Tuesday, December 25, 2007

On the 12th day of Christmas...

On the 12th day of Christmas... the gift of letting go.

Darn, I didn't get that recipe book for my mom that I said I was going to get back in November...

Shoot, our cards will be lucky to get there before New Years...

Hell, I haven't heard from Shirley in years, so I didn't send her a card this year... I just got one from her yesterday!

Hmmm, it's the 25th - the phone bill was due three days ago...

What's that beeping? The gingerbread cookies!! Anyone need me to fix their brick wall?

Oh yeah, it's 9:30 and I haven't written my 11th and 12th day Christmas blog...

Ahh, Christmas is over. It's time to let these things go... until next year.


The 11th day of Christmas... go homemade

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love made for me... homemade bread bowls for our traditional Christmas Eve soup!

Seriously, don't underestimate the joy people receive upon getting something that you made yourself this holiday.

It could be homemade cookies, kid's artwork, those adorable handmade ornaments, or an apron with your kids' handprints on it for Grandpa. Carve out some time, put on the holiday tunes (we like the Squirrel Nut Zippers swingin' instrumental of Sleigh Ride), pull out the paints or the recipe and get to work! This year we made sugar cookies in the shapes of cowboy boots, cactuses, snowmen, and teradactyls and passed them out to friends. Unfortunately my kids fizzled after the first dozen, so loved ones received ONE cookie, but hey. It was the thought that was supersized!

"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags..."*-- Dr. Seuss, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The 10th day of Christmas... QT

Hopefully you've arrived at your destination (if you're traveling this season), having offset your footprint with my favorite organization: carbonfund.org (key - the dot org, and you've come bearing some thoughtful gifts either baked, homemade or bought locally, wrapped in the Sunday comics. You're so green you feel like Kermit!

Now it's time for some Buddha mind and Buddha body. The idea: sharing quality time with yourself and others around the holidays. The reality: reliving old patterns from a shared history of dysfunction.

Ok. That was really cynical. But let's face it, one of the biggest challenges to staying present in the moment is when we are sharing four walls with people who have known us our whole lives (family). It was Ram Dass who said, "If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family."

So my best advice: if you can, hang with the younger crowd. My kids have been my best teachers in living in the NOW. They live every second for exactly what it is. They won't let you leap to the future (me: "Ok. I need to go start the dinner now" Kids: "no you don't. Keep playing with us!") I'm famous for telling my son what we've planned for the day when I still have my pajamas on. By the time I'm finished with my sentence, he's halfway out the door. Ready to go.

Second piece: give yourself and others space. When your sister-in-law makes that backdoor comment about your cooking that you knew was coming try something totally new: non-reaction. See what happens. More often than not, it works like a mirror for the person, and will likely cause a realization of the negatively-charged nature of the comment. You may even hear your sister-in-law apologize! Seriously, try it.

Also, if you can, take a few moments (in a spare bedroom, outside, in the car) to find stillness. Check in with your body. Cleanse it with some deep breaths. Return to yourself.

On the 10th day of Christmas, the best gift is conscious breathing.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the 9th day of Christmas...downtown

Hopefully you have already hit the holiday market at the pavilion end of the downtown mall. We last minute shoppers took advantage of all the great handmade crafts there today, the last day of the market. (I just bought my mom some cool earrings made from recycled wrapping paper!)

The good news: You can still shop the Innisfree store. This store is a project of Innisfree Village , a non-profit community assisting adults with mental disabilities. All proceeds from the store benefit Innisfree Village. Their weavery, woodshop, and bakery, and other self-help crafts are made here (in Crozet) as well as from other low-income villages around the globe.

Also, O'Susannah, on the west end of the downtown mall, has a nice selection of groovy, cool eco-friendly products. I have a cool calendar made from recycled paper and soy ink from a company out of San Francisco on my wish list. They also sell a line of cards from Waste Not Paper - a company who uses excess scraps of paper from mills. For my girlfriend in Asheville, I bought a unique bamboo postcard here .

Also, if you head east on Preston Ave you can stop by the Blue Ridge Eco-shop at Preston Plaza. This shop specializes in all things green. One of my favorites is their "plant-a-note" cards. Gift giving times two: after enjoying your hearfelt message, your receiver can then plant this card in soil, give it sunshine and water, and voila -- wildflowers begin to grow! Don't miss their recycled paper wrapping and their soy pinecone candles.


Friday, December 21, 2007

On the 8th day of Christmas... Rt 29N

Hey there, you 29N e-conscious shoppers...

If you can make it safely past the corporate, consumer magnet that is Target, look to your left, and you will see a beacon of light: newly-opened Nature's Child (who just celebrated their 2 month anniversary). Though I'd like to see more products made closer to home (i.e. lower embedded energy), they've got a nice selection of wooden toys and organic clothing. They have a line of toys from Vermont called "My Train" which are very cute and multifunctional, as well as a "Balance Bike" - I'll let Kristin, the owner, explain that one. They also offer a discount for bringing in a reusable bag for your purchases.

If you're up that way, you may also want to hit the latest and greatest natural grocery store: All Goods Groceries. Grab a cup of locally roasted, fair trade, organic coffee and roam the aisles for eco-friendly cleaning products and organic yummies. Josh and Kathleen, the owners, are phenomenal at customer service.

If you like to go green buy buying your basics in bulk at Sam's club(less packaging = less dead tree), I've heard they have an ever-growing selection of eco-friendly products. I went there in October to take advantage of their huge deal on CFL lightbulbs (13 for 16 dollars!.

Happy Seminole Trails,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

On the 7th day of Christmas...

The intention of these holiday blogs is not to go too heavy on the purchases. But the next three days I will be highlighting some of the local green goods in three geographical areas: North 29, downtown/main street and Barracks Road. If you have to consume, do it consciously, wisely, locally.

I'll begin with Barracks Road.

I know it's hard to believe that amidst all the mass mayhem going on at Barracks Road Shopping this time of year that it's possible to practice conscious living and wise purchasing, but I believe it can be done.

At Plow and Hearth, a Virginia-based company, I was able to find a cool simple, wooden designed stocking hook for the mantel made from a company in Vermont, Christmas Cove Designs as well as quality soy (as opposed to petroleum-based) candles.

Next stop, Rebecca's for a gift-certificate. This small grocer has really upped the ante in terms of going green with their newly-renovated store. Stop in, poke around, drink Kombucha (my friend swears by it!).

Last stop, Blue-Ridge Mountain Sports. John Holden, General Manager of the store is a community leader in terms of environmental issues. He's a great guy and I've heard an even better guide. Before stopping in, go through your coat closet and find one to donate (they are giving them to the Piedmont House). Then you can pick out a cool new Patagonia shirt (according to Holden, an industrial leader for many years in terms of "green"ness) made from all-recycled material.

Deck the halls,

On the sixth day of Christmas... go live and local

Give the gift of live music by purchasing a gift certificate for someone you love at Gravity Lounge, Charlottesville's best local venue for live shows.

I just recently enjoyed Devon Sproule, Danny Schmidt and the whole "King of My Living Room" crew there.

Gravity offers a nice array of munchies besides their fully-packed bar. Their best side dish is the array of books you can peruse in between sets. Last time I was there I took a moment to peruse both "Contacting the Cosmos" and "The Complete Book of Aphrodisiacs" - purely by coincidence, I'm sure.

Seriously, it's an ultra Zen location that has the unique potential to warm your soul during these cold winter months.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On the fifth day of Christmas... give the gift of life

Did you know that more than 2,000 people are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in Virginia, which means that each week THREE Virginians will die waiting for it?

Please give the gift of life by declaring yourself an organ and tissue donor.

There are two easy ways to sign up online:
at save7lives.org in Virginia or organdonor.gov elsewhere in the US.

I really like the honest, informative, and direct layout of save7lives.org.

If you have already designated yourself as an organ donor on your license, that means you are automatically transferred to save7lives. If you would like to confirm that you are in there, it just takes a few minutes.

If you have thought about being a donor, but still have questions, I recommend their easy-to-navigate myths/facts section. If you have any religious concerns, both sites can address those.

Live consciously:
When you declare yourself a donor, your body is able to provide more than just your organs: in addition tissues, stem cells, blood and platelets. Collectively this can improve or save the lives of as many as 50 individuals!

Make a difference:
Sign up to be an organ donor today. Share your donation decision with your family (so that they understand your wishes)

Make a bigger difference:
Share your concern for saving lives with your friends and family.


Monday, December 17, 2007

On the fourth day of Christmas...

At this time of year every parent feels the burden and (let's face it, sometimes the irritation) at the prospect of giving the dreaded "teacher gifts" to their sons' or daughters' teachers. Especially when you're my neighbor who has four kids, times the number of teachers each has, times the principal, oh yeah and what about the secretary...yikes.

I can call a spade a spade on this one because I was a teacher once upon a time and, though it probably sounds ungrateful, I didn't need all those coffee mugs and icky-sweet brownies.

My son's school Stone Robinson Elementary School in Albemarle County has come up with a wonderful alternative to gift-giving which is nothing less than genius: teachers post a wish list for items they would like to use in their classroom. Total win-win. You just walk in and check out the bulletin board, buy wisely, and abracadabra, it's done. I encourage you to bring this practice to your PTOs and preschools.

That being said, another idea for thoughtful giving is to ditch the gift altogether and sit down and write a meaningful note to the teacher. I read an article in the Post several years ago which described a new study which found that teachers overwhelmingly prefer a kind note over any gift.

I can vouch for this as a former middle-school teacher. I still have the note that Don Dunn's mom gave me that expressed her appreciation eloquently and sincerely --her son had found a "cool" teacher who helped him discover the joy of reading. I've kept all the heart-felt letters, but I'm down to one Christmas mug and I can't remember who gave it to me.

Whichever you choose, don't underestimate the power of kind words this holiday.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

On the third day of Christmas...

My true love gave to me...

An action that spoke louder than words.

This season don't forget the value of "doing" a kindness, rather than purchasing one.

My husband was a perfect example last night. I had planned on giving him the night off by taking the kids to a holiday party while he relaxed. He had a bout of insomnia the night before in addition to working several hours on a Saturday afternoon, so I told him to catch a movie or go to bed early.

No sooner had the kids and I arrived at the party, I heard his voice at the door, to my extreme delight. He wanted to spend the night with me and our boys!

Whether it's volunteering to babysit your friends' kids for the afternoon while she reads her book at a favorite coffee shop or offering to give a soothing massage to your loved one after work, remember...

The best portion of a good man's life [are] his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. ~William Wordsworth


On the second day of Christmas...

On the second day of Christmas, Betty's true love gave to her...

holdings in a socially responsible investment fund!

I know we all want to retire at age fifty so we are still young enough to hike and play the banjo and paint and/or just eat bon-bons on the beach if we want.
But that doesn't mean you have to put all your money in big, bad corporations with the carbon footprint of Shaquille O'Neil!

Introducing, socially responsible investing. Ask your financial investor which are the hot new green growth funds or alternative energy funds, ensuring a lighter environmental bang for your buck, so to speak.

Socially Responsible Investing is a borad-based approach to investing which encourages corporate responsiblity as it relates to a variety of societal concerns: from employee/employer relations, environmental concerns, to animal testing even weapons/defense spending. Check out socialinvest.org for more information!


Friday, December 14, 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas...

This is the giving season and as people of many different faiths and spiritual practices, it may very well be a time that you set aside to think of others. Welcome to Betty's Twelve Days of Christmas: ideas for simplifying and greening the holidays!

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

A new, gently used, or borrowed copy of Unplug the Christmas Machine by by Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli. Ten years ago I read this life-changing book that transformed a frenetic, harried, consumer-driven holiday into a more fulfilling practice of showing love. I highly recommend it. Besides giving you a wide selection of fun ideas for giving, it also allows you to lead the way for simplicity among your families and co-workers and neighbors.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Idle cars/trucks/buses are the devil's workshop...

I'm happy to announce that I kicked off my "voluntary no-idling" campaign at all Wachovia Banks starting today with a simple phone call! Quit jumping up and down and let me begin by "clearing the air" surrounding idling/turning your engines off and perhaps you will find it in your heart (or I should say lungs) to join me.


It takes more fuel to restart than remain idling.


Ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. If you use more fuel, you emit more CO2 (which is the number one greenhouse gas linked to climate change.


It is important to warm up the engine.


Idling actually causes significantly more wear on the internal parts of a vehicle.

Also, idling produces many more harmful emissions. Over nine minutes, for example, an idling car will emit double the pollutants of a car that is turned off and then restarted.

So here's what you Bettys and Baldwins can do:
1. live consciously: Turn off your engine if you're going to be idle for more than a minute.
2. make a difference: Inform your family and friends about the importance of turning off the engine.
3. make a bigger difference: call 1-704-590-5330 (the Wachovia Customer Listen line - you actually talk to a human being!) and urge them to have a no-idling policy at their drive-thrus. Or consider instituting a voluntary no-idling policy at your son or daughters school (Albemarle County already has this policy in place for their buses - way to go and the city has recently adopted this policy for their fleet as well)

Pass the word on about idling. And we'll all breathe easier!


Monday, December 3, 2007

Easy being green? I don't think so... #5

As we approach the darkest day of winter, I think it's important to recognize the darker more frustrating side of going green.

Let's take grocery shopping, for example:
Let me first explain my personal shopping strategy. Foremost, shop without the kids! I love them like crazy, but I get tired of fending off the pull of the mass-marketing vortex. We got burned by that last time when in a weak moment I bought Raisin Bran cereal, stupidly thinking my son would eat it after a long talk about the fact that just because Jack Sparrow is on the cover doesn't mean it tastes good! He ate nary a bite, mate.

Not to mention that with the way I'm reading labels these days -- scanning for high-fructose corn syrup (a word elevated to profanity in our house), the packaging (plastics 1 or 2, please), and checking from when it's been shipped (from North America would be nice) -- it takes me more than an hour to shop and by then the kids are slugging each other!

My secondary strategies: I won't gas guzzle around shopping at five different grocers. I try to keep it to two stores, max. twice a week (drive less); I make a menu; and I buy local and organic when possible.

But I drove away feeling the dark side of trying to "eat green" after my venture to Whole Foods Grocer, which many people believe has the largest selection of "local" foods.

I couldn't find a single Virginia apple in there.

So I lowered my expectations to this side of the coast. No can do. I would say 90% of the vegetables were shipped from California.

Now I need eggs - but my head again starts spinning because I recently learned that "free-range" doesn't mean that the chickens get to roam just anywhere they want. You want the "pastured" variety. Nothing with that label, so I opt for the free-range with the highest Omega 3's.

Next, I roam the canned-food isle looking for chicken broth and I notice the majority of the broths and soups come in Tetra-paks which I just learned are non-recycleable except in England. My husband would probably believe it if I saved the tetra-pak for recycling during his next trip there, but...alas, I buy the aluminum cans instead.

It's enough to make someone crazy!

But I've got to remember this: I'm aware and I'm trying. And I'm trusting that this tide that is turning as we speak, will one day succeed in making healthy choices for me, my kids, and the environment a lot easier. And it's not about being a "Perfect Pollyanna" it's about being a "Better Betty"!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Green Diary #4: it starts with the kids...

My 1st grader came home from school the other day and said, "Guess what, Mom? My school is not that friendly to the Earth. You know why? (If you've guessed he's my rule-bound eldest, you're right!)" "Why?" I reply. "They use plastic forks instead of real ones at school lunch." " Really?"

It sounds like my son's school and perhaps your child's school in Albemarle County and the City could use some consciousness-raising in the green sphere as well.

But I was surprised to find out, in my research for Betty, just how much Albemarle County schools are already doing to lessen their impact. I've had the privilege of meeting with two empassioned women, Lindsay Check, environmental compliance manager for Albemarle County Schools, and Sarah Temple, environmental compliance manager at the County, who are working on a wide range of green goals. Everything from lowering thermostat temperatures to installing compact fluorescent bulbs to integrated pest management to co-mingled recycling to running the buses on biodiesel! Some of which have already been implemented.
It's exciting!

Of course, given my son's observation, there is still much work to do.

I am happy to report that this very evening the first
Stone Robinson green group of parents met at my home. For an hour we brainstormed all kinds of exciting ideas. We talked about getting recycling bins in every classroom and workroom, drafting a no-idling policy for the drop-off/pick up car loop, school beautification, and raising awareness among the kids about water conservation (you ever seen a 7 year old wash their hands? I sound like a broken record trying to train my kids not to leave the water running while they fumble with the soap dispenser or put their toy in their pocket!). The easy part, of course, is coming up with the important ideas and actions, now comes the hard part: putting them into action.

I am hopeful we can do it. W
e made the first step of many tonight and that feels good.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Going Green Diary: entry #3 Happy and Hairless

I don't want this diary to be a venue for product endorsement, but I have to share some great news. Though some out there may say they are "going totally green" in their lifestyle. I refrain from making that claim. It's a challenge in some areas. I am doing what I tell my kids to do all the time: do your best!

In the madness that was Whole Foods three days before Thanksgiving, I was actually able to focus for a few minutes (this was before my son started his relentless whining to go home) to find a new product: the Preserve Razor.

For those Bettys who want to continue to shave (as opposed to taking the big step of going au naturale (sp?) - hey some of us grow some serious black hair), this razor is made from 100% recycled plastics, with at least 65% recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups. The paper insert is 100% recycled, printed with soy inks, and the case is made from renewable wood sources. The company, Recycline, was born out of a desire to help promote the use of recycled products. You can also recycle the razors and razor cartridges through their postage-paid mail-back program. They also have a line of toothbrushes.

In my mind it's a win-win. This promotes recycling and reduces the perpetuation of products made from virgin materials. Check out their website: recycline.com for more info.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Going Green Diary: entry #2

My friend asked me a very legitimate question the other day - why can't the County (and the Rivanna Waste Authority) offer more than just the recycling of number 1 and number 2 plastics?

A-ha. Great question. One that I plan on pursuing. (Hopefully details on that will follow in later entries)

One way I intend to do that is to attend the December 4th meeting of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority at the City Council Chambers from 6-7:30pm. The waste authority wants to get residents' opinions on recycling and other solid waste services in the County and Charlottesville. And I will be happy to share mine. (Mabye I'll take my low-VOC paint and put "Albemarle County wants curbside recycling!" on a big piece of cardboard) The consultants will then draft a waste management plan and deliver it to the RSWA board.

Many of my neighbors and friends have expressed a sincere desire to recycle, but find themselves bogged down by the time and space it takes to haul their items, and sometimes just give up.

I would like to see the county take as concerted and committed effort as we have seen in the city with their new their extended curbside recycling service (see www.avenue.org/rwsa) and lofty recycling goals (50%).

Currently I am trying to avoid plastics #3-#7, but when I can't I take them to UVA's recycling park, which accepts them and hope that's ok with them. :-)


Friday, November 16, 2007

going green diary: entry 1

Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to track my own personal efforts in "going green." Which, to me, means living more lightly on the planet today than you did yesterday.

I'm a stay-home mom of two boys and I know it's probably not the "green" thing to say or do, but today I praise Hasbro's play-dough and all of the fun plastic do-dahs that go with it. These toys have been a main-stay in our house.

See, I grew up on play-dough. That distinct salty smell and the perfect mushy feel of it in your hands. My fondest Christmas memory growing up is when I received the hairstyling studio where you could pump the playdough in, press firmly, and like fast-film photography out pumps the sweetest play-dough doo that I would promptly cut off in friendly fashion.

Recently all of our play-dough has been mixed to form primordial black, so I figured it was time to invest in new dough.

In our ongoing effort to minimize consumption and needless trips to the toy store, we decide to make our own.

It was a disaster. My three-year-old decided on a bright blue color and despite following the directions to a tee, we come up with a weird soupy mixture which I tell him will surely harden into perfect play-dough by morning.

I wake up to a kitchen full of little blue splatters (on the white fleece my friend let me borrow, no less) and still soupy play-dough my son has just finished "inspecting". (Apparently he checked it at 6:00 am without telling anyone).

Forget this , I head to my locally-owned toy store and to my dismay, no play-dough there. Toys R Us it is (audible gasp). I manage to b-line it past the eight-foot displays of the High School Musical stars and the new pop-star Barbie figures on sale and sneak on out of there with just my four new pastel colors - $1.98! (I probably spent that much on resources driving around to find the play-dough, not to mention the water consumption I used to scrub out the sticky blue bowl used in our homemade blunder).

I've banned plastic in my home (the grandparents apparently missed that memo) - everything from plastic water bottles to the kid-size yogurt we used to buy- because we Americans consume roughly 2.5 million water bottles alone EVERY HOUR and the majority of those never get recycled. That's a problem.

On the other hand, there are certain things I'm not willing to give up. Today my sons and I played playdough for almost two hours - making purple pancakes, and orange spaghetti, not to mention green caves for the bad guys and blue bridges for them to cross over. I appreciated the plastic shape makers we kept from my pro-plastic days of yore.

I keep going back to this: it's about balance. And less is more. And if it gives my boys an avenue to create pink trees and purple lakes, let them have at it.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

lessons in being curious, creative and car-free

Today (Fri, Oct 26) was one of those dark rainy days that can make you want to stay beneath the covers and pretend you don’t have a reason to get out.

Fortunately, that delusion never entered my mind thanks to my two young boys. My three year old has already woken me up twice with bad dreams about witches chasing him (bless him) and is now sleeping on my forehead, crowding me into the far corner of my bed. (Keep in mind you could have a small dinner party on this thing)

I just get back to sleep when my older son enters at 6am and says loudly, “Oh yeah - I don’t have school today - I could have slept in.” EXACTLY! Insert curse word. Of course this always happens when their dad is out of town.


But it’s 8am and we are carving a pumpkin. Rather unorthodox I know, but our first one has long since rotted and, well, they asked so nicely. Also yesterday was our 1/2 share produce pick up and this is our third pumpkin - what else are we going to do with it?

While our spiced pumpkin seeds are roasting, we spy the bag of dried corn for popcorn and chestnuts.

Now I know some people don’t like the whole “you never know what you’re going to get” aspect of buying a share in a local CSA, but for us it’s been a lesson in curiosity and creativity. (How many different ways can you cook green beans and still have your kids not eat them? Can I make a white eggplant taste good?) And this morning, can I pop popcorn without one of those electric poppers?

It turns out all you need is a pot, a cover, and some oil over high heat. After I drizzle butter and salt over the bowlful, the eldest declares, “This is the best popcorn I’ve ever had!” So we move on to the chestnuts (sorry we used the oven, not an open fire). Easy and tasty as well.

By this time the house smells delicious and I feel like the triumphant captain of the Mayflower; I’ve launched this culinary ship into previously unchartered waters and succeeded!

By this time, we decide this is our car-free day and we hunker down.

We color; we play Star Wars; we rock out to the Romantics “What I Like About You” while we pick up the 30 or so books that are strewn all over Ian’s room; we play hide and seek.

We all agree that a “family bath party” is the perfect ending to a perfect day. With our three-inch layer of bubbles we make beards, snowballs, glaciers and marshmallow cakes! My 6 yr old begins putting “red hot fire cream” on my legs because “your blood is evaporating!” That cannot be good. But after a few douses of “the best cream I’ve ever come across” I seem cured.

Of more than just the dreary day.

Kids have a wonderful way of keeping you in the moment.

I know these days of family baths and pretend potions are disappearing fast. So before I lay my weary head to sleep, I enjoy them, and hope for no mean witches tonight.