What was that about a $680 billion war bill and unlawful civilian deaths in Pakistan? Hmm, not too sure about those... but I do know that President Obama certainly played up to his heroic role as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient today by lifting a travel ban imposed on people living with HIV. It's about time we stopped treating sick people like criminals!

Happy [Healthy] Halloween!

What's a better holiday to bring out the childish side of our spirits than Halloween? This time of year has come to represent a good-natured indulgence in folly and imagination for all of those who aren't too proud to play dress up and run through corn mazes. We all throw rationality to the wind as we delight ourselves with spooks and stories which, just for a moment, we decide to believe. And of course, we eat tasty treats and make art work out of pumpkins, and the child inside of us smiles.

But Halloween also has a tendency to promote corn syrup snacks in wasteful wrappers and tons and tons of unnecessary plastic crap. Just walk into any CVS or Walgreens, you'll see it there: the disposable plates and napkins with Halloween-themed images, the packages of plastic and disposable trick-or-treat bags, the cauldrons, the spiderwebs, the tombstones, etc., etc. etc. It's a pretty frightening scene, especially when you consider that these are all things that could be made at home, or substituted with sustainable alternatives. And as for the snacks, well... it's tough to convince a child not to eat candy, sure. But there are so many healthy, tasty treats that would make their tummies just as full! Here are some tips on how to have a happy, healthy Halloween:

For me, the best aesthetic for a fall-themed holiday would be an array of different colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins and gourds bought at a local farmers market. These can be painted, stenciled, carved, and cut, and are thus very versatile- they can become whatever you'd like them to be! And collecting the bountiful, beautifully colored fall leaves is quite opportunistic for DIY craft ideas such as wreathes and collages. These projects are fun and formative for everyone, as they employ the use of our creative sides, and produce a rewarding end result. For some family craft ideas, check here. And if time is really an issue for you, Green Planet Parties sells Halloween decorations made from sustainable and non-harmful materials.

Now, pumpkins are not exclusively for display. In fact, the rich and tender pulp inside of both pumpkins and gourds are highly nutritious and variant. There is an excellent array of pumpkin recipes on vebweb.com, check them out for some inspiration! Remember that every part of the pumpkin can be used! The seeds can be baked, or given to birds. And once your jack-o-lantern has wilted, the entire shell can be composted! Other seasonal foods, like apples, are also very diverse and tasty and can be used in a variety of ways. To fill up those bags, try nuts, trail mix, honey sticks, and raisins. They are all great [sealed!] treats for the kids, and besides being super tasty, they are really good for you! And if sweets are the only way to go, then try organic chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, organic fruit snacks, or other natural candy options.

It's simple and easy enough: reusable bags! And enjoy the time to stroll around your neighborhood from house to house. Walking is incredibly good for your body, and is a pastime that we often take for granted. Trick-or-treating is a great opportunity to take in the beautiful fall weather, explore your neighborhood, and meet your neighbors.

Make your own! Be creative! Instead of going for that pre-packaged French Maid costume, or a stinky Obama mask, be the only one at the party with an original and interesting costume idea! If you're not into sewing, try shopping at your local thrift shop, or check out craigslist and freecycle for costume bulk.
Halloween is a great opportunity to celebrate the fall, and to indulge ourselves in the bizarre, imaginative behavior that we took for granted as kids but that can be so nourishing and entertaining. It is a time for us to be creative and silly, and to express ourselves in ways that we don't normally get to in our daily lives. The costumes, the treats, and the traditions can all be carried out without excessive waste, and can actually prove to be a health way of celebrating! Between eating healthy seasonal foods, having an excuse to walk around the neighborhood, exercizing our minds in different crafty ways, and allowing ourselves to be free and a bit silly... Halloween may actually be quite beneficial to your health! So, Got Halloween? ;-)



...that was close! For a few weeks it seemed as if hydraulic fracturing could be coming to NYC's backyard, bringing chemicals and contamination to a faucet near you. But fortunately, thanks to the pressure put on by outspoken groups and individuals, the natural gas drilling company Chesapeake Energy Corporation has announced that it has no further plans to drill in the New York City Watershed. As the New York Times put it in their story, the company was "bowing to intense public pressure."

Hurray! That is great news for us. Especially since earlier this month, the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation gave the o.k. for fracturing to take place within our watershed, and imposed very few constraints on the energy companies to be doing so. Activists and water enthusiasts alike protested loudly and immediately, citing allegations and investigations into the dangerous nature of such drilling taking place within close proximity to sources of drinking water. While the energy companies argued that increased extraction was necessary due to the exceptional state of economic affairs, their opponents questioned whether increased profits were worth the potential cost of human safety.

And in a rare case of corporate concession, it seems as if the concerns of the people have been recognized and respected. As Aubrey C. McClendon of the Chesapeake Energy Corporation stated, "We're not going to develop these leases, and we're not taking any more leases, and I don't think anyone else in the industry would dare to acquire leases in the New York City Watershed." No, they wouldn't dare. Because New Yorkers are nothing if not truculent, and once we've set our minds to something, well... there's no messin' with us!

Still, the willingness of this large corporation to back down without facing government pressure brings to light the very absence of that same government pressure. The New York City Watershed provides drinking water to 15 million people, and the contamination of that resource puts each and every one of us at risk. So, why hasn't the D.E.C. stepped in with harsher regulations on fracturing? Better yet, why has it not outlawed fracturing all together in the watershed area? After all, even though the watershed is made up of nearly 1 million acres, it comprises only 8.5% of the drillable land in upstate New York. So it needs to be off-limits all together: not only to the energy companies, but to any and all developers. We in New York City pride ourselves on our clean, safe public drinking water. And we'd like for it to stay that way!


Water: Good for the Soul

A new report issued by a research group at Chicago University is posturing that water may have the same calming effect on human emotional well-being as those foods which we think of as comfort foods. On the same level as mac n' cheese, a tub of ice cream, and that heavenly bar of chocolate... is water! Good for your soul! Who woulda thought?

The researchers found that rats, after being exposed to a level of heat which caused slight pain and discomfort, had displayed the same amount of pain aversion whether they had been given water or sugar as a remedy. This is a sign that it is the simple act of ingestion, not the absorption of sugar, that has a calming effect on the body.

While it's a common remedy for most of us to ease the blues with a little bit of chocolate and sugar, the emotional over-eating of rich, unhealthy foods on a regular basis may lead to such problems as obesity. However, perhaps not so surprisingly, it may be possible for us to achieve the same pain-numbing reaction by simply drinking water, and avoiding all of the unecessary calories.

And after all, the healing effects of water are evident and multifarious. We are all bound to water, we are made of water, so it follows that we may be naturally healed and cleansed by the very element that shapes our lives. It seems ubiquitous to the human experience: when we are feeling overwhelmed, sitting nearby a river or stream has a soothing, meditative power that reaches into our soul and heals us. When we ache, we bathe ourselves in hot water to relax our muscles and our mind. And when we are restless... listening to the soundtrack of the ocean's powerful tides, we are calmed and inspired simultaneously, often lulled into a deep, rejuvenating sleep. So why not, when we are feeling emotional pain, can we not drink water to help us heal!

There are so many reasons to drink more water to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Our bodies and our minds alike are detoxed by its cleansing power. This is yet another example of the healing power of water, and why it is essential to all of us! That is not to say that a little chocolate doesn't make put a smile on my face once in a while, but for a true calming effect... next time perhaps choose water.

Flower of the Week

A Nasturtium found in a Washington, D.C. Victory Garden. Not only is this flower quite lovely to behold, but it's also edible! Try it in a salad for its peppery accent. Enjoy!


Good News..?

At first it would seem like a hoax: an exorbitant movement of great symbolic power that swells with a righteous sense of justice in the name of the people. Then it is deemed as sinister: yet another intrusion on the part of the government into matters that are technically considered private. Either way, it sparks controversy and debate, and a slight feeling of discomfort that leaves the mind to wonder what has really happened after all.

It was an assertion today made by the Obama administration that will call for pay cuts from 25 of the top-earning employees of recently bailed-out industries. These 25 individuals have been singled out for their paychecks, and for the extravagance that they have gained through the exploitation of loan borrowers, home owners, and other Americans just trying to get by.

The financial institutions have been making record profits, and posting record salaries and bonuses less than a year after our tax dollars bailed them out for the economy's sake. But putting billions into a localized, private pocket did not benefit us all, no matter how they might have tried to convince us that the trickle would fall.

And though a few tiffs have been launched about the government over-stepping its role in cutting executive pay, this is not an issue of technicality. It goes beyond large scale theorems of laissez-faire liberties and big government intrusions, to progress to a paradigm that is concerned with moral responsibility, social justice, and retribution for those whose wounds have not yet healed from predatory loans and mortgages, rising credit card rates, and continued obligatory debt.

There is an intuitive issue of fairness here. These executives whose pay is being cut have earned far more than they've needed to earn, and they have done it in part by breaking the backs of the working classes. There is such a thing as too much wealth, and these bullies have it. Perhaps it's about time that big brother steps in and defends his battered brothers and sisters. And although the move is largely allegorical and hardly resolves any of our immediate plights, it is something which resembles a victory of principle, and for that I'm glad.


Undernourished, Overfed

The statistics are terrifying.

Two hundred million Americans are overweight and 100 million are obese. More than 75 million Americans have high blood pressure. 24 million people are diabetic. Heart disease remains the no.1 cause of death for men and women, followed by stroke and obesity-related cancers. Obesity is about to overtake tobacco as the no. 1 cause of preventable deaths in the United States.

60% of bankruptcies are caused by what has become known as "medical debt."

Fast food, fast medicine, fast news and fast lives have turned many Americans into sick, uninformed, indebted, "processed" people. ~from the film "Processed People"

We have come to believe that being healthy is the ability to successfully manage sickness, that public health can be addressed with blanket vaccines, and that individual health can be sustained by swallowing pills.

But health is more than just the absence of symptoms. It is a feeling of holistic wellness and vitality, a feeling that we get when we nourish our bodies with fresh foods rich in beneficial nutrients, when we exercise, and when we maintain health relationships with ourselves and those around us. It is a feeling that connotes being truly alive, thriving instead of simply putting off death.

Preventative medicine is not just a last resort. In fact, it is a choice that we all can make every day. We can avoid the hospitals, the chemicals, the needles & pricks of our trillion dollar health care system, which stands to profit when we become sick. All it takes is fresh fruit, vegetables, sunshine, some time spent outdoors, some time spent with family. These things might not seem like medicine in the way that we have been conditioned to think about it, but they are. They are the purest and simplest ways of healing our bodies and our minds.

The choices that we have made in our personal lives TODAYcan ensure that we enjoy health and happiness in the future. We can spend our extra cash on local, organic food now, instead of spending it on hospital bills later. We can choose to exercise every day, if not on a treadmill than on a walk, so as to not spend that time later in life bound to a sick bed. We can choose to enjoy the outdoors at every given chance, to cleanse our bodies with fresh air and sunshine. We can choose to nourish our bodies, and not fill it with empty calories pumped up with sugar and artificial flavor.

It is never too late for anyone to become truly and holistically healthy. We all have that power to take care of ourselves without pills and pricks, we can take our bodies back for ourselves, and take our funds back for farmers, not pushers.

I choose to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. Every day. How about you?



Flower of the Week

These are called Angel's Trumpets. And they are dedicated to Paulette, who left us peacefully this morning.

Les anges jouent pour vous, Grandmaman. <3


...Just a Prick?

So by now we are on, what? Like, month 6 of swine flu mania?

Like the Avian Flu and the West Nile Virus before it, the H1N1 virus has caused quite a stir in the U.S. over an ailment which in reality is on the mild side in terms of a true public health emergency. But the inconsistency of the swine scare with previously hyped health crises lies within the new implementation of mandated vaccinations.

So far, New York is the only state to have mandated that all health care workers be stuck with the vaccine, in preference to losing their jobs. That is quite a choice to give someone: take this medicine or you will be terminated. All across the state, hospital workers, home care attendants, and hospice workers alike are protesting this imposition on their health and on their right to choose.

Yet the Health Department has already allotted 5 million doses of the vaccine to New York City: a swarm of impending shots to make healthy nurses and doctors alike quiver in their scrubs. It's not that those who oppose the command are opposed to taking appropriate steps in the name of the greater good; it's simply a matter of rights. If a nurse feels that they are at risk for contracting the virus, and that they will in turn transmit this virus to their patients, then that is the personal responsibility of the individual to make an informed decision to be vaccinated or not. But allowing a person to choose... that's just proper Democracy.

Still, the controversy goes beyond the mandate, and even beyond the depth of the research and testing of the vaccine. In fact, the H1N1 vaccine was tested more rigorously this year than was the vaccine for the more common flu. While this fact is frightening in and of itself, another more harrowing consideration is what infectious disease specialists, such as Dr. Kent Holtorf has to say on the matter. In an interview with Fox News*, Dr. Holtorf revealed that the vaccine itself contains dangerous levels of a type of mercury that could seriously damage the nervous system (Try to ignore the fear mongering while watching the video, and pay attention to the facts that the doctor puts forth).

It is worth a minute of time to stop and think about what is being asked of (or rather, dictated to) these health care workers. While swine flu itself is undoubtedly a cause for concern, is it ever wise to insist on only one solution to any problem when it comes to our well-being? And is it worth it for a person to risk their own personal health in the name of regulating a relatively mild sickness that so far (like previous epidemic scares) has only harmed very small portions of the population? While it is understandable to make sacrifices for public well-being at large, must we force one solution onto people, or allow them to decide for themselves how to be healthy?

It's only public option... that's all I'm advocating here.


*And yes, I know... FoxNews is usually not the most credible source of information. But this was the only online video I could find of this man, and he actually makes some sense, so I figured it was worth posting.


Let him be.

Kevin Jennings is the newly appointed Assistant Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. He is also a teacher, an author, a human rights activist, and an openly gay man. He spent his formative years growing up in the strictly religious Baptist South, where he endured an adolescence of taunting, prejudice, and harassment because of who he was, and because people simply didn't understand. Although he is still somewhat bitter from his experiences (who wouldn't be?); Jennings rose above his negative past to become the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, an organization which preaches acceptance and understanding, as well as equal rights for all students. GLSEN has been making a difference in the lives of young people through grassroots outreach campaigns, research, and positive change in educational communities since the early 1990s. Because of his commitment to fairness and safety in schools, Jennings was appointed by President Barack Obama to his current position as "Safe Schools Czar" within the Education Department.

But the harassment has not stopped. Like environmental visionary Van Jones before him, Jennings is the newest target for right wing religious extremists and their slew of media henchmen. He has been labeled a "radical homosexual activist," and every word and action over the past 20 years of his career has come under severe scrutiny. On the conservative Christian website, humanevents.com, situated between a donation link for Sarah Palin's PAC (::shudder::) and a promotion of Newt Gingrich's weekly newsletter (it's free!), is an article titled "Kevin Jennings- Unsafe for America's Schools."

Their homophobic paranoia precedes them in this case, as they have diligently worked to convince themselves that Jennings is unsafe for our nations children. The Family Research council, who were at the forefront of Van Jone's smear campaign, have made the claim on their website that Jennings intends to make schools "safe for sexual predators," while the geniuses at human events are certain that Jennings wants to capture every sexually confused child and lock them away to a lifetime of gayhood.

Give me a break. This absurdity would be laughable if it weren't so disturbingly reminiscent of our general inability to see past the end of our own social noses. Jennings has stated nothing about his intent to make schools "gayer." He has simply pledged to reduce bullying caused by close-minded misunderstandings, and to promote education on Gay, Lesbian, and Straight identities so that our children don't live to become grown-up bullies like those at the FRC.

I beg the FRC, Rush Limbaugh, FoxNews, Human Events, all of these promoters of fear and mistrust... let the man be! Let's give him a chance to prove his worth as an effective protector of our children before we condemn him for his personal life.

And honestly, is it actually detrimental to teach our children about tolerance? Or would it lead to a more peaceful educational environment? Would an increased exposure to a controversial issue harm their delicate minds, or open their hearts to the reality of our beautifully diverse world?


Brooklyn Skillshare

Attention NYC Residents! In light of my prolonged internet absence, I would like to offer a recompense: a real-life event that is sure to nourish and enrich your life in such a way that you'll want to forget about the computer screen all together (well... for a while anyhow): The Brooklyn Skillshare. It's an all-day event that is to be held at the Gowanus Studio Space on 8th street in Brooklyn, this Saturday, October 10th.

It's a day of learning, sharing, and celebrating the unique skills that each and all of us possess. The teachers are all community members who have taken interest in a certain activity, like, say, bicycle repair and maintenance, and who come to the skillshare t0 offer up their knowledge to those who are open and willing. The atmosphere here is inclusive and non-judgmental; it is simply a space for people to connect with each other and offer up exchangeable life skills in the mode of sustainable and communal living; in a reciprocal relationship that benefits individuals as both students and teachers simultaneously. Here is the mission statement of the event:

Education is a right, not a commodity. We are all students and teachers, and we believe that everyone has something to teach and learn from each other. The Brooklyn Skillshare is a communal, hands-on learning experience that aims to serve as a jumping off point in the construction of an autonomous, nonexclusive, reciprocal learning community.

If this sounds good to you, and if you are interested in learning about any of the following skills, then the Brooklyn Skillshare is a great opportunity for you to connect your soul to others with purpose and creativity, and to learn something new! Here is a sampling of some of the classes to be offered:

  • How to brew kombucha
  • Massage Basics: taking care of yourself and others
  • Bicycle Mechanics 101
  • Screenprinting basics & DIY techniques
  • Turning glass bottles into glasses and vases
  • Basic raw food preparation: the art of "uncooking"
  • DIY electronics
These are only some, there are plenty more! There is also FREE breakfast and lunch to be served, as well as tasty snacks, homemade ginger-ale, and a closing party to celebrate the day. The entrance fee is only a suggested donation of $10, which is wonderfully generous considering all the benefits to be gained from this glorious event.

I'd say see you there, but I'll be participating in another great event that day: the Washington, D.C. Green Festival, a cornucopia of sustainable businesses, innovative technologies, and enlightened speakers all corralled into a large convention center space for a weekend of knowledge to tickle you green!

Two great cities, two awesome events... I'll let you choose which one suits you best :-)