It Rained on Our Parade

The parade gets started, despite the rain. Photo: Julia Wasson

The parade gets started, despite the rain. Photo: Julia Wasson

It had not rained in Iowa City for eleven days. We had been experiencing a cooler than usual June, with day after day of amazingly great temperatures and low humidity. I should have known it wouldn’t last.

Iowa weather usually acts like a spoiled child and demands constant attention. The minute you look away, it will catch you in snow without a coat or a thunderstorm without an umbrella. Or the temperature will rise 30 degrees in a few hours and put you in a dripping sweat because you’re not wearing shorts. These are facts of life in Iowa. I forgot. I lowered my guard. I did not schedule a rain date.

For months, I had been focusing on creating a Fourth of July, New Orleans-style, second-line, jazz funeral march. This was to be a symbolic funeral for the Iowa River, held by volunteers from our Facebook group, Save The Iowa River (STIR). The planning went on: a casket, pallbearers, news coverage, musicians, music, marchers, signs, bottles filled with water from the Iowa River, parade permit, first aid kit, parking, tables, tent. When the word rain came to mind, I just told myself that there would be lots of umbrellas at the march anyway, in keeping with the motif; so, if it did rain, everything would work out just fine.

Jazmyn and Eleanor helped us fill the bottles with Iowa River water. Photo: Joe Hennager

Jazmyn and Eleanor helped us fill the bottles with Iowa River water. Photo: Joe Hennager

As the funeral day grew closer, I checked a few times. I remember seeing sunny skies all week long, and a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday. Only 50 percent! Okay, so I’m the eternal optimist. My glass is always half full. Even if it did rain that day, what were the odds that the 50 percent would include the hours from noon to 1:30?

Besides educating the public about the pollution in the Iowa River, we had another purpose for holding the parade. A friend of mine, Kevin J. Railsback, is an award-winning videographer. He wanted to use the footage of our funeral march in his full-length movie about the Iowa River.

Two of our dedicated interns, Jazmyn Whitman and Eleanor M., helped us put up posters around Iowa City. Then the four of us set up shop in City Park the week before the Fourth, pulling buckets of water out of the Iowa River, filling 900 recyclable bottles with very nasty water, and capping them. We hauled the five tubs of bottles to our home, washed the outsides to sanitize them, dried them and applied labels to each bottle. All this took a total of about forty hours, counting everyone’s input — much more than I had imagined.

Just to give you some insight on how to plan a New Orleans-style, second-line, jazz funeral march for a dying river, first — and most important — is the casket. You have to call every funeral home in the county. You have to beg.

We borrowed a beautiful casket to carry in the parade. Photo: Joe Hennager

We borrowed a beautiful, handmade casket to carry in the parade. Photo: Joe Hennager

If you are very lucky, like I was, you will find a funeral home director who is also an environmentalist. Dan Ciha, of Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Services is the kind of guy who wants to build a completely green cemetery. No formaldehyde, no expensive caskets, just wrap your beloved in their favorite blanket and bury them in the good earth. I love this guy.

He must have a soft spot for the Iowa River, too, because he didn’t just deliver us a casket the day before the parade, he delivered us a beautiful wooden casket, handmade by the Trappist monks at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque. This one was a work of art, sculpted from native pine trees that they had harvested. At the abbey, they milled, dried, hand planed, and assembled the wood, then painted the casket with a light coat of varnish, praying all the while. It was stunning.

But there’s one thing about borrowing a wood casket: If Ciha ever wanted to sell it to a client after the parade, we could not get it wet. Saturday morning, we went back out to the Ciha funeral home and picked up a plastic casket cover.

The next very important element you need are pallbearers. I had called about a dozen strong, healthy, muscular, male friends, who I thought might have an environmental interest in the Iowa River — and who might get out of bed on a Saturday morning on the Fourth of July. That final criteria could have eliminated all of them. I figured I needed at least twelve pallbearers to carry the casket six blocks. That way, we could trade off, as the men got tired.

Eleanor and Jazmyn, our intrepid interns, at work. Photo: Julia Wasson

Eleanor and Jazmyn, our intrepid interns, at work. Photo: Julia Wasson

If everything went wrong, and say, it rained really hard that day, and not a single pallbearer showed up, I fully expected I would have to carry the casket myself. I had a two-wheeler ready just in case I had to roll it up the hill like a Fed Ex delivery man.

Probably the next most important prop for this funeral was the music. I had started contacting musicians two months earlier. I called, emailed, and wrote letters to about 50 different musicians. Each one was a fine artist, I am sure. Some I knew, some I did not. The first ones I contacted played every instrument that you would typically see in a New Orleans-style funeral march: trombone, trumpet, tuba, and saxophone.

The Iowa City Jazz Festival planners had told me I could hold our parade from noon to 1:30, because they wanted us to be finished playing when their concert started at 2:00. Almost every musician I talked to had already been booked at other gigs for the Fourth of July in other cities, or they were planning to march in that morning’s parade in nearby Coralville. Many of them thought they would be too tired to do both events, and many were afraid they could not travel the distance in time for a noon start for my parade. I got many well wishes, but very few commitments.

I found a band of five New Orleans-style jazz musicians from Davenport, who would play for $2,000, and a local group, who would play for $500. I had no budget to work with, but I verbally committed to booking the local band for the lower price anyway. Three days before the event, they canceled for a better offer. I began to worry.

The pallbearers lift the casket for the long walk uphill. Photo: Julia Wasson

The pallbearers lift the casket for the long walk uphill. Photo: Julia Wasson

If no musicians showed up, I figured I could use a boom box and just blast jazz music as we marched. I visited a friend at West Music to see if maybe there were other musicians in town. We seriously considered the following alternatives: banjo, ukulele, guitar, harp, violin, cello, marimba, steel drums, accordion, and harmonica.

At that point, my New Orleans-style jazz parade might have turned into a classical/Latin/folk/rock funeral parade. Maybe I could start a new trend. I took the list of names and phone numbers anyway. Before I left the store, I bought 20 kazoos as a last resort. Things weren’t looking too good.

When I got home, I had an email from a sousaphone player, John Manning. He said he was definitely going to be there. I had a band! I ran back to the music store to buy him some sheet music for “Down By The River Side” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

Friday evening before our parade, as I was walking around the Jazz Fest, checking out traffic patterns and security issues, I stopped and watched a group of very talented high school musicians. One particular saxophone player’s solo stood out. As Nathaniel Dean came off stage, I offered him a card and invited him to play at the march the following day. He very politely took the card. As he disappeared into the crowd, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see him again.

John Manning arrives with his sousaphone! Photo: Julia Wasson

John Manning arrives with his sousaphone! Photo: Julia Wasson

I was worried about the build-up of clouds and a weather report that now showed a 75 percent chance of rain the following day. At midnight, it started raining.

My experience with Iowa rainstorms tells me that, if there’s lightning, thunder, wind, and dramatic clouds, the storm may be violent, but it will pass in a few hours. But, if there’s a solid gray cloud mass, no thunder, no lightning, and a steady drizzle, it’s likely to last a long time. This was a drizzle. I checked the radar on at 1:00 AM. The map showed the whole state was completely shrouded with rain, and the cloud formation was barely moving. Things were looking bleak.

At 6:00 AM, I was back at the computer, looking for any breaks in the clouds. A large mass of clouds was heading straight east, down Interstate 80. When I put the map in motion, to predict the future progress of the storm, it indicated that there might be a break in the clouds by noon. That was all I needed. Hope!

At 8:00 AM, the phone started ringing. Half of the pallbearers called to cancel. “My car’s in the shop.” “I have a sick kid.” “I don’t feel well.” “I lost the keys to my truck last night.” You would have thought an epidemic had struck every person, car and set of keys in the county. The other half made the mistake of asking me first, “Are you still doing this thing?”

My answer was a resolute, “Yes!” I was counting on the radar I had seen. I frantically sent out emails to as many friends, relatives, musicians, and pallbearers as I could, telling them to hold true. The rain was going to stop. This funeral was going to happen.

By 11:00 AM, I was not so sure. While my friend Robert Garabedian and I set up the “rain tent” at the starting point, I was still receiving phone calls, mostly cancellations. It was still raining like crazy at 11:30, as my wife, our intrepid interns, and the casket showed up. 11:35. 11:40. I was beginning to look for my two-wheeler.

Nathaniel Gier played lead to Manning's base line. Photo: Julia Wasson

Nathaniel Dean played lead to Manning's base line. Photo: Julia Wasson

At 11:45, a few pallbearers, my son, my daughter and her husband arrived. I felt relieved when John Manning came walking in with his sousaphone. At 11:50, a few friends, a few more pallbearers and Nathaniel Dean, the young sax player, arrived. Now, we would have harmony! At 11:55, a television film crew and a newspaper reporter, more marchers, and more pallbearers drizzled in with the rain.

We had the minimum necessary to march: six pallbearers, two musicians, a casket, several people, the film crew, and a news crew. It was still raining.

Jazmyn and Eleanor handed out umbrellas, wooden spoons (our symbol for Save The Iowa RIVER — STIR), kazoos, sample bottles of the Iowa River and a written summary of what ails the Iowa River. At noon, our wet duo was sufficiently tuned up, the pallbearers lifted the casket, and we were off!

As I moved along the parade line, I looked into the faces of friends with matted hair, and water dripping into their eyes, a sousaphone player with an open umbrella bursting from his bell, a sax player wailing the blues with true suffering in his eyes, and six hearty, wet pallbearers, marching in step, rocking the casket to the music. I counted about 40 good, kind souls marching with me, and I didn’t hear a single word of complaint. Not one.

The sousaphone player stopped blowing while climbing the rather steep incline of the Jefferson Street hill. He asked if it we could march the rest of the way in silence. Before I could answer, twenty kazoos came alive with the fervor of a scene from The Music Man. “When The Saints Go Marching In,” complete with piercing lead solos, complex harmonies, a thundering base line, key changes, and long-held high notes, never sounded so good. I was stunned. And it was still raining.

Joe speaks to the crowd after the funeral. Photo: Jazmyn Whitman

Joe speaks to the crowd after the funeral. Photo: Jazmyn Whitman

We finished the march at the entrance to the University of Iowa‘s Pentacrest, at the west end of Iowa Avenue. We played more songs. We watched as the wet photographers and the wet videographers moved around us to get the best shots. We all signed a large letter to the governor of Iowa, our wish list of legislative action points, and we handed out bottles of Iowa River water to passersby. We dried off the casket and loaded it into my car.

Slowly, as if everyone did not want to appear to be giving into the rain, these kind souls and stalwart environmental activists departed. I shook their hands. I hugged them. I thanked them. I said goodbye.

And now, as I write what I remember of that day, I realize that I may have personally invited several hundred people to this event. Ten thousand may have read the invitation in the newspapers. Forty showed up to march in the rain. Together, we stirred the waters to get attention for the plight of the Iowa River. And I am eternally grateful.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Risky Runoff: From Fish-Roe to Ritalin

“Like the resource it seeks to protect, wildlife conservation must be dynamic, changing as conditions change, seeking always to become more effective.” — Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

As the recent PBS Frontline story “Poisoned Waters” so vividly brought home, once pure and pristine, our extraordinary natural treasure of beautiful shorelines, waterways, estuaries, lakes, rivers and ponds continues to be polluted by the home and industrial waste that we persistently both knowingly as well as unwittingly contribute to — so much so that it now severely threatens our own health and that of the flora and fauna with which we share our planet. Wreaking havoc on global well being, with animals and individuals becoming ill daily from contact with contaminated water eco-systems, without dramatic and fundamental action, it’s a problem that’ll only continue to grow exponentially. Point blank — our water systems are being altered to the point of no-return by our own selfish human impact.


"With dangers to everyone and everything living and growing now being found in water — we all stand to be negatively impacted." Photo: © mrslevite -

Often invisible to the naked eye, the most destructive elements to our planet’s life’s blood, our water, are hidden, secret, and malignant — agricultural pollution and excrement in runoff waters, chemicals from home waste treatment systems, everyday cleaning supplies gurgling down our drains and flushing down our toilets, lawn care products leaching into the ground water — plastics, lubricants, petro-fuels, body lotions, bug repellents, deodorants, soaps and even the decomposition of the soles of our shoes as we walk and jog all adding to the problem. With dangers to everyone and everything living and growing now being found in water — we all stand to be negatively impacted.

The particulates from our own medicated bodily fluids are so fine that there are no water processing plants in the world that can trap them, and so, to be perfectly frank, your neighbor’s Viagra, your daughter’s birth control, your uncle’s HIV/AIDS medications, your grandmother’s diabetes drugs, your minister’s pain medications, your teacher’s thyroid supplements, your dog’s flea and tick protection, etc., are all ending up in micro doses in the water we all brush our teeth with every day.

The run-off from some agricultural livestock is so densely polluted that it creates dead zones in water masses that not only cannot sustain life, but also kill any life forms that unfortunately find their way into their morass.

Through our toilets or from our tap, we’re discovering that the most refined water processing doesn’t always remove the new synthetic forms of pollutants, and with more and new kinds of contaminants being found in water, we no longer know what’s lingering in the H2O we drink and bathe in. It’s our failure to monitor and control what gets into our water that haunts this life force all over our planet.

Any investment in environmental science and the actions of well meaning politicians and civic groups may solve some of these problems, but until we begin to seriously tackle what are even today insurmountable issues, this same “bureaucracy” may also indefinitely continue to keep the purity of our water tied up in a giant toxic bow of red tape.

The time is urgent and the stakes are high. The danger signs are everywhere and we have mountains of choices that need to be made. There’s no question in my mind that we all need to make small and simple changes because, unfortunately — we’re all polluters — and it’s our shared responsibility to no longer be such.

I suggest that the answers lie within each and every one of us. Daily mindful actions carried out by each and every person — all of us stepping up and taking responsibility to restore what we’ve already lost or are about to lose forever — one person at a time, one family at a time, one block at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one city at a time and so on can and will make a difference. As oft quoted, the late anthropologist Margaret Meade emphatically stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

But here is where paralysis sets in — the point where we all become deer caught in the headlights, unable to move this way or that, doomed to the fatal onslaught of our own making. We’ve been taught to believe that it’s only the powerful, the wealthy, the political, the connected that have any real control over our lives and our actions. But again, the perceptive voice of Rachel Carson can powerfully move us beyond our complacency: “Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.”

So conversely it should also be true that in our present century, only our species can acquire the significant power to reverse the nature of this world for the positive. As the mindful, free-thinking, creative individuals we were born to be, please consider what Rachel Carson tried to instill in us 60 years ago: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.” The truth of the matter is however, that somewhere along the way we each self-destroy that power and validate it to “the powers that be.”

Take just a few steps back and fully understand that until only 50 years ago, almost every chemical found under almost every kitchen and bathroom sink in the developed world today existed only in chemistry labs — and now they are part and parcel of products that have been marketed to us as “new and improved,” “germ-fighting,” “antiseptic,” and “essential” to modern life. So when asked to consider what you, as one mere individual, can do to strengthen the environment, consider some of the following and surely you will tap into your own creative nature and develop other mindful adaptations.

For instance, the next time you’re cleaning your kitchen or bathroom, consider sprinkling baking soda onto your nonporous bath and kitchen surfaces instead of chlorine bleach, cutting a fresh lemon in half and using the fruit side as your scrubby pad, wiping down the surfaces and then rinsing them with freshest tap water available (micro-Viagra notwithstanding!) [Note: Also never use anything acidic on marble or similar surfaces. No lemony fresh scent, but no pock-marked counters either.]

You can also do the same thing to your body. (What a bill of goods we’ve been sold by the cosmetics industry!) More than 85% of the active ingredients in personal grooming products have never been tested for safety, and fewer than 5% of ingredients need, by law, to be listed on the package. And that’s cradle to tomb — from baby shampoo to denture cream. And what doesn’t get absorbed by our own bodies gets washed down into the water supply and absorbed by the babies and elderly down the block, the fish and fauna at the beach, etc.

But by thinking mindfully, acting safely, and respecting all manner of life on our planet, you can achieve the same results for less money, less packaging, and less pollution. For instance, by creating a three-to-one paste of baking soda and H2O and massaging it gently all over your face and body, your skin will glow with a new-found polish by eliminating those dead skin cells, leaving your skin soft, tender and smooth. Rinse well with warm water and allow your skin to air dry. Do it every day, and watch your transformation.

Tired of spending $30, $50, or $100 on the newest wonder youth cream at the cosmetics counter? You can revive your skin with [a] spritz of natural olive oil combined with water. Mix one-third olive oil to two- thirds water in a small, clean (recycled) spray bottle to give yourself an exhilarating after-bath all-over body moisturizing treatment. Let it soak in without towel drying.

The above all work well, are super-affordable and harmless to you, to your kids, to the fish and fowl, and to the environment. By simply taking a moment, musing over what has brought us to this toxic abyss, and channeling Ms. Carson, you can start a new eco-movement of your own, do your part for this and future generations, and preserve the precious water systems that would otherwise be altered by your own human impact.

Michael DeJong

OneCleanWorld Foundation

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

©2009 Michael DeJong, author of Clean Body:The Humble Art of Zen- Cleansing Yourself Author Bio Michael DeJong, author of Clean Body:The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing Yourself, is an environmentalist and eco-activist.

DeJong and Joost Elffers are generously donating all of the royalties from each of the books in the Clean Series to the OneCleanWorld Foundation. a philanthropic, not-for-profit organization that supports environmental projects worldwide with grants, technical assistance and/or microfinancing.

Take This House (and Float It Away) Flooding Play on Midwest Tour

When I bought a condo near the Iowa River six years ago, I was delighted to learn that the flood insurance I thought I needed wasn’t required after all. My condo was outside the 100-year floodplain, so by turning it down, I saved a fair amount of money on monthly homeowner’s premiums.

If I’d still owned my condo last summer, I would have regretted that decision. The Iowa River surged out of its banks beyond even the 500-year floodplain. The first floor of my once-beautiful home filled to the ceiling with muck, slime, and water. Quite literally, the river ran through it.

Like so many others, several of my former neighbors were deep in denial as the water rose ever higher. By the time they recognized that they really, truly did have a PROBLEM, the water was lapping at the roads, and the raging river was too close for them to save their belongings.

They weren’t alone in their plight. The University of Iowa suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages, including the loss of many items (and buildings) that could have been saved, had the powers that be acted more quickly. The devastation in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids totaled billions of dollars. And reconstruction is expected to take at least 10 years.

Of course, this is not a new story. Not so long ago, Hurricane Katrina left much of Louisiana and Mississippi scarred beyond recognition, as homes and businesses washed away, and those that remained were flooded. People died in that disaster, as far too many residents were unable or unwilling to prepare for the worst.

And, we’re told, by climatologists (who should know), this is only a foretaste of what’s to come. As the planet warms, storms will become more fierce. Waters will rise higher. Winds will blow stronger. Yet some of us still wait for proof, our backs turned to the rising water, our ears shut to the sound of the wind.

All of this is by way of introducing an original play about flooding that is now touring the Midwest. Blue Planet Green Living is pleased co-sponsor the troupe’s visit here, along with the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City. The description of the play sounds familiar to those of us in flood-damaged Iowa. It may resonate with you as well:

“In the heart of levee-protected suburbs along California’s American River, a middle-aged couple think they’re immune to anything nature blows their way — catastrophic flood included — only to find themselves terribly deluded. This original theatre piece, Take This House (and Float It Away), spirals into the tragicomic world of Stu and Marlene’s floodplain living room, where the couple is unable to comprehend nature’s effect on their safe, suburban sphere. As Stu hides behind “groundbreaking” research into bird gestures, Marlene extrapolates caffeinated solutions to newspaper headlines, conflating staying informed with staying afloat.

Although we have not yet seen the play, the reviews we’ve read have been highly positive, both for the troupe, Change of State, and for the play.

Choreographer Carol Swann calls Change of State performances “clear, dynamic, and spacious.” Of Take This House she says, “All of a sudden [I was struck] with the absurdity of our society’s madness.”

University of Iowa MFA playwriting candidate Andrew Saito describes the play’s quality as “enriched by moments of sudden speed and exaggerated slowness, as well as sequences dreamlike and otherworldly, which augment with the otherwise naturalistic and comedic tone.”

At several of the venues, the play will be preceded by a truly unique experience. Jacob Barton will play a composition for udderbot — an original slide woodwind instrument.

If you have the opportunity to experience this play and meet this talented ensemble, I encourage you to do so. The subject matter is sure to make you think, and the play may well cause a little flooding of your own, as you alternately laugh and cry. Afterward, the performers will lead a discussion about local water issues in each community.

Performance Schedule

Luther College
Studio 2
Decorah, IA
Tuesday, 4.14.09
8 p.m.

River Music Experience
131 W. 2nd St.
Davenport, IA
Thursday, 4.16.09
6 p.m.
$15 (no one turned away for lack of funds)

Unitarian Universalist Society
10 S. Gilbert St.
Iowa City, IA

Friday, 4.17.09
7:30 p.m.
Donations Accepted
(A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Iowa Artists Relief Fund.)

3502 N. Elston
Chicago, IL
Saturday, 4.18.09
2 p.m
$15 ($5 discount for students, unemployed, etc)

Bucketworks Theatre
1340 North 6th Street
Milwaukee, WI
Sunday, 4.19.09
7-9:30 p.m.
$15 ($5 discount for students, unemployed, and members of Bucketworks)

Allen Hall, S. Rec Room
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
Urbana, IL
Tuesday, 4.21.09
8 p.m.

Student Union Theatre
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, WI
Wednesday, 4.22.09
1 p.m.

202 S. Broadway
Urbana, IL
Thursday, 4.23.09
8 p.m.
TIckets: TBD

The Tin Ceiling Theater
3159 Cherokee St.
St. Louis, MO
Saturday 4.25.09
8 p.m.
$15 ($5 discount for students, unemployed, etc.)

About the Company

With background in contemporary dance techniques, theatre, and improvisation, the four-year old Change of State Performance Project makes poignant and unsettling performances that unravel expectations of symmetry and the methodology of logic. The company is co-directed by Andrea del Moral and K. Qilo Matzen, and currently includes multi-faceted, Midwest performers Jacob Barton and Elizabeth Simpson. Matzen and del Moral, based in Oakland, California, frequently perform in collaboration with community organizations to engage audiences with understanding and improving water systems, policy, and sustainable technologies. For three years they commissioned dances from Illinois choreographer Lisa Fay, a two-time Illinois Arts Council Fellowship recipient.

Performer Bios

Andrea del Moral, co-director (b. 1978), provides theatrical direction for Change of State Performance Project. She studied theatre at Boston University and dance at the School for New Dance Development (Amsterdam). Her work is influenced by training in Skinner Releasing Technique and other somatic practices, theatre directing, improvisational dance and theatre, contemporary dance, clowning, aerial dance, and writing. Andrea has expansive teaching background at all age levels. For two years she directed a summer theatre workshop for young women. She has also taught about water systems, agriculture, plant breeding, economics, white supremacy, and global economics. She wrote several chapters in Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground, has also published poetry, and recently completed her first full-length, nonfiction book.

K. Qilo Matzen, co-director (b. 1980), brings a technical movement background to Change of State, with a BFA in Dance from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and training in Martha Eddy’s Integrative SMTT (Somatic Movement Therapy Training). Ze works with clients and teaches through a Somatic Movement Therapy perspective. Qilo has performed in North America and Europe, touring the Balkans with activist arts collective Building Bloc, working with European director/choreographers, and locally as artist-in-residence at the Jon Sims Center, San Francisco. In addition to hir Somatic Movement Therapy practice, Qilo works as a plumber’s apprentice. Qilo is a contributing author to Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground (Soft Skull, 2007), where ze wrote about the Dishwater Deviants, the guerrilla plumbing wing of Change of State Performance Project. (ze and hir are gender neutral pronouns)

Jacob Barton (b. 1985) pursues an amateur virtuosity in composing and in performing, in music and in language.  In addition to collecting and learning new instruments (most recently a trombone), he also builds new ones (most notably the udderbot, a new slide woodwind instrument). He plays these instruments in house concerts and with An Exciting Event, a round-singing puppet troupe.  A graduate of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, Jacob was a recipient of a 2006 BMI Student Composer Award for composing “Xenharmonic Variations on a Theme by Mozart” for microtonal player piano. Jacob’s interest in microtonality has led him to organize a Xenharmonic Wiki, the Seventeen Tone Piano Project concert series (Houston), and the Chicago-based UnTwelve. It has also given rise to his participation in the Garden Performance Project (NYC) and the School for Designing a Society (Urbana, IL).

Elizabeth Simpson (b. 1976) describes her experience of living as “Finding out what it’s like to be alive.” Through this look she engages in various forms of creative and social justice work, always striving to act in awareness of the rich intersections of personal, social, present, and historic domains of human living. She has been doing performance art incorporating vocal composition, puppetry, fire-spinning, street theater, and storytelling since 1994. Elizabeth studied Theater of the Oppressed with Augusto Boal and Story Circles with John O’Neal. She is a co-founder of the anti-racist community learning project, Liberation Education, and continues to teach anti-oppression and creativity workshops throughout the country in academic and community settings. At home in Illinois, Elizabeth is the Peer Mediation Coordinator at Urbana Middle School and teaches the class “Being White in a Multiracial Society” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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My 5: Hector Hernández

March 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Green Living, My 5, Texas

Comments Off on My 5: Hector Hernández

BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?


Hernández is in charge of a gardening program for inner-city Austin youth. Photo: Texas AgriLife Extensiion Service

Hernández is in charge of a gardening program for inner-city San Antonio youth. Photo: Texas AgriLife Extension Service

  • Recycle whatever you can in your community: glass, paper, plastic, etc.
  • Be more mindful of water usage. Right now, we’re in a drought situation in Texas, so we’re careful when we water the garden plots and make sure we don’t over water.
  • Respect nature. Don’t litter. It’s our only home, so we have to take care of it and respect it.
  • Reconnect with nature. Most of the kids we work with in San Antonio live in the inner city. They don’t have an opportunity to garden or go into green space. Our project gives them an opportunity to discover their own planet.
  • Reuse things. Instead of throwing something away, find another use for it.

Hector Hernández

Texas AgriLife Extension Service

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Growing Citizens and Leaders through Organic Gardening

WaterPartners’ World Water Day Art Show and Sale

Going to Kansas City? If you’ll be there anytime this month, be sure to check out WaterPartners’ art show and sale at the Crosstown Station (1522 McGee Street), Kansas City, MO. The show began March 4, and will be on display throughout the month. Artwork will be on sale Thursday, March 12, from 6 – 10 p.m.

WaterPartners is an international nonprofit organization that envisions “the day when everyone in the world can take a safe drink of water.” Through “innovative financing,” WaterPartners helps communities in developing nations gain access to clean water for drinking and install proper sanitation methods. Sixteen artists from Springfield, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City have pooled their talents to raise funds for WaterPartners’ projects.

Thursday’s WaterPartners’ World Water Day event will include music by the Barclay Martin Ensemble and Oriole Post. The suggested donation is $10 per person. During the sale, food and drink will also be available for purchase. To reserve a ticket, email

Visit the WaterPartners website for more information about their work around the world, and about the Kansas City World Water Day event.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Green Living — A Beginner’s Guide

If you’re just beginning your green journey, it may seem like there’s so much to catch up on: organic food, holistic medicine, natural fibers, hybrid vehicles, and so much more. In general, green living is about making changes to reduce the amounts of natural resources we humans use (and, more importantly, waste), and to becoming a caretaker of our remaining natural resources. It’s about working toward sustainability for our society and our planet.


Individual Americans use 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day. Photo: © Ieva Geneviciene -

Historically, industrialized societies have acted as if resources and land were infinite — and burned through them with that mindset. We Americans use a relatively large amount of resources — much more than our fair share. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “The average African family uses about 5 gallons of water each day, while the average American individual uses 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day.”

The following statistics from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and James Madison University provide a startling picture of Americans’ waste habits and the powerful effects of recycling:

  • The average American family produces 100 pounds of trash per week, that’s 3 pounds of waste per person per day.
  • More than 1 billion trees are used each year to make disposable diapers.
  • Americans throw away about 10% of the food we buy at the supermarket. This results in dumping the equivalent of more than 21 million shopping bags full of food into landfills every year.
  • In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times their adult weight in garbage. This means that a 150-pound adult will leave a legacy of 90,000 pounds of trash for their children.
  • The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries estimates that more than 200 million trees are saved each year due to current recycling efforts.

1 ton of paper made from 100% recycled stock saves:

  • 7,000 gallons of water (recycled paper uses 35% less water)
  • 60 lbs. of air pollution effluent (recycled paper creates 74% less pollution)
  • 4,000 kWh of energy
  • 17 trees
  • 3 cubic yards of landfill space
  • $35 per ton of waste disposal fees

Avoid the Hype

As businesses realize there’s money to be saved by “going green,” they also realize there’s much money to be made by selling the green movement in a consumerist fashion. For example, I witnessed earlier this year many businesses giving away or selling so-called reusable shopping bags to customers. These polypropylene bags were hardly thicker than a plastic shopping bag and lasted about as long. That’s not helping anything but a company image. We have to get real — and that means distinguishing what’s really helping from what’s hype, and then making real changes.

Let’s keep this process focused on what it’s about: love for the Earth, respect for Earth’s resources, and keeping ecosystems functioning and abundant for Earth’s creatures and the generations to come.

Plant a Tree

Planting trees is one of the most impactful actions we can take to help restore balance to the Earth. Trees are incredible — sucking up carbon gases like gigantic sponges, creating habitats for innumerable creatures, purifying the air and water, building soil by the ton, feeding us with fruits and nuts, sheltering us from wind and sun, creating rainfall through transpiration, giving us timber and fiber to build our homes, heat them and make other products. They hold the soil together with mazes of roots, preventing it from washing away in rains. Our very lives and the life of the planet depend on trees.

Here are some tips to get you started with tree planting:

  • Go Native. Native trees have evolved for millennia to be perfectly adapted to your area — withstanding bugs, drought, storms, and snow with ease. Trees also fit into the ecosystem with other native creatures, giving them shelter and food. I’ve noticed after large storms that nonnative trees are damaged much more severely than native varieties. Depending on your location, the native trees vary widely. In much of the US, oak trees, maples, birch, elm, hemlock, redwoods, red bud, poplars, walnuts, and chestnuts are all fine choices. A bit of quick research will tell you which trees are native to your area.
  • Consider Fruit Trees. You can grow the best fruit you’ve ever tasted in your own backyard. Get trees from a local, reputable nursery that specializes in fruit trees. In temperate regions, such as the Midwest, you can grow native varieties of apples, plums, cherry, peaches, paw paw, pears, grapes, persimmon, walnuts, or mulberry. In warmer climates, go for avocado, citrus, carob, olive, pomegranate, almonds, pecans and dates. In tropical regions, choose coconut, cherimoya, guava, mango, soursop, bananas, rambutan, lychee, breadfruit and macadamia. Dwarf trees are genetically very small and can fit in nearly any back yard to produce bountiful fruit. Get healthy, medium-sized trees and follow growing directions found online or at the nursery. Nut trees are an excellent choice too, grow very big, and produce prodigious crops.

Buy Local Food

With peak oil looming around the corner, and the multinational corporation-based food system in serious question, supporting local farmers and food systems is critically important. Most supermarket fare is trucked in from across the US or around the globe, traveling thousands of miles in refrigerated trucks, to the great expense of petroleum and food quality. Without new technologies, it is an unsustainable system.  And because food shipped long distances must be picked before it’s fully ripe, it often lacks the full flavor of its locally harvested counterparts. Fresh food tastes wonderful, and local food is thousands of miles fresher than food that travels long distances.

So what counts as local?  Some definitions of “local” recommend staying within a hundred mile radius, and this is sensible.

Support local farmers by purchasing food at farmers' markets.

Support local farmers by shopping at farmers' markets. Photo: © Average American -

You can support hardworking local farmers in many ways. Farmers’ markets are a great option. They’re now popular throughout the US, and some are open throughout the year. Many health food stores sell delicious local produce. Online, you can find sources for local u-pick farms, specialty foods, meat and dairy products, honey, and other items. Every time I go food shopping, I buy local food. It’s the first step to reweaving the local food web. If the farmers stay farming, we stay fed. Try it — you’ll love the fresher, tastier, more distinct, and much more nutritious food.

Reduce Waste

Reducing waste isn’t just about recycling more and throwing away less. It’s also about the amount of disposable things you buy and use. This includes items such as shopping bags, plastic bottles, disposable razors, diapers, and cheap goods that will likely break soon.

Buy or make a sturdy, long-lasting shopping bag, or use a backpack when you go shopping. Obtain a quality metal or glass water bottle, and fill it with filtered tap water, instead of using imported, bottled water. Choose organic-cotton, cloth diapers to use at least part of the time, to help reduce waste from disposables. Always buy the best-quality goods that you can afford, and avoid flimsy, plastic goods that will soon be in the trash. In the long run, you’ll save money, while providing a better quality of life for yourself and your family.


Recycling reduces the waste sent to landiflls.

Recycling reduces the waste sent to landfills. Photo: © Joy Fera -

Recycling is an absolute necessity. We all produce trash, and most of it is recyclable and valuable when reincarnated into a myriad of other items. If you don’t already recycle, it’s a very important step toward green living. If your local trash company does not provide recycling services, request them. Recycling is easy and fun, and brings about a sense of responsibility and accountability for what we use and where it ends up.


Hundreds of tons of biodegradable kitchen waste get lost in landfills every year. Consider starting a compost pile in your yard. Then you’ll have plenty of excellent fertilizer for the fruit tree you just planted. There are many resources online and in your local library on how to start a healthy, productive compost pile.

Make a Commitment

Going green is a process and a commitment. It’s a commitment to living healthier and more in harmony with our Mother Earth. But don’t expect to achieve a green lifestyle overnight. As philosopher Lao-Tzu wrote in the sixth century B.C.E., “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So take one step at a time, if that’s all you can do. But begin your journey to green living today. It’s not that hard to do, and every bit you do makes a difference. So what are you waiting for?

Blake Cothron

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)_

Let’s Talk Toilets

December 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Slideshow, Tips, Water, Water Use

Toilets account for almost 30 percent of residential indoor water use in the United States. They’re also a major source of wasted water due to leaks and inefficiency. Unless a replacement has been installed, in a home built prior to 1993, each toilet likely uses 3 1/2 gallons — or more — for every flush.

Old-fashioned toilets waste water. Photo: Joe Hennager

Old-fashioned toilets use as much as 7 gallons per flush. Photo: Joe Hennager

Experts say that the minimum amount of clean water needed to meet the basic human needs of drinking, cooking and hygiene is 5 gallons per person per day. That’s far short of enough to ensure health and well-being; it’s barely enough to get by. But do we really need to flush nearly an entire day’s minimum requirement each time we go “number one”?

In the beginning of modern toilets, the 7-gallon, flushing, porcelain lavatory was the throne of choice. That was followed by the low-flush, or low-flow, toilet. Unfortunately, it often took several low-flow flushes to get the bowl clean.

As it turned out, low-flush toilets used more water than the old faithful lavatory. Enter the new and improved low-flush toilet, which was better at water conservation, but didn’t always get the job done.

In recent years, the high-efficiency toilet (HET) has arrived on the bathroom scene. Consumers now have an option to use as little as 0.8 gallons using a dual-flush toilet. The best part is that they really work.

What Are High-Efficiency Toilets?

Low flush toilets are a better option than old-fashioned porcelain thrones. Photo: Julia Wasson

Low flush toilets provide savings over the 7-gallon models. Photo: Julia Wasson

Under federal law, toilets sold in the United States today must not exceed 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). High-efficiency toilets (HETs) go beyond the standard, using less than 1.3 gpf. You can identify an HET by the WaterSense label it carries. These labels can only be used on HETs that are certified by independent laboratory testing to meet rigorous criteria for both performance and efficiency. The WaterSense program is sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Do High Efficiency Toilets Work?

Everyone is concerned about the performance of low-flow toilets. Do they clear the bowl and leave it clean? Do they stop up frequently? Unlike the first 1.6 gallon/flush toilets, WaterSense HETs combine high efficiency with high performance. Advances in toilet design permit WaterSense HETs to save water without loss of flushing power. In fact, many perform better than standard toilets in consumer testing.

How Much Water and Money Do HETs Save?

High efficiency toilets save you money by reducing your water and wastewater costs. Over the course of a lifetime, an average person flushes the toilet nearly 140,000 times. By installing a WaterSense HET, you can save 4,000 gallons per year. Young children can each conserve about a third of a million gallons during their lifetime.

If a family of four replaces one 3.5 gpf toilet made between 1980 and 1994 with a WaterSense toilet, they can save $2,000 over the life of the toilet. If the toilet being replaced was made before 1980, it uses 5 gallons per flush, so the savings will be much greater.

A high-efficiency toilet saves water and money. Photo: Caroma

A high-efficiency toilet saves water and money. Photo: Caroma

With these savings, new high-efficiency toilets can pay for themselves in only a few years. Even better, many local utilities offer substantial rebates for replacing old toilets with HETs. Rebates for high-efficiency toilets are available in many US states and Canadian provinces.

What are Dual Flush Toilets?

Dual flush toilets use 0.8 gallons per flush for liquid waste and 1.6 gallons per flush for solids. They can save up to 40% (approx. 4,600 gallons) compared to today’s standard 1.6-gallon, single-flush toilets. On an average of 4/1 uses a day, dual-flush toilets have the lowest water consumption of all: 0.96 gallons per flush.

Beware of some products that reduce the amount of water flushed in an existing toilet. Existing bowls are not designed to perform with reduced amounts of water, so the likelihood of clogging your toilet while you are trying to flush paper and solid waste increases drastically.

Select a WaterSense-Labeled, High-Efficiency Toilet

Whether you’re remodeling a bathroom, beginning construction of a new house, or just want to replace an old, inefficient toilet, a WaterSense-labeled HET is your best bet. Look for the WaterSense label on any toilet you buy.

Look for the EPA WaterSense logo on high-efficiency toilets.

Note that some manufacturers offer high-efficiency and regular-style models with very similar names, so be sure to look for the WaterSense label. A list of WaterSense-labeled high-efficiency toilets and other plumbing products is provided by the EPA.

If every home in the United States replaced just one old toilet with a new HET, we would conserve almost one trillion (spelled with a T) gallons of water per year. That’s equal to more than two weeks of the water flowing over Niagara Falls.

Andrea Paulinelli

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living