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BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS

 

I go to the gym several days a week, obviously to work out my body. Some days, though, I go to alleviate, through sweat and elevated heart rate, the anxiety and frustration caused by things beyond my control. My mother’s illness. Taxes. Climate Change.

The Florida school shooting.

On Valentine’s Day, 17 students left home, possibly after opening a card from their parents and stashing some chocolate hearts in their lunch boxes. They said goodbye and left the house. “See you later!” And then they went to school and got shot and killed along with a couple of their teachers.

How my heart broke when I learned of the shooting in a Seattle sushi restaurant as the “Breaking News” flashed across the television screen. Several customers and staff members gathered silently around the television. “The United States has too many guns,” said one of the servers (not from the U.S.) as we watched. “No other country has this problem.”

She’s right. The New York Times ran an article (How To Reduce Shootings, by Nicholas Kristof) on February 15, the day after the shooting, which included staggering graphics showing disproportionately high numbers of gun ownership and gun murders in the U.S. as compared with other countries.

The U.S., by a long shot, has the highest incidence of deaths by guns. School shootings are, I cringe to write this, becoming a little less shocking because of their frequency. The February 14 shooting was, by some estimates, the 18th gun incident on school grounds in 2018. Eighteenth! And it was only a month and a half into the year.

Spending time in Panama as we did for many years, there were plenty of headlines, plenty of things to pay attention to in that country. But not this. Children in Panama are cherished. The schools are safe. Even the poorest of families makes sure to have enough to buy their children the school uniforms that all children wear proudly as they go off to school each day.

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Children in Panama are cherished and protected.

After working out on the 15th, I walked past a row of treadmills with televisions. One caption caught my eye: “Liberals Use Shooting to Push Gun Laws.”

In another punch to the gut, less than 24 hours after the shooting, this tragedy was being politicized. Later I read that Tomi Lahren, a conservative political commentator who works for an advocacy organization that supports Trump tweeted:

Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda? My goodness. This isn’t about a gun it’s about another lunatic.

A girl who hid in a closet for two hours while the carnage was being carried out responded to Lahren’s Tweet:

I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns. https://twitter.com/tomilahren/status/963978544295505922 

And another response from a student:

A gun has killed 17 of my fellow classmates. A gun has traumatized my friends. My entire school, traumatized from this tragedy. This could have been prevented. Please stfu tomi https://twitter.com/tomilahren/status/963978544295505922 

 

Now, I’m guessing there are both liberals and conservatives among the families of the victims. I don’t know for sure. But stay with me. Do you think any of those families, or any of the survivors, are worried about politics right now? Do you think anyone is “on the fence” about gun control after losing their baby? About the ability of a 19 year old to legally obtain an AR-15? A semi-automatic gun that is deadlier than a hand gun, yet easier to obtain? And is the weapon of choice for mass shootings?

Would that the headline I read had been: “Politicians from both parties use latest shooting to dramatically restrict gun laws.”

By wording headlines with political verbiage, reporters help to create a dichotomy. And by refusing to tighten gun laws, politicians elected to protect us exacerbate the problem.

What could possibly motivate anyone, conservative, liberal, Democrat or Republican to look the other way when it comes to passing such laws? When I got home from the gym I did a little research and was shocked to learn that the very politicians who could be helping to prevent such tragedies are receiving obscene amounts of money from the NRA and gun lobbies.

The top five senators who received between $3.88 and $7.74 million dollars from the NRA are:

  • John McCain
  • Richard Burr
  • Roy Blunt
  • Thom Tillis
  • Cory Gardner
  • (Former Presidential contender, Marco Rubio, is in sixth place.)

 

Representatives who received between $344,630 and $1.09 million from the NRA are:

  • French Hill
  • Ken Buck
  • David Young
  • Mike Simpson
  • Greg Gianforte

 

Again, these are only the top five who have the NRA in their back pocket and are seemingly unmotivated to make any changes. There are more.

And then I found this:  The NRA paid more than $30 million to get Trump elected and defeat Clinton.

 

It is no small wonder, then, that this has become political. If you are curious about which party these particular recipients belong to I urge you to look them up. And know this: There are more. Many more.

Are the benefits worth it? Really? Are the lives of other people’s kids worth the payoffs? How can these people be so greedy, so callous?

I blame them, not mental illness as some are trying to convince us, for these deaths.

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I blame them, because the FBI was alerted – twice – about last week’s shooter, and they did nothing.

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I blame any of them who have taken even a penny from a gun lobbyist and then looked the other way when something like this happens.

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They reek of guilt and greed. They have blood on their hands. They should be ashamed, but I am afraid that is not something they are capable of.

 

 

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Soupful Protest

January came in with a bang. Before the month was halfway through, one person I love had been diagnosed with cancer, two had been hospitalized with heart problems, and one had died.

It’s been draining but I’m taking it in stride. And plenty of good things happened, too, so it balanced out. I’m continuing to do my work, helping where I can, and making sure to take good care of myself. Going to the gym, eating well, and setting priorities.

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One thing that I intentionally dropped to the bottom of my priority list was reading the news. The stress that washes over me once or twice a week (at least) when I read about the words and actions of our government representatives in Washington D.C. was something I could and had to let go of – just until the rest of my life settled down a bit.

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But then… the “shithole” comment.

There was no escaping that one. It was the icing on the cake of the past two weeks. Suddenly, in between sympathy cards and visits to the hospital, and work deadlines, I was back at it. Reading voraciously, trying to piece together the truth of what happened and the reactions worldwide to Trump’s insulting and racist commentary on Haitians, El Salvadorians, Nigerians, and all African nations.

Last year, during the Women’s March, I was in Panama, a Latin American country I have grown to love, having spent eight winters there. I’m pretty sure our racist president would dismiss the people of Panama the way he dismissed the people of El Salvador and Nigeria and Haiti. I obsessively watched coverage on my laptop and felt heartened by the awesome numbers of people, worldwide, who were protesting.

Last week, in response to the comment, I bought a pink hat for the Seattle Women’s March 2.0 this coming Saturday. I contacted friends, reminding them in case they didn’t know or forgot about the march and encouraged my marina neighbors to go.

And then, I made soup. I had bought groceries to make dinner for friends who had to cancel at the last minute. Since I had all the ingredients, I decided to cook anyway. I turned on some music, opened up the boat on a surprisingly sunny and mild afternoon, and made soup. Chopping, dicing, stirring, seasoning, tasting. It was the perfect medicine.

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That and knowing that the Women’s March is happening this weekend. I want to get out there and be with people who are as appalled as I am and are actually doing something about it.

It’s easy when life begins to overwhelm us, to forget about what is going on in the other Washington. Or to ignore it. Or to wait for Robert Mueller to fix it.

But we really don’t have that luxury. Each time the president crosses yet another line, as he did with the “shithole” comment, I think, “This is it. This is the one that is going to take him down.”

And then it doesn’t.

And then he does or says something else that makes my head explode. What are the people we have elected, whose salaries we pay, who work for us, doing with their time? How are they letting this go on? And on? And on?

My husband is a hard-core activist from back in the day. He claims that the only way to change things is to get out in the streets and make noise. Because the people in Washington are not going to do it for us. It’s up to us, he insists.

Some of our friends feel that the people on top are impervious to our voices, to our actions. That we can’t really touch them. Well, we won’t know how true that is if we don’t try.

In looking at some photos from last year’s march, a sign that resonated read, “Ugh. Where do I even start?” download

If any of the things that have gone on in the last year have raised your hackles, then come on out on Saturday. To name a few:

  • The president’s refusal to turn over his tax returns
  • His violation of the Emoluments Clause
  • The investigation of and likely collaboration with Russia in our election
  • His ongoing, incendiary, racist remarks and behavior
  • His blatant misogynistic remarks and behavior
  • The lawsuits filed against him ad nauseum
  • His dangerous, incendiary remarks about nuclear power and North Korea
  • His disregard for and refusal to help the people of Puerto Rico
  • His anti-immigration policies
  • Obscene tax reduction for the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us
  • Incessant attempts to diminish our health coverage
  • The administration’s paralysis or unwillingness when it comes to doing anything about it, thus jeopardizing our safety and well-being.

Ugh, indeed. Where to start? Even more pressing for me is the question, “Where does it end?” And what’s it gonna take to get us out in the streets?

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Reading The Guardian after Trump’s “shithole” remarks, I came across an interview of a person named Blessing Dlamini, a 45-year-old administrative assistant working a business neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa. Trump’s words, said Dlamini, came as “no surprise.” According to the interviewer, Dlamini added, “He has shown the world he is a racist. We should just block him from our thoughts.”

I want to be like that. I want to be a pacifist, to combat strife with peace. But I don’t know if that will solve our problems right now.

The march will be peaceful. The power of the march will be in the numbers. If there is one near you, please go. If you have plans, cancel them. This is too important. Here are the Seattle details:

Saturday, January 20, 2018, Cal Anderson Park, 10:00 a.m.

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Afterwards, go home and make some soup. And love your family and your friends.

Winter Reflection

Did you ever notice the way tomatoes taste in the winter? They are as hard as tennis balls, tasteless, and feel like Styrofoam in your mouth. Why? Because they are not in season! We continue to buy them simply because they are available. The movement to buy locally and eat seasonally makes all kinds of sense. But it requires that we tune into nature’s cycles and adjust to the current season.

Back east, where I spent the first 30 years of my life, an occasional rainstorm was welcome and wonderful. We stood at the window and watched it come down. We made tea and curled up under a blanket with a book. The storm passed, the sun came out, and we went back to our normal, dry day activities. Not so in the Pacific Northwest where winter is one long rainstorm. Without plans to escape to warmer climes this winter, I have been bracing myself.

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I recently dug out a piece of inspiration to help me remember to embrace the season instead of bracing against it. In so many words, it reminds me to pay attention to the rhythms of the season, and find a way to appreciate this wonderful, mystical time of year.

Start by eating seasonal foods. There are abundant winter vegetables and buying them means you are eating fresh, locally grown and/or organic produce. Anything else has either been manipulated by technology or shipped a great distance and therefore not fresh. A website I found called cuesa.org offers seasonality charts and recipes using seasonal foods.

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Turn off electronics, turn down the lights and turn inward to reflect on your dreams and wishes for the coming year. Formulate resolutions that will enable you, like your garden, to flower and grow come spring. Discover the immense capacity we all have for turning dark into light, bad into good, and for starting anew with a fresh approach.

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(photo by Julia Hopkins)

Often in nature something has to die in order for something else to be born. Something has to end in order for there to be a beginning. Which is why it is important to recognize that the tough times you experience, the darkness in your life, is directly connected to the goodness and light that is to come.

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Celebrate the season! There is so much to be thankful for! Decorate your home, string lights to counteract the dark. Share seasonal meals with family and friends.

But don’t forget to occasionally step away from the frenzy of the holidays. To notice winter’s natural beauty, to grow quiet and become aware of the life that is taking root underground and inside of us. We have the ability to discover the balance and growth naturally occurring within us as we prepare for the light that is sure to come.

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Adios, Panama…

After eight winters in Panama, we have sold our condos and are moving on to the next chapter. There were a lot of reasons for this decision, but none of them had anything to do with the beauty of the island, the friends we made, or the cultural immersion that we experienced during the three months we spent there each year.

I will miss those things.

It was a rich time, largely because of our concentrated focus on one place, Isla Taboga. Returning year after year allowed us to skip the acclimation phase that cuts into travel time. We knew exactly what to do, where to go for a beer or a meal, what Panama City shops carried the things we needed, and who we were looking forward to seeing. We simply plugged in and started the season, able to go a bit deeper each year. It was enormously rewarding and we have zero regrets.

When we began this adventure, I was not exactly an enthusiastic participant. Panama is too far away, I reasoned. It’s too hot. I don’t speak Spanish. It’s not a place or a culture I would choose to retire to. But in the end, all of those things added to my appreciation of both Panama and our experience there.

  • It is far. We did not have many visitors. But we ran an Airbnb and VRBO business and met a lot of people from all over the world who did want to come to Panama.
  • It was hot. So hot. I could barely handle it. But I learned what it was like to be in a climate like that. To manage it. And I gained an understanding of the different rhythms that arise from living in a hot climate: early risings, siestas, slow movements, cervesa.

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    4pm at Playa Honda for a cold cervesa.

  • I learned Spanish! Enough to get by anyway. To have increasingly complex conversations with locals. And I am continuing to study and thinking about places to visit where I can keep it up.

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    A little bit of Spanish helped me to acquire fresh citrus fruit. “Quiere frutas Senora Irene?” “Si! Por favor, Aristedes. Cuantos?” “Cinco!” “Bueno! Gracias.”

  • I learned a lot about myself and my ability to adapt. To see scorpions and tarantulas and not freak out. To appreciate and respect the local culture. To operate outside my comfort zone. And to find a comfort level within that discomfort!DSC09230

Going forward, our hope is to travel and see some more of this beautiful world while we are still healthy and strong enough to do so. Our experience in Panama has inspired in us a desire to choose a place and stay put for a time, taking side trips perhaps, but keeping close to a base where we can settle in and become familiar with local culture.

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal for prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” I would add that living among people for an extended period of time — learning where to shop, developing relationships however temporary with shopkeepers and neighbors, becoming humbled by being the new person can offer an expanded experience of that sentiment. To stay in one place until it feels familiar means that you have made a connection.

I will miss that aspect of our time in Panama. But I hope to find it, on some level, elsewhere.

As to where, we don’t know! Finances and circumstances will play a role. As the rain and wind begin to pummel us in Seattle, we know we want to get out of here for some of the winter. Boat life is great – in the summer. But it’s a long, cold walk down that dock in the rain.

Stay tuned. This blog will change it’s focus somewhat from writing about Panama, but it springs from that experience so I will continue to write as Panamama.

Adios, Panama.

BC is Burning

Holy smoke.

A week ago, we woke up on Quadra Island to what we initially thought was a lovely misty morning that would clear as the sun burned through, but turned out to be smoke from the wildfires that are consuming much of BC right now. The smoke was so thick that we could not see the mountains, normally majestic and clear, and could just barely make out the Cortes Island shore across from the sand spit.

Three weeks back, on our way north we stopped in this exact spot. The sky was a brilliant blue, the breeze smelled clean, with hints of salt and cedar. I hiked through the woods to the point of the spit and back, filling my lungs with the clean, fresh, BC air.

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Rebecca Spit from our boat a few weeks ago. Desolation Sound beyond.

Our reason for stopping here at this point was for me to see an eye doctor so that I could get to the bottom of a particularly tenacious case of conjunctivitis that I had been dealing with for five weeks. We took a taxi across the island, hopped on a ferry and spent the afternoon in Campbell River. On the ferry back, I strolled the car deck, as I had been advised to do by a local, asking if anyone was going to Heriot Bay (where we were anchored). One woman happily offered to give us a ride and I climbed in the back seat with two of her kids.

Courtney and her family are mandatory evacuees from Kamloops, where one of the wild fires was within a block of her house when they left. She, her husband, and their four children were staying in a home on the island, offered by a generous soul, until it was safe to go back. She was happy to help us out after so many had stepped up to help her family. As touched as I was by her story, the human condition is that unless we are in a situation, we don’t really know what it feels like.

That was nearly three weeks ago. (I saw her car parked outside the grocery store on our return trip last week so I knew they were still there).

And now, with the smoke surrounding us and reaching as far south as Seattle where the air quality has reached the worst in the country, rivaling L.A., it is no longer a problem belonging to someone else, “those poor Canadians.” It is in our faces literally.

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From this vantage point, we can normally see an impressive mountain range

My house is not burning. I still don’t know what Courtney is going through. But the air is thick with smoke and each breath makes me think about what is happening to my lungs. I can’t exercise and hike like I normally do on these islands because of the health advisories against doing so. A friend reported some joggers in Nanaimo looking like each breath was their last. The sky, normally blue at this time of year, is gray. The sun, while shining, appears as an orange orb in the sky. And the moon is amber. Every night.

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Ships emerging from the smoky haze.

Yesterday, Dan bought a double can respirator for me to wear from time to time to take a break from the bad air (always was a romantic, that guy). And he bought us two dust masks just in case. There have been times when I have felt a quiet panic. No where to run, no where to hide. It’s all around us and until the wind blows it away, or BC manages to put out the fires, we are stuck in it.

Yesterday we sat on the beach amidst summer time fun: kids on skim boards, teens flirting and playing volleyball, swimming, frisbee-throwing, partying fun. They did not let the smoke stop them. One guy walked by us and said, “What a day! What a beach! What a life!” We talked about our fortune in knowing that our homes were not burning to the ground. On his way back he offered us “an exceedingly cold beer!” which we happily accepted. His attitude turned mine around. I shed the feeling of panic, the trapped feeling and instead drank a cold beer on a smoky beach and started smiling again.

I choose to use this wee bit of suffering, this minor inconvenience, as an opportunity for solidarity with the people who have lost everything. The smoke will clear and our home will be fine. But sharing it on even a minor level has created empathy for Courtney and others in her position.

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Sunset over Hornby Island two years ago…

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Sunset over Hornby Island this year…

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Our Home on Vacation

Just over four weeks. That is how long we have been drifting around the waters north of Seattle, up as far as the Broughton Islands. It’s been an unhurried, laid-back journey, a mixture of stopping for days at a time when the mood strikes us, and pushing to cover distance when the tides and wind dictate to us.

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We will be out for a total of two months this summer at Dan’s unwavering insistence. I resisted the idea of being such a long time away from the fun of summer in Seattle and time with my daughters, but now, at this midway point in our summer voyage, I am grateful for the span of time Dan quietly insisted on.

 

For only with an extended amount of time away from the distractions of the city, resting my eyes on wide, expansive vistas, does my rhythm begin to harmonize with nature and do I achieve this level of peace and presence.

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A few days ago I had a moment when I was suddenly aware of how relaxed I felt. Clear. Open. Free. A moment of grace.

I remarked on this to Dan, saying, “In the city, our eyes rest on things right in front of us all the time. Out here, when I look at great breadths of scenery, I feel soothed on a deep level.” Dan smiled, knowingly, in agreement.

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Haro Strait from the Stuart Island Lighthouse, San Juans

The further north we go, as we have learned from 30 years of doing this, the more majestic and serene the surroundings, and the deeper our journey inward. We spent a week in the Broughtons, a stunning archipelago of islands and inlets near the top of Vancouver Island, a place we have visited many times, but that always holds something new for us.

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Malcolm Island, across Queen Charlotte Strait from the Broughtons, is one of our favorite shore stops because of the friendliness and unfailing reset that occurs there. Many of the island’s inhabitants are proud descendants of the Finnish settlers who sought to establish a utopian community, free from the tyranny of their homeland. It failed after a very short period of time, as most of those attempts do, but even after it’s original configuration dissolved, the community maintained its independent spirit, refusing to incorporate, and running much of the island as a cooperative venture. In fact, the store on the island, established in 1909 is the first Co-op in Canada from which the Canadian Co-op movement began.

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Malcolm Island Co-Op, established 1909

While on Malcolm, we were regulars at the pub…

Vincent, our Irish barkeep who gave us a ride home after we closed the place

Malcolm Island pub characters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went on a long bike ride around the rural island…

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We bought bread at the bakery and connected with friends old and new…

 

Heading south, we have gone back into Desolation Sound, crowded with boats but replete with views and warm, swimmable water, a rarity in this part of the world. Having woven remote locations with populated summertime fun and friend visits, a shift has occurred and I am grateful to this beautiful coast, our lovely home that we take with us, and my husband who puts up with all of my whims and hesitations, and gently unties the lines and points us in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

Political Yogurt

I like yogurt. I eat it a lot. It’s delicious, versatile, a good source of protein and, bonus, good for my tummy as it’s loaded with pro-biotics.

BUT it comes in plastic tubs. And, since my last post, even more than heretofore, I have begun examining my plastic consumption and ways to avoid it.

Starting this effort was a bit like starting a regimented diet. I kept bumping up against things that I could no longer do if I wanted to succeed in my effort. Automatic go-to’s in the grocery store and pharmacy were met with a screeching of brakes on the pavement and an alarmed internal cry (“PLASTIC! Whaaaaat? Nooooo!”) when I realized that I would have to find an alternative for my favorite lip balm…  or tomatoes… or yogurt.

By being more conscious about my choices, I began to notice how often I use plastic without thinking, when with just a little bit of adjustment I could cut out a significant amount.

This takes work and, naturally, willingness to do the work. It may seem hard and it can be time-consuming. But with a refocusing of our minds and a re-patterning of our habits, it can happen.

We’ve done it before. Remember the days before recycling was the norm? When it was introduced, and we realized its importance, we trained ourselves to never, ever throw glass or metal or paper in the garbage bin. It’s a no-brainer now. We don’t even think about it. Or if we notice that someone has (gasp!) put a glass bottle in the trash, we are outraged! It just looks wrong now that our brains have been retrained.

 

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What is wrong with this picture? Lots. Including non-biodegradable plastic trash bag…

The same goes for the compost bins ubiquitous on kitchen counters these days. I don’t even consider scraping food scraps into a garbage bin in my, or a friend’s, home. If I don’t see the bin, I automatically ask, “where is your compost?” See what I mean? We can do this!

But back to yogurt.

A lot of people are writing about their daily actions against the regime that is making our lives hell these days. The president’s egotistical decision to pull the U.S. out of  the Paris Agreement (joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not participating), has propelled me to take a personal responsibility for my part in the devastation of the climate, small though it may be. I am heartened by the governors and cities who have pledged to continue to participate and to abide by the decision made by those countries.

But what about right here at home? As in, my home? Not willing to give up yogurt, I thought, maybe I could buy one of those yogurt makers my friends had in college. Guess what many of them are made of? Yep. Plastic. Or containing plastic components. And they are expensive. And they take up a lot of room in my tiny galley.

I looked up “how to make yogurt” and found that it is surprisingly simple. Ingredients? Milk and yogurt. That’s it. So you have to buy one more container of yogurt (and recycle the container). But once you get your first batch made, you never have to buy a plastic container of yogurt again.

There are dozens of recipes on the internet. Yogurt can be made either stove top or in a slow cooker. The basic instruction is:

  • Heat the milk to 180° in a pan or crock pot. (You also need a thermometer – I use a candy thermometer that I already had and back it up with Dan’s point and shoot infrared thermometer).
  • Cool the milk to 110°.
  • Add a scoop of yogurt from your last batch, wrap the crock pot or pan in a towel to keep it warm and let it incubate over night.

In the morning, you have yogurt! For thicker yogurt, you can strain the whey (that clearish liquid that sometimes floats to the top in store-bought yogurt), which I did. Per advice, I lined a colander with coffee filters, placed it over a bowl and waited a couple of hours. Whey in the bowl, thick yogurt in the colander which I then transferred to a glass container that, full disclosure, has a plastic lid (I already had the container and so decided to use it, lesser of two evils and all that). And you can toss the whey or us it for its high-protein nutritional value. Again – lots about this online.

The yogurt is delicious. Mild. Even a little bit sweet. I used whole, organic, grass fed cow milk which may account for the sweetness. It can also be sweetened and flavored if you prefer.

This morning, I had my last bit of yogurt with organic strawberries (which came in a plastic box, dammit), and organic bananas, (which were plastered with stickers, grrrrrr…). And it was delish! So today, while I write and take care of my daughter’s new puppy, I’ll be making yogurt, too.

We have to try. Because the people in DC clearly do not have our backs. Nor do the packagers, marketers or business people.

All of this is do-able. We just have to have the will.

Are you with me? I’ll keep posting ideas if so. I’d love to hear from you if you are interested in the pursuit of this topic. I’m willing to do the legwork and share what I’ve learned.

Let me know by commenting on this site! And thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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