Archive for October 2011 | Monthly archive page

The morning after Halloween, candy wrappers and discarded costume pieces end up littering the streets like autumn leaves.  Children (and let’s face it, enough of us adults) are pushed ever closer to the brink of diabetes.  Party decorations and leftover snacks line city dumpsters, and stores begin liquidating all of their orange and black inventory to make way for the red and green.  This time of year can be frightening for the environment, but with a few adjustments and mindful observations, your celebrations can be devilish without being destructive.

1. Fair trade and organic candy- If you are going to put yourself into a sugar-induced coma, you might as well ensure that your candy is free of artificial dyes and flavors.  Certified fair trade treats make sure that the horrors and tricks of the holiday remain in jest and not encouraging shady business practices.  For a list of sustainable sweets, check out naturemoms’ blog article for great recommendations.

2.  Reusable candy sacks- Pillowcases are the classic renewable favorite, but tote and fabric grocery bags work just as well.  Decorate your own bag with ghouls and goblins, or purchase reusable sacks like those available from ChicoBags and save it for Halloweens to come!

3.  Recycled Costumes-  The Salvation Army, Goodwill and local thrift stores are fantastic places to find costume material.  Instead of purchasing new items, sew, mix and match pieces to create a unique ensemble that breathes life into an old wardrobe and won’t break the bank.

4.  Halloween party can drive-  With Thanksgiving around the corner, institute a party can drive to help those who are hungry feed themselves and their family this season.  (I am proud to give credit for this idea to the epic Halloween rager that a local socially conscious San Luis Obispo house holds every year.  Even some hoodlums have a heart!)  SLO residents should check out GleanSLO, a group of farmers and volunteers that gather together to harvest produce and donate it the county food bank.  Spend the day in an apple orchard to enjoy the fall weather with the family and do something good for the community!

5.  Salvaged decorations-  For our party this year, my house is using all recycled or salvaged materials to create devils, angels, and various scenes of the afterlife.  Whatever was not acquired for free from Craigslist or reused from past celebrations was taken from dumpsters and local trash piles.  With a little rooting, we were able to pick up gigantic pieces of cardboard, outdated newspaper for paper mache, and wood from discarded pallets.  It may take a bit more time and ingenuity to round up all of the items needed, but it definitely makes for some colorful adventure stories.

6.  Go natural-  When given the choice between decorating your porch the styrofoam pumpkins or plastic corncobs, opt for the real deal.  When they have outlived their purpose, add them to a compost pile, use them to feed the local wildlife, or reuse them for Thanksgiving centerpieces.

7.  Walk instead of driving- Let the kids use their legs a little and work for that free candy when trick-or-treating this year.  Resist the urge to drive to distant neighborhoods or bring along the golf cart.  Bicycles are a wonderful way to get around, and as long as all traffic and safety laws are observed, an easy and enjoyable means of burning off a sugar-high.

8.  Buy local-  Purchase treats like apples, handmade chocolates and cider from neighborhood candy stores or produce stands.  Money stays in the local economy and fossil fuels are conserved by keeping transportation distances to a minimum.  In SLO, fruit and veggie lovers can find a CSA, farmers market or stand close to home by visiting Central Coast Grown.  We are lucky to have Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, Tropical Chocolates and Sweet Earth Chocolates to satiate our collective sweet tooth.

On the evening of November 1st, 2010, San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood witnessed a procession of activists towing three faux-Chevron executives wearing gigantic, inflatable spheres atop hay bales pulled by their loyal, Hazmat suit-clad employees.  Streaming behind them were angry figures in skeleton suits and a number of passers-by that were encouraged to join in the strange parade.  Upon reaching Market and Castro and framed by a Chevron station in the background, the CEO’s explained that their unusual attire was a defensive measure that would help them to ensure their survival against the future calamitous repercussions of climate change.  Their large, silver “grub suits”, also known as  “Survivaballs”, were intended to help protect our society’s “most valuable citizens” from rising sea levels as well as violent retribution from other suffering, “less fiscally responsible” members of the community.

The November protest was created by the Yes Men, an absurdist performance-based activist group who utilize guerrilla theater tactics to call attention to the socially abhorrent behaviors of certain large corporations.  This particular event was intended to satirize recent political actions made by the CEOs of Chevron and the US Chamber of Commerce in relation to climate change policy.  The Yes Men originally began their social activism through the construction of parody websites.  After receiving substantial media attention over their sites lampooning then Presidential incumbent George W. Bush’s homepage and the World Trade Center’s “official” site in 2000, Yes Men founders Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno began to formulate a series of “identity correction” stunts.

The Yes Men, to their self-admitted surprise, have participated in many high-profile talks and symposiums largely due to a gross lack of fact-checking or close inspection of their satirical websites.  Beginning with the WTO and later moving on to corporations such as DOW Chemical, Union Carbide and McDonald’s, these guerrilla performances were characterized by the creation of figures who were intended to be received as genuine, high-ranking members of each organization.  These spokesmen would espouse outrageous proposals to members of symposiums, business meetings and TV audiences based on the very real and immoral practices of the companies they putatively represented.  Almost all of their stunts were accompanied by long-winded speeches, computer animations, flow charts, food items, and outlandish costumes.

For video of their exploits, watch their first film The Yes Men,  and their most recent feature, The Yes Men Fix the World.  For a hilarious read, pick up their new book.  To become a Yes Man and join the ranks of concerned pranksters worldwide, visit the Yes Lab and say Yes to social reform!

On the Central Coast our farmers are superstars, and we have the paper to prove it!  Collect and scope out the stats for your local growers with Central Coast Grown’s Farmer Trading Cards.  Each glossy card in the series of ten displays a picture of a San Luis Obispo county soil-slinger with facts about their land, what they grow, where they are located, and a little known piece of trivia.  The cards have been handed out to schools across the county in order to educate children on where their food comes from and what goes into making a meal.

Central Coast Grown strives to support community agriculture through creating customer awareness of the economic, health and social benefits of buying local food.  The organization, established in 2003, offers farm profiles and directions to neighborhood produce stands, links to restaurants committed to sourcing ingredients from their community, and information on where to find the closest and most convenient CSA.

Fresh diary, meat and produce does not need to travel the same distances as many other grocery store products, ensuring a longer shelf-life and less energy loss through refrigeration, processing and transportation.  Money from purchases is cycled directly back into the regional economy, keeps agriculture viable, and preserves open space.  Browsing a farmers market encourages healthy dietary choices of foods high in vitamins, fiber and minerals, and facilitates community interaction.

Show your appreciation for the people who raise your food and ask for an autographed edition of your Farmers Trading Card!

Before Pecha Kucha, PowerPoint demonstrations and slideshows were the primary residents of the realms of Boring, Tediousville, and the Land of the Mind Numbingly Dull.  With multimedia conversations under 20min apiece and discussing subjects such as the bicycles built by the Wright Brothers, Moroccan/American/Polish/Latino creative writing and environmental art, there is something to keep everyone awake and interested.  Held this Saturday, October 22, at 7pm at the Oddfellows Hall in SLO (520 Dana St.), the night will offer seven presentations spanning the disciplines of art, regional politics, nature, medicine and music.  Suggested donations begin at $5 at the door and refreshments will be available for purchase.

Pecha Kucha was created by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture in Tokyo in 2003 as a venue for young designers to meet and discuss their works.  Drawing its name from the Japanese term for the sound of “chit-chat”, the events have spread to over 230 cities across the world, all following the format of “20×20”, or 20 images for each 20 seconds of exhibition.  The brevity of each discussion provides for succinct conversations that focus on the most important and essential elements of a topic.  Any member of the community is allowed to present, and speakers are selected by community panels and organizers in each city.

Support the intellectual and artistic members of your community by attending Pecha Kucha!  Interested in presenting for the next installment?  For more information contact the organizers at (805) 801-6922.  Be entertained and informed this weekend with subjects that will expand your horizons and connect you to the fascinating individuals living in you area!

Being an environmentalist and small forest-type creature, this might just be the dwelling for me.  Not only could I go “off the grid” but possibly off into the realm of fantasy with a home like the one built by do-it-yourself architect Simon Dale.  Not only is this low impact woodland home  charming, but it does not require a dragon’s nest of gold to build.  Created for a family in Wales, the entire structure only cost around $5,000 taking advantage of reclaimed and materials and labor provided by the architect himself along with family and friends.  Rather than live in a “prefabricated box designed for maximum profit and convenience of the construction industry,” Dale designed a truly unique home that was intended and perfectly suited for its environment.

The house itself was dug into the surrounding hillside for shelter and low visible impact on the surrounding terrain.  Oak collected from the nearby woodland was used to construct the frame, and reclaimed wood was obtained for the flooring and fittings.  Straw bale in the floors, walls and roof were chosen for insulation, and appliances such as the heater and fridge take advantage of natural convection systems to operate. Lime plaster instead of cement cover the walls reducing cost and allowing for better ventilation. Plastic sheeting and a mud/turf roof regulate temperature and  give the impression that the house is growing out from the hillside. Skylights and solar panels generate electricity and allow for ambient lighting, water is collected from the roof and gravity fed from a nearby spring, there is a composting toilet, and the yard collects runoff in its garden pond.

Dale was enthusiastic about this project for a variety of reasons.  In order to reduce dependency on dwindling resources such as fossil fuels, he believes it is important to increase the productivity of our land and find the simplest, most sustainable solutions to live more in accordance with systems that take advantage of permaculture, small community sizes, and reduced consumption.  The transition to an energy independent future begins with grass-roots action, and there is nowhere better to start than where you live.

In recent years, you may have found yourself noting strange weather phenomena, debating with friends over the issue of climate change, or wondering how truly guilty you ought to feel about leaving your air conditioner on all day during the summer.  For an informed, timely, and relevant discussion, there are few better writers or public figures to reference than Bill McKibben.

The Central Coast Clergy and Laity for Justice will be hosting famed environmentalist Bill McKibben at the Fremont Theater (1025 Monterey St., SLO) on October 30, from 6:30-9:30pm.  Author of over a dozen books and founder of the global grassroots climate campaign, McKibben will be discussing his new book, Earth- Making a life on a tough new planet.  He asserts that by burning fossil fuels, human beings have raised the temperature of the Earth one degree Celsius, a feat that holds major implications for the future of our climate and survival on this planet.

For example, already NASA has documented a 45 percent increase in heavy storm “supercell” activity, allowing global rainfall to climb around 1.5 percent per decade and higher incidents of lightening and ensuing wildfires.  In addition to more intense and frequent storms, the melting of the ice sheets occurring at both poles and expanded tropical zones are combining to create new environmental conditions to which human beings are going to have to adapt quickly.

McKibben, the driving force between the international activist group, has long maintained that the number 350, which stands for the parts per million of carbon dioxide, is the safest upper limit of which we can allow the gas into our atmosphere.  This threshold should be the standard by which governments and industries regulate their emissions and the target goal for a planet already situated at 39o parts per million and rising.

Among his accolades and many honorary degrees, McKibben is a Distinguished Middlebury Scholar, frequent contributor to various magazines including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, The New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone, and Outside. He is also a board member and contributor to Grist Magazine.  He also holds both a Guggenheim Fellowship and Lyndhurst Fellowship as well as a Lannan Prize for best nonfiction writing.

Being a popular and  prolific author numerous of articles and books, campaign organizer, and lecturer, McKibben’s talk is sure to be a major attraction here in a town where caring for the environment is of major concern. Seating will be limited, so interested parties are encouraged to purchase tickets early.  Admission is $10.00.  For more information, call the CCCLJ at (805) 704-3356 or visit

Our daughter Mathilda recently celebrated her second birthday, and since she has a lot more friends now than at the time of her first birthday, we decided to throw her an age-appropriate (i.e. messy) birthday party. It was inspired by her best friend Avi’s party, which consisted in part of 100 pounds of flour in two kiddie pools.

When planning this party, three things were important to me: Make it fun for the kids, keep it healthy, and produce as little trash as possible.

The fun factor I decided a “frost-your-own-cupcake” party was the perfect theme. And doing it at the park would keep the clean-up factor in our house to a minimum. I made the cupcakes and set up one table with frostings and one table with toppings. The tables were at an appropriate height for the kids. Each frosting was in a separate ceramic or glass bowl, and in a cup a bunch of bamboo butter knives were eagerly awaiting little hands. The toppings were also in glass and ceramic bowls, each with a spoon for easy topping. The cupcakes were on the higher tables, so the parents had some control over the process but on the frosting and topping tables the kids could do whatever they wanted. They seemed to enjoy the frosting, some even more than the eating of the cupcakes. The close-by slides and swings made it possible to run off possible sugar-highs and extra calories.

The food Making cupcakes healthier than the bright-colored ones found in your local supermarket (loaded with HFCS, artificial colors and who-knows-what) is actually pretty easy when you make them yourself. If you don’t have time, there are plenty of cupcakeries with tons of flavors and everything from vegan to gluten-free. And I’m sure you can get them unfrosted, too. I searched my favorite food blogs for ways to hide vegetables in cupcakes and came up with three different vegan flavors: spiced carrot cake, chocolate beet and lemon kale. The kale version was supposed to be zucchini but I changed my mind last minute, and there was definitely room for improvement. Stay tuned for an update on that one. The chocolate beet ones were my favorite. Find the recipe here. I made mini cupcakes for the kids and regular-sized ones for the parents.

For frostings I chose chocolate pudding, almond butter frosting and avocado-lemon frosting. I thought kids might be into the green avocado color, but the chocolate pudding was the definite winner on the frosting table (no surprise). So much so, that some kids would skip the cupcake altogether. Most adults thought the avocado frosting reminded them too much of guacamole and so nobody touched it. Oh well. All frostings were sweetened with stevia.

The toppings were shredded coconut, mini chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, raisins, green sprinkles (sugar dyed with vegetables) and homemade strawberry syrup.

I saved one regular cupcake, frosted it and topped it with two candles to serve as our birthday cake.

We also had some fruit (watermelon, grapes, blueberries and strawberries), chips and salsa, and other snacks, as well as gummy bears and lolly pops (sugar – yes, artificial colors & HFCS – no!) available.

With beverages we tried to keep it simple. Our local supermarket had a sale going for organic Santa Cruz Lemonade so I bought a bunch of bottles for $0.99 each. I also made a lemon verbena, lavender, mint ice tea, filled in into 1/2 gallon glass jars to take it to the park. There we served it from a (glass) pitcher which we filled up regularly.

Keeping it green I must admit it was quite a challenge and I was tempted again and again to go out and just BUY the stuff everybody is used to seeing at birthday parties for kids: plastic plates and cups, single-serve beverage containers with more or less sugar/HFCS, paper napkins, balloons, etc. But I resisted the consumer temptations.

I made a bunch of napkins from fabric scraps leftover from my sewing projects. They weren’t even sewn, I just cut squares with pinking shears. We needed new napkins anyway and I finally had an excuse to make some.

Replacing the plastic or paper cups was a little trickier. We didn’t really have enough glasses, so we went through our stash of jars and picked out the most suitable ones for drinking (think wide-mouth mason jars). To remove very persistent labels soak the jar in water for a few hours and remove most of the label, then rub oil into the remaining paper and scrub it off. You might have to repeat that a couple of times. It works! For the kids I found 10 glass votive candle holders for $1 at a thrift store. Perfect! That way I wouldn’t be bummed if one breaks. I was thinking baby food jars would also work great. We skipped plates altogether.

We set up a cardboard box for recycling, had a bucket for dirty napkins and rags, and brought our compost bin for food scraps. You can definitely pretty that up by having matching bins or buckets. We decorated the pavillion in the park with some prayer flags that usually hang in our bedroom, and the tables with two table runners we use at home.

Party Favors My original idea was to make aprons for all the kids, but in the end I ran out of time. I ended up using another Montessori idea I had been wanting to make for a while: Placemats with outlines of the plate, glass, cutlery and napkin. Setting the table is the perfect task for two-year-olds to do when you need a few more minutes to get dinner ready. I used wipeable vinyl mats and outlined everything with a sharpie, and personalized each mat with the child’s name. I also included a bamboo plate, folk, spoon and knife, as well as a napkin (made from my fabric stash again). Millie loves her placemat and is getting pretty good at setting the table before dinner. I hope her friends get to enjoy their mats as well.

All in all, I would consider it pretty successful. Depending on your time or helping hands, you can definitely improve on the decorations (think paper or even glass lanterns, paper pom poms, etc.) and in my case on the food (namely the lemon kale cupcakes and the avocado frosting). On the trash side we did really well. The only trash that couldn’t really be composted or recycled were the cupcake liners. And we now have a bunch of jars and napkins for our regular potlucks. As far as the fun factor goes, it seemed like everybody had a good time, although I’m sure we’re now considered “definitely different” and we will see which ones of our party guests will show up to Mathilda’s third birthday party…

“Finish your potatoes!  There are starving children in Somalia!” . . . “Don’t throw that out!  Do you know how hard I work to put food on this table?” . . .  “If you let that go to waste, you’re contributing to global warming!”

Global warming?  Yes, it looks as though  parents have one more phrase to add to their arsenal of  nit-pickings to make their kids feel just a little bit guilty about leaving that last vegetable on the plate.  Turns out that letting last night’s meatloaf languish in the refrigerator may be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.  As Americans, we waste a staggering 55 million tons of food annually, which is roughly 40 percent of our total supply.  Using software developed by CleanMetrics, an analytical firm out of Oregon, the USDA discovered that food waste is responsible for 135 million tons of atmospheric CO2 each year, about 1.5 percent of total output.  That comes to about 440 pounds of discarded food per individual each year, not counting meals eaten in restaurants or taking into consideration the energy and emissions produced in cooking.

The type food you waste may also have an impact on the climate.  For example, meats and dairy are more energy intensive and expensive to process, transport and raise.  Depending on where you live, your salad may have had to travel several hundred miles to reach the grocery store, meaning more fossil fuels burned and time spent in refrigeration.  According to CleanMetrics, nearly 80 percent of all emissions are created during transportation and processing, with additional greenhouse gas being released through decomposition in landfills.

What to do to keep the planet cool and mom and dad from nagging?  Leftover plants and grains can be composted in order to let carbon return to the soil and become sequestered in the ground.  Buying local groceries will help to cut down on the amount of highway your food needs to cover before becoming dinner.  Eating lower down on the food chain can also reduce the amount of energy needed to create, sustain and process your meal.  Most importantly, shop prudently and purchase only what you can reasonably eat within a given expiration date.  Not only will you save a little bit of cash, but possibly make a dent in the fight against global warming!


For the past four years, Humanitarian Acts in Nepal Developing Schools (HANDS) has been working towards providing education and community development programs in Nepal.  The seeds for HANDS were planted four years ago when founder and SLO County native Danny Chaffin, 20 years old and taking a break from school, decided to volunteer and travel through the country.  Initially attracted by the Buddhist and Hindu cultures, Danny fell in love with the people he met in Tibet, living with a host family and learning traditional Thangka painting.  Becoming more and more immersed in the traditions and society of the region, he looked to find ways in which he could give back to his adopted community.

After returning home from his first visit, Danny enrolled in Naropa University which was co-founded by famous Tibetan author, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  The school offered a Thangkha painting course, which he enthusiastically attended, and allowed him time to study and plan his next trip to East Asia.  After a year, he made his way back to India, and then Nepal where he began to more seriously lay the foundations for a NGO.  Returning from that excursion, Danny was able to file for official non-profit status and embark upon building a school in one of the villages he had visited.  Taking a semester off from during the third year of the project, Danny was involved in overseeing the construction of the school.  Being enrolled in Naropa’s Peace Studies program, he felt as though his work dovetailed perfectly with his coursework which placed a strong emphasis on international aid.

Now in its fourth year if operation, HANDS is accepting donations from across the United States and Nepal, and has two established schools to its name.  Danny and his girlfriend are currently residing in Thailand where he is finishing up elective credits from Naropa and they are both continuing in their efforts to establish schools in Nepal.  It’s so refreshing to hear about a local student in his mid-twenties with a passion for more than beer and spring break.  Thank you, Danny for commitment to education, service, and social responsibility!

To learn more about HANDS or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit


When Francie Rehwald requested architect David Hertz to build her a home with a “feminine” and curved shape, he envisioned a floating roof reminiscent of a jetliner wing.  The design seemed so seductively sensible that Hertz decided to construct the entire house out of a decommissioned, landfill-bound Boeing 747.

The structure incorporates nearly all of the jetliner,  a whopping 4.5 million separate parts forming the property’s main residence and outlying edifices.  The Main Residence and Master Bedrooms take advantage of the plane’s wings and tail stabilizers, the Art Studio, Guest House and Animal Barn integrate the cargo holds, fuselages and first class cabins, and the Meditation Pavilion is formed from the entire front of the 747.   To add to the Wing House’s green credentials, the rest of the home is built out of 100% post-consumer waste, takes advantage of solar panels, natural ventilation, radiant heating, and mirror glazing. The house is registered with the FAA in order to ensure that from above the abode is not mistaken for a downed aircraft.

Hertz himself, a native of Los Angeles, has been fascinated with the intersections between human habitation and the natural landscape since childhood.  His credentials as an architect, fabricator, and environmental designer include degrees from UCLA, The Southern California Institute of Architecture, and an internship with John Lautner and an apprenticeship under Frank Lloyd Wright.  He holds numerous awards and publications, and was the youngest member to be inducted to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects.

The NY MOMA and Smithsonian boast pieces of Hertz’s environmentally focused furniture collections, and have been acquired as permanent parts of their collections.  Hertz is also LEED certified, and has offered his services pro-bono to many non-profits, among them Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility and Business for Social Responsibility.  As if this were not enough to make his resume shine so as to be seen from space, Hertz has also served as a faculty member for both UCLA and the Pasadena Art Center College of Design.

The environmental architectural movement has a great advocate in David Hertz, who will no doubt help in lifting the trend towards sustainable building off the ground.