9/16/09

The School Year Begins

It is now September 16th and the fall 2009 semester is in full swing. Although Rebecca and I are no longer living in the EcoHouse that does not mean that the EcoHouse has ended. I swung by earlier this week with current Commons-mate and fellow EcoHouse Alum Emilie to check out our old apartment and steal some water (we had just gone for a brutally hot run.) The EcoHousers are doing well, the apartment is both new and eerily familiar. They have already gone on the famed Anacostia Watershed Field Trip (no word if they were again dazzled by the hot environmentalist Lee) and have had a social bonding event hosted by Emilie's old roommate Natalie.

As much as I have enjoyed contributing to this blog I hope that within the next few days some new members will take up the mantle, there is nothing like a first hand perspective! I will continue to contribute occasionally, however, so fear not... just "Fear the Turtle!"

5/16/09

Natalie and I answer a WikiAnswer on Sustainablilty!!!!

Q:

What are the primary components for sustainability?



There are four pillars of environmental sustainability commonly recognized: society, ecology, government, and economy.

More specifically, societal sustainability is concerned with the well being of current people but also future generations. Though common reference to societal sustainability is the "seventh generation" stewardship, which requires that in all actions you consider the needs of the next seven generations, not just your and your own generation's needs. It also includes the need to incorporate sustainable practices into cultural norms in order for the society to persist.

Ecological sustainability is concerned with the health of the natural environment, the conservation of natural resources, and the preservation of ecosystem functions performed by individual members and the ecosystem as a whole. It requires that use of natural resources not exceed the capacity of an ecosystem to regenerate them, known as the carrying capacity. Ecological sustainability also includes preservation of biological diversity, which includes genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity.

Governmental sustainability primarily pushes for legislation that furthers the other three components of sustainability, acting as a steward of common resources and the public well being for many generations, not only the present constituents.

Economic sustainability uses the construct known as the triple bottom line, as opposed to the traditional "bottom line", which only concerns itself with monetary success. The triple bottom line considers economic profitability compared to environmental harm or profitability compared to societal harm or profitability.

Here is the link!!!!! And yes, we know we did this at 10:44 on a Saturday night... shut up we are awesome! We think this was a fitting test, a final for EcoHouse in real life if you will... and we will.

I (Maura) also had a wonderfully amazing experience today with my job as an employee at "Good Tidings" the catering company of the University of Maryland. We are slowly but surely becoming green but sometimes it feels like an uphill battle, throwing away disposable plates, watching clients not reycle their bottles, or not having enough staff to do composting. HOWEVER, today even though my AMAZING co-workers Jamall and Hey-xi decided that even though they had been working since 4 AM and it was now 3 PM that they were going to SET UP A BAG FOR THE COMPOST!!!!!!! And I quote "The reason that we decided to set up a compost bag was because we knew that it would make you happy Maura" !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was an so COOL to see my INDIVIDUAL contrubution of nagging for compost to PERMEATE into the world! One person CAN make a difference!!!!

Also, being the environmental activist that I am I was dumping out half drank and then abandoned water and juice bottles and soda cans in the bathroom sink when one of the clients asked me "Why are you doing that, do they tell you to?" Scared, thinking she was mad that I was dumping stuff that might make the sink sticky (even though I was rinsing it out), and not wanting my boss or the catering company to get in trouble I truthfly confessed, "No I am just doing this of my own accord. I am an environmental major." Then something magical happened... she said, and I quote, "Oh my gosh, I am always the one at parties doing this too! Thanks so much. I thank you, my children thank you, and my children's children thank you!" I said "Best thank you ever!"

So the moral of my true story is that you should always do what you can to help the environment, you will help to permeate change in unespected places like work, and you will meet kindred spirits in unexspected paces like in the bathroom. Although I got a multi-generational "thank-you" this time around most of the time no one sees you pick up the trash as you walk to class, no one sees you compost your coffee grounds, and no one sees the extra money you spend on organic products. So I, Maura Donovan would like to say

I THANK YOU!!!

3/31/09

My Eco- New Year's Resolution is Victorious

If there were a group named EcoFails Anonymous until recently I would have introduced myself like this, 

"Hello my name is Maura and I am an EcoFail.  Yes, I am a 19 year old who does not know how to ride a bike."

"Hi Maura"

However, no more!!!!! I have successfully completed my New Year's Resolution of learning how to ride a bike!!! It was the first nice day in forever, so on March 7th my encouraging roommate Natalie and I went out to the parking lot to check this essential life experience off my New Year's Resolution list.  It was very very scary, but now I know how!  There were some tough times like when I ran into the van.



But, don't let this picture fool you into thinking we had a stressful, grim, and destructive afternoon, it was a great, silly, and successful afternoon! I have some ridiculous footage taken by my awesome sansei Natalie who taught me how to ride.  I hope you all to laugh at me half as hard as I laughed at myself! I could not bring myself to post the truly terrible first runs, just to give you some perspective on how exciting this was!

video

I sort of had the hang of going straight, but was still very afraid to lean into turns out of fear that I would fall off. 

video

As the afternoon progressed and I became a little more competent at turning we began to focus on precision and tighter turning in the form of U-Turns. 

video

Natalie did a wonderful job at teaching how to ride.  She was never without a smile and encouraging advice.  By the end of the day I was worthy of Indiana Jones-esque Background Music generously supplied by Natalie. 

Today on Sunday April 6th I decided that since I went to all that trouble learning how to ride a bike I should probably take the next step and ride to a destination!  I thought, why not ride to church for the 7 pm mass, it it Sunday so there will be little traffic.  Plus it only takes 15 minutes to walk to the Catholic Student Center, so riding a bike there would theoretically be even shorter.  Confidently I left the apartment bike in tow with 20 minutes to get to mass. Well, long story short I left with 5 minutes to spare walking and I was 10 minutes late biking.  I could have walked there twice in the time it took me!  However, I am still going to put the ride in the win column.  I got a little lost and was therefore late, but I navigated through intersections.  Conversely I chickened out and walked through others, but jumped a sloped curb without falling off... and accidentally biked into a wall another time.  However, I made it to my destination, I was doing the right thing most of the time and got to where I needed to go without doing any irreparable damage to my brain overall!  So again, going in the win column!

Bike riding, as I am discovering, is an enjoyable and efficient pastime.  Two of the SGA parties running for election on Tuesday and Wednesday are emphasizing the Campus Bike Share Program as a top priority.  All four major parties also tout sustainability as a priority.  Bicycles as a means of transportation are uniquely perfect for students on a large campus such as the University of Maryland.  The Eppley Recreational Center has a FREE Experiential Bicycle Repair Shop in the Outdoor Recreation Center where our own EcoHouse member Cameron can be found.  However the surrounding areas outside of campus are just as passionate about a pleasant and convenient biking experience that intrinsically be found on a campus.  Check out the College Park Area Bicycle Coalition to see resources available to local bicyclers including a local map.  I am just scratching the surface, and probobly don't have the best information because I am just learning, however I do encourage all of the EcoHouse to think about taking their bikes out for a spin one of these really nice days.  You all may rediscover your love for something that all normal people learned in their childhoods.

2/27/09

Notice anything different about me?

Well, I'll tell you what's different: I cut my hair!

Before this morning, people would often accidentally sit on my hair when they sat next to me on the couch. I had bleached the last 4-5 inches several times, and while the blue, red, and purple dyes I used were conditioning, the tips were finally starting to get yucky.

So now the longest parts go about down to my armpits. Some people consider that long, but you know, it won't get sat on.

What am I going to do with my ex-hair? About four years ago I came home from school late with an 18 inch braid dangling in my hands, and I informed my mother that I was sending it to Locks of Love. This time, I don't have a long, undamaged braid; I have multi-colored clippings. So I'm going to send my clippings to Matter of Trust.

Matter of Trust is a San Francisco-based company that uses hair clippings to clean up oil spills. I'd send it somewhere closer, but the San Fran company is the only one I know of. Hair does a good job of soaking up oil, as you'll know if you've ever been camping in a no-shower zone. The hair mats are biodegraded by fungi in the water, apparently, and they can make good compost. Only in San Francisco. Someday we won't have oil spills and I'll have to think of some other destination for my hair.

If you prefer to give business to your local hair salon instead of cutting your hair at home, you can still ask your stylist to send your hair to Matter of Trust. I'm excited to send my quart-sized bag full of hair to them.

Okay, excuse me, I need to go back to obsessing over my reflection and tossing my hair around like a ridiculously vain horse now.

2/22/09

A New Semester

Hello!

This is Maura for those who are new, I am a sophomore English and Environmental Science and Policy double major.

There is so much to tell about this semester! We have moved back in, well... I actually discovered yesterday one of my roommates still has not unpacked, Susie it is the end of Febuary! The class has lost a few faces to study abroad programs and packed schedules, but we have gained a new addition too. WELCOME EZINNE!!!!!!!! It is very nice living with you, and I want the world to know...lol. Not only are the faces new, but EcoHouse's format has changed for this semester. Now some of us are doing semester long projects, and others are doing multiple small challenges.

We has a REALLY fun scavenger hunt last week which was the highlight of my Sunday! My group had such a silly time with one of the picture items to scavenge: pretend to sleep on a bus... there were no seats, so I am pretending to be asleep standing on a bus! Rachel conquered a fear on the Scavenge by getting on my back for a ride, she confessed that she is always scared the person is going to fall down. On a different team, Dave was so comitted to a win that he PURCHASED a cup! However, I bought a sandwich from the Co-op so I think it is safe to bet everyone gets caught up in the spirit of competition.

I think that the scavenger hunt represents the best of what EcoHouse has to offer a student. We had a really great time with eachother and we learned a lot about people that we may not have known before. There was also the presence of fun and positive "morals to the story" (or hunt) that underscored the event about sustainability and active participation in life. I am so grateful that I have had the oppertunity to meet and bond with the people that comprise EcoHouse. Rebecca deserves a lot of credit for making this Scavenger Hunt a sucess and for being an integral part of the spirit of EcoHouse. Rebecca not only has organized this event, but she also set up the EcoHouse Blog, and updates it far more regualarly than I. Without a doubt my EcoHouse experince would be far less rich had it not been for Rebecca. And she, for any potential EcoHousers out there, is just one member of this living and learning program. Imagine living with and interacting with dozens of like minded passionate students. That is why living in the EcoHouse is so amazing and why I am so privileged to be a member!

PS Rebecca I would love it if you posted the Scavenger Hunt list online in case anyone wants to re-create or relive the magic!

2/20/09

Winter greens

It's been a long time since the Greench stole Christmas, and I'm about ready for winter to be over. Pretty much every organism changes its behavior during the winter. People don't, and that's why I think 10% of the population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder or the winter blues. It wouldn't be so bad if we slowed down, hibernated, maybe shed our leaves or flew to Mexico. The deficient sunlight would still be a fact of life, but not as much of a disorder.

'Course, nobody's forcing me to be so productive. I'm a student. I'm paying them.

Anywho, if you wake up every morning cursing the cold and the sun in the southern sky, good news: Now is a good time to start planting for the spring. You can start seedlings indoors 4-8 weeks before the last winter frost. Read the instructions on the [organic] seed package to find out how much sunlight and water to give the seeds, how long to wait for them to sprout, and when to put them outside. The Ecohouse garden group is using old cardboard egg cartons as containers for our seedlings. Read more about starting plants indoors. The article has suggestions for types of soil to use - you can use compost, too.

2/18/09

And so it begins.

We've started recruiting new members for Ecohouse. This means that flyers with the EH website on them are being distributed all over campus, which in turn means that lots of people might be swinging by the blog soon. Yikes! I mean, Hi! Welcome!

Welcome to the Ecohouse blog.

My name is Rebecca. I walk an interesting line with this blog. I need to balance my impulse to make my college friends chuckle with some air of professionalism. If I get political, I try to present something debatable, not definite. I try to read the news but sometimes I get very busy making news, or not making the news being an unsung hero. (Oops, I just sung myself. So much for that.) When I leave Ecohouse in the spring, I hope this blog will be taken over by someone who loves to write, and feels confident doing so to a diverse demographic. I've leaned towards sharing my ponderings here, but I look forward to seeing what students will make of this blog in the future. If there's anything you'd like to see in this blog (or not like to see in this blog) in the mean time, drop me a comment!

Now I bring you our feature presentation: Top 10 Reasons to Join Ecohouse.

1. It's a great way to supplement your ENSP or other environment-related major with leadership and service experience.
2. For less environmentally oriented majors, Ecohouse is a chance to learn about environmental issues that you're interested in.
3. You can walk to campus, the metro, and the farmer's market.
4. You'll make friends. Oh yes, you will make friends. United by our interest in sustainability, we're still a pretty diverse group. Everybody can belong: tree-huggers, yes, but also Greek terps, students of all identities and persuasions, even English majors!
5. There's nothing like group support and/or peer pressure to get you into the habit of living sustainably.
6. You'll be in a program designed to help you make change on campus. Do you think the dorms should compost? Should there be more recycling at athletic events? In Ecohouse, you'll have the resources to start major projects.
7. Rare opportunities such as touring a nuclear power plant have been known to arise for Ecohouse students.
8. We compost, we have a garden, low-flow showerheads, and plenty of room for fresh ideas.
9. Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. What about them? You'll have to find out...
10. Ecohouse, like college, your relationship with the environment, and your Friday night, is what you make it.

2/15/09

Scavenger hunt!

Today, for a "team-building" activity, we did a scavenger hunt. We broke into teams to gather items and photos of things both eco-friendly and zany.

My team consisted of myself, Tory, and Dave. Our team name? "The winners." That's right. As Dave sprinted a mile down the Paint Branch Trail to borrow somebody's dog for a photo, I said to Tory, "Hey, we need to come up with a team name." We thought for a second and, in the same instant, said "The winners!" We'll see if it turns out to be so.

Why so confident? Well maybe it's the fact that we didn't only get a picture with a freshman; we got a picture with a freshman half-naked in bed at noon. There is a photo of me looking two feet tall in comparison to Dave, who is about 60 pounds heavier than me and receiving a piggyback. A female cop posed for us, giving him a high-five. We have a clear picture of Tory talking to the Jim Henson statue, even though Michelle's team tried to sabotage the photo by running in front of us. The Food Co-op kindly donated some coffee beans to our cause... ahem... So should I play the Queen now, or later? Weeee are the champions, my friends...

I was impressed to learn that Maura actually owns organic underwear, and tickled pink by Aaron's team bringing in a plant as their solar-powered object.

The overwhelming sentiment seemed to be, "I didn't expect that to be fun, but it was!" Which, uhh, was nice to hear since I brainstormed the whole activity. (But I put lots of stuff I didn't have on the list, so don't say I cheated!) I based it on a similar event that went down in my hometown during winter break. That scavenger hunt called for a plastic Santa, a picture of a team member getting arrested (no actual arrests took place - cops in our town get bored and gladly obliged by cuffing us), and a rubber chicken, among other things. Nobody found a rubber chicken, but the team that put a fried chicken wing in a condom won. This scavenger hunt was a tad more PC and eco-themed than the one back home, but hilarity ensued nonetheless.

Hopefully Maura will update us with her version of today's events.

1/25/09

Thoughts from an English major and transformative Taurus

I believe that actions speak louder than words, but that's not to underestimate the power of words. I would go so far as to think that changing language - the word, its meaning, or your understanding of it - is an action in itself.

Today's word, inspired by the dreaded activity of moving in: materialism.

Materialism was once a dirty word for me. It brings consumerism to mind, taking pleasure in owning loads of unnecessary objects, all of which take from nature, some of which rob people instead of allowing them to profit. The dirty word materialist doesn't care about that, because shiny toys matter the most. Being raised in a Christian household and having read the gospels as a kid, I grew up with an awareness that the material shouldn't matter. I wasn't ready to give up all my worldly possessions and become a nun, but a longstanding teaching of Christianity is that the spiritual world and the physical world are separate things. The goal is to give up the material in favor of the spiritual. So, when I became an environmentalist, that ethic translated over to living sustainably. Not having piles of stuff in my possession meant I was a good person, having a lot of stuff meant I was a bad person.

I started exploring astrology at an early age too, and I was dismayed to learn that Taurus, my sign, is supposed to be the materialistic sign. That made me mad. Hmmph! I said, What do you know, astrology? You're not science OR religion, you don't get to tell me who I am! But that word got stuck on my mind, and I often felt like I was doomed to be materialistic. Until astrology redeemed itself when I discovered that Taurus is also supposed to be powerfully creative, to the point where a bull, once enlightened, can transform into a butterfly. That's a big change.

So I started thinking of materialism as a good word. I remembered a biblical passage that had confused me as a kid, in which materialists were criticized as people who obsess over trash rather than devoting their lives to God. Since we learned in school that picking up trash was a good thing, I thought it was weird that this passage suggested it was a bad thing. The good materialist values everything. That means instead of being a spendthrift, you spend all the more wisely. It means you can take pleasure in stuff without having it - just appreciate the stuff being sold at stores until there's something worth taking pleasure in buying. Litter makes a good materialist sad because it's degrading to both nature and to the object, which somebody made with their hands or with machines that require hands at some point. Good materialists don't love lots of food, but love rich food and drink that's finely produced by fine people who keep sustainable ethics in mind.

My stepsister, who is also a Taurus, has the same attitude about material things that I do: we absolutely can't stand having too much stuff. This is because we are conscious of every single thing we have. Every pair of socks takes up space in our consciousness, and when we have more than we can keep track of, we actually worry. (Socks have been the bane of my consciousness for a long time.) We're struck with nausea if we fill up trash bags and bring them to the dump. Donating or recycling old things makes us feel a little better, but not if we can't envision every single one of those objects having a productive future. The gifts we appreciate the most are immaterial or have a long history, and a long future ahead of them, of being used. We need everything to have its own space, but hate taking up too much space. We love beauty, art, good food and drink, comfort, books, toys, and games, but loving all that stuff takes thought and energy. We need room in our brains and spirits to fit stuff besides, well, stuff. That's why we get so exhausted at Christmas, which in our family centers around getting lots of unasked for stuff. We're bulls that have developed sensitive antennae. Good materialists.

1/13/09

On cars

A story from NPR discussing the domestic auto industry and the challenges of making eco-friendly cars. The discussion boards continue the conversation. It's basically about the convergence of industry, policy, and consumer preference.

When I went to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which essentially is a rural area because everything is spread out, it was necessary to have a vehicle to get from place to place if you expected to get there in a reasonable amount of time. In the suburban sprawl where I grew up, people find vehicles necessary not because of distance, but because of time constraints. All the necessities, including restaurants and recreational sites, tend to be less than three miles away (that's <3, how cute!). Three miles is doable for walking or biking, but most people will not spend an hour making a grocery run by bike or on foot if they can spend 20 minutes and be able to carry more in their cars. Plus, if Kid X has karate on one side of town that starts at the same time as Kid Y's soccer on the other side of town, a car becomes handy. Also, I remember how much walking around wore me out as a kid, having to take more steps and everything, and it would be a shame to wear a kid out before a game or lesson. My town does not have public transportation and has scarce bike lanes; some of the surrounding towns don't even have sidewalks in non-residential areas. All of this makes it difficult to leave the car at home even if your schedule is flexible enough. (Coincidentally, I've been leaving it at home anyway - but I'm on break and have all the time in the world.)

My Uncle Joe had a stroke of brilliance. Since most families in the suburbs own two cars, he said, it would be efficient to have one short-range electric car and one conventional car. The short-range would be for running errands, maybe driving to work if it's close enough. The long-range would be for trips that the short-range car couldn't make. At the same time, we should be making the switch to renewable energy so that when we plug the electric cars in, they're not using dirty energy to charge up. Congress, Barack Obama, Nobel Prize committee, are you listening?

1/6/09

Permanence

Tattoos stay with you for life. If you get a tattoo at age 20, you might live until you're 90, and thus have the tattoo for 70 years.

The reason I bring this up is that I was looking at pictures of some amazing tattoos, done by P. Syrjälä at the Art for Life Tattoo Studio in Finland, and a lot of them are of animals. The most popular tattoo of 2008, at least at his studio, seems to be the tiger. I wouldn't be surprised if that were the overall trend, since the tiger was voted man's favorite animal in 2004.

I'd like to eat-- er, I mean thank the academy.
The tiger is an iconic species for conservation. Because people love tigers so much, they can act as the poster species for conservation efforts that focus on biodiversity in general. Tigers, wolves, and eagles are important, but so are the more unsightly (or unseen) creatures like plankton, fungi, and insects. With most conservation efforts, the money people donate to save tigers goes not only to saving tigers, but to saving their prey, their prey's prey, and fauna that provides a habitat for them.

There's a lot of interesting information on tigers, their biology, their cultural significance, and their conservation status on Wikipedia. Here's a site about tigers brought to you by the Woodland Park Zoo.
Not only is this amazing art, it's covering up an old tattoo.
I was marveling at these tattoos because wouldn't it be crazy if an animal, a significant poster animal, went extinct during our lifetimes? Three subspecies of tiger have already gone extinct in the past century. If the rest went extinct, we'd have people going around with tattoos of the animal that originally were tributes, but became memorials. It's a tad morbid. Mass extinctions do tend to be a downer, but there are ways you can prevent mass extinctions in your own backyard.
Please do, and while you're at it, can I have some of that venison?
I think wearing a big, beautiful picture on your skin is a good way to attract attention to conservation issues. The National Park Service, to which I'm applying for an internship this summer, has a uniform policy that employees have to cover their tattoos. I'll be more than happy to comply for the sake of the opportunity. Not everybody likes tattoos, and I wouldn't want to alienate anyone from visiting the parks. However, as the tools of the tattoo trade (and the tattoo removal trade) become more advanced, more and more people of our generation are choosing to get tattoos. As more people get them, the idea that they are inherently unprofessional will probably go away. It's already starting to in some workplaces.

How can you say "no" to that face?
While everyone has personal reasons for choosing a tattoo design, having a tattoo like the ones pictured here could be considered like wearing a "Save the Whales" T-shirt, except permanently. And not only permanently, but more evocative of the beauty and character of wildlife. Realistic tattoos such as these allow the animal to speak for its own conservation while showing that the person with the tattoo is committed. They can even show ecological relationships, emphasizing not one species but the whole system of interacting species. A well-chosen tattoo represents sustainable planning, in the sense that if one wishes to have a tattoo and never regret it, one will choose something for which the meaning and beauty of the image will last a whole lifetime.

Will I get one like this? Not anytime in the near future. Plus, it would be silly to fly all the way to Finland for a tattoo that's supposed to have a pro-environment message. I'd have to shop around locally, after I get a steady job with good income, choose an animal, decide on the placement, and know I really want it.

As I said above, these are from the Art for Life Tattoo Studio in Finland. The gallery is here (warning: some tattoos are NSFW).

1/1/09

Happy new year!

What sort of resolutions have the Ecohouse students been coming up with? I'm so glad you asked. Here are some of them, in their own words:

Maura: Shorter showers and learning how to ride a bike!

Natalie: My new year's resolution is to learn to cook vegetarian food. Having been a vegetarian for 6 years now it's probably about time.

Olivia: I resolve to pay special attention to where my food and other products are coming from to reduce the miles they go. Also, on second thought, I resolve to actually remember my reusable bags when I go to the store.

Michelle: One of my new year's resolutions is to live more simply.

Hanna: My new year's eco resolution is to eat only local meat.

Elena: I've been wanting to live more simply ever since I joined Ecohouse (be happier with fewer things, be content without always being hooked up with tvs, computers, phones, etc). (She asked me to reword this one but I think it's pretty good the way it is.)

Makeda, our lovely teaching assistant: My resolution is to use public transportation at least two times a week and to take more walks outside (even if it's a little chilly for me!!!).

And me? Well, I want to ride a bike more regularly, more because it's fun than anything. I want to take shorter showers more often than not - I'm good about them, but then the air gets cold and I slide back into the "I'll just stand here for a while until I'm good and ready..." mode. I want to buy things locally instead of ordering them online. When I do order them, I'll order them from relatively close by. And since most of the things I order on the internet are books (used, at least I get that one right), I'll get into the habit of checking the library for the books that I want instead of buying them.

So happy new year and may you all find the time, willpower, guts, and oomph to not only keep your resolutions, but make new ones throughout the year. You do at least have the support of Ecohouse.