The Teachings of Guru Yo-yo

So, my girl taught me to say yo-yo, and the joy of it is so great I swear I’ll never say yogurt again. Turns out yo-yo has a few lessons of its own for this woman trying her hand at the old kitchen arts. It says, if you want to make me, remember:

::Sing often and loudly. This work is a celebration.

::Pay attention, to temperatures and tablespoons, but also to the rhythm of your breath, the sureness of your hand.

::When things come out differently than planned, remember that the unexpected is a generous detour, and not driving is another way of discovering new delights.

::Give way, give way. This isn’t the dairy aisle, Dorothy. Thin, thick, sour, sweet. None of it will go to waste if only you give way, give way.

Note from the humble yogurt making disciple: I used to think making yo-yo was as easy as cooking a pot of rice. Then came the time I now call The Month of the Funky Yo-yo. With each new batch I tried to reclaim my groove, tinkering with the starter, the incubators, adding rennet, and on an on. For my efforts I’d get something acceptable for adding to pancake batter. And I’m not picky! This week it just…worked. We are enjoying the loveliest, creamiest, thickest and sweetest goat milk yogurt imaginable. I am delighted to say that I have no idea why it worked this week and not the others (unless it had to do with my forgetting all about it and leaving it to incubate 11 hours instead of 8). It is alchemy and magic and my only advice is this: persist, don’t insist.

Why Bother?

Anybody else feeling a bit dismayed about the poor showing of the carbon spewing USA over there in Copenhagen? I sputter, sometimes, while listening to the news, with its moments of both inspiration and doom. How can our country so blatantly disregard its responsibilities, blithely neglecting the well being of humanity? An interview on Democracy Now with a 15 year old climate ambassador from the Maldives stopped me cold the other day. “Would you commit murder?” he asked. “On the basis that you know what you’re doing is wrong and you can see that the victim is begging for mercy and for you to stop what you’re doing, yeah, would you commit murder?” He goes on to point out that the excesses of many countries, and the individual inhabitants of those countries, is destroying the homes and lives of people all over the world.

While I wish our leaders would Do the Right Thing, that doesn’t stop me from choosing to find my way to that place personally. Wendell Berry writes that we have a moral imperative to acknowledge what he calls the crisis of character that is at the root of climate change. “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear,” he says, “then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.”

For each of us, that effort will be unique. What matters is that we begin it, in both small and large ways. That we take every conceivable step towards a life in which we cease choosing our own comfort and ease over the basic survival of our fellow man. For us, this means choosing simplicity in all of its blessed abundance. It means returning to the basics of homemade food, used clothes and housewares, local foods, and reducing our use of energy and oil in every way we can. In many ways this is the beginning of a new life for us, one that is both transformative and restorative. As citizens, re-orienting our daily lives to such a compass will help steer our nation and world into a sustainable future.

::Check out the Hopenahgen website for a bit of the silver lining of the climate talks, that is, the millions of people from every corner of the globe sharing their hope and transforming it into collective action.

350 Vigil

Awake Thou Sleepers and Hear Us This Day and In the Days to Come

(prayer spoken in unison by all who gathered on the steps of the New Mexico State Capitol this eve of December 12, 2009)

That we speak for Mother Earth, for Father Sky, for our Children, all children everywhere, and all children yet to come, for Trees and Plants, for Animals, for our Ancestors:

Awake thou sleepers, Hear Us!

We call on you to join hands with the rest of creation. To speak of common sense,                               Responsibility, Respect, Equity, Justice, and Peace.


Now is the time to act to proctect our children’s legacy, to uphold the laws of regeneration and walk the path of life.


Climate change is no distant or abstract threat, but a clear and present danger to us all.                         We call on you to act, and act now.


Because only as true partners can we survive.


We the Peoples of the Earth promote Earth Democracy and will work on behalf of the Seventh Generation yet to come. Climate change is no distant or abstract threat, but a clear and present danger to us all. We call on you to act.


Give thanks for all that sustains us!


Act in right relationship and in respect to all.

Awake all ye sleepers.

When we walk upon Mother Earth, we always plant our feet carefully because we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground. We never forget them.


Dedicated to the Pacific Island States of Tuvalu, Maldives, Kiribati, and al the others who are without homes or soon to be because of our inaction. Please forgive us.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

12 December 2009

Awake! Declaration of Right Relationship

Written by Chief Oren Lyons, Bobbe Besold, and Dominique Mazeud

For more information on what the number 350 means, and the activism happening under that banner, click here

Evergreen and Dark Nights, Thank You


Floating fruit fairies,

A hanging wreath:

Many thanks to the forest for this winter harvest.


We slow our pace a bit to match the sun

(for solstice is from the latin sol, sun, and sistere, to stand still)

Staying in more than going out,

crafting rather than spending,

watching the sun rise and set each day.

At dinner we take a bit of a rest from the electric lights

and bring candles to the table.

A celebration in honor of this dark season, welcoming it at in our home,

but also a mini-eco sabbath, reducing our impact in a small,

immeasurably pleasurable way.


For slow footsteps on the frozen land, leading us back towards

this home filled with the warmth of sunlight and the smells of fir and pine.

For restful days and festive nights,

the fleeting sun and long span of dark cold

– I give thanks –

Powder Day

Up into the mountains

deep into the woods

Paying our respects to the spirit of Winter

and carrying a token of it home:

armfuls of white fir and doug fir, spruce and ponderosa

evergreen branches

scented with the land we love so well.


Oh yes we have something up our sleeve…

The Heart of Change

As leaders and delegates from 190 countries gather in Copenhagen to hopefully steer our world back into something like balance, I can’t help but bring this goal home to the individual heart. After all, creating a sustainable future means much more than just shifting our relationship to carbon. While I know how crucial the work being done on this political and economic level is, I also consider it the tip of the iceberg. Same goes for the plastic free experiment underway here at our house. As momentous as it sometimes feels, it is just a starting point. From there the layers begin to peel off, revealing the many ways in which this journey is first and foremost about heart. About learning to live mindfully, carefully, and gratefully. My father reminded me just how deep it is possible to go when he shared this with me yesterday:

“May your quest for a plastic free world unwrap itself and reveal its timeless recipe. There are many ways to keep things fresh in this world. One simple method that I’m learning is to bring myself to love the other the same as I love myself. The friction of such learning is causing the tight plastic cover that has enveloped me to soften and to begin dissolving itself.”

Many prayers that all those in Copenhagen, and all of us in our corners of the globe experiencing our share of the human experience learn, gently and surely, to do the same.


Forgoing the plastic wrapping that seems to blanket the earth these days has meant relying on our hands to provide the same basic foods and goods we only recently bought heavily packaged from the store. Lately my hands are my teachers, showing me all kinds of things I didn’t know I could do. Hands, in fact, seem to be the primary tool in a plastic free life. These days mine knead bread and stir pots, roll tortillas and express milk from goat udders, pick rosehips for tea, crochet scarf after scarf, and hang diapers on the line. If that sounds like Little House on the Prairie but with radiant heat floors and indoor plumbing, it is, and I love it.

I also like what Susan Lydon says of hand crafting in her book The Knitting Sutra:

“The sensation is almost impossible to describe (she writes),

as it occurs through the hands rather than the mind and is utterly nonverbal in nature,

but it feels as though invisible teachers were guiding your movements.

Perhaps it is not that at all but merely a connection to the collective unconscious

or a kind of ancestral memory common to us all …

you don’t know it’s there until you tap into it by accident,

with a particular motion of the hands, and then suddenly,

with an almost electric shock, the body remembers.”

What are you learning from your hands these days?

A Word of Thanks

To my daughter, first, as each day new words emerge

from that holy little mouth

half formed and persistent pieces of language.

In the moment before I recognize them

when in my denseness all I hear is babble,

they are stars falling, blossoms opening,

the horizon brightening before sunrise.

And then I “hear” her and we both lift from the ground.


Thanks also to you,

for sharing this space with me,

and for this conversation

about what it means to live well.

Toxic Plastic News Roundup

While I might sometimes question the benefit our decision to go plastic-free has on the planet’s health, there is no question that it is one of the most significant changes we can make to improve our own well-being. The growing mountain of evidence continues to show that despite its prevalence in our society, exposure to plastic isn’t always safe for us, and especially not for our children.

In November The Official Journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry released a study linking phthalate exposure to ADHD in school age children.

Equally horrifying is this study by Environmental Health Perspectives that links prenatal BPA (Bisphenol-A) exposure to aggression in two year old girls.

For an article about how BPA has been shown to be present even in “BPA free” bottles, click here. I know we can’t escape the ubiquitousness of these chemicals, but it is upsetting to think that even when we think we are “safe” we probably aren’t.

Speaking of Bisphenol-A exposure, Treehugging Family reports on a study done by Consumer Reports showing how BPA leeches into many common canned foods, including organic ones.

So what is safe? I just can’t say anymore, especially after reading this icing on the cake piece about the migration of toxins from ordinary food packaging, like cheese.  The author of the study says, “even manufacturers of plastics do not know the full extent of chemicals that are present in their products.” So at least I know I’m not alone in my ignorance.

While BPA and phthalates are unavoidable completely, we can take a simple step to reduce our exposure to them: quit plastic. It will help keep your family healthy, and who knows, it might just help the planet, too.

Thanks to Life Without Plastic and Treehugging Family for leading me to these stories.

Just to be clear (b/c it’s not always obvious where the links are on this blog), the highlighted bold white words should take you to the studies I mention.

Introducing. . . Mamita

That’s the Little Mama on the right, offspring to the Grandmother who hails from a 1965 French kitchen. They’re red wine vinegar, potent and rich, filled with the flavors of decades of nurturing and countless glasses of leftover wine. Some friends gave Mamita to me most generously, the Grandmother brew passed down in their family through the generations.

Do you see that blobby bit popping up out of the vinegar in the little jar? That’s the Mother of Vinegar, which Wikipedia says is a “substance composed of a form of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that develops on fermenting alcohol liquids,” and basically turns them to vinegar. Think of kombucha and you can imagine what the Mother looks like. In time, daughters grow and can take charge of their own vinegar.

I brought Mamita right home, gave her an honored position on the top shelf of the cupboard, and declared we had to have wine with dinner in honor of the newest member of our family. Of course I shared the leftovers with her, and she’s happily topped off.

I love having food in my kitchen so alive – so sentient! – that it demands a name. Take care of me, Mamita, and I’ll take care of you. For a long, long time.

1/20/10: Just found this very comprehensive post on making/maintaining vinegar. Enjoy!