Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014, year of Growth

A year ago I was sitting on this couch at my parent's house wondering whether my plans to move to the land of Enchantment were going to come through, or if I would have to scrape together a backup plan. Now, a mere 365 days later, I almost feel like a different person, sitting now a year into what I was dreaming and imagining for myself. When I sat here a year ago, along with the questions of the future, I had a feeling- a feeling that it was going to be a big year of growth, not just for me but for my family. But it is myself that I will reflect upon in my annual review of the year.

2014!

States I've breathed the air in: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas.
Achievements: Climbing my first 14ner! Becoming a resident in New Mexico! Getting hired for the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico! My 3rd delightful year at 'The Gulch'! Changing my status from "single" to "domestic partnership" on official documents.
Passing Excitements: Getting free and discounted organic food from the co-op due to Amil's employment. Wrote and entered a 10 page screen play to a competition (results in February...). Designed and submitted a collage for an illustration competition (which I didn't get)

I saw more movies this year than I probably saw in the last 3 or 4 years combined.
  • Hanna (not bad)
  • Chocolat (cute!)
  • Blue Jasmine (interesting)
  • Elysium (eh..)
  • Prisoners (ugh...great movie, but not my type)
  • Spirited Away (oh wow. also not my type, but fun)
  • The Hobbit 2 (looking forward to the last one!)
  • Lego Movie (EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!)
  • Water for Elephants (Wonderful!)
  • Being John Malcovich (weird!)
  • Home (we're Screwed)
  • Human Stain (<3)
  • Malefecent (in theatres! good ending)
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2 (cute!)
  • The Giver (not bad!)
  • Flight (ugh. dumb)
  • Georgia O'Keefe (inspiring!)
I achieved my reading goals of 1 book a month! (Although perhaps next year I should specify page numbers.) I thought I wasn't going to make it in those months of working 10 days straight, but I made up for it in these slow winter months. Oh, and not having a job for the first two months helped, too. Looking back, maybe I should keep my same goal for next year.

1- Dirt, the Erosion of Civilizations (Very scholarly, tough read)
2- Sand, the never ending story (Fascinating, inspiring, quotable)
3- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Young adult, a reread)
4- Here on Gilligan's Isle (Fascinting in a fun way. easy read)
5- Frozen in Time (Audio book whilst traveling to NM)
6- Tree Ring's Tale (Kids science, easy read, but inspiring)
7- The Kindness of Strangers, the life of Tennessee Williams
8- Freaking Green (Young adult, for book club)
9- El Nino, Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather Maker (informative, not too compelling)
10- Green Glass Sea (young adult)
11- An Orchard Invisible (fascinating)
12- The Red Hourglass, Lives of Predators (interesting)
13- White Sands, Red Menace (young adult)
14- My First Love (Short story)
15- Darwin, Portrait of a Genius (audiobook)
16- Ocean of Air (best book of the year for sure!)
17- Small Wonder, Essays by Barbara Kingsolver
18- Henry Miller- Tropic of Cancer (made me lose faith in the good ol' classics)


So all in all, 2014 was a year of...growth. I felt that I came into adulthood a lot more this last year than I did by turning 18, or 21, or graduating college, or having my first job.
With that said, I look forward to 2015 as a year of (relative) stability. Thus, as I set my expectations/resolutions/and goals at this excellent turning point, I expect that living in one place will greatly improve my chances of achieving my goals. Rather than list all my goals and resolutions, here's my mantra for the year.
Be the Be(a)st you can Be!  Emphasis on BEING, existing, and on the Beast. I hope to work toward a personal beast mode, which involves slaying the beast inside, and not giving into a lot of those little urges.

I hope to be at least a little more consistent with my blog this year, including a few buzzfeedesque picture lists, because I'm a little obsessed with them (lists and visual learning = love).

I hope that everyone reading this is enjoying a start to a new year with the people they love and a warmth in their heart.



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Austin


Austin, coming home to you is like returning to a lost lovers arms.
the embrace is always warm, except those chilly months when your mood turns bitter cold, and my mind runs to the warmer days.
Whenever I return,  your hot breath surrounds me. Your energy of love buzzes around me and rattles my heart into action. Alas, when I return to you, whether I am walking among your enormous prickly pear and fertile-smelling oak leaves or sitting scrunched up on a sofa with book in hand and chai tea in the other, watching unique patrons pass by, I find myself in a state of utter bliss, rivaled by no others.
Austin, you took my creative virginity, and introduced me to possibilities I had never dreamed. You dared me to rebel against the systems holding me back, and then pushed me away to experience alternative systems, somewhere else. Through you I met passion, relaxation, angst, organization and anarchy. You introduced me to other lovers I would also leave behind, but gave me the courage to come back.Austin- In you I found the strongest love I’ve ever felt, making me for the first time afraid of my mortality.

But then you changed. I guess we all changed. Austin,  lover in my younger years, no longer did the simple strangeness satisfy you. You grew more popular, requiring larger parties to satisfy your taste, and leaving me and my possibilities to the wayside.
Austin you showed me a place I had only dreamed of, but then you filled it up before I got there.
There’s no doubt I am who I am because of you, Austin. I’ve grown the most away from you, but I couldn’t have done it without your loving embrace from the beginning, that always finds me when I return.

Nuts about the Holidays

In my last post, I waxed on all my feelings about giving this Christmas, but now that the special day has just passed, I want to admit and show-off the gift that most of my family received.
It's local, it's practical, it's handmade, and it's taken me about 30 hours to put together.

Pecans. (Pronounced Puh-kahns).
Pecan trees are the state tree of Texas New Mexico..so as a symbol of my growing love for this state, my everlasting appreciation for you in my life, and my evolving fascination with local fresh foods, I give you...Pecans.
As you enjoy these pecans, my hope is that you keep some things in mind.
1) These grew right out my window
in an orchard of about 20 pecan trees, that was planted sometime around 1950. We believe that this is the northernmost pecan orchard in the state, and perhaps the country (at least the highest elevation!) which (along with the year they were planted) may account for the small size of the nut.
 
These pecans are not only a delicious, nutritious snack for humans, but their long-standing presence has attracted a large following of crows that hang out and get their fill for a few weeks surrounding Thanksgiving. We imagine that they've been doing this for decades.
Pecans are also treats for families of all shapes and sizes that come out with containers of equally varying measurements to collect their nut needs for the winter. How wonderful to share such a nutritious resource with so many people, but what's in it for the tree?
 
Nuts are seeds. So the tree produces them hoping they will be delicious enough to be carried away and eaten by animals, or buried for the winter. The tree is banking on some of these seeds to be forgotten. In the case of an orchard, that rarely happens. I've combed through these fields pretty good, and anything that was left was likely caught by the crows.
 
(While writing this, I discovered that Pecans are not technically nuts but drupes, like other members of the Hickory family, which have a stone or pit surrounded by a husk).
In addition to being sweet and buttery, Pecans are a good source of manganese, protein and unsaturated fats.


So, what does it take to make pecans? Lots of water. The field these pecan trees sit in is slightly lowered, and was flooded several times throughout the year with water from the acequia on our property (a series of connecting canals that carry river water and snow run off from the mountains through distant fields and then back to the Rio Grande). In addition to water, they need ample sunlight, which they get plenty of in Albuquerque, and nutrients--which are returned to the soil through the dense Canada goose poop that so frequently covers the ground.

Once the nuts fall, which aligned with the first frost in mid-November, I started collecting. At first it was slim pickins...but eventually I couldn't walk a straight line without filling my pockets with every pecan I saw. I started noticing bigger ones, especially from the trees nearest the acequia. As soon as I had a good collection, I set up my workshop.
 
2. Shelling pecans takes a lot of time! After sending the first batch to a couple of families, I started filling my containers all over again. In the course of about two weeks, I came awfully close to my goal of 1,000 pecans, spending a total of almost 24 hours shelling. And the result was a little depressing. What I hoped would fill the tummies of many family members, turned into just a taste for the half dozen of you that get the gift.

 
Watching people unwrap my meager bag of nuts next to a monsterous box of  store-bought goods made them seem a bit unfit for a Christmas gift...but my hope is that when the holiday crazy subsides, each of my relatives will have a moment to savor the flavor, the protein, and the richly packed nutrients within this nut... In this time of absolute abundance, I hope that we can take time to appreciate the energy and amazement provided around us.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas with a 'Capital' C

I officially reached that point of Christmas scroogy-ness about 3 days ago. I had thought I'd take a nice solo trip around the very local, very New Mexico "Old Town" shopping center, and just browse the hand-made gifts. By the 20th store I went into, still having bought nothing but $2.00 worth of gimmicky candy and piece of chocolate to round the price up to credit limit, I began to feel bleak.
I compared this feeling of being compelled to partake in Christmas commerce with that nauseous feeling that comes after trying to devour too large a piece of homemade chocolate ganache cake. It looks so delicious at first, and it's homemade, so you can TASTE the love in it, which practically justifies the large slice sitting in front of you. But after the first 15 bites, your teeth start to curl, your stomach churns and you try to remember the last time you at this much sugar, butter, cream, and flour in one sitting. You force down the last 7 bites, trying to savor it but silently promising yourself to never, ever eat another piece of cake, even if it is homemade. (Really though, does this happen to anyone else?)

Showing off our Christmas goodies

In other words, I started feeling really overwhelmed by all the crap around me. Yes all the pottery is beautiful and someone in my family would probably enjoy a pack of local spices, or a hand-painted mirror (at least the moment they opened it). But I found myself regretting the whole shopping experience.
Wasn't I the one just a few weeks ago touting* the entire Christmas experience. "I don't really celebrate Christmas" I explained to a friend at the beginning of the month. Winter Solstice is the holiday I truly align with. I don't even get my family presents. Though I appreciate the ones they get me."
While this is mostly true, I have in the past, made simple gifts for friends and family, and when I had to purchase something, made sure it was practical, like a planner, or a bag or tea. The whole idea of buying something just because the holiday tradition compels you to was completely beyond me, and yet here I was looking at my list and brainstorming what to get those last few people.

Clearly, at some point between the beginning of the month and this middle month period, I was attacked by the Holiday Spirit. Part of it probably came as we decorated our tumbleweed tree, or put up lights around the house (we kept intending to move them outside for others to enjoy, but we loved them so much that they've stayed indoors, draped from the rafters around the living room). Another part came as I discovered Christmas stations on Spotify (which itself is a new toy for me), and then again as I found the long lost Christmas CD's my mother has made me for the last 2 years (because I seem to lose them every year).
Proud of our NM/X-masy thrift store clothes

But now I sit here, Christmas filling me like that homemade cake, making plans for how to savor the actual holiday which in my mind begins on my flight home on Monday. Part of my over-saturation is likely because I haven't had much work to do. This is my slow season, and the more I force myself to sit back and enjoy the recooperation time, the more I look forward to those family-surrounded moments in the state I grew up in.
Despite all my personal opinions and situations, I think there's something deeper that distracts us from the Christmas message. This isn't the icing on the cake, it's the highly refined white flour that makes up the cakes interior, which is disguised by fancily decorated icing. That flour is the very thing America is abundant of...capitalism. (An interesting article on Holidays and capitalism can be found here).
This year, even more than in the past, I have seen spikes of optimism followed by checks of reality. Living in this new city has propelled that. I talk to teachers, landscape managers and active citizens walking or running through the park, and I am inspired by a clear up-and-coming paradigm shift toward communities (not communism...) and away from the downward spiral that our nation is based upon.
But then I travel downtown, or I get pulled into a whole Foods or a Michaels, and I'm dumbfounded by the shelves of identical crap that is exactly the same as the crap on shelves on the other side of town, the other side of the state, and across the country. It quickly become clear that a paradigm shift is going to take a long time, as people's habits are fixated on want, on acquiring and buying...all thanks to our capitalism.
I think I have safely let the cake pass through my system...and am ready for another dose... the usual pre-new year promise that this will be my last. As I approach Christmas I plan to make the most of each moment, appreciating the family surrounding me, and trying to over look the mark that our unsustainable system leaves on everything around us (especially in my increasingly growing hometown). Even as I try this, the truth inside me will be begging for one Christmas wish to come true.
I spend my days trying to educate people about the world they live in. Whether I'm reading a book to help me explain the atmosphere, or designing a program for a group of pre-k students to get their hands in dirt, I am devoting my life to teaching people to make conscious decisions. Whether they are "good" decisions or "bad" decisions, whatever the repercussion...if only people could be educated about the decisions they make, I would live fulfilled.
So my Christmas wish is this; that everyone in this amazing America can make informed decisions in 2015...or at the least be educated about the consequences of their actions.
Since Santa isn't going to grant this, I guess I'll have to do it myself. More on those plans in 2015.
[For another inspring and interesting take on gift giving, check out Amy Reading's Anti-Capitalist guide to Holidays]

Friday, December 5, 2014

Holidays MY way

I think I mentioned in my last post that I've been doing Holidays a little different this year.
This year has created a lot of firsts for me. It's the first time I've lived in one place for 10 months since I lived at home in high school...It's the first time I've lived alone with my fiancé in a stand-alone house, without members of our community right next door. The other first's I'll save until my new years reflection post, but those two are important when it comes to holiday planning.
For the first time in my life, I have my own house, my own living room to decorate. As I saw photos of friends on Facebook, some as early as mid-November putting up Christmas trees and decking their halls, I started to wonder what I should do to celebrate.
Certainly there is a cause to celebrate. I don't feel a connection to the modern Christmas traditions, but December 21st is a very important day for me. The winter season, also being my slow work season, is a wonderful time to reflect, slow down, and sit with friends and sip hot beverages. Or explore the world around us while it moves toward dormancy.

I thought for days about how to create my own winter holiday traditions...one that had a touch of my favorite traditions growing up, but were more meaningful to me and in line with my environmental and ethical goals. As I passed trees I longed for the piney scent to be staged in my living room... but assured myself that I'd gather some branches the next time I make it to the forest nearby, and make a wreath. Eventually, as I was dragging a 5 foot tumbleweed out of the pecan orchard... I had an idea.

Long story short:
 
 
A tumbleweed Christmas tree. Aside from my paranoia of it being a fire hazard (so far so good), this completely sustainable 'tree' has been decorated with recycled materials that we've crafted over about a dozen combined hours, and potted with some local golden gravel. The best part to me is that at the end of the Holiday season...we can save the ornaments we want to keep, and toss the rest in the compost. I guarantee it will be broken down by Spring... AND nothing was killed to add some shimmer to our holiday season.
 
Mandatory popcorn garland- created from nightshade berries, rose hips, some type of black nut that grows outside our house, and popcorn.
 
Crafting crazy! But we got to try out our brand new exacto knives... an exciting day in the Landrum/Werr house. Cleaning up was half the battle.
 
I finally gave in to looking at pinterest... and the results were...fun.

Some planet cut-outs I made ages ago with a brand new angel...watching over them all.

Holidays shouldn't be about stress and holiday shopping. They should be about spending time doing what you love with the people you love. We're only 5 days into December, and I have spent hours with Amil crafting and creating. I'm looking forward to what the rest of the season will bring.
 


 
 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Final Countdown


Oh me, Oh my! How this year has flown by.

I can't believe I haven't posted since the first of last month, but there are a few reasons for that. The most heartbreaking is that I did indeed begin a blog post, to be punctuated with a plethora of pictures... but in a freak accident while uploading, I lost all the photos on my camera. So I'll have to paint a picture for your imagination.

Picture this: A perfect fall day, with enveloping blue skies, and slight crisp breeze rummaging through the harvest-colored leaves. Bright yellows, oranges and muted tans wave on the trees like flags saying, "fall is in full swing." On the ground below towering trees with crispy brown leaves drifting down in the breeze, are a couple of families with baskets, jugs, or just t-shirts, hunting for pecans amongst the short grass and goose poop. Before long, their containers are full, and a little one, around 6 years old, tries to lug it toward the car. At first I am a little upset, "Don't take all my pecans!" I think. But then I think to the growing collection in my house, and how tedious it has been to crack and shell them for gifts...and then I'm satisfied. How many parks-- free, open spaces, offer a bounty that's more nutritious than Easter eggs, but is gathered with the same excitement.



I am so proud to be a part of a space where people can come play, gather nuts, or take photographs, and I am blessed to be a part of it. Speaking of blessings…I’m sure that many were spoken this week around our country…

This week, when I sat down to dinner with friends and their families, and tried to express what I am Thankful for, I hesitated. A much shorter list are the things I am NOT thankful for (leaf blowers, corn syrup, and apathy at the top of the list...). The thanksgiving holiday was a mark of what I have achieved toward my sustainable and spiritual goals. Just as I was able to spend my Halloween creating meaningful traditions, I was able to share this holiday with people I love, learning about life and myself. Not only was the lentil loaf, Japanese squash and gluten free pomegranate stuffing part of a super nutritious feast, I was able to spend my holiday around new friends, and I had a LOT of laughs.

Having too much fun hiking in Cali.


Amil and I were noticing that most American holidays revolve around eating food, usually of the non-healthy variety, unlike religious holidays which revolve around fasting (often before a feast, but it's not a feast of candy, peeps, or cheesy potatoes...usually).

So as this final month of the year takes off, I’d like to reflect on the last month. I did indeed travel to California. It was strange being familiar but removed from an environment (including the community and the work). It was nice to be back among my favorite scenery and smells, but it gave me even more perspective of how much I love my current home. For the first time in a long time, I'm feeling the roots of my soul stretch out and the connections I'm making seem stronger. 

Snow on San G...not this year, buddy.

I also submitted my screenplay and my illustration, both a little closer to the deadline than I wanted. You can see my collage for the children's book on my E[art]h page. The screenplay will be my little secret. Unless I win.

For this final month, I have very little actual work to do... so I'm looking forward to working on some gifts, some knitting, making delicious food, and connecting with friends. And traveling back to Tejas, where I will hopefully tackle my growing list of once-in-a-year opportunities.

Since Christmas is the pinnacle of consumerism, I'll probably have a blog or two ranting about that. So be prepared. :) And stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Crafty Tales and Culinary Fails

I started my November off with some friends making Altars. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, but it wasn't until College that I began digging deeper into the Holiday's meaning. Mostly what I determined was that Halloween is yet another American excuse to spend money and eat food, that is twisted from some other culture's more spiritual gathering. Ever since reading about All Saint's Day and Day of the Dead, in which the dead are honored and remembered, I have wanted to be a part of a tradition that does that respectfully, but have not had the opportunity until now.
On Saturday a group of 7 or so gathered in my friends living room and shared pictures and stories of the loved ones that passed, adding their images to a beautiful altar.

Sunday morning we gathered again to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) with a small festival and parade in Albuquerque's South Valley. It might seem morbid to paint our faces like skulls, but it's all to honor those who have moved on from this world.

At this time of year when darkness seems to overcome the light, it makes sense to give thought to the darker parts of ourselves, and acknowledge the grieving we feel for those who have passed.

After the celebrations ended, I came back to my house to find another kind of death...tons of garden veggies on the edge of rotting away. As a result, I've been cooking up a storm and remembering how terrible I am at "wingin' it" when it comes to food.
 
I had this vision of a Broccoli-millet salad, similar to a broccoli pasta with an oily dressing, just like mama used to make. I over cooked the Millet though, and turned out with a millet mush. I did successfully blanche the Broccoli! But the result was less than satisfactory.
 
Amil had made a ton of carrot-tomato sauce with leftovers from trips and our Summer garden. Since we had a disproportionate amount left compared to the black bean pasta we had, I decided to try a casserole.
 
The result wasn't too bad....


Especially with some cashew cheese, Braggs liquid aminos and homemade crackers.

In effort to redeem my culinary confidence, I tried my hand at some protein bars I've made a couple times before. Of course, not wanting to get bored with an old recipe, and inspired by Cliff's Max Protein bars that I just can't get enough of, I had to overcomplicate it. I should have gone with my gut instinct to pour the chocolate first, then the crispies, then the protein mixture...
 
 
A delicious mix of dates, almond milk, protein powder, oat flour, coconut and fresh cracked pecans (it took me half an hour to crack 1/4 cup of them...but hey- they were free!)
 
 So, after spreading out the initial bars, and adding some crispy brown rice cereal, I tried to pour over some carob-coconut oil "chocolate," but I didn't make nearly enough and it was too thin, so the result was a disappointing drizzle of oily carob flavor. I tried to salvage it with some sunflower seed butter, but I over roasted the seeds, and didn't have nearly enough to cover it.
 The take away here is that I should have gone with my gut, to pour the chocolate first...but also that it's okay to make mistakes and deliver disgusting looking treats.
Cause as long as they taste good, or passable, then it was worth it. This certainly isn't a BAR that you could take on the go with you (note the fork), but it tasted darn good, and I know exactly what's in it.

 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

NO-vember


 
Welcome to a new month! Can't believe that 2014 is 5/6 over! But I'm ready for two really exciting things that are happening in the month of November.

Paganically, November is the first month of the winter quarter (in the natural year).  The first day of the month is Samhain (pronounced sow-ain), and All Saints day.  Until Yuletide, this is a time of increasing darkness, of awakening and letting go, when the seed falls to earth from its mother plant.
Interestingly, November was the ninth month on the Roman calendar, but the Anglo-Saxon name for November was Blatmonath, the month of sacrifice- the time for killing livestock that could not be kept through the winter month. In the Frankish tradition, it was Herbistmanoth, or “harvest month” also referring to the third harvest of animals.
From 13 November, the rune Nyd rules. This is the rune of necessity, urging us to accomplish the tasks we need to fulfill before the coming wintertime renders them impossible. Although I haven’t delved much into the philosophy of Runes, I identify with the need to get starts on projects before the fading light and cold weather requires caffeine to carry out any sort of activity. It’s with all this in mind, along with a break in usual business that has encouraged me to take on a couple of projects this month that promise to keep me quite busy.


 

Firstly, I’m hoping to put the NO in November, by eating NO sugar this month. I managed to do this for 12 days during a cleanse in August, but since I came off the cleanse away from my home, I had limited access to foods and slipped back into eating added (cane)sugar. This time I hope to push myself to go a whole month without added cane sugar on anything. I’ll allow myself agave and maple syrup this time (hoping to cut that out too next year) so I can satisfy my sweet tooth, but I’ll mostly be trying to eat fruits and natural sugars. I’ve cut out high fructose and regular corn syrup for the last few years, so this is my next big push…we’ll see how I do in a month trial.

To distract myself from the missing sweets that I’m sure I won’t really miss, I’m going to participate in National Novel writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I was introduced to NaNoWriMo in college, and dabbled for a few weeks in a novel of my own. After 2 or so weeks I only had about 1/10 of the expected 10,000 words, so I gave up. I tried another version of the same idea, for writing screen plays, and wrote a 50 page screen play. But the next year the organization that hosted the April-screen writing event closed down. Now I’m going to attempt to focus on a 10 page screen play for a New Mexico Women writers organization contest, but still use the NaNoWriMo forums and resources. Woo!
I'm also hoping to enter a collage into a contest for illustrators. I have no idea if it's what they're looking for or interested in, but I think it will do me some good to practice creating art for a contest, and to submit and all that. I'll be sure to post the final project.
Another event that's sure to keep me busy this month is a workshop I'm leading called Putting the Experience in Experiential Education. I have to write an article for it, too, so I'm probably post that up here soon.
I look forward to falling leaves and temperatures, chilly nights with warm beverages while typing or cutting/pasting away in our little Casita. This month also promises a little travel. I've booked a train to California to work for a week back in the San Bernardino Mountains. We might go up to Utah for Thanksgiving. And I hope to do a considerable amount of exploring around here. I look forward to some inward reflection time and some intentional events. I also have some fun ideas for blog posts, so stay tuned!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Climbing Mental Mountains


When is the last time you were challenged by something? I don’t mean a challenge the way that climbing a mountain or completing is a crossword is a challenge, but having your beliefs challenged. This month my beliefs and values, as well as the habits I’ve made of expressing those, were completely challenged. I learned a lot that I tried to express in blog several times, but it never came out right.

I gained a lot of perspective this month, as a result of these challenges. So often in my life I have been the one promoting eco-consciousness, environmental literacy and sustainable practices, that I had forgotten what it feels like to be confronted with those big, heavy ideas, when in a place of self-sustainability. I have become more conscious lately of how slow, though powerful education and knowledge are. I remember when I was growing up and we ran out of milk. As a cereal addict, I would obviously throw a tantrum if there wasn’t any milk to accompany my favored breakfast, usually resulting in someone taking me to the store. Often before my parents would concede the calmness of their morning and get the keys to drive me to the gas station, my mom would try to bargain with me. “But we have almond milk, and soy milk,” she would entice, showing me the cartons of shelf-stable milk, kept in the same cabinet as the cat food. “Yuck!” I would exclaim, trying not to imagine bean or nut juice being poured over my beloved Crackling Oat Bran. Although it took about a decade, the complete opposite is now true. After pouring some homemade granola at a friends house, I perused the fridge, looking right past the two cartons of cow-milk before deducing that there was "nothing" to pour on my granola. The thought of drinking milk from an animal is as stomach-turning to me now as bean juice was a decade ago, but it has taken almost half my life for that transformation to take place.
Nutrition is simply not something that is taught in schools, not successfully, anyway (in my opinion). After talking to several teachers about changes being made and programs offered to students, it seems that being taught how to eat is just not a priority. I was 20 before I started scrutinizing the food I put into my body. When I slip back to eating a Kit Kat or craving a donut, I have to remind myself that it took 20 years for me to learn and connect with these non-nutritious things and become familiar with them, and it's going to take me a long time to wean off of them and appreciate real wholesome foods that I didn't grow up acquainted with, like Kale.
Food is essentially trigger for my challenges this month. As a close friend started on Arnold Ehret's "the mucusless diet," which consisted of two meals a day of stewed veggies or stewed fruits, lots of fasting and frequent enemas to detox, I became increasingly torn with my own diet decisions. As he preached about the decadence of our American diets, informed by decades worth of research, I started feeling guilty for eating my Cliff Protein bar, a locally made burrito, or even a homemade salad. I felt like people probably do when I berate  them for driving a 4 door dodge ram 3500 as a commuter car. Its hard to give up vices for ethics. Especially when our vices are an engrained part of our everyday lives.
For weeks I struggled to defend my beliefs and actions. I realized that although their may be social, economical and health benefits to fasting more and eating less (but more nutrient-full), that adopting such a diet, and therefore a lifestyle would pull me out of social situations and circles where I could potentially benefit in other ways. I thought back to the days that I abhorred almond milk, when now I make my own, and considered how slow but permanent that change was. I started thinking about to the numerous changes that I have slowly made in the last 6 years. I haven't purchased a plastic water bottle since 2007. I have adopted a policy to not buy anything new unless absolutely necessary. I consolidate my travel plans and extrapolate my errands to reduce carbon emissions. I have made an abundance of changes to my everyday actions for causes other than my own interest, but they have taken time.
"It's too late to be a pessimist," Glenn Close's voice repeated at the end of the powerful documentary Home, but one thing that has been nagging at me is the juxtaposition between the permanence and speed of things like species extinction versus the permanence and slow speed of knowledge. I have dedicated my career to teaching people to think of our world as a system, and to analyze their involvement in the system, but so much of what I do, mostly because of limited time I have with students, is introduce them to the possibilities of the world around them. I can't in one week, or one day or one hour as is sometimes the case, present to them everything I have learned and understood to inform my decisions toward a more sustainable life. In the midst of our world being torn apart, I can simply encourage them to come on a hike and hope that the experiences we share will inspire a life of learning, that will maybe, over a decade, translate into some Earth-saving actions.
It's scary to think about that juxtaposition, but it IS too late to be a pessimist. All I can do is hope that if I reach enough people, act as a role model and myself continue to strive to make more sustainable changes, that this we can sustain life on this world, and live in harmony.
So that's my Halloween thought for the day. It may be scary but if you want a GOOD fright- you should watch a REAL horror flick like The Corporation or Home. Jason's got nothing on Monsanto.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Local Foods part Duex

 
 
This evening before my book club meeting, I thought I'd stroll through the park and pick up some apples to share. Afterall, this had been my habit for the last few weeks, and I always acquire at least four times the amount of apples that would actually be eaten, allowing me to bring a lot home. On my walk this afternoon, I was a little bummed to see my apple abundance waning, the dropped apples pretty picked over, and the pecans all carried away by the cohort of crows that stopped by this morning.
 
 
 
Alas, the season of plenty, of free food falling off the trees, is coming to an end. And though I have still been reaching for fresh apples, tomatoes and frozen grapes, the fruit flies gathering around my crate of tomatoes are a reminder that I've better get to work if I'm going to have any of this around in a month or two.

The easiest answer has been to make apple chips. In the winter time I use my oven as others would use a wood stove or a furnace. We only used the a/c four times this summer, and we hope to minimize the use of the heater this winter. One of my plans is to use the oven often to heat the house, while making delicious things. A couple mornings this week, I woke up and sliced some apples and tomatoes. I set the oven to 200 degrees, oiled the apple pan with coconut oil and the tomato pan with olive oil, arranged them on sheets so that as many could fit as possible, and popped them in. Oh, Amil made a delicious spice mixture for the apples that consisted of cloves and cinnamon and maybe some salt.
About an hour into the drying, I flip them so they don't get stuck. I think it took another hour or two before I would just turn the oven off and leave them to dry out for a few hours. The result is apple chips that are crunchy and flavorful, and tomato chips that are also crunchy and taste a little of apples. :)
I also utilized my oven time and space by throwing in some granola: 2 cups oats, 2 tablespoons agave nectar, 1 cup coconut, 2 tablespoons carob powder and by happy accident: 2 tablespoons of savory blend flax/hemp seed mix. The garlic and parsley in the mix gave the granola a distinctive and interesting flavor that really makes it. As Tina Fey would say, there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents.


I also made simple pickles with a bunch of cucumbers we had. I cut them into spears and slices and shoved them into any jar I could find with a mixture of garlic, fennel, pepper, and red pepper flakes (I didn't have dill). I covered them with a mixture of 1.5 tablespoons salt for 1 quart of water, let them sit in my pantry for 3 days, and now am storing them in my fridge for 6 weeks. This form of pickling (true pickling, not using vinegar) is called lactofermentation, and results in some beneficial probiotics. The downside is that you can get mold on your pickles once you open them unless you keep them covered. I'm excited to see how mine turn out.

Later this week I'm going to attempt to make ketchup. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coming Back HOME

Hello World! I would like to first explain the brief hiatus I've taken from this blog. It is certainly not for lack of content for my world has sort of been turned...on it's side at least...in the last few weeks. I simply haven't written because I have far too much to write about. Trust me, I'm still overanalyzing everything. :)
So, to remedy that, here's a simple post that arches over many of the little topics that have been on my mind.

Last night Amil and I and two friends watched the movie Home. This familiar movie, released in 2009, covers the highlights of human culture from the forming of the world, to the birth of agriculture to our current adjustments to the environment. This is a non-profit movie created with the intent to be free, with the hopes that it would reach as many people as possible in this crucial time. In this 1.5 hour movie, almost every subject from my freshman Environmental Science class was mentioned, as well as facts from the books Dirt and El Nino that I've recently finished. Although it was sort of preaching to the choir for me, I don't think I will every reach the point where this information doesn't shake me, move me and inspire me to do even more. At the very least, seeing these stark examples of farmers in Africa contrasted with tractors running in America gives perspective on the immense diversity of this beautiful blue ball, while showing the similarities we all deal with.
I think this movie should be required viewing for every person in this country, and many other developing country. You can't deny the facts presented in this but to live without knowledge of them is purely denying our human truth. That's like ordering the extra large chocolate-dipped Mr. Softee and thinking there are no calories simply because they're not printed on the little piece of paper that's wrapped around the cone.
Here's what I took away from watching the movie last night.  
     
      Actions I'm taking as an American Consumer that I'm proud of:
  1. Eating locally (from our work garden, from friend's gardens, from our backyard, or from the co-op)
  2. Eating write-off produce and products that would otherwise be thrown away, planning careful use of the food we have so we throw away minimal food.
  3. Buying used! With the exception of a mattress pump I bought with a gift card in a desperate situation, I can honestly not remember the last time I bought a product new. Since moving to a new place in February, I've purchased all of our needs from local thrift stores, or received them from friends- everything from ice cube trays to Guitars.
  4. I combine all my errands into one trip to minimize driving time. We own one car and are challenging ourselves to only use one tank of gas a month. We ride our bike/roller blade as much as possible, and sometimes pass on events that are happening too far away.
  5. I make my own toothpaste, shampoo, and deodorant at a super low cost.

Actions I'm planning to work on more in the future (starting today!) because the planet doesn't have time for me to procrastinate.

  1. Reducing my habit of gluttony. My life has always revolved around food, and I'm trying to learn how to eat what I need, and not just eat for fun. My best friend is researching and practicing sun-eating, and eating a mucus-free diet (he'll have a blog about it soon!), and is overwhelming me with facts about how little we actually need to eat. Overeating is a trained habit, but an unnecessary one.
  2. Continue striving to live simply and sustainably: enjoy the simple moments like sunrise/sunset and live without Kindles and phoneApps and similar distractions.
  3. Get more involved in my community: be a big sister and a mentor.

Let me know if you've seen the movie (and everyone should!) and what it inspires within you. Continue making changes to support our planet and be sure to take time each day to think about how the planet is supporting you.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Success is Sweat

"We did it," said CJ around 10:30pm, as we arranged some things in the office before retiring for a well earned night's sleep. We had just returned from a debrief of a 6 day 5 night trip with 18 students from Poland. The itinerary included a trip to the Grand Canyon, our Base Camp, Chaco Canyon and the property of a company-friend where we often stay in exchange for some labor.
"We're crazy," I uttered, thinking back on the emotionally, physically and mentally draining week that was intertwined with incredible rewards that would only make sense to the 4 of us working the trip.
"Yea-" she started to say, catching herself. "No, people who go to the same place every day are crazy."
"yeah!" I added, "People who wake up and sit in traffic for hours every morning and afternoon to stare at their cubicle walls are crazy!" We laughed.
The next night I found myself chatting with another worker about the tradeoffs of a job like this.
"What did we do to get a job that makes us happy?" he quizzed? "We sweat. A lot" I responded.

"It takes a lot of sweat, though." He paused, reflecting in his head. "a LOT of sweat." His implication was that it almost isn't worth it. At this point of the year, coming off a busy spring, an insanely busy summer, and a sporadically busy fall, it's not unusual for people in this line of work to start envisioning themselves in an autumn wonderland-- a time when they can rock climb without belaying 11 years-olds, hike without being so distracted by asking 20 children to put on sunscreen that you forget it yourself, and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors with love in actual silence, not the shuffling and scraping sounds that come after begging the group for a few silent moments.
I have found myself looking forward to the fall for several weeks now, only to remind myself to wait and appreciate those sun-soaked days. I have a growing list of projects I'm looking forward to do when I'm not working, but I know that after a week and a half of home-bound projects and crafting, I'll be itching to explore outdoors, and wishing I had a company vehicle and a group of wide-eyed 12 year olds to teach to. Maybe a month and a half for that.
This last week was a wonderful way to cap off an exciting year in Outdoor Education. For one, I think I learned at least as much as I taught, but probably more. I learned about my personal needs, and different styles of teaching for people of different cultures. I saw my first wild Tarantula and held my first bat!. I learned a few words in Polish, as well as Polish eating and working habits.
At one moment I sat with my head in my hands, wondering how on earth I could teach them to respect our equipment, because nothing I had done had convinced them yet. On the verge of tears I pondered other jobs, and wondered how many people reading this have cried in their last month or two at work. But then I wondered how many people get to see complete transformations at their jobs. I saw a girl who has never washed a dish in  her life, completely do her dishes without any nagging. I saw a teacher give in to our traditions, and a peer acknowledge their occasional hard-headedness. Perhaps it's the exhaustion of hauling 30 lb water jugs around, waking up early to cook and staying up late to plan, or the beauty and openness of the wilderness around us, but these breakthroughs offer an overwhelming reward. Hearing a Polish child ask for a songbook so they can sing cowboy songs when three days ago they were begging to hear their American playlist in the vans is just one of those moments when you know that it IS worth it. I'd sweat buckets for those moments. and I do. :)



I have one more trip of blood, sweat and tears, and all the passion I can muster before I get to collapse into my firm bed and blog away the autumn. I'm looking forward to these last 3 days of the year, spending the nights in my paradise, and sharing whatever teachable moments I can to anyone who will listen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What are you Wining About? Taking Local Food to a New Level



This morning I thought I would be nice and chop up some salad for Amil’s lunch, since he’s doing me a favor and picking up some things downtown. I chopped up some co-op cabbage (that’s on its last leg, but somehow still delicious despite buying it almost three weeks ago) and some farmers market tomatoes (that Amil had bought as green tomatoes, but they reddened up in our basket). Once I had a nice pile of chopped veggies, I reached for our usual salad bowl. It wasn’t there. I looked all around before I remembered where I saw it--outside with 50 or so peach pits in it, the result of Amil’s latest alcohol-making endeavor. 

Although there are still pieces of peach stuck to our floor, the three large buckets of fermenting peach goodness seems promising. At the very least, I’m impressed by his motivation to take a 35lb box of squishy peaches from the co-op (which he marked with a sign claiming, “I’m makin’ Hooch!”) and turn it into something, even if it ends up as a mere experiment. I too, had dreams of making stuffed grape leaves, or even jam, but they haven’t come into fruition. It’s partly because I haven’t had a chunk of time I deem appropriate for collecting, smashing, canning, etc., but it’s also because I haven’t invested in the tools necessary. I did buy some awesome looking low-sugar pectin! But no jars, no pot big enough to get the jars, and not one of those things to get the jars out of the hot water. I think I’m making it out to be more than it should be, all the while I’m resolving that next year, I WILL do something with our grapes, apples, etc. At the very least, I want to make apple cider vinegar out of all the fallen apples in the orchard. Hopefully as autumn blows in, we’ll have a large batch of pecans to figure out what to do with. But I know I don’t need special  tools for that. Some salt, spices, and a nut cracker!

The real point of this blog was to highlight the funky-smelling, burping, massive glass containers that are sitting in the middle of our kitchen/living room. (photo coming soon). This was Amil’s first project with the grapes growing in our backyard (other than over cereal, or in Chickpea salad, or laying them along the adobe to dry out into raisins). Amil has been hanging out with some new friends from the Wine Making club of Albuquerque, who have offered to bring their supplies over and donate some materials to make wine. Another friend he made makes strawberry brandy and the like, so Amil’s been calling him about what to do with 35 lbs of peaches.
I was out of town when Bill came over with his grape crushing machine, as they harvested, smashed, stirred, poured and combined yeast with the grapes, but the evidence is all around our house. There’s smushed grapes on almost everything, and a big pile of grape innards past our fence, but the best thing is these two bubbling jugs of what will someday be wine. After just a week of bubbling, Amil made a careful pour of the chalky-tan substance, and gave it a whiff.

“Smells like wine!” *slow sip* “tastes like it, too!” I sniffed along for good measure. Indeed, it smelled like red wine, despite its color and texture. We’re on the right path.
Our grapes have been sweetening up for about a month, and in that time we’ve had dozens of people take impressive amounts home with them for their own wine adventures. I’m encouraged by their promises of bringing us a bottle, knowing that if ours doesn’t taste great, we’ll have at least a few others on hand. 
More updates on the local food front coming soon. In the meantime, I'm off to Philmont to deliver a workshop, then out to the Grand Canyon with a group of students from Poland. Never a dull moment. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A day in the Life


I really do feel like I have the best job in the world.
Today, I got to take 48 Montessori students (1st, 2nd and 3rd grade) on a 3 mile hike to a beautiful vista at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

While driving there, some of the usual environmental concerns popped into my head.
'Would it be more efficient for us to have newer vehicles? Or is it good that we maintain our old vehicles so that we don't have to use new resources?'
'Could the kids get the same experience from something closer, cutting our driving time and fuel use down?'
...etc.
Overall, I think that we do a pretty good low-impact outdoor experience, and that impact is made up for by the positive impact I see our excursions having on the students.

The day was full of funny things kids say, like "Aw, how sad, some people died" as we passed the cemetery, or one kid telling the other that he is not a mature 2nd grader. And there were some tears as we neared the top and they couldn't get their little legs to lift up those big rocks anymore. But the highlight for me came from about .5 mile into the hike. We were stopped at an oak tree, examining the acorns, when I pulled off a gall

(like this, but orange)
 
and asked them what they thought it was. I had them pass it around to confirm that it was something squishy, which was one of the items we needed for our scavenger hunt. Then I opened the top and showed them the inside. The same little girl who I had talked to about having a positive mental attitude, and had expressed that you don't know how much you like something until you try, said "WOW! I LOVE hiking! I want to do this more often." Later she told me she wanted to do this at least once a month.
It was her who had the most struggles going up, and despite the fact that sometimes she said she was a "tough cookie" as she took another step, other times she said she couldn't make it.
I made a deal that if she made it to the top, I'd carry her backpack back down....and guess what? She made it to the top. She was so proud, she carried her own backpack down (as I suspected she would).

Her mother thanked me for my "interaction with [her] daughter" at the end of the trip, but the pleasure was all mine. Even if she was the only kid to feel like this was a wonderful experience, and that hiking and exploring and breathing fresh air is something that she wants to do regularly, I feel we succeeded. But I imagine we sparked a bit of interest. And we get to take the group out again in October.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Calculating your Carbon Footprint


The whole reason I started this blog is because I believe I’m pretty environmentally conscious, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who thinks through the repercussions of certain actions. That said, I feel like my carbon footprint has greatly increased upon moving to the city. I’ve justified it mostly by telling myself that the work I do connecting students to nature and getting them thinking about water conservation and electricity use is worth the energy expended, but it’s time to put some science to that thought.
I just read a delightfully fun book by local author Laura f. Sanchez, called Freaking Green. We are thinking about having this be our kick-off book to start off our state-wide book club for environmental educators, or environmentally minded people. The premise of the book is that a teenage girl’s life is turned upside down when her great aunt dies and requires that the family cut their carbon footprint by 80% if they are to inherit her estate. Although there were plenty of tacky-teenage bits, I feel that a lot of people could relate to this book, just like I did. What I really hope is that if teachers require this reading for students, they follow up with a project to see how much of their carbon footprint they could decrease. Inspired by the book, I decided to estimate my own carbon footprint since I moved to Albuquerque 6 months ago.
I did a google search for Carbon Footprint Calculators, and found the following two most helpful:
 This quick and easy test gives you a basic idea of how many tons of carbon your actions produce every year, while giving you the option to donate to the Nature Conservancy (my favorite place to donate!) to "offset" your carbon footprint. My number was 18 tons, which is less than the us average of 27 tons, but far greater than the world average of 5.5 tons. WOW. This is why I love numbers.
The Ecological Footprint Quiz has some fun background music and a cute little interactive scene. I like that it asked more specific questions, but still left a few things out (they asked how much I drive, but not what kind of vehicle).
Here's a nice little graphic of my results.
I'm curious how the results differ from this time last year, when Amil and I were living in a 5th wheel trailer in the San Bernardino mountains, right after having traveled across the country and back to visit family for a month.  But I don't remember enough details to take the full test.
What really inspired this entry was not the book I read, which led me into some fascinating research, but a comment that an old friend made, asking if me living in Albuquerque was “sustainable” since I preach eco-friendly living, but am living in a desert. I retorted that I live along the river and the water we use to flood the pecan trees and water the grass comes from the acequias. I do my part to conserve water around the house, too, taking seldom showers, and washing dishes with one bucket-full of water that we then broadcast onto the trees outside (we use a biodegradable soap called Miracle 2, that Amil could write more about).

One thing I love about this city is how environmentally friendly it seems. The recycling bin is as big as the trash bin (although it doesn’t get picked up as frequently), which I can’t say about our service in Texas. The city as a whole is incredibly water conscious, with a noticeably large amount of xeriscaped lawns and lots of reclaimed water sprinkler systems. I've read through lists of 'the most sustainable or eco-friendly cities in the US', but just like with the Footprint calculators, they leave a lot of things out. I'm going to continue to search for how sustainable Albuquerque is, but in the meantime, I'm still casting my dishwater on my plants.  
I

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rants and Raves


Have you ever seen something that makes you want to scream, pull out your hair and fall to your knees crying? I feel that I have gotten pretty good at pushing through the day-to-day (though it’s never) routine glossing past things that make me want to stop and scream at someone, but sometimes those things need to be addressed. My sweetie told me today that I do a good job of expressing those feelings in a calm way. He attributed my love for science as a way for me to express the problems I have seen and felt in the world with facts. For example, something happened today that made my heart jump out of my chest, my stomach tie in knots and my blood pump furiously throughout my body. So what did I do? I opened up my computer and typed out the following letter to some of my sort of supervisors.
Good morning ____ and ____,
I am back to our sweet little home, and jumping back into weeding, cleaning, and planning for programs. I’m writing to you now to bring to light a situation that greatly pains me here at B.
This weekend Amil and I spent about 6 hours weeding around caretakers, the driveway, and the grapes, in hopes that it would tame some of the most ferocious weeds, like the goatheads and
​ amaranth. ​
Since taking this job I have developed a strong curiosity toward weeds, thinking about focusing on weeds for my Master Naturalist project, when the time comes for me to enter that program. I have been looking at courses at UNM or online to teach me more about weeds, which I also studied a fair amount this summer. 
I say all of this because I want you know that I am passionate about keeping this space beautiful, but doing it in a way that correlates with our mission to connect people with the outdoors. This morning, as happens almost every week, ____,
​who works relentlessly to keep this place maintained
, was seen spraying around our house with a gas-mask on, being sure to stay far away from the poison he was pouring on the plants along our driveway. This chemical is covering the plants that we spend hours weeding with our gloved hands, and is likely the culprit for killing the bumble bees I have seen on multiple occasions writhing and wrenching as them chemical pours through their body before rendering them useless to their hive. We watched as he rounded the house, as we were making breakfast with the windows open, wondering if we’ll remember which patches got sprayed when we go out to remove them.

My main frustration with watching him spray these plants, is that these are plants like grass that I purposely left in place, spending my hours instead to pull the more dangerous weeds. As I mentioned, I am still learning about the weeds in New Mexico, but I do know that of the three classes of weeds, only things like goatheads, Bull Thistle, and bindweed are a direct threat to our lands. The other “weeds” have important jobs like habitats for ants and termites (whose colonies allow more water to be absorbed into the ground, at a rate 10 times that of compacted soil, thereby decreasing erosion), and holding onto the dirt to prevent it from blowing away in our strong spring gusts. In my opinion, anything that is able to grow away from our carefully maintained drip-irrigation and is not hazardous to the landscape or the humans or animals that come to visit Bachechi, should be given a chance.
I understand if this belief is not in line with the county’s mission in landscape maintenance, but I hope that you will at least consider preventing the spraying of chemicals around the parking lot and house, where almost every person and pet that come here spend time walking or sniffing around. I would love to live in a place where landscaped plants and wild plants can live in harmony, especially in an Open Space like this.
I appreciate you taking the time to hear this, and any conversations that come up as a result of this plea.
Thanks for all that you do,
Cass and Amil
I neglected Amil's advice to wait it out, and send it when I was calmer, insisting that it would make me calmer to get my feelings out in the open. (In hindsight, the whole thing seems so silly I hesitated to put it down here, but I had already written half this blog in the heat of the moment, and it seemed a good ...example). After sending it, and biking as fast as I could do the office to take up my boss's suggestion that I weed over there, where it will be very appreciated (despite the fact that I had been weeding for a least an hour a day in both places-- talk about killer glutes!), I did feel better. But part of that time was spent weeding to Johhny Truant and Iron Maiden. Nothing like some good aggressive plant pulling to calm you down.
I also felt a little silly ranting to my boss. She asked if some of the weeds we left behind were non-native-- a question that I surprisingly hadn't thought of. I'm sure that some of them are not native, and that's another thing I want to learn about the plants around here, but that question proved to me that in my haste of anger, I didn't think through the whole situation.
I must also say that I received a very kind response from one of my very favorite supervisors. This is the woman in charge of our contracts, who brought her boyfriend out on a Friday to help fix our dishwasher, and suggested some great workshops for Amil to focus on his spirituality. She gave me the link to a farm tour happening today that I could check out to get more information. I am constantly impressed at how damn cool everyone in this town is.
 

So, now that the frustration is past... I’m curious—what gets you upset to the point of action? Do environmental problems (like people driving cars unnecessarily, or consistently “forgetting” to put recyclables in the recycling bin) get you enraged? And would actually screaming at people convince them of your passion and inspire them to make a change? Or is there another solution (like making a graph of the pollution they’re creating, and offering ways to change)? Or do social problems typically move you- like seeing a man begging for food on the side of the road? Or animal cruelty- like watching someone kick their dog. What moves you to action? And what action do you, or would you take?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back from the wild

It has been two full weeks since I've returned to my new favorite city from a program in which I was fully immersed in the beauty of nature.
For 10 wonderful weeks I got to eat, sleep, and smell the things I believe in, that keep me going: community, nature, and personal growth through education and life skills.

The first night back, I busied myself with unpacking--settling back into a space that my partner had reinvented for himself for the last two months. I watched the sun set, then hesitated to turn on the lights... a luxury I hadn't had at my fingertips in weeks. As I waited for Amil to come home from work, I sat outside...and cried. I remembered coming back from my first over-night summer camp experience when I was probably 12. After the week-long camp had ended, my mom picked me up but dropped me off at the house and went back to work. I remember wandering from room to room hearing the echoes of laughter, feeling the warmth of the sun, and the tracing through the winding labyrinths of paths in my mind. Eventually I plopped on the couch and turned on the TV so I wouldn't be so alone-- and I cried.

If I had one word to describe my summer, it would be community. More than in other temporary jobs I have travelled through in the last 4 years, there is a strong sense of community at this little camp in Northwest New Mexico. Although I have met and left hundreds of people in my past jobs, I always had Amil to help me with the transition. He didn't always start at the same time, enabling me to get to know people with my own personality first, but when it came time to leave, we would always get in the car, or board the train toward our next adventure, with memories of our friends in our collective brains, waiting to be brought up again down the road.
Although he knows a lot of the people I worked with this summer, and he came out to visit a couple of times, I feel that I was able to create much stronger bonds this summer, for a variety of reasons. One reason might be that he wasn't with me, and my social attentions were spread farther. Another is that, as my third year with this company, I was able to spend more time getting to know the other people around and filling in the gaps of the little jobs that were left to be done. I really enjoyed this position.

But now that I'm back, I'm bracing myself for a busy fall season, but making time to reflect on the things I've learned and the habits that were reinforced this summer.
I have some great ideas for upcoming blogs, but I wanted to say Hello, and I'm back...so get ready. Also, I'm using a new blog server...we'll see how that goes.

I'll leave you with a little ditty I wrote mid-summer.

The Last
 
When was the last time you sung a song in front of others but along with them, with all the passion you have?
When was the last time you spoke your feelings and 40 people listened?
When was the last time you got so engrossed in a project that hours flew by without your noticing?
When was the last time you hiked up to your bed by moonlight or slept on the ground under a blanket of stars?
When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurts, and learned something about yourself in the same conversation?
When was the last time you had another being in your hands and examined it up close?
When was the last time the beauty of a landscape moved you to tears, or a hug from a friend came at just the right time?
or watched the sun rise and set in the same day?
These pleasures all occurred to me today, and are likely to happen again tomorrow.