Archive for the ‘Book Club’ Category

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On Sunday, DC EcoWomen gathered for delicious sandwiches and smoothies in Cleveland Park to discuss the inspiration, humor, and amazement we found in the book, Miles from Nowhere.  The story chronicles the incredible adventure of Barbara Savage and her husband, who set out from California to travel the world by bicycle.  The journey begins almost immediately, as the couple adjusts to the idea of leaving their modest lives and familiar routines behind as they start up the U.S. west coast.  Through rain, high winds, and killer inclines, the pair endures hardships and experience delight in unexpected places as they meet interesting travelers, see the world, and cement their own relationship.

This story includes several themes that are central to the lives of many DC EcoWomen: world travel and wanderlust, cultural experiences, friendship, kindness, and the great outdoors.  One of the topics we discussed was how to bring these values into our own lives as a way of shaking off the happy hour cobwebs and mixing up our routinized urban habits.  Whether you’re a long-time resident or new to the city, it’s always important to seek out new groups, new activities, and new communities that will expose you to neighborhoods, parks, or events that you might not have found otherwise.

Our discussion also included many questions about the logistics of their two-year adventure.  Aside from financial concerns, Barb and Larry had to find safe lodging and sufficient food each night, repair their bicycles, and cope with illnesses in foreign and developing countries.  While we acknowledged that traveling as a woman can present special challenges, many of us agreed that our fearless storyteller matched her husband in strength, courage, and savvy.   In fact, she inspired many of us to think about upcoming travel in our own lives.  Whether the next few months see us biking around town or flying off to see Russia for the first time, this story inspired us all to look for compassion and generosity in others and make the best of the challenging situations we face.

A big thanks to Hawthorne Homemade for letting us sample their delicious butternut squash soup and green goddess smoothie!  If you missed this event, check back in for our mini Book Club meeting in June, where we’ll continue discussions of wanderlust and traveling.

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In keeping with the theme of our latest read and since Letters to Yellowstone was certainly worthy of writing home about, here is a recap of our discussion and tribute to author Diane Smith.

Dear Mom,

This last Sunday, DC EcoWomen gathered in a cozy Capitol Hill living room to discuss our latest book and enjoy good company and food.  We all found the book enjoyable and inspiring, as it was the story of a young woman at the turn of the 20th century who travels across the country to put her botany skills to the test as she joins a science expedition into the West.  Our young protagonist, Alex, goes on countless adventures throughout the summer and expands her horizons as readers are confronted with interested and controversial issues that are still pertinent today.

As she embarks on this journey, the bookish young woman embraces the challenges of extreme weather and rustic living conditions, but the biggest hurdle she faces is one that no one anticipates: she is a woman in a man’s world.  Mom, throughout my life, you presented me with strong female leadership and exposed me to progressive ideas, and as a result, I have always felt immune to the persistent gender inequality in today’s society.  I am always amazed by historical accounts of this disparity.  Leave the exploring and outdoor adventures to the men – I don’t think so! 

This is certainly the attitude Alex takes as she stubbornly insists on staying with the field team after early misconceptions that she was in fact a man!  Through her dedication to experiencing the wonders of Yellowstone, Alex impresses the group with her compassionate scientific rigor as she carefully catalogues and falls in love with the landscape.  She really is a woman after our own hearts, and her love of nature made me think of all the times we’ve been refreshed and rejuvenated hiking the trails and swimming in the beaches along the West coast.

One interesting recurring theme is how one goes about turning that experience of nature into science.  The author shows us that a young student, a professor, a mountain man, a cowboy, a Native American family, and a writer can all have very different, yet true experiences of nature.  The characters argue that science is the process of creating meaning and common experiences from chaos – a way of describing and naming what was previously undiscovered or unexplained.  Alex insists on the precision of Latin scientific naming conventions, but eventually begins to appreciate the roles of traditional knowledge and sentimentality in the practice of science.  In essence, she learns that caring for a place or a specimen and experiencing it in context is as important to understanding it as studying its properties from a textbook.   This experiential learning is a technique that is becoming more and more popular today, where school children are encouraged to get their hands dirty to gain a better appreciation for all that they will learn later.

 All in all, it was a lovely afternoon.  We laughed over old 20th century images of women in petticoats, hunted buffalo, and naturalist illustrations.  We enjoyed home-baked cookies, cupcakes, s’mores, hot cocoa, and lettuce wraps in honor of the expedition’s ethnic culinary experiences.  This would certainly be a book you could enjoy!

Yours truly,

Amanda

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Read below for a guest blog entry by Caroline Wick for a recap of our book club’s latest gathering:

On Sunday, January 27, EcoWomen gathered to discuss The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball.  The book tells the story of Kimball’s decision to ditch her city life for cows, long cold winters and, of course, dirt.  (You can get a feel for the book here with this audio slideshow from NPR).  

During the discussion, EcoWomen pondered Kimball’s decision and wondered whether they would make the same life-altering choice.  Everyone enjoyed the book not just for its content, but also for Kimball’s prose:  “I had never in my life been so dirty.  The work was always dirty, beyond what I’d previously defined as dirty, and it took too much energy to keep oneself out of it.”

Each participant shared not just her thoughts on the book, but also a snack.  One participant embraced the theme and brought green beans that she harvested and canned.  Another snack, the sticky, but delicious, homemade tahini-honey-chocolate squares disappeared quickly.  We’ll share recipes for other favorites – including coconut ginger muffins – on this site.

Bummed that you missed the fun?  There are more book clubs to come:

  • For those that can’t commit to finishing an entire book – join EcoWomen on February 15th to discuss a few pages from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and other short pieces on the theme of farming and love.
  • In March, we’ll discuss Letters from Yellowstone.  Join us fiction lovers!

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by Stephanie Madden

This post discusses the November 2011 Book Club meeting.

For the past two months, my life has been all about disasters. No, I don’t mean that in a melodramatic way. I recently started a position working on a grant to develop more effective risk communication trainings for local leaders to better prepare communities before, during, and after disasters. I was excited that this month’s book club selection, A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit, could provide further insight into my job, as well as raise important issues that will become increasingly salient in a world where climate change is a reality (check out September’s book club selection Merchants of Doubt to learn more about the history of climate change denial).

Our discussion of the book focused around the utopian societies that Solnit describes arising out of disasters, where resourceful and resilient citizens must take control of saving each other and their communities, while those in power suffer from “elite panic” over the thought of losing controls built into many societies that allow often crumble when disasters strike. However, we were left wondering if it is something special to large scale disasters that can form these types of communities, or if even the disasters of everyday life, such as being diagnosed with cancer or suffering from addiction, can also bond people as they face these challenges together.

While Solnit uses natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and intentional disasters, such as 9/11, as case studies to debunk the idea that disasters turn people into panic driven mobs, Solnit also brings up the idea of economic disasters. In our current economic climate that has seen the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Solnit’s principles of disasters leading to the impulse for social change seem to be represented each day on the news.

Solnit writes, “The real question is not why this brief paradise of mutual aid and altruism appear but rather why it is ordinarily overwhelmed by another world order.” If the worst events can bring out the best in people, why can’t this impulse be sustained in everyday life?

In a world where natural disasters are becoming more prevalent, Solnit challenges us to think about what we think we know about disasters, and I think an even larger challenge for us is to also figure out how to best prepare for these disasters before they happen, which seems to begin with fostering a community spirit well before the next disaster strikes.

Interested in becoming more involved in disaster preparedness in your community? Check out these resources:

Citizen Corps helps coordinate volunteer activities that will make our communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to any emergency situation. It provides opportunities for people to participate in a range of measures to make their families, their homes, and their communities safer from the threats of crime, terrorism, and disasters of all kinds.

Community Emergency Response Teams Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.

Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance, a virtual network committed to transparency, an inclusive approach valuing difference, shared leadership, and a social justice approach to disaster reduction.

Ready.gov is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) intiative helping communities be informed (what to do before, during, and after an emergency) and make a plan (prepare, plan and stay informed for emergencies.)

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The Book Club eco-mmunity will be discussing Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer this month. Feel free to attend even if you haven’t read or finished the book!

“Like many others, Jonathan Safran Foer spent his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood….his casual questioning took on an urgency. This quest ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.”

Find out more by visiting: www.eatinganimals.com.

When

Wednesday, July 13th; 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Where

Teaism in Penn Quarter (at whatever table is available and big enough for chatting)

Questions? Comments?

Please email Amanda Stone at amandaestone@gmail.com. Also, there may be an opening in book club leadership. If anyone is interested and wants to discuss, please contact Amanda!

On deck…

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes? on Wednesday, Sept 14 at Teaism in Penn Quarter.