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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Celebrating 100 Years of the Mill Valley Library

 

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in an old-fashioned party to celebrate my wonderful town’s library, which turned 100 years old. Originally built as a Carnegie Library, in what is now a stately brick house, the Mill Valley Public Library has grown from an institution with 750 donated books to one with 132,000 books, a digital collection, a team of librarians, and live offerings almost every day it’s open, from noted local authors to pre-school story times, to performances outdoors and in. No wonder our library thrives while others around the country are forced to close. Hundreds of visitors per day find it relevant and exciting, a true community hub.

It was terrific then, and very fitting, to honor the library’s Centennial with a gathering in the grove of redwoods that adjoins it. There was a free and continual program of old-time music, a birthday cake, announcements and proclamations, sodas and hot dogs, crafts, library trivia contests, and games, which I led with Research Librarian Cara Brancoli and which, in keeping with the historical spirit, included Tug-of-War, Three-Legged Races, Sack Races, and Egg-and-Spoon Races. We also had jacks and hula hoops out for free play. Wonderfully, many children, especially the smaller ones, rolled the hoops, just as children may have done 100 years ago.

It was truly lovely and warm (in spirit, if not temperature.) Liz Greer of Mill Valley Life took some wonderful photos that really captured the event, as did Hans Roenau in the Mill Valley Patch.

Photos: Top, Liz Greer. Bottom, Ken Friedman. Others: Susan Sachs Lipman

 

 

Be a Citizen Scientist: Join the Great Sunflower Project

Do you have 15 minutes to spare? If so, you can be a citizen scientist. Over the past few years, citizen scientists — ordinary people who help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of such creatures as birds, butterflies, bees and others — have been active and helpful information gatherers. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help others gain important information about nature.

And, if that isn’t enough, citizen science makes a fun family or classroom activity, getting naturalists of all ages and abilities  outdoors together and providing them with something to do and a way to feel helpful and a part of the Earth’s larger ecosystem. Don’t let the name intimidate you. All you need to participate in citizen science is the desire to observe nature to the best of your ability for a period of time and record what you see.

Scientist Gretchen LeBuhn, of the San Francisco Bay Area, hopes to get thousands of people counting this weekend through her Great Sunflower Project. You can count bees on sunflowers, bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, tickseed, and purple coneflower. The instructions on the site are very easy to follow and complete.

Pollinators (a group in which bees are in important member) affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, studies have shown. In recent years, bee populations have declined so drastically, due to climate and environmental change, that scientists are struggling to understand and reverse what they call  “colony collapse disorder”.

Us citizen scientists can help identify where native bee populations are doing well and where they’re doing poorly. Even if you can’t help this weekend, planting sunflowers or other bee-friendly flowers can help the bee population in your area.

The Great Sunflower Project takes place July 16 this year. (Updated for 2013: The Great Sunflower Project is August 17, but you can participate any time.) There are lots of other great citizen science projects. Some are event-based and others are ongoing.

These include:

The Great Sunflower Project
Project Feeder Watch
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Lost Ladybug Project
Monarch Watch
Firefly Watch
Frog Watch USA
National Wildlife Federation‘s Wildlife Watch
Ice Watch
Acoustic Bat Monitoring
Hummingbird Migration Map
Project Budburst
Project Squirrel
The Weather Observer Program
NASA Meteor Count
Snow Tweets

Still looking for more fun citizen science projects? Check out SciStarter or Cornell’s Citizen Science Central.

 

Have fun!

You might also enjoy:

Have Fun Attracting Bees, Butterflies and Birds

2010 Great Backyard Bird Count

Read Join Project Feeder Watch

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

 

Happy Bastille Day! Stir up a Pot of Ratatouille

Are you wondering how to use your abundance of mid-summer tomatoes and zucchini, and celebrate Bastille Day at the same time?

One word: Ratatouille.

This tasty, colorful melange never fails to summon summer, while providing a few helpings of vegetables or a fool-proof side-dish that works with fish, chicken, lamb, noodles, and more. It works great hot or cold, and keeps well, refrigerated, for about two  weeks. Ever since I first lived on my own in college, it has been the rare period when I haven’t made some.

Food historians generally date ratatouille to 18th century France, and to the area of Provence, and the town of Nice, in particular. Its name hails from the French verb, touiller, which means “to stir, mix, or toss”.

My own ratatouille has changed a lot since the days when I cut cubes of zucchini and eggplant and set them to boil in a pot of canned tomatoes. It’s as if the recipe itself has both mellowed and allowed for more complication, just as a good pot of ingredients, over time, coalesces into an especially flavorful whole. Diehard ratatouille purists may insist on sautéing each ingredient separately, but here you get the same effect, while also saving a little time.

6 Tbsp. olive oil, or more as needed
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, pressed
3 bell peppers, in assorted colors, chopped
1 large eggplant, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 summer squash, chopped
20 or so olive halves
2 14 oz. cans tomato chunks, or equivalent fresh tomatoes
2-4 tsps. each oregano and thyme
Feta or parmesan cheese, optional

Place eggplant pieces in a baking dish.

Toss in 4 Tbsp. oil and bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until soft.

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat.

Add onions and sauté, turning occasionally, just until golden.

Add pressed garlic and sauté.

Mix in peppers, cooked eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and olive halves.

Sauté whole for 10-15 minutes.

Add tomato chunks and spices and heat the mixture to just boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Serves 4-6 as a main course. The recipe can easily be halved or doubled. Serve plain, hot or cold, top with feta or a dry Italian cheese like parmesan, or spoon over pasta.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Slow News Day: MI Woman Faces Jail Time for Front Yard Vegetable Garden

There are many thriving front yard gardens, not the least of which is First Lady Michelle Obama‘s, which happens to be on the White House lawn, growing fresh vegetables for visiting dignitaries as well as for Washington D.C.’s homeless.

But for all the terrific stories about creative front-yard re-use that turns water-guzzling ornamental lawns into food-producing habitats, like this cottage garden on a sidewalk in industrial Brooklyn and this front yard farm in Benicia, CA, there are stories like this recent one of homeowners associations and community ordinances run amok:

A Michigan woman is facing jail time for planting some raised vegetable beds on her front lawn. Insane, right? Apparently the ordinance in Julie Bass‘ Oak Park, MI, neighborhood calls for “suitable” plant materials on ones front lawn. Aside from the fact that the city does not provide a definition of “suitable”, many may wonder just what is so unsuitable about growing food, as opposed to plants that are (some might argue) merely ornamental. Many, like me, see front-yard gardens as a small act of viability and sustainability, an effort to save the money and the fuel it takes to grow and package and transport and stock and purchase non-local food.

Julie Bass’ garden, above.
Benicia, CA, garden, below.

And if you think Julie Bass in Oak Park is alone, the same thing happened to Asa Dodsworth in Berkeley, CA, a place highly associated with progressiveness and sustainability.

According to Pamela Price at Red, White & Grew, this case should provide a springboard for a national dialogue about protecting  home gardeners by creating better opportunities and fewer barriers for them to simply grow their own food on the land they have. She spoke about the issue at Tedx San Antonio.

The issue is large in scope, Pamela and Holly Hirshberg of The Dinner Garden say. Individual growers fight hunger, save money, gain food security, and feed many others in their communities with their homegrown food and with the seeds they harvest and share.

There is obviously still much education that needs to happen before everyone values the front lawn for practicality and production as much as for a conventional and conformist idea of beauty.

There are some ways to help Julie Bass in Michigan, like this petition on the Care2 site and other suggestions on the Treehugger site. Red, White & Grew and The Dinner Garden are also great resources about the power of home gardens to feed and help many.

Photos by White House, Julie Bass, Susan Sachs Lipman

You may also be interested in:
School and Community Gardens Grow More than Food

UPDATE: Largely due to internet uproar, the charges against Julie Bass have been dropped.

 

 

Photo Friday: Mouthwatering Watermelon

With July 4th and the height of summer approaching, it seemed a good time to focus on bright, flavorful, colorful, summer-invoking, mouthwatering watermelon, painted and real.

I hope you have a terrific holiday (if you celebrate) or otherwise enjoyable weekend.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also enjoy:

Photo Friday: County Fair Pig Race
This Moment: County Fair Funnel Cake Eating Contest
Sonoma-Marin Fair: The Food
Photo Friday: Market Tulips

 

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