets and families

I love animals – especially cats. According to this cat person quiz, I am “definitely a cat lover and meet most of the tests of responsibility”. But I haven’t yet “made a slave of myself over my cats.” (Whew!)

Whether you’re a cat or a dog lover, or even a ferret or bunny lover, you’d enjoy volunteering at your local animal shelter.

During the “Keep It Green” volunteer episodes, I volunteered with BARC (Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition), a no-kill animal shelter that has been based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for 21 years. I got the chance to hang out with the dogs and the cats for the day, which was really fun. And the staff was so impressive – you could tell that they truly loved animals, and they had created a warm and welcoming family atmosphere at the shelter for humans and animals.

View the video here, and read on for my thoughts on the experience:

Lovable pit bulls

There are a lot of pit bulls and pit mixes at BARC, and it was so touching to see how these often maligned dogs could overcome abusive backgrounds and learn to trust humans again. With the patient nurturing of BARC staff and volunteers, the dogs become sweet and loving. There was an especially beautiful pit bull named Katrina who was adorable – so cuddly and affectionate. And this was a dog who had been used in vicious dog fights by her previous owners.

Playtime is pet practice

We joined other volunteers in walking the dogs down to a local park near the water, and playing or relaxing with the pooches on the lawn. The volunteers have a great time hanging out with the dogs, and of course the animals are thrilled to be outdoors.

The cats love visitors too! There were so many beautiful adult cats and kittens waiting for the right home. Some were very playful and others just wanted to cuddle up on a lap. Volunteers help the kitties by playing with them, and petting and brushing them – this gives them much needed attention and helps socialize them.

Volunteers are key to socializing all of the animals – getting them comfortable with loving, trustworthy humans so that they can easily adjust to their new adoptive families.

Ways to help

It’s such a rewarding experience to volunteer at an animal shelter. You get to have fun with cats, dogs and other animals (when we filmed, BARC was taking care of bunnies and roosters!), give them the love and attention they need and get them ready for new families.

Here are some ways to find out how you can volunteer at your local shelter:

  • Check the Yellow Pages under the headings “animal shelter,” “humane society,” and “animal control” (or Google those terms with your town or city name).
  • Find local shelters and volunteering opportunities on Pets 911.

And of course shelters could always use financial donations or resources like towels, sheets, food and toys. For example, you can set up a monthly donation plan to the Humane Society or ask your local shelter for their “wish list” and see what you can provide.

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Taking a stand for Van

Have you ever met someone who seemed to embody compassion and optimism? Who was clearly devoted to making the world a better place for everyone, and who inspired you to do the same?

My geeky fan pic with Van Jones

My geeky fan pic with Van Jones

I have. Each time I saw Van Jones give a speech at Green Festival, or conduct an interview with me (once for Green Festival TV and once for “Keep It Green”) about building a vibrant green economy, I came away bursting with optimism and energy.

Jones has a way of combining passion and humor with logical solutions that always got me thinking, “How can people not agree about the benefits of building a green economy?” It always seemed like such a win-win-win: protect the environment, reinvigorate the economy and lift people out of poverty.

But, to be honest, there are a lot of amazing green leaders, thinkers and activists with very logical solutions to the problems we’re facing. One of the things that makes Jones stand out is his positive attitude. I never sensed bitterness or disdain towards his opponents – he always made me feel like we could connect all types of people from every background and political persuasion to make lasting change. And he was dedicated to doing that himself.

This is why his resignation as green jobs advisor to the White House Council on Environmental Quality saddens me so much.

I feel like a dear friend has been hurt, even though we only met a handful of times.  And I feel such a sense of loss for this country – for what he could have accomplished in the administration.

Blogger Jack Turner on Jack & Jill Politics speaks to these feelings as well  (excellent post, please check out the whole thing):

Van Jones was one of the good guys. A really, really good guy… He connected the dots and inspired action and had a vision. He was the rare outsider who got a chance to move inside, and move he did….Van, however, was truly one of us. He got it. And to give someone like him power gave me more faith in the president.

When a friend forwarded me one of  (ugh…I actually don’t even want to write his name) Glenn Beck’s… (there) diatribes against Jones, I laughed. I thought it was ridiculous – the scary music, the faux-grainy footage.  It seemed so obviously fear-mongering, distorted, emotional-button-pushing absurdity – i.e. typical GB and FoxNews – that I assumed Jones and, more importantly, Pres. Obama would simply stand their ground and counteract the lies and distortions with calm, sensible responses.

And, then, as the media firestorm ignited, Jones resigned. I’m more disappointed in Obama than anyone else.  This sends such a poor message to his supporters and his opponents – that fear tactics, lies, distortions and smear campaigns will force out the kind of innovative, brave, forward-thinking leaders we need so badly right now.

Again, Jack says it so well:

I’m heartbroken over Van’s departure because it’s these little meaningless concessions that undermine people’s faith in the system. You get folks all riled up about change. You empower a man who embodies that change. And then you let him be run out of office by fucking Glenn Beck?

I’m sad, I’m angry and I’m disappointed – in the Glenn Becks of this country and in our own Democratic leadership.

The bittersweet of it is that, I know, the next time I see or hear or read Van Jones, he’ll be encouraging me to dig deeper, to bring compassion and heart to this struggle, and to never lose hope.  He won’t give up because of this; he won’t turn vicious or bitter or nasty in his activism.  He’ll just keep working. And so will we.

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