Tag Archives: Western Maryland

Chapter Three

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

Terms like ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘eco-friendly’ have become increasingly common in our day-to-day lives.  We see them on packaging, menus, in TV ads, and in the speeches of our more progressive politicians.  It may at times be dismissed as trendy, but overall this is a good thing.  It means that as a society, the environment is on our minds.  But as the terms become more commonly tossed about, they run the risk of becoming diluted palliatives, geared more towards making us feel better about ourselves than inspiring real change.  Your dishwasher detergent may be phosphate-free, but your dishwasher still wastes a lot of water.

The fact is, leading a sustainable life can’t be simply a matter of informed purchasing.  After all, the term sustainable really means never-ending, which in this context means a complete independence from non-renewable resources.  Striving towards such a goal requires transformative changes in how we live our lives.  In this month of Living Chapters, I encourage Beth to approach this goal through introspection and advocacy.


Take A Position, Make It Known

I’ll start with advocacy since it’s shorter.  Beth has spent the last few years doing some impressive work around environmental issues in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.  In Western Maryland, she organized community events to discuss natural gas extraction, and on the Eastern Shore, created a series of videos and community events highlighting different perspectives on the health of the Chesapeake Bay.  Both projects inspired much-needed dialogues in their communities, but lacked one thing: Beth’s own voice.

Now that she has spent time in these places learning about these issues, Beth has become if not an expert, at least a well-informed citizen when it comes to natural gas extraction (fracking) in the Appalachians and water quality in the Chesapeake.  By now, she must have opinions about what should be done in these communities to move forward.

During the month of August, Beth will create two ‘opinion pieces’, one on each topic.  The pieces can take the form of her choosing (written, audio, visual, etc) and must be shared in a public forum (newspaper, radio, gallery, etc). The pieces will be timely, responding to current events in the realms of fracking and Bay protection, but will be grounded in her experiences working with the stakeholders in both places.  The pieces will be clear, concise, well-researched, and heart-felt.  Should she choose a medium that requires jurying (for instance an op-ed section in a newspaper, or a curated show at a gallery), actual acceptance is of course out of her hands, but submission is required.  They also must be posted to the Living Chapters blog and Facebook account.


Cap and Trade For The Rest of Us

The EPA first tested the effectiveness of a ‘cap and trade’ system for the abatement of acid rain in the 1990’s, by restricting the amount of sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions allowed by industrial polluters.  It proved effective enough that they’ve expanded the system to cover carbon emissions, a move that has been replicated internationally,  creating a global carbon market and reducing emissions in many countries.

How does it work? Very simply put, the government established an emissions limit that polluters must adhere to (the cap).  If a polluter manages to pollute less than the cap, the company earns credits, which they can sell to other polluters who cannot or do not meet the limits (the trade).  The system rewards innovations that reduce emissions, but still allows some flexibility for industries to comply.

During the month of August, Beth and I (and any of you who want to join in) will participate in our own cap and trade game.  This is where the introspective part comes in: this game will require close attention to the actions in our own daily lives.

Using the point system I’ve devised (below), we’ll tally our wasteful practices against our sustainable practices.  At the end of each week, we’ll have the opportunity to trade credits, hopefully balancing our collective point consumption under the cap.  At the end of the month, anyone whose points are still over the cap must donate the equivalent amount in dollars to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  There is no reward for having the fewest points; we’re all in this together!

A few notes about the point system:

1. The goal is to have as few points as possible. “+” points are bad.

2. I’m not a numbers person and this system has very little to do with any kind of accurate metric.  It’s just a game.  But if you happen to be someone that knows a lot about measuring embodied energy, please feel free to suggest amendments.

3. Additionally, if readers want to suggest other activities to be counted in the game, feel free.

4. Participants will have to track their point count daily in this Google spreadsheet.To join the game, email Beth at livingchapters@gmail.com.

5. I’ve divided the point system into four categories: Food, Air, Water, and Waste


Eating a meal whose origins are unknown = +1 (vegetarian) +2 (with meat)

Eating a meal that is sourced locally (100 mile radius) = 0

Eating a meal at least part of which was grown or harvested by you or a friend = -1

Throwing away food (not composting it) = +2

Eating food that’s going to be wasted (either your friend’s left-overs, dumpster diving, etc.) = -2 

AIR (assuming non-renewable electricity and fuel sources)

Driving a car = +1 per 20 miles

Taking public transit = -1

Carpooling = 0

Riding a bike = -1 per 2 miles

Flying in a plane = +5

Charging your phone = +.5

Charging your laptop = +1 (if a desktop user, equivalent to 7 hours of use)

Lights and other household appliances = +1 per hour used

Hanging clothes in the sun to dry = – 1 point/load

Converting your BGE/energy supplier to a partially or entirely renewable source (solar/wind) = 1 time applicable – 20 points (some energy companies now offer the option to pay a bit more and have your power sourced from these options).  People can contact their supplier for more information.


Taking a shower = +1

Flushing a toilet = +.5

Running a dishwasher or washing machine = +2

Other faucet uses = +.5 per gallon

Re-using water (i.e. dish or bath water) = -1

Installing rain water catchment system at your home (or a friends) = -10 (one time only)

Using harvested rain water = -2

Bathing in a natural body of water = -1


Producing 1 cubic foot of garbage = +1

Producing 1 cubic foot of recycling = 0

Producing 1 cubic foot of compost = -1

Creative re-use of anything (for instance, wine bottles, shopping bags) = -1 per use

The weekly cap for each participant is 56 points (8 per day) (note: this may be adjusted at the end of week 1 if that is way too hard or too easy).  Credit trading will happen on August 10, 17, 24, and 31 (August 10 will be a ten-day point tally with a total cap of 80).  Participation will require fastidious attention to all your activities (it may even require keeping notes).  Hopefully it will also require all participants to rethink their consumption habits and make changes for the better.  It may be difficult, but in the words of Jim Henson as sung through a frog puppet:  It’s not easy being green.

lc andy beth

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

performing: with pride or prejudice

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This month, I was tasked with the challenge of working on my muscle memory as well as my muscle tone. Chapter one writer, Joe Gall, requested that I dig out my old guitar, bring it aboard and retrain my fingers to hustle up and down the frets while attempting to hold clear and open chord sounds. I decided, early on 3 weeks ago, to up the ante of this challenge and not only give my fingers some exercise, but give my courage and confidence a work out as well.

The task I gave myself was to “perform” a song or two in front of an audience. Thus far during this challenge, I have found my best audience to be a 1 year-old baby who danced to anything I would strum or hum, along with a few supportive onlookers in my favorite café in Western Maryland. With only a few days left in June, I don’t plan on hitting up any local open mic nights, but I have accomplished playing in front of about a dozen people here or there over this past month testing out my playing and singing skills.

Looking back, I am not quite sure why I decided to put this performance promise out there, but it somehow seemed appropriate considering public speaking or being in front of an audience is truly one of the most uncomfortable and avoided experiences for me. It is one of the few non-strenuous related activities I can think of that really does drastically change the physicality of my body itself. Sweaty palms, racing heart, stuttering voice, shaky hands are just a few things that tend to happen when placing myself in front of a crowd. Even when put in front of a camera, or a recording device these symptoms arise, if I am the one that is being focused on.

So as a first step into this discomfort zone, I started taking short videos and making sound recordings of my new regular guitar practice. Doing this has been extremely painful! Making the recordings on my own is not so bad – but watching the recordings brings back all those same sensations that happen when standing in front of a full room (it may possibly be even more upsetting.) The only thing worse than caring about the judgment from others is dealing with the judgment from yourself! Do you remember what it felt like to hear your voice recorded  for the first time. “Is that me talking?” Well imagine what it feels like to listen to yourself play new guitar chords and put your best singing voice forward. How can I sing in tune when I’m not even sure how to tune the guitar? I will tell you… it feels like I have chosen to star in my own bad early 90’s folk music video. Not a pretty or necessarily appealing feeling… however, I am working on getting past this initial reaction and judgment that I’ve put upon myself.  There are positives in performing that I am starting to see and feel.

I actually really enjoy singing and playing guitar. When I take the camera away I genuinely feel pretty happy doing it, it calms me down and passes the time in a way that always leaves me feeling satisfied. I have to go back to the original intent behind Aaron’s wild card request, which is, to keep listening to myself and do what feels right, not worry about what looks right. (or in this case, what sounds right)

My mom would tell you that when I was little, I would wake myself up singing in the morning. She tells me that I loved to perform musically and dramatically. There are actually many pictures proving that I loved to ham it up in front of the camera.  (I’ve included a few pics below that my Dad conveniently sent me this week reminding me of this time). I do find that time a little hard to remember today though, as I start stumbling over song lyrics when someone intently starts to listen, or watch me. How, why and when did that free confident performing spirit and desire to share get dampened along the way? What do I need to do to get it back?

on grandpa's pianooh so pretty?

I guess there is some evidence of that love of performance still present today or I wouldn’t be sharing so much of myself with all of you through this Living Chapters process.  I think one of many reasons I decided to do any of this publicly was really to try to rekindle that fearlessness of sharing openly that we all did so effortlessly at age six. I am starting to realize that there may be much more to gain through that boldness than we actually have to lose.

If I knew that at age six, can’t I feel the same thirty years later?

Post Script: Thanks to Josh, Brown, Andy Cook, Joe Gallo, and friends at the Water Street Cafe in Friendsville MD for supporting, teaching, and encouraging me in my guitar playing and performing this past month.

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

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