From Reading Green to…. Sleeping Outside

20 May

The day April posted that she was going to take on a challenge to read harder I found myself squirming with guilt. Should I take on the same challenge? I love reading, and I should try to diversify what I read.

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To tell you the truth I feel like I already have. During our month long earth day celebration I read several books that would not have gone to on my own. For the most part, they were great. I was glad that Earth Day gave me the incentive to pick up treasures like The World Without Us, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Trash (which I thoroughly enjoyed but never got a chance to review.) Still by the time the end of April rolled around I was counting down the days until I could put the blog reading aside and finish the Magicians series and dive into Wildwood.

But there was another thing that drove me nuts all through the month of April: I was spending way too much time chained to my laptop. I wanted to get out more, but April is a busy time for me, and I’m a slow writer, so I spent the majority of my limited free time staring at a computer screen and slowly going crazy. In a few months I’m going to start taking classes for grad school, and I’m sincerely worried that it’s only going to get worse.

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Less of this….

But I just happened to wander over to Semi-Rad that day and Brendan had issued his own challenge. Spend 31 Nights between now and September sleeping outside. Quite honestly, accepting his challenge feels a bit like cheating. This challenge is genuinely impossible for people who don’t have the money or the means to get them to a park that allows camping. Not everyone has a backyard to sleep out in, or they live in areas where it’s unsafe to sleep outside. I just happen to be one of the lucky people who occasionally gets paid to sleep outside. And my backyard is a park. I’m spoiled, and it’s something of a travesty that I don’t enjoy it more often.

P9010717More of this.

So I’ll take that challenge. Even though I probably should be setting goals that are just a little bit harder, I genuinely want to do this. Because even if it only manages to drag me away from the glow of the computer screen and into the outdoors for just one night, I won’t regret it. Not even a little bit.

~Robin

P.S.
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Definitely more of this.

From Reading Green to Reading Harder

15 May

This year I decided to tackle Book Riot’s Read Harder 2015 challenge.  I’ve recently become somewhat of a devotee of Book Riot.  I love that they hold both fine literature and guilty pleasures in passably equal regard because they have such a passion for reading.  I’ve recently gotten back into that sort of reading since I began working at a public library again and their guidance has been invigorating.

Of their many favorite topics, the writers consistently return to that of diversity in literature.  Like many of them, I never paid close attention to the diversity of my reading list.  I read what I liked and that was that.  Their attention to reading diverse authors has made me interested in what my literary life was missing.  That’s part of the reason I started the Read Harder Challenge.  There are several categories that will push me to read outside of my traditional repertoire of urban fantasy, psychological horror, and whatever has the longest hold list that isn’t written by James Patterson.

One of the first books on my list was Toni Morrison’s newest, God Help The Child.  I haven’t read any Toni Morrison (a.k.a. The National Treasure) books since Beloved scarred my adolescent mind in high school.  I detested the book and decided that since 15-year-old me didn’t like Morrison, all of my future incarnations would also spurn her books.  The Book Riot team could double as a Toni Morrison cheer squad, so encouraged by their de facto praise for her, I gave her another shot.

I’m so glad I did.  This is the type of book that the Read Harder challenge was created for.  It’s the sort of book I would never pick up on my own.  Character studies are not generally my thing, but the manageable length and my spirit of adventure spurred me onward.

This is the story of Bride, a twenty-something independent career woman whose success hides the pain of her childhood.  Her mother, who could pass for white, was devastated that her daughter’s skin was dark as night.  She distanced herself from the girl, causing a chain of hurt that spreads far beyond Bride herself.  Bride, and her companion Booker, must confront the pain of their past if they want to create a future.  What’s more, they come to understand that no life is perfect, no choice is without risks, and we all live with the failures of ourselves and those that care for us.  I’m amazed that Morrison, who is in her 80s now, has such a firm grasp on the concerns of this generation.

Perhaps it is the passage of a decade and a half, or maybe it’s just the more modern storytelling in this book, but I’m willing to admit I might have been wrong about swearing off Morrison.  Thanks to the Read Harder challenge, I hope to introduce myself to other previously off-limits areas of literature.

~April

Kitchen Adventure and a Recipe

13 May

Somewhere in the middle of April my friend Grecia invited a bunch of us over to show us how to cook.

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Grecia makes amazing dishes that she learned from her grandmother who grew up in Michoacan Mexico, and we happily eat her food at potlucks while moaning in gastronomic ecstasy. But Grecia is heading to the Marin Headlands soon (lucky gal) and she was gracious enough to teach us how to make a few of these dishes before departing.

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It was a delightful afternoon of friends, laughter, and amazing food.

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This is Marya’s excited face!

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I don’t remember what was happening here, but it was apparently really funny.

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We spent forever trying several different ways to get that stupid lid off. Then Grecia swooped in and rescued us. Yep, she used her teeth.

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Marya is still excited!
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She seriously could not contain herself.

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Flautas con Salsa Verde de Aguacate or Salsa de Papa, y Queso Fresco

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Mole con Sopa de Arroz

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It was an amazing feast.

Grecia even gave me permission to share her recipe for Tamarind Water.

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I wish I had gotten a picture of the tamarinds. I had never seen one, and the bowl of them caught my attention the second I walked into the kitchen. Within a few minutes Grecia had us peeling them and turning them into a delicious sweet and refreshing beverage.

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Agua Fresca de Tamarindo
Ingredients:
2-3lbs of tamarind
Sugar
Water
Intructions: Peel tamarinds and set to soak in water (overnight
preferably). Add more water and squuuuuuezee the juice out with
your hands. Keep adding water until you have squeezed all the juice
out and the seeds are left behind. Strain the juice into a container
and add sugar to your taste. Enjoy!!

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Katie works the tamarind magic.

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Food time. Out of our way!

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Many Good Noms.

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Clean up? No problem. Mila is on it.

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Such a great afternoon.

~Robin

Karma Project: Nepal Earthquake Relief

1 May

Several years ago my friend Glen became friends with a sherpa named Karma in Nepal. Together they created the Karma Project to provide employment, healthcare, and education to Karma’s community. Last Sunday’s earthquake dramatically changed the scope of the project, and now they are using tents and other resources meant for alpine expeditions to house people who lost their homes in Kathmandu.

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Glen has organized a fundraiser to help Karma evacuate his family to a safe location and deliver supplies to the villages of Paiya and Sibuje.

The situation in Nepal is bleak and will become worse. Glen is the calmest and most level-headed person I know. I’ve seen him calmly climb things that scared the crap out of me. Last year he encountered a mountain lion on an evening run, and instead of going home and vowing never to venture out of the house again he continued jogging. The amount of worry he’s shown this past week worries me more than anything else. Any donation (even to another relief organization) would be greatly appreciated.

~Robin

Earth Day: Sharing Nature with Children

30 Apr

Read Green 6.

As I mentioned earlier, children benefit greatly from exposure to nature. If you want more information, I would recommend starting with Richard Luov’s Last Child In the Woods or The Nature Principle. But I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read either of these books cover to cover, and that’s not exactly the topic I wanted to talk about for my last Earth Day post.

Instead I’m going to assume that you already have a vested interest in sharing natural places with a child in your life, but don’t know how to get started. Maybe you are the parent of the child in question, or lead a scout or youth group. Or maybe you are the cool and/or crazy aunt or uncle who just wants to teach the little nugget to appreciate the outdoors. The good news is that you don’t need an advanced degree in ecology to create meaningful experiences for children in nature. All you really need is a healthy dose of common sense when it comes to safety and some basic knowledge of how to reduce your impact in your natural areas of choice. Once you’re armed with those, feel free to dive into these resources:

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The first, Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children is such a classic that I couldn’t help but steal it’s title for this blog post. More than thirty years after its first publication the activities in it are still pure gold, even for a generation of kids who grew up being amused by computers and video games. I challenge you to find a child under the age of eleven who doesn’t enjoy playing Camouflage, Bat and Moth, or Meet a Tree.

The activities are divided into three categories. (And in true outdoor educator form each category is named after an animal. That is how you know this book is really legit.) Bear activities are calm and often introspective, crow activities encourage observation and physical activity, and otter activities encourage playfulness.

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Another great book that uses a slightly different approach is Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. The first part of this book is geared more towards expanding the skills and perspectives of the mentor, (that’s you,) and the second half dives into activities. It is definitely intended to be more of a curriculum guide than a collection of stand alone activities but don’t let that scare you away. It also focuses more on tracking and survival skills than Cornell’s book, but includes meaningful activities about awareness and community building.

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When my friend Sal described this last book to me, I thought it was too good to be true. There was no way a book existed that connects children with natural places using outdoor activities and books. And yet it does. The book is called A Sense of Place by Daniel A. Kriesberg. While this book is definitely more geared towards teachers, I don’t think the activities are too complicated or difficult to be useful for the rest of us. Plus, if you’ve stuck with us all the way through the month of April you clearly have an interest in books and the environment; it would be kinda great if you could pass those on to the next generation.

Those are just a smattering of the resources I know and love. If you want more ideas I am happy to chat about it. Leave a comment or send us an email.

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Thanks also to everyone who read along with our annual month-long Earth Day celebration. Thanks especially to Mara for writing a guest post, commenting, and also for always being awesome. To Lisa and Rebecca for their proof-reading rescues. To Bethany and Jamie at the El Portal Library who helped me find and check out a huge mountain of books. To Sal, Rebecca, Ayla, Becky, and everyone else who told me about awesome books I should read.

<3 ~Robin

P.S.

Earth Day: A Tale of Two Upcycling Books

29 Apr

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If you want to hear Robin speak passionately for awhile, there are a few topics that are guaranteed to get her talking.

  1. Bats
  2. Music with fiddles in it
  3. Birdwatching
  4. People who incorrectly use the word “upcyle”

While it may be true that I only recall having one or two conversations about number four, I do know she is my go-to person to complain about said topic with.  That’s why this post will be formatted as though I’m addressing her.

Ahem.  Robin.  Hi.

Remember how at the beginning of the month I thought it was a good idea to review some green crafting books?  Maybe even do a couple crafts?  Well, big surprise I didn’t get to the doing part, but I don’t have to actually make anything to review a craft book.  Anyway, I pulled all the eco-craft type books out of my library.  One evening I went through them all and was mostly pretty “meh” about the whole lot of them.  Until I came to one.  God, I wish I could show you the pictures.  I think the neighbors heard me yelling at this book.

Here’s the offender:

So, I looked up Danny Seo and apparently he’s a pretty successful guy in the crafting and home dec world.  His Facebook page claims he’s a “green living expert”.  So maybe I’m missing something.  Feel free to argue, but I think you’ll agree with me.  I kind of felt bad about panning this guy until I looked at the book again.  Immediately the regret evaporated.  I remember the rant you had about Michaels selling brand new mason jars to “upcycle” with.  Pretty much every project in this book fills me with that kind of frustration.

Some of the projects are just not that great of ideas.  The main contender for that category is the Painter’s-Tape Privacy Screen.  Said screen actually upcycles old window or door frames, but then lines those with criss-crossed painter’s tape.  First off, who wants a painter’s tape covered square in their home?  It’s ugly.  Second, none of that painter’s tape is being recycled.  Now it’s no good for its intended purpose and knowing me, I’d have gotten wasted a roll and a half trying to keep it from sticking to myself.  You know that.  You’ve seen me in action.  Finally, this project could have been slightly altered to actually upcycle.  Why not use fabric strips?  That’s just one thought.  If I was writing a book that I hoped to publish I’d probably think a little harder, which he did not.

Other ideas are baffling.  For the Electronic-Cord Organizer (all these hyphens are his), you take a couple wine corks, put a pipe clamp around them and literally stick a fork in them.  You are then supposed to use this contraption to wind your electric cords around them, apparently while they are still plugged to the wall, in order to keep them out of the way.  Would you do that?  No, you wouldn’t.

But here’s my favorite one of all time….  You’re not going to believe this and just imagine me shaking the book in your face and yelling this whole next part.  There is an actual project where you take plastic water bottles, fill them with concrete, then REMOVE the plastic bottle and recycle it.  You do not paint these bottles.  You are just stuck with ugly concrete two liters.  You’re supposed to use them for door stops or some bs.  Here’s the thing though, if you just recycled the plastic bottle you would have less waste.  Now you have concrete blocks which I guess you could recycle if you knew where you could do that?  UGH

Now if I were actually talking to you, you know at this point we’re going to be flipping out about these projects and thinking we could do so much better. I would have to put the book away so I wouldn’t keep pointing at new confusing ways to go green.  Since you’re not here and I’m too worked up to come up with some solutions myself, I’d like to bring things back to the bright side of life by introducing you to a second book.

The book is eco craft by Susan Wasinger and I can already feel my blood pressure dropping as I leaf through it.  Her projects are mostly classics, like using old sweaters to knit rugs or fusing plastic bags together to make lunch bags.  Not too out there, but still useful, interesting and actually upcycled.  Even though her creativity as far as techniques leaves something to be desired, her simple instructions and minimal use of new supplies makes this an excellent green crafting book.

Oh, I forgot she had this one… It’s a privacy screen, just like Seo’s except she uses those plastic six-pack can holders instead of painter’s tape.  I’m still suspicious that it would look good in person, but yes, Susan, that is an actual upcycle.

I feel bad going on so much about the book I don’t like and so little about the one I do, but looking through eco craft makes me want to actually go make something.  So I’m going to go do that.  Or at least think about it.

It was nice talking to you.  This Earth Day blogging thing is always more fun than I think it will be.

~ April

Earth Day: The Wild Trees

28 Apr

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Rebecca recommended The Wild Trees to me a few years ago. I picked it up and was immediately sucked in. It tells the stories of a team of researchers who endeavored to learn more about the coast redwoods….by climbing them.

Don’t worry, it’s not a research paper or an expedition report. It’s a wonderful story about the personalities and the lives of the people who were drawn to these trees. My friend Kim recently read this book, but had one complaint: it was keeping her awake because she couldn’t put it down to go to bed. My roommate Ayla saw the book lying on the table last week and she has already finished it. It really is that good.

I don’t know how else to convince you to read it, other than saying that reading it fills me with the same sort of wonder and reverence I feel when I watch this video:

Seriously, go read it.

~Robin

P.S. It’s also just happens to be the book that I reached for when I needed a chunk of text for the Read Green artwork that’s been plastered all over this blog for the past month.

Earth Day: Books in Nature

26 Apr

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Everyone in Yosemite is slightly relieved that we finally got some precipitation this past week. It isn’t even close to enough to relieve the drought, but every little bit helps. We’ve seen the effects of the rain most dramatically in Crane Creek, which runs smack through the middle of the burned area from the El Portal fire last summer. With no plants to hold the soil back the deluge of water has filled the creek with sediment.

The book in the picture is Your Water Footprint by Stephen Leahy. It provides a good overview of current water use issues, and includes a pretty extensive section on the water footprints of everyday products. It also provides several suggestions for how to reduce your individual water footprint, and well made visuals accompany the information.

In truth, I wanted to review more books about reducing water footprints, and after scourging the local libraries, the shelves of Barnes and Noble, the collections of other Central Valley libraries, and even the library of the environmental organization I work for, I was disappointed by how little I found. You would think that in a place in such a dire state of drought, resources like this would be in high demand. Friends, this does not bode well for us.

~Robin

Read Green 4

Earth Day: Quote Saturday

25 Apr

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~April

Earth Day: Nature Journaling

24 Apr

Read Green 6.

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of dragging art supplies out into the woods. Nature journaling gives me an opportunity to practice my art skills and refine my observations of the natural world, but that’s not why I do it. I really just enjoy hanging around outside and seeing where my eyes and my paintbrush will take me.

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The only hint that I can really offer about nature journaling is that it’s more fun if you don’t pressure yourself to create a masterpiece. Make sure you’re having fun even if your painting of Tissiak ends up looking like an inbred armadillo.

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For everything else I’m going to refer you to a few books on the subject:

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I would start with Keeping a Nature Journal by Charles E. Roth and Clare Walker Leslie. It takes the “no pressure” approach to nature journaling. It focuses mostly on tips and techniques for seeing and observing the world around you, and only scratches the surface of technical drawing skills.

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If technique is what you want, The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature by Cathy Johnson will deliver. It includes techniques for drawing and painting in a variety of mediums.

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Grinnell journaling is a technique that incorporates science into the journaling process through methodical recording and observation. I was blown away by How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson. She managed to write a book that seamlessly incorporates science, art, and outdoor ethics.

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Maybe you still can’t imagine why someone would ever want to make a nature journal, or you just want inspiration. You should pick up Barbara Bash’s True Nature. It’s a little hard to read, but that’s only because every time I try to sit down with it, I find myself wanting to go outside with my paints instead.

Grab your art supplies and get out there and color!

~Robin

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