How to make Coco Samoa – fresh hot chocolate from tree to cup

There are many wonderful things to be learned when you live on this planet.  As a farm to table person, cooking and preparing fresh foods and beverages is one of them.  Today we are going to look at a drink common to the Samoan Islands, Coco Samoa.  In this easy 7 step process you will learn how to make this delicious beverage.

First you need some coca fruit.  Ripe fruit is red or orange in color.  These are picked from a tree.  The part of the fruit we will be using are the seeds.

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Fresh and ripe Coco fruit, split open to access the seeds.

2) After scooping the seeds out of the fruit you can enjoy the milky coating of the seeds by sucking on them and then spitting the seeds out into a bowl.  This is the traditional way of preparing them.  This is a tasty step, but it is optional.

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Separate the seeds from the fruit.

3) After you have separated your seeds from the fruit and any internal membrane.  You may rinse them.  This step is also optional and most likely only used if you have sucked on the seeds themselves.  This is not a traditional step in the process.

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Clean off the stems, rinsing is optional

4) Place your seeds on a baking tray or in a pan for toasting.  We use a gas flame and a pan to brown them.  Seeds are ready when the hulls have turned solid.  For a bolder, more coffee like flavor, you can burn the husks.  This step will require your pan to be cleaned so make sure you use an old pan that you don’t mind boiling off for cleaning.  Teflon or other similar surface is not recommended.

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Roast seeds until the skins are hardened and blackened.

5) After seeds are roasted to a hard outside coat, let them cool for several minutes and then husk the shells, separating the beans.  These beans should be a nice dark brown color.  Beans that have been blackened will have a more robust, coffee like flavor.

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Roasted beans will be separated from the husks.  Burnt beans like these will have a more coffee like flavor than chocolate.

6) The next step is to grind the beans.  Using a coffee grinder or other food processing machine makes quick and easy work of this step.

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Ground coco can be brewed in a variety of ways to make a tasty drink.

7) After your beans are sufficiently ground you can brew them in a variety of ways.  Adding them to boiling water, using a french press or simply putting the grounds in a cup and adding hot water.  Add sugar to taste and enjoy!

 

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Don’t believe the Trump – water shortages are a reality in California

Don’t Believe the Trump!

Despite recent comments by the filthy rich and egotistical Donald Trump indicating that there is no drought in California, scientific data is here to save the day.  The truth is that there has been severe shortages in California’s water supply for a decade, and the problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

To begin with, let’s take a moment to look at where California stands today.  This is a map
shows the conditions of the water supply in California from 5.24.2016 as reported by U.S. Drought Monitor.  As you might guess, the darker the color, the more severe the need for water is.

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drought california 5-24

This data shows also shows how the trend over the last year is not going away!  There are a combination of reasons that shows why California has a water shortage.  One of these is the overall precipitation that occurs each year.  An important source of precipitation in the western part of the United States is snowfall.  Water content stored in mountain ranges provides long term water supplies through snow melt in both surface and ground water flows that have historically provided fresh water through the summer months when water is needed the most. As temperatures have continued to have a general trend of increasing over the last two decades, snowfall in the mountains has decreased.  According to this podcast, from the California Department of Water Resources (Ca. DWR)- the water content stored on April 1st is important because it’s the general indicator for how much water content will be available for that year from snow melt.  While the Ca. DWR executive report shows that currently water quantities are currently above average and greater than last years levels, this does not mean that everything is back to normal.  Temporary water surplus availability is needed to recharge reservoirs and groundwater tables which have been at historic lows.

In his speech Donald Trump also indicated that one way to solve this problem is to stop allowing fresh water to flow into the ocean.  This has been a hypothesis held by many over the years.  The main reasons this thought process doesn’t work is call Salt Water subsidence and ground water recharge.  When farmers, communities and private corporations like Nestle use wells to pump water out of the ground, replacement water is needed to replenish the supply of water.  The primary way this water is replenished is by water that leaks into the ground from nearby rivers and streams.  Without this source of water water sources would simply dry up.  In areas where these wells are near the ocean, drying up the ground water  allows for salt water intrusion, where the water from the sea literaly takes the place of the fresh water supplies that are no longer there.  This often happens because wells cause a cone of depression that brings the water levels in lower than the water table around it.  This map also shows how depleted ground water supplies can cause many wells to go dry, not having access to the water below them anymore.  In this image by the United States Geologic Survey we can see how salt water can intrude inland.  You can follow this link to read more.

gwdepletiondiagram

While farmers are often given a bad reputation for overusing the local water supply to grow their crops, the opposite is often true.  Farmers, dependent on a constant supply of water for food production often at the forefront of research and responsibility in water conservation techniques.  While it is true that open air irrigation has significant losses of water to evaporation, techniques and technology are improving these numbers.  Additionally there are many reasons for irrigation, including the recharging of the local water tables, as this wonderful powerpoint by Blaine Hanson Department of Land, Air and Water Resources University of California, Davis shows.  This powerpoint covers a wide variety of positive ways that agriculture is making strides in water conservation and brings up one very good point.  Urban communities and farms cannot compete for water.  However, it is important to recognize they are dependent on one another.  Without people to eat the food the farmer doesn’t have a reason to grow food, and without the farmer the community cannot exist.

This being said there is one major culprit of water consumption that can be avoided and eliminated completely.  The plastic water bottle industry.  In 2015 Californians learned that corporate giant Nestle was pumping millions of gallons of water out of a highly impacted aquifer virtually for free, while making millions on the water they sold!  While the International Bottle Water Association claim in this CNN Money report that it’s 3.1 Billion gallons of water placed in plastic bottles is a drop in the bucket compared to overall water use in the state, many agree that it’s 3.1 billion gallons of water that should never leave the state in the first place.  Additionally, the Pacific Institute indicates that 3 liters of water are used to make a singe one liter water bottle!   One of the best ways to eliminate the impact of plastic water in drought ridden states is to avoid buying water bottled in California.  However knowing about the global problem with plastic pollution, it’s much easier to just buy a sustainable stainless steel bottle from a reliable company like Kleen Canteen who contribute to organizations like 5 Gyres who are actively fighting issues with pollution in the oceans.

So, now you know the facts.  There is a water crisis in California.  You can enjoy the quality foods that come from this wonderful state, but understand that the drought is real.  Avoiding plastic water bottles is one way to help with drought conditions.  Cutting off water from streams and rivers from flowing into the ocean is not.

 

HB 15-1144 – Plastic Microbead Legislation – Did Colorado add Greenwashing to the list of legislative priorities?

Today Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 15-1144 a ban on solid synthetic microbeads added to cosmetic materials like face scrubs and body washes!  This bill is designed to keep tiny particles of plastic out of our waterways and local biospheres because of the negative impacts of plastic in these locations.   Colorado joins a variety of states, the first being Illinois, who are banning these microbeads.  In Illinois, efforts to introduce scientific legislation was attempted by members of the 5 Gyres Institute and the Ban the Bead Campaign.
Scientifically there are two primary problems with microbeads in our waters.  The first issue is that plastics are made with binding agents that  seep into the water when issues where the plastics leach chemicals into the water impacting the quality and purity of water.   The second issue is that these plastics are often viewed as food and are then consumed by insects and fish where two serious impacts occur.  Since plastic does not get digested by animals it accumulates in their bellies, filling up space for nutrient providing foods.  This accumulation causes a lack of space for real consumable, nutrient rich materials while leaching into the body of the animal that has consumed it.

Banning microbeads is a noble and valuable activity that should push regulations on corporations and manufacturers to be accountable and responsible for the materials they create and the environmental damage they do.  The scientific facts speak for themselves, microplastic is bad for the environment.  The Wisconsin Lakes Partnership dedicated the first three pages of it’s Fall 2014 newsletter exclusively to this topic.

The unfortunate truth is that the corporate lobby built a loophole into the rules they are placing upon themselves.  They introduced the legal terms of “Solid Synthetics” and “Nonbiodegradeable” as the specific type of plastic that would be banned.  There is scientific concern about this verbiage based on the fact that truly biodegradable plastic must have microbial breakdown.  This breakdown is only found in commercial or “hot compost” facilities.  In their 2015 publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Michigan State University student’s published a study concluding:

“anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation are not recommended as feasible disposal routes for nonbiodegradable plastics containing any of the five tested biodegradation-promoting additives.” (Selke et all – 2015)

There are dozens of journal articles and news pieces that support this thought process leading educated consumers to understand that purported bioplastics are still going to enter our waters, causing deadly toxins to enter Colorado waters, causing the same concerns for bioaccumulation that  has proven to exist in our waters.  As this piece by Mother Jones from 2009 explains; “Real biodegradable plastic should be sent to a commercial composting facility, where it will spend its final days being eaten by microbes. But here’s the catch: In 2007, only 42 communities nationwide offered compost collection. (Seventeen were in California.) And though some biodegradable plastics can be recycled, no curbside recycling program will take them.”
The unfortunate part in the current movement to ban microbeads is that this effort is being led by corporations who wish to regulate themselves so they have the control and upper hand.  In an earlier post, I commented on how Johnson and Johnson, as well as other entities showed up to Colorado House Committee Meetings to introduce soft legislation that would offer a consistent level of legislation they could manipulate in order to have “consistent legislation”.   These organizations are already phasing out these plastics from their products., but want to allow for the weakest levels of legislation to be enacted.   This process began with Unilever in 2012 and has gained momentum as you can read about in this post on Beat The Microbead’s page.

This is exactly what Director of the 5 Gyres Institue’s predicted would happen in a 2014 EcoWatch Article stating “According to Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute, plastics industry lobbyists worked hard to block it, wanting legislation more like the far from ideal bill that passed in Illinois. The Ilinois bill leaves a loophole for plastic, like Polylactic Acid (PLA) the so-called biodegradable plastic that corn cups are made of. Unfortunately, PLA doesn’t biodegrade in the environment, it requires an industrial composting facility.”

And this is what has happened here in the state of Colorado.  Colorado HB-15-1144 bill specifically states:.

4) “SYNTHETIC PLASTIC MICROBEAD” MEANS AN INTENTIONALLY ADDED, NONBIODEGRADABLE, PLASTIC PARTICLE MEASURING LESS THAN FIVE MILLIMETERS IN SIZE   INTENDED TO AID IN EXFOLIATING OR CLEANSING AS PART OF A RINSE-OFF PRODUCT.”

This is exactly the actions that have been predicted by many environmentalist groups, that the efforts of the science community to curtail the effects of microplastics would be mitigated by corporations who originally fought microbead legislation so they would have the opportunity to craft and create looser regulations that would present “Greenwashed” material information that would weaken future efforts to protect our water.  Colorado is known for being a state that has fought hard to protect our waters and this bill is an unfortunate example.

The reason is very simple.  Biodegradeable plastics have not been proven to biodegrade in cold water settings.  According to Brenda Platt, coordinator for Sustainable Plastics Project:

  “Truly biodegradable plastics are plastics that can decompose into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass via microbial assimilation (the enzymatic action of microorganism). To be considered biodegradable, this decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests, and take place within a specified time period, which vary according to the “disposal” method chosen. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has created definitions on what constitutes biodegradability in various disposal environments.”

What this boils down to is sadly is that  that Colorado’s Microbead ban, HB 15-1144 is a piece of greenwashing legislation presented by corporations who are willingly removing certain types of plastics from their products – ones they already agree to take out, while  having consent to pollute in a slightly different way that still has negative impacts on our environment. The bill, is a bill with solid foundations.  Unfortunately, it happened so fast that even those individuals in the community that tried reaching out to the bills writers didn’t get an effective chance to effectively communicate the scientific realities major corporations were able to step around in the writing of this bill.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of solutions that already exist!  Besides avoiding purchasing products that already include microplastic, consumers are advised to look for exfoliating products that include natural or real plant products that are effective exfolliants.  Common materials include oatmeal, apricot or peach pits and walnut shells.  These products are already commonly found in supermarket shelves.

What is your food policy?

When you go to the grocery store, how much effort to you put into thinking about what the food policy of your household is?   It’s an interesting question that has been pushing me around the web lately.

I grew up in Wisconsin and quite honestly, I remember having a garden all my childhood.  I worked in the gardens, spending summers weeding plants, composting and of course harvesting the ‘vegetables’ of my labor.  I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’ve had the pleasure of spending time on a couple – harvesting hay and milking cows were the two things I enjoyed the most.

In addition, my grandparents would often take me out to find asparagus and walnuts.  In the kitchens of family members, and at home, preparing meals with naturally grown foods was a common occurrence.  At the same time, I remember growing up listening to local farm reports and highly respected media personalities talk about Roundup Ready crops.

Through some secondary education and into the career world I didn’t consider my diet much, consuming pizza and mass produced and big farm manufactured foods.  Based on my consistency of food consumption and employment my weight, mental state and overall health has fluctuated greatly.  Over the years I have seen how processed and prepackaged food have enhanced the levels of illnesses in others.   Avoiding soda and high sugar processed items, as well as my personal battle to prevent the purchase of plastics in my daily life has helped me to eat fairly responsibly.  I don’t by any means eat organic and it’s difficult to eat 100% fresh.  Especially on a budget.

Then I learned about Genetically Modified Foods also known as GMO’s.  I learned how, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications,  roughly 90% of core crops: Sugar Beets, Soybeans, Corn and Cotton are grown with gmo seeds.   Modified seeds can’t be that bad, can they?  It’s a question I asked and did lot’s of research on.  Recently I saw a picture, it made things very clear to me, showing how GMO corn is: Corn +DNA from soil bacteria + genes from e.coli plus more bacteria that causes tumors in plants.

So, now I have a food policy.  In every circumstance possible I buy local.  I am trying to avoid shopping for processed foods, go to farmers markets and am doing my best to buy free range animals.  When in doubt, I am using a smartphone app call Buycott.  This app allows me to scan the bar codes of products and it tells me if I am about to purchase an item that is conflict with my core values.   In addition I am watching movies like Food Fight ( you need a HULU account), following entities like The Organic Consumers Association and watching feeds on Facebook from groups in my community like March Against Monsanto- Denver and GMO Free USA the parent group of many GMO free state entities.

All of this takes work, time and effort.  In addition to changing my shopping habits, I’m contributing time in my community focusing on educating others about what I have learned.  In addition I’m pushing for legislation that requires Food Labeling on all things containing any GMO products.

For me, it’s worth the quality of life, and the knowledge that I am not killing myself in the process of enjoying life.  Do you think being educated and making the kind of changes I am is worth it?

 

No really, recycling isn’t good enough – it’s time to recognize the impact of over consumption

Yes that’s right, I said it.  If you recycle your plastic you are doing a good thing, but really it’s not enough to make a difference.  According the the EPA, currently  only 8% of plastic is being recycled.  If your plastic doesn’t have a stamp and a number on it, most waste disposal companies don’t want your plastic.  If it’s got moldy food on it, you probably just tossed that plastic into the garbage can, where it will never change form from the oil it was polymerized out of.  Going out to eat?  Did you notice how many items like straws, ramequins, and lids are made of plastic and get thrown into the waste stream on a regular basis?

No, most people who find this post will be forced to admit it –  American’s as a whole do not appear to be attentive to the levels of consumption they participate in.  It’s a hard truth to face because we Americans have been raised by the corporations around us to consume as much as possible with minimal efforts going toward reducing those numbers. This has been a business model for all of time.  Fortunately American’s only need to go back about 100 years to the creation of the National Forest Service to see examples of why a conservation method of consumption and production is necessary.  Without the efforts of the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir; hundred of ranchers, woodsmen, hunters and loggers would have mass consumed the natural resources of our land.  Instead these resources are still being used generations later – all because a conservation methodology was pressed upon them.

Recently a friend of mine posted a comment that essentially indicated that because she participated in recycling processes, mass consumption of plastic bags was acceptable.  I’m here to argue this as a falsehood.  Besides the fact that most plastics are not recycled; the act of consumption equates to the justification for manufactures to continue taking virgin oil and producing virgin plastic as a sustained and profitable practice.  Unfortunately, this practice is not considered sustainable as oil is available on a limited basis, once we run out, there is no more.  We have but one planet to live on.  Ironically, it’s also the one source for all concepts of life as we know it.  With one planet providing us with a limited stream of resources, the concept of limited consumption should be a no brainer.

Unfortunately for our grandchildren, these concepts were not passed effectively from generation to generation.  Remembering lessons from our past allows us to prepare for our future.  Only we don’t have a past where we polluted our oceans and skies while piling ‘single use’ materials all around ourselves.  In fact, the lessons from the greatest generation – about working hard, achieving, thinking outside of the box, tending to the space you are given, giving more than you were given ( just to name a few); well these lessons are falling by the wayside of I want it now and I shouldn’t have to work at it.  But, the most important of these lessons should really be about supply and demand.

If I don’t use or make purchase of plastic, I’m not generating any demand for the product.  However, when you slow your consumption of plastics, a movement is afoot.  If you and I use less oil, participate in ride sharing, public transportation and planning trips to the store; if we can begin to work with others in our community to change the way we think as a group, then we become more than a movement.  Changing your consumption habits is not going to be an easy thing, but when the day comes when birds on remote islands stop dying from plastic ingestion, the day when all plastic is recycled or depolymerized back into natural or refined chemicals then maybe we will be glad that we took time to appreciate the efforts.  If we don’t make these changes, we can’t teach our children by example.  They follow in our footsteps, replicating the behaviors they see at home.  So instead of participating in destructive behaviors toward our planet, consider the positive impact your hard work will benefit those to come in both indirect and direct ways.  Can you think of three ways which changing your consumption will benefit the planet?

Because we were to tired to go – my thoughts about the Aurora Theater Shootings

It’s been a year now, and lots of things have happened since I first moved to Aurora, Colorado.  The one thing that didn’t happen, we didn’t go to watch the premier of Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that I still have yet to see.  I had just moved to Colorado exactly 2 weeks prior and was full of energy and excitement about life.  I had tried to convince my brother-in-law to come out with me, to watch the movie on it’s premier night while my sister stayed home with their son.  What strikes me in looking back was how much naivety I had about children back then.  A two year old takes a lot of energy, energy that diminishes after a long day of work a normal job.  Add  to it the need to keep up with chores, the non stop work of maintaining a living area where a random guest would not believe that toys and laundry are the primary modes of decoration and viola it becomes apparent that the work of parenting in a quality way can really be taxing.  Even with my wild eyed and bounding energy having waited 10 years to get to Colorado, the night had been a rough one and the little guy didn’t go down easy.  By the time it was time to go, we had decided that it had been a long night and there wasn’t value in rushing to get to a movie as we were not only tired but also running behind schedule if we wanted to see all the previews.  We decided to hang out at home, playing a card game in the basement or something of the likes.  The details of the specific range of activities, how we learned of the shooting; well they are part of the haze that happens as people focus on the details of improving the life around them instead of the things that might have been.

We didn’t make it to the movie, and therefore our lives were not catastrophically impacted with the trauma of ‘having been there’.  However, it was a pretty shocking thing, to not go somewhere where there was an effort to massacre a large number of people for reasons not yet understood.  In some ways I miss living in a smaller community where the shootings happen one at a time and usually drugs are involved.  And I’ve been to an event where there was a peaceful gathering and someone was shot. Honestly, these things have helped to strengthen my resolve in continuing down the pathway of my own personal development and resolve to receive and own the vision of potential within myself.

Before the shooting, I was focused on the idea that helping others in a social work method – one or two at a time, or in small community groups – and I’m sure I would have been happy for a while.  But while this would have passed some time, I was still fighting some internal battles if this was the right thing for me to do.  For me, the ‘what could have been’ was an awakening in my mind.  Fortunately I came to Colorado with some tools in my kit that I continue to use.  Prayer and meditation have led me to understand the real calling I have in life, that if we focus on solutions for the greater good for all, a greater impact could be had for the benefit of providing a place for future generations to have a chance to live in health and happiness on Planet A.

So, I wasn’t there.  I have had known a person or two that was, the church that I have attended most since I moved actually had a large group of people in the theater at that time ( almost 50) ; and they also seem to have something extra about them – a drive to be aware about the value of life.  For me, not that far from 40, this is the impact the shootings had most on me.  It not that I  have a new dream, it’s that I have reminders why the focus is so important, sights on goals that may not be achieved until I’m 80 and I have resolve to realize that it’s necessary to keep moving forward.  Hopefully along the way I’ll continue to be  privileged by  motivating others.  I hope to continue to have chances to encourage others along the way; to dig deep inside and, without having to know that they could have been a victim, find the drive to make some change for the better.

You don’t have to be there, or a could have been there, to have the same appreciation for life.  Being involved in healthy activities that bring passion for life, and sharing those passions with others in a positive way should be part of the goals of each of us, regardless of our walk in life.  Being aware of injustice, compassionate towards change and willing to be a catalyst doesn’t require a near death experience – it shouldn’t require one.  Tragic events can do many things, I hope that for anyone else reading this – the idea of being and growing stronger are the things it does within you.

Civil Non-violent Disobedience

This past weekend I spent time in training to recruit and lead Civil Non-violent Disobedience in the State of Colorado.  I am really excited for the opportunity to be part of a large group of American’s who are standing up to protect the future of our planet.  This type of activity, while not something new to the American scene; is something I have not participated in before.   For me, it’s a bit overwhelming to think that I will be joining the ranks of American Citizens who, because of conscience, chose to take a stand in a nonviolent fashion to stand up for injustices actively occurring on American soil.   Most Americans know the story of Rosa Parks, a woman of African descent, who sat on a bus in a seat in 1955 that she  wasn’t authorized to sit on because of the color of her skin.  Her story is part of the history of the Civil Rights Movement, a time period in American history where many took to the streets to participate in making a statement.  The focus was to bring focus to unjust laws in a way that was considered dignified, and worthy of media attention.

Fast forward 50 years.  The same media that represented the values of America as wholesome and pure, has changed the focal point  to one where active discussion of violence has become a part of daily life.  Instead of positive news stories about the good things people are doing in their lives – stories about the worst of humanity’s behaviors unto one another take precedence.  These stories are distractions which often do not include the ways in which private corporations, focusing on profit margins, continue to promote or participate in devastating actions upon our planet.   These actions range from maintaining unhealthy manufacturing processes that have increased our atmospheric CO2 levels to dangerous planetary levels,  to encouraging consumption patterns that are killing our oceans with plastic pollution.  Environmentally, humanity has been extremely careless about our methods of progress and have, in many ways, developed methods of extracting and utilizing natural resources that are permanently scarring our planet.

I mourn frequently for this one Earth that I get to live on.  I feel like people look at me like a lunatic as I take oil created plastic and move it from garbage cans to recycling bins.  People are often offended as I communicate with them their thoughtless methods of consumption, feeling no need to take ownership of the state of Planetary Affairs they are actively contributing to the destruction of.  This is why I took the Pledge of Resistance against the Keystone XL pipeline.  This pipeline is designed to take some of the dirtiest sand on our planet, know as Tar Sand, and convert it into a fluid product to be pumped across our nation as an international export.  The goal is to access this product in Canada, ship it across the United States, then refine it in Texas and export it to Asia – that is they want to export the excess product.  Truth is that Tar Sand gasoline is already being consumed in states like Colorado without much knowledge by the average consumer.
And this is why I went to the Action Leader training for these upcoming nonviolent resistance.   I am grateful these organizations: The other 98%, Rainforest Action Network, and Credo Action Network  banded together to provide a wide variety of training exercises to help prepare me to lead active resistance against the KXL Pipeline.  Please take some time to learn more about this important topic, sign the Pledge of Resistance and become one of the many that will tell President Obama that this isn’t the type of change we signed up for!

5 Tricks to take the $ting out of Summer Activities!

It’s early summer, and there are so many fun things to do!!!  With weekends of fun activities like going to the park, having bar-b-ques and picnics, local fairs and of course – the music festivals summer time is about having as much fun as you can, without blowing the budget.  Does this sound familiar?  Have you ever been so thirsty you paid $5.00 for a plastic bottle? So disgusted by the price of a ticket you scoured Craigslist for hours waiting for someone to realize they have an extra ticket they want to get rid of cheap so it doesn’t go to waste?  Don’t worry you are not alone!  Many a person has struggled with these same ideas, and to their utter amazement, was able to find that planning summer fun activities isn’t as hard as it might seem.  The idea of doing something on a cost friendly basis is normal and really should be easy!  Here are some beginning ideas!

1. Finding deals in the style of Groupon or Deal Chicken is a common and logical way to plan ahead and find deals for events – many times at 1/2 price or better!  These web sites bring thrift shopping to a whole new level, especially in an age where the cost of participating in large-scale events or festivals has continued to climb into the ridiculous.  Maybe you have had this conversation, ” I’d love to go but… tickets will cost 1 weeks worth of groceries; beverage and food expenses will deplete the emergency savings fund and oh yea – who’s driving?”  By watching these websites, I recently purchased $30 tickets for only $12!  With such huge cost savings I was even able to purchase several tickets at once, allowing several of my friends to get in on the savings too!

2. Carpool and take public transportation where available.  In metro communities like Chicago and Denver where expanding rail service allows day trips into the city; this option adds to the adventure.  Besides avoiding the extra cost of parking which can be in excess of $20, kids of all ages will enjoy being able to see the sights and engage one another without the strained necks and mirrors.  In addition, by making an adventure of the event, there may just be a lack of “Are we there yet?”‘s

3.  Pack it in (and pack it out)!   Kid’s like snacks, adults do too.  This especially true for day’s with lots of fun filled activities.  A day of riding roller coasters, running around the library or zoo, or filling up on your favorite adult beverages requires more than wishful thinking to be at your best all day.  While skipping nap time is part of day long activities, skipping lunch is a bad idea and spending cash on lunch can put a big squeeze on the fun.  Packing a cooler or collapsible cloth lunch pack (for those taking public transportation), as well as starting the day with a full breakfast, will not only save money but also provide the needed extended energy to make a full day a great one!  While recycling is becoming more and more prevalent, packing an extra large reusable sealing bag like Ziplock brand will help keep empty juice pouches and crushed aluminum cans from making a mess of backpacks.  Refillable beverage containers will minimize the quantity of beverage containers needed while

4.  Make a full day of it!  So you have found an event or activity that everyone will enjoy, but it doesn’t start till 3 pm 😦  No worries, just plan around it!  Go to the park, window shop or visit the library down the street from the activity you have planned.  Planning multiple activities in a day is a great way to space out a variety of indoor and outdoor events to stay busy.  Additionally, planning indoor events in the middle of the hottest parts of the day will provide for much needed rest from the sun without forcing kids to be indoors all day long!

5.  Use community based programs!  Besides Vacation Bible School at your local house of worship, there are a plethora of activities through local organizations like libraries, YMCA, Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, park districts and other civic entities that regularly have events that are available for little or no direct cost.  Check the web for community or ‘local’ days where facilities are open to local residents at little or no cost.  Many local zoos, museums and fee for entry parks will list these days on their community calendar.  Checking local newspapers and Craigslist will also result in a plethora of low cost activities.

Have a great resource I didn’t mention? Drop a comment and I’ll look into an additional post on the topic!

How do voices get lost in the crowd?

Sometimes, as a mid-lifer I enjoy taking the time to sit back and evaluate things… it’s much different than in my youth where I just moved and maybe if an adult was lucky, I’d actually consider the consequences of my actions sometime in the near future.  There are a lot of things to think about these days.  Science and progress are moving at rates that are unchecked and many predictions I remember from the classroom, my family and all the reading I did in magazines like National Geographic, Popular Science, Field and Stream is coming back to me.  Stories about how human expansion and development would cause problems, how changes were necessary to curb the damage the usage of fossil fuels, accelerate the development of renewable energy, protect the environment and remember the lessons of generations past.  My fathers stacks of magazines from the 60’s and 70’s showed wildlife in nature like I would never have a chance to see and they stressed the importance of conservation, on taking care of nature as we enjoy it so that it will sustain us for years to come.  I’ve become more and more aware of how much these warnings are coming true.  The concepts within Science fiction from 100 years ago is part of modern life, and many modern day science fiction movies are predicting a sad future for us.  On example is including the popular children’s cartoon by Pixar Studios – Wall-E where the main character has been cleaning up Planet Earth’s garbage for over 700 years with no shortage of work in site.

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to get involved in a newer grassroots movement that continues to bring me amazement in the efforts of altruistic humanity vs the reality of greed and power.  While I know the history of the human effort to rise up against the oppressor is always a story of the one that does not have against the one that has; today’s oppressors are not the Kings and Queens or a murderous barbarian with his legions but instead are the face of private corporations with visions of Global domination in their marketplace.  Not all companies are ‘oppressors’ mind you.  There are many who’s leadership and the culture developed within them are intended to be beneficial not only as a company who’s services are useful to their customer base, but also have a moral and ethical guiding within them to provide products and services that are intended to benefit the world around them.

So many times this can happen where the consequences of such actions over time become a beast that turns the public against the company.  We don’t always know how the change has gone from a good idea to a bad one – but when a good idea has gone bad, it becomes clear to all of those who look at the problem in an unbiased way.  In the 70’s it was a good idea to open up trade on a global level – expose 2nd and 3rd world countries to manufacturing opportunities – until companies like Wal-Mart went to American businesses and said, “If you don’t take these manufacturing positions out of the country, we’re going to stop doing business with your company because we demand you lower the core cost of these items.”

Have you ever had a packaged beverage?  If you are reading this blog the obvious answer is of course: you have.  Virtually every very form of consumable product manufactured today has some form of plastic used as part of the system you pay for to have relatively safe, fresh, and consumable food to eat when you are ready for it.  While the manufacture of plastic polymer’s has been occurring for over 150 years, the active efforts of creating efficient ‘depolymerization’  efforts are so new that most people don’t even know the technology exists. Instead, we live in a world where plastic is considered ‘trash’ or ‘garbage’ as if the item has found the end of it’s useful purposes and is now devoid of value.  Instead, pristine locations around the world are becoming trash dumps.

Instead of having a unified voice of discontent forcing effective change on the wheels of corporate responsibility, large corporations have little to worry about as 1000’s of environmental organizations, fight for your attention to achieve aligned results.  The focus on education, raising funds to stay solvent, and achieve the stated objectives has each individual group swimming upstream while the flood of environmental toxins continues to be manufactured without thought to the reclamation process.  Big companies are safe from lots of little voices  talking at one time creating a din of noise.  The size and scope of lobbies and political action organizations in the United States has become what it is, because some of the little voices, and many of the big ones have come to understand that the impact of the unified voice.  Unions created at the turn of the 20th century were looked upon an unamerican and a danger to our country and way of life, yet they only wanted to have fair and equal treatment, and only by gathering in a unified voice were they able to achieve it.  Today companies like Wal-Mart, continue to teach disadvantaged Americans the ‘harms of the union’

Earlier this year, some people with inside information helped inspire, develop and legislate a measure commonly known as the, “Monsanto Protection Act”  because somewhere in the executive chain at Monsanto someone felt that it was time to seek federal protections from the liability from damages that their products could potentially inflict on local American Biospheres due to the fact that man made genetic organisms are being created on a regular basis and released into the world with only the manufacture of these creatures being determined to be responsible and liable to test these organisms and determine if they are safe for release outside of white sterile facilities to be released into the real world.  The problem with this is that the companies doing all the science behind creating these new life forms are indeed the ones being held responsible by our government, to test the safety. Here is an example on the FDA’s website. Why the United States government is following these uncommon practices might not make much sense to the common person, unless you understood how the system works.

The department within the United States government that is tasked with the responsibility of unbiased third party food safety regulation is the FDA or the Food and Drug Administration. Roughly thirty years ago, a young idealist was working for this very organization probably had no idea that history books in 100 years may point the fingers of blame directly on his role as a perpetrator in the poisoning and destruction of the American Population from within.  However, as  Michael R. Taylor, J.D., Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine’s own FDA profile indicates, he’s a former VP for Monsanto.

Here’s how things get tricky.  The FDA’s mission [according to this Powerpoint (found on their site)]:

“ helping to speed the innovations that make medicines and foods more effective, safer and more affordable; and helping the public get accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health.”  Simply put, the only way to ensure ‘science-based information’ is accurate is to have 3rd party testing, something the FDA is NOT currently doing in this arena.  The example I provided is one where the manufacturer has said, “Our scientists believe this” and the regulator has said, “Great! Thank you for doing all the work – on your own products, for us.”

So I’ve been thinking, as I stated earlier, that things aren’t always what they seem to be.  It really is possible that all those warnings people have been making, maybe there’s not so much crazy to them after all.  Now, that I’ve exposed one current way that the naysayers might not be crazy, maybe you can help me figure out how to keep large unified voices active, without breaking them up into 100’s or thousands of small insignificant ones…

Why current petition trends aren’t working – 2013 example: Firearms background checks

So, I signed a petition online regarding the Keystone XL pipeline the other day because in general, I’m against the expansion of fossil fuel dependancy and growing environmental risks of man made pollution.   Since then I’ve recieved more than 10 different calls to speak up… and it got me thinking, this is turning into a joke.  How can I believe that there is value in 100 different organizations saying their members want something will be effective?  I mean if I say yes to 10 different petitions I’m still only 1 voice, will any of the 10 be more effective than the other?  Is it possible that they are hurting one another because they are not unified?

I just did a quick look on Google, to look at how many different petitions in the United States that  I could currently sign telling my congressional representatives to support Background checks for firearms purchasesI understand that this topic is a touchy one, everybody has an opinion one way or the other.  Regardless of your personal opinion, this blog is about the process of communicating with government in a way that effectively brings change on a unified front.  This, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of my rant today.

Here’s a list of websites I found: http://www.Change.org, http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/, http://www.signon.org, https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/, http://boldprogressives.org/, http://www.ipetitions.com, http://www.thepetitionsite.com, http://www.demandaction.org, http://www.pachurchesadvocacy.org, http://www.campaigns.dailykos.com, http://www.democrats.com, http://www.workthreat.com, http://www.forcechange.com, http://www.ryot.org, http://www.educationvotes.nea.org, http://www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org, http://www.newsericks.com, http://www.causes.com/putthegunsdown (I stopped at page 3 because news stories were filtering in). 

And yet the bill didn’t pass.  One might blame the National Rifle Association (NRA) for pushing advertizing that focused on American’s loosing their rights as Americans.  Regardless of your stance, the NRA did exactly what they were supposed to for their members, provide a singular unified voice representing the memberships interest.  There is no ‘hold on government’  that they have greater than any other organization in America.  What separates them they are is organized.  It’s the NRA – not the voice of fifteen or twenty different entities saying something close to what the other is saying, that spoke on a singular front.

What’s important about this?  Background checks for gun purchases have been a hot topic of late, and they are something that – to the obvious dismay of President Obama, did not pass our bureaucratic process to arrive on his desk for signature into law.  One of the biggest complaints from the president is that the majority of American’s supported this kind of change and yet the people’s representatives in each state placed their votes based on a unified last minute effort to these representatives. 

I propose that what the NRA did most effectively, is offer an opportunity for environmentalists to learn from the successes of others.  How many organizations can you name that teach about the environment, that speak about conservation and responsibility, about recycling and pollution?   I bet there are a bunch and I propose that each wants you to consider them an expert on the topic.  I can name over ten  Heck that’s what I want from you, to consider me an expect on the topic of plastics in our environment and how we create solutions.

Now tell me who your authorities on firearms are… and I just got you!  Of course, it’s the NRA, even if you hate guns or have never touched one the primary expert you will think of is singular!  Now maybe you are a firearms owner and maybe you have a local shop or friend to turn to, but for the majority of American’s the NRA is the unified umbrella expert.   The methodology: One petition, one voice, one direction – and it worked.  It’s been working, it continues to work.

What’s the point?  We environmentalists need a unified clearing house, a place where one topic, one  battle at a time we speak with one voice – an that single voice would be so loud, and so strong, that companies and elected officials would be required to take action, to listen, to become educated, and to become part of the change.  My recommendation, use the official government website and share the same petition among like minded groups!