Wear your tutu everyday

I am officially obsessed with tutus and I am now officially 23 years young; what a stellar combination.  Life has a funny way of getting busy but my housemates made time to ensure that the start to my 23rd year was a wonderful time; I got a cake with a bird on it and a homemade tutu.  Who says growing older means you have to grow up?

bird cake and birthday tutu

In the past few weeks, I’ve been very busy with our Green Team schools and working with them to wrap up the school year.  We’ve done some fun newsletter writing and bug hunting and willow staking.. you can check it all out (and please do!) on our Green Team blog.  We just had a student summit on Thursday with students from five of my schools presenting their work they have done this year; it was such a proud moment for me and for Green Team to see them share all they have learned and to hear their personal stories.  I have really come to love working with these kids and getting to know them over the past nine months has been one of the absolute best things about my year in Oregon.

Some of my students also spoke at SOLV’s fundraising breakfast at the Oregon Zoo about their experience with Green Team, along with their teacher who has been so inspiring and wonderful to work with.  Watch it here:

As busy as life can be, it can always get busier!  With the warmer weather here (kind of) I’m hoping to get outside for long walks, runs, hikes and bike rides more as everything is blooming and its so much lighter out later.  The farmer’s market is open here in Hillsboro with fun veggies starting to come in from local farms; we’re trying to get our raised beds started in our backyard and we are in the process of getting beds started at a local church with lots of good deliciousness.  Also going to keep up on card-making.. its a fun way to use up paper and fabric scraps while keeping in touch.

Not too much else to report since I’ve been working so much but have been able to table for SOLV at some good events like a children’s festival and a farmer’s market; I know now how imperative it is for me to really work on my Spanish!  We have a great intern that is able to help me out a lot but I’m hoping to start learning some key words and work on my vocab so I can communicate with more folks about SOLV and life in general.

That’s all for now.. remember to get all your veggies planted now that the frosts are done!  Get outside for hikes and farmer’s markets and bike rides and visits with friends.  I’m gonna be on the hunt for a used Polaroid camera.. they’re so fun to use and I love the photo formats.. perfect for summer picnics in the grass.  Soak in the sun friends!

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplacable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours. (Ayn Rand)

PS: I hear things are going well at Fresh & Fancy Farms in NJ; you should check them out if you haven’t yet!

Fresh and Fancy flowers in my parent's yard


love on lined paper

We’re wrapping up with Green Team schools for the end of the year and I am saying goodbye to students that I have worked with all year.  Its hard to believe I’ve been working with them since September and have really come to love working with them, both inside and outside of the classroom.  One such group, seventh graders from an environmental middle school that comes out once a month, wrote Meghan and I thank you letters for our work with them since they didn’t get to say a real good-bye on their last day.  Below is a poem a student wrote for me; its things like this that make me know that I will always be involved in education and celebrating the power of students!

Dear Alex,

Your work will be admired

How you did it is what I inquired

How did you tread through the mud trail,

Through rain, ice and very strong gale?

You endured this to help us succeed,

Instead of going inside to read.

Putting up an effort and turtling through,

Everyone here is going to thank you.

The work you have done, made SOLV shiny as a bell,

Please come back, we wish you well!

Students with a pacific tree frog

World Water Day 2011

The 2011 logo for UN World Water Day

Happy (almost) World Water Day 2011!   The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.  From the World Water Day 2011 website:

International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day.

As a global community, we are facing a water crisis.  Approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, and each year more than 2.2 million people in developing countries die from preventable water-born illnesses.  Some other fast water facts:

  • This is the first time in human history that most of the world’s population live in cities: 3.3 billion people …and the urban landscape continues to grow.
  • 38% of the growth is represented by expanding slums, while the city populations are increasing faster than city infrastructure can adapt.
  • In Africa and Asia, the urban population will DOUBLE between 2000 and 2030
  • 5 million residents are joining the urban population in developing nations each MONTH
  • Every SECOND the urban population grows by two people
  • 827.6 million people live in slums, lacking basic access to clean water and sanitation

So, what do we do about this?  I’m walking this Sunday in the Walk for Water PDX event in Portland OR:

For a $20 donation to Portland Global Initiatives, Walk for Water participants will simulate what it is like to gather water for much of the world by walking a 3-mile course (the average distance traveled in sub-Saharan Africa to obtain water) alongside the Willamette River.

Be more conscious of HOW you use water; A Greener State of Mind has some great tips to get you started:

  1. The general consensus is that dishwashers are usually more efficient than washing dishes by hand. But if you don’t have a dishwasher (me), don’t let the water run while rinsing. Fill one sink with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  2. Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you’ll save up to 150 gallons per month. Consider low-flow shower heads (your shower should not fill a 1-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds), or a timer/water meter so you’re aware of how much you’re actually using. While you’re at it, bring your tooth brush and face wash in the shower too, get it all done at once!
  3. Using a refillable water bottle, besides saving on plastic, also cuts down on the number of glasses you’ll have wash at the end of the day. And keep a pitcher of water in the fridge; you’re more likely to spill if you refill from the tap.
  4. Use a commercial car wash instead of doing your own in your driveway. Car washes are regulated in the ways they dispose of or reuse waste chemicals and runoff, whereas our water heads straight for the storm drain and eventually into the ocean.
  5. This was probably the first ‘save water’ tip I learned when I was little, but it still should be said: turning off the water while brushing your teeth will save 25 gallons a month on average.
  6. If you have houseplants, use water that runs from the sink while waiting for hot water, from rinsing fruits and veggies, or even cleaning your fish tank.
  7. Cooking tip: Re-use the water left over from cooked or steamed foods to start a delicious and nutritious soup. I actually save the water leftover from cooking pasta to create a delicious sauce, it’s one of my go-to meals.

Check out what events might be happening in your area on the World Water Day 2011 website.  Water sustains us, it gives us life.  Water makes the world go round!  Celebrate water, use it well!

Walk with a spring in your step

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Well hello there, its been awhile.  Spring is here; the cherry blossoms are blooming all over Hillsboro and Portland and everywhere in between.  I am grateful for such everyday beauty in the midst of a lot of heartache in this world, especially in the light of the tragedies in Japan.

Christie and I went to a vigil for Japan and its people this past Friday called Vigil4JapanPDX, organized by four Japanese exchange students at PSU.  They organized this event in just one week; over 1,500 people were in attendance including Portland Mayor Sam Adams, the Consul General of Japan in Portland and the president of PSU.  The students gave testimonies of their experiences living so far away from their home and seeing images on TV that do not look to them like the home country that they know.  It was inspiring to hear their words and to stand with so many different people (in rain and hail, in true Portland style) in support of people so far away.  MercyCorps was present at the vigil; all donations throughout the evening go to support their crisis relief efforts in Japan.  (See some photos of the vigil here.)  It’s difficult to know how to support people so far from our reach in a time like this; prayers and good thoughts as well as financial support are so necessary.  We must remember that these people, like the people of Haiti, Sri Lanka, New Orleans, will be rebuilding from this devastation for years to come; we will not forget our brothers and sisters.  Check out how you can support artists and support the people of Japan at the same time; every little bit helps.

Elena and I spent the day in Portland yesterday at the spring opening of the Portland Farmer’s Market; yay for fresh fruit and veggie season!  We bought some delicious apples, Dave’s Killer Bread, carrots, and other great goodies.  A fantastic people-watching way to spend the afternoon and the sun was out!  We moseyed over to Portland Saturday Market, a large outdoor market (who knew?) that happens every Saturday from March to December; again, more great people watching.  Elena bought a ring made out of a fork; excellent.  We met up with Christie, Sean and some of his HomePlate friends to attend an interfaith peace service to bring awareness to the troops still abroad in war and conflict.  Song, reflection and poems made up the majority of the service with people from all faiths and backgrounds; very humbling.

How did it get to be mid-March, y’all?  Most schools are on spring break this week (I miss spring break!) so we’ll have a quiet week in the office at SOLV; lots to do for our community stewardship initiatives.  We are almost done with the planting season and our 27th annual Beach Cleanup is this weekend, hurrah for ridding the Oregon coast of little bits of plastic that threaten sea life!  We had a great tour of Reed College’s “canyon” last week with a restoration ecologist; so amazing to see a 28-acre watershed in the middle of a college campus!  Students can even work there as a work-study position; hello planting trees!  The space has been a 13 year project and is still going; native species are certainly coming back to the space and students upkeep and maintain the trails and monitor for invasive species and wildlife.  I might go back and chat with Zac, the canyon guru, about the importance of widespread campus sustainability; do I hear job offer?

And I haven’t yet blogged about Mardi Gras!  It was a success; JVC NW director Jeanne was over for dinner that evening and we had a fantastic time chatting and noshing before the fasting season of Lent.  I made vegetarian jambalya (super simple!) and a REAL king cake!  The king cake was a long process but so worth it.. I intend to make one every year as it was so delicious!  That week ended with SOLV’s Women in Science Day, which Miles and I coordinated; a great event.. read about it on the Green Team blog.

That’s all for now folks.  Embrace the blooming flowers, budding trees, walk with a spring in your step.  I’ll be toting my camera around more often; brace yourself for spring photos and more updates soon!

Is your life too plastic?

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To use a Pacific Northwest weather term, I’ve been in quite a fog the past week or so as I battle illness in the form of a cold. I will prevail, by lots of tea-drinking and wishing for warm weather. Onward for updates…

It’s been a busy few weeks at SOLV, when isn’t it busy? Spring planting season is certainly underway and we are busy with Green Team schools; our Women in Science Day event is this coming weekend.  We have some great female mentors in science fields who will be talking with the young female students who are attending and we will also have a tree planting with everyone after the presentation and discussion.  Its amazing to me the amount of young students who are already so interested in this environmental movement, whereas it took me until the age of 19 to figure it out.

Miles, Meghan and I went to a min-conference on Friday at Portland State University about engaging minority and indigenous groups in the sustainability movement; the professor who presented had done research on her home island of Molokai in Hawai’i on youth involved at an organic farm.  While her research was not entirely pertinent to what we do with SOLV, we took a lot away from it as I am hoping to re-establish our Equipo Verde program that existed last year with Spanish-speaking students from a local high school.  Long term stream restoration and community stewardship of a site provide students with a sense of ownership over a place and I do hope that starting this program up again will be successful in engaging students.

In non-work related news, I met Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools and the founder of CAI, on Tuesday evening.  My housemate Chris and I drove up to Longview, WA (which looked a lot like Ridgewood, NJ.. hmm) to hear Greg speak at a high school there; the auditorium was filled with a lot of little old book club ladies, parents and community leaders.  He spoke about his books, his life history as a mountaineer-turned-education advocate and school builder.  To merely be in his presence was so inspiring, but it was easy to see how exhausting his position is; he is travelling constantly, speaking to over 140 schools a year and going between the US and Pakistan/Afghanistan to oversee school builds there.  He labels himself as shy and not a great public speaker, he admits that he doesn’t really even enjoy it and still, people put him on a pedestal and treat him as a celebrity.  He truly is just an ordinary man trying to spread peace through education of children in remote areas of the world who would otherwise not have access to resources and literacy.  Greg shared with us a statistic that was truly eye-opening: in 2000, about 800,000 children (boys) were literate in Pakistan and by 2010, over 8 million children are literate, including nearly 2 million girls.

If you educate a boy, you educate an individual–if you educate a girl, you educate a community. (African proverb)

Through their scholarship support of girls going to high school, building primary schools and women’s vocational centers, CAI is truly embodying their mission of promoting and supporting community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  According to their website, CAI has built over 145 schools and educated 64,000 students, 52,000 of them girls.  Read more about their projects here.

So you know how you get a plastic bag to carry out your lunch or to hold your toothpaste you have to buy in a hurry? That bag is free right? Think again..  Another FANtastic adventure I had this week was with my friend Kim from Fairfield who now lives in Portland (win!) and some of my housemates; we went to the premiere of the documentary Bag It, a film by Suzan Beraza.  Bag It explores the issues of plastic bags as they exist in our world to be used for just a few minutes.

In the United States alone, an estimated 12 million barrels of oil is used annually to make the plastic bags that Americans consume. The United States International Trade Commission reported that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the U.S. in 2009. These bags often wind up in waterways or on the landscape, becoming eyesores and degrading water and soil as they break down into toxic bits. Their manufacture, transportation and disposal use large quantities of non-renewable resources and release equally large amounts of global-warming gases. Ecologically, hundreds of thousands of marine animals die every year when they eat plastic bags mistaken for food.

Senator Mark Hass and Representative Ben Cannon, the sponsors of the Oregon Bag Ban bill, were present for a talk-back after the event.  I recognized some people I have worked with through SOLV and it was great to see such strong support for a bill that would ban plastic bags statewide in Oregon, which would be the first state to do so.  Senator Hass mentioned that much of the delay or friction in passing the bill comes from the plastics industry not wanting statewide bans because that will encourage other states to pass the bill as well.  The American Chemistry Council, who did not choose to be interviewed in any way for the film, is the creator and proponent for plastic bags and has even gone as far to create committees like the Progressive Bag Affiliates to promote recycling of plastic bags.  This just fuels (pun intended!) the creation of more bags and it is a scientific fact that plastic bags don’t degrade at the rate we need them to; they merely dissolve into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic over time, making them prime targets for marine life who mistake them for food.

I learned so much from this movie and the partners who put the event on; check the Bag It website for screenings and bring Bag It to your school or community!

A few more nuggets to share with you before I depart, an environmental news roundup! Wahoo!

“Arctic Blast!”

What a pleasant surprise to wake up to snow this morning.. though it was just a few inches, the world outside was quiet in a way that only snow can make it. Our office is closed, as all of the school districts in the area are, and so… I have some blog catch-up time!

Its been a very busy few weeks, especially since returning from retreat in WA two weekends ago. We have been working with a lot of our students on bioengineering on site; this is a method of engineering and stream restoration that utilizes all natural materials to stabilize stream banks and support stream health. We harvest several different types of willow stakes, douglas spiraea and red osier dogwood, as these are native trees that proliferate quickly. We worked with high school students yesterday to build fascine bundles, or small bunches of willow stakes wrapped with twine, to install in a severely eroding bankside. These bundles were staked into the bank using thicker willow stakes; all of these willows will grow a fantastic network of roots which will hold onto the bank and eventually grow tall enough to shade the stream and stop sediment from entering the waterway.

I’m also working on coordinating some meetings with neighbors in and around some of our sites to establish friends groups for long-term community engagement at the sites after SOLV is finished with its restoration plan. Community engagement in all respects is something that is so important for a healthy way of life for families and individuals; we’re hoping to help create several of these groups in communities where this might be lacking. We are also in the midst of planning Women in Science Day, taking place  in about two weeks, which is a day for young girls to come and meet women in the fields of science and talk to them about their careers and experiences. We will also be planting trees and doing stream restoration with them all.. stellar!  Can’t believe how quickly time is flying at SOLV.. much more to do.

Last weekend was a long one for the Hillsboro crew, as we celebrated President’s Day weekend. Well we celebrated, but not necessarily with any or for any presidents.. sorry guys. A few of us trekked to Grand Lodge last Friday for some local beers, tater tots and free music.. delish. Another McMenamin’s restaurant, Grand Lodge is a converted Masonic home that now houses restaurants, pubs, movie theaters, guest rooms and even a soaking pool. Saturday was off to Portland for the community (in our borrowed Honda Odyssey, we were all able to be in the same car for the first time ever!) for breakfast at Pine State Biscuits. It’s a must for any first time Portlander.. delicious. Just delicious. (I’ve been to both locations now, so worth it. Biscuits have never tasted so good.) We ate breakfast in Laurelhurst Park and could feel a twinge of spring in the air as the sun shone.. I am so excited and ready for the spring and some serious sun time! After an adventure and some visits to the Portland JV houses, a few of us went to Forest Park for an afternoon hike. Forest Park stretches for over 8 miles and is one of the country’s largest urban forest reserves; it covers over 5,100 acres and 70 miles of trails criss-cross it.. we only hiked 5 miles, thank you very much. We hiked up to Pittock Mansion and got a clear (!!) view of Portland, which made the muddy sneakers worth it.

As if we hadn’t already done enough in one weekend, Christie and I went back into Portland on Sunday for a bookmaking class at Collage, an arts and crafts store in NE Portland. Christie had been really interested in this kind of bookmaking called Japanese stab binding and we were able to make four little notebooks over a 2 and a half hour class.. I was most frustrated when I couldn’t thread my needle. Baby steps. It was great to get to create something and just be in an intentionally creative space; I have been on a crafty/creative kick since then, creating embroidered cards, prayer flags, etc. (Photos to come.. and maybe an Etsy account?)

Working hard with our schools this week and a short week due to the holiday was made even shorter with today’s snow day.. hurrah! No real plans yet this weekend but I’m sure I’ll find something to do… 🙂

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