Friday, June 27, 2008

Do My Green Eyes Count?

I’ve always relied on my green eyes. If I ran out of the house on St. Patrick’s Day dressed in brown tweed, I just batted my lashes at the critic and got off scot-free. Will my baby greens give me eco-cred now?

If I can’t take carbon credits for body parts, what about working from home before they called it telecommuting or building virtual teams? My husband has worked out of the house for almost 20 years and I’ve been off the road - 12,000 miles per year are peanuts in LALA Land - while the kids were growing up.

Even after going back to work full time, I’ve been hitting the keys from the spare bedroom for the last 6 years. The way I figure it, what were simply choices we made to have a more stress-free life, build two businesses and watch our kids grow up should be applicable in the ‘how green is your valley’ game that I know is just down the road.

Now I’ve read that line drying is an eco-chic option. Again I’m ahead of the curve but pedaling in obscurity. I had been rack drying one, sometimes two loads of laundry a week ever since the girls wore clothes that I dare not shrink on pain of being pronounced an awful mother. Add in my shrinkables and I’d been saving money and electricity, not to mention untold tons of carbon dioxide, for at least 10 years.

I did it because you don’t want to shrink clothes that barely zip or cover your teenaged daughters' belly buttons and that you spent hours of schlepping the malls to find. And with my fluctuating poundage, the last thing I wanted was to downsize my wardrobe.

Then one winter my schedule was slowed down by too many clothes crammed onto too few racks taking way too many days to dry. I had to try the lowest temperature setting on the dryer or end up with mold. Ever the risk taker, I hit ‘start’ and prayed for the best. It worked. No early morning complaints.

But no Russian roulette with everyone’s jeans or my own clothes. There was still that threat of Bad Mommyness and the ongoing shifts in body parameters. But for much of the family’s wardrobe, I went back to the dryer.

I must admit the convenience was a timesaver. I remember my mom hanging clothes on a line that ran down the yard between our apartment building and the one next to us. I don’t recall when we got the dryer but she has reminisced about what it meant in the fifties to be able to purchase this major electrical appliance.

Now I’m going to have to rethink the level of sacrifice I’m willing to make. Am I ready to give up an invention that was one of the steps to liberation for a previous generation?

Read this article about Alexander Lee, the clothesline advocate, and log onto his site at to see why I’m willing to dust off the racks in the garage again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Getting Kicked Off The Grid

Last Sunday the electricity went out. How fitting that on the day I wanted to launch a blog about sustainable local living, the electrical power in the whole neighborhood shut down. According to the LA Times, Saturday was 104°. We peaked at about 113° earlier in the week. Ah, a cooling trend had begun.

It wasn’t the first time a blackout had happened. When we moved in, we lost power around Week 2. The neighbors said it happens; get used to it. Welcome to the Third World, our Golden Ghetto, I thought.

We continued to suffer from blackouts every few years. Once an elementary school play was cancelled and the audience of sweating parents and grandparents was sent home. No power meant no AC in a multi-purpose room filled with little kids singing Broadway show tunes. The show definitely couldn’t go on.

Since this is the summer of the stay-cation, to amuse myself I pulled out the camera and started shooting photos of the backyard. Bark stripping off the trees, dew on the leaves, well, really sprinkler water. We don’t do dew. We live in a desert, something I was sure to be reminded of shortly if the AC didn’t come on soon.

Yet it was amazingly pleasant. Our world famous sun wouldn’t hit us full force until later. Since I planned on spending lots of time in the yard, barbecuing with friends, maybe even planting a container vegetable garden, it was time to make the place livable again. I swept up the leaves and removed pots of dead plants.

In between the heavy lifting, I stopped to listen to the birds. It was just me, the birdies, the lizards, the rabbits, a little white butterfly and some flies. I’m sure there were snakes too; it’s rattlesnake season. A few years ago a small dog was bitten in the parking lot of the community center and died. I’d seen reptiles slithering around when I walked by the condos and the high school baseball diamond.

Then as I swept the patio, I noticed strange animal poop. It wasn’t from our Wonder Poodle. He goes on the yard. And it was too big to come out of the bunnies. We do have coyotes. Was this an example of nature up close and personal?

The neighbor’s cat was killed by a coyote few years ago when the poor thing slipped out unnoticed. The next morning they found what was left of it by the mailbox.

The meat in the freezer was defrosting, I couldn’t check my emails without running down the battery and now I was surrounded by unfriendly, non-domesticated mammals.

Then I heard the click of the house gearing up again. Not bad. The power went off around 7am and was back on by 9:40am. Just 2 ½ hours of living off the grid. More like getting kicked off it. Then at 10:30am it died again but struggled back on five minutes later. The hum remained permanent. At last I could get back to real life.

It’s going to be another long, hot, dry summer. The only good thing will be the ability to rack-dry loads of wash quickly in the backyard and put the saved money towards cranking up the air conditioner. In between the blackouts.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Learning to Walk Again

If a livable city includes walk-ability, I decided the first steps of my challenge to live local would be to accomplish an errand by walking. We have a library just a few blocks away, a treat for a bookworm in Uber-Suburbia. After the shock of the previous day’s fill-up, I figured this would be a good outing to launch my efforts.

It’s not like I didn’t know this hometown library existed. I’d signed up for a card when we moved to the neighborhood 15 years ago. But back then the library was part of the high school, very few hours of service and only a small inventory. I’d taken my reading cravings elsewhere. When the city built a new library, I continued to think of it as second rate. Was that still true? Could I change a 15 year habit? Would my card still be active?

My husband had been using this library recently, so I headed out at 11am, greased up with sunscreen, with a book to return and a water bottle in my sack.

Fifteen minutes up, way up hill I trudged because our city is built on a large incline. Just me and the cars to share the scenery of our foothills and planned open space.

Once there, I caught my breath (2 years of cardio kickboxing three times a week obviously wasn’t conditioning enough) bought 3 books from the daily book sale (giving back to the community on Day 1) checked out a book and movie (the card still worked) and ordered up 2 books from another Ventura County library (the first time my borrowing had ventured beyond the LA County system). Heading back at noon in 80° heat, 40% humidity, it was downhill, fortunately.

We are close to Oxnard, home of the strawberry and a farmer has parked an SUV filled with fruit on a side street every season for the past 3 or 4 years. I buy strawberries several afternoons a week, doing what I can to help local farmers. This year they added cherries. I bought some and walked home with care, making sure not to tip the box. A real errand, 3 in fact: a movie, some books for the week and cherries, food for the family. All accomplished by walking.

Then the following week ushered in summer with a bang - over 110° weather. While I definitely will patronize the library again, it will have to be during a string of errands via my Honda. Being neither a mad dog nor an Englishman, I will have to think of different ways to incorporate walking into my life during our long California summer.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Gas Tank Made Me Do It

On Friday, June 13th I went to fill up my Honda Accord and the price was $4.75 a gallon for regular. I live in a distant suburb of Greater Los Angeles. Actually it’s a pinkie toe into Ventura County, the Conejo Valley. I have to drive 2 miles for a carton of milk. When my parents moved us to LA 45 years ago, gas was about 25¢ a gallon. Clearly I have to change how I live because in the ensuing years LA hasn’t gotten any smaller. If anything, we’ve sprawled out even more.

To Live Local will be about how I find and build community closer to home. The lure of living in SoCal has always been that you’re only a few hours from anywhere by car – the beach, the mountains, the desert, the entertainment centers. If you wanted an authentic ethnic dinner at a restaurant an hour’s drive away, you just jumped in the car without thinking.

Nowadays more of us are thinking twice before embarking on long drives for a casual night on the town. If necessity is the mother of invention, we’re all going to have to get pregnant and give birth to an answer to the energy problem pretty quickly before the economy goes even further into the gas tank. Not that I’m panicking yet, but LA by foot is a scary thought.

So this blog will be my journey to learn and care about the place I’ve called home for all these years, to finally become ‘native to my place’. But ‘my place’ can be the home office I work in for 8 hours a day or the world that I live in 24/7. So depending on what I’m hoping to learn or accomplish, I’ll define place as the neighborhood, the city, the valley, the county, Southern California, the Golden State, the US of A or the earth.

What are some of the things I hope to learn or incorporate into my new local life?

o Can I eat locally, recycle consistently, cut back on electricity and water usage, plant a garden and build a compost pile?

o Can I read locally, listen locally and attend local theatre performances, music concerts and art museums?

o Can I attend a local city council meeting and find out what the issues are?

o Can I get beyond big box stores and explore ethnic markets and neighborhood merchants?

o Can I find green businesses to frequent?

o Can I find a farmers market?

If I can’t forgo shopping at chains, how can I personalize them and build a neighborhood for myself when said ‘hood has to stretch for at least 20 miles in all directions if I want to get most of my needs and those of my family met.

According to the charter for the Congress for the New Urbanism, a neighborhood should be a ¼ mile from center to edge and it should take 5 min to walk there. Each neighborhood should have stores, houses of worship, homes, workplaces, schools and recreational areas. And they should be able to walk to a transit stop.

Looks like this California Girl has a long journey ahead of her. But first, can someone please define ‘transit stop’?