Plastic Planet (aka: Zero Waste Lifestyle)

Happy Earth Day, fellow earthlings!

Let’s celebrate with a delicious meal, shall we? How about some plastic tacos, a plastic salad, and a plastic chocolate cake for dessert? No? Not such a fan of plastic food?

Sadly, every year, an increasing number of sea mammals, fish, and birds are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Our plastic. The unfortunate meals we served them when we threw out those plastic water bottles.

According to recent studies, 8 million tons of plastic trash end up in our oceans each year. Plastic, which takes more than 400 years to decompose, is quickly on its way toward outweighing the amount of fish there are in the sea.

“What?” You say? “It’s not my fault. I always recycle our household plastics.”

I get it. So do I. I figured that those mega-packs of single plastic water bottles I kept buying for our family’s convenience were fine. After all, we were always certain to toss them in the recycle bin when they were empty, as we do with all our household plastics.

But according to a recent study, most of those plastics aren’t actually being recycled. In fact, only 90.5% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. 12% is incinerated, and 79% accumulates in landfills and the nautral environment, including our oceans. (Royal Statistical Society, 2018)

Does that mean it’s hopeless? Is our planet simply doomed to end up like a garbage-infested wasteland, like on the movie, Wall-E? Well, yes, if we earthlings don’t start making different choices. But the good news is that it may not be too late to turn this around.

Many communities and individuals are taking the concept of waste reduction to what many may consider an extreme. They are going beyond producing less waste, and instead aiming to create zero waste.

That’s right. Zero Waste. Empty trash cans. Nothing new added to the landfills and oceans to choke our sea life and pollute our planet. It is a lifestyle that requires some discipline and some participation from retailers and communities in order to be truly successful. Most of all, it requires a change in the way we choose to consume. It’s easy to use paper cups and plastic utensils, then discard them. It’s more challenging to be mindful of the effects of or choices, and to choose reusable dishes instead.

Here are the main principles of a Zero Waste lifestyle:

Reduce — Reduce the amount of waste you create. Refuse to purchase items that you don’t need, or items which may add to landfills. That means saying no to those mega-packs of plastic water bottles and using refillable containers instead. It means choosing to skip the straw in that cold drink. Or, if you can’t live without the straw, buy a set of reusable metal, bamboo, or silicone straws, such as these:

Reusable straws

Reuse — Pack your food items in reusable glass containers, drink from reusable water bottles, carry reusable shopping bags to the store. A goal of mine is to start bringing washable mesh bags to the store and farmers’ market to use instead of those plastic produce bags.

Recycle — If it can be recycled, recycle it. But try reducing and refusing first, so that you hav less waste left over to recycle.

Unsure about how to recycle some things? Try terracycle.com for free programs in your community that help you to dispose of hard-to-recycle items in an earth-friendly way. For example, did you know that you can bring your old coffee lids, snack wrappers, and coffee capsules to your local Subaru dealership for recycling? Check here for you nearest participating dealership: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/subaru#@38.53979322637243:-121.42445184328136zoom:9 .

Rot — Compost organic waste. And hey — did you know that you can now buy “plastic” eating utensils made from plants, which are 100% biodegradable and compostable? When I can’t use stainless steel utensils, these are my favorite to have on hand.

Maybe we’ll find that going Zero-Waste is just way too out-of-reach for most of us. But in the process of aiming for Zero, we may just find that we succeed in reducing our own impact on the planet.

Stuck Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere

Quincy California Sierra Nevada Mountains Small TownWhen I was 16 years old, I decided to move to the Middle of Nowhere. With high school graduation behind me, I packed up my sparse wardrobe, shabby bicycle, and cardboard boxes filled with books and thrift-store kitchenware, and moved into my first apartment in Quincy, California.

“Why on earth would you want to live there?” asked pretty much everyone. Quincy, after all, is a tiny town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When I moved there, it had no traffic lights, far more trees than people, and zero chain stores, unless you count the 24-hr. Safeway supermarket in the center of town. It was nothing like my Bay Area home, nothing like the dull suburb where I’d lived during high school. Quincy had no shopping mall, no Target stores, no roller skating rinks. The only movie theater had one small screen and played the latest blockbusters about two months after they’d been released.

Plus, Quincy was in the middle of nowhere.

Middle of Nowhere Sign

But I loved that little town. It was quiet, but filled with character. It was isolated from the rest of the world, but only because the outside world couldn’t be bothered with traversing the long, winding highway leading up to our Main Street. It was different from typical California suburbs, with its seeming lack of sophistication and modernization, but how is that such a bad thing? Quincy was an awful lot like me.

When I woke up in the mornings in my tiny apartment, the first thing I liked to do was throw open my bedroom curtain. The view outside was stunning — picturesque, snow-capped mountains, tall, elegant pines, and a huge meadow, where deer and other wildlife scampered around in the sunshine. Everything was green and gold, and lovely. As I hiked through the trees to my college campus, all of the darkness and stress of my high school years melted away. In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the woods, I was in the middle of transforming into a confident and joyful young woman.

Of course, Quincy wasn’t really in the middle of Nowhere. It was literally in the middle of Somewhere. For people with cars (unlike me), you could drive for exactly one hour in one direction to get to the city of Chico, and an hour in the other direction to get to the city of Reno. At times, my college buddies and I would pile into someone’s vehicle and head out on the highway, in order to escape the calm and serenity of our little town and seek out a shopping mall, or a real movie theater, or a Target store. No matter how isolated we sometimes felt living in Quincy, we knew that we could always choose one direction or another and find ourselves somewhere, eventually.

Isn’t life kind of like that?

Sometimes, we just find ourselves in the Middle of Nowhere, like when that ex-con dropped off Pee-Wee Herman and drove away. We don’t know how we got there, and are pretty much stuck until Large Marge shows up with her big rig to cart us away.

PeeWee Herman in the middle of nowhere

Okay, bad analogy.

But sometimes, we place ourselves in the Middle of Nowhere. Unable to deal with something in our lives, we pack up our cardboard boxes and head off to live in the woods, where we can forget about the noise and crud that plagued us back in Somewhere. Sometimes, we need the Middle of Nowhere in order to heal ourselves. Or to recenter, as we transform into a better person. Kind of like a caterpillar in a chrysalis.

And for some of us, the Middle of Nowhere is where we choose to hang up our tattered wings and retire.

Just know this. The Middle of Nowhere really is a misnomer. No matter your reasons for finding yourself where you are, no matter how long you choose to stay, you are never really stuck there. When you’re ready for a change, just open up a map, get in your car, and drive. Or hitch a ride in Large Marge’s big rig. Whatever. Just pick a direction and go. You are always in the Middle of Somewhere, and you can get there, eventually.

Badass (A Poem)

Does anyone know when the rules changed?

When once women

smiled upon, praises heaped

for her whispers, powder-soft feminine grace

delicate charms

rewarded for fragility

her tears like treasures raining from lowered lashes

Stay pretty, they told us.

We were cherished once

honored

Bought, never borrowed

safe beneath his wing.

Until

the world thought it best to change the picture

sudden shift

grafitti-marred brick wall displays

the new Femme Fatale

strong, savage beauty

clad in black leather

full lips like blood, eyes like flames.

Though born soft, she is tossed in the arena

to fight alone

Badass

Rogue

Swallow the dark elixir they feed us

inject fantasy into our skin like tattoos

Be HER, they tell us.

Buffy, Katniss, Khaleesi

Forge the spirit of Athena

the hardness of the Amazons.

Fight with the strength of a man

dance the lead like a man

be ever more like a man

but stay…

pretty.

female warrior

Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.

 

Think Fast! (aka: Improvisation in the Great Outdoors)

3 paddleboarders

What would you do?

One idyllic summer morning, you’re rowing your paddleboard across the middle of a large, sparkling blue lake. It occurs to you that you and your children have around 30 minutes left to return to shore and turn in your rental equipment. You row toward two of your children and give them the signal, and they begin rowing back. That’s when you notice that your youngest child has drifted away to the farthest shore. You call him back, but he is unable to turn his paddleboard around. He is stuck. You paddle hard in his direction and show him how to steer his board.

“I can’t do it!” he wails, drifting further away.

Time to think fast. Do you:

  1. Give him kind and loving encouragement (Come on, kiddo, you’ve got this!)
  2. Turn it into a fun adventure (The pirates are after us! We’ve got to escape the island!)
  3. Transform into a drill sergeant (Failure is not an option, soldier! Now row, row ROW!)

My answer: All of the above. Because sometimes you have to improvise until you find the best way to solve the problem. Sadly, all of these ideas failed, so in the end, I deserted his paddle board at a nearby marina and rowed my distraught little sailor back to safety twenty minutes after our time was up. But still, I tried.

What would you do? BearImprovisation. That is one of the great things about going camping with kids. In our complacent suburban lives, we don’t often come across so many opportunities to put our improvisational skills to the test. Sure, we have small moments when we have to make decisions on the fly (Pizza or hamburgers? Comedy or action film?), or minor breakdowns that cause us inconvenience, like when a tire goes flat (Stop and replace it or call roadside assistance?).

3 happy kiddos Mount Shasta

My 3 actual kiddos in front of said idyllic lake. Yes, this location was pretty-much perfect. Except for the thunderstorms.

But while camping many miles from home and supermarkets and people that we know, we have to learn to rely on ourselves. When things go wrong, especially when you are the only adult, you have to be quick on your feet. In the wilderness, the ability to reach into your mental (or physical) toolbox and problem solve can be a matter of life or death.

Okay, not really life or death. Unless there are bears and you’re out of bear spray. Because yeah, you could totally give up and go home. But quitting and going home is for losers.

Here are a few times when improvisation saved our most recent camping vacation:

Problem:         One of the fiberglass tent poles for our screen house splintered, rendering it unusable.

Solution:         Duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Duct tape can fix pretty much anything while camping. And if it doesn’t, then use more duct tape.

Problem:         We accidentally forgot to pack two meals’ worth of food.

Solution:         Our camp store just happened to sell eggs. Do you realize how many great meals you can make with eggs? Egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, French toast… If that hadn’t worked, well, there were a lot of ground squirrels around. Just kidding. Kind of.

Problem:         Our tent zipper broke. As in, it came off completely.

Solution:         You thought I was going to say duct tape, didn’t you? That was plan B. We ended up using clothespins to clip the door closed. It did the job.

Of course, we had no way to solve the problem of our noisy campsite neighbors with their obnoxious kids and loud mariachi music. (Geez, did it have to be mariachi music? Talk about torture!).

I probably could have improvised – you know, talk to them and ask them to tone it down. Or offer them egg sandwiches. Or capture a few ground squirrels and set them free in their camp. But for all I know, that family could have improvised, too, by chasing me away with a can of bear spray, or worse, cranking up their mariachi music even louder.

That’s when we would have called it quits and headed home.

Dried Up (aka: Surviving The California Drought)

The Great Drought“I remember way back in the olden days,” says the old woman in a quavery voice, “before California transformed into the Great Western Desert.” She leans back in her chair and looks at the children gathered around her, their eyes filled with wonder. “The lush rolling hills. The sparkling lakes. Back when we had so much water…” She leans in close and drops her voice. “People used to water their lawns nearly every day, just to keep them green.”

The children scream in horror. Who would do such a thing?

Okay, okay, a little melodramatic, perhaps. But seriously…here we are, in the middle of one of California’s worst droughts in recent history, and still I’ve noticed people watering their front lawns to keep them as green as Astroturf. Old habits die hard.

save water save the earthFresh water. It’s one of those things that we privileged Americans take for granted. Fresh water to drink. Fresh water for showers and car washing and dog washing. Fresh water to keep the lawns green. Fresh water to waste. And waste it we do. From hosing down our walkways to ignoring our leaky pipes, we are great at finding ways to pretend that fresh water is not a precious resource. Unluckily, our great state is exploring a few desperate options to get us through this dry spell, such as the Toilet to Tap program. Yes, this is exactly as it sounds – wastewater that is treated so that it can be reused. (Time to buy stock in bottled water, folks). But luckily, our great state is also doing a few things right, like making it a crime to be caught wasting water. But still, not everyone grasps the importance.

Reduce your UseAs it’s nearly Earth Day, and also because I love California and would prefer to not see it turn into a total desert, I will share a few tips that everyone – not only Californians – can follow to help conserve the one thing that no human can live without – fresh water.

  • Water your garden early in the morning, or in the evening after the weather has cooled.
  • Use a broom to clean your driveway or walkway instead of the hose.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry. Use the lightest wash cycle for lightly soiled clothes. Consider replacing your old, inefficient washer with a new, water-saving machine.
  • Wash only full loads in the dishwasher.
  • The toilet – remember the old motto, Californians? “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
  • Repair leaky faucets, pipes, and toilets. Those tiny drips may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised by how quickly they add up!
  • Cut your showers. Many medical experts agree that showering every other day is ideal. In fact, showering daily can actually be harmful to the skin. Can’t deal with the lighter shower schedule? Try cutting back your shower length to 5 minutes or less.
  • You’ve heard it a million times – don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth. Or shaving. You can even turn it off while scrubbing your hands, then turn it on again to rinse.
  • Try rinsing your fresh produce in a bowl, then reusing that water to water the plants.

Remember: Save water – it will save you later.

   Water is life

Autumn Worship (And Other Things That Don’t Make Sense)

Autumn is my favorite season. Of all the changes that occur throughout the year, the shift that happens between summer and winter is the most striking. Lush green begins to curl and change, then bursts into a brilliant golden rainbow, before turning cold and letting go of life. It is like watching an entire life pass by over a span of three months. autumn samplr from tumblr

I am not alone in this. One glance at my Tumblr dashboard is enough to see that I am surrounded by autumn-worshipers. Colorful leaves! Fall scarves and boots! Hot chai and flavored lattes! In a way, it is an odd thing, the way so many of us celebrate autumn. Why autumn? When you think about it, it is summer that we really love. Summer, when we are all at our best. Summer when our leaves are lush and green, and the skies are clear blue and easy, and we still produce fruit and our gardens are filled with flowers. Summer, when the sun hardly stops shining, and we play, and feast, and stretch out our bare toes and sleep, warm and lazy beneath the stars. season shift

When it is summer, we think that it will be summer forever. Then autumn creeps up so quietly, that we barely notice until the middle of the change. Suddenly, our lush green is streaked with rust and gold and crimson and amber. Our flowers hang, dried, upon the walls. The air is still warm, but there is something different – a coolness that makes us shiver. A warning.

Winter is coming.

The very idea terrifies us. We want to change the clocks. We want to turn and run back down the hill, but those warm summer valleys are already gone, enshrouded in gray fog. The season has slipped away. We can remember the summer. We can paint it, and sing it, and capture it in stories, but we can never keep it. Winter must come, and winter will come. colorful autumn leaves

So we accept the autumn. We learn to appreciate the season in a new way. We sip cider and spiced tea. We illuminate our homes with pumpkin cinnamon candlelight as the days grow shorter. When the fickle sun hides her face from the world, we warm ourselves with memories of summer. As the shadows lengthen, we choose to honor the night. We hold hands and face the dark together. And as nature displays her last colorful show, we cheer the loudest of all – perhaps because we know that it is our last chance to celebrate before winter claims us.

(Sorry for ruining the seriousness of this post with this image, but I couldn't resist. ;) )

(Sorry for ruining the seriousness of this post with this image, but I couldn’t resist. 😉 )

Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.

Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Hidden Treasure in Your Neighborhood (aka: Geocaching)


Did you know that buried treasures are hidden all around your community? In your local parks, beside creeks, along dusty trails, and even in crowded shopping mall parking lots. In every community, and all around the world, there are hidden caches just waiting for you to come along and find them. All you need is a GPS device, and you, too, can join the great treasure hunt.

Geocache Box full of treasure

A traditional geocache, filled with hidden treasures

Geocaching has been one of our family hobbies for around ten years. The sport itself is fairly new, though it is related to Letterboxing, an activity which has been around since the 19th century. To begin the search, you must have a GPS Device, or a cell phone with GPS capability. For years, our family has used a Garmin eTrex Legend Cx.

Garmin eTrex cx Legend

It is not as fancy as some of the newer, pricier devices on the market today, but it works well. Lately, we’ve begun to use the official Groundspeak geocaching app for iPhone. It costs around $10, but it is very user-friendly and convenient.

Groundspeak app

Once you have a GPS device, you are ready to begin the search. You can look up hidden caches on the Geocaching.com website, or on your app. Read the details before you choose, as some caches are harder than others, and there are different types of caches. Some are mini-caches, which are tiny containers, like film canisters, which contain no more than a log book. Some are historical or nature caches, which do not involve a hidden container, but lead you to an important monument, or statue, or a breathtaking view of nature.

Fun for the whole family

Our favorite is the traditional cache. This are usually a camouflaged coffee can or other sealed container. Inside, you will find a log book and pencil, so that you can sign your name. There are also various treasures within, which you are welcome to take, but you must leave a treasure in its place. You never know what you will find — sometimes McToys, or golden dollars, or a ball to toss around with your kids. Some of the caches have a theme, like Disney paraphernalia, pet toys, or holiday items. Occasionally, you may find a “Travel Bug,” or a hitchhiking keychain with an imprinted code and a traveling goal. You can log in to report your find, and then move the travel bug to a new cache and follow its progress online. Our family has our first travel bug — a medieval Playmobil soldier who has managed to free himself from a gang of vicious pirates and is hoping to hitchhike a ride to Playmobil Fun Park in Palm Beach, Florida. We’ll place him in a cache and see how it goes.

Our Travel Bug, "Sir Henry," (center) surrounded by pirates.

Our Travel Bug, “Sir Henry,” (center) surrounded by pirates.

After finding the cache, trading treasures, and signing the log book, it is customary to log in online and report your find, as well, and comment on the cache (though I’ll admit that we have often neglected to do this step. We’re trying to improve).

One thing that our family has not yet done is to hide our own cache. Anyone can do it, though there are certain guidelines that must be followed. All hidden items must be family friendly, for example. And you can’t hide dangerous items like weapons or explosives, nor drugs, alcohol, food, etc. It can be helpful to get permission from land owners before placing a cache, though I’m not sure how common this is.

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

Ready to join the great treasure hunt? Just head over to the Geocaching website and create your free account. While you’re there, look us up. Our screen name is Solfire4. And who knows…maybe one day, you will help our family’s travel bug to travel across the country or around the world.

Official geocaching symbol

Remember to follow principles of Leave No Trace while hunting for caches. If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave nature better than you found it.

Bloom Where You’re Planted (Even When You’re Stuck Living in the Suburbs)

ugly suburbsThe ugliest place I’ve ever lived was in a suburb in Suisun, California. In the 1980’s, suburbs like mine sprang up from nowhere, filling the once-lovely rolling grasslands with boxy, cookie-cutter new homes. As a teenager, I lived in one of those homes, and hated every moment. I hated the buzzing of lawn mowers on Sunday mornings, hated the smells of fresh-cut grass and swimming pool chemicals, and hated the view from my bedroom window, of look-alike rooftops and trees no taller than me. I missed my childhood home in the Bay Area—the heavy blanket of morning fog, the fragrance of eucalyptus and bay laurel trees, and the view of the San Francisco Bay from our living room balcony. Bay Area Bay Laurels

While most high school girls were busy dreaming of college party towns full of pizza restaurants and hot guys, I spent my last years of adolescence dreaming of escaping the suburbs and fleeing to the mountains. And, at the age of sixteen, that is exactly what I did. My first college was a tiny community college in the mountains, with rustic wooden buildings that looked more like summer camp cabins. Most of the students lived in apartments just off campus, and we literally had to hike through the woods just to go to class. It was totally cool, except when I had night classes, and had to hike through the forest with a flashlight, keeping an eye out for bears and skunks, which roamed the same woods in abundance. Still, that year of living completely surrounded by trees, and snow-capped peaks, and fields full of wildflowers had a kind of healing effect on my spirit.

I miss that home in the mountains for its nature, just as I miss my home in the hills of the Bay Area for its nature. And where do I live now? Well, for the past two decades, I have been back in the suburbs. Different town, different suburbs, but same feeling of longing and homesickness whenever I look out of the windows at views of look-alike houses and square green lawns. No, I never pictured ending up here – I always imagined living near the seashore, or a redwood forest, or beneath the glittering stars in some vast rural plain. But instead, college and marriage and jobs led me here, where I have often felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. rose growing in concrete desert

And you know what? It is not impossible to bloom here. There are ways – so many small ways to grow, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. It just takes some work, chipping away at the concrete barriers to expose the earth the sun and rain. And while in my heart, I will never feel at home here, the way I did amongst the bay laurels and eucalyptus of my first home, I can keep trying to build a sort of oasis here in the concrete desert, and feeding my spirit small bits of nature that it may grow.

Ways to Embrace Nature (Even When You Live in the Suburbs)

  • Grow flowers 
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Create an outdoor living room, then eat meals and read books there
  • Find local nature trails to hike
  • Go walking, running, and bicycle riding
  • Learn the names of your local birds, then go birdwatching
  • Participate in local park and creek cleanup days
  • Fly kites
  • Hang bird feeders or squirrel feeders in your yard (or create some other wildlife habitat)
  • Cook outdoors
  • Drive away from the suburbs and go camping or hiking or stargazing
  • Bring nature indoors (plants, flowers, stones)

enjoy an outdoor room

Feel free to contribute. I am always searching for new ideas!