Letting go

He’s almost 16. His face and belly are white, his hearing is gone and he sleeps more than he used to. But he watches me, struggling to his feet, following as I go from room to room like he’s always done. In this respect, he’s still the same – still faithful, still normal.

But I know he’s dying. And I’m having a really tough time accepting he will be leaving us soon and there’s really nothing I can do.

So, I’m a mess. My husband is a mess. My house, my yard – everything seems to be suffering, except our dog.

For him, life hasn’t really changed at all. We are the ones in mourning. We are the ones who have to let go.

So, I’m trying to act like an adult (though my childlike heart is breaking), researching burial options while he sleeps peacefully next to my feet.

And I find I have several options. In my state, for instance, yard burials are allowed. The backyard of the home where I grew up was basically a cemetery of beloved pets. Cats. Turtles. Bunnies. But no dogs.

This is my first dog. That’s why it’s so hard.

The vet can put him to sleep. They tell me it’s painless. I want to believe that. I don’t want him to suffer. What I want is for him to die in his sleep…naturally.

If he does die at home, the vet can help me make arrangements to have him buried somewhere else. Pet cemeteries around here are popular. I often see them along the highway – I wonder if owners visit the tiny gravesides, lay flowers, say a prayer… and watch the cars speed by.

But preserving something that is supposed to die, decompose and replenish the earth doesn’t seem right.

There’s cremation. We had our cat cremated. Her ashes sit on the table in our den. I’ve been waiting for the right time to scatter them in the yard where she used to run and play, jump and pounce at me and the kids. She died two years ago. I’m not good at the dying part of pet ownership.

I look at Shadow, stretched out on the carpet, stomach slowly moving up and down with each breath. I still don’t know what I’m /we’re going to do.

But I do know, when he dies, everything will be different. Our lives, blessed by his presence, will change dramatically – for weeks and months ahead, until time heals as it always does.

And for this, for his faithfulness, for his memory, I want to make the right decision. My green-conscience says cremation.

But my heart. It says, stop the clock.

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Library Lessions, Green Stamps and Your Momma

I grew up in a small mid-western town with the basic requirements: a bowling alley, skating rink and a couple of Dairy Queens. But we also had a pretty impressive library. At least by my childlike standards.

It was old. A stoney kind of musty sort of old, with haunted-house creaky floors, massive double doors, Michelangelo-type ceilings and glass mezzanine floors.

The circulation desk, solidly grand and no nonsense, was staffed by equally solid, no nonsense librarians, who answered questions, checked out your books and reminded you where you were with repeated shushing.

However, what remains forefront on my mind was the library’s unique lending policy that my mother took full advantage of.

Our family didn’t have a lot of money, but of course I didn’t know that back in the day. I considered our family pretty much a carbon copy of everyone else’s: we had a roof over our heads and food on the table,  and occasionally we took a vacation. Additionally, I never had to take homemade paste to school, which in my youthful book made us a cut above the rest.

My mother, on the other hand, came from money. Her father worked for Standard Oil, before the anti-trust era. Her marriage to my father, although a match made in heaven, was several steps down for her on the financial ladder.

But, she never let the lack of money stop her from exposing her children to the finer things in life. At least when it came to education.

An English major and art history minor, she would take us to the library at least once a week.  We’d pick out books, but she would also choose a painting to borrow. One week an old Masters like da Vinci or El Greco, the next, an impressionist like Monet or Renoir.

She’d hang it carefully on the living room wall, between my father’s ancient recliner and the S&H Green Stamps lamp. At the time, I thought the prints, enclosed in gilded frames, were the real McCoy. I remember feeling privileged as if their mere presence elevated our every day status from pauper to prince.

They also had a lifelong effect on me in so many ways.

Educationally, I learned about times I would never live in, people I would never know and brush skills that continue to amaze me.

I also learned that when it comes to expanding your mind, grey cells don’t run on money but opportunity; and knowledge is gained more often by a simple trip to the library than expensive trips.

But I also believe this library/painting experience influenced my desire to live greener.

My mother’s simple act of bringing artwork into our home taught me to use my eyes instead of my wallet, to borrow instead of buy; to enjoy without owning, and to savor from a distance.

Overall, if I had to pinpoint where my green road started, the lessons learned from the borrowed paintings are definitely in the running.

Think back… what about you?






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Recycling is a bunch of hooey

'Landfill Operation Is Conducted by the City of New York on the Marshlands of Jamaica Bay. Pollution Hazards and Ecological Damage Have Called Out Strong Opposition 05/1973' photo (c) 1973, The U.S. National Archives - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/
Someone told me recently they had stopped recycling. I asked them why.

“Most of it ends up in landfills anyway,” they said smugly.  “So what’s  the point?”

They’re right you know. There’s a big conspiracy – we carefully collect, sort and haul our recyclables to the collections sites, and then the huge dumpster trucks come along under the cover of darkness and chuck everything off to the landfills. It’s documented, even in the New York Times. Or so people say.

But is this really the case? And frankly, are articles like this really substantiating the claims of the nay-sayers of recycling?

I mean if recycling has been devalued so much, maybe we should all throw in the paper/plastic towel and start tossing everything into the streets, like the good ol’ days. (remember the 70’s?).

Personally, I find it hard to believe we’ve had the earth-friendly wool pulled that far over our heads. Honestly, are we that gullible?

And yet, there are those who swear this conspiracy is right up there with Watergate and Who-Shot JR. Of course the political aspects (these types of programs are costly, ineffective and need to be tossed out – along with the recyclables) make it rich fodder for the “I know more than you do game” and the resulting “give me enough votes and I’ll make sure we trash everything that doesn’t serve my political purposes.” But frankly I’m not buying any of it.

Thus, to counteract those who feel recycling is going the way of the Dodo, I propose an interesting idea.

Whether recycling is or is not as profitable as it was a few years back, let’s keep doing our best just for the hell of it. Or perhaps, just because we know it’s wrong to clutter Mother Earth, ruin our water system and pollute our air. And on top of this, I propose we continue to beat the recycling drum, even if it isn’t resonating as strongly today.

If we give up on our principles, regardless of what they are, just because the market slows or the media tells us we won’t be in the “in crowd” anymore if we choose to go our own way – what is the point of principles in the first place? You can fall back on that kind of high school mentality and still go to all the cool parties, metaphorically, but then again selling your eco-friendly soul to the devil – well, historically this has never been a good decision.

I’m going to keep collecting, sorting and dragging my recyclables to the collection sites, in the same way that I continue to compost, re-purpose stuff and support earth-friendly companies. It’s who I am.

But then again, like my friend – I can’t speak for everyone.

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So, you were “green” back then, but what about now?

'Somebody help me' photo (c) 2007, Bobbie Johnson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I got one of those nostalgic emails the other day. The kind that tells me I’m old, but in a pleasant sort of airy way.  I don’t normally read these, particularly the ones that say “You’ve got to read this!” or “Hilariously funny!” because I have a pretty good idea where they’re going from the title alone.

But I read this one all the way to the end, and in many ways, I’m glad I did. It pulled at some of my more ancient heartstrings to begin with. Who doesn’t want to go back to simpler times on occasion? Probably why Midnight in Paris did so well at the box office.

Secondly, I liked the whole, “We-were-so-much-better-than-you-are” theme (and probably still are because of our upbringing), especially as I get older and realize I can’t say that as often as I would like.

Anyway, I’m not going to copy and paste the entire prose, but if you haven’t received it, give “The Green Thing” a Google and it’s sure to pop up.

But I am going to pick out a few lines and give to give you my two bits (and perhaps a bit more) on the subject.

The story goes like this: an older woman (somewhere in the top of my age bracket – hence, baby boomer and beyond) is chastised by a younger store clerk (anything below my age bracket or basically just out of diapers) about not bringing a reusable bag to carry her purchases home. It unfolds…

The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”

The story goes on to point out that “yes” he was right. Back in the day, we:

  • returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.
  • We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
  • We washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry the clothes.
  •  Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
  • We had one TV (if we had one), or listened to radio shows, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.
  •  In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.

The list goes on and on – recounting the superhuman traits of a generation who lived with very little, yet managed to survive. It was flattering to say the least and I couldn’t help but chuckle and nod my head, reminiscing through the parts I remember.

But then I got to the end…

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

And I got to thinking. Yes, those of us who lived back in the day, did a lot of cool “greenie” things.

But, we didn’t do them to help the earth or limit global warming or even make an eco-statement.

We did them because we didn’t have money to burn or plastic options or modern technology that would have made life easier.

We didn’t have 24/7 entertainment opportunities, two cars in every garage or do-it-all-for-you kitchen gadgets.

And we didn’t have an inkling what our lives could have been like if we had more stuff than we could possibly know what to do with.

It was a different time. Period.

So as much as we would like to flaunt our green-like ways, give this younger generation a piece of our I-did-it-before-it-was-hip eco-talks, we aren’t really all that different from the cavemen, who walked everywhere, used only what they needed and by all means, never accepted a plastic bag at the supermarket.

It’s all about perspective. And unless we, as a generation are doing the same earth-saving things we did in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, etc., we can’t truly gloat about our past ultra-green life-styles.

What we need to do first is ask ourselves one question:

So, you were “green” back then, but what about now?

And seriously look at how we live today.


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From here to there and there to here – going green with ridesharing

I’m going to divulge a secret from my sinful past. I used to hitch-hike.

I know, I know, stupid, dangerous, crazy. My only defense? I was young and naive, and living in Alaska at the time.

For some reason those three months outside of the lower 48, braving the wild frontier  made the whole dumb thing seem safe. Along with the group of daredevils I was hanging with at the time, I also felt indestructible and frankly relished the thrill of my risky behavior as only a twenty-something can.

Fast forward to today – I don’t hitch-hike anymore. Probably because I’m a bit older;  but truth be told, I kind of miss the excitement of meeting new people and sharing a ride and a few stories along the way.

I’m sure that’s why I’m a bit intrigued with ridesharing. That, and the fact that less cars on the road make less smog (a concern of my greenie conscience).

For the uninformed, the basic concept behind ridesharing is simple. You connect with someone going the same way you are, (often through internet sites dedicated to this activity) and decide to share the ride and divvy up the gas costs.

For the most part, ridesharing is as old as the wheel. Nothing really new, except perhaps the currency has changed over the years, (substitute horse feed for gas for instance). And even though today the ratio of cars to people is like 1:1,  and internet communication is the norm, people still yearn for some old-fashioned, face-face encounters, especially on long boring trips.

Which is why it is no surprise that ridesharing, like couch-surfing, is gaining new popularity. Of course, in the case of ridesharing, high gas prices certainly factor into the mix and for many this type of transportation is eco-appealing.

Search the web and you’ll discover multiple sites dedicated to this type of social traveling, such as Erideshare.com, which boasts over 1,000,000 happy customers since its humble beginnings in 1999.

Who’s ridesharing? To begin with, small-town folk attending popular attractions in larger cities, such as band concerts, shows and special events. But the list is extensive and growing. Everyone from cross country travelers, day commuters and college students to minimalists, hippies and non-conformists are opting for ridesharing to getting from here to there.

And many see this as less of an option and more of an obligation to slow down the influx of noxious gases and give Mother Earth a break.

Personally, I’m all for ridesharing – I’ve done my share over the years, replacing hitch-hiking Alaskan wilderness with car-pooling children to school functions. It all falls under the same eco-friendly umbrella.

However, I’m a bit more safety conscience these days and worry about getting into a car or offering a ride to someone without checking them out fully beforehand. Something I hope young people are considering as they take this leap of transportation faith.

But I also hope this type of alternative travel continues to catch on, since it provides so many pluses in our almost hermit-like existence.

In the end, there’s nothing like the shear satisfaction of doing something that not only connects you with others but slows down personal pollution as well.

Overall, this ex-hitch-hiker gives ridesharing a thumbs up, if it’s done safely and through the right channels.

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Putting aside differences

I’m all for differences. They make the world go round, keep things interesting to say the least. But I’m also for working together, regardless of issues, positions and beliefs that  often keep us apart. That’s why I love this story.

For the third year in a row, volunteers from Catholic St. Thomas More Newman Center and Jewish Congregation Beth Shalom (CBS) are planting, weeding and hoeing tough clay soil beneath relentless Mid-western heat, together. But they don’t really consider it “work”. It’s more a labor of love with a two-fold benefit: getting to know one another better and also reaping what they sow. For the low income families in the Columbia Missouri area who will receive the the fruits of their labor – the efforts of these two faiths are truly a Godsend.

The St Thomas More and CBS garden partnership began in the spring of 2009 under the umbrella of the Interfaith Care for Creation (IFCC), a sprout of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition (CCCC).

There are actually four such interfaith gardens in Columbia: Broadway Christian Church, Rock Bridge Christian Church, Sacred Heart Church, and the CBS/St Thomas More one.

According to the CCCC website, the Columbia IFCC is “an emerging group, rooted in gratitude for the earth that has been lent to us. We call on all faith communities, in their diversity and commonality, to accept the sacred responsibility to protect the planet.”

IFCC’s Garden Project provides an opportunity for people from different spiritual communities to work together to grow vegetables and fruits for their own low-income members and for distribution to area food banks and pantries to help feed those in need.

Lily Chan, St. Thomas More parishioner and active member of the garden group says their shared garden with CBS is truly an organic experience, free of chemical additives, which is extremely important to her personally. “I do not want to pollute the earth by using chemicals that will contaminate our water supply and insecticides that will also kill the beneficial ones,” Chan says. “I personally know some people who are disabled due to their compromised immune system. They have to eat organic food to survive, and yet they can’t afford to buy them. I hope that our veggies will help sustain them.”

Reducing waste and reusing materials is also vital to this garden group.

Although both faith communities chip in with a small stipend to purchase plants every year, recycled materials are preferred for construction and upkeep whenever possible. To discourage weeds, for instance, cardboard covered with hay is laid between plant rows.

Large sticks take the place of store bought wooden, metal or plastic row markers. To refrain from buying equipment that might only be used during the growing season, volunteers bring their own hoes, spades and rakes from home.

Though taking care of the earth is a primary objective of these interfaith gardens, the abundant yields for low income families has been a huge success. According to the IFFC website, in 2009 alone, the St. Thomas More/CBS garden “yielded over 550 pounds of fresh, organically grown produce which was donated to the area food bank.” The Rock Bridge Christian church has similar results that same year.

The group hopes to top these numbers with this year’s crop which includes: tomatoes, green peppers, egg plants, squash, cucumbers, okra, potatoes and all kinds of herbs.

Future plans for this interfaith group? According to Chan, the next step is to build a compost bin. They have already collected sections from a discarded wooden fence for the walls. If they can build and begin adding food stuffs this year, they hope to have an abundance of organic-rich compost to mix into the soil next spring.

Chan would also like to replace the “gate” into the garden, which at this point is only a pulled back portion of chicken wire. They welcome donations!

For Chan, working for the benefit of others, providing those in need with more nutrient-rich foods motivates her. “This is what our Interfaith Garden is for – to help those who cannot help themselves,” she says.

But, along with helping the less fortunate, the idea of working with another faith community is what keeps her coming back. “I like the idea of people of different faiths working together to grow organic food to help those in need.”

For more information on Interfaith gardens in the Columbia Missouri area, check out the IFCC website.

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Don’t be a train virgin

I’ve been on hiatus – which I always feel is a pompous way of saying I haven’t written for a while. But please forgive my pompousness just this once. I’ve truly been gone – by train.

And, as always, I loved every minute of it.

See, it’s important to know, I’m not a train virgin. This was like my fifth rumble on the tracks, and I almost hate to admit it, but with each trip we take, it becomes an increasingly lustful addiction. I can’t seem to get enough (and I mean that in a non-sexual way… no really…well pretty much).

But of course, it’s not just the rhythm that makes rail-riding a favorite of mine. The panoramic views, the slower pace, the amazing people I meet – they also register in my top ten.

But as a proud greenie, always looking for ways to get from here to there without clogging the air in between, I like the idea of replacing oodles of smoggy cars with one long ribbony people-mover.

Here’s what Amtrak says about the environmental benefits of train travel on their website: “Traveling by train generates a lesser amount of carbon dioxide than either car or air travel.” This is a good thing.

But don’t they puff along belching thick clouds of smoke? you ask.

Well, like most things, the system’s not perfect. Certainly emissions are part of the package; but Amtrak has actually “committed to a 6 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions” from their diesel locomotive fleet from 2003-2010 (based upon emissions from 1997-2001). As members of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), they also make “voluntary commitments to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.”

And traditionally they have always recycled and reused  everything from old rail ties to steel scraps and parts; batteries to mattress foam.

But website stuff aside, I did a little snooping during my latest choo-choo experience. Here’s what I discovered.

Recycling receptacles are located throughout the train and are easy to find.

According to Amtrak, in toto the company recycles “more than five tons of bottles, cans and paper each month.” High five Amtrak.

But of course, not all the green bugs have been worked out. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention (sigh) our meals were served on disposable dishes – which is actually new in the train biz. In 2005 when we traveled on The Spirit of New Orleans I’m sure the waitress plopped down china plates for every meal.

So, I wasn’t as enamored with this aspect of the trip. However, rumor has it (as well as real news) that some routes have returned to using bona fide washable dishes again. And this was prompted by passenger dissatisfaction with the toss-able stuff – so speak up when you get on board – squeaky wheels really do get noticed!

And try to keep in mind this whole train transportation thing is making a resurgence in the good ol’ USA and there’s lots of wiggle room for new and better ways to do pretty much everything. In fact, according to Wikipedia, 342,403 rode the Southwest Chief (the one we just went on) in 2010, an average of 938 passengers a day – that’s up 7.7% from 2009. And this is just one of more than 30 train routes in the nation.

Basic math will tell you that’s a hell of a lot of cars off the road.

So, don’t be a train virgin. Ditch the car and get your green on; ride the rails and enjoy the trip. In addition, praise the recycling efforts that are in effect – combined voices carry a lot of power (go Green).

And be sure to tip the waitresses who miraculously deliver your food without spilling – amazing!

The conductor’s standing by – All aboard!

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