Featured In Ladies Home Journal Dec. 13/Jan. 14

Stare with purpose - Ha!I'm honored to be one of Ladies Home Journal's 16 Women Who Made the World Happier this year. Who doesn't like to make people happy?

Many thanks to the staff of Ladies Home Journal, who interviewed me several months ago, and sent fantastic photographer Ben Miller to take some pics.

I have attached some outtakes, which both parties generously let me have.  I'll probably be using them on more than a few posts in the near future.

 

 

One of the best smaller

 

 

I need help down, please?

Volunteer Journal #93 - Shoes For The Homeless

Shoes for the Homeless! This one was super easy!

Mission - Help get 1000 pairs of shoes to LA's homeless population.

Time commitment - 1 hour on Saturday.

Using my new LAWorks membership and their awesome events calendar (which I highly recommend every charity adopt) I found Shoes for the Homeless, Inc. in my area.  They needed volunteers to sort new or gently used shoes for the homeless on a Saturday.

Shoes for the Homeless was founded by Ira Goldbery, a Los Angeles podiatrist who has been in practice for 30 years. Ira works with the homeless regularly, and has seen many injuries caused by the lack of proper footwear.

My Shoes!

Ira is extremely organized. I got two emails confirming my involvement with the shoe sorting. When I showed up to sort shoes he gave me a quick 1 minute briefing.  That was it.  Then the 15 other volunteers, and I matched shoes, rubber banded matching pairs, and then sorted them by type.

In truth a bit of a ruckus did break out over whether certain types of ladies shoes were work appropriate or more suited to evening wear. I tried to stay out of it because I'm known to be inappropriate often.

It was over in a flash, and the shoes ready to be distributed to the estimated 58,000 homeless in LA via shelters like the Midnight Mission.

Side note - The number of homeless Veterans in LA surged by 23% last year.  I need to work with a homeless veterans group.  If anyone knows one please send suggestions through my Facebook page.

Volunteer Journal #90 - Surfrider Bans Polystyrene

City Council Agenda - (Snore) I was sitting in a Manhattan Beach City Council meeting listening to a bunch of politicians gripe at Cal Edison, a utility, for shoddy service (Duh).  I’d rather be grocery shopping, doing laundry, lifting weights, cleaning the litter box, calling family members back, editing, any of the other 1 million tasks on my list that had to be done that day. It was quickly approaching 9pm. Not one of my chores were done. I had to work tomorrow.

But I kept my bottom in the seat because I was there in support of Surfrider, who in conjunction with a number of other environmental welfare groups, presented a case to the MB City Council to ban polystyrene containers within city limits.  In this case, numbers matter, volunteers in support of the ban were needed.

Polystyrene (often referred to as “Styrofoam”) is a know carcinogen, and as anyone who has done a beach or waterways cleanup can tell you – it’s everywhere. It’s a pain to clean up.  Polystyrene actually beats out cigarette butts in both quantity and annoying ridiculousness, which is hard to do. (FOR THE UPTEENTH TIME I HAAATTTEEE CIGARETTE BUTTS!!!!) But I digress.

At 9pm I was ready to bounce, but then things got exciting.

The Manhattan Beach City Council considers damning evidence against polystyrene.

The city appointed scientist finally stood to present their case – damning polystyrene toxic evidence followed damming evidence.  Supporters of the ban got excited.  Then a call for the community speakers. Surfrider representatives as well as community members got up and speak.  All in favor of the ban. Hurray!

But then a man in a blue shirt storms in...  Whispers circulate.  This is Michael Zislis of the Zislis Group - owner of several high profile restaurants in the Manhattan Beach area and the luxury boutique hotel Shade. Is he about to shut this meeting down, and say that the new regulations will hurt local business?

Actually... the opposite.  Michael prides himself on his green restaurants, hotels, his Tesla, and the fact that he's a free market guy. As he clearly states for the MB City Council all restaurants should support the ban on polystyrene.  He believes polystyrene is toxic and the cost difference between polystyrene containers and more eco friendly packaging is nominal – maybe one cent cost per unit.  All of his properties have made the shift.  The City Council members, clearly impressed, nod their heads in agreement.  One of their most prominent business owners has spoken.  Zislis, putting the nail in the coffin for Styrofoam, turns and quickly exits the hall.

 

I love LA! Congrats Manhattan Beach!

The ban passed with no problem.  Surfrider, Heal the Bay, the city scientists, the City Council of Manhattan Beach, citizens of MB,  volunteers, and Zislis should be proud.

I challenge people who live in smaller metropolitan areas to take up this kind of activism.  You live close to your local politicians, your kids might even play little league with the mayor's kid.  Why not take up a polystyrene ban?  Do you really want to get cancer from a cooler or bad take out food?

No! You Do Not!  And as Michael Zilsiz pointed out the cost difference is nominal.  So why would you continue to use something that pollutes and could poison you or grandkids?

Now if only I could ban cigarettes. Everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteering Journal #89 - Tree Musketeers

Climbing Trees next to LAX. I had the pleasure of volunteering for an organization founded by kids for kids called Tree Muskeeters.

The young Musketeers plant trees, care for them, and hopefully pass on the lessons they learn to adults.

I always tell people that one of the best things about volunteering is how much you learn in the process - you can even get job training by volunteering.  My educational focus on this particular day was tree care (because some day I’m going to have fruit trees).  Since we were doing tree maintenance I didn’t think the arborist would mind being harassed.

The Tree Musketeers Arborist James was very accommodating as I peppered him with tons of annoying questions like “What is the tree that looks like it’s catching fire?”

One should never mention fire around a California Arborist.

When the panic subsided he said, “Oh the bottlebrush tree.  Yes, hummingbirds love that tree.”

She really likes trees

And I love hummingbirds so this is good.

He told me that he was in the park so often to care for the trees that the hummingbirds had gotten to know him.  They would give him an elevator greeting.

“What’s an elevator greeting?”

He said that they will swoop in and hover, considering him for a second, and then shoot straight up.

I then had far too many questions about hummingbirds.

I continued my question barrage at him and our teenage team leader Sammy as we pulled up weeds and grass in a two-foot radius around each tree and then put down a berm of mulch.  The mulch keeps the tree well hydrated, and also prevents weeds growing which zaps trees of needed nutrients.

Sammy and I put down mulch

It was fun.  I got dirty.  I climbed some trees.

Organizations founded with child volunteers in mind are few and far between.  Most groups will allow children so long as they are accompanied by an adult.  Never assume - always call ahead before bringing your children – for their safety as well as yours.

The Los Angeles War Against Public Gardens

Los Angeles Garden

One of the most touching projects I’ve done in the last 89 volunteer missions was the day I worked with LA Green Grounds. In April we planted a garden in the food dessert that is South Central Los Angeles.  Angel Teger and her family allowed LAGG to plant the garden in her yard and the parkways (area in between the sidewalk and street) lining the property. 

In late July the 8th District of LA slapped Teger with a notice to pull up the garden in parkways in 48 hours or else. I contacted Angel for her side of the story.

Tell me about the moment you got the notice from the city…

It was a very upsetting experience.  It was Monday, July 22nd and my son and I had just gotten into my car to run some errands.  I started my car and was about to pull out into the street when I heard excessive and aggressive honking right behind me.  I looked out my driver’s side window and there was a man standing there, with no badge or uniform to identify him as a city employee. He said “I need to talk to you about your garden.”

 I wasn’t sure what was going on.  He said that his supervisor had called him over the weekend, specifically about my garden.  He even made a point of identifying other planting violations within eyesight of our corner, but said that it was our garden that was a problem.  He told me I had 48 hours to pull everything out of the parkways.  When I told him that was impossible – my husband works during the day and it’s just me at home, there’s no way I could do all of that in 48 hours, he said he didn’t care who did it, that it had to be done, and if I didn’t take care of it he would come back and take care of it himself.

What were you growing in this problematic garden?

We’ve harvested chard, kale, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, mustard greens, string beans, honeydew melon, chili pepper, banana pepper, bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, bok choy¸ nectarines and strawberries.  The cantaloupe will be ready any day now.

Tiny ones plant Angel Teger's Garden

So the city wanted you to pull up a food-producing garden. What was the condition of your yard before the LA Green Grounds event in April?

Our property sat vacant for over a year before we bought it.  The land hadn’t been cared for in so long, it was hard as rock and overgrown with weeds. People would leave their trash on the parkways – fast food containers, beer bottles, dog poop.  It was awful.

What did your neighbors think of this rouge garden and city violation?

The response from the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly positive.  It started on our dig-in day, with neighbors coming by to show their support – donating food to our volunteers, dropping off bottled water, and even grabbing shovels and digging in right there with us. 

Since we planted it (almost four months ago), we’ve met so many of our neighbors.  Some make a point of taking their daily walks past our house so they can see how things are growing.  A lot of the neighborhood kids come by and pick strawberries or take zucchini, squash, cucumbers or tomatoes back home for their families. 

Every day that we are out in the garden – without exception – someone stops to tell us how much they love the garden, or how they want to do the same.  It’s been a wonderful way to connect with people.  After all, it’s food we’re growing out there – the most basic of human needs.  It makes sense that an edible garden would bring us together and grow community.

A fast growing protest started on Facebook when Angel reported her community created garden was being threatened. 

The LA City Council, without explanation, backed down from its demand that the garden be pulled up. Why do you think they really backed down from pulling up the parkway?

I’m not really sure.  I don’t know why they had such a problem with it to begin with and I don’t know why they backed off.  But, I think that support for parkway gardens like ours and the urban agriculture movement in general has grown tremendously. (A shout out here for Ron Finley and his TED talk which is what inspired me to get involved with LA Green Grounds and made this garden a reality.) 

After we received the violation, Ron started a Facebook campaign urging supporters to contact Bernard Parks, the Councilman for my neighborhood, and ask him to save our garden.  I know that made an impact because Councilman Parks’ office immediately came out to my home and got involved.  Then Steve Lopez’s article came out in the LA Times, drawing attention to the fact that the Herb Wesson, City Council President, had vowed to change the laws to allow for parkway gardens TWO YEARS AGO and nothing had changed.

Ron Finley

What can we do now to bring food justice to LA and the rest of the country?

A simple step is for the [Los Angeles] City Council to update the parkway planting guidelines to allow for fruits and vegetables.  But, after two years, they’ve been unable to follow through. 

The City of LA has a really wonderful opportunity here to promote better health and nutrition for its residents by allowing us to grow food and build community in areas that really don’t have access to good food options.  South LA doesn’t have to be a food desert.  We can change that. 

Our little garden has come to symbolize a movement that the City of LA should embrace – growing your own food to take control of your diet and health; building strong communities in which neighbors look out for one another and share resources; reconnecting with nature and taking care of our own little piece of the planet while we’re lucky enough to be on it.  These are all good things that are worth fighting for, but we shouldn’t need to fight.

What happened to Angel is not unusual. 

But just like in Angel’s case, city and governments can always be pushed by the people. 

Food Justice For Everyone

My SuperChangeYourLife Interview

I just did an interview with Stanley Bronstein from Superchangeyourlife.com . We talked about what gets me up in the morning, my favorite groups I've worked with, what happens when it all goes wrong, what poverty looks like in America, and much much more...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMCxqG5X3t0&feature=player_embedded

Raegan Payne SuperChangeYourLife Interview

My Wish List for the 100

Me & My Buds In Alaska! I’ve only got a few projects left on my way to 100. As I’ve suggested before I have no idea right now what I’m going to be able to do or how I’m going to finish this list.  It will get done though.

These non-profits are on my wish list both national and international. I’d love to work with them someday:

Green Bronx Machine - - Stephen Ritz is an inspiration. Teaching kids how to grow their own vegetables in school and helping them become entrepreneurs in the process.

Living Lands and Waters – This Illinois group travels up and down the Mississippi cleaning up the river.  It reminds me of Huck Finn.

Surfrider – I’ve worked with Heal the Bay lots (technical term), but haven’t gotten to this national ocean saving organization yet.

Always Vote TheGoodMuse

Best Friends Animal Society – the Utah Sanctuary – They originated the Puppy Mill Protests I participated in years ago.  They rehabbed the Michael Vick Dogs.

Gleaners Community Food Bank in Southeast Michigan – I’ve worked with Food Forward in LA, but this group feeds the needed of Detroit with really innovative programs.

The Taos Land Trust http://www.taoslandtrust.org/pages/volunteer_info.html - Because much of my family has settled around this haunting beautiful section of New Mexico.

I’d love to work with Veterans in Murray Ky – Serving meals, telling stories, whatever they need.  This is where my grandfather hung out before he passed on.

Be the Match – Marrow/Stem Cell Donation – After 3 years on the donor list I’m a possible match for a 57 year old woman.  Will find out in a few months.

And the international groups:

Goonj – The ULTIMATE REUSE REDUCE RECYCLE ALIEVIATE POVERTY group in India – they are doing brilliant

Hi!

Mercy Ships -  These ships are all over the world.  They bring medical relief to remote villages who might not otherwise see a doctor.

Royal Canal Cleanup – In Dublin, Ireland. I was suppose to work with them while I was there last May, but got one of my notorious May sinus infections.  They still send me emails.  I still want to help.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - Because what little girl doesn't want to be a pirate?

Volunteer Journal #87 –LA Green Grounds & Ron Finley

TED 2013 superstar, Our new crush. Last year when LA Green Grounds sent out a call for volunteer gardeners 5 people responded.

Then in early March 2013 a founding member of LAGG, Ron Finley, gave what is arguably one of the best inspirational speeches ever delivered on the famed TED Long Beach stage.

He spoke about planting gardens in South Central LA - making gardens, local food, and growing your own sexy and gangsta.  Ron’s TEDTalk went viral.

In early April LA Green Grounds sent out a notice for volunteers – in less than 4 hours they had 300 responses. And inconceivably enough, for any group of do-gooders, had to turn people away.

The before digging picture

Sensing this would be the case after I watched the speech 20 times I:

a) Contacted Ron Finley directly.

b) Set the LA Green Ground email as a special alarm on my phone so I could jump as soon as I got the volunteer request. I did jump – unfortunately while I was baking rosemary crackers, which burned.  I responded within 5 minutes and got into the April 21st LAGG Earth Day “Dig In.”

It’s a great world we live in when planting a garden in South LA is a harder ticket to obtain than a red carpet event.

For the April 21st Dig In LA Green Grounds renovated a yard and 3 sections of parkway – turning them into an edible garden.

http://youtu.be/4PO9CvnmZTQ

I dragged my friend Sara along – reminding her we had committed to 7/8 hours of work.  And work we did – we shoveled, and pick axed (in truth I’m not great with a pick ax), moved brinks, shoveled more, picked out weeds, put in baby plants, and shoveled some more. We had a fantastic time, though both of us had trouble lifting our arms that night.

Not to disappoint Ron Finley showed up and so did cameras. Lots of cameras.  A virtual paparazzi followed his every move whether demonstrating the proper use of said pick ax or pulling baby beet plants apart.

All the ladies with shovels say hey!!

While catching his breath near the mulch pile he told me the biggest difference in the last two months is that he slept before the TEDTalk.

The cameras, and all the attention are a bit odd to him. They are a bit odd to the entire tight knit group of LA Green Grounds founding members.  They were a renegade-grassroots-group-of-garden-graffiti-artists, and friends, that challenged the LA City Council. Now they’re rock stars. Almost overnight.

They’re learning. They’re growing. They all get they’re hands dirty. They’re trying to not let it get to their heads.  They’re still going to need you guys so don’t stop requesting to volunteer, find a renegade garden group in your town, or better yet – start your own.

To contact LA Green Grounds go to their website, be patient, and set an alert on your email. It's worth it!

 

Volunteer Journal #86 - Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation

IMG_1061 An actual conversation with my brother:

Me: I'm going to help bunnies.

Brother: Playboy bunnies.

Me: No, bunny bunnies.

Brother: They're an invasive species.

Me: No, house bunnies.

Brother: Again, it sounds like we're talking about Playboy bunnies.

Me: [long sigh]

Brother: I'll come help. [pause] If it's Playboy bunnies. [pause] Maybe a halfway house for Playboy bunnies. [pause] Please.

They love each other.

As that conversation with my brother the humanitarian would suggest I volunteered with the Los Angeles Rabbits Foundation and the above was one of the nicer conversations I had about the experience.

Would you believe that telling someone your going to volunteer with rabbits it can lead to all out hostility? Well, it can and does.  People want to know "Why?" you would do such a thing, and "What good?" helping rabbits could possibly do. Many went so far as to suggest that perhaps I should spend my time doing something that would "Make a difference."

How does practicing kindness in any shape, size, style, or task not help or make a difference?

As far as the rabbits, first I would like to point out the obvious - there are domestic and wild rabbits.  Domestic rabbits, which humans historically bred for food, clothing, and pets are not exactly built for survival outdoors. LArabbits.org works with domestic rabbits.

Second, rabbits make excellent companion animals - especially for someone who spends time at home and needs a serious chill pill a la graduate students.

Third, how dare we breed rabbits or any animal (cats, dogs, etc.) then turn our back on them and say not our responsibility.  It is our business now.  We bred them for us, and guess what, they're either sitting ducks without us or can really wreck havoc on an environment.  Built in our image it would seem.

Rabbit Petting Guide. Serious stuff.

I was thrilled to be able to work with The Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation, which helps abandoned domestic rabbits by promoting spay and neuter, providing education on their care, volunteering in shelters and humane societies, and by fostering and rehabilitating rescued rabbits until such time as suitable permanent homes can be found.  The listings on their website are pretty cute/hilarious - it include bunnies with "bunnitude" and areas for single male and female rabbits looking to date.

From my day spent sitting in pens (see pic) and socializing (petting) the rabbits I learned that bunnies are very sensitive creatures. They mate for life, get depressed if their mate disappears, have tiny panic attacks if lifted off the ground (think hawks and eagles), they overheat quickly, generally do not like their underside rubbed, and can have a heart attack if they see a dog. That last point is important - owners of dogs and cats should be aware that one bark or snarl from your pet can startle a bunny out of it's senses - please be extra cautious if you see bunnies and outdoor events.

For all their sensitivities rabbits are also sweet pets who like to be loved on as this clip of "Pat" the bunny demonstrates. They are individuals who display, like cats and dogs, unique personalities.  They are calming creatures, and when you sit with one for awhile you feel a little sense of peace and gratefulness that this small animal let you hang for awhile.

If you would like to volunteer or learn more about domestic rabbits go to LArabbits.org.

Try to be kind to animals okay - "You can judge the morality of a nation by the way the society treats its animals" - Mahatma Gandhi 

 

My Interview with Trailer Talks!

Hey guys! I did an interview with this great little start up called Trailer Talks. Check it out here!

I wave my hands around a bit, but don't worry nobody was hurt while filming.

Volunteer Journal #82 - Cleaning up Ballona Creek

January 19th, 2013

Yay!  National Day of Service!

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

LA organized a citywide cleanup. I picked an event hosted by Friends of Ballona Wetlands. I helped clean up my local bike path, which runs next to Ballona Creek.

A little editorialized history for those not local - Ballona Creek use to be part of the Los Angeles River's drainage area.  Then someone got the bright idea to wrap it in concrete. To "prevent flooding" and create a massive eye sore - something like that. Today it is a pathetic little stream of water that runs through barren concrete on it’s way to Marina del Rey.  I privately cheer everytime I see a little bush or tree that has pushed up through the concrete.

I showed up at 10am and had to leave at 12pm.  The Friends of Ballona Creek provided me with gloves and trash bags.  Beyond that these BEFORE and AFTER pictures speak for themselves:

[slideshow id=5]

Trash picked up...

Cigarette Butts. Stop smoking! It's so nasty! Throw your cigarette butts in the trash - it's not hard.

Plastic Bags (grocery, newspaper, dog poop bags)

Styrofoam – why is this stuff still around?

Take out containers, coffee stirrers, Starbucks containers - just... stop... buying stuff.

My Radio Interview with Holly!

Here is my first radio talk show interview for Holly’s Advice 4b2c. http://hollysadvice4b2c.com/raegan-payne-the-good-muse/

AND here are some behind the scenes stories to make the listen more interesting:

The entire thing was recorded by SKYPE on my MacBook while sitting on my bed. It was incredibly fun after I got over my nerves. Holly is a very warm, professional, and forgiving host.

Listen for the points in the interview where she accidentally calls me Megan and then Rachel.  I was trying not to laugh.  It was an honest mistake, she knew my name, but it’s a good thing I answer to almost anything.

The first few minutes are composed of me pausing and saying, “ummm…” and “like…” a lot because I was so nervous.  True, I did have a radio show in college for 4 years called “Bitchkittens” but no one wanted to hear me talk. I played music.

She calls me a high paid actress at one point and again I almost spit the tea across the room.   I am high paid in comparison to the average Bangladeshi. If we’re talking third world earning potential then yes.  I love to act, but I’ve been mostly a stage actress. For a minute, I thought maybe another actress was also on the phone.  See if I cover my momentary confusion.

I screw up and say I helped “undeserved” children and then quickly say, “Underserved.”

All in all a good first showing.

http://hollysadvice4b2c.com/raegan-payne-the-good-muse/

The groups mentioned are listed below.

TreePeople

Food Forward

Lange Foundation

Operation Gratitude

Burton’s Chill Program

Best Friends Animal Society

The Red Cross

Volunteer Journal #75 (UK Edition) – Thames21

Sometimes the greatest thing about volunteering is the people you meet.

I worked with Thames21 in London, an organization dedicated to cleaning up the waterways in and around the British capital.  Specifically, I got to use a log carnival-like hook to pick plastic pieces out of Regent’s Canal (which is celebrating its 200th birthday!).

During the muddy fun I met Ben Fenton, Thames21’s Big Waterways Clean Up 2012 Coordinator. Because of his service to the country, Ben was also one of 8000 people picked from 64 million British citizens to carry the Olympic torch. A cool personal fact like that, combined with his high spirits in the muck while dragging up plastic bags, coke cans, toys, etc. meant that I had to interview him.

How did you get involved with Thames21?

5 years ago I gave up my job as a photographer and moved to London, I wanted to do something worthwhile and work outdoors. After several unsuccessful interviews at Thames21 they realized they couldn’t get rid of me and created a job for me.

I’m still here, and still enjoying it, I have coordinated a wide range of projects for Thames21 including creating a community garden with volunteers with mental health problems, developing an online map of waterway ‘treasures’, researching inclusive volunteering, engaging 16-25 years old volunteers and running the East London project.

You studied Environmental Science at university - Why get involved with the waterways rather than other environmental groups?

I have always been interested in water, I find it fascinating and relaxing. London lacks wild places, but I think the waterways are veins of wilderness and hugely important for Londoners. Many people don’t know they exist and I love taking them to these places for the first time. Additionally, we do a range of work, so I don’t get bored; one day I’m canoeing, and the next planting reed beds!

 

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of the job is definitely the people. Every event brings new faces, as well as the regulars who are a great bunch.

What's the strangest thing you've ever pulled out of the river?

We’ve pulled out all sorts: wedding rings, guns, messages in bottles, and thousands of mobile phones. I’m not sure of the strangest but my favorite find was an Anglo Saxon Spearhead from the 9th Century!

What's it like to be chosen to carry the Olympic torch?

 

What an honor! It was an amazing experience, and one I will never forget. I am very very honored to be nominated amongst such an amazing group of people.

Many congrats to Ben! Go to the Thames21 Facebook page to see the Olympic torch action.

Thames21 has regularly scheduled cleanups, so if you live in the London area I highly recommend spending a morning cleaning up with the crew.  I’ve volunteered with 75 different projects and this was the first time pedestrians stopped to say thank you to the volunteers as we cleaned.

Volunteer Journal #73 (UK) – Conservation Volunteers

Not all volunteering can be as glamorous as cleaning snake cages. No, sometimes you have to get dirty. That’s what I set out to do during my stay in London, a place renowned for refinement.

Early on I zeroed in on an organization called The Conservation Volunteers.  They restore woodlands, plant community gardens, and clean up the unsightly. My first attempt to volunteer with them ended with me stuck at a bus stop, in freezing rain, for what felt like the length of that last horrible Twilight movie, because the buses were on strike and I’m an idiot and did not read the morning news.

Daring another trip outside the boundaries of zone 4 on the tube, to a far away land where only buses and horse drawn carriages dare to tread, I made it to Hounslow to help TCV with the Sow Good Community Garden.

As I walked up I noticed that it didn’t look like much of a garden.  Currently, it’s a vacant, unkempt, former local rubbish dump behind a chain link fence, but project leader Anna has big plans.

She guided me around saying, “And over here people will picnic, and they’ll be a path here for kids to run on,” and things of that ilk and I soon started to see the potential.  Strawberries and rhubarb has spread from cuttings the year before.  Two people sized apple trees already produce fruit and lemon balm pushes its way between donated flowering plants.

Yes, donated.  Apparently, they don’t have much funding for this project so all the materials they work with have been donated soil, clippings, and tools.  Seems the odd individual (odd meaning rare not weird ‘kay) will call them up when they are tearing up their flowerbed and donate the plants that would otherwise become rubbish.

That’s what I would be working with today, rubbish plants.

I was to help Anna dig a flowerbed roughly the shape of a boomerang and then fill it with some flower cast offs and lemon balm.

The workout of course is in the digging and jumping/running away from the slugs, worms, and various other creepy crawlers that inhabit the plot.

After the plot is dug I looked for grass roots and threw them in the compost pile.

Then I dug holes for the clippings and castoffs, stuck the new plants in the ground and covered them.

No worries about watering because as sure as I’m a curly headed girl who spends way too much time straightening her locks a torrential English downpour will soak you before the process is finished saving you a step.

The garden is actually the ideal way to promote the idea of conservation.  Plants that would be trash given a place to live and blossom.  It’s going to be a lovely place with heaps of fresh fruit.  Someday I want to come back and see it in it’s full grown glory.

Hugh’s Fish Fight

Between 40 to 60 percent of the fish that are caught in the North Sea are thrown back dead. In 2011 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall went on a mission to find out why and ended up starting a grass routes movement that is rewriting government policy called Hugh’s Fish Fight .

The fish are discarded because fishermen generally target one species, but they catch fish in mixed fisheries (i.e. different species of fish swim around in the ocean together, they don’t discriminate, they love each other.) Fisherman don’t want to bring in fish they can’t sell because they’ve fallen out of fashion with modern palates, and fish like cod, and haddock have to be thrown back because they are over-quota. Quotas were established to protect certain species of fish from over fishing. Quotas back fire because... Read full article at Celsias

Volunteer Journal #67 –Take a Shower with PETA

Ladies and Gentleman, the following is an account of my weirdest volunteer activity as TheGoodMuse- yet.

I had never volunteered with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), but then I got this email, which said something like...

Come take a shower in the middle of the LA Convention Center to promote water conservation by eating less meat.

Sold. You had me at public nudity.

In all seriousness, I’m a vegetarian. I have been since I was a teen.  It's one of the best decisions I ever made for my health.  I also think it's important for everyone to eat less meat (or no meat/fish) for the environment's sake. Meat production pollutes more than all the vehicles on the road combined and our lust for fish is stripping the ocean bare. To say the least - I was game to support this cause.

And... the PETA shower campaign is mad genius.  People taking a shower in public wrapped in a curtain printed with the factoid: 1 lb. of meat = 6 months of showers. It stops traffic - it literally has stopped traffic on Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles. As soon as I climbed into the shower, in a little white bikini that no one could see, foot traffic in front of the PETA booth stopped and the other volunteers were able to distribute info.  It was a riot, and I would do this activity again but...

That being said lets break down the problems.

I was on a raised platform and the bar to the top of the shower was about five and a half feet off the ground.  I was told you couldn't see over it.

You couldn't see over it unless you were a male who was... oh... let's say... about six feet tall, slightly perverted, not at all slick, shameless, and you stepped right up to the shower to ask me (with a head tilt and eyes down) why I had become a vegetarian. Lots of men meet all of these requirements.

Sir, I know what your doing. Not cool.

Also not appreciated… The guys who held their cameras aloft, arm fully extended up, to get the full shot.

I'm in a bikini you desperate, sad...

I would have preferred to do this volunteer activity with a male friend in the shower as well.  They could have acted as a bull sh*& shield.  Someone who could give creepy men scary looks.  I tried, but I've been told my "I will kick your ass" look is easily misinterpreted and not at all scary.

PETA should also make sure that there is a volunteer on hand big enough, and forceful enough, to bounce perverts.  I can't believe this is needed, but I felt it was.

Now lets talk temp. The first 30 minutes I was fine, I knew the water was cold but it was like being a little kid at the ocean - too much fun to care about hypothermia. After 30 minutes - goose bumps. By the end of the hour I’m pretty sure the US Geological Survey was registering my body tremors. Oh it was sooooo cold. Ohhhh! I had to take a 45 minute hot shower at home to even begin to thaw. Maybe I get cold too easy.  I know volunteers have done this campaign in the snow. But I feel that both a volunteer's health and safety should be the first priority of any organization.  They are volunteers. They are not being compensated in any other way besides happy feelings. Protect happy feelings.

All that being said I would recommend this volunteer experience to anyone of like mind.  It's one of those once in a lifetime deals you definitely want to tell your grandkids about. You will walk away with killer stories. And I also highly recommend becoming a vegetarian. If not for the environment, or the animals, then do it for your health.

TGMuse Explains:The Lamest Thing About Volunteering?

After an in-depth investigation of male hostility towards Jane Austen and adoration of  all things thong we return this week to the focus of this blog and answer...

What is the lamest thing about volunteering? And how do we fix it.

Shockingly, the answer isn't waking up early on a Saturday or Sunday, which is often on the top of my personal "I hate this about volunteering" list.  Why someone can't schedule a beach cleanup from 5-8pm or right before sunset is beyond me.  It's the prettiest time of day!

Back on topic -

The lamest thing about volunteering is when one non-profit unintentionally or intentionally hurts another non-profit.  It happens more often than anyone can imagine. I wrote about this in my most popular article of all time Naughty Non-Profits: 7 Eco Sins. Most often it's a  group wrecking the environmental because of an oversight, but sometimes it's a direct battle like the war between many feral cat associations and the Audubon Society.

The only example I will sight is from one of my latest volunteering adventures - walking a 10K for AIDS Walk LA.  It's an incredible event which raised  over 3 million dollars to help those living with HIV and AIDS.  One of the best parts of the day was that all along the walk route there were volunteers handing out yummy snacks. I think I ate everything offered  - free ice cream (hello).  But the organizers of the event did not provided enough trash and recycling. Hundreds maybe thousands of  bottles littered the ground. I'm sure they had a clean up crew coming in behind us but still... The snacks themselves were in single size containers - an environmental blight.

So... The lamest thing about volunteering is often charities become so focused on their individual mission that they miss the big picture.  It's about helping everyone and thus helping yourself, not helping yourself at the expense of everyone.

Next Time TheGoodMuse Will Answer the Question:

Why is everyone so attracted to bad boys and girls? And how can I be bad while maintaining general wholesomeness?

Volunteer Journal #57 – Star Eco Station

On the phone Tuesday night: “I got to go to bed.  I’m cleaning snake cages early tomorrow morning.”

“Why!?”

“Because they sh*! in them Mom.”

“This is another one of those volunteer things isn’t it?”

“No, this is for fun.”

“Really!?”

“Mom...”

“Okay.  Just be careful.  Don’t get bitten.”

“I’ll try.”

8:30 am Wednesday. Being a sloppy reptiles interior designer = the punishment you have to endure when you’re sarcastic with your mother. When all is said and done though, I will talk about my morning with Star Eco Station forever…

Star Eco Station in Culver City, CA exists because people try to smuggle exotic animals into the US (via LAX) because they’re desperate for money (the people not the animals) or out of their freaking minds. If the animals survive the journey - stuffed into cardboard tubes, taped against sweaty humans, crammed into suitcases, or mislabeled in an innocuous looking Fed Ex box - they can look forward to being skinned for accessories, fought for money, kept in some moron’s trophy room, or paraded down a red carpet on Paris Hilton’s arm.

Customs or other very shocked airport employees find the lucky ones. Often the animal is so traumatized and injured officials have no choice but to put the animal down.  Star Eco Station is a haven of last resort for some of these tortured animals. Currently, Star Eco Station houses over 200 kidnapped animals from around the world.

I attended a very brief volunteer orientation Saturday morning so I could come back on Wednesday and do whatever menial task the Star Eco Station staff may ask for. All with the understanding that I will probably never get to touch an animal for my safety and theirs.  I’m introduced to Devon, animal husbandry expert (Look it up teenagers it’s not what it sounds like), and he puts me to work chopping old fruits and vegetables donated by Trader Joes for the herbivores.

Devon and I talked about the animals while we chopped. He tells me about the parrots which outlived a succession of masters (parrots aren’t good pets they can live over 100 years!), the alligators found in a Fed Ex box, the mockingbirds found in a tube. We talk about how volunteers and employees of Star Eco Station go on to work at zoos and animal sanctuaries.  Then he’s asked by an anxious employee to step out of the room.  He leaves for a few minutes and when he walks back in he shouts over his shoulder, “Could someone clean up the blood? Thanks.”

“What blood?” I ask before I can stop myself.

“Do you really want to know?”

“No, but now that you’ve said that I kinda have to know.”

“We breed our own rats.”

“You can stop there.”

I get the picture.  There are carnivores here: alligators, caimans, bobcats, lynx, - they have to be fed too. Well that and as Devon explains they just had an angry snake on their hands.

We divide the food (chopped zucchini, sugar snap peas, apples, bananas, etc.) into bowls for the birds and Devon asks me to go ahead into the parrot room and open the automatic skylights.

Standing in the humid room, among bird smell, aiming a remote control at the ceiling I hear a slimy, “Hey Baby.”

“Okay, who said that? Not cool.” I turn around.  No one.

“Hey Baby.”

Oh good. I’m just getting cat called by a bird.  What a relief. “Hey yourself.  Which one of you said that?”

“Hey Baby.”

“Oh it’s you. Oh my God.” I say to a beautiful white parrot.

“Oh my God!” Shouts someone and I spin.

“Oh my God, which one of you said that?”

“Oh my God!” says a mischievous green parrot.

“There you are. Hahahahahaha.”

“Hahahahahaha.” – An exact replica of my laugh.

“Okay stop laughing that’s creepy.”

“Oh my God!”

“You can say that again.”

Devon comes in and suggests that there is nothing else I can do in the birdcages.  I beg to differ I’m of a simple mind and can keep this game up forever. He points me to the reptile room where I am put to work by Manny redecorating some gecko cages with fake shrubbery. He then asks me the thing I’ve been dreading all morning “Can you clean that reptile cage?”

“Sure.” I say through my teeth.  I arrange my supplies for cleaning, open the cage, and then shut the door lightning fast. “Ummm Manny… There is still a creature in this cage.”

“Oh yeah! Sorry about that.” He removes said creature and I get back to work.

Because I’m press…kinda, and was very sweet and worked without complaint I got to hold one lizard which no beginner volunteer is ever allowed to do.  I held Crayola the chameleon [pictured above].  Crayola, like women from New Mexico, likes the color turquoise.  Crayola has amazing feet that wrapped around my fingers so that if my hand had turned over he would not have moved.  I wanted to keep him, and the geckos, and the angelfish, and one of the black mockingbird and... this is the problem.  No one should have these animals.  They’re wild and like most wild animals make lousy pets because they are a pain in the ass to take care of – trust me. But they are pretty to look at so if you want to interact with them just come volunteer at or visit Star Eco Station.

Star Eco Station rehabilitate’s animals, but their central mission is prevention through education.  If they can teach children not to treat animals like possessions and to respect wild animals in their habitats then the cycle of animal cruelty will end.

Anyone can volunteer at Star Eco Station.  You simply need to attend a volunteer orientation, and then you’re free to come in, and help prep the animals food, clean cages, walk the tortoises, and various other chores that the staff needs.

Star Eco Station is fun, educational, and honestly an adventure.  I guarantee one visit will give you stories to tell for the next month - at least.