jalapeño pepper“Oh darn,” I remember saying out loud as I stood before the cutting board while the sharp aroma of freshly grated horseradish and ginger danced in the air. I was preparing a batch of fire cider, when I realized an ingredient was missing: the jalapeño pepper.

After getting everything else chopped, zested, squeezed and assembled in the jar, I set out for the store. There’s a little corner market of great convenience a block away, but I opted for a grocery destination that’s a bit further afield.

Because the co-op where we do the majority of our grocery shopping doesn’t stock all the basics – like sustainably raised meats (the co-op has no meat unless you want pet food) and breads from a favorite bakery that no other retailer carries –  it’s not uncommon for me to swing by this particular neighborhood market on a somewhat regular basis. The walk over the hill, down the other side, and back again has become part of the weekly grocery  ritual and easily happens more than once or twice a week. The sidewalks on my route are practically empty and that makes it the preferred option over the very flat and far less strenuous alternative along a busy retail corridor just one block away.

On this particular morning, I decided there was no time like the present to squeeze in a morning constitutional while also getting a necessary errand off the list. I admired the changing light of the season and the way it highlighted features and details of the historic Victorians along the way. Blooming flowers in the trees overhead begged passersby like myself for a little nod to their beauty. (Remember, I live in San Francisco and plants are blooming year-round.) At the market I chose a little pepper, paid with exact change (I love when that happens!), slipped said pepper in my pocket, and headed back home.

By the time I unlocked the front door, I had logged 1.6 miles. To some, it may seem absurd to walk so far and take so much time for one little thing. But you know what? This is my kind of multitasking. How often does grocery shopping truly invigorate your body and soul?

More than four weeks after the fact, I can tell you that the results are most invigorating. We are sipping and breathing fire over here!

jalapeno pepper and fire cider

The countdown to the year-end ritual of flocking to malls and online stores is upon us. Care to guess where you’ll find me? Dashing (as usual) in the opposite direction.

When the holiday freneticism is unavoidable at every turn, there’s something wonderfully delightful and perhaps a little bit deviant about choosing to swim against the mainstream current. I actually manage to avoid stress and languishing in long lines, all while fully embracing the season’s spirit of generosity on my own terms.

I’ve never understood why, as a society, we collectively wait to the last minute – or in this case, the last month of the year – to squeeze in all the big-heartedness and giving we possibly can that could have been applied liberally throughout the previous eleven months of the year. (more…)

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They quietly enter our homes by way of auctions, thank yous, prizes, presents, the mail, and even purchases. Infused with good intentions and the hopes of putting them to use sooner than later,  gift cards, gift certificates, store credits, coupons, and promotional cards often wind up sitting around longer than we ever intend.

Between my own house and those of my clients, I’ve encountered small collections of these papers, plastic cards, and torn- and cut-out coupons languishing in baskets, stuffed into folders, magnetized to the refrigerator, shoved in overburdened handbags, tucked into jacket pockets, lost in piles ‘important’ papers, lost in piles of things to sort, stuffed into bags of mail, and waiting in the foyer. (more…)

An internal dance of joy leapt within me when I read the following line in Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet by Kendra Pierre-Louis:

While we need to be more conscious about what and how much we choose to consume, that consciousness is a starting point, not an end point.

This quote was the perfect finale for my presentation on a panel about environmentally conscious organizing at this year’s NAPO2013 conference. I was thrilled to be one of three ECO organizers speaking on a topic so near and dear but more so about spreading ideas that I hope will help create ripples of awareness and change in an industry of individuals who routinely find themselves on the front lines of communicating with people about stuff and the choices we make as consumers.

My talk focused on conscious consumption and addressed how we can begin to make more mindful decisions because our choices and habits as consumers ultimately affect our actions when we’re standing in front of our trash and recycling bins. (more…)

Of all the things to get me excited, who knew the prospect of talking about my trash on national television would be one of them? Early last month, a crew from the PBS Newshour came to the house to interview Sven and me about residential composting for a story they were producing about San Francisco’s journey toward zero waste. Sven wrote about the happening, its genesis, and more in a most read-worthy blog post, Talking trash with PBS NewsHour.

Five adults and a large TV camera on a tripod in a 10×12′ kitchen was nothing short of cozy. Scrambling eggs and making breakfast while said camera (off tripod) and cameraman followed us around the kitchen was strange and amusing, but I have to say the most anxiety-inducing aspect to this whole experience came a few weeks later when we got the call notifying us the story, San Francisco on Track to Become Zero Waste City, would be airing that very afternoon. We wondered if our reflections about how simple and normal it is to participate in the city’s municipal composting program would make the final cut.

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Well over an hour of filming was edited to 55 seconds (far more than we ever imagined) of airtime and soundbites. My line about putting Qtips* in the compost and Sven’s comment about his inability to toss an apple core in the trash when there’s no compost bin in sight have generated some awesome conversations both on- and offline. What was it about these two nuggets of  revealing insight? They show how awareness and shifts in thinking can impact reflexive behaviors and habits.

Adhering to San Francisco’s Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance has enabled us to reduce our landfill-destined waste to almost none. It’s affected our choices of what we buy (nearly all purchases are daily essentials) and how we buy it (with no or as little packaging as possible). This was most clearly illustrated in the lingering shot our compost/recycling/trash zone received.

residential compost and recycling

Allow me to make introductions: Compost, the most frequently used and emptied receptacle, is on the left. The recycling container is the largest bin in the system. San Francisco’s single stream recycling allows us to collect all paper, glass, metal, and approved plastics in one container. Trash is often a landfill-destined crunchy plastic bag that’s attached to the side of the recycling container with a binder clip. The day the NewsHour crew came to visit, the trash bag was a Newman’s Own pretzel bag. Other weeks it might be a cereal box insert or a paper bag that a loaf of freshly-baked bread came in. It can take us two weeks or more to fill the “trash.” The milk cartons and takeout container have been rinsed and are waiting their turn to be filled with compostables. The lower shelf holds a ceramic planter that we use for collecting wine corks and spent batteries (mostly batteries from client’s homes that I empty from my work bag). These can be recycled at the local grocery co-op, a destination one or the other of us visits each week. And finally, the multi-purpose dishpan is where future trash and compost bags reside until called for duty. When needed, the very same dishpan is used for hand washing delicates or large stacks of dishes. Everything pictured above is a reuse of items we each purchased or acquired at least ten years ago and used for other other purposes.

Establishing a kitchen compost/recycling/trash zone is different for each and every household. Assessing available space and how you move through it, your aesthetics, lifestyle, and what your municipality requires all contribute to the choices to be made. It took us a few tries, over a couple of years, to perfect this setup. Lidless receptacles eliminate extra steps and effort, but they are not for everyone. We realize going lidless is a luxury in a pet- and toddler-free household. Because we regularly cook from scratch, food scraps add up quickly and force us to empty the compost bin a couple times a week. As such, even after a couple of days, the compost doesn’t smell. When there’s a risk that it might, a little sprinkle of baking soda will neutralize the possibility. During these winter months, orange and lemon peels do the trick!

Since the NewsHour story aired, Sven and I have found ourselves talking trash with friends and colleagues on the sidewalk, at parties, and in restaurants and stores. Some have come to us with composting and disposal confessions, while others have declared new shopping and disposal aspirations: several people will stop buying trash bags and others declared have a personal challenge to reduce their actual trash to match ours.

We knew compost was nutrient-rich, but what a surprise to discover that talking about it could nourish our community and beyond in so many ways.

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*Next time, I’ll be sure to say “cotton swab.”

Credits: Screenshots (three color photos) ©PBS Newshour.

catblogpost2smI couldn’t believe it either. I had no idea a cat could eat a blog post. But she did. I hope you realize this is possible only at that delicate intersection where the cyberworld meets the analog world and where the waiting-in-a-pile-on-my-desk-to-be-filed paper world meets the filed paper world.

I’m terribly allergic to cats, so I cannot take credit for having a feline who enjoys some 100% recycled post-consumer paper content in her life. If I could claim to have any influence on a cat, I suppose that introducing it to sustainable paper would be an excellent, albeit unusual, place to start.

Obviously, Stretchy the cat had good taste. She chose the pages that were about the magnificent Christmas shoe tree that stands on of her back porch this time of year.

kitties3_sm copy 2Stretchy lived downstairs and was one of my landlady’s two kooky felines. (All cats are kooky, right?) I learned that Stretchy liked eating paper during the same conversation in which said landlady asked me for a new printout of the blog post for her archive. I never thought to ask how selective she was and if bank statements, greeting cards, or gas bills were ever victims of her nibbling ways. Did she liked the taste of photographs or the glue of postage stamps, too? Maybe she had a thing for little shoes, and she pined (tee hee) for the return of the holidays when the collection would come out for her to admire. Maybe she tried on the shoes when no one was looking to see what all the fuss was about.

The little shoes are epic and their numbers vast. When Sven and I were in Germany this fall, we brought home what we thought would be a nice addition to the holiday collection. A kitchenware vendor at the Volksfest in his hometown managed to find a little shoe cookie cutter in his collection of small useful objects. We delivered the shoe, a little high heeled number upon our return, and have since found out that it was put to use – for making holiday cookies! Obviously, it was a very multi-functional gift filled with lots of creative potential. I wonder if it may eventually hang out with its footwear friends.

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Wishing you a festive and delicious solstice and holiday season.

This post is dedicated to Stretchy Gordon.

In short: it just doesn’t make sense for universities to invest in a system that will leave their students no livable planet to use their degrees on, or for pension funds to invest in corporations that will ruin the world we plan to retire in. The one thing we know the fossil fuel industry cares about is money. Universities, pension funds, and churches invest a lot of it. If we start with these local institutions and hit the industry where it hurts — their bottom line — we can get their attention and force them to change. This was a key part of how the world ended the apartheid system in South Africa, and we hope it can have the same effect on the climate crisis.

from http://math.350.org/

Let me start by saying that the quote above is as far as I’ll go with regard to the examination of the oil industry and climate change. Plenty of people can, have, and will speak about these topics in ways that far exceed my ability and desire to do so. For instance, there’s my partner, Sven, who reported on a lunchtime interview with Bill McKibben as I snapped away with my cameras to document the event. This is about something more: it’s about taking action in alignment with our values.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH (more…)

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