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.

Vietnam Goes Smoke Free

Following in China’s footsteps Vietnam has passed a law forbidding smoking in public. The law not only bans smoking but also all tobacco advertising, and the selling of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Passed in the national assembly on June 18th by a vote of 440 to 468 the law attempts to reduce the number of tobacco related deaths per year. Currently, an estimated 40,000 people a year die of tobacco related causes in Vietnam, where 15.3 million people smoke.

China’s law which...Read full article on Celsias

America's Fat Threatens The World

Yet another report confirms what most of the world suspected – Americans’ fat bottoms will be the eventual downfall of humanity. More precisely, if the rest of the world follows the American trend towards fatter bottoms then environmental degradation due to food production threatens the sustainability of our planet. The study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that ... Read Full Story

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

Monsanto Bees

In a move that would make Gargamel, Dr. Evil, and Auric Goldfinger proud Monsanto has bought one of the leading bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) research groups, Beeologics, in an apparent effort to cover their sizable tracks and, of course, take over the world.

Monsanto’s genetically modified (GMOs) crops have long been a prime suspect in the rapid decline of bee colonies around the world.  Beeologics was “an international firm dedicated to restoring bee health and protecting the future of insect pollination.” Now they’re... Read Full Article on Celsias

Volunteer Journal #65 – The Trevor Project

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.”

Downer opening but, let's face it, 15-24 is rough. For many of us it's the worse time of our life.  Almost impossible. You get raging hormones, a new body, acne, and hair in random places. You want to experiment with stuff, learn what you are and are not capable of, but you're still under the watchful eye of the ever present parentals. And then there are your classmates. I don’t know many adults who weren’t picked on to some extent.

Personally, I feared walking into the cafeteria so much during high school that I started eating lunch in the library with the librarian. I got a lot of reading done.

But, besides being female, I wasn't in any minority or oppressed group. I can't fathom...

“LGB youth are up to 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.”

Is it any wonder?  We tell them they can die for their country but they can't tell us who they really are.  We tell them they can't legally be with the person that they love, so sorry - no legal protection for you. In many countries lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are even butchered by the law. So, is it any wonder?

That's why I'm so honored I got to work with The Trevor Project on Labor Day weekend.

The Trevor Project’s goal is to stop suicide among young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning youth, but anyone seeking help is welcome to call their 24/7 help line 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) to talk to a counselor.

My friend Sara, who spent time in Africa rehabilitating monkeys (random amazing factoid - see pic), joined me and other volunteers from the group Century of Compassion. We made survival kits!  Filled with information on GLBTQ literature and films and tips on how to deal with and prevent bullying. The kits are sent to kids, parents, schools, anyone who needs help - and they're free, so don't be shy about calling to ask for one.

The Trevor Project needs volunteers to make survival kids, be lifeline counselors (you have to go through training), or answer Trevor Chat.  Trevor Chat is a new instant messaging program for anyone who might be too scared to call.  They've talked to kids as young as 9 who need counseling.

Trevor took 33,000 calls last year, and intervened in a several suicide attempts.  If you have a friend or know someone who needs to talk please encourage them to call.

Life is rough but it would be so much less interesting without you around. Lots of people care and have been through something similar.  Please call 866-4-U-Trevor.

It gets so much better.


Mushrooms Replace Polystyrene

If Eben Bayer has his way the evil that is extruded polystyrene foam , generally referred to as Styrofoam, will be replaced by mushrooms in the next few years. Polystyrene is in everything: packaging materials, coffee cups, takeout containers, insulation, even flotation devices. Made in part from petroleum, polystyrene is basically indestructible and thus non-biodegradable – it is estimated that polystyrene takes up 25% of U.S. Landfill space. To replace polystyrene Bayer, with partner Gavin McIntyre, invented Greensulate a mushroom based insulation that can manufacture itself in 5 days. How can a product manufacture itself? Greensulate uses fast growing...Read Full Article Here

Volunteer Journal #62 – Canned Food Drive

Okay Okay Okay Okay Okay.  I can admit when things don't go according to plan. I organized a Food Drive in Beverly Hills. We did get donations, don't get me wrong, but for Beverly Hills... the turnout was lackluster.  Here's what went right and wrong. Location, Location, Uggg Cliched Location

Throwing the Food Drive in Beverly Hills seemed to be a stroke of genius.  I partnered with a prestigious family owned spa named Verabella located right in the center of the Golden Triangle (two blocks off Rodeo on Canon for thse out of towners).  Owners Vera and Victoria were virtual angels and even agreed to give free product to everyone who brought in cans.  The problem was that the spa, tucked inside an office building, is an ideal hiding spot for celebs because it doesn't get much foot traffic. With little foot traffic, and food drive visibility, our monstrous donations box was overlooked.


This I did right and wrong.  What I did right - I got the food drive up on VolunteerMatch.org and in The Beverly Hills Courier a week before it ended.  What I did wrong - it should have gone up two weeks before the food drive ended. When throwing a donation drive of any kind the good people at VolunteerMatch have your back.  Also always contact your small local papers - they are usually more than happy to post your event.  Big thumbs up to Breton at the Courier for getting my press release up on the website and in the paper so fast - we definitely got donations because of you.

The Box

It always comes down to the box doesn't it. Something so stupid and it made a huge difference!  At my gym they are doing a food drive for the LA Food Bank.  The LA Food Bank provided these big ugly boxes with a bright yellow design that says Donate Food in huge letters that any blind person can see on across the top. The box was placed in the gym's high traffic lobby and they've received truck loads of food. We had to make our Food Drive box. I hate designing or decorating anything okay - you should see my sparse apartment.  I'm a words girl so the box was ugly. I wish I had a picture but it broke the camera.  Lesson learned.  Stay away from box design.

Neighborhood Engagement

This one is not my bad.  I walked around with my model friend Dana passing out flyers for the food drive to local businesses.  I figured it was best to bring a model along because no one tells a model no. Ever. About half the stores were lovely, getting excited and promising to put it up on their bulletin board.  The other half looked at me like I had a goiter. They did the same to Dana so lack of cuteness wasn't a factor. Yes, the flyer might have been a bit wordy, but seriously, it's a can of food!  It costs 50 cents! You have to walk two blocks to drop it off!  There are worse things in life... LIKE BEING HUNGRY IN THE WINTER.

In Conclusion

I hope the lessons I learned from my Thanksgiving Food Drive help you throw a more successful food drive either this Holiday Season or the next.  The bags of food collected at Verabella was donated to The Midnight Mission in Downtown Los Angeles (one of my favorite charities) which offers a bridge to self-sufficiency for the homeless in the LA area.  They operate without government funding and help those in need without sermonizing.

Happy Holidays Darlings!

Toxic in America

American children are “guinea pigs in an uncontrolled experiment,” according to Senator Frank Lautenberg D-New Jersey who spoke to the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health on October 26th. Among the many shocking facts shared at the hearing was that only 1 percent of the 84,000 chemicals commonly used in the US today have been studied for safety.  Lautenberg sited lax EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] standards, and the ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which has only banned five chemicals in its 34-year history.

The Senate hearing was called to address an increasing number of studies, which have found hundreds of toxic chemicals in the bodies of...Read Full Article

Prop 23 Threatens GlobalWarming Legislation in CA

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act 2006 (aka AB 32), which brought $10 billion in clean energy investment to the state, could be repealed by Proposition 23 in the upcoming November 2 elections. AB 32 requires that by 2020 the state’s greenhouse gas emissions be brought down to 1990 levels – a roughly 25% reduction. Proposition 23 aims to suspend the law until the states unemployment rate falls below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. California’s unemployment rate current floats around 12%.

Texas based oil companies Valero and Tesoro spearheaded Proposition 23. Both companies have racked up hundreds of violations of state and local health and air pollution laws in California including the illegal dumping of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Valero has thrown more than 4 million dollars into the Prop 23 campaign and Tesoro has invested over 1.5 million. The rest of the major donor list for the Yes on Prop 23 campaign reads like a Who’s Who of the oil industry.

The supporters of Prop 23 argue that energy...Read Full Article on Celsias

Food Insecurity and Climate Change

Extreme weather conditions fueled by climate change will increase food insecurity across the globe. Scientists and humanitarian groups point to events like this summer’s record breaking heat in Russia and floods in Pakistan and Canada as examples of how food stocks are likely to be affected in the coming years. "Climate change will lead to different weather patterns, and that is what we are already seeing in many places like Pakistan and Russia. It doesn't rain the way it used to," World Water Week director Jens Berggren told AFP recently . Russia’s hottest summer on record helped fuel 600 wildfires near Moscow, which destroyed almost one-third of the countries buckwheat crop. This crop loss led...Read Full Article

Volunteer Journal #59 – Share Our Strength

I got the call from Share Our Strength on Friday requesting volunteer help on Sunday for the LA Times Celebration of Food and Wine benefit at Paramount. Regardless of the late notice, I got butterflies. Maybe even a bit lightheaded. Some people go weak over movie stars – I lose my mind over gourmet-handcrafted food. To prep for the large amount of yum I would inhale (for charity yada yada yada) I ate nothing but fruit and veggies for two days, lived at the gym, and fasted the last 18 (miserable) hours before the event.

Technically, Share Our Strength had asked me to help sell raffle tickets at their booth, and I totally intended to – once my food obsession had been satiated. I arrived early so my eating would not cut into my volunteering time. Before I type out this entire embarrassing list I want everyone to know this happened over several hours and most of the food was in sample sizes – okay. Alright here goes…

First stop Coolhaus – retro-architectural-gourmet-ice-cream-sandwich-chow-truck – I got peach cobbler ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies, next the Dosa Truck for a Dosa (Indian crepe) wrapped around spinach, cheese and potato with curry sauce, a Chocolate Chipotle Cake Ball at Delicious Wishes, Aged cheddar samples, spicy potato salad, blueberry lemonade, homemade strawberry buttermilk ice cream, Thai pitas and mung bean pattie (better than sounds), gourmet potato chips, wahoos veggie tacos, chocolate cake muffin, homemade s’more at Madame Chocolat, oh crap almost forgot and then a snickerdoodle cookie at the end. I have no idea how I ate that much it was an awesome feat. Estimated calorie intake 4000 to 5000. Days would have to fast to make up for today-3. Was it worth it for one day of gourmet gluttony?  Yes.

As for the volunteering - I manned the booth with the other volunteers but the best time I had was helping the chefs and restaurant owners set up the VIP area. Though some were a bit snippy (who will remain nameless here). I probably ran across the lot 6 times filling various requests. I ended up invading the Paramount set supplies at one point and snatched some unused black curtains to use as table linens because we had run out. I did this under the eye of a Paramount security guard who saw me taking the curtains and said, “Ma’am, can I help you?” He said it like, “Ma’am can I take you to studio jail?”  So I played dumb, which I hate doing but... [bat eyelashes, flip hair, jut out hip]... I said, “It’s the damn’dest thing I just can’t get these curtains off the metal poles." They were attached to because they were part of a stage. The over accommodating guard said, “Oh let me help you with that.” So children -when stealing act like suppose to be stealing.

Here's the irony in this volunteer assignment and blog.  Share Our Strength helps fight childhood hunger and food insecurity.  Over 17 million children in the United States, that's one in four, faces hunger.  I stuffed myself like a little pig at an event to help children who may not even get one good meal a day.

On a side note (and I do this out of love and with the knowledge that TheGoodMuse’s design is far from perfect) – Share Our Strength has one of the most difficult websites to negotiate of any charity I’ve ever seen. It’s like a word bomb went off on every page. After I was asked to volunteer for the LA Times event I literally had to Google LA Times Food and Wine to find any information because I couldn’t find it on their website. What’s needed? Fewer words. Easier Tabs. Events page with info. General volunteer sign-up - THAT’S EASY TO FIND. More concrete factoids, for example: How exactly does the Great American Dine Out raise money to help stop hunger? What percentage goes to support your programs? On a positive note -The Great American Bake Sale page has improved since last year because of a searchable map.

Bottom-line on the Share Our Strength Website– less pomp more substance. Potential volunteers please don’t get discouraged or frustrated.

Nat Turner, Blair Grocery & the Lower 9 Garden

"No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities - always see them for they're always there." -- Norman Vincent Peale Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans five years ago flooding 80% of the city, destroying homes, stores, schools, churches, and lives. When the levees broke the Lower Nine, one of the poorest areas of the city, found itself under 15 feet of water. The predominately African American community was almost wiped off the map. Even today only one fifth of the original residents have returned and the infrastructure is almost non-existent.

Maybe New Yorker Nat Turner saw an empty canvas instead of abandoned lots when he arrived in the Ninth Ward with $12 in his pocket. A schoolteacher by trade, he first...Read Full Article on Celsias

Vegan Wednesdays-Like Meatless Mondays, Only Better

Meatless Mondays, otherwise known as the one day a week omnivores pat themselves on the back and say, “look how eco-friendly I am,” has always made me jealous.  It’s like a special occasion or holiday.  Omnivores get to call work and say “I’m sorry I can’t write that report today, it’s Meatless Monday, my parents are coming from out of town to help us make the lentil roast.” I want a weekly holiday too! Vegetarians I propose once a week we have Vegan Day – we can even call it Vegan Wednesdays, and if you have a German or Russian accent it will sound like Vegan Vednesday which will make it totally perfect.

On Vegan Day (not to be confused with...Read Full Article on Celsias

Volunteer Journal #56 – 5k Run 4 the Amazon Foundation

amazonI went to a costume party the night before my first 5k run ever. Not the smartest move. I know. As a nondrinker/smoker/recreational drug user I figured I’d be fine. I don’t want to tell you this next piece because I’m sure I will get emails about being insensitive, trashy, heartless etc. but here ya go… I decided to go as a crack head like my roommate (it was a theme group). Insensitive - yes. Easy to do – you bet ya.

We sprinkled our black clothes with powdered sugar, put on makeup a la Amy Winehouse, dreaded our hair and using various Hollywood makeup tricks picked up on sets made it look like we were… well you get the idea.

I was secretly hoping that someone would say, “nice costume.” To which I was going to reply “What costume? This is a costume party?” That was going to be the highlight of my boring day. Unfortunately, I have quick actor friends who upon seeing me enter the party said, “Hey you were suppose to wear a costume!” Damn.

Anyway, long story abbreviated I got 3 hours of sleep and was cursing myself when I had to wake up for Run for the Trees at 6am the next morning. Mornings are the devils playground. Why is the world such a hostile place? Mornings.

Arriving at the race base camp at Dockweiler Beach I tucked last nights dreaded hair into a baseball cap, stuck my Ipod firmly in my ears, dragged my feet over to the registration table, got my number, and then had to pick up a t-shirt. I hate event t-shirts as noted in this blog numerous times before. Surprise, the smallest size they had was women’s mediums. Note to non-profit coordinators for the 100th time – we hate the t-shirts! They are wasteful, bad for the environment, and ugly as hell, but if you are obsessively compelled to make them (and apparently you are) and find sick pleasure in forcing us to wear them order more smalls and extra smalls especially at a 5k, 10k, marathon races.

Run for the Trees’ purpose was to raise funds for the Amazon Foundation, which was founded in 2009 to acquire and preserve large tracts of the Amazon Rainforest. Fine and good, however, as I waited for the race to begin I noticed something quite disturbing. Between the flyers being handed out, drinks in disposable plastic, and new t-shirts it’s arguable that more waste was produced by this event than trees saved.

Back to the race – I stood there, in the large starting pack, hopping from one foot to the other trying to warm up and calm down at the same time. Two nights before I had run 4.25 miles to test that I could do the distance. I felt great after that run, but I had completed it in an hour. Everyone around me looked like they were serious about racing. Like stretching/warming up serious. They were actually going to run fast! For real. Did they know it was not even 8 am yet on Sunday? I hate being at the back. Okay, I’m a bit OCD about being first. Not good.

The race started and I immediately began to hyperventilate. I had to be first! Had too! Okay that’s not going to happen. It took half a mile to get my breathing under control. I was running too fast. At one mile my stomach cramped and my mouth dried up. I kept thinking, “What the hell is happening? I’m freaking athletic. My stomach hurts too badly. I’m going to have to stop.” Then a few ten year olds passed me. Embarrassing. Then a guy pushing a baby stroller tried to pass me. No sir. No sir. I draw the line at being beat by a human pushing another human.

Finally, I fixed my gaze on the muscular back of the ripped guy in front of me. “He’s going to finish with a good time. And he’s not bad to look at. Stay 10 feet behind him till the end.” And that’s what I did. Pulling up only at the very end to protect my knee from a steep downhill finish I crossed the line in 27:12. Not bad for a first timer. However, because it’s in my DNA to never be satisfied, I’m now pissed I couldn’t finish under 27. Although I consider waking up early and then racing akin to being burned with a hot poker I might have to do that again just to shoot for 26.

P.S. Those stomach cramps turned out to be a stomach virus so I spent the rest of the day curled up on the bathroom floor pressing my head against cold tiles thinking about how I could have gone just a bit faster. Too competitive not to race - not competitive enough to train. It’s a curse.

Promoting the Veg Lifestyle

vegan-mainstream-logo“Environmentally, meat amazingly causes more emissions than all of transportation combined. Cars, trains, planes, buses, boats – all of them.” –Graham Hill Founder of Treehugger.com No doubt that being a vegetarian or vegan is one of the best environmental moves you can make, but it’s a choice not always glamorized in the press. Vegetarianism is often lauded as the dietary choice of…excuse me…pussies, with vegetarians regularly depicted as skinny, geeky, weak and extremely pale.

Enter Vegan Mainstream ...Read Full Article on Celsias

Producer/Director Gene Rosow Talks "Dirt"

dirt_posterOne of the perks to living in Los Angeles is the regular invites to screenings ‘n such. Recently, I was invited to TreePeople‘s  headquarters to see a screening of the award-winning documentary “Dirt! The Movie” . “Dirt” profiles our most underappreciated and squandered natural resource – you guessed it dirt - or soil if you want a higher-class name.  I approached Producer/Director Gene Rosow after the film and when the man handed me a plant-able business card that would grow wildflowers I knew I had to interview him.

What were your biggest challenges when... Read the rest on Celsias