Archive for August 2011

Compost Trials: And We’re Back to The Heap   Leave a comment

So back in June I posted about our compost heap, and at the time I was planning to go back to pit composting for the summer to avoid any issue with odor or gnats/flies. That worked, very briefly. Unfortunately since we aren’t regularly watering that patch of grass it soon became baked hard. As in: I spent 45 minutes digging one day and got 6 inches. We don’t have a pick, and I’m not inclined to buy one just so I can continue on this ridiculous project of pit composting. So we’re back to using the heap. The plan is for me to keep sufficiently ahead on my yard work that I have enough dirt/yard waste waiting to cover the kitchen waste right away so it retains some moisture and doesn’t attract so many flies. Theoretically I could start pit composting in early winter before the ground becomes soggy again, but let’s be honest: it’s not likely to happen. Sometimes my lazy streak wins out. Yeah, it would greatly improve the fertility of that patch of soil, but at what (labor) cost? I watched my dad go round and round the yard for my entire childhood and if there was any significant improvement, I never noticed it.

I am dreaming very hard of starting my worm bin now, since I think I can do it cheaper than the cost of a compost bin, but there are so many projects going on now that for now it will stay a dream. Besides, since Mike won’t let me do it in the house it’ll have to be in the garage and the temperature fluctuations out there may still be to large.

Posted August 27, 2011 by mayakey in gardening

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Practicing Meditation vs. The Practice of Meditation   Leave a comment

For the last several months I have been working towards a goal of daily meditation. Even knowing that as my focus moves on to other things this practice will almost certainly slip a bit (especially Fridays and Saturdays), I am proud to be able to say that I meditate every day. Unfortunately, I say that with some sense that I’m not being honest because while I may be practicing meditation I have to confess that I haven’t committed to the practice of meditation.

This is definitely an example of the importance of commitment. For as much as I value meditation for its calming properties for mind, body, and spirit, I’ve never been able to sustain daily meditation long term. I think the biggest problem was that I never truly tried. When I would set myself a goal to meditate, it was “nearly daily” as I assumed that I wouldn’t manage it on Friday and Saturday, that it would feel silly on Sunday after being in Mass for an hour, and that I would have a good “reason” for not meditating occasionally. Doomed to failure with that built-in lack of commitment. And it always failed; I never even made it to the 6 month mark and my goal reward. This time around I made a commitment for every day. Sometimes it’s a timed seated meditation, sometimes a decade or two of the rosary, and sometimes I just lay for a few minutes in the corpse pose or legs-up-the-wall corpse pose and focus on my breathing, but the point is I did it.

Daily meditation feels so good, too! Usually I build my goals as a “two steps forward, one step back” progression, knowing myself well enough to know that once my focus eases even good habits that I enjoy slack off a bit. So I’m aware that I’ll probably start missing days, but in this case I think it’ll be less dramatic than usual because I am really feeling the benefits of this practice and I really want to continue it. I am definitely more calm, have a much much easier time centering during the day, and have improved body awareness.

But for all these benefits, honestly I’m only going through the motions; imagine how awesome it will be if I can get myself to commit to the practice. What I mean by these ticky-tack words is that while I’m sitting quietly, I have been utterly unsuccessful at getting my mind to wander less. There was a time in my life when that was easy, then I became an adult with responsibilities that are always on my mind. Now the timer may be set for 10 minutes, but I’m probably lucky to get 30 seconds of actual inner peace. My commitment was getting me to the game, but it isn’t helping me play. So I think the next commitment needs to be to actually practice daily meditation and not just go through the motions.

Posted August 22, 2011 by mayakey in centering, goals, spiritual practices

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Not Using What’s Provided, Part 2   Leave a comment

A few months ago I wrote a post about reducing waste by not mindlessly using all the “free” “convenience” products that we are often surrounded with. Recent occurances at work have made me aware of a related topic: providing your own stuff instead of using the “free” stuff that is provided.

The first example is tissue products. My office keeps a cabinet stocked with boxes of tissues for employees to take as needed for their individual offices. I buy my own tissues instead. Why spend my own money when my company is already providing the same thing? Because it is really important to me to use paper products that are not chlorine bleached. (I don’t care as much about whether they’re made of recycled content, but I’ve yet to find tissue products that aren’t labeled as both or neither). It is worthwhile to me to buy my own tissues and reduce by even a tiny fraction the pollution caused by chorine bleaching. Taking it a step further, I have a small terry cloth hand towel that I hang near the entrance to my cubicle so that it is convenient to take with me into the restroom to use to dry my hands instead of using the paper towels.

The second example is tea and hot chocolate. Like many offices, there’s always a pot or two of coffee brewing in the break room at my office and a tray of sugar, creamer, teabags, and hot chocolate mix packets. While I drink hot tea throughout the day, and occasionally enjoy a hot cocoa pick-me-up, until recently I almost never partook of those offerings. Instead I keep quite the selection of teas at my desk (peak was 19 different kinds, including medicinal), and a tin of cocoa mix. It is very important to me that tea and chocolate be fair trade certified, or fairly traded for herbs when there’s no certification available. Currently, I’m out of tea as I switch from tea bags to loose teas and in the intervening time since I’m out of tea I’m taking the lazy(?) way out and instead of doing without I’m using the macha tea provided in the break room. I hope that since it is a Japanese tea, it might be actually grown in Japan where fair trade certification does not apply.

My third example is junk food snacks. One of my strategies for reducing junk food consumption and trash is to bring my own snacks to the office. A square of high quality fair-trade dark chocolate and/or a piece of fresh fruit at my desk helps me ward off the siren call of a Reese’s cup or cookie left over from someone’s meeting. The sugary snacks in the break room usually offer me zero satisfaction, contribute to long term increased sugar cravings, and create relatively high volume of waste. My sweet snacks provide me with as much satisfaction as I want, and create little to no non-biodegradable waste. A container of carrots, tomatoes, or other vegetables helps me keep away from the bags of chips in the break room, and was instrumental in overcoming my cracker addiction.

A Warning When Ordering Plants by Mail   Leave a comment

This morning I spent a few hours volunteering with the American River Parkway Foundation to pull some of the many red sesbania seedlings that have sprouted in this ideal-condition year. In Sacramento red sesbania (aka scarlett wisteria or rattlebox) is an invasive plant, and several years ago when the American River Parkway was surveyed for invasive plants it was tied for #1 worst invasive that is eradicable (tied with Spanish broom, I think). I started volunteering in 2005 a few times a year in this eradication effort, and it is absolutely awesome seeing the progress. Back then the pond at William Pond Rec Area was completely surrounded by a near monoculture of red sesbania all around the banks and on the islands, whereas now it’s a beautiful mixture of plants, many of which are native, with some red sesbania hot spots and a seed bank that will take many years to eliminate.

I often forget that not everyone knows what an invasive species is. The brief definition is that it is any species that is not native to a region, and that disrupts the native ecosystem after it is introduced. Think pigs and goats that were introduced by settlers on many islands (like Hawaii) that went feral and have decimated native bird populations or eliminated some native plant species. Or think zebra mussels in the Great Lakes that cause damage to boats and block up water treatment plant intakes. Or think the water hyacinth that is so popular in aquariums but that is clogging parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Or salt cedar along the Rio Grande, or buckthorn in Michigan… Plants that are considered invasive often outcompete the natives by sprouting more seedlings, or sprouting earlier in the year, or just not having any natural predators that eat them and keep them in check. That can result in monocultures where there are large areas filled with only one plant. Plant monocultures can reduce animal diversity as well if some of the native animals cannot eat or make shelter from that particular plant.

Today I learned that while nurseries in Sacramento no longer sell red sesbania, people order it online to plant in their gardens. (It is considered a “pretty” plant.) With the exception of seeds for vegetable gardens, I didn’t know it was particularly common to buy plants online. That makes the education effort almost impossible! It is hard enough to get nurseries to stop selling these plants, but if people can and do bypass the nurseries and buy online without checking if a plant is a problem, then many species may never be eradicated or even reduced to non-problem status. Remember that these plants (and animals) live in balance in their native ecosystems, and in many other parts of the world they will also be kept in check naturally; it is just in some regions where they become invasive. So I do my part here to encourage anyone/everyone to become familiar with the names of some major invasive species in their localities, and to check before buying something that it is not a problem plant. It can take some searching to find an up-to-date list, but it seems that many master gardener programs have a link that eventually leads to information on species invasive to that state or you could just do a web search. In California the California Invasive Plant Counsel provides a very detailed inventory.


Posted August 13, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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The Homebirth Decision and Homebirth Dads Video   Leave a comment

Back in December when I first met with the midwives we plan to use when we finally get pregnant, they lent me a video to watch with my husband about home birthing from the father’s perspective. For various reasons that video has just been sitting in the living room getting in the way all year. We finally sat down to watch it this past weekend and my official review is “eh”. For one thing, it was ONE HOUR AND 9 MINUTES LONG! It was a compilation of interviews with several homebirth fathers about their experiences, and while some of the questions were interesting many of the questions were rather fast-forward-able. And some of the guys just droned on and on. It’s supposed to be like talking to your guy friends about the experience of homebirth, but I’m not sure it had the desired effect. At least it didn’t scare Mike away from doing a homebirth. And it wasn’t full of statistics and other stuff to convince you one way or another, it was just a bunch of guys telling their stories.

I honestly can’t remember when I decided that I wanted to give birth at home. I remember a looong time ago feeling fairly strongly that birth is a natural part of life and not a medical procedure (unless there are complications), and being inclined away from birthing in a hospital. I think that was back when birthing centers were uncommon, but first coming into the mainstream. I remember thinking that using these “newfangled” birthing centers was a great idea as an alternative to hospital birth and homebirth. At the time the thought of giving birth at home was scary and unpalatable. Fast forward a decade or so and my mind has changed, but I can’t remember when, how, or why I changed my mind. When I was looking at the prospect of giving birth while still living in the old house, I was really disappointed that I would have to use a birthing center (I didn’t like that house, and didn’t think psychologically or logistically that it would be a good idea to give birth there). In our current house there is no reason not to, and I’m really looking forward to this wonderful celebration of life (assuming, of course, that I have a healthy pregnancy).

After meeting the midwives and reading through the packet of information they gave me I can say that I’m even more strongly a fan of homebirth, even though I haven’t yet done it myself. There was lots of interesting information in with the propaganda. For instance, the World Health Organization recommends attendance by midwives for normal birthing, preferentially taking place outside of the hospital, with no routine use of electronic fetal monitoring, drugs, or induction of labor. And yet in the US the vast majority of women give birth in a hospital under the “care” of a physician using drugs and electronic fetal monitoring. And to top it all off in the US the rate of voluntary c-sections is growing, possibly not coincidental with the rise in maternal fatalities in the US. As a person who values natural living, I find that sad. I’ve known someone who had the delivery date scheduled months in advance so that she could schedule her life around it. Choosing to give birth at home under the care of a midwife may be too radical for most women, but scheduling a c-section in advance is a certainly on the other end of the spectrum of “natural”.

Posted August 9, 2011 by mayakey in pregnancy

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Avoiding Medicine: Insane or Rational?   Leave a comment

At the very outset let me make it clear that this post is not about not seeking medical care, not taking medicine to treat serious medical/health conditions or avoiding antibiotics during a bacterial infection (just no antibiotics during a viral infection).

The context is the fact that I am sitting here right now covered with hives everywhere except my face and back. My chest is the worst, and the sensation is setting my mind totally on edge. It is taking all of my mental skills to stay calm and maintain some semblance of relaxation right now. On the way home from Mass I saw a grocery store and the thought ran though my head, “Do I want to see if they have anything that would soothe my skin?” The answer was a very clear “no” and instead I came home to work through the arsenal of cold water, oatmeal, aloe, honey, and baking soda to see if any of them work on my chest. I just have no desire to take something. For the most part mental tricks are working really well and the only part of my body that actually itches is my chest where I have hives upon hives.

This aversion to medicine has very early roots. Like single-digit age roots. As a kid I couldn’t understand pain killers. “If you take an aspirin or other pain killer, how does the medicine know where you feel pain and dull those nerves without dulling ALL of your nerves?” I wondered. Since no one ever answered me, I grew more and more leery of pain killers and eventually started avoiding them. (This may have been the only instance where my apparently all-knowing dad “failed” me.) As a teenager I got interested in complementary medicine, but I don’t really see the difference between taking an aspirin and drinking a decoction of willow bark (it’s even the same chemical). Prevention, mental state, rest, hydration, diet, etc. seemed to me as a teenager to be a much more effective path. In college I realized that my acne medication was doing nothing whatsoever, and neither was the Pepto-Bismol that was my last remaining convention medicine. Since then, I have hardly “taken” anything, and generally speaking don’t want to. I use treatments like honey and lavender for a sore throat, acupressure for cramps, and essential oils on a tissue for congestion; and I trust my body.

Occasionally, like now with these hives, I wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I have no desire to use medication. Sure it would be more convenient to pop a pill rather than leave work and take a nap when I have cramps, or take something for hives instead of resting with a poultice on my chest to ease the itching. But I trust my body to be healthy. I know it can take care of itself if I do my part, and that any discomfort will pass. Obviously, based on the contents of the drug aisles in a grocery store or drug store, most people feel differently from me and probably understand my perspective about as little as I understand theirs.

What will happen in the future when I’m a mother? I don’t know. I’ve been told that I’ll give up my silly ways and fall back into the conventional western medical practices, but I’m a bit skeptical. This is not just a fad, but a way of thinking and being that has been ME since childhood. State-of-mind treatments may not work for young children, but surely there’s a safe and healthy middle ground.


Posted August 7, 2011 by mayakey in health, musings

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Our Device Count   Leave a comment

One of the first steps in my personal energy audit is to do a device count. By this I mean list out everything you own that uses some form of electrical or chemical energy. This includes everything that has plug, is hard wired into the house electrical system, uses a battery, uses natural gas, uses gasoline, etc. Chemical energy in the form of eating doesn’t count (so our human-powered push mower is not on the list). 🙂 This exercise always awes me, although since we keep a detailed inventory it’s not as dramatic as the first time I did this exercise.

Last time I did this I was living alone, was just a year out from getting my masters degree, and was still in the final throes of getting out of debt from grad school. My device count was 43 items. This time I’m married, living in a larger house, and have accumulated a lot of stuff in the intervening years. The device count is more like 127 items. The size of the list doesn’t shock me. I actually thought it would be higher. Since I have a love affair with spreadsheets my list is in a spreadsheet with columns for item, room, type (battery, hard-wire, etc), and usage frequency. Over the next month I’ll be adding numerical data for the amount of electricity used.

What’s your device count?

Posted August 2, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, home