Meandering thoughts from inside a heat wave

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Consumption, Energy, Environment, Nature, Robbie White, Sustainability | Posted on 24-07-2009

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By Robbie White

I live in an historic neighborhood so I often think about our connection with those who lived before us in our home, of how things were “back then.” Our house was built in 1903. Most of our neighborhood came along in the decades around statehood. During this most recent heat wave my thoughts have wandered to how things were before air conditioning. 

I think of trying to sleep in a house with no relief form the heat. Then, I look at the lovely windows in my home. If those windows were opened, a nice cross breeze would cool each room of this house. A walk around the outside with this in mind reveals yet another reason for nurturing that huge pecan tree that has shaded the house for so many decades. In fact, most of our bedrooms are shaded in one way or another by trees or else they are on the north side. I wonder if this house had a sleeping porch screened from bugs but open on all sides. These days we have so many places to cool off on hot days — the library, a movie theater, church, the mall, and so on — but we still have to sleep at night. And I sleep better when it is cool. 

I recently read the book, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. Electric air is a new thing for the residents of the southern town. In one scene, the main character is trying to sleep in her parents’ plantation home, built in the late 19th century. She eventually ends up on the back porch remembering how many nights she slept on a cot out there in summer. In this and other stories of days before air conditioning, the heat becomes a force that shapes the lives in the narrative and illustrates how close those people lived to the natural world. 

My kids and I hid from the heat most days during the recent heat wave. We stayed inside where it was relatively cool. We watched movies, read books and worked around the house. We could be oblivious to the heat if we chose.

But with a sustainable lifestyle, you’re trying not to be oblivious. It’s easy to let the car idle in a heat wave because it is so hot, or to drive a car instead of bicycling on an errand. And you begin to see the challenge of stepping away from all that technology and of moving one step closer to the way things ought to be. 

How do you make your life more sustainable? In what ways are you closer to the natural world? Do you grow your own vegetables or have a compost bin or pile? Maybe you attended the local food fair at Harn Homestead last week? Or perhaps you support local farmers? Looking forward to your ideas. 

Let’s celebrate our choices together on Fresh Greens!

Meandering Thoughts from inside the Heatwave

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Family, Robbie White | Posted on 24-07-2009

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by Robbie White


I live in an historic neighborhood, so I to think about our connection with those who lived before us in our home. I often think of how things were “back then." Our house was built in 1903. Most of our neighborhood came along in the decades around statehood. These past days have sparked many thoughts on how things were different before air conditioning. 


I think of trying to sleep in a house with no relief form the heat. Then, I look at the lovely windows in my home. If those windows were opened, a nice cross breeze would cool each room of this house. A walk around the outside with this thought in mind reveals yet another reason for nurturing that huge pecan tree that has shaded the house for so many decades. In fact, most of our bedrooms are shaded in one way or another by trees, or else they are on the north side. I wonder if this house had a sleeping porch, screened from bugs but open on all sides. These days, we have so many places to cool off during the days—the library, a movie theater, church, the mall, etc. But we still have to sleep at night, and I sleep better when it is cool. 


I recently read the book, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. Electric air is a new thing for the residents of the Southern town. In one scene, the main character is trying to sleep in her parents’ plantation home, which had been built in the late 19th century. She eventually ends up on the back porch remembering how many nights she slept on a cot out there in summer. In this and other stories of days before air conditioning, the heat becomes a force that shapes the lives in the narrative. How close those people lived to the natural world. 


My kids and I hid from the heat most days this past week. We stayed inside where it was relatively cool. We watched movies, read books and worked around the house. We could be oblivious to the heat if we chose. It’s like that with a sustainable lifestyle. It’s easy to let the car idle in this heat because it is so uncomfortable or drive the car instead of bicycling on an errand. It is a challenge for me to step away from all that technology and be one step closer to the way things ought to be. 


How do you make your life more sustainable? In what ways are you closer to the natural world? Do you grow your own vegetables or compost your lawn and kitchen waste? Maybe you attended the local food fair at Harn Homestead last week? Or perhaps you support local farmers? I look forward to your ideas. 


Let’s celebrate our choices together on Fresh Greens!


Look how far we’ve come

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Consumption, Entertainment, Film, Robbie White, Television | Posted on 09-06-2009

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by Robbie White

From paper to plastic to paper again, from tape to disc to digital files, Robbie takes a thoughtful look at how technology is changing the way we consume, hopefully for the better.

The other day I picked up a paper straw at the OKC Zoo to drink a coke-flavored Icee and was transported back to my childhood when paper straws were the norm. At first the paper straw was kind of annoying because I crushed the end, and unlike the plastic version, the paper straw did not return to its original shape. I turned the straw over and was careful not to crush the drinking end again — firmly resisting the urge to get a new straw — and this led to pondering differences in consumption since my childhood.

Consider for a moment television and movies: I was recently telling my kids about elementary school days in the late 1970s, when we watched movies and film strips sparingly at school. We filed into the old gymnasium at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Bettendorf, Iowa, and watched nature films projected onto a huge screen using 16mm projectors. These films were carefully cared for by our teachers who shared them with the whole district. I can’t remember being told this specifically, but I always knew the films were valuable and had to be checked out in advance.

The early ‘80s saw the advent of Laserdisc, VHS and Betamax consumer video recording and viewing formats. As a young married couple, we started accumulating VHS tapes purchased or received as gifts. We were so excited to finally own a player! I recorded my favorite shows and even catalogued a few seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Our collection of VHS cassettes was impressive by the time DVDs became readily available in the late ‘90s. We still have a collection of favorites on VHS we can’t bring ourselves to part with, but we’ve slowly replaced many titles on DVD as they become available. Admittedly, we’ve created a small nostalgic but wasteful set of movies on both formats. The ten years that passed between the purchases does not excuse the waste.

In 2008, we discovered Apple TV which allows us to build a library digitally stored and accessible from any of our authorized devices. Apple TV is not perfect but it is getting better. We can rent a movie without using any resources at all (except money and electricity) for store visits or delivery by mail. We can purchase other media this way as well. There are no discs to scratch, no magnetic tapes to deteriorate, but there are some limitations with regard to licensing agreements, sharing media with others, and decades from now when we pass away, we wonder whether our digital media will become nothing but virtual debris.

The movies we love (and hate) create a story of their own about us. My unique set of movies is a way of describing myself. For example, I liked “The Departed,” but not “The Godfather;” the Keira Knightly version of “Pride and Prejudice,” but not the ‘80s version; and I love “iCarly” and “M*A*S*H,” but not one other TV sitcom in the intervening decades has engaged my attention. Much as the books we keep and reread over years say much about us, I wish to preserve our film and video collection for our children and grandchildren, or at least the essence of it.

The same questions apply to e-books. My husband and I both have Kindle readers. We love the experience of reading on this elegant device, and appreciate the fact this digital tool allows us to control our consumption so we can again enjoy reading daily newspapers without waste or mess. I am discovering periodicals again because of Kindle. I cannot, however, loan you a magazine, but I can send an email with an article or selected text, or if really necessary, print it in the old-fashioned way.

I see new media delivery and storage devices as a
n improvement over the consumption of paper, but I don’t know what is involved in the production of a Kindle device. Will we discover some toxic secret (such as mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs)? Will new technology in a few years cause us to recycle outmoded Kindles for something more cutting edge?

While none of us knows what the future holds, what each of us can do in the present is consume less of this planet’s resources by making decisions based on the best knowledge available in the present, and by doing so, contribute to a better future.

One small step for reusable bags …

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Food and Drink, Robbie White, Tips, Waste Management | Posted on 27-03-2009

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by Robbie White 

I believe in small steps when changing behaviors. My latest battle has been reusable bags. It all started for me when I started riding my bike to the grocery store on occasion to bring home a few items. 

I feed three growing kids, so provisioning my kitchen is no small chore. The bulk of  my grocery shopping cannot be done on a bike. Neither, however, can it be done well at a big box store. It is a subtle balance of healthy and sustainable. I have written about this before in my Fresh Greens post, Mothering Sustainably.

As I stated then, I do spend a good deal of time on the issue of feeding my family — like all mothers and fathers since time began. In addition to theactors of cost, health impact, organic quality, hormone/antibiotic presence, and environmental impact, by riding my bike to the store, I add in the space factor. How much can I pack onto my the baskets of my bicycle? Besides all of that, it makes me smile to ride to the grocery store! I feel a sense of joy in a menial task as well as the satisfaction of my car sitting in the garage!

The biggest change our family has made is to stop buying two weeks worth of groceries at once. Instead, we focus on a few days

worth. When my husband and I ride our bikes to the store together, we can pick up enough food to last a few days. We have to be thoughtful and avoid too many impulse purchases but it can be done if you pack the groceries into reusable bags of the right shape to fit right down into the baskets on our bicycles. For me, that means canvas totes from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. They are sturdy enough to hold anything and they fit into those baskets perfectly. You can even tie the handles over the top to secure the food inside for the ride home. 

A couple of weeks ago, I rode my bike to the store. I had a short list of things my family needed and the weather was absolutely beautiful. I set out with two tote bags. What I did not

realize was that my son had given me a list of snacks he needed for a club meeting at school (three bags of chips and two boxes of cookies). I eyed the growing bulk in my basket uneasily. What was I going to do with those huge bags of chips? I braved on thinking that I could make two trips if needed. The light was fading fast, however. So, I packed up my purchases and wheeled them out to my bike. I wish I had a picture to show you but many of my neighbors had a good laugh that lovely evening as I rode home with three bags of chips tied on top of two tote bags on the back of my bike—thank goodness for those long tote bag handles to secure them. The pile rose well above the baskets swaying with each revolution of the pedals. I made it home, chuckling at how pleased I was to have made it home in one trip with all those bulky chips. I did make a mental note to bring along one of my children for extra bicycle storage space the next time I am asked to buy snacks! 

The point of this silly story is that trying to accomplish this short ride to the store with thin disposable plastic bags they give out at stores these days would have been a disaster! The reusable bags are the right tool for the way I shop now. It is that simple. When I am not limited by the number of bags I brought with me, I buy more stuff than I need. It is the same when I drive to the store. I just buy more when I know that I don’t have to fit it all into my bicycle baskets. There are times when that is appropriate. 

The challenge with reusable bags is having them with you when you need them. I have begun keeping a few in my car for quick stops at the drug store or wherever.

My best tips for actually using the reusable bags are:

  • Put them where you actually need them (in the car, on the bicycle, etc…)
  • Go back to the car to get them when you forget (this is hard).
  • Be really nice to the hard working cashiers and sackers who struggle with the myriad shapes and sizes of reusable bags.
  • Smile when you use your bags!!
  • Be sure to get yours from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

Green Valentines

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Holidays, Robbie White, Waste Management | Posted on 06-02-2009

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by Robbie White

I have been pondering the last-minute mindset that marketers and retailers have cultivated in our culture. For example, we all know for 365 days prior to February 14 that we will be expected to participate in some form of Valentine’s Day celebration. Whether that participation is elaborate or simple is determined by our individual tastes and situations. Marketers and retailers would like us to rush out on February 13 to our local superstore and purchase the most expensive, over-packaged, sticker ladened, and trendy set of valentines for our classmates/lovers/family members/co-workers heedless of the resources we consume and the costs we pay. This isn’t really a question of how much to spend because valentines are CHEAP! Each one may even come with an envelope, a card, a sticker and even a piece of candy. Sadly, valentines rarely get looked at twice. They are opened, admired and pilfered of sweets, finally to be thrown away by parents at the earliest possible moment. It has bugged me for years that this practice is so wasteful. One year, my five year old was asked to bring over 50 valentines individually signed. He was part of an open area classroom with four classes! I am still amazed at the huge bag of cards he brought home that year! It was a dizzying display of conspicuous consumption.

What if we did things differently? At our church, there is a fabulous event every year marking the beginning of Advent. During season of Advent we prepare for the birth of the Christ child on Christmas. The main feature of the Advent Festival is the crafts. There are several dozen different crafts to make. The planning for this event begins in January after the ladies in charge carefully pack the leftovers away into a designated closet. Then, they scour the stores for the best late-season discounts, purchasing materials for future festivals at 75%-90% off. These bargain buys are all stored until September when they begin to organize in earnest. There is very little waste with this event because of the thoughtful way the organizers use resources. This year, they made snowmen out of recycled smoothie bottles. In many previous festivals, they made snow globes out of recycled baby food jars. Old Christmas cards have been cut up to make any number of different crafts.

This event inspires me to think more carefully about the stuff I use.

Laura is a good friend of mine with whom I plan mission projects for the children at our church. She is an excellent steward of resources! Laura has spent many years volunteering in various ministries and community groups, and she has learned how to make the most of what’s available. Recently, she planned to provide the kids with materials to create handmade Valentine’s cards for the homebound members of our church. First, she went to the office staff to ask them for envelopes leftover from other projects. She managed to get about 5 dozen envelopes that would otherwise have been tossed—all the same size in excellent condition. Then, she went to the supply closet to choose paper. She chose construction and craft paper from our existing supplies and cut the paper to fit the envelopes. In our supply closet, there is a huge box of stickers sorted (by volunteers like Laura) into themes, from which she chose appropriate stickers.

Most people would have gone to the store and purchased new envelopes, new paper and new stickers, but Laura was intentional in her use of resources. The project was completed by the children in two phases which included 1)addressing of envelopes and 2)creative work of making cards. Of course, there are a myriad of steps that go into any such project, such as the gathering of names and correct addresses, sealing and posting the cards and cleaning up afterwards. For the cost of postage and Laura’s time, the children created unique personal greetings for the members of our faith family who are not able to travel to the church building anymore. The blessings were abundant!

For me, the best part of this project was the lesson I learned in simplicity. Not every need requires that stuff and/or money be devoured. Some needs are best filled by our time and thoughtfulness. You can apply this lesson to Christmas or any event that requires participation or giving. We have a choice—do we allow the retail/marketing industry to define our level of consumption, or do we choose to save resources with careful and creative planning?

I may not be able to get out of providing valentines for the my children’s classmates. However, with a little planning, I can do it with as little environmental impact as possible—recycled materials, small sized greetings, stamps instead of stickers, or perhaps a card that folds into its own envelope? The possibilities are endless. I am energized by the sense of empowerment this choice gives me!

I’d love to hear from all of our Fresh Greens readers— how do you infuse green into Valentine’s pink and red?

Ancient Inspiration In a Modern World

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Nature, Robbie White, Science, Urban Gardening | Posted on 15-12-2008

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by Robbie White

The
most gorgeous moon has been in the sky these past few days. It is
called the Long Night Moon. I understand why the peoples from more
agrarian times called it that. It hangs, glowing, in the sky lighting
the longest and coldest nights of the year. In days before electricity
much had to be done from sunrise to sunset. Lighting with candles or
lamps wasn’t always dependable. The reason the glorious December full
moon is visible for so many hours also has a scientific explanation:

“The
midwinter full moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it
is opposite to the low Sun. The moon will also be at perigee later this
day, at 5:00 p.m. EST, at a distance of 221,560 mi. (356,566 km.) from
Earth…” http://www.space.com/spacewatch/080118-ns-moon-names.html

I
encountered the most recent Long Night Moon last Monday night while I
was completing some holiday errands. I emerged from a store that faces
west and was stunned to find the horizon aglow with the very last of
the day's sun. Several planets were visible just above the horizon, and
despite the well-lit parking lot, I could sense the glow of the
Long Night Moon behind me. As I turned to see the glow of the moon, I
did not think about how much closer this moon is than other full moons
of the year. Perigees and trajectories never crossed my mind. I felt
closer to the earth’s natural rhythms in that moment. I allowed the
huge Long Night Moon to remind me that no matter what name we give this
cold and dark time of year, the natural order calls to me.

As
I stood in the parking lot taking in the lovely view, my fellow Fresh
Greens bloggers, Jennifer Gooden and David Brooks, jumped into my mind
as I recalled that they wrote eloquently about the joys of growing
their own food. I thought about the gifts I have left to buy and
wondered how I could merge the two thoughts. Is there anyone on my
gift list who loves to garden? What gift would encourage their
enjoyment of growing the food they eat? Jennifer and others have
several good ideas in their blog entries.

What will I do with the long nights of winter before I can plant my earth boxes
again? I think I will dig out my garden dreams of less busy years and
dust them off. I will plan which lovely things I will grow on the
balcony of my urban home that has too much shade for a good garden. I
will even write a Christmas wish list (which I haven’t done in years)
that includes some gardening books.

I
am grateful to the ancient Long Night Moon combined with the ultra
modern tool of blogging that inspires me to look again at growing
things and gives me a fresh perspective on gift buying. It is not too
late to buy some gardening books or magazines or seeds. What inspires
me more is wondering if I could grow enough in the summer of 2009 to
preserve as gifts for next Christmas? If I plan ahead, maybe I could
purchase some local berries or fruit to make homemade jams to wrap up
next winter? How about some jars of zesty sweet pickles from Oklahoma
grown cucumbers? Other thoughts on next year’s giving fill my mind like
visions of sugar plums…. I wonder if there is a recipe for sugar
plums online?  Hmmm…

I wish you all a happy Christmas full of joy and peace and dreams of warmer days and growing things.

Eating Together, the Locavore’s Call to Community

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Community, Family, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Robbie White | Posted on 31-10-2008

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by Robbie White

I want to share one of my favorite authors, Tilden Edwards. His book, Living Simply Through the Day was published originally in 1978 and revised in 2007. He brings together Buddhist and Christian teachings advocating for a simpler way of living, attentively and intentionally.

“How we eat is a barometer of our sense of life at the moment.” —Living Simply Through the Day by Tilden Edwards

Tilden Edwards’ words on eating in his guide to simple living in the contemplative tradition remind me anew why I teach table manners to my children and why we try to sit down to a meal together whenever possible. He affirms that one’s satisfaction in a good meal is not to be judged by the abatement of physical hunger alone. A meal should satisfy the need for meaningful fellowship and spiritual connection as well as filling the empty stomach. Consider breast-feeding, which is, of course, the ultimate meal experience, uniquely reserved for infants. Mother and baby spend countless hours of nursing gazing into one other’s eyes, feeling heartbeat to heartbeat and skin to skin. Mother’s milk is perfectly designed to meet the nutritional needs of the baby. The baby learns trust in the spiritual bond created in the nursing relationship. And it is the ultimate sustainable meal!

Alas, eventually we must look beyond mother’s milk for our sustenance.  However, the most basic meal can be as satisfying. I remember one chilly fall day after a friend and I had spent the afternoon leading a bunch of high energy Camp Fire Kids in a meeting at my house. I had made a pot of beef stew for my family and it was simmering in the crock pot. She was trying to gather her tired and hungry kids and head home. I invited her to sit down and eat before heading out into the cold. Together we enjoyed a delightful meal of homemade stew, rolls, and cold milk. I don’t even remember the recipe I used for the meal. We didn’t have fancy dishes or candles or linen napkins, but the food was hot and filling, the company joyful, and the hospitality blessed us all, givers and receivers. I recall that evening as one of my favorite times. My friend headed home with her kids peaceful, smiling, and full.

“[The] sacramental quality [of eating] easily is blurred in the way food comes to us day by day: the impersonal mass packaging of a supermarket, the rush of a fast food carry-out, the press to sell you more.” —Living Simply Through the Day byTilden Edwards

Edwards’ comments on mass marketing of food encourage me to keep seeking out more meaningful ways of provisioning my household. The Oklahoma Food Coop [http://www.oklahomafood.coop/] is a great help with this.  Many resources exist to find locally produced foods for our tables and products that sustain the environment. Many of them have been mentioned by contributors on this blog. And if you haven't learned about Splendid Table's year long experiment in eating locally, Locavore Nation, check it out soon!  It will challenge you to try just a little bit harder.

One last thought from Edwards on gardening, which is the most sure method of eating locally:

“Growing food allows us to participate from the very beginning: planting and watering a seemingly dormant seed or tiny plant, watching it grow in to maturity, picking this little miracle and using it to nourish our bodies.  Such a process allows us to be a part of that amazing cycle of life.”

As the growing season tends toward autumn, I can only dream of spring. For now, I think I will plant some herbs inside to keep myself connected to the miracle and keep reading Fresh Greens for words of wisdom from my fellow bloggers!

Mothering Sustainably

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Family, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Robbie White | Posted on 15-09-2008

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by Robbie White

It is late and dark, and my house is mostly quiet. For once, my
teenage daughter is sleeping when I am not. I remember being a
teenager. I thought I knew it all. First I was sure that every can of tuna was killing a dolphin somewhere, then that McDonald’s was destroying
the rain forests. Imagine being a teenager who chose not to eat at
McDonald’s. Years later, I still don't know if my advocating and
boycotting had any effect at all on the environment, although I am
fairly certain that every fast food meal I chose not to eat was a step
in the right direction.  

If I could write a letter to
myself at 17 and redirect my efforts…what would I say? I would
encourage my youthful self to resist the de-localization of our economy
caused by Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy. There are so few hometown
merchants any more. I would tell myself to learn more about
gardening, preserving and canning.
Like all mothers and
homemakers around the planet and throughout history, I spend a good
deal of my time procuring supplies. I buy all the food and household
items for myself, my husband and our three children. As I was mentally
mapping the day recently, I thought about how the idea of eating
locally has altered my consciousness. I wanted to make chicken tacos. So, I needed to buy meat, tortillas, and cheese. My fridge at home
already contained the vegetables for this meal: lettuce, tomatoes,
peppers, freshly made guacamole, onions, and beans. I was excited
because this was a new recipe and my youngest child has recently
expressed a love of all things spicy. If his pronouncement holds
true, whole new worlds of cooking could be opening up for my family. As
I continued to plan for chicken tacos, I could not help thinking that
the most costly ingredient on my list was the chicken. I was shocked to realize that I had reflexively defined “cost” as
the cost to the planet. I had successfully internalized the fact that
producing meat uses much much more of our planet’s resources than
plant based products.

All my life, products have been chosen for their cost
or quality or possibly nutrient value, depending on the phase of life
we are discussing. As a young adult, when I first began
helping my mom with the shopping and cooking, she taught me how to get
the most for my money by planning ahead, buying in bulk, looking for
sales, stocking up and occasionally using coupons. All of these are
great habits. Later, as a young mother, I began choosing products not
only based on economic value but for the organic qualities of food such as environmental purity, steroid and antibiotic presence and
nutritional content. All of these priorities were woven into the
economics my mother taught me. Now, in my fifteenth year as a mother
and homemaker I have added yet another layer of complexity to the
decision making process—the sustainability test.

As I go
about my busy American homemaking and mothering, I am often staggered
by the amount of time I do not spend at home doing either job:
homemaking or mothering.  I drive, shop, volunteer, attend meetings,
and take my kids places. Being home is a luxury lost to the mists of
time when my children were infants and preschoolers. I do long for the
days when I made bread, yogurt, baby food (frozen in ice cube trays)
and even teething biscuits. Now, though, I can give my older children something as
important as the long quiet days playing in the sandbox. I can give them
the perspective to be activists as teenagers and adults. I can talk with
them about choices and their impact. I can show them that every choice they
make does affect the planet we live on, that recycling, buying local, voting
responsibly and living sustainably are all important.
I look forward
to reading your comments about passing sustainable practices on to
our children and how you integrate your values into everyday decision
making.