Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My local food moment

Last month while in Santa Barbara, I finished reading Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma. A great book, although long, but when I finished, I was energized. That and seeing An Inconvenient Truth had me all galvanized for change when I returned home.

Besides the fact that the book is based a good deal in Northern California and the Bay Area, one of the parts I most enjoyed in the book was Michael's discussion about gathering his food locally. Over the course of several chapters, he talked about hunting wild boar in Sonoma, gathering mushrooms in so-secret-I-would-have-to-kill-you locations, and meeting up with various Slow Food movement folks in the Bay Area.

Last weekend, interested in checking out more of the local food scene, I went to the Menlo Park Farmer's Market to see what I could find locally. I chose it because on Sunday they have a fishmonger, and because we could ride our bikes there. The farmer's market is great -- wonderful stone fruits, fresh flowers, fresh corn, lots of families and kids. However, it is expensive! I did not think eating local would be so expensive. Peaches and nectarines were all around $3 a pound, corn was 2 ears for $1, and for a week's worth of fruits and veggies, I spent about $40. After our farmer's market trip, I drove over to Whole Foods to get a couple other items, and noticed in their produce department a concerted effort to point out all the locally grown food. I also noticed that while I think Whole Foods=Whole Paycheck, their prices were pretty similar to the farmer's market. Sadly, locally grown does not translate to lower prices.

So, as I have pointed out to my husband, I can only control for one variable here - we can either eat local or keep our food budget down. Sadly, I don't think we can do both. And while I am really fascinated by local food and the Slow Food movement, unless I become a sustainable pastoral farmer or quit my day job, I won't have enough time to find all our food locally at prices that I feel comfortable paying....

An Inconvenient Reality

While on vacation, I managed to do a little reading and movie watching. Finally had a chance to see An Inconvenient Truth, and like Valerie, I was stunned by what I learned. I was surprised to see all the details laid out, supported by actual science and I was pleased that there was time at the end for real, implementable solutions. I even went to the Climate Crisis web site, to see what I could do. Turns out, we are doing pretty well - we have moved the kids to Laptop Lunch boxes and have trash-free lunches now. We recycle a ton, compost in a worm composter, turn off electric devices when we are not using them, run our washing machine on warm or cold, and have trees planted on the hot side of our house. We live within walking distance of my son's school and he has lots of friends that live nearby. The one thing I have trouble getting in sync with is using my car less.

We were finally offered a slot for our daughter at the daycare near my office. This means that she and I get to "commute" together to the office. Riding our bike would be fun (she has a half wheel attached to my bike), but honestly, I am worried that ditching my car for the commute would not actually be better for my kids. Here is it would look if I wanted to ride my bike with my current 8-5pm schedule:

7:15 am - leave the house with both kids, drop oldest off at school, ride to work with youngest
7:50 am - drop her off at daycare, hope it is a quick drop off so I can get to the office before 8am
8 am - 5pm - work, work, work
5pm - leave office, pick up daughter, ride to pick up son
5:40pm - pick up son, home by 6pm

A couple things to note - daughter is not actually a contributor to the bike ride, she hangs on and chats while I do the heavy lifting. And, while my driving commute is 15 minutes the bike ride would take 40.

So, while I could help the environment by riding my bike, the inconvenient reality is that it would be hard on my family. My son would end up away from the home 10 hours a day, and he is only 6. My daughter would probably enjoy the ride and it would be great to spend time with her every day, but does a 4 year old need to be subjected to bad drivers and uphill climbs?

After watching the movie, my husband and I were both thoughtful and over dinner spent time thinking about what we can do. We decided that it is important to start with things that we can do within our family, and we talked about ways to educate our kids and make different choices. The great part is that we are in an area that is very supportive of helping the environment, so making changes should be straight forward. On our return from vacation, we spent Sunday riding our bikes to the farmers market and talking about scheduling a test drive for a hybrid vehicle. Our 6 year old son understands about the earth getting warmer and Greenland melting, so conversations about recycling and trash-less lunches are fairly straight forward. And for now, we will find times to ride our bikes where we can impart the message of getting out of our cars, perhaps once a week to work or to the park. I will limit my trips in the car, look for more local activities for the kids and encourage us to think twice about using the car. At least for the next 12 months, this will probably be the way it is, as completely getting out of the car is not a viable solution for us (yet)....

Monday, September 11, 2006

Block Party: Healing ourselves through community

Late summer 2001, I was talking with a neighbor up-the-street and we decided to organize a block party. My husband and I had lived in our house for almost 3 years and we felt as though we still did not know anyone. Silicon Valley is so crazy, it seemed to us, and I felt as though I could go forever without meeting others who lived on my street. Also, more practically, with a 16 month old son, we really needed some babysitters. What better way than to have a block party and see who on the street was hiding potential sitters?

We arranged for the party for Sunday, September 23, 2001. This was after Labor Day and school would be in session, so we thought we would get pretty good turnout. Joan and I talked about getting a permit to close the street, but it kept slipping my mind, until I realized I had waited too long, it was too late. Without a permit, I was worried it would be hard to close off the street and our party might get shut down by the sheriff. Little did I know that events on September 11, 2001 would change this concern....

As I sat in my house that dark Tuesday morning, alternating watching the television and scanning the computer, I cannot remember much about my thoughts or fears. I recall wanting to bring my son home early from daycare to hold him, I recall escaping to Safeway to participate in mundane grocery shopping, I recall wanting to reach out to family and friends I had not heard from in a while. But I do remember vividly that knowing my neighbors became very important. I wanted to know who I lived next too and across from, who belonged to who, who was in my community. I wanted to be able to greet people by name, know their children, have them know mine. I wanted to know that if a disaster like this happened in our neighborhood, someone would know who I was and know to look for me under the rubble.

On the day of our block party, Sunday, September 23, I was full of nervous energy. I was still in shock from the events on 9/11, but I was excited to meet our neighbors. Others apparently felt the same way, as our turnout was almost 100% of our block. Everyone brought something to share and tables and chairs, and we set ourselves up in the middle of the street. Kids rode around on their bicycles, my son was secure in his backpack perch, and we got to meet our neighbors. Turns out the guy next door is a retired accountant who is now a handyman extraordinaire; down the street lives a piano teacher, a school administrator and an independent consultant; up the street was a couple who has lived here for 35 years; and across the street was another young family with a baby. Meeting all these folks helped me built my network, and even with the tragedy of New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania fresh in our minds, we celebrated our community and built new connections.

On the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 events, this past weekend, our neighborhood once again gathered together for our now-annual block party. Over 60 neighbors stopped by, some of them long-time residents, others new to the street, and many of them thanking us for continuing to organize this annual get-together. Each time I reconnect with a neighbor or meet someone new, I am reminded of why the party was important to me in the first place and thankful that others share my interest in bringing our local community together.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

How my daughter is changing my clothing habits

I am not a big fan of shopping for clothes, mostly because I feel I do it wrong. Nothing seems to go together. When I was a teenager, my mom gave me a clothing allowance of $50. Back in the 80's, that seems like it could be enough, but I am not creative enough to shop at places like Ross and Marshalls with great deals. I need to shop at places like Limited and jCrew, the places with the models displaying complete outfits that I can just walk up and purchase. Oh, and the fact that I was 5'11" as a 10th grader did not help.

When I got my first job out of college, I used some of my savings to meet with a personal shopper at Nordstroms. This was a big treat. Liz helped me find all these work appropriate outfits and even went the extra step of writing all my outfits down on index cards, with the corresponding jewellry listed, so I hardly had to think about anything. Wow, I looked good for a couple years, until Liz retired.

Then, I started working at home, so work clothes did not matter much. I mostly wore shorts or jeans, or my lovely jammies. Comfort was important, not style.

Mat_tshirt When I got pregnant with my first child, I only shopped at Target for maternity clothes. Maternity was easy in 1999 - there was not that much to chose from, very basic stuff and I would just buy the t-shirts in every color. This was also my first foray into crop pants. Being tall, I thought they were silly, but then I wore them while pregnant and loved them. I tended to focus mostly on shoes during this pregnancy, determined to have cute feet with my growing belly. This carried on after pregnancy, when my son was an infant, as my regular clothes did not.

Jap_weekend_1 With my second child, I said "heck with it" and decided to splurge at Japanese Weekend for some cute clothes. Wow, what a difference that made! I still had cute shoes, of course, but now I had some cute maternity clothes as well.

Now to my biggest shock and surprise - all during my second pregnancy, I was positive I was having a boy (bad mother's instinct), and so when my daugher popped out, my first thought was "Good G*&, what is she going to wear?". For me, a girl baby is a bigger responsibility. Not only do I need to show her about all the important things in life (some of which I am competant at), I also have to instruct her in the art of feminity and fashion (not something that comes easily). With my son, his clothing was easy - shorts or pants with a shirt, long or short sleeved. To dress up, we tucked the shirt in. For my daughter, getting dressed is so much more - dress, skirt or pants. If dress or skirt, socks or tights? If tights, stripes or solids. And it goes on. Hair clips to coordinate with tights and dresses, the right shoe for the right outfit. How am I supposed to keep this straight?

The other thing that happened was that I learned something from my daughter. Skirts can be fun. Dressing up is ok and when my daughter tells me that I am wearing the most beautiful thing she has ever seen, I believe her. I look forward to making clothing selections and I enjoy going shopping with my daughter. At age 4, she is experimenting with her outfits and I love watching her creative combinations. She mixes colors that don't seem to go together on the color wheel. She does her hair with reckless abandon. And, she has a great time doing this. Fashion is not scary for her. Hopefully this rubs off on me, or better yet, maybe she can be my personal shopper!