Thursday, October 30, 2008

What will I do when the election is over?

Liz O. Baylen Los Angeles Times

Where will my obsessions turn next? How about next summer’s heat level and electricity rates in California?

A true neurotic will always find something to worry about. Never fear. As we wait to see who will be president and if it will ever rain again, I wonder how I’ll deal with a return of this summer’s no AC policy. Who cares if we saved tons of money and shrunk our carbon footprint? My personal thermostat is ruined forever.

I was hanging on by my sweaty fingernails (yes, mine were sweating, that’s how bad it was) until those first few leaves of pale gold and cranberry. Heck, it’s almost November. I think I heard a Christmas commercial last night. Where’s my humidity? Can’t I have a cloud or two? Have we gone from semi-arid to full blown desert?

Alright, I’ll step back from the computer. The rant is done for now. I can’t stand the heat, that’s all, okay?

I’ve lived in Southern California for lots of decades. I’ve seen the summer snaking its way beyond the autumnal equinox. But it turns out I was not imagining that October has been way too crispy. Seems like we had some kind of record going on. Just sign me up for the climate change ‘canary in the mine’.

According to a recent article by Hector Becerra in the Los Angeles Times, “Sultry October shaping up as our lost summer”, this October has been the second-hottest one since 1877. The average downtown LA temperature was 84.3 degrees. Which means at least 10 degrees more where I am. We’ve had 8 months of no rain and one of the driest falls. I was right. Overheated but right.

But that still leaves those future summer months of no AC usage lurking. And if they don’t go away soon, they’ll be back before I’ve had a chance to complain about freezing as I run from the movie theatre to the car in my cotton sweater.

I need to sneak away to Seattle to detox from too much sun. Better yet, is there a rain drenched fellow canary who wants to house swap?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Read Up On It

My answer for everything is – read up on it! Hey, I was one of those kids who curled up on the couch with the World Book encyclopedia for fun, not a homework assignment. So it’s natural that my way into the green world is through the written word. The issues are many and each is complex. As I find a blog, website or a retro hold-in-your-hand book that offers information, understanding and community, I’ll share my finds with you.

I’ve just finished a memoir entitled “Epitaph for a Peach, Four Seasons on My Family Farm” by David Mas Masumoto and winner of the 1995 Julian Child Cookbook Award in the literary food writing category.

That’s right. It’s not a recent book and he’s written numerous other books before and since. Check out his website. But I am in a frugal/eco mode, as I get up-to-speed, reading what’s available on the library shelf or through the library system when I can. Plus I would consider this a classic-in-the-making, or as the LA Times said, “Masumoto uses his farm as Thoreau did his Walden Pond.”

The author, a Japanese-American, has returned to his family’s farm in the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Valley as we also call it, in California. So for me, reading the book is different than someone in say, Minnesota. I can picture the fields and the surrounding mountains. I can feel the oven-like heat and low humidity on my skin as I read. And I can bone up on my California history as well.

Masumoto, an organic peach and grape farmer, wants to continue growing Sun Crest peaches, a variety that tastes like the essence of peach but doesn’t travel well, which of course is the essence of produce marketing. Should he give up on the peach and bulldoze the trees down? Or should he give it a go for one more year?

This primer on a year of growing the quintessential summer fruit is also the story of Japanese-American family farming in California in the 20th century. Masumoto explains the importance of tradition, of families working the land and chores together, of communities where kids grow up on the farm, leave for college returning only like a visitor before the final move to the big city. Some never come back, while some, like Masumoto, return because these few acres are where home and the meaning of life truly is.

How do you prune a fruit tree so it will live a full productive life, how do you manage a crew that knows more about harvesting than you, if all farming is wrestling with nature, how can you win without ultimately damaging the land. These are a few questions Masumoto, the poet-farmer, attempts to answer. I say ‘attempts’ because for this farmer, everything is about the journey, not the arrival.

I call the book an ‘ode to an orchard’ because it’s not a how-to, rather it’s a why. Why salvage old machinery parts rather than purchasing shiny new ones, why plant cover crops, why walk the farm day after day to get feedback from the land itself. Why breaking even may be enough if the farm and its way of life can be saved.

I’m a suburban girl who loves big cities and can’t wait to leave the exburbs for a walkable, mass transit life. What am I doing reading a book about a Japanese-American peach farmer? I guess the reason I can recommend this book, especially if you want to get up to learn about saving family farms and community building, is because it’s the story of someone who cares about quality over quantity, people over product, authenticity over the consumer-driven life. How much more real can you get than the food you put in your mouth and the soil it comes from.

Or maybe I’m just bone deep tired of multi-tasking amid a mountain of electronic gizmos, skimming websites and calling my emails, even from work colleagues, a community. In any case, “Epitaph for a Peach” is how one man tries to live an attentive life.

Now I’m off to the library website to see which of his other books they have so I can curl up with them.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

News Flash - Report from the Trenches

My uncle and aunt live in South Florida. You know, Sarah Silverman Country, the Big Schlep, bubbie and zayda land. They called to tell me they got the Obama bumper stickers I picked up for them in Nevada. Not that they couldn't get some in Florida. I just wanted to make sure I did my part for getting the word out to the altercockers (look it up on Wikipedia!)

So the news from the front is that the early voting lines are so long that my family couldn't get into the library just to pick up a few books. That's what my uncle told me. So where was my aunt? At Obama headquarters picking up a few buttons. And the stickers? Well my uncle is putting his on his scooter! Is that too cool?! He's going to whiz around the senior citizen complex, to the bank, to the market, canvassing for Obama.

2008 won't be a replay of 2000 if my family hasn't anything to say about it!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tikkun Olam Fridays – Repairing the World One Step at a Time

Another Friday, another post on tikkun olam – to repair the world. Remember, you don’t have to finish the job, but it is your responsibility to start.

What action did you take this week, big or little, to make a difference?

I met Barbara Grover, an award-winning photographer, several months ago through a friend. She was looking for a college intern to help with her upcoming art exhibit. I suggested one of my daughter’s friends who was going to school at Santa Monica City College, working to ultimately get into UCLA’s Film School. The young woman had the resume and the work ethic. The gallery was in Santa Monica. Better than e-Harmony, I’d made a match.

In talking with Barbara I was fascinated by the political nature of the exhibit, photographs from her 7 weeks spent in a Darfur refugee camp. I’m ashamed to say I had only a passing knowledge of this crisis. But I casually offered some help with the publicity.

A few days later, Barbara called me back and even though I was juggling paying clients, I knew this was something I had to do. And if you live near Los Angeles, it’s something you ought to see.

‘Refuge(e) – Moments with the Darfuri of Iridimi’, is Barbara’s second solo photography exhibition at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery. While previous exhibits about Darfur exposed the genocidal killings in this western part of Sudan, Refuge(e) takes a unique approach. It creates an unforgettable picture of those who live the conflict every day, serving as a wake up call to Americans to not forget the Darfuri who survived.

The show consists of three parts. Refuge(e) is a collection of 25 medium to large-scale color photographs. The photographs show what the Darfuri refugees are doing to reclaim hope and dignity in the confines of an isolated, drought-ridden refugee camp. A six-minute documentary short, The Women of Iridimi – the Story of the Jewish World Watch Solar Cooker Project, tells the story of how solar cooking has transformed the lives of refugee women and girls. Reality Check is a multi-media piece including stories told by several refugees in their own words, focusing on daily realities and juxtaposing our world with theirs.

“I believe art can change the life of the viewer and the life of the people that the art is about,” Barbara told me. “In 2007 I received special permission from the United Nations to spend an unprecedented seven weeks in the Iridimi Refugee Camp. Most people spend, at most, a day or two at a camp like this. What I captured was daily life, the struggle of people fighting to retain their humanity in the midst of a political conflict that the world has pretty much ignored.”

Every person visiting the gallery will be able to design 'Postcards to the President' to send to the next American president. To further create a call to action, Barbara has partnered with Facing History and Ourselves and Jewish World Watch to bring middle school, high school and college classes to the gallery.

“Almost every refugee I met asked me one thing: please tell your President and the American people to bring peace to Darfur,” Barbara said. “They believed in their hearts that we had the power to do that. I am hoping that this exhibit not only helps people to understand this crisis, but also moves them to believe, as the refugees did, in the power of activism.”

So if you live in the general Los Angeles area, you can catch Refuge(e) – Moments with the Darfuri of Iridimi’ at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery, located at 3026 Airport Avenue in the Santa Monica Airport. Regular gallery hours are 12 – 6 pm, Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is free. The exhibit is running now through Jan 11, 2009. In keeping with the show’s theme of political action, proceeds from the sale of the photographs will be donated to Jewish World Watch, benefiting the Solar Cooker Project and other Darfur refugee relief programs. Click here for more information about the Sherry Frumkin Gallery and a sample of photographs from Refuge(e).

Barbara Grover has traveled to over 40 countries, many facing conflict and poverty, to create photographic works that effect social and political change. To learn more about her work you can visit her website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

To Live Local – First Hand Experience

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, it’s been a busy week or so, what with fires and political activity. Yes, I was sort of near those fires that you may have heard about in Los Angeles last week. Our little valley was more ‘in the path’ of the Simi Valley fire via canyons and wind patterns than directly affected. But once you get those embers flying and if the Santa Ana winds kick up, the potential for spreading is enormous. And it goes quickly.

I spent time on the computer trying to figure out exactly where we are in the county and where the Santa Susanna Mountains are, trying rather unsuccessfully to place myself in a geographic sense. I still don’t know if I’m east county or west county.

Note to self: Must get county map to go with the world, California and regional wine tasting maps I’ve got plastered on the office walls.

So last Monday I was glued to the television as I worked. Thank goodness for local news. They were finally serving a purpose other than being trash news wires. Then when our community website folks sent out an e-blast about a fire alert and suggested we pack up important stuff just in case, ever the good little girl, I spent the evening running around grabbing boxes of files that I had previously organized for just such an exhilarating occasion.

And let me rave about our little newsletter staff. Kuddos to Harvey for the e-alert, underlining the importance of community and looking out for each other. And I clicked on the fire department website every little bit as they suggested to check for updates. (a shameless plug from this former poli sci major for why government was invented and just one example of why we pay taxes)

So that was certainly a fun way to spend my time, and of course, what one takes out of the house, one must put back. Thankfully I’ve learned from past near evacuations that the only things you truly need are the papers, the pets and the kids. If you haven’t organized those photos, too late now.

Then the really meaningful part of my week came at the end – The Drive To Nevada For Obama! Yes, this past weekend I jumped in a van with 5 other local political fanatics and schlepped to Las Vegas to walk precincts for That One. What an inspiring, albeit hot and dry, couple of days I had.

Folks from all age and ethnic groups came from everywhere in California to help get out the vote. Nevada has early voting for 2 weeks before the election where people can find a polling place parked in a supermarket or school and do their civic duty.

This was summer camp for grown-ups. I met and talked with people during breakfast at our motel, able to pick them out because we all had our Obama buttons on. And can you imagine the political conversations we had driving there and back? It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know new people in my community and work together for a common cause.

I would be remise if I didn’t mention the Tent City Blocks we saw in North Las Vegas. It’s my understanding that Nevada has the highest foreclosure rate of all the states. Well, I saw evidence of that, or at least the ‘recession we aren’t in yet but really are’. Imagine people camped out, one right after the other, like sleeping on Colorado Blvd the night before the Rose Parade staking out a good view. Now visualize men, women and children in mini tents or just curled up on the sidewalks in sleeping bags.

But who needs a New New Deal and social safety nets and a civic will to pull together? If you can’t make it on your own, the heck with you. Where did I hear that? Oh yes, the last 8 years. No, make that since Reagan and the rise of the GOP Nation.

This weekend I did a little something to take my country back and strengthen the community muscle. What did you do while I was gone?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

APLS October Carnival - Education

The APLS (Affluent Persons Living Sustainably) Carnival for October is about education. How do you educate yourself about sustainable living? How do you pass that knowledge on to others? Do you educate your family members and friends? Are you a member of environmental organizations? Do you do volunteer work? After reading my entry, why not check out the others at the APLS site. We’re a great basket of thoughtful people.

Education is my middle name. My mother must have given birth to me in a library. And I bet I came out hugging a book.

My answer for everything is – read up on it! So it’s natural that my way into the green world is through the written word. Almost everything I’m reading right now is about the many facets of sustainability.

My daily morning websurfing gives me the opportunity to research who the authentic leaders are. What’s global warming, what’s the big deal about weather and CO, what grows in my zone. My information base grows exponentially. What are the issues, the key words, and then what do I think about it all.

But woman does not grow by words alone. Eventually it’s time to move into the action stage – cloth napkins, composting, shutting off the lights/AC, growing herbs and veggies, baking bread. I started a blog and then pulled out the family digital camera, which I had been deliberately avoiding, and learned how to use it so I could put photos into the blog.

Then I start looking for others who are on the same path. We joined a synagogue that has a strong social action element. So when I heard that they were ramping up their green team, well, I couldn’t call the office fast enough to connect with the rabbi in charge of the committee. We met and schmoozed about community building. Now the green team is set to gear up next month after the summer recess. What will we do? I don’t know but I’m so excited anticipating that first meeting. I welcome finding a group because there’s strength and hope in numbers. Plus it’s more fun.

With my eyes open, I notice things like classes and speakers. This girl loves a good lecture. So next week I’m going to hear Ed Begley, Jr. speak about Energy Efficiency for the New Millennium, an event I read about in our local weekly newspaper. Last weekend I took a 2-day class on permaculture that I found while browsing the website of a county-wide sustainability organization.

I don’t go out of my way to educate my family. Pronouncements usually don’t work. So I guess I use role modeling and talking about what I’ve learned at the dinner table. It does work. My younger (16 yr old) daughter wants to join me at a Habitat for Humanity event. Does that not set your parental heart aflutter?

Right after Hurricane Katrina, my older daughter, a high school senior at the time, organized her friends in a collection drive of much needed emergency items. Maybe her efforts came from watching me write checks to the Red Cross whenever there was an earthquake absolutely anywhere in the world. (We live in earthquake country. I shudder whenever I read about fellow earthquake survivors and need to send help.)

To nudge my husband in a more eco direction, I set up a big plastic container for the kitchen recycling. I sewed up cloth napkins and put them out in a basket on the counter. I brought home documentaries like King Corn and made him watch them for our weekly movie night. Well, that one might have been a tad pushy. But he did enjoy it a lot.

I don’t try to convert friends. I just schlep my monster stainless steel water bottle around. When you slam one of those suckers on the table it gets attention and discussions seem to come up naturally.

For me, education is how I interact with the world. Learning is why we’re here. Nothing makes me feel happier or richer than coming home from the library with a stack of books. Free, legal and nonfattening. Such a deal.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tikkun Olam Fridays – Repairing the World One Step at a Time

Another Friday, another post on tikkun olam – to repair the world. Remember, you don’t have to finish the job, but it is your responsibility to start.

What action did you take this week, big or little, to make a difference?

I spent several days over the last two weeks in religious services for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These holidays mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement.

I sat or stood, for hours at a time, sometimes praying, most times going off on my own. I wondered where the year went and how I could make both the coming year and me a better one. In short, how I could make a difference.

Like in all religious services, I imagine, we were a captive audience for rousing sermons by a chorus of passionate clergy. And if you’re a perpetual student like me, you relish those opportunities, when the sermon givers are good, to engage deeply in challenging intellectual ideas.

This season virtually all the rabbis talked about community. How our country, and the world, is going through a difficult, frightening time. How we have to remember that we have a home in our faith community and that with a little effort and involvement we can find friends and a place in the group. How we need to reach out to each other in ‘real time’ interaction and to understand that there’s no FaceBook or LinkedIn or MySpace that can take the place of real people.

Or as one rabbi put it, “There’s no such thing as casual community in Judaism.” Stick in your city’s name, your religion/spiritual choice, your country, your world. Same thing.

So here’s my offering for the week: an article from the food section of the New York Times, ‘Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town’ by Marian Burros. It’s the story of a Vermont town where “young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.” The last sentence in the article states “So many things are possible with collaboration.”

Now go read the complete article and imagine a whole country pulling together like that and you’ll see where I want to put my efforts in this new year of 5769 (2008-2009). Or to paraphrase one of the rabbis yesterday as the late afternoon sun lit up the stained glass windows behind the pulpit – we need a new generation of community builders.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Tikkun Olam Fridays – Repairing the World One Step at a Time

Another Friday, another post on tikkun olam – to repair the world. Remember, you don’t have to finish the job, but it is your responsibility to start.

What action did you take this week, big or little, to make a difference?

A month ago we started composting. I love it. We recycled some wood to build a container, placed a spare plastic shoe box above the kitchen sink to hold the carrot peelings, stale bagels and constant supply of coffee grounds and raked up a huge mass of brown leaves from the yard. Brown and green, I know the drill. Then we watered the whole mess down, good and soppy like a rung out towel. We keep the pitch fork nearby, so we can turn the mound and cover the food. I’m hospitable and enjoy inviting in a few friends for a bite, but I don’t want any creeping night crawlers, like coyotes, to be tempted by our leftovers.

For anyone who loves order and efficiency, these ‘nothing goes to waste’ activities will bring a smile to your face. It focuses me on how much food gets wasted so I think before I buy. Knowing that I’m building compost that will improve our little patch of soil is so fulfilling. Soil is basic; it’s our food’s lifeblood. That we’re letting it blow away or poisoning it is crazy.

Oh, and that compost bin in the photo. Not mine, too bad. I found it outside a restaurant on Granville Island, Vancouver. It’s my visual aid for encouragement.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Read Up On It

When I don't know something about a subject, my first action is to turn to a book. So I've been filling my brain with as much green, sustainability, community building, political action information as I can. I've written a review of a wonderful book by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. "A Crime Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking our Democracy". Here's a taste...

With President Bush deep into what I, as the mother of teenagers, call ‘senioritus’, you might ask why you should read “Crimes Against Nature” now, a book about what Bush and his oil buddies did. Even I asked myself that question, other than that the book was free (at the library) and small (my patience for tomes not what it once was).

But it’s clear to me that I need a foundation to my growing political action. I need to understand about endangered species, the effects of strip mining in West Virginia, and the nuclear power plant meltdown just miles from my parents’ home in the West San Fernando Valley and the cancer it caused so many neighbors, including my parents and sister. How did the Republican administrations hack away at our freedoms through the rape and pillage of our resources?

Kennedy’s New York Times best seller meticulously lays down the case for how corporate cronyism got put into place so that government, ‘the problem’ to Reagan era Republicans, could be drowned in the bathtub. Read it and learn exactly how corporate types from the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries were appointed as regulators to protect their own from ‘We the People.’ Rollbacks out of view from the public, manipulating and suppressing scientific data, intimidating enforcement officials and masking it in Orwellian doublespeak – it’s all here in well written detail. Kennedy has a highly readable style and while you may not be able to retain each reference, the overall effect is compelling.

For the rest of the review, visit Be A Bookworm a site that's will leave you drooling and moaning about 'so many books, too little time.'

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

News Flash – Is Nevada Leaning Blue? Tip It Over!

Democrats are on a roll in Nevada. Yesterday’s LA Times article explains the hopeful trend with maps, pie charts and issues.

Nevada now has more registered Democrats than Republicans – 76,000 more. In 2004 when the state was red, Bush won the state by 21,500 votes. And Nevada has sided with the winner in all but two presidential elections over the last century.

So … you do the extrapolating. We have a chance!!! But every vote will count so this is not the time to sit on your tushes. This is the moment of meaning you’ve been waiting for.

California Democrats, join the carpool caravan to Nevada and our sister districts. Here’s the direct link to our home page on the Obama site. I’m going October 17th. I’ll be the short one with curly brown hair, glasses and a sense of humor. You’ll want to walk with me.

So are you coming along? Or do you know anyone who’ll be going to Nevada? Let me know and I’ll post something; I’ll include your blog.

Off the couch, away from the computer, out of your comfort zone.