Hello, trolley people!

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Pictures from our day in San Francisco!  We travelled from Oregon and this was our first stop; though we just had a few hours, we saw some wonderful things from Fisherman’s Wharf, downtown San Fran and Golden Gate National Park.  Highlights were lunch at Boudin (chowder for the boys) and Dad and Justin touching West Coast water for the first time.  More photos soon!


Been in an avalanche? Check.

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So I started writing this blog post and then I forgot about it… oops!  A few of my housemates and I climbed Mt. St. Helen’s last Sunday and lived to tell the tale.. barely.  Factor in a mini-avalanche, non-waterproof hiking boots and forgotten sunglasses plus 8,365 feet of volcano.. you’ve got a pretty good story.

My housemate Sean’s supervisor Bridget bought my housemates and I all climbing permits back in February for the climb and five of us were able to do the climb last weekend.  Perhaps I should have prepared more as the lasting gift I received from my climb was a significant sunburn and what is called snow blindness.  Over an 11 hour hike, we summited the volcano and have all recovered greatly.  The hike started quite slowly and evenly, with snow present on the trail from the beginning.  We rented snowshoes and some of us attempted to use them but for the most part, we were able to climb in others’ footsteps with a combination of some rock climbing.

If anything, I learned that I might not be a professional mountain climber.  Is that even a profession?  It should be.  The quiet and peaceful nature of that climb was nearly overwhelming; only 100 people are permitted to climb each day.  I was hurting as we neared the top and kept thinking we were nearer to the summit than we were.  I think at one point, Elena and I both said that if the next ridge wasn’t the summit, we were gonna sit ourselves down and the rest of the crew could come back and get us on their way down.  But we pulled ourselves together and all made it to the top.

It was an incredible view above the clouds.  We were able to see Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood so clearly and sat right on the ridge of the crater at 8,365 feet; not something I necessarily ever thought I would do in my life.  We glissaded down the mountain, which was incredibly terrifying and thrilling and a fantastic form of travel.  We literally just slid down Mt. St. Helen’s on our butts, channeling a Jamaican bobsled team.. without the bobsled.  While sliding, we miiiiight have caused a mini-avalanche that flipped me on my stomach and I had no way of stopping myself.  I attempted to use my fourth-grade survival book skills to get out of an avalanche, to no avail and just had to ride it out.  Never have I ever been in an avalanche?  Cross that one of the bucket list…

It was a fantastic day in retrospect, but I did indeed suffer some bad sunburn and sunburnt eyes along with two of my housemates.  Never fear, I have recovered and am once more able to blog, drive, be in sunlight and generally live.  Because of my sunburnt eyes, I was unable to take a lot of pictures so these will suffice for now.  Off to climb Mt. Hood.. seeya!

Sister love.

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While the weather wasn’t quite as sunshiney as I had hoped it would be (we got about 15 minutes of sun all weekend,) my sister and I had a fantabulous time in Portland this weekend.  She flew in on Thursday night and was able to come to our SOLV Green Team summit to hear our students present on what they’ve learned this year and meet some of the people I’ve worked closely with for the past 10 months.  We had a nice little jaunt around Washington Park in Portland and almost made it to Hoyt Arboretum but realized TOMS and flats weren’t quite appropriate for the mud.

We made it into downtown Portland for the night and checked into our super swank hotel room at Crystal Hotel, very “JV” of me, I know.  We proceeded to get soaking wet in a 30-second period while walking to Powell’s, where we got some serious deals on used books and did some wonderful childhood reminiscing.  We hit up Saturday Market the next morning, which is along the waterfront in Portland every weekend from March to December and got some beautiful little things.  We were off next to the PSU Farmer’s Market, where I was in heaven as we were surrounded by beautiful fruits and veggies and fantastic vendors.  Strawberry season.. yes!  We finished out a long day of exploring with a stop at the Washed Ashore exhibit, which is a community art/activism project that collects marine debris and creates sculptures to show the effects of pollution and our dependence on plastics:

The Washed Ashore community project aims to educate and create awareness about marine debris and plastic pollution through art.  Community members are working together to clean-up our beaches and process the debris into art supplies to construct giant sculptures of the marine creatures most affected by plastic pollution. This has resulted in thousands of pounds of debris cleaned up from Oregon beaches and an educational touring art exhibit to showcase the sculptures.

Sadly Voodoo Doughnuts was closed for renovations, so we did not have delicious baked goods covered in sugar, preservatives and Capn’ Crunch, but we did go to Multnomah Falls.. a good tradeoff.  All in all, a great weekend of food, Portland sights and sister love.  Not enough hipster run-ins though.. we never get enough of those out here.  Thanks for coming Sam, miss you already!!

Greenpeace Coal Plant Protest

Greenpeace USA activists unfurled a 20×40 foot banner this morning on the Bridgeport Harbor Coal Plant in Bridgeport, CT; I was able to see this plant both from my house at Fairfield senior year and every day that I drove to Bridgeport to work at HeadStart.. talk about hitting close to home..

Bridgeport Harbor is an aging, inefficient plant — it’s 40 years old — and it isn’t necessary to provide power to Connecticut’s grid. Yet it emits 3 million tons of carbon emissions every year, as well as 2,800 tons of toxic sulfur dioxide, 2,200 tons of nitrous oxide, and 50 lbs of mercury. The coal plant literally casts a shadow upon a low-income section of Bridgeport, where 1 in 4 residents have asthma. Health experts estimate that at least one death a year in the city can be attributed to the coal plant’s noxious emissions.

Read more about the protest here and about Greenpeace’s Coal Free Future Tour and get ready for a new wave of climate activism! Maybe if we’re lucky, their boat will dock at Powershift 2011.. a girl can dream!

bear necessities

Time has a funny way of flying by when you aren’t looking…

This weekend was our second retreat for JVC Northwest, with a focus on social justice. Over 70 JV’s from the Cascades region headed to Anderson Lodge in Washington from Friday to Monday; the retreat was facilitated by a teacher from Jesuit High School in Portland who spent some time as a Maryknoll Missionary and was in service for four years in Chile. It came at the perfect time for many, myself included, as life in community and in service can get to be a bit overwhelming.

We’re past our six month mark, settled into our placements and into routines in community. We were able to examine, some for the first time, our work in relation to “charity” and “justice.”

The Two Feet of Social Action are a tool that Kathleen Meyers, the retreat facilitator, used to examine the way in which we view service in action. The idea behind it is that charity and justice are the moving parts of social action and one cannot exist without the other.  Each step we take in social action is a step of charity, followed by a step of justice, or vice versa.

Charity is defined as more direct social services, like soup kitchens and cold weather coat drives, whereas justice is enacting structural change, looking to rectify problems within the proverbial “system.” As I examined my work with environmental stewardship, it was difficult not to compare it to more concrete social services, like outreach to homeless youth or advocacy for domestic violence survivors. However, I chatted with another JV, living in Seattle and working for the People of Puget Sound.  We had a great discussion about tree planting and restoration work as the charity part of social action and the environmental education and community stewardship as the pieces of justice within the system.

Overall, the weekend provided great space for silent meditation, reflection and conversation about our world and the world beyond us. Meals were all cooked by each house and it was wonderful to share so many great meals, such a constant flow of great food! (Calories don’t count on retreat, if I remember correctly…) We were in the middle of fantastic Doug Fir forests with crisp and clean mountain air to breathe in.

We enjoyed each others’ silliness with a coffeehouse and impromptu kitchen dance parties; in some ways, it felt like I was back in college again. How grateful I am for all of the wonderful people I am sharing this year of my life with, the difficult conversations we had, the laughter that rang through the retreat house, and of course, the time and space to be silent and step away to look at the larger picture. To step into those difficult questions of “Who am I?” “Whose am I?” “Who am I called to be?” that we are too busy for in our everyday. How blessed are we for opportunities like these…

Casa de Paz, with our "peace" pancake

Eat Real Food

Think about your dinner plate.  Maybe its not a plate.. maybe its a Lean Cuisine in a plastic container or a fast food sandwich wrapped in paper or maybe you didn’t get around to dinner so you just skipped to the ice cream. You can see what your food looks like, but do you really know what it contains?  Where did it come from? What IS high fructose corn syrup? What does “all-natural” mean? Diet soda is healthier, right?

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) just published the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which are updated every five years. Mark Bittman, the New York Times Minimalist columnist and food guru, reviews the new guidelines:

We’re told to eat “less food” and more fresh foods; wise advice. But aside from salt, the agency buries mostly vague recommendations about what we should be eating less of: we’re admonished to drink “few or no” sodas — hooray for that — and “refined grains,” Solid Fats and Added Sugars. And there’s our fabulous acronym: SOFAS.

The USDA had a real chance to tell Americans to stop eating processed, unhealthy food and demand whole and fresh foods for healthy living. Not wanting to upset any powerful people or corporations, the guidelines fall short in telling people what to eat “less” of, like meat and sugar.  Its difficult to access real foods in our communities but we don’t all need to rush out and become farmers to eat real food.  We also need to take care not to fall into the trap of fake-healthy foods like imitation chicken nuggets.. who even wants to know whats in there?

Bittman mentions Oprah’s challenge to her staff to go vegan for a week and while this is a great idea in theory, many fell into the trap of merely substituting meats and cheeses with alternatives. What about instead of having a meat alternative pasta sauce and dairy-free cheese, we look for locally grown, organic tomatoes and make our own pasta sauce?

The truly healthy alternative to that chip is not a fake chip; it’s a carrot. Likewise, the alternative to sausage is not vegan sausage; it’s less sausage.

The Fairfield University garden grows food for the cafeteria and local food bank

Try keeping a list of what you eat for a week.  You’d be surprised how much of that food contains corn and how many of the products we use in our daily life contain corn, like batteries. This isn’t corn on the cob you get from the farmer’s market; this is inedible field corn that we process into high fructose corn syrup and other corn byproducts.  Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules and others, has a simple rule for eating wholesome, good-for-you, good-for-the-planet food:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

In his article Unhappy Meals, Pollan recognizes another inherent break in our food system: our current generation spends less of their income on food than any other generation before us.  But this doesn’t mean we aren’t paying in other ways, like our health and the impact on the environment.  Did you know we are dubbed “The Obesity Generation” and one in three children is obese or overweight, while one in two adults is obese and this is highly likely to lead to diabetes and heart conditions.  I came across a trailer for a documentary today called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead; it chronicles a man’s journey from being overweight to finding freedom in choosing a healthier lifestyle. What did it take to get to a point where we have to make movies and documentaries about our broken food system that we plop down in front of, slurping down diet sodas, processed candy and butter sogged popcorn? How do we fix this broken system?

Local shopping at the farmer's market

We’re going to have to demand to pay more for more whole foods.  (I don’t mean Whole Foods. But they’re trying.) We have to make healthier choices in the food we put in our bodies and bodies of our children. So you drink diet soda because it has less calories and like to snack on “baked” chips, but do you have any idea what in the heck is in them?  We’ve been bombarded with shiny wrappers, tantalizing food artistry and “value” meals; what value?  One of the most important lines in [the documentary] King Corn is: “We subsidize Happy Meals but we don’t do the same for healthy ones.” We have over a trillion corn plants that we grow each year and yet we still have a growing problem of global hunger and hunger in our own communities?

There is no easy answer to fix our broken food system.  Michael Pollan has some pointers for being more mindful of what goes into our bodies:

Choose whole grains, vegetables and fruits that are in season.

Avoid processed and packaged foods.

Get out of the supermarket and into the farmer’s market.

Pay more, eat less.

Eat more like an omnivore; diversify the species and types of foods you eat.

Cook; plant a garden and herbs, if you have the space.

Curt Ellis, one of the creators of King Corn, is launching a new program with some partners called FoodCorps.  It is something I have been researching ever since I heard about it:

The program addresses this multi-faceted epidemic with a mechanism that, as philosopher Wendell Berry says, “solves for pattern.” The simple tool of a schoolyard garden positively addresses six of the eight contributing factors to obesity identified by the CDC. Gardens that engage children provide better food choices, encourage physical activity, reduce sedentary behavior, and lead to healthier environments at home, at school, and in the community.

By bringing healthy food infrastructure to schools that are facing challenges of “diet-related disease” FoodCorps members will be able to educate students about nutrition, engage them in the building and maintenance of school gardens and help the community to promote and sustain partnerships with local farmers.  THIS is the type of step we need to take to ensure a healthier food future.

Challenge yourself to eat real, whole foods for a week.  See how you do, see where your community needs to step up in providing access to locally sourced foods, see how much healthier you can feel and be.  Eat real food.

***Added 11 Feb: New study of 100 children between the ages of 4 and 8 showed significantly reduced symptoms of ADHD when their diet eliminated processed foods for five weeks. 78% of the children had reduced symptoms of ADHD when placed on the new food pattern. Researchers “reported “a substantial relapse in behaviour in 63 per cent of children” when previously restricted processed foods were put back in the diet.”

Though this study doesn’t necessarily prove that ADHD and behavioral patterns that are plaguing our children are a direct cause of a processed diet, it certainly makes us wonder how much of an affect our food can have not only on our physical health but our mental health as well.