Saturday, July 26, 2014

National Parks Love


{Emerald Pool Hike--Zion's National Park}

The National Parks system is one of the United States' best ideas ever.

Just ask the Germans.

If you've done summer trips to any of the National Parks, at least the ones in Southern Utah, you know that half the visitors are from Europe, and 60% of those are from Germany. 

Okay, so I'm making up my statistics, but they feel pretty accurate.


We worship at their cathedrals; they worship at ours.

Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion's. Each has its own character. All render you speechless at some point.

I was perusing some old photos and fell in love again. My photography skills are not exactly speechless-rendering, but I'll share a few--peopled and non-peopled--from our time at America's Playgrounds.


{tracking a lizard--Arches N.P.}


{iconic Delicate Arch during a sunset hike--Arches N.P.}


{taking it all in--Bryce Canyon N.P.}


{life always finds a way--Bryce Canyon N.P.}


{checking out the view--Canyonlands N.P.}


{finding beauty everywhere, including in death--Canyonlands N.P.}


{spotting a deer in the orchards--Capitol Reef N.P.}


{ancient pictographs--Capitol Reef N.P.}


{we like to climb and get dirty--Zions N.P.}


{Lower Emerald Pools--Zions N.P.}


{this blue planet of ours sure does make us a beautiful home--Arches N.P.}

I love me some National Parks. Feel free to link to your favorite N.P. vacations. 





Friday, July 18, 2014

Green Nerdery TV Debut on Good Things Utah

Here's my segment from this morning's show. It was a general introduction of my green(-ish) lifestyle and a brief no-/low-waste shopping demo.

Having been on the show once before, I knew the drill a little better and felt like I could try to relax a bit. But that said, sheesh, speaking extemporaneously on live TV definitely takes some practice!

Thanks, Nicea and Jessie, I had a great time! You always make it fun.

Check it out!

Green Living Blogger Shares Her Secrets

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Solstice Report


There is a natural geological formation in Southern Utah--the Parowan Gap--that has been honored for thousands of years, where the Sun's travels across the sky line up beautifully with this one particular crack in the mountain. Petroglyphs, drawn by the ancient inhabitants of the land, cover the rocks in the surrounding area, indicating the site as a regular gathering point and historically sacred place.

On significant days of the solar calendar, the folks at the Bureau of Land Management plan a gathering where they teach visitors a little something about the cultural and geographical significance of the Parowan Gap.


The petroglyph-du-jour was one that had been nicknamed the "Zipper" glyph and it would seem, as those of us gathered were taught, that it was a kind of ancient solar calendar. Yes, kids, there were, indeed, scientists thousands of years ago. Through their observation and study of the natural world they learned, oh, so very much. And recorded their findings in the rocky scientific journals of their day.


To be honest, I don't know how much my kids understood of what was going on. The program was a bit long for them and a fair amount went right over their heads. I wondered if I should just forego these kinds of outings in the future. We had been in the car for 3 hours, there were lots of people around, we had to be quiet and listen--all, perhaps, a little too much to ask?

The last part of the program had the group walking to the viewing point for our sunset shot (above) and the formality of it all started to dissolve. A few silly silhouette shots improved the overall morale. Ah, photographic narcissism, when responsibly used, can be manipulated to solve even the worst of family outings.

It was now almost dark and folks were ready to call it a night and drive on home. As for our little band, we went back to the car and while the kids dined alfresco, I converted the car into a half-star hotel room for four. I figured, "Heck, it's the shortest night of the year and 3 of us are children, how bad could it be?"

With the back emptied of camp chairs and cots, I folded down the seats and laid out the bedding for the 3 children. I would be sleeping in the reclined front passenger seat. Ahem, let me amend that: I would be {air-quote} "sleeping" in the front seat. (And, for the record, no, it was NOT the shortest night of the year; in fact, it was the longest "shortest" night of the year. Ever.)


The kids LOVED the set-up. How fun would this be?! Sleeping in the back of the car in the middle of nowhere!! Who knew life could be this good?! Boy, they were so wired. The wild rumpus continued for a bit while I arranged a few things and then it was time to settle down.

Story time, my dears. Hatch-back wide open, kids nestled, desert-friendly Solstice "bonfire" raging in front of me, and an abbreviated retelling* of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."


"Wait, isn't that the one with the mistaken identity and love triangle and hilarious hijinks?" you ask. Yes. It is that one. 

(And, for those in the know, it's also the one connected to "Oh, Captain! My Captain!")

"So good night unto you all,
Give me your hands, if we be friends, 
And Robin shall restore amends."

The highlight of the fitful night's sleep was waking up at 4:00 a.m. and hearing the children saying, "Whoa! Look at all the stars!" For folks from the light-polluted suburbs, stars are always a welcome bit of magic.

I finished the night on the cot outside and just before sunrise the littlest (and Unicorn) came and joined me for snuggles.


{sunshine}


{our hotel room and patio}


{breakfast}

For those of you who camp every now and again, you know the loveliness that is waking up to Nature's alarm clock--the growing daylight, the dozen melodies of birdsong, the breeze that carries with it whatever the native perfume might be. (Here it was sagebrush.) It all makes for a more blissful wake-up than the hour would normally see. 

After a bit of breakfast, we went exploring. The evening before there were too many people around to fully enjoy discovery. So now, we essentially had the place to ourselves. I am so very grateful that all three of my kids love nature. They love hiking, and climbing, and spotting animals/insects, and getting dirty, and, frankly, they didn't want to go home.


{memory jar: we often collect a few natural treasures to remind us of our trips; they have made some of the best souvenirs}


{Can you spot the mountain goats in this photo? And can you spot the shameless play on the word "kid" I just made there? It's how I roll, folks.}

Despite our, ahem, rocky beginning the night before, we were reminded again that Nature truly is our therapy. As the Summer Solstice celebrates the sun bringing life to this wondrous blue sphere, spending time with Mother Earth brings life to our souls.

Celebrate the light.



* A Shakespeare Sketchbook, by Renwick St. James, artwork by James C. Christensen (acclaimed artist from our Utah city)--My husband and I, 10 years ago, purchased this book at the Tony-Award-Winning Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah. We often celebrate our anniversary by doing a weekend trip to the Shakespeare Festival.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ramadan is Starting

Ramadan has started.

Last year was my first time participating in Ramadan. (Read about it here.) Though I was glad I did it (well, part of it), it was really difficult. Body, Mind, and Spirit were all tested up to--and, if I'm honest with you, beyond--the breaking point.

Truth is, it was concurrent with a rough time in my life.

Observing Ramadan can be a very cleansing and spiritually-renewing experience. Traditionally, a Muslim family and extended faith community support each other in this month-long fast with communal prayers, studying, meal preparation, and breaking the fast each night.

Keyword: communal.

I am not Muslim. My family is not Muslim. And though I made several Muslim friends in Singapore last year, it's not like we celebrated Ramadan together. So I was left to do it alone. Summer time outings got hot. Everyone else drank water, or had ice cream. I didn't. I made dinner for the kids and watched them eat. And then later, after sundown, I sat at the table by myself and quietly broke my fast on a few sugary dates, the way--it is said--the Prophet Muhammad did.

On occasion, our dinner time would line up and we would eat together. And many days my children would help me study as I tried to memorize the 99 names of God. But, truth is, I felt so alone.

It's one thing to feel alone for a few days. But then when it's 10 days of feeling alone. Or 15 days. Or 20 days. 

I didn't make it to 25 days.

So here we are, Ramadan again. I had to ask myself if I would observe this year. The answer to that is, no, I will not be fasting (though I think the fasting was quite cleansing). Couple of things: I already know that I will be traveling on vacation for a fair bit of the month of Ramadan (it is recommended that you do not fast while traveling), I have zero Muslim friends in Utah (what?! shocker, right?), and, frankly, I don't feel that I am quite ready for the intensity of observing Ramadan.

And let's get real, this year and next year will be the most difficult fasts for the northern hemisphere. The proximity to the Summer Solstice means the longest days, the longest fast. (Give it several more years, though, and Ramadan will fall during the winter months.)

And yet, I would still like to join with my Muslim sisters and brothers in some small way. My plan is to include the Quran in my inspirational reading this month.

I love the global family. I have so much to learn from them. Understanding what they think and feel will only help me love them better.

During the month, I hope to share some of my readings with you. For the first one, I share part of a verse that is a fitting match to this earth-world blog:

Sura II, verses 19-20

". . . adore your Lord, who hath created you and those who were before you . . . Who hath made the earth a bed for you, and the heaven a covering, and hath caused water to come down from heaven, and by it hath brought forth fruits for your sustenance!"


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Any Solstice Plans?

I'm throwing some food, some blankets, and the kids into the car and heading south to check out a favorite ancient Summer Solstice site in Southern Utah, the Parowan Gap.

If you don't have an ancient solstice site in your vicinity, or aren't interested in a whole involved thing . . .

Some simple Solstice ideas that don't require much planning:

  • fire--be it a big bonfire or a few lighted candles, fire is a big part of the celebration
  • stay up as late as you can--kids like this, it feels so grown-up
  • make hair-wreaths out of flowers and herbs
  • have a dance party
  • pick herbs--make some special food dishes or craft sachets
A couple of years ago on Summer Solstice I read/told an abbreviated version of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." My daughter let us use some of her toys/figurines to "play" the characters as I told the tale. They enjoyed that one. I'm thinking we'll do that one again this evening. So I'll throw that stuff in the car as well.

I hope to have our Summer Solstice (Litha/Lithia) report soon.

Have a good one!


Friday, June 13, 2014

Green in Japan



. . . and now we return to the "Globetrotting: Japan" series.

How we prepare to be green:

Over the years I have gathered a few versatile basics that are a must for low-waste travel. (We use most of these whether we're heading out for an international adventure or for a day hike in the mountains.)
  • Day pack--Large enough to hold a few things, but small enough for children to carry. Packs help us avoid plastic bags when making purchases while out and about. "I don't need a bag; I can just put it in here."

  • Water bottle--Each family member has his/her own colored 16 oz bottle (large enough for basic outings, but not so large that the water becomes too heavy for children to carry). This helps us avoid needing to buy bottled water while out. (Though in upcoming reports on our trips to Thailand and Cambodia, we embraced buying bottled water.) In Japan we were able to fill up our water bottles with mountain spring water and any tap inside the larger cities.

  • Personal cloth (bandanna)--I will need to devote an entire post on the many ways I use these. So versatile!
{Ironically, I don't have a photo from our trip to demonstrate this--more in another post.}
  • Scarf/shawl--Not everyone in the family has a large scarf, but I usually have at least one with me. I had my black scarf, again, with me on this trip. The same one that I have used as a shirt, a skirt, a pillow, a blanket, a towel, etc. (See this post for photos demonstrating--on my trip to Hong Kong--this item's versatility.)

{It was cold on the mountaintop, so I used the scarf/shawl to fashion a sweater for the little one--and you can see both the day pack and the water bottle in this shot.}

and after living and traveling in Asia, I now like to add to the list:
  • Umbrella--The collapsible kind are pack-able, good for rain, sun, and are generally inexpensive enough to give away to someone who needs it more than you do. We received such kindness from a stranger when visiting Chicago years ago. My husband, myself, and our 3-month-old baby girl in the front carrier were surprised by a downpour. Someone shoved an umbrella at me and said, "You need this more than I do." I was so touched. That gesture has inspired me and my husband to pay it forward more than once. Including once on this trip to Japan.

{My older daughter, my trusty black umbrella, and a hot, hot day in Kyoto.}

How Japan prepares to be green:

There are a lot of people living in Japan. That translates to transportation woes and waste management issues.

  • Trains--Japan knows trains. From the bullet trains in and out of the big cities, to the standard trains in the suburbs, to the slower trains running through the rural countryside, Japan has it covered.

{Shinkansen bullet train in Nagoya}


{Over the river and through the woods}


{picture-in-a-picture--rural train station}


{photo by my son}

  • Bikes--People actually ride bikes here. As an actual means of transportation. To places. And even from places, too. (As opposed to the common view in the American culture that biking is mainly a sport.) City-planning reflects and honors this.





  • Waste management/recycling--Lots of people = lots of garbage. I wouldn't say that recycling and waste reduction are big part of the collective culture, but there are some places that you can find reminders to reduce or recycle.



{compost bucket at "Granny's" for skins and stems}

  • Gardening--I loved seeing gardens everywhere. Whether it's a few potted plants in front of a city dwelling or a full, lush range of vegetables in a rural patch of land, Japan inspired me thus everyday.



So there you have it--the family and Japan, embracing intimate green moments together.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Free SWAP Report


{Volunteers}

We really couldn't have asked for a better day for the Free S:W.A.P. Clear skies, warm day with a bit of a breeze. Veteran volunteers alongside new volunteers (welcome Brianna, Paula, and friends!) worked hard to get ready for the doors to open.

Welcome, community. Let's share!


{See that TV? Before the end we had received--and, phew, passed on--6 TVs! SIX, people!
photo courtesy of Kerry F.}


{Celebrity look-alikes among our devoted volunteers: 
Santa Claus/Roy S.
photo courtesy of Kerry F.}


{More celebrity look-alikes (it's a little hard to tell in the photo, but multiple sources agree!): Wonder Woman/Lisa H. and Gwen Stefani/Julie S accompanied by one of our younger volunteers, C
photo courtesy of Julie S.}

We were happy to hear reports from guests.  "At the last SWAP I got a rocking chair and I reupholstered it and it looks great."  Or "My youngest was finishing high school when we learned we were expecting again, so we have needed to get all the baby stuff again." Or "I volunteer with an organization that builds homes for needy families living on the Navajo reservation; I found some light switches and door knobs that I can use for that." 


{more volunteers: I see Connie C., Stacey H., Emily W., and Christina C. have joined the party}

It was at the last free swap in my neighborhood (2011), before I expanded the scale, that I first invited city officials to come check out what I was trying to accomplish with this idea. City council member Margaret Black accepted my invitation and stopped by that day 3 years ago. And here she is, again. Thank you, Councilmember Black, for your support. 


The last swap, on a chilly, chilly day in the fall of last year, saw around 300 guests.  Fall of 2012 had just under 600 guests. We were hoping that with more marketing avenues this year (radio and TV), we could get more than 600 people. Maybe--I was (overly-?) optimistic--we could get 800 people to come to this swap. Had my fingers crossed. We passed 600 just before 11:00. Either way, with one hour, officially, to go, we were set to break our previous record.

It was during this lull that we got a visit from an old college buddy of mine. I'm thinking there might be a fair number of you who know this guy! Brett Roberts of Kid Snippets/Kid History fame, folks. (He and his cast/crew were invited by Lucas Films to film some Kid Snippet episodes on the Star Wars cantina set! How cool is that?! He has even filmed episodes with none other than Josh Groban. Smidge jealous.) Here we are with his beautiful children and some delighted fans.


{that "MEN" sign placement just makes me laugh}

As interesting as attendance numbers are to me, it's the people behind those numbers that make it worth it. It's the hard-working volunteers who come back year after year.  It's the stories of the people that are the heart of it all. Friends and strangers alike giving graciously and receiving graciously.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: each Free S:W.A.P. benefits hundreds in our community. If every city across the country organized just one Free S:W.A.P. each year, the benefits would increase exponentially, turning those hundreds into millions.

I extend an open invitation to team up with me on this. Organize a Free S:W.A.P. (Sharing: We All Prosper) in your community. Let's work together. Share ideas. Share inspiration. Share the stories that give meaning to this journey of ours.

Here's volunteer Emily with our final count:


Additional thank yous, if I forgot someone, please, please tell me! Kerry F. (SWAP co-organizer) and her husband Jason F. (Kerry, I almost didn't include you here; it feels like we've been such a team that to thank you would be like thanking myself! But, truly, having a like-minded cohort on this project has made it so much more fun.), Tiffany D., Jill B., Amy G., Emma, Hannah, Natalie, Madison, Kelly B., Abby R., Jeff B., Emily from Orem Community Church, Kimberly from Feed the World, Kami C. (for watching my girls!!), David B. (for making the video) my son, and, of course, my husband, the surprise-volunteer-snacks-provider, for putting up with my crazy twice a year. Well, my "Free SWAP" crazy, that is. He puts up with my regular crazy all year long. ;)

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