Sunday, June 22, 2008

Correction to the stats in green burial post

OK, maybe I should have checked first, but whatever - here's the corrected stats, courtesy of It's entirely possible that I wrote them down wrong. At any rate, they're still pretty mind-boggling:

What’s Buried Along with our Loved Ones in U.S. Cemeteries Every Year

  • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
  • 90,272 tons of steel (caskets)
  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
  • 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
  • 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
  • 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods (much tropical; caskets)
Source: Mary Woodsen, Greensprings Natural Cemetery FAQ, March, 2007;

A Green End to a Green Life

Today we visited Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley, one of the country's handful of green cemeteries. Green burial is so simple - no embalming fluid, no concrete vault, no elaborate grounds. You're simply put in the earth, either in a shroud, a pine box or a wicker casket, on a hillside - no chemicals, no bulldozers. The graves are dug by hand - takes 5 guys a few hours. When the land is "full," it will be turned over to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, whose lands are adjacent to the cemetery, and put back into permanent parkland. For now, it's being restored, eucalyptus trees removed, native plants reintroduced.

I haven't independently confirmed these stats, but this is what we learned in the presentation before our tour of the grounds.

In one year, in the US, conventional burials result in the burying of:

- 30 million tons of hardwood
- 104 tons of steel
- 2,700 tons of copper/bronze
- 1.6 million tons of concrete
- 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid

This is every single year. The figures on cremation are equally disturbing. Again, I haven't doublechecked this on my own, but we heard that the energy required to burn up one body could power a car for 4,300 miles. If that's true, it's crazy!

For me, the only option I can consider for the disposition of my dead body is one that allows me to be returned to the earth, to be composted. For this reason, I'm very seriously considering buying a plot ahead of time - one I could share with Joe, in the shadow of Mt. Tam. There is a lot more to learn about this subject, but I was tremendously excited to think that I really could find a way to actually decompose, feed the earth, in a way consistent with my values and how I live my life.

For more info about green burial, go to:
For more info on Fernwood Cemetery,

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quittin' Time

Two messages in one hour -- a text from LT that he quit his miserable job and a voice mail from JA that he bailed out of a criterium -- have me thinking hard about quitting and all of the baggage attached to it.

In LT's case, thank goodness he quit that job. Even though he doesn't have anything lined up, I am all for it since I support him taking a stand for himself, being able to draw a line and walk away from a job and a boss that were actually taking him down. I'm sure he'll find something else, less aligned with his interests but also - chances are good -- less abusive and dysfunctional. Hurray for quitting! Out with the bad, in with the good...

In JA's case, my first reaction to his quitting was negative -- especially 'cause his voice mail said, "I am becoming a quitter!!" Ouch, a quitter. There's so much bad attached to quitter that I reacted to that, instead of listening all the way through. He was being dropped, he would've been cut, he wasn't feeling that great, and it was over 100 degrees. So hurray for this quitting, too: for recognizing when the situation is not working out and putting an end to the misery!

And then I was reminded that two women from my immersion quit their jobs not long after we completed the course and that, when I heard the news, I was completely elated for them. They'd liberated themselves, were now off traveling and having adventures, taking chances and enjoying life. Such an inspiration.

So really, all enculturation aside, quitting isn't bad. In fact, like everything else, quitting is good, an expression of clarity about the self and what it needs or doesn't need, wants or doesn't want. There is so much duty forced on all of us, so much that we continue to do even if we hate it because we don't want to be quitters -- how silly this is. We should do want we want to do, and not do what we don't. We are in control of our lives and should exercise our right to quit whenever it's right for us.

Hate your job? Quit it! Hate your life situation? Change it! We're completely in charge except when we forget that we are and hand that power over to someone else.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Freedom and Sixpence

Forty-fourth birthday tattoo,
a present to myself to remind me always
that Freedom is what I care about most

I read W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence years ago, but re-read it over the weekend, as part of an overall devoration of his work this year (see 2008 Books at right) kicked off by reading The Painted Veil last year after seeing the movie version with Ed Norton, Jr. Somerset Maugham has a delightful way with words!

And with lead characters. In the case of Moon and Sixpence, I loved Strickland, his take on Gauguin, and how he crashes through life untouched by the opinions of others, locked in his own battle. Like a character in Ayn Rand, Strickland is a big man - brutal, remorseless, genius. And entirely free.

Which is why I love these books and characters so much.

In his introduction to the novel, Robert Calder writes,
Freedom, here seen as essential to creativity, was a fundamental concern of Maugham throughout his ninety-one years. 'The main thing I've always asked of life,' he said in old age, 'is freedom. Outer and inner freedom, both in my way of living and my way of writing.'
We should all take a memo. Not that we have to be quite so extremely bastardly as Strickland, but we should work tirelessly to free ourselves from false dichotomies that obscure the only real option -- to be 100% ourselves. Apparently the title of the novel derives from a critique of an earlier Somerset Maugham protagonist (Philip Carey, Of Human Bondage), that "like so many young men he was so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet." With Strickland, it's not an either/or, damn it, but the moon and sixpence.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Delicious Midnight Tears

While we were in Mexico, the absolutely gorgeous and fragrant Miltoniopsis Echo Bay 'Midnight Tears' opened. This is the first time we've seen these blooms, having bought the plant really small at the Orchid Society show at Fort Mason, San Francisco, in February of 2007.

Our patience and continuous care have certainly paid off. If only I could capture the fragrance and share it here - an intense, rose-like smell.

So after a year and three months of weekly watering, here are these lovely flowers for a few weeks. Orchids are incredible this way -- the pay-off is so enormous, the flowers just so extravagant, that it's worth waiting a year or so before seeing them again. Lovely!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Criminals with cold symptoms

I got to sign the pseudoephredine log book at Long's Drugs today, which was a small yet still annoying price to pay for the 10-pack of Aleve D they were holding behind the counter. I woke up this morning with such a head cold. The new-ish, "daytime formula" over-the-counter cold remedies make me crazy, so I had to queue up at the pharmacy, hand over my ID and sign the book, testifying that I am aware that nefarious uses of pseudoephredrine are punishable by law.

Since I've signed this book at other pharmacies, or done it electronically (Walgreen's, Montecito Shopping Center), I am familiar with this procedure. I have to talk myself down every time, that I'm not doing anything wrong, that I'm not going to get in trouble. It's really so lame that meth cookers have created a requirement that regular pill users like me have to write our names in the book.

I remember this creeping up on me, suddenly realizing when the OTC allergy pills I'd relied on for years were now making me jumpy, that something good had changed into something mediocre. Here's why:
Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which classified all nonprescription pseudoephedrine (PSE), ephedrine (EPH), and phenylpropanolamantine (PPA) products as "scheduled listed chemical products." The law required a log entry for sales of more than 60 mg of PSE and required the customer to show a federal- or state-issued photo ID.
Yes, meth is an epidemic and definitely needs to be shut down. But I do wonder how successful this change is in reducing the meth-idemic. I have been seeing a lot of anti-meth messaging in English and Spanish just in the past few months, which would seem to indicate that since passage of the law in 05, things have perhaps not improved.

But they should be doing a better job on the log-book thing. It's amazing that during my entire transaction, as the monosyllabic pharmacist was ringing up my pills and vitamin water and pencil leads, the book was left open for my review. I read every line of the page I signed, all the names, addresses, signatures and drugs of choice of dozens of criminals with cold/allergy symptoms just looking for some relief. That lack of privacy just doesn't seem right. I mean, I don't care if the government knows I have a cold, but do my neighbors need to?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Interesting Bird Week

The past three days have been filled with bird encounters. None of them have anything to do with the vermilion flycatcher pictured above -- I just included him since we saw so many of them in Oaxaca and frankly, this post bums me out so much that I needed something pretty to start with. Onward:

- Monday evening after yoga I caught, with the help of Julie and Trixie and the support of other yogis and folks in the parking lot, an injured female mallard. It took a fair amount of coaxing and Luna bar and strategizing before I finally had her in my hands. She had a badly injured, most likely broken, right wing and some serious pecking. I drove her, wrapped in a sarong that Julie pulled out of the back of her car, to the Humane Society and handed her off. She was pretty calm, but let's just say that she doesn't like cars. I still have to follow up with Wildcare to see what happened to her; my suspicion is that she wasn't fix-able and was probably euthanized.

- Tuesday morning while hiking in the woods with Jasper a hawk flew low across the path right in front of me, with a rat in its talons. Probably a red-shoulder, judging from its size and tail feathers, really weighed down by its prey. Sweet!

- Wednesday evening coming home after yoga I startled a robin in our yard who then proceeded to fly straight into the window. Its neck broke on impact. I scooped it up and it died in my hand.

So now it's Thursday and I'm hoping for better avian interactions - no more deaths, please.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Stepping Gingerly Back In

After an absence of 11 days, here is what I notice:

- that my email is filled with advertisements, enticements to shop on-line for everything from shoes to water filters. When I see it all at once, I really feel its impact, and so I've set about unsubscribing from many lists.

- that some political candidates send altogether too much mail. Of the more-than-week's-worth of snail-mail that the USPS dropped on my doorstep on Saturday, at least 50% was from candidates for state assembly. Since I voted absentee before leaving on vacation, I recycled them with impunity, even ferocity. New personal eco-vow: not voting for candidates who flood my mailbox with their crap. [Ojala que Obama no lo haga!]

Interestingly, one of the first topics at the yoga retreat, in one of Ann's classes, was pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, the pulling in of the focus. One of the actions I am taking now, to support my own pratyahara -- and by this I mean minimizing the distractions that fritter my attention and calm -- is reducing the number of times I'm solicited and highjacked by a commercial announcement. I don't expect I'll ever unplug myself completely -- that, for me, is like giving up coffee, WHY? Especially since for me, as I explained to those who griped at me for spending time on my laptop checking email and writing while on vacation, being plugged-in keeps me connected to the people and issues I care about most.

So the way I'm choosing is to be really vigilant about how I'm connected, to only let in what needs to be on my radar, what supports my continued expansion. Sorry, Athleta, the terry beach-dress doesn't make the cut!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Market Day in Tlacolula

Keep in mind as you look at these photos that it was about 80 degrees out. The blue tarps strung over the Sunday market in Tlacolula, just down the highway from Teotitlan del Valle, kept the sun off, but sometimes created an absolutely stifling cloud of grilling-meat smoke combined with mangoes in the heat. Joe got involved in stringing the tarps up, since his superior height (compared to the average Zapotec local) offered such an advantage. In the first photo, Peggy and I pose in the typical aprons that all the women wear over their clothes (I should have bought the one that Peg has on, since OF COURSE the poinsettia is native to Oaxaca!).

Since I didn't want to offend, I photographed the women on the sneak, mostly from the side or back - but all of them sport the apron, the ribbons in the braids, the rebozos or big babushka-style head scarves. I had to pause while cruising the market, just to soak it all in - the insane color-overload rendered me speechless.

And then there were the turkeys...

Oaxaca, city impressions

We had the smarts to schedule a few days in Oaxaca City and one more on the end, book-ending our 7 day yoga retreat in Teotitlan del Valle. There are many things to see in the city, and we jumped in with both feet.

On Thursday, May 22nd, our flight landed at 8am. We hopped in a combi ($12, no taxis at the airport) and were taken directly to the sweet Casa de los Milagros (see separate post for details on that). We met up with our friends Peggy, Jim and Michelle at the Milagros. After a delicious breakfast (fresh yogurt and homemade granola, rife with pumpkin seeds, amaranth, pecans, then the open-faced delicious quesillo sandwich whose name I now cannot remember), we strolled down to CafĂ© Nuevo Mundo on Calle Bravo for some “real” coffee. As a rule, Mexican brewed coffee is really weak. We San Franciscans needed the depth of an espresso to kick-start our morning.

At Nuevo Mundo they make particularly beautiful and delicious mochas with the characteristic cinnamon-rich Oaxacan chocolate. Sweet!

From there we ambled down to the ethnobotanical garden for a two-hour English language tour with guide Carol Turkenik.* I was a little nervous about the tour – two hours in the hot sun on our first morning, in English – but we learned so much. It was in many ways the perfect start to our Oaxacan vacation, since we really got to see the biodiversity of Oaxaca and understand its role as the most diverse place in Mexico, itself one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Everything good – ok, except coffee and tea – originated in Oaxaca, our guide would have us believe, or at least everything that we eat every single day: chocolate, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, squash, things which were unknown to the so-called Old World. Impossible to imagine the cuisine of India or Thailand without the spicy kick of peppers and yet how far and wide these plants traveled to create those distinctive flavors.

From the ethnobotanical garden, we wandered through a few museums and the markets. Amazing! It’s hard not to be totally sensorily overloaded – the color, the smells, the abundance of fruit and vegetables, the fabulous tlayudas (why don’t we have these oversized, thin corn tortillas at home?), the quesillo stands, the many mole y chocolate stores where they’ll grind the cocoa beans and add sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts to your specifications. And everywhere the older women in traditional dress, the hair braided with bright ribbons tied together at the bottom, colorful aprons over their dresses, rebozos draped over their shoulders or heads. The baskets of toasted crickets with garlic (chapulinas).

I myself was a bit of colorful abundance, drawing stares and comments for my tattoos. One old lady in the Zocalo, startingly shorter than me, stroked my arm and said, “Como ropa,” “like clothes.” Joe was entertained by observing people’s reactions to me, although this made me a little uncomfortable, shades of my childhood experiences in Mexico, when my parents would make me walk alone in front of them down the street, tickled by the reactions to the guera.

* Carol Turkenik is the author of a little guidebook, "Oaxaca Tips," available around Oaxaca, or from me. I'd love to loan it to you, if you're going!

La Casa de los Milagros, Oaxaca, Mexico

Somehow we managed to stay in the most beautiful place in Oaxaca. Thank goodness for the internet!

La Casa de los Milagros is family-owned, a three-room bed and breakfast located close enough to the center to be convenient to everything, yet far enough away that it’s removed from the hustle and bustle. The owners, Adriana and Rene, are charming and accommodating. The breakfast in the morning in lovely and delicious.

I think what I loved most, besides the owners and the way the place is painted and decorated, is that they hand you the keys. We – that is, Joe and me, Peggy and Jim, and the woman who occupied the third room – could let ourselves in and out at our pleasure. At night, it was our house, the owners and staff live and sleep elsewhere, so that we really had the feeling that it was our place to come home to.