Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year

The new year is always bittersweet for me. I find myself thinking wistfully of how quickly another year has passed by, and how it has taken me by surprise yet again. I feel this even more as I get older.

Every year as my gorgeous girls grow up a little more, I feel twinges of sadness as I realize that there is absolutely nothing I can do to hold on to these precious early years. I am horrible at coping with change, and what could represent change more completely and more inevitably than a child growing up in the world? I find myself constantly grappling with this, and I have to remind myself that I must live in the present moment, something I find very difficult to do, even though I know it is really the only way we can live.

Around this time I also find myself thinking of the people who have died over the course of the past year, which may in part be due to the fact that there always seem to be so many tributes in the media.

Deaths that have been especially poignant for me this past year include Dith Pran, Tim Russert, Sir Edmund Hillary, George Carlin, Steve Fossett, Freddie Hubbard, Eartha Kitt, and Jdimytai Damoar who was the worker at Walmart who got trampled in the horrible post Thanksgiving shopping stampede. I am also thinking of the families around the world who have lost loved ones this past year in the continuing hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don't make new years resolutions, but I do carry in my mind "new year intentions". Perhaps they are the same thing? Here are my intentions for the next year and beyond in no particular order:

I intend to be a better Mother and Wife. (This seems to be a constant mantra I carry around with me everyday).

I intend to REALLY slow down and spend more quality time with Robert and the girls.

I intend to continue blogging. It is something I really love to do, and it has had the added benefits of allowing me to reconnect with old friends, and even to make new ones!

I intend to make more time to be with both old and new friends, and family, and to be open to new friendships.

I intend to continue chipping away at my degree. I will finish it, one of these years!

I intend to volunteer. I will have more time in the fall after both my girls are in school, and I intend to use it to try to do some good.

I intend to continue living life as sustainably as I can, something which is truly my passion in life. I also intend to do all that I can to protect our environment.

I intend to be out in my yard and garden with my girls a lot.

Finally, I intend to practice drumming more, something I love that always seems to get sidelined.

I hope that you all have a wonderful and Happy New Year, and that 2009 brings you all that you intend to achieve!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interesting Story

This was a nice story that was aired on NPR's All Things Considered on Christmas Eve. I have been reading about groups such as these for some months now.

Interesting also to hear the author of "The Truth About Organic Food", Alex Avery, making one of his arguements against the organic movement. I am still determined to read his book and see what he has to say.

"President-elect Barack Obama will have his hands full when he takes office in January, and some activists want to make sure his belly is full, too — full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Several campaigns are petitioning Obama to plant an organic garden on the White House lawn, and they've devised peculiar ways of getting attention.

Take, for example, Daniel Bowman Simon and Casey Gustowarow and their upside-down, topsy-turvy bus — a vehicle that is actually one school bus flipped on its back and fused on top of another. On the roof, where the second bus's engine would have been, is a small but hardy vegetable garden.

"People have just kind of gravitated toward this upside-down school bus just because they want to know what it is," Simon says. "So it opens up the potential for having a conversation."

Simon and Gustowarow founded the White House Organic Farm Project –- or TheWhoFarm. Since August, they've driven through 25 states visiting farms, markets, schools and restaurants, asking people to sign their petition.

"We need to be more holistic in the way that we view health in this country, and a lot of it comes down to eating healthier," Simon says. "People who eat healthier don't get sick as much."

But for the WhoFarm guys and other sustainable-food junkies, eating locally grown produce is not just about health. They say it's also about cutting down the amount of fuel we use to transport food, encouraging communities to congregate around a garden and rediscovering America's agricultural roots. Simon says the president should lead by example.

"If we have arguably the most famous person in the country eating off the most visible piece of land in the country, which is a piece of land that we all share collectively, that could inspire immense changes," he says.

And the WhoFarmers are not the only grassroots gardeners trying to get the president-elect's attention. In February, Roger Doiron, director of Kitchen Gardeners International, launched an online campaign called Eat the View — the "view" being the pristine White House grounds.

"It might sound a bit trivial to some people, the idea of a garden on the White House lawn," Doiron says. "But it's not. It's something that would speak to millions of people in the United States and even more people around the world who look at gardens and small subsistence farms as a way of making a living, as a way of putting good food on the table."

Like TheWhoFarm, Eat the View has an online petition. In total, the campaigns have collected about 18,000 signatures. (It's hard to say how many are duplicates.) At one point, Doiron even raised money for his nonprofit by selling imaginary plots of the White House lawn on eBay.

But not everyone is so supportive of these campaigns. Alex Avery, author of The Truth About Organic Food and director of research at the Center for Global Food Issues, is critical of the larger organic farming agenda.

"I think the idea to put an organic farm on the White House lawn is as shallow a stunt as is the intellectual rigor of the organic movement as a whole," he says.

According to Avery, feeding the world's population organically — that is, without synthetic fertilizer — would require plowing down millions of square miles of wildlife habitat in order to achieve the same yield of food.

"It would create no solutions — it would, in fact, create nothing but problems," Avery says.

Not to mention that some of what the activists are proposing may already be going on. Walter Scheib, executive chef at the White House for 11 years under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says that people might be surprised at some of the sustainable practices already in place at the White House.

"There's always an assumption that something isn't happening already," he says. "But Mrs. Bush is adamant about organics. If anything was available as an organic it was to be a default."

Scheib says that when he arrived at the executive residence during the Clinton administration, there was already a small vegetable garden on the roof, which he expanded during his time there.

Still, TheWhoFarm and Eat the View are petitioning for something a bit more ambitious and more visible. Both campaigns are suggesting that the White House produce enough food to help stock D.C. food banks. In addition, Simon and Gustowarow have proposed that schoolchildren and people with disabilities work at the First Farm.

The Secret Service would not comment on the feasibility of that.

Nonetheless, the activists find reasons to be optimistic. Famous foodies like chef Alice Waters and bestselling author Michael Pollan are calling for a White House garden. And the students at Watkins Elementary, a school TheWhoFarm visited in southeast Washington, D.C., seem pretty excited, too.

"You guys are so cool!" several students shouted when they saw TheWhoFarm's wacky ride.

"Good luck," one girl said after TheWhoFarmers had explained their project. "I'll go home and sign your petition if my mom lets me."

"Yes," Simon told her. "Ask her for permission."

Now all these traveling gastronomes need is for Obama to get on the bus."

All Things Considered, NPR, December 24th, 2008.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Phoenix light rail open

Yes it's true, we now have a light rail system here in Phoenix!

Our very own light rail currently spans twenty miles from downtown Phoenix to Mesa, via Tempe. There are plans to expand out to the west valley and elsewhere in the future. This project has taken 10 years to come to fruition, and has been funded by a combination of federal government money, sales taxes from the Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe, and funds from proposition 400.

The really great news is that everyone can ride for free from today until December 31st, after which time fares will be the same as bus fares. There are many activities planned over the next few days to celebrate the grand event. Visit here for more information.

Phoenix has been badly in need of a mass transit system such as this for a long time, and from what I can gather by chatting to people there seems to be a great deal of excitement and anticipation. Let's hope that it generates plenty of business for local establishments along the route, and reduces traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions here in the valley.

A good way to end the year here in The Valley of the Sun!

Friday, December 26, 2008

I was dreaming of a wet Christmas

and that is exactly what I got!

It was grey all day and rained pretty much all afternoon and evening which felt very seasonal. Robert says he can't remember another year that this has happened and he has lived here for many years. It was lovely!

Our Christmas was very low key, just the four of us, and all the doggies. We cut right back this year, and yet still did very well indeed. I have to admit that we even stayed in our pyjamas for most of the day. What luxury. It didn't matter because we weren't out to impress, (are we ever?) Just to be comfy!

The girls favorite toy was the "Melissa and Doug" ice cream play set . It has been a huge hit and I highly recommend it for those of you with children out there. A simple toy, but a complete winner!

I got my own Christmas surprise when I went out to gather parsley for the stuffing. I have had a few Ichiban eggplant plants for some time now that have flowered for ages, and yet never seemed to produce any eggplants.

So imagine my surprise yesterday when I leant down and saw several actual eggplants. I had given up looking of late I have to admit. What a nice surprise, and although I didn't include them in our Christmas day feast I will have many uses for them over the next few days I am sure.

We had a lovely restful, family time and I hope that you all did as well! I was thinking about many of you!

Despite my best intentions to have a simpler, greener, more sustainable christmas this year we still managed to produce an entire trash bag full of wrapping paper and other waste destined for the landfill. A holiday favorite of mine Christmas Crackers produce a fair amount of waste what with the paper hats and the plastic trinkets that invariably get discarded as soon as they appear. Plans to make my own recyclable crackers fell by the wayside as did so many of my other ideas to be more green. I suppose that is what new years resolutions are for right? Lets hope I stick to more of them next year than I usually do.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Farmers Market

Here are some pictures from our trip to the lovely downtown farmers market on Saturday. It was a little chilly which made it feel very seasonal.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tis The Season.......

....... for gift giving, quality time with loved ones, and for being sick, at least it seems to be that way in our house at the moment! I finished school last week for an entire month, and had HUGE plans for all the spare time I was going to have, but it seems that we have all had constant runny noses, coughs, sore necks, and temperatures this past week or so. Needless to say I have not done much at all.

It is also the season for wonderful rain here in our usually sunny valley, and of course I am loving it! It has rained a lot the past few days, and more rain is forecasted for tonight. They are also getting a lot of snow up in the high country, so perhaps the Snowbowl will open soon. In addition to my custom made rainwater barrel, I now have several temporary "rainwater collection devices", otherwise known as big garbage containers set up all around the house collecting rainwater. I am sure my neighbours across the street are enjoying these a great deal! Luckily we don't have an HOA.

Our local library has this great system where if they don't have the book you want you can request an interlibrary loan ONLINE (!!!), from the comfort of your own home. I used this great service in an attempt to obtain the book "The Truth About Organic Food", by Alex Avery, which I plan to read and review. Unfortunately I got an email today saying this-

A request you have placed has been cancelled by the interlibrary loan staff for the following reason: Few libraries own this title and none of them would lend it to us.

Now I am in a quandry. I really want to read this book and offer my honest opinion about it's content, however, I really hadn't planned to buy it and anyway, it is for sale at Amazon new for $19.95. That is a lot of money for a book that I will probably read once, and I am really trying not to buy new books. So for now my plan is to try to find it in one of the used bookstores in my area and take it from there.

My children did not want much for Christmas this year. Kendra wanted a "candy cane, and a doll", and Emily wanted "a dolly, a bed for my dolly, and,(not to be outdone by her big sister), a candy cane". It is for this reason, as well as the fact that we don't have a large family that I have finished all my holiday shopping. This year with my sustainable living mantra playing away in my head, I shopped at Heifer International, Oxfam, WWF, Changing Hands Bookstore, Bead It , The Doll House And Toy Store, and at the very lovely faire we went to a few weekends ago. I do have to confess that I also bought a few items at Target, although probably not as many as in years past. What's a girl on a strict budget to do?

I feel I must apologize in advance to those lucky people who will soon be the recipients of my homemade earings. You don't know who you are yet, but you soon will and really, you don't need to be polite. Do remember though, that it truly is the thought that counts! :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A one word meme

Leaner, and Bodaat inspired me to do this one and it is kind of fun, especially when one's day isn't going so great.

Where is your mobile phone? ?

Where is your significant other? Museum

Your hair color? Brown

Your mother? Dear

Your father? Far

Your favorite thing? Family

Your dream last night? Crazy

Your dream goal? Mountains

Room You're In? Computer

Your hobby? Many

Your fear? Sickness

Where do you want to be in 6 years? Mountains

Where were you last night? Bed

What you're not? Funny

Where you grew up? England

The last thing you did? Tidied

What are you wearing? Warmth

Your TV? Uninteresting

Your pets? Beloved

Your computer? Here

Your mood? Low

Missing someone? Always

Your car? Dull

Something you're not wearing? Socks

Favorite shop? Book

Your summer? Long

Love someone? Absolutely

Your favorite color? Green

When is the last time you laughed? Friday

When is the last time you cried? Today

December In Our Garden

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Real Christmas trees, yet another renewable resource?

Really? I hear you ask. Aren't those reusable ones a far better choice because they can be REUSED??!!

Well, apparently not according to what I read recently at Treehugger, and The National Christmas Tree Association , (who admittedly may be ever so slightly biased).

The main issues here seem to be the fact that artificial trees travel a long way, mostly from China, and that they are made from PVC, which is in turn made from petroleum, which is as you all know, a non renewable resource. PVC also contains lead, and when manufactured, can release many harmful chemicals such as dioxins into the environment. Artificial trees in theory can last for ever, but in practice they often get thrown out well before their time, and end up in landfills, forever.

Real trees aren't the perfect choice either, they are often farmed using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and unless one buys a locally grown tree, can also travel thousands of miles to get to their destination in your front room. However, real trees are farmed sustainably, use carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, and can be mulched after use to release "good" chemicals such as nitrogen, and carbon into the earth.

The best choice for us would of course be no tree, but I am afraid I am simply not that green just yet. And the real tree we got was not farmed locally, or farmed organically, however we will be mulching it because Phoenix has a great Christmas tree "drop off and be mulched" system, and I am a true lover of mulch!

So, with out further ado, here are some pictures of our really not quite so green Christmas tree!



And after

What ever kind of tree you have I hope you are enjoying it as much as we are enjoying ours!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Another Garden Update

I realize that this is my fourth post this weekend! I seem to have a lot to say so far this month, in contrast to last month when I was not very inspired. So, at risk of boring my loyal readers, here is a garden update.

I have pulled all the zucchini and cucumber plants after getting many pounds of both. I am afraid they were terriby infested with aphids because I wasn't spraying them as often as I should have with the soapy water mixture.

I am sorry to see them go, but I am also grateful for such a bountiful harvest. Now I have more space again, although I haven't really thought about what I will plant next.

The Nasturtiums are coming along nicely. I can't wait for them to flower.

The Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Broccoli are all doing well.

I have a very small head of broccoli forming on one plant.

The snow pea plants are also growing, although they have had some aphid activity recently so I have been watching them closely, and spraying my organic soapy pest control regularly. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them!

This bed is rather crowded with a variety of Lettuce, Leeks, more Cabbage, Spinach, Cilantro, and Dill. I see some plant thinning in my future.

And here is the last of the Rapini which has been delicious, the first of the Kale, and some Parsley that I harvested on Friday.

Now I am off to find something fun to do with the girls. I hope you are all having a fun weekend too.

A Perfectly Beautiful Day

Yesterday the girls and I went to a wonderful faire. It was a lovely day and the perfect setting for children with many fun activities. We met my friends Bo, and Leaner while we were there, and that made the day even more special. It was fun watching the girls play alongside each other, and being able to chat among all the fun activity. I even managed to buy a couple of Christmas gifts that were well within my compacting rules of hand made, or craft items.