autumn days

Friday, December 31, 2010

Is that recyclable?

Dear Hannah,

We've always been proud to recycle as much as we can.  As a teenager I taught my parents how to recycle.  You love to put the recycling into the bins and also to pull things out for your creative art projects.  You know how to put all the paper and plastics into the containers.  Lately I have been thinking through the process of recycling, thanks again to Colin Beavan's book No Impact Man.  What I put into the recycling bin surely goes to a recycling facility, but do my discarded goods actually get turned into new products?  I am beginning to think not.

Plastic is a sticky subject.  From what I've heard, most of our plastics don't appear to be recyclable, from small containers to all lids, regardless of their recycling numbers).  And the more plastic is recycled, the more toxic it becomes.  That means two things.  We need to decrease the plastic products we purchase and then have to find a purpose for our non-recyclable plastics and other wastes.  I have been saving my clean non-recyclable waste and without even seeing my little piles around the house, your papa says I am going to become an environmentalist hoarder.  He doesn't yet know how right he is.

Looking into what is actually recycled in my county, here's what I found.  I can recycle anything that came from a tree, including envelopes with plastic windows, but nothing with food or garbage attached to it.  They take any plastic with a recycling symbol and number on it that is larger than 6 ounces and isn't a lid.  No styrofoam.  The more I learn, the more I want to know.  I still have questions and I don't fully believe they recycle everything on that list (link below).  Here are the questions I'd like to have answered.

Can I recycle little bits of paper?
What about tape on wrapping paper or cardboard boxes?
What does the recycling facility do with non-recyclables?
Is there a way to help them redirect those goods for future use instead of a landfill?
Where should I recycle my styrofoam?
What organization can I take all my clean garbage to for reuse or recycling?
Do I need to sort my clean garbage into different bins?
What should I do with my piles of clean garbage?
Will Scrap take them?
Should I start a preschool art group to create gifts from all our non-recyclable?

Scrap is an awesome site in North Portland, well worth the trip.  I know they take and sell reusable materials at incredibly low prices.  Your papa loaded up on Scrap's pens and pencils for work.  You and I found craft projects there.  And your friend Bea used Scrap crayons in muffin tins to make new crayons.

I don't now have these answers at hand, but with help from the internet and my more-environmentally-savvy friends, I am bound to find what I am searching for.

Your recycling buddy,
your mama

multnomah county curbside pickup
more multnomah specifics
Bea's crayons

volunteers wanted

Dear Hannah,

My parents started early getting me excited about volunteering.  As a child I regularly volunteered in retirement homes and libraries.  Your grandparents continue donating their time in libraries, soup kitchens, schools, and their church.  I continued volunteering as an adult.  I prepared activities and themed books and read them to daycare children through the local library.  I shuffled papers for a local non-profit organization.  These opportunities helped me practice my creativity, learn more compassion, generosity, and patience.  And I want to share these learning opportunities with you.  Motherhood has temporarily kept me from my volunteering adventures, though soon we three (you, your brother Liam), and me will be heading out into the world to share our time.  Your natural charm would flourish in a retirement home, you would bring extra creativity to the library's children's crafts, or you'd learn about an ecosystem while collecting garbage at the beach.  There are so many things you would enjoy.  Remembering the value and pleasure of donating personal time, you and I will talk about it and plot a course to get out there to bring a smile to someone's face.  The longest journey begins with a single step, and life nowadays feels like so many single steps.  Let this new journey begin.

Happy travels,
your mama

More links to come!

find a local library
Clackamas County
Clackamas County Library
Multnomah County
Multnomah County Library
Multnomah County animal services
Zenger Farm volunteering

US Fish and Wildlife Service 
World Wildlife Fund

snowflake crayons

Dear Hannah,
We've recently melted down crayons.  Oh, how you love to peel, break, and organize the crayons and then melt them in the silicone molds.  We just heated the oven to 300 and put in the filled molds until the crayons were liquid.  They then cooled and were popped out.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  Your friends loved receiving your snowflake crayons this holiday season.  And you loved sharing something you made for them.  I love how we used something we had at home to make a useful gift for others.  You are still peeling and saving crayons for a repeat of this activity.  Next time, we'll pull the crayons out before they are completely liquid, so there isn't so much color-blending and a waxy film on top.  Thanks for crafting with me again, little one.

Much love,
your mama

children's books

Baby Einstein Mirror Me
The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Mortimer's First Garden by Karma Wilson
our sunflower garden, like Mortimer's

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (seed harvesting)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

the gift of love (with less packaging)

Dear Hannah,

We have just made it through another holiday season full of love and wrapping paper.  In previous years I have wrapped all my gifts in comics, but generally every year of my life and yours, we have given and received gifts wrapped in lots of taped up shiny paper.  This year my understanding of the process is a little different.  I could have saved several trees at this point if I'd thought out the wrapping process earlier, but this is a learning process for all of us from our various starting points. For example, my parents and I now give all our gifts to one another in homemade cloth bags.  Thankfully your grandma has time to make them and loves to share with us.

My friends and I were talking about the waste involved in parenting.  We as parents can try to limit the waste our family produces, but it is harder to control what comes into our homes in the form of thoughtful gifts.  As a parent whose children receive so much stuff, be it clothes or plastic toys, is there a way I can help my children receive gifts that won't harm them or the environment?  Is is alright for me to let my family and friends know expectations of gifts?  It sounds so culturally uncool, self-centered, and just wrong to lay down guidelines for well-intentioned gift-givers.  Let me attempt it here (below) and send out the word before we hit birthdays and holidays again next year.  May next year be mostly devoid of the mountain of packaging waste.

Much love,
your mama

writing love letters

Dear Family and Friends,

We are so thankful to have you in our lives and grateful for your expressions of love towards our children.  If you are able, we'd love to receive gifts that are specifically useful and healthy for our family.  Below is a list of ideas for gift-giving and receiving.  If we may reciprocate by providing a specific gift for your family, please let us know.
  • a handmade gift
  • a handwritten love letter, poem, story, or song
  • An I owe you gift certificate for spending quality time together (meal, picnic, park day, etc.)
  • a charitable donation made in our name
  • a picture of us spending time together
  • set up a treasure hunt for us
  • bring ingredients and a favorite recipe to make a healthy meal with our little ones
  • second-hand wooden learning toys from yard sales, craigslist, freecycle
  • healthy local foods, home-canned goods, or Bob's Red Mill cereals
  • USA-made craft projects with minimal packaging and chemicals
  • a cassette tape full of you reading your favorite children's books
  • goods from our baby registry
  • money for community center classes, Ceramicafe visits, or museum or zoo membership
  • money for our favorite gardening store (Seven Dees or another local nursery)
  • babysitting time
  • a donation in our name to a local library or one of our favorite non-profit charities
 My parents had the great idea of giving gifts in fabric bags, and left no paper trail behind them.  If you'd like to have less wrapping debris in your home, come join us for a craft party to make fabric bags.  Please feel free to share your ideas for how we can create less waste while sharing the love.  Again, thank you so much for your generosity and thoughtfulness when it comes to showing your love for our children.

Many thanks and warm wishes,
Hannah and Family

make it specific

Dear Hannah,

I have had all week to think of new ideas, but not much time to write about them.  It seems my life as a full-time mother of two (two month old and three year old) doesn't leave much space for typing.  Lists are the compact version of what I am thinking, so I will be making more lists.

I have now had a chance to read the No Impact Man book and watch the movie.  And I've had some thought-provoking conversations with friends about environmental issues.  It is such a relief to find others who want to talk about the same lower impact lifestyle.  With my new ideas and insights, what shall I do?  No Impact Man suggests volunteering with an environmental organization to increase our sense of purpose and community.  My friends have me thinking about writing about specific areas I am making change in my own home.  There are so many things to say and do and learn.  Where does one start with these ideas?  This is when I attempt to transition from broad to specific.  With a list.

Things to explore:
  1. children's activities
  2. food choices
  3. gift-giving and receiving
  4. sense of connection with neighbors
  5. environmental volunteer opportunities
    With love,
    your mama

      Monday, December 20, 2010

      weekly lists

      Dearest Hannah,

      Yes, it has already been a week since I have last written.  And I thought I'd find plenty of time here and there for letters.  I am busy writing thank you and holiday cards to friends and family in this holiday season.  I could save paper and send emails, but find hand-written notes more touching in an old fashioned way.  My original plan for this first letter was to make a detailed list of the many things I'd like to accomplish in terms of helping the environment, but with just 20 minutes to spare before your "quiet time" ends and the talking begins, I am not sure what will be accomplished here.

      I finally have been able to talk you into nighttime cloth diapers.  You don't really need them, but your cosleeping papa doesn't want to take the chance of waking up wet in the middle of the night.  It feels like quite an accomplishment to talk you out of your beloved disposable diapers.  We've also been using old gift wrap for art projects and as covers for homemade journals.  Your coloring pages have become our new gift wrap for this year.  Tape that has come from various gifts is now holding holiday pictures from friends onto our cupboard.  We're baking our own bread, though it is so delicious that we haven't yet saved any to make sandwiches.  These are the things we have accomplished this busy week.

      In general as part of having a new baby in our house, we travel less, don't eat out, we take walks, and have friends over to our home to play.  We have a weekly trip to the library and have a "reading marathon" with the new books that lasts days.  Perhaps this summer we can bike a few miles to the library together; that's what our bike trailer is for.  A benefit of being home with a baby is we live at a slower pace than usual.  We eat when we like, nap sometimes, walk around our neighborhood or to the park, visit with friends, make new friends, and just stay home to relax and play.  Your papa is helping you learn to read, I am helping you with writing.  We concoct various art projects from whatever is at hand.  We make spontaneous gifts for our next door grandmother.  This is what maternity leave is supposed to be, a time together to rest, grow, play, and share the love.  Now if only your papa didn't have to work every day.

      Okay, let's see if I can make a list of things I'd like to accomplish, and then you and I will make another loaf of delicious bread, this time with raisins, cinnamon, flax, honey, and poppy seeds.

      We've accomplished (or noticed) this last week:
      • mostly all cloth wipes
      • all cloth diapers for both kids
      • only a couple meat meals per week
      • coloring pages became wrapping paper
      • homemade bread, no store bought bread
      • reusing tape
      • reusing gift wrap
      • recyclable toothbrush
      • biodegradable hand soap
      • use clean diaper pads and cloth napkins for wiping spills of all sorts
      • hanging out in the bedroom with a space heater instead of heating the whole house
      • saving our clean non-recyclable garbage for some future recycling or project
      • sent political emails regarding environmental issues using various websites (that immediately increased the volume of my junk email)
      • shared nutty data information with friends, like why beeswax candles are the only clean candle and why using petroleum sources increases our CO2 emissions
      • saved to reuse or recycled bread and other plastic bags
      • picked up and recycled paper and plastic bags floating around neighborhood
      • took walks in the rain and cold to just get ourselves outside (followed by a bubble bath with hot cocoa)
      • took our friends on walks
      At home:
      • continue last week's successes
      • only biodegradable environmental-friendly products used
      • make oodles of fabric gift bags
      • make more homemade journals for self and others
      • make gifts with materials I have at home (like this year)
      • raise bees for honey and wax
      • raise chickens
      • biodegradable cat litter
      • use only beeswax candles
      • buy only second hand goods
      • eat dinner with only candle light
      • one family car instead of two
      • virtually no garbage or recycling
      • no disposable wipes in our house
      • barter with others more often
      • use craigslist and freecycle when need new items
      • share our progress with others by talking or in other forms
      • local organic CSA vegetables and meats
      Out in the world:
      • no chemicals at Papa's work
      • more recycling at Papa's work
      • maximize electrical and water efficiency at Papa's work
      • pick up garbage
      This week:
      • purchase biodegradable shower soap, shampoo, and conditioner
      • eat dinner by beeswax candle once this week
      • dream up new ideas for next year's holiday gifts with things we have here: cornhusk dolls, beeswax candles, handmade journals, fabric gift bags, pretty things with plastic flowers, etc.
      • talk again with Papa about raising bees
      • break bee keeping down to steps
        • signatures from neighbors within 100 feet of hive (or property?)
        • bee hive
        • find the bees
        • maintenance
      Now that there are lists (I do love lists!) and our hands are ready for homemade bread, let's see what we can accomplish in this coming week.

      Much love,
      your mama

      Monday, December 13, 2010

      problems and solutions

      Dearest Hannah,

      Now that you know my intention of taking you on an adventure to balance some of the challenges in the world around us, let's talk about some of the challenges and solutions that await our healing hands.

      I am honestly writing this letter as a response to my reading Colin Beavan's book: No Impact Man.  Despite the hard realities of the book, I was drawn in by Colin not being an expert on activism or the environment.  Like me, he was someone who wanted to stop just talking about change and start making the changes. 

      My thinking, as your papa says I am being dramatic, is that whatever positive change I make in the world will still be helpful to others, regardless of any impending crises.  Change starts from within oneself and works its way outward.  I must be the change I wish to be in the world.  It has taken me years to finally feel enough peace and stability (thank goodness your papa is patient), and I am now moving to the next challenge.  For me, that next level is writing these letters to you and holding myself accountable for what they say.

      In identifying challenges in our world, there are so many.  Of the many examples Colin Beavan brought up in his book, one example is the world running out of water.  Colin wrote that the USA, despite having an abundance of water, has some states running out of clean usable water in 10 years.  His end-of-world view is that eventually only the richest of the rich will be able to buy technology and rights to clean water while the rest of the world perishes.  Again, even if this is at all unrealistic, what do we have to lose by attempting to make our water supply cleaner and honestly renewable?  I'll list a few other issues, though this list could go on for miles.
      • excess garbage
      • so much "recyclable" plastic not being recyclable
      • local recycling companies unable to mark many plastics marked recyclable
      • recyclables not being recycled
      • unclean energy less expensive than renewable energy
      • household chemicals ending up in watersupply
      • household chemicals ending up in our food supply (plants and animals)
      • garbage outside of landfills ending up in oceans, killing animal species
      • too much packaging on our foods
      • animals and plants becoming extinct
      • non-native species taking over habitats
      • key species becoming extinct, thereby ending the life of entire ecosystems
      • rain undrinkable due to air pollution
      • more people getting cancer, asthma, and other diseases
      • taking over necessary habitat with urban sprawl
      • consumers buying new, new, new, instead of gently used at lower prices

      Now that I've brushed the surface of things that need fixing in our world, what are the solutions?  Let's start with communicating with one another that we wish to make the world healthier.  This letter is stating and sharing my intention as such.  I do love lists; they help me accomplish things.  So here is a list of things I've already put into action.  Remember, it's just our beginning.
      • cloth diapers for my children
      • washable cloth diaper wipes
      • cloth handkerchiefs in place of paper tissues
      • cloth napkins
      • cloth grocery bags
      • reuse bulk bags and plastic bags
      • washable dishes instead of disposable when hosting
      • run all my errands at once instead of in many small trips
      • walk to friends' homes and the local parks
      • think about what I want to buy until I've decided it is a practical useful purchase
      • limit my traveling, only driving to activities within 25 minutes of home
      • purchase organic animal products: cheese, milk, meat
      • attempt to buy organic and local fruits and vegetables
      • grow fruits and vegetables at home we'd purchase from the store
      • compost fruit, vegetable, and yard waste in garden
      • limit my consumption of meat to 2-3 times a week
      • share a CSA vegetable basket with a friend from a local organic farm
      • purchase a quarter of a local organic cow
      • take environmental sustainability teacher courses
      • wrap gifts in cloth bags
      • wrap gifts in recyclable colored coloring pages
      • give homemade gifts from materials at home
      • save non-recyclables to take to super-recycling facility
      • create art from the clean non-recyclable garbage
      • get extra art and business supplies from SCRAP, a local second hand salvaging shop
      • share magazine subscriptions
      • get all other reading material from computer or local library
      • CDs and DVDs from local library
      • buy used toys, art supplies, books, etc. from yardsales and craigslist/freecycle
      • no more airplane travel, drive to destinations
      • read books with ideas on environmental problems solutions
      • read the children's book Fancy Nancy's Everyday is Earth Day
      • research, reflect on, and space out child immunizations
      • stay home with my children so I have quality of life instead of quantity of cool stuff
      • talk frankly with my children about environmental issues as they arise in conversation
      And there are so many more things I'd like to put into action.  We won't accomplish all of these.  Some of the these feel like reaching for the moon, but the farther we reach, the farther we will travel.  (I write as if for both of us because we will go on these adventure together.) 
      • help your papa's business run without chemicals or excess waste (garbage, water, etc.)
      • make and share only beeswax candles
      • raise bees to provide beeswax and honey
      • raise chickens for family pets, garden fertilizer, and meat (name them Stew, Roast, etc.)
      • buy more of our goods second hand
      • buy more foods in bulk without excess packaging
      • stop using so much refined sugar and flour at home
      • bake own bread
      • walk or ride bikes to most destinations
      • have one family car instead of two
      • take the train to far away destinations instead of driving
      • have virtually no garbage and very little recycling
      • use biodegradable cat little for garden fertilizer after use
      • clean home with towels and rags instead of throwaway wipes
      • buy as much food local and organic as possible
      • barter with friends and neighbors
      • talk with others on solutions that work for them
      In another letter I will turn this last list into actual goals.  I will write to you every week throughout our journey as we work towards these goals.  Again, I know you're with me, even if you didn't have to be.  We'll create some meaningful change if we keep taking little steps.

      Much love,
      your mama

      healing hands

      Dearest Hannah,

      I am writing you this letter to keep myself on track for doing everything I can to help you grow up healthy and happy.  Since your arrival into my heart and my life four years ago, my focus has naturally shifted from my life to yours.  When my body was just my own, I rarely thought about my own health.  Now my health is important only as it relates to the length and quality of time I am able to spend with you and the examples of healthy living I hope to provide.  I am not one to want fame or unnecessary attention, but letters on a blog are a way to keep myself focused on the goal: your health (mental, physical, etc.).  With an audience (in theory), someone will be watching to see that I move forward instead of backward.

      With a seemingly simplistic goal of keeping you healthy as you grow, there are infinite challenges before us.  I have read innumerous parenting books instructing me on how to raise the perfectly healthy and happy child.  Mostly I have learned from these that there are passionate political opinions on both sides of any issue, be it sleeping, feeding, or diapering.  And the opinion to really listen to is my own, the one that comes from my own heart and mind.  I am the most informed authority when it comes to you.  My heart now tells me to write you this letter.

      Why am I titling this blog Hannah's Healing Hands?  You and I have talked about how our hands can heal through intention and action.  Our hands can heal many things.  This letter is about my hands holding the intention to help you and I to heal the world around us together, hand in hand.  With your healing hands you will learn that you can help others in infinite ways.  You will grow and find creative ways to confidently heal the world around you in a way that matches your unique gifts and desires.

      Why does the world need our help?  Before you arrived, the world seemed like a safer place.  Now that it is my job to shelter and guide you through your youth, my awareness and responsibility has increased greatly.  The world is out of balance in many ways.  I am starting here in this letter with the environment around us: the people, air, water, and the earth.  We see small examples all around us of the challenges to solve, sicknesses that our hands can help heal.  One sign of the environmental challenges around us is the health of children around us.  You and your friends have eczema, something I'd only learned of as an adult.  Many of your friends have asthma.  Some will grow to show signs of ADHD or autism.  These are the signs we see now when you're so young, yet the challenges will continue to accumulate as time passes. 

      When I was just responsible for myself, I awaited my superhero leader to come and make things better in my world.  I waited for someone to tell me what I should do to improve things.  Now I see that people like you and I are the leaders and superheroes.  We are the ones that make real change.  Politicians talk a great deal about balancing all the challenges, but bureaucracy seems to stifle any real change.  Now you and I, the leaders of our own lives and choices, need to step in to make things healthier for ourselves and those that share the same air and water.  You are already my superhero by the super amazing person you are growing into.  You are gentle and kind and considerate and thoughtful.  You take such good care of your baby brother Liam.  And you make silly jokes with your papa, who says I can blog all I want if I can find the time.  I love you so much, Hannah, that I will do anything I can to help you grow up healthy.  So here begins our adventure of healing with world with our hearts and hands.  I know you're with me.

      With love,
      your mama