Tuesday, June 30, 2009

One thing for the planet: recycled toilet paper

I've done a little comparison shopping for everyone. I decided a month ago that it was time to ditch the 2-ply, super soft, rolls-so-thick-they barely-fit-in-my-toilet-paper-dispenser toilet paper. I've been using 100% recycled paper products elsewhere in my house for years. I don't go through much since I use dishcloths more than paper towels, but I've never made the leap to toilet paper.

According to the Seventh Generation toilet paper label I read in the store:

"If every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of 500 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissue with 100% recycled ones, we could save 448,000 trees, 1.1 million cubic feet of landfill space (equal to 1,700 full garbage trucks), and 161 million gallons of water, which is a year's supply for 1,270 families of four!"

I bought a roll of 1-ply, it was a bit scratchy I admit. So I bought two other products available in my local store: 100% recycled "Small Steps" by Marcal and 40% recycled "Naturals" by Scott.

Here's my results:

Seventh Generation: Their 2-ply is a bit softer than the 1-ply. I like that you can buy it in individual paper-packaged 1000 sheet rolls to avoid plastic, although the 2-ply is only available 500 sheet rolls.

Marcal's Small Steps: Only found it in 1-ply which is about the same quality as Seventh Generation's 1-ply. Also available in individual paper-packaged 1000 sheet rolls.

Scott's "Naturals": Available in 2-ply 440 sheet rolls and was by far the softest, but that's the benefit to being more virgin paper and less recycled paper. They call it a "sensible blend of 40% recycled fiber". It only lasted half as long as the 1000 sheet rolls of the other brands. From what I can tell it's only available in plastic-wrapped packages.

In conclusion I've decided to stick with the Seventh Generation since they were a pioneer in the recycled and earth friendly paper product business. I like their sense of community and their idea of corporate consciousness.

The best part about this experiment is I don't even think my husband noticed I took away the soft and squishy old stuff! I call that a success! So go save some trees, some petroleum AND some water at the same time!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lemonade stand award

When life gives you lemons, make a little lemonade.

Squirrel Queen
over at the Road to Here has so very kindly awarded me with The Lemonade Stand Award a few weeks ago. It has taken me some time to be able to pass it on. There are so many blogs out there that have great, sunny, positive attitudes, here are a few of them that bring a bit of sunshine into my day. Some of these blogs may already have been awarded a Lemonade Stand Award, but I don't think anyone's going to be sad to get more lemonade! Happy reading!

The basic guidelines are:
1) Put the award logo on your blog.
2) Nominate at least 10 bloggers (more or less, whatever number is good for you), that have a positive attitude.
3) Be sure to list and link your nominees within your post.
4) Let them know they have received this award by leaving a comment on their blog.

I'm passing it on to five people, I have some more award-happiness to spread around so check back soon!

The Sunflower Ranch: always something up to make you smile

Life on a Bison Farm
: the latest post of their three kittens totally cheered me up on a rainy, yucky day when I was stuck at work.

My Weather Vane: Rae always has something up to make me giggle, or stop and think. Both are good. She's also the nicest person I know that I've never met :)

Gleeful: I haven't been following very long. But, the subtitle to the blog is "An almost daily diary of simple joy". That says it all.

Inside Jade: A new young blogger, writes about the trials of teenage-hood. Yet, with all the insanity a teenager goes through she stays pretty upbeat, which is amazing.

Congratulations and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eating locally: the CSA farm share

Reduce footprints put out a challenge this week to eat locally. This actually works in nicely to a post I've been working on about our local farm share. For the fourth year in a row my husband and I have had a community sponsored agriculture (CSA) share in the delicious organic produce of Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton, MA. This was the first week's distribution which I picked up last Tuesday, believe it or not this is a "small share". It's far more than my husband and I can eat. We freeze a lot for the long winter:

Green Meadows has an interesting history in that the property was owned by General George S. Patton III of WWII fame. His son, Major General George S. Patton IV, retired to the farm in 1980 and turned this former leisure property into a blueberry farm. All the fields are named after brave soldiers who lost their lives fighting with the Major General in Vietnam.

We love our farm share for many reasons:

-it's local (five minutes down the road from our house).
-it's organic
-it supports a local business
-it makes us eat our veggies :)
-every week there's a pick-your-own offering, the past two weeks it was strawberries, check them out below! I ate most of them and only left my husband two, I couldn't help it they were SO good!

-and most importantly (my husband's favorite reason) it makes us feel good. He says he enjoys talking to the "cute farm girls" that grow our food. He did actually just say that. Although it's actually a large crew of very dedicated women and men, but we'll let him enjoy talking to the farm girls....

Green Meadows Farm also has chickens, turkeys, sheep, pigs (which they let you feed!) and a super friendly house cat that's employed to get the mice. Four years ago getting a slot for their CSA was easy. This year there were 300 people on their waiting list and they're already taking names for next spring's waiting list. I take that as an excellent sign that Americans are starting to be more mindful about what they eat.

To find a farm with CSA shares near you go to localharvest.org and enter your zipcode. I'm still stunned at how many farms offer farm shares! In a 15 mile radius of our house there are nine farms that have shares, talk about eating local!

a sunny break

If you live anywhere in the northeast your weather report for the last ten days and the next two (at least) would include the terms "chance of showers", "patchy fog", "thunderstorms" and "rain". I think there's mold growing behind my ears. The rain is a good thing, neighboring towns have already posted water bans, but even this die-hard New Englander is wishing for sun. If it's raining where you are as well here's a little sunny tour of the North Shore on a day when the stars align and we have sun, good clean surf and a whole day with no commitments. My perfect day:

Head over to Gloucester and paddle out for a dawn session at Long Beach or Good Harbor before the life guards make us surfers get out of the water:
Take a hike out to Halibut Point State Park to poke around in the tidepools:

Pack a picnic lunch and drive over to Crane Beach and do some shorebird watching:

Walk along the beach to the base of Steep Hill :

Take a moment to admire the sailboats heading in and out of Plum Island Sound:

Continue the walk around the back of Cedar Point and along the marshes of the Ipswich River:

Stop at Russell Orchards on the way home to visit Big Boy (last weigh 1,100 pounds!) and eat cider donuts, yum!:

Then rinse off all that salt water in Hood's Pond before heading home at the end of a long, sunny day:

I hope the sun is out where you are, and I really hope the sun comes out where I am soon! For more sunny photos of the north shore of Massachusetts visit My beautiful piece of the world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ipswich River 2009 herring count: unofficial results!

The unofficial results are in for the 2009 Ipswich River herring count (see Awaiting the Herring, March 2009). We still have to figure out the final number the amazing band of volunteer counters observed coming up the fish ladder, but the Division of Marine Fisheries trap caught 187. I know, that doesn't seem like a lot. But, it's 57 more than last year, and this is the first year since 2001 that we've seen an increase in numbers.

Historically herring numbers should be up in the millions. The reason why Ipswich was settled in the first place, by Native Americans as well as Europeans, is because of the historically prolific herring run. Off shore overfishing, poor water quality and most importantly poor water flow are all factors contributing to their demise in the river.

One of the theories to explain why the numbers finally went up this year actually has us looking back three years to 2006 to one of the worst floods Ipswich, MA saw in a hundred years. (There should be a parking lot in front of this building above).

One of my favorite graphs off the USGS Streamflow data website
(an amazing resource is you're a river-watcher) is the peak streamflow graph below. You can see from 1935 to 2006 nothing topped May 16, 2006:
Graph of annual maximum streamflow at USGS 01102000 IPSWICH RIVER NEAR IPSWICH, MA

Herring take three years to return to their native river to spawn, and in 2006 the river actually flowed all summer into fall, allowing the fry to get out, over the dam (under "normal" flow below), and into the ocean. Many previous summers saw the river run dry, so the adults could get out of their breeding ponds and over the dam after they spawned, but the young would get caught in a dry river bed and never make it out.

In 2003 the Ipswich River Watershed Association along with the Essex County Greenbelt and 12 private citizens filed a law suit against the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in an effort to curtail the mass consumption of water withdrawals from the river, sometimes up to 30 million gallons A DAY! The results were positive and Reading has turned off its wells and now purchases water from the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority. This action alone seems to have allowed the river to run all year, although the IWRA still is fighting for stricter water use regulations.

So with the 4,000-plus cubic feet per second that was flowing in 2006 (believe it or not there is a dam under all that water to the right), and the fact that some key wells were shut down, herring fry were able to make it back out to sea. The result of that is we finally saw these guys returning to spawn. I am very eagerly awaiting next year's herring run to see if this trend continues. We're a far cry from the million-plus numbers of the past, but with conservation efforts and turning off our sprinklers (I don't even own own) we might one day see a herring run like the native Agawam people saw before Europeans arrived. That would truly be a sight to see.

What can you do to help?

Even if you don't live anywhere near the Ipswich River watershed, you can help native fish and wildlife in your own community every day by conserving water!

-take shorter showers

-don't water your lawn

-install rain barrels

-plant drought tolerant native plants and grasses

-join your local watershed association, find one in your area on the National Watershed Network. Or even better volunteer at your local watershed association. This was my second year volunteering as the herring count coordinator. The IRWA thanked me with the spiffy new cloth shopping bag! Perfect for meeting Reduce Footprints weekly Change the Earth Wednesday Challenge of ridding my house of plastic shopping bags!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spokane County, Washington bans high phosphate dish detergent

Way to go Spokane County, Washington! High phosphate dish washing detergent was banned from stores last July significantly reducing this fertilizing agent in the Spokane River. This directly benefits wildlife by minimizing algae growth therefore improving dissolved oxygen. More oxygen = happy fish.

The Spokane River Forum reports, "Last month, an average of 1,522 pounds of phosphorus entered the plant each day, which was down 14 percent from the average of 1,769 pounds per day over the three prior years, the collected data show. That compares with a 7 percent phosphorus decline in September".

That's the good news. Now the bad news is that residents of Spokane County are crossing the border into Idaho to smuggle in the high-phosphate brands like Electrosol and Cascade.

theeagel.com reports that "Many people were shocked to find that products like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Trader Joe's left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand. The culprit was hard water, which is mineral-rich and resistant to soap."

I switched our family over to Trader Joe's, Seventh Generation or Ecover (depending on where I'm shopping) soap months ago and I agree that the earth-friendly products don't work quite as well. But what's the big deal? So what if the glasses have some spots on them? Every once in a while I have to rinse a dish out by hand, but I've experienced none of the grease-smeared grossness described above. I think all of this is a very very very small inconvenience for us humans to suffer in order to protect billions of gallons of pristine river water and millions of fish.

According to NPR there's legislation in the works to ban high phosphate dish detergent nationally in July of 2010. Fine with me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day to the most ethical man I know

My Dad is the smartest and most ethical person I know. He's one of those super smart guys who can do calculus, probably understands string theory and can rewire anything in the house. I think he has at least three degrees from MIT and my sister and I attribute our ease with spatial relations to his genes. Unfortunately I still can't do calculus.

One of our favorite games as kids was to outsmart our Dad. Considering his IQ it was hard to do. But we succeeded in a way we could never have imagined with Tetris. The other day on NPR I heard an interview with Alexey Pajitnov who created Tetris 25 years ago this month and it brought back memories of how we performed this amazing feat.

My father was an engineer for Hewlett-Packard so we always, from about 1981 on, had the most modern desktop computer one could own. We never had an Atari or a Playstation or whatever kids had in the 80s, we had actual computer games. Initially in ASCII, then with color and graphics and finally, sometime in the mid 80s, Tetris.

Somehow, magically, my sister or I (I can't remember) found a key command pattern that froze the speed at the lowest level. Then we could on to level ten or eleven or even twelve, yet with the ridiculously slow speed a five year old could master. Even though my sister and I were always above the curve with spatial relations, for months my father could still not figure out how we managed to obtain our world champion-like Tetris scores. And then we fessed-up.

He was mad, no, furious. He blamed us for cheating. "NO, it's not cheating!" we tried and tried to convince him thinking he'd be proud that we so cleverly figured this secret key code out. But he was still mad and sat us down for a long lecture on cheating and morals and we squirmed through it, nodding our heads and then probably skulked off disappointed that he didn't see the genius of our computing.

But now, as a parent, I can see why he was so upset. You're supposed to raise honest kids, and I am fiercely honest. I never cheated in school, never even copied someone's notes from a missed class, and I'm the worst liar on the planet. Hey, I've never even once purchased Cliffs Notes, I read every assigned book cover to cover. If my little girl one days tries to outsmart me in a similar way by "cheating" at what ever game she's trying to beat me at I'd be mad and I'd sit her down for a lecture....by secretly I'd be proud of her cleverness.

So Happy Father's Day weekend Dad! Thanks for the lecture on ethics, sorry for cheating, but I'm still pretty proud that I outsmarted you!!

Love Katie

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Kenya Field Journal: The Rift in the Heart of Africa

During a recent cleaning session in my house I stumbled upon my photo album from an educational trip to Kenya in 1995. I spent five weeks there with 31 other students studying wildlife management with the School for Field Studies. It changed my life.

Sometime after returning I wrote five essays on my experiences and stashed them in the photo album. I had forgotten about them until this past week. They are entitled The Rain, Bright Sun, Night, Simba, and The Rift in the Heart of Africa. Reading them brought back so many wonderful and thrilling memories. I'm posting them here mainly for the benefit of two friends I met there who have become friends for life: Dave and Agnes. Photos were taken by me during my adventure, clicking on them will enlarge them. Enjoy!

The Rift in the Heart of Africa

Eight days after arriving in the magical place of Jua Kali we left it. The students were told we were to go west, towards Lake Victoria, to a preserve called the Masai Mara. It would be a six hour to two day drive, depending on the condition of the roads. I rose before dawn on the 28th of July to wake up my fellow cook crew members. The four of us had just finished getting together stuff for lunch when the rest of the camp started to stir. David made us his famous banana pancakes, I grabbed a few extra for later.

All gear had been packed the night before. All we had to do was get in one of the four Land Cruisers and move out. Passing the familiar trees and landmarks of Hopcraft's ranch I wondered what was in store for us over the next two weeks.Would it really take two days to get there? Would we run out of food? What would it be like to camp out in the open with no protective banda walls around me? Do lions attack people through tents? These were the thing I really wanted to know, but I guess I had to just find out for myself.

We snaked our way through the morning Nairobi traffic as we headed west. Once out of the city we drove through endless field of wheat, and I couldn't help but think: were these fields once vast grazing plains turned into farms? We began to climb and the landscape grew more lush.

It got colder. We came upon a sign that read "The Great Rift Valley View Point Alt. 8,000 Ft." with a picture of Africa on one side and a Coca-Cola ad on the other. Richard, who was driving our vehicle, pulled over and said, "Everybody out! There's a neat view of the valley from here."

The great rift valley. It's a huge scar right through the heart of East Africa, and we were about to drive right through it. I walked towards the viewing deck huddled in my sweatshirt, it was very cold at this altitude. Jua Kali lay at only 3,000 feet, we were now 5,000 feet higher than this morning.

Then I saw it. A vast valley lay before me, speckled with sun and clouds from the northern to the southern horizon. It was as if the earth split open and the scar filled in with green. From where I was there was a 5,000 foot drop to the valley floor where animals grazed as they have been for thousands of years. Volcanoes dotted the other side of the valley giving a pointed border to the vastness. It is hard to comprehend the magnificence of this place without seeing it and experiencing the awe.

We were to drive down the valley walls and across to the other side, to Narok to refuel. How were were to get down was another question that I guess would have to just wait and be answered on its own. Once we took in our fill of the valley, the eight of us climbed into the back of the Land Cruiser and out onto the road. Richard took a right and almost immediately we were headed down. The road was winding and I concentrated as much as I could on the view and not on the road ahead of us: there were no guard rails.

For every hundred feet we went down it grew a little warmer. The flora went from lush mountainous green at the top, to jungle-like lianas and palms hugging the cliffs, to grassy plains at the bottom. It took only 30 minutes or so to get down. And when we looked back at where we had just been it seemed like a far away cloud-land in the sky compared to the bottom-land plains in the belly of the rift.

Once we landed on the valley floor Richard turned left and began to drive right down the center of the scar. He said we had to go south a ways to where we would find a lag in the rift walls and getting out of the valley would be easier. The further we drove the more wild it became. Small volcanoes popped out of the valley floor every so often. Larger volcanoes lined the rim. These pointy mounds must have sprung up as the earth split open, I wish I could have witnessed them grow. As we drove past them they seemed fairly dormant, gentle reminders of a more violent past. But the rift is still growing, someday East Africa will go the way of Madagascar and slowly drift out in the sea.

Once we entered the rift I felt as if we were entering a new realm. Things were further apart. We didn't see another human for at least an hour. I think we saw more gazelles than people that day. They grazed between the volcanoes, seemingly in peace. I didn't see any lions that day either. In fact I saw few animals but gazelles the entire way to the Mara. But the Mara would be different. The Mara is what the tour companies save for last, it is what we got to see first. We didn't know how lucky we were.


That is all that I wrote fourteen years ago when I returned from my summer in Kenya. Sadly, I became distracted by college and never completed my memories. Now, most things are fuzzy even if I look back at my photo album. I will return to Africa one day, I want nothing more than to share these places with my husband and daughter. I hear though that the rift valley is becoming populated with humans and Nairobi has grown one of the biggest slums in the world. I hope when I do return that there's some wild left to share. In the meantime I can try to save as much wild around me as I can so I don't feel helpless and hope the lush memories of Africa stay with me forever.

I will leave you with this photo of David Hopcraft's rescued Cheetah, Chala, hanging out on the roof of our Land Cruiser, one of my more vivid memories, since I was IN the vehicle when she jumped on it. Thanks for sharing my adventure with me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My love of bats and an update on white-nosed syndrome

A few days ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service posted an update on the white-nosed syndrome wiping out bats across the East. Since February of 2006 when the first caver came across bats with white fuzz on their muzzles hundred of thousands of bats have died.

I love bats. I really do. Look at how cute this guy is! We even get them in our house from time to time and it's my job to catch them and safely put them outside. The first time we had a little brown bat flying around the top of our staircase my husband screamed "DO SOMETHING!" We still laugh about it to this day, but he's right, if one of us has the experience with flying animals it'd be me.

So I am truly saddened to learn that in some hibernacula 90 to 100% of bats are dying.
A fungus with a previously undescribed morphology was isolated from ten bats, so at least we now have a culprit. USFW is aggressively tackling this problem. What can you do?
-Put up a bat house
-if you get bats in your house don't kill them. They're relatively harmless, gently catch them in a towel and shake them out the window. If they really freak you out call your local animal control officer.
-don't use chemicals on your property (pesticides and fertilizers), these little guys eats a lot of bugs that crawl around your property and those chemicals get passed on to the bats.
-don't explore in caves without checking the cave closure list

Many people are freaked out by bats, but they do so much good. A little brown bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in ONE HOUR! We live near a river, we'll gladly coexist with all the bats that want to live in our neighborhood!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Estimate your water footprint

I did a fun little exercise this morning. I estimated my water foot print on h20conserve.org. According to our water bill my household of two adults and one baby uses about 70 gallons a day, which is far below the national average of 200. SWEET! BUT, if you take into account such factors as:

-what we eat (typical American diet of dairy and some meat)
-the fact that we never water our lawn or garden except with rain barrels
-we use about 25 gallons of gas a week
-we do an above average five loads of laundry a week (blame the cloth diapers, which I still firmly believe use LESS water in the long run, I've discussed this before so I won't revisit).

Plus after many more questions on the survey the answer to my personal water footprint is more like 831.45 gallons a day, to be precise:

I'm still below the national average by 359 gallons, but that 831 gallons still seems like a lot. What can I do? We already have rain barrels and never wash our cars. We already have a low flow toilet, and, as the website asks, we "let it mellow" (unless we're expecting guests) - it does actually ask that, if you don't know what that means use your imagination. We don't brush our teeth with the water running and take short showers.

The website recommended getting an Energy Star dishwasher (which we have) an Energy Star washing machine (on my wish-list ever since the diapers started piling up) and low flow faucets, which I will definitely look into.

It was an interesting exercise and only took a minute, so go figure out your personal water footprint! And remember, it's "take shorter showers" week courtesy of Reduce Footprints!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Island paradise of Palau to accept Chinese dissidents from Guantanamo Bay

I salute you tropical island nation of Palau. You have graciously offered to give a permanent home to 17 Chinese Muslim dissidents currently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. These men, the Uighurs, pose no threat to the United States, and yet we won't allow them on our soil. If they return to China they will be imprisoned and tortured.

So thank you island nation of Palau, you'll be giving men who've spent six years behind bars a second chance on life, a safe place to live and a much better view. If this is how you treat complete strangers I sure hope to visit your nation some day. My country could learn something from your country.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A new addition to my "Monsanto sucks, Michelle Obama rocks!" organic garden - LADYBUGS!

My little "Monsanto sucks, Michelle Obama rocks!" organic veggie patch is doing quite well. The green beans, carrots, zucchini, salad mix, and cilantro are all up and growing fast. However, this year I purchased my tomato seedlings from the organic Green Meadows Farm instead of the conventional garden center where I usually purchase my annual flowers. And, like is typical with organic farms, the seedlings had some unwanted hitchhikers. These aphids and grasshoppers quickly moved on to the tasty new leaf-growth of the green beans and the munching commenced.

Instead of spraying even with an organic cod liver oil or soap I decided to buy ladybugs. Yes, you can mail-order lady bugs. There's nothing better than a ladybug to eat an aphid. I ordered 4,500. Seems like a lot, but the info on arbico.com said that was for a "small garden" of about 2,500 square feet, which is about the size of my tiny back yard. So I clicked "add to cart" and they were on the way!

Upon arriving at home this evening there they were, literally sitting a top my mail box, Yay!

Notice the "KEEP OUT OF SUN/HEAT" on the box. My mail man is a nice guy but he's lucky it was a cloudy day since my mail box faces west. I would have had fried ladybugs. When I opened the box they were just fine, hanging out in their little cloth sack:

I also ordered three praying mantid egg cases which I put straight into a mason jar to watch the hatching action. They're for targeting the larger grasshoppers, but don't worry, they generally don't eat lady bugs. Once out I'll release them into the garden too, but they're safer inside, warm and dry for now and freaking my husband out (which I find hilarious!):

The lady bug info sheet said to release them in the cool of the evening and over a few days, so I went to work, sprinkling them on my carrot seedlings:

My green beans:

And around the base of my brandywine heirloom tomato seedlings waiting to be planted in the back row since we have one more coat of paint to put on the garage and I fear them getting stepped on:

And then I sprinkled some on the flower garden for good luck:

Hopefully the little guys are enjoying their first night in my organic patch of earth and eating their fill! Looking forward to releasing the rest tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

One thing for the planet: reduce your junk mail through catalogchoice.org

I just wiped my house clean of Williams-Sonoma. Not that I dislike this heavenly realm of kitchen gadgets and dishes and bake ware, I registered there for my wedding and have a weakness for all things cooking. But I decided there's no need to receive a catalog every week when I can easily pull up their website and shop on line. Nor do I need two copies of Crate and Barrel or three of L.L. Bean. All gone.

How did I do this? Simply go to catalogchoice.org and let them know which catalogs you'd like to stop and they do all the work!

Most Wonderful FAVORITE!! Award

Almost two weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to receive my first award! Thank you again Sunflower Ranch for making my day. I was at work on a beautiful sunny Sunday, missing my kid and my husband, counting the minutes until I could put my avian charges to bed and go home to my human ones. It has taken me a while to spread this award out, I apologize, like I've said before I have demanding human and non-human creatures to pay attention to!

The rules of this award are as follows:

Deliver this award to eight bloggers who then must choose and deliver the award to eight more and include the following text into the award.

"These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers."

A Scarlet Shutter - A good friend and the reason why I got into this whole blog thing in the first place.

Fran Caldwell's Notebook - One of my first followers, she encouraged me to continue and I love seeing her progress out there in the publishing jungle.

Soundbounder - I love his nautical and seagoing-themed pictures, they make me pause and sigh on a day I'm stuck inside.

Wayward 30 Somethings - the Pacific Coast Trail hiking journal of a coworker and his wife. Originally created so friends and family could track them, I hope they don't mind a small bit of added fame. As of yesterday they had already hiked 558 miles and were due west of Death Valley. I get hot and tired just thinking about it. Kudos to them.

If it's Thursday it must be Prague -for something out of my usual realm of blogging, reminds me to widen my interests even more.

Knowplastic - the journey of another coworker trying to rid her life of plastic. She's done more in her life than I will ever do.

Nature Remains
- More beautiful photos (often of my favorite flying creature - the dragonfly) and reflections on nature.

I know I'm short one blog, but I have received two more awards in the last 24 hours and I need to spread around the love! More to come......

Congrats everyone! Keep blogging, keep connecting, and thanks for letting me follow you. -kate

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Food Inc. - a movie to watch

Last night on PBS I caught about 15 minutes of an interview with Robert Kenner, the producer/director of the new documentary Food Inc.

Two key points really caught my attention:

1) Even if you never eat at a fast food restaurant the fast food industry controls what you eat. WHAT? Yes, McDonald's is the nation's largest purchaser of beef, potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes. So basically they control the production of almost the entire nation's production of these food products. One more reason to buy local and buy organic.

2) One third of Americans born after 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes. One of the reasons being lower income Americans can't afford to buy healthful food. When the choice is $2.29 for six bananas or $1.29 for a two liter bottle of Coke too many people are opting for the soda.

I only caught 15 minutes of the interview but I did spend some time checking out the movie's website (http://www.foodincmovie.com/) and there are so many more frightening facts. Plus you can sign the petition to assure healthy food choices in school.

The movie opens up in limited cities June 12th. To see if a screening is scheduled in your area click here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My love of extreme weather and my "Perfect Storm" wedding day

I have always been obsessed with foul weather. Being a born and raised New Englander must have something to do with it. I love terms like 'it blew a gale' and 'a nor'easter's moving in'. My old roommate, Dave, and I used to spend hours glued to the Weather Channel during a big hurricane. He's a middle school science teacher and just as obsessed with weather as I am. Their extreme weather correspondent Jim Cantore is our HERO. We loved to watch him put himself in the center of the storm, holding on to a sign post or palm tree, his snazzy custom L.L. Bean gear being practically blown off him.

The other day my coworkers and I were talking about all the weddings we have this season and it made me reflect on my own wedding. I was married in Gloucester, MA on October 28th, 2006, the weekend of 15th anniversary of the Perfect Storm. It was fitting weekend. A film crew from the Weather Channel, including our fearless Jim Cantore, was already in town giving live updates from the Crow's Nest, the infamous fisherman bar on the waterfront featured in the blockbuster movie.

A week before the wedding I said to my mother, "there's going to be weather that day." "Don't be ridiculous", she said, "It will be fine". I had envisioned photos on Good Harbor Beach, our favorite surfing spot, cocktails on the deck of the Tavern where the reception was to take place, a beautiful sunset reflected on the water.

Two days before the wedding the forecast called for rain. The night before the wedding the seagulls moved inshore. I switched on the Weather Channel from the B+B and there was Jim, telling me that the barometer could actually fall LOWER than the day of the Perfect Storm. Oh my God, my guests!

Had it not been my wedding weekend I would have been in weather-heaven, I might have even driven down to my old apartment in Arlington to watch the action with Dave. But I had 156 people coming into town the next morning.

Around 2 AM the wind picked up, lashing the shutters and keeping me awake. I turned on the Weather Channel from the sitting room. And there was Jim outside the Crow's Nest taped earlier that night. You could see him getting excited about the impending doom.

The next morning I looked out the window and across the street to the reception hall, there was the Weather Channel's van broadcasting from the parking lot of where 156 of my closest friends and family were supposed to be eating and dancing to our favorite Latin Band, Manguito, in about 10 hours!

Two hours later my hair dresser of 7 years, John from Fringe Salon in Salem, comes up the stairs into the suite. The first words out of his mouth are, "Well, if ANYONE should get married today it should be YOU." He knows I'm a science geek, and he was right, it was fitting. I actually felt better.

During the four hours my bridesmaids and I spent getting ready we watched endless waves come over the sea wall, hit our cars, hit the famous fisherman statue on the water front....it was so ugly, Jim all the time on the TV in the background getting more and more excited.

At some point I spoke with Dave who said he actually emailed Jim Cantore somehow through the Weather Channel's website to invite him and his crew to the wedding. How thoughtful of him!

In the end, no one will forget our wedding. In the end Jim didn't make it to the reception, he did send Dave a signed photograph a few weeks later with his apologies. Dave has it framed in his classroom. And the next morning when my new husband and I opened the blinds to an amazingly sunny day there was Jim and his film crew filming right in front of our B+B where a sailboat had beached during the reception. So we ran outside and met him. And he was the nicest guy I ever met, he congratulated us and posed for a few pictures.

So happy wedding season, happy hurricane season. I hope the weather is interesting where you are and if it rains on your wedding day (or even better, if you have a full blown nor'easter) then you will be blessed with the most luck anyone could have. My husband and I couldn't be happier.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Kenyan Field Journal: Simba

During a recent cleaning session in my house I stumbled upon my photo album from an educational trip to Kenya in 1995. I spent five weeks there with 31 other students studying wildlife management with the School for Field Studies. It changed my life.

Sometime after returning I wrote five essays on my experiences and stashed them in the photo album. I had forgotten about them until this past week. They are entitled The Rain, Bright Sun, Night, Simba, and The Rift in the Heart of Africa. Reading them brought back so many wonderful and thrilling memories. I'm posting them here mainly for the benefit of two friends I met there who have become friends for life: Dave and Agnes. Photos were taken by me during my adventure, clicking on them will enlarge them. Enjoy!


I will never forget the first time I saw a lion. The day is as fresh in my mind as if it were just this morning. It was the 22nd of July, 1995, two days after I arrived in Kenya. We were to leave the fenced-in, and usually big cat-free, confines of Jua Kali for the open plains of Nairobi National Park. NNP is probably the strangest of all national parks in Kenya because you can be gazing at wild creatures with the Nairobi skyline in the background. It's that close to the capital city. But, the animals don't seem to mind. Most of the big "charismatic megafauna" are there: lions, cheetahs, leopards, even rhinos. The only tourist attraction missing is the elephant.

Thirty-two students were divided up into four open-topped Land Cruisers and armed with 70-200 mm zoom lenses. That morning as we rode past the gates, onto the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, and past the Ngong Hills (which Karen Blixen made so famous an upscale Nairobi suburb is named after her) I was full of anticipation. I knew we wouldn't see elephants, but I was really hoping to see a lion. I've always had a thing for big cats.

As we drove up to the gates of NNP we had to wait in a line of Land Rovers and Land Cruisers and jambo wagons. Jambo is the Swahili word for hello and usually the only word a tourist bothers to learn. Whenever you drive by a minivan full of tourists they always yell "jambo!" thinking they're being so clever.

Most of the natives, who see right through this, call these jambo wagons. That afternoon I quickly learned to despise jambo wagons, not because of the annoying jambos yelled from their roofs, but because of the need for them to get the perfect shot - with their camera of course.

The first animals we saw were hartebeest, or kongoni, as our intern Rob told the group. This immediately made me realize what I had had for lunch the previous day. David served this wonderfully lean meat stir-fry. When I asked him what kind of meat it was he said "kongoni!" with a big smile. I assumed it was the Swahili word for cow. Now I realized otherwise, it sure was tasty though.

We also saw ostriches, black rhino with enormous horns - being as they were on heavily guarded land - and zebras. Our group came upon the strangest birds I had ever seen. These enormous maribou storks would probably have come up to my chest if I stood next to one, and they actually nest in trees at night! Very strange. And there were gazelles, cape buffalo (that were scarier than the storks), waterbucks and many more exotic mammals and birds that I could count.

As we came up a hill we were on a road that was about to converge with a pack of jambo wagons. Our driver, Mboya, leaned out the window and asked one of the jambo wagon drivers something in Swahili and the simple reply was "simba". My heart soared! I had seen "The Lion King" enough times to know that simba meant lion. There was a lion nearby. Unfortunately, there were also five jambo wagons crowding the poor thing. From one of the vehicles a man whistled to get the lion to turn for a better picture. The lion glanced at him then lost interest. Luckily for us students tourists have short attention spans. Within five minutes they were badgering their drivers to move on: been there done that.

Once the jambo wagons cleared out we were able to approach the lion. My heart soared again: there was a second lion lying in the thick red oat grass. Males, probably brothers, recently expelled from the pride by their father. They still had faint brown spots on their legs that had darker when they were cubs. I had never seen a wild lion before. I had never seen a lion this close before. They seemed used to people gawking at them. The two were lounging in the oat grass at the top of the hill, lazy as only lions are allowed to be. But they always kept an eye on us. A golden, beautiful eye.

These were the eyes of kings, kings who only hunt when they're hungry and sleep twenty hours a day. The pair were obviously being disturbed from their mid-day snooze. Their manes were as golden as their eyes, tipped with the faintest of black. To this day I am still amazed at how massive their heads were. Their jaws must have been enormous. Their noses were larger than my fist.

We observed them quietly, jotted down Pantera leo like we were supposed to in our field journals, and took our leave. I'd like to say we left them in peace but as we started down the hill two more jambo wagons were making their way up. Poor creatures we are.