Posts tagged success

Lessons from the Campaign Trail

Whew!  With the 2008 election season finally over, it almost feels anti-climactic not to be talking about “the issues” all the time with everyone I meet.  Over the last few weeks of the campaign, I volunteered some time for the Obama campaign, and was thrilled to see him win in such a landslide on election day.  But this is not a political blog, so here I offer some tips I learned along the way about how to effectively promote a social cause such a return to simpler living.

First, the Obama campaign succeeded largely because they were able to successfully brand themselves outside the traditional political system.  Rather than “Vote Democrat”, they emphasized “Vote for Change”, a tag line that excluded far fewer potential voters.  When framing a campaign to raise awareness, sticking to the issues and resisting the urge to paint yourself in one camp or another is a valuable tool for reaching across to people who might not share all of your views, but who are passionate about an issue that you are too.

Also, the campaign made excellent use of people’s strengths, asking them to donate whatever they could, and allowing them to contribute in the best way the knew.  This meant that rather than a shy computer genius signing up and getting told to go hit the streets and talk to people, they were encouraged to do what they knew best… design a computer interface that allowed for easier donations, in this example.  Campaign benefits, and the volunteers feels that their talents were put to good use toward a real contribution without trying to pound square pegs into round holes.  Being mindful of people’s preferences is very important, especially in a situation in which you depend on volunteerism to complete your goals. That being said, I was asked if I wanted to hit the streets on election day, and though it wasn’t something that would generally appeal to me, I found the experience so uplifting, I can’t wait to do it again.  But the fact that it wasn’t shoved down my throat had a lot to do with that.

On another level but related, the Obama campaign made use of people’s existing resources in a way that most previous presidential bids have not.  In the past, volunteers would show up at a call center with all the resources needed to promote the cause, assigned, and then controlled centrally from this point.  This year, people organized home calling parties, a la MoveOn.org’s movie watching parties, and left it to participants to bring laptops, cellphones, and other necessary equipment to make the calls.  This was accomplished through good use of an internet hub, the Obama website, which allowed volunteers to access necessary information in one spot from anywhere.  They also gave each volunteer a blog to share their experiences with one another.  So if you had a sudden urge to call people at 9am Saturday morning, you could log on, find a list of people in swing states who needed to be called, and do that from the comfort of your own home.  Brilliant.  Careful planning of the central hub allowed for a diverse and decentralized force of volunteers to stay organized.  And by using people’s inherent talents, Obama was able to recruit a young and diverse set of talents to his cause, ending up with an iconic poster by one of my favorite artists, Shepard Fairey, a 26 year old speech writer who had everyone crying on election night, a social media campaign designed by one of the top dogs at Facebook, and a legion of dedicated campaigners who’d never even considered getting involved before.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the campaign strongly emphasized a “no drama, vote for Obama” ethos that carried through to the volunteer level.  Volunteers and campaign workers were there for one thing only, to help Obama win, and they managed to avoid most of the infighting that is usually associated with political campaigns.  By running things like a business, keeping to set goals and the fulfillment thereof, personal differences became less and less important.  After all, if you and your buddy both care about composting but disagree strongly on, for example, the benefits vs. risks of offshore drilling, there’s no reason to hamper your home composting conference with discussion of drilling when you are trying to teach 100 people how to set up a worm compost bin.  Stay to the stated goals, accomplish them, then set new, loftier goals!

This was a historic campaign in every sense of the word, and I’m sure the coming weeks will see many more positive strategies identified as routes to Obama’s great success.  Me, I’ll be kicking back and letting my feet rest a little from all that walking, and thinking about ways that I can use those same lessons from above to make Solarious the best resource ever for people trying to escape the trappings of on-grid living. To everyone who voted last week for either candidate, I heartily salute you for taking an active part in shaping the future of American politics.  After all, changes don’t make themselves, and true democracy depends on its constituents to frame the dialogues that will guide its elected leaders.

Now that election season is over, I’ll have more time again to post here, so check back for upcoming profiles of some amazing companies who are taking green living to the next level.  Because in today’s marketplace, you vote just as strongly with your pocketbook as your ballot.  We can, we did!

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Solar Cooking Roundup: Two New Recipes

As mentioned previously, I haven’t been getting out the oven as often lately, as it’s been unseasonably cool and cloudy here. But, as if magically anticipating that summer was right around the corner, a few days back the thermometer jumped about 30 degrees. Yikes, it is triple digit hot!

So, of course the first thing I did was pull out the box cooker. After a yum but “haven’t I tried this before?” few meals of roasted red sweet peppers with cheese, it was time to do a little culinary exploration. So this past weekend, I fired up the “grill” and made two new recipes.

First up:

Banana Nectarine “Pie”

3 bananas, roughly broken into slices
1 nectarine, chopped
2 T flax seeds (for nutrients and “crunch”)
1/8 cup Sunny Delight (next time I’ll skip this)
1/4 cup honey graham cereal

To make, mix all ingredients except graham cereal into pan. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, or until the bananas smell super sweet and mash easily. The flax seeds will swell to a larger size, too, so you know they will not be too hard. Bring out of the sun and mash the bananas with a fork, stirring to mix everything well. Allow to thicken for about ten minutes. During that time, crumble graham cereal into the bottom of ramekins/ cups and crumble more for the tops. Spoon mix into each cup and top with more crumbled graham cereal.

This recipe turned out well taste-wise. Next time I might skip the Sunny D (there was a lot of natural liquid in the mix after cooking) and add a little cinnamon before cooking, but it was also good as is. The only disconcerting part was that the bananas looked kind of brown in the pot, but covering the top with graham solved that aesthetic dilemma. Easily makes enough for two people.

Today, I tried a different take on my pepper lunch:

Chili and Celery with Mango

2 large green Anaheim Chili peppers
2 long stalks celery
1 sweet red pepper
Annie’s Naturals Organic Balsamic Vinaigrette Marinade
1 large mango

To make, cut and deseed the chilis and sweet pepper into pinky finger size strips, and chop the two stalks of celery. Pour a little marinade over the mixed veggies in the pan, and put in the sun for about an hour. At that point, I checked the progress, added a bit more marinade, gave everything a good shake to cover, and returned the pan to the oven for another 1/2 hour. Bring everything inside, add the mango (chopped) to the mix and stir together. Serve immediately.

Yum. Of all the dishes I’ve made so far, this was my favorite. At first, I was nervous about adding the mango to what smelled like a very hearty mix, but it worked perfectly, giving everything a cool taste even on this scorcher of a day. And it needed no seasoning either, though I’d imagine it would be good with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt sprinkled on top. This recipe will make it into the cookbook. Makes enough to feed one VERY well, or two for a light lunch or appetizer.

And here’s the finished result:


Now for a nap to work off all that gourmet eating! =)

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Take a Tour of Solarious

This week, you will be seeing a lot of action at the Solarious website, as I update and expand the back pages with new information for you.  Why don’t you stop through and take a tour?

First, check out the food additives page, “In My Food”, where you can find out more about the ingredients that make up you daily diet and how they may affect your health.  If you have any expertise or suggestions about ingrdients, please share them, and I’ll follow up by posting more on the topic.

Next, visit the “Success Stories” page to see how others in your position have overcome challenges and maintained inspiration and vision to complete alternative energy projects.  Again, please feel free to share any inspiring stories or learning lessons you know of so that others may learn too.

And finally, see the brand-spankin’ new section, “Box it Up”, for an ever-incomplete listing of companies that incorporate recycled packaging and goods into their product lines.  I say incomplete, because more companies recognize the need for such sustainable practices every day.  Here’s to wishing for that day when ALL companies use recycled goods in their products, reducing our virgin material needs close to zero.  Until then, support these companies’ decisions to ensure that they view sustainability as a wise business decision.

In regularly scheduled news, everything here is going great.  After a solid week of grey days and spitting rainy weather, the sun is out and blazing.  It’s time to get cooking!  Over the “down time” of cloudy weather, I walked around the city distributing a new magazine for whom I write.  Plenty of time to check out the neighborhood and look for a block to adopt.  And… I’ve found one!  It took a bit of looking, because in my neighborhood the “Clean Team” (ie. people who’ve gotten community service hours to complete) come around once a week and supposedly clean the streets, so I didn’t want to overlap their areas.  And because there is just so much mess to choose from!  I’ve chosen a two-block area near my house to start with, and will expand once I figure out how much maintenance that will entail.  When I go next week to begin picking up, I’ll post before and after photos.  I also found a community garden near where I travel regularly with available plots.  With any luck, I’ll be able to scrape up a little cash and get a plot there to feed my growing demand for veggies to steam in the sun!  If you’re in the LA area and have a neglected backyard that you want planted for a share of the organic produce, holler! We can help each other out… and isn’t that what life is all about?

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Today’s Menu? Egg Jello

Ahhhh. I’m finally back on my laptop, after three weeks of it acting like a teenager going through puberty. First, the wireless card broke after a week of intermittently kicking me off. So, I freecycled for another (if you don’t Freecycle, read my previous post) and received two. I tell you this entire story basically to show how even in difficult situations Freecycle can brighten your day and your esteem of others. Lovely. But no, that wasn’t good enough for the computer, which promptly sent a spark to the power cord and disabled that about ten seconds after I obtained the driver for the card. Another week and countless trips to the library since, I’m happy to be back at the helm.

Another reason I tell you all this is that over the three week period, I had a lot of time to think about the importance of technology in my life. If there’s an electrical equivalent to a nasty Coffee Bean habit, I have acquired it. Sure, if all the major cities were wiped out tomorrow, and there was no grid, I’d manage. And you won’t see me typing away on some gadget while on vacation either. But most of the time, I missed being on the box, enough so to use my friends’ computers at any opportunity (mostly to post on this blog!), and to actually use my little PDA to surf the web or (horrors!) as a notepad instead of as an expensive solitaire game. What can’t you live without? Do you have a backup plan? Do you really need it?

You see, I kept very busy without my computer, managing to finish several of the books that have been collecting dust lately, cook several great meals, not to mention making the new cooker (and scrounging for its materials!), and taking a little more time to smell the roses growing in my neighborhood. So sweet. Not that you’re probably too interested in what I did, but it goes to show that the greatest thing you might dislike is the IDEA of change should your own situation receive what Hank Williams Jr. so aptly called an “attitude adjustment”.

Now, I promised you egg jello, and egg jello you will get. Yesterday, being 100 degrees with not a cloud in the sky, was a beautiful day for cooking. I decided to break out the ingredient that foiled my cooking skills on the windshield shade oven… eggs. The books I’ve been reading make them sound so easy, but if you remember my post, they came came out lumpy, liquid, and VERY messy. Will it be a repeat, or a redemption?

Not wanting to spend too much time on the ingredients, in case things went wrong, I simply broke up six eggs, beat them in the round baking pan, dumped in a small can of sweet corn, added a little milk, and shook a little Chef’s Essence on the top. Out in the sun at 10:45, and I settled in to watch Babe. Midway through the film, I went out to check on things. The top and bottom lids had glued themselves together with the eggs, and when I pried them open, everything was still liquid. I’m seeing visions of last time in my head, so I doubtfully put everything back in, and went to finish the film.

At film’s end, heartily cheered by the cute story, I went out again. And… it was solid! No way! I took it inside for a taste test. It was nice and light, and had the consistency of… jello. Wierd. At least, that was my initial reaction, but after a bite or two, I got used to the texture and liked it quite a bit. I think it would be better to think of this as custard than as a breakfast food. My mistake. Next time, I’ll skip the spices and make a sweet pudding instead, which is pretty much how it came out anyway. Highly recommended, and here are the pics. I’m finally back on my feet with this cooking thing, and the future possibilities are dancing around on the old noggin. Until tomorrow~

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Forget the $10 Solar Cooker!

How about $3.50 instead? As often as I tweaked my previously profiled windshield solar cooker, there remained a real wind problem (as it was constantly falling over in the unpredictable gusts that are SoCal’s weather), and it never seemed to get QUITE hot enough for me to trust cooking something like meat or eggs within. So rather than tinker into oblivion, when I fortuitously found a nice sized box on the side of the road, I decided to make myself a little box cooker. After locating another box to house the inner cooker, and reading the many variations on recommended construction in a few books, I promptly threw out the plans and just went at it myself.

First up, finding tin foil. I had a roll at home, but it would have costs me $1 otherwise, so that’s the running total so far. I also had a few rolls of aluminum foil tape from when they had some at the 99 cents only store, of which I used one roll (10 yards) in construction, bringing the total to $2. The cement factory down the street threw out a buch of AirPaks (the plastic air filled bubbles you use as packing material for large items), which became the insulation for my oven. Price? A trip to their dumpster. Holding it all together was a roll of duct tape, also bought for a dollar, and a nice oven “window” made of cardboard and a Reynold’s Oven Bag ($0.50). Grand total – $3.50 and about an hour’s work. Not exactly a bank-breaker.

First, I lined the smaller box with foil on the inside, taping edges down with the aluminum foil tape. When I was happy with that, I closed up the other box completely with duct tape, making sure to cover ALL cracks well with the tape to minimize heat loss. I placed the smaller box on top of the large and traced around it to create a cut line for inserting the one box in the other. There were about 3 inches on each long end of the box around the smaller one and about an inch on the two shorter sides. So I dropped in two pieces of folded up cardboard on the bottom and secured them (to support the weight of the inner box and pots, etc), and then surrounded them with the AirPaks. After dropping the inner box down into the larger one, I secured the flaps to the large box with duct or aluminum tape, depending on where, and then stood back to see what I’d created.

Not bad. It looked relatively like the ones I’d seen in the books, even though I’d been reading warnings about how these cardboard versions would “never hold up like one of wood”, it looked pretty sturdy. Now on to the lid. Given that my top surface wasn’t exactly level the whole way across (it dipped in the corners where I taped things into place), I was wondering how to trap in the heat while still providing easy access. In a moment of inspiration (or was it desperation? I can’t remember now!) I thought to build a square frame of cardboard, and then place it inside a plastic oven bag, creating my own version of double glazing which was VERY easy to construct. Then I taped this down to the cooker along one edge and found two fist sized rocks to hold down the open corners, creating, with the excess plastic I’d left a little loose around the edges from the bag, a pretty decent seal.

Next up? You guessed it, time to test her out! I went to store and got some hot dogs. Now, I never liked hot dogs much even as a kid, but hey, this is an experiment, right? (and they’re already cooked, so I don’t have to worry much about food poisoning) So I cut four of them in half, and then added a few slits along the body of each so that I could tell if it actually cooked (did you ever make “hot dog men” in your microwave before? Same idea.) and placed them in the two back pans I’ve used previously. Put in the sun at about 2:30, the hot dogs were visibly cooked by 3:05 on a pretty hot sunny day. And the plate was HOT, requiring a leather work glove to remove from the oven, which was also quite warm (didn’t use a thermometer this time). They smelled great, sort of like a sweet sausage rather than your standard picnic fare, and there was a bunch of liquid in the bottom of the pan that had cooked out. As far as I could tell, it was mostly fat, but perhaps water as well.

In the name of science, I ate a bit, and found that the sweet smell translated to taste, making them pretty good. The biggest test was when I left the room a moment and came back to find my two best taste testers (my cats) happily smacking their lips around an almost empty plate. Two cats made it through three hot dogs in a minute? It must be good! Happy, I put the cooker away and called it a day.

Today, I pulled out the oven for another test. Having fulfilled my meat-eaters’ test, I returned to something I’d actually cook for myself. I bought two zucchini and cut them up in 1/4 rounds about 1/2 inch thick. It filled the bottom of the pan completely, about two layers deep. Next, I added about three tablespoons of cheddar cheese and roasted red pepper spreadable cheese and mixed well. On the top, I added a dash of “Chef’s Essence” spice, which seems to be a mix of garlic, salt and a little chili powder. The mix went out in the sun at 12:20 on another hot sunny day as I sat down to watch Fast Food Nation (see my previous post).

At first check, they were good, but still a little firm. So I gave the mixture another twenty minutes (40 total) and brought the oven inside. Again, the plate was too hot to handle (but the oven wasn’t, which I’d worried about). This little cooker doesn’t mess around! Properly gloved, I removed the meal and opened up the pot. Wow! Perfectly cooked to a nice steamed tender with the cheese melted into everything, giving it a little kick and a lot of creaminess. It was seriously good, and very filling. My hurried picture doesn’t do it much justice. RESULT? Total success. I like this cooker already, and though I won’t scrap the windshield shade cooker, I trust this one more with foods that require a hot temperature to cook through. They are about the same size, and as you’ve read, neither costs much to make. So, since the long days of summer are approaching, what are you waiting for? You can be a gourmet slow foods cook by tomorrow!

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SUCCESS: Cooking Bell Peppers

Hello again from the kitchen. Since I stay in a kind of industrial area, it is easiest to cook undisturbed on weekends. So, it’s Sunday and it’s also partly cloudy. Thought it would rain this morning, but it never did get around to it, and by 1 pm, the clouds were scattering.

At that same time, I assembled the cooker and set chopped sweet peppers out to steam. Back to basics for now. This time, I’m using two round black baking pans clipped together with magnetic memo clips. And in the bottom of the now upturned colander is a stone. Overall things seem much sturdier. But the sun is still deciding on whether to join the party. It keeps coming and going, which can’t provide that much heat.

The sun is officially out at 1:30. It’s windy, but nothing is blowing over today. Finally. The temperature in the bag is right below 100°, and it’s a “chilly in the shadows” day. That’s after more than 1/2 hour out. Obviously clouds are not going to be my usual dream-laden friends when it comes to solar cooking.

Solar Cooking for Home and Camp

While we wait, I might as well review the book I just finished… Solar Cooking for Home and Camp by Linda Frederick Yaffe. This book is much less than some about how to construct a cooker or why you should try one (although both are discussed). It assumes you’re ready to get cooking but have no idea what to prepare. Sounds like me! The recipes are organized by groups as in a regular cookbook, and most sections contain at least one recipe with “easy” in the title. Most require few ingredients and little preparation. And they sound good, too, though there aren’t any pictures. Here’s a sample recipe that sounds delicious:

Pecan Salmon

1. Place in an oiled pot:
4 Salmon Steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
2. Mix together in a small bowl:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3. Spread the mixture evenly over the steaks.
4. Cover and place in the solar cooker for 2 hours, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Simple and easy to understand, yet gourmet. It doesn’t take more than an hour to get through this book, short of stopping to MAKE things along the way. Speaking of hours, let’s check in on the peppers one hour on the stove.

Right as I wrote that, the whole oven crashed off its ledge, so I got a chance to see what state things were in. As usual things SMELL great. The peppers are soft, but still have a tart edge. There is a tear in the oven bag so I taped it with aluminum foil tape. The magnets fell out of the clips, and the plates were hot. Everything reassembled, I moved to a wider ledge that allows for a bit of rotation leeway and set back up. It’s now 2:20 as I write this.

Bell Peppers

At the 2:45 mark, it was time to head out for the afternoon so I checked again. Everything was done to perfection! Some positive reinforcement at last, after the debacle the other day. Things smelled, looked, and tasted great. The pot was hot but not untouchable. Mental note… the less water, the faster things heat up. Veggies are good for this, as proved by my partially cloudy day results. Perhaps one of these days I’ll work up to main dishes. For now, bon appetit!

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Who’s Hiding in Your Kitchen?

Scryve.com

Scryve.com

“Scryve is a collaborative web resource and browser tool combination that provides a resource for environmentally and socially aware Internet browsing. Look up company ratings using the search box below, or Download our browser tool to see the rating of any company whose website you are on in the top right corner of your browser. If you like the rating, keep browsing, if you don’t like it, click on it and we’ll show you why the company is rated that way and give you alternative companies to use.”

I figured I’d just let them speak for themselves, this time. The browser interface is very nice, though the recommendations seem to be based on a keyword algorithm that sometimes return humorous results. As is it obviously designed to be a user-driven site, right now, in its youngest stages, there are a lot of basic ratings and company information. Probably with a little more time and user traffic to get the recommendations streamlined, this site will become a valuable resource. For now, it functions best as a lesson in who owns what in the world. You might be surprised just how few people that could really be.

Going green and/or running from the grid are drastic changes to make in one’s standard lifestyle. But not because they require you to sell your soul or start making pemmican professionally from a National Forest treetop. It also has a lot to do with looking at the greater picture of things, which is a skill that translates across to successes in all walks of life. When I realized how easy it is to make a few simple changes and effectively shut out the power (both literally and figuratively!) of the people that I didn’t want telling me how to live each day, well, I was hooked. Success coaches stress the importance of success as a mindset. We would all do well to start out giving ourselves small goals that we actually achieve rather than big ones left half done. Try picking one alternative company to your mega mart today. Then, once you’ve adjusted your routine, pick another. Then you build with a solid foundation for future change.

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