Category: Happy Atmosphere

Cleaner energy for your home

I know I keep saying this, but I am about to take some massive action. IT IS TIME! So stay tuned for that (or be forewarned, whichever feels appropriate). (And check out the Happy Atmosphere Challenge if you are new to the blog!)

I keep wanting to write a post about switching to clean(er) electricity but it requires some additional research so I keep putting it off instead of just sharing what I’ve done so far.

If you are concerned about climate change, one action you can take that is not super expensive and doesn’t take much time is to check out Arcadia Power. My electricity bill now comes from Arcadia Power and I have chosen to pay a few extra dollars each month so that my energy use supports a switch to clean energy.

This is a big topic and there is a lot to write/understand but there is not an easy way, in Virginia, to use only clean energy unless you install your own PV system. Arcadia pays for Clean Energy Certificates as a sort of offset of your energy use so that they are supporting the generation of clean energy SOMEWHERE to offset my dirty energy in Virginia.

The other option with Arcadia, that I am excited about, is you can buy a “share” (of sorts) in a clean energy (solar) project where they have installed solar panels on the roof of a building in New Jersey. I pay for a 10-year share of this project and then get a deduction on my energy bill each month equal to the amount of solar energy generated by the project (and my up-front funding supports the creation of new clean energy, builds demand, helps drive innovation in and incrementally decreases the cost of solar).

Another company to check out if you live in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, or Pennsylvania is Clean Choice Energy. It looks like, rather than providing offset certificates, you can actually source your electricity from clean energy facilities directly.

Supporting a shift to clean energy in this country and using market forces to move our country in this direction are KEYS to more carbon on earth, less in the air. I do not suggest that market forces are more important than policy, but it is something you can do TODAY. Call your senators, be upset, march, etc. AND SHIFT YOUR HOME’S ENERGY TO CLEAN SOURCES WHERE POSSIBLE.

If you live outside of Virginia, there are resources you can look at to see what is available in your area in terms of actually having your power supplied by renewable sources instead of using certificates (I will provide some links to resources in the future). Many of my readers live in redder states which may have fewer options in terms of clean energy so Arcadia may be a good solution for you.

Pros of switching to Arcadia today:

  • You can unswitch at any time. There is no contract, obligation, etc.
  • Your bill can remain the same. Unless you choose to upgrade to 100% renewable (which is only a few dollars more each month, depending on how much electricity you use), your bill will not increase. You will mostly be sending a market signal that you support renewable/clean options. This is valuable.
  • You can choose to support installation of new clean energy projects like the solar project I have joined. Cost starts at $100 which gets you a monthly deduction for 10 years, no matter where you might move.

I would love to get comments from any readers who have switched to clean energy to know about your experience and what is available in your area! I will compile any suggestions and add as resources under the Happy Atmosphere Challenge.

Just as a reminder, if you are reading this and don’t subscribe to the blog, and would like to have future posts (on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis) sent straight to your inbox, you can subscribe here!

Thanks for reading!!

Grains of rice challenge

About thirteen ounces of tahini, some possibly expired cottage cheese, a year-old (?) bag of frozen plantains, a jar of what I now believe is blackstrap molasses, some fruity bars my children refuse to eat, half a bagful of giant marshmallows, and, I imagine, a few boxes and cans that I can’t see or have stashed somewhere out of the ordinary (example, the tonic water that I am now remembering in the basement). Food that has languished, uneaten, in our kitchen.

When I was studying in India (over 20 short years ago), one morning our class was visited by an orange-robed sadhu (a Hindu monk). In early childhood, he told us, he was taught that each grain of rice is sacred. In his home, they would make sure to pick up spare grains that had strayed because to waste them would be to dishonor god (the Hindu religion is rather complex, but I thought it correct to use the lowercase ‘g’ in this case, but will stand corrected).

I remember writing a letter home from India — a letter my mom saved that is doubtlessly cuddled in my basement with hundreds of its friends, awaiting rediscovery. Suggesting to my family that when they give thanks for dinner each night that they consider thanking not just God, but the members of his orchestra:  the soil, the plants, the animals, the farmers, the bakers, the Earth, the sun, the rain, the universe. I think it was a lovely blessing. I know I said it for a while and I believe my family, without me, did for a time as well. Then life moved on. I got busy and food lost some of its sanctity.

I guess I’ve been busy for 20 years now. Too busy to be as thankful as I want to be. Too busy to be as mindful, or live as simply, as that, too easily ignored, still and quiet voice guides me to. Too busy to breathe before meals, to taste a large portion of my food, to say thanks, each time, for the bounty of life-giving, healthy food available to me and to my family.

And our approach to eating, while it has shifted significantly along the spectrum of healthiness over the past few years (towards the good end), has not made significant strides towards the mindfulness end. We don’t eat in the car (my old boss was French and alerted me to the savagery of such a practice) as a general rule, and we sit down to dinner as a family every night. At a table, without a screen in sight. Which seems normal to me as this is how I grew up but I understand this is no longer standard practice. We say a blessing when we remember. We talk about where food comes from, what each type of food is good for. Our categories are muscles (protein), energy (good carbs), tummy (veggies), vitamins/eyes/skin (fruit), brain (nuts, fats).

What hasn’t shifted much at all is how we purchase food. How we make decisions about what to cook, how much effort we put in to using the food we’ve bought, how much food we buy on impulse. Uneaten food is just another kind of garbage, something to be taken “away” – no biggie.

I remember the waffle fries my daughter was not hungry for on Saturday that are on their way to the landfill. The leftover chicken that we forgot to finish before it went bad. The moldy (not in the good way) cheese I found in the drawer.

According to “Every year, American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten. That’s 52 million tons of food sent to landfill annually, plus another 10 million tons that is discarded or left unharvested on farms. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food insecure.”

image from

If you took a look at the Happy Atmosphere Challenge, you’ll remember that food waste is also a not-insignificant contributor to climate change. Uneaten food contributes about 8 percent of global GHG emissions each year.

There are several drivers in our household food wastage. I’d like to say the children are the #1 (and 2) suspects, lunch boxes where half-finished juice pouches have soaked a bagel remnant and half of an uneaten apple, dinners where there is no room left in their “soup tummies” (etc).

Another of the biggest factors in our family, and I would guess in others in my demographic, is what I (from now on will) call over-diverse chefery. This is where you try some tasty ethic food somewhere and decide that, this Thursday, you’re going to try to make some yourself. So you buy all of the various ingredients, make the dish once, and are left with the various spices, sauces, etc until you go through your annual fridge check for expired food and, what do you know, that tahini is still there, all 13 ounces of it. A month from Thursday, when you have the time and are again feeling adventurous you will try a completely different cuisine with a whole new group of requisite spices and sauces, and so on and so forth.

Or you go to the grocery store and your kids sample some of the rice from the very nice lady and you feel like you need to buy a box, even though you never actually cook boxed rice and your kids not-secretly did not eat the rice and said it smelled funny.

Or something just looks tasty and you are tired, hungry, restless, upset, distracted and for whatever reason you think buying another box of tea or a different kind of cheese, even though you have three kinds already and you’ve been avoiding dairy for the past month, is going to make life feel somehow more complete.

I’ve been thinking about food waste for about a year (having read ReFed’s excellent report last summer, as well as Zero Waste Home around the same time) and have made shifts in our purchasing. I try to buy fewer impulse purchases. I’ve paid a lot more attention to portion sizes in lunch boxes and overall. I’ve gotten better about lovingly, yet firmly, reminding myself to eat the leftover Independence Day hamburger (I have been especially mindful of wasted meat which we treat as something of a sacrilege). But I still have more than a few stubborn holdovers. Old quinoa, and spelt purchased accidentally because I didn’t know it from sorghum.

So I thought it would be an interesting and informative (and, for me, fun) challenge to empty the refrigerator, freezer, and all cabinets and try not to discard anything in the process. I am packing up the whole kitchen in preparation for some work to be done on it in August and am hoping that a challenge like this will help me to pay attention to what we are buying and to be more mindful of using what we have.

Update (I started this post several days ago and progress has been made): I tried to use up the second-half of the bag of giant marshmallows by making microwave smores for the kids last night after dinner. One giant marshmallow each. My son was literally crazed. He did not know what to do with his body – I’ve never experienced speed, but I think I now know what it looks like. My kids eat some sugar, but mostly not so concentrated. The marshmallows had to go. I also had to throw away an entire shrink-wrapped baguette that we bought months ago to make garlic bread (why would bread be shrink wrapped for long shelf-life, but it was) and I stored it where I couldn’t see it and now it is trash. I am slowly trickling the remaining ‘junk food’ (animal crackers, cheese curls (Alabama cheetos)) into my kids in their lunch boxes and have mixed feelings about this.

I did, however, salvage some shrunken blueberries and mildly moldy nectarines/peaches/pineapple into my morning smoothie. I composted all traces of mold, in case you were wondering. Dinner last night was lima beans (previously frozen), almost over-ripe corn, an old box of black beans and brown rice (too spicy for the kids but i will finish today for lunch), and two hot dogs (also from the freezer).

It takes more work to not waste food. This morning I took the remnants of a roast chicken and am simmering in a gallon of water with that half-onion I mentioned last week, some just-past-the-date carrots, a wilting celery stalk, some garlic, salt, pepper, thyme and parsley (under 15 minutes prep, 4 hours on the stove). It will be delicious and bone broth is the new kale, apparently.

I want to make sure that the challenge doesn’t turn into another stress point, another to do, and a one-time flash in the pan (get it? flash in the…?). I would very much like to change my relationship with food, to eat once again with more reverence, more calm, more joy, more celebration, more presence, more breathing, more tasting, more laughing, more community, fewer threats, less negotiation, possibly less diversity, but more seasonality.

So that’s what I’m working on.


I also want to provide a quick update on past posts. The Happy Atmosphere Challenge is sort of on hold. I am planning to send a note to friends/readers who have expressed any interest and willingness and see about doing it together, but the timing for doing that is not great for me right now (husband gone for three weeks, amongst other semi-relevant excuses) so I’m in a holding pattern. I have been running the dishwasher at night without the heat dry cycle, I’ve been paying attention to eco-driving, and I signed up for some of our home’s energy to be renewable (I’ll share more about this but it is more than a quick update). I am hoping to maybe start that challenge in September – there never really seems to be a good time though because I have other things I’d like to start in September! Just wanted you to know I haven’t forgotten the challenge, I also haven’t started it, but I’ve made some small changes.

I guess there is just that one update for now. So many other things that I want to write about, in particular my recent thoughts on restlessness, recognizing the things I do to try to avoid restlessness and the things I might do instead. So that might be the next post. Meantime, I have to figure out what to do with all of this tahini.

The Happy Atmosphere Challenge

The Happy Atmosphere Challenge

I have been hating climate change for over two decades. Willing it to be untrue. Sure that the scientists (one of whom I am married to) were missing something, that our beautiful, resilient planet would have some trick up its sleeve.

Reading about it, I shut down. I’m either hopelessly bored by all of the jargon or what I hear is all the things I do that are bad. Invisible gases will doom the earth and humanity and all I need to do is stop using electricity and driving. It is that simple.

It is not on one’s bucket list to be a “greedy American”. You don’t want to doom the planet or for little kids growing up on islands to be afraid they won’t have a home say, next year. But your house was built in 1940, your job is fifteen miles away, and you can’t afford a Tesla.

Plus, it seems like your feeble efforts to save 2% of your fuel by taking heavy items out of your trunk is a teardrop in the ocean of climate change and you know your neighbor doesn’t give a flip about the climate. You notice her sprinkler watering the street every morning, see her back door open all day in 95 degree heat, smell her grilling those juicy feedlot ribeyes.

Better hope that a widdly-wee machine is invented to fix the problem, if it actually turns out to be as bad as (more and more) people say it might be. It’s too big for one gal.

In the midst of this hopelessness, or denial, you might receive emails from well meaning NGOs about what you need to do. Call X to “demand” action (though I am not sure, in a democracy, that one ought to demand). Reject the big bad oil or coal companies that we oppose (yet depend on to get to work each day or to run hospital equipment). Divest — do not give your money to the bad guys. Telling stories designed to make you feel — thinking this feeling will prompt action.

But this fear and anger, guilt and sadness — these are paralyzing.

I say this because I have spent many more hours than I would have preferred reading the science, seeking to (mostly) understand it, and recognizing it is dangerous and unfair in its potential impacts. And in all this time (I wrote my first article about climate change in 1999) I have taken few steps in my personal life to decrease my ‘carbon footprint’.

I might go on Facebook and feel upset about Paris, or any other thing, might sign a petition or make a phone call. But hells teeth my house gets a slight bit less comfortable if I turn the thermostat up by two degrees. What we need is a global agreement, not my messing around with my thermostat or declining a trip to Mexico!

(The answer is too big for one gal. Of course. That is why all of the governments on the planet have been working for 24 years to come up with a solution that they could all work towards together. An approach recognizing that the wealthiest countries on Earth got to where they are in part from burning stuff and sticking gas in the air (unknowingly at first) and wanting to make sure countries who have burned less don’t remain impoverished but also don’t burn the same amount of stuff we did to get where we are.)

But back to my inaction: If I were to use one of the available “carbon calculators”, a tool to help me understand the volume of invisible gases that my family creates through different activities (driving, heating, etc.), I can come up with a number, say, 50 tons each year. Then I can take steps, large and small, to decrease this number. Maybe I work really hard and cut it in half – in half! That’s not an easy feat, but do-able. But after all that work, and expense, I am still generating 25 tons of emissions each year. After all that effort I am doing less bad. But still bad. Focusing on that number, and on decreasing it, in the end still draws my attention to what I don’t want to be doing.

It is difficult to summon the energy, the spirit, the will to act from hate, or from fear, or against something. There is a powerful surge of emotion but those emotions drive me straight into the arms of my beloved world-building, pastoral iPad games – a world of no feelings and cheap, endless serotonin and dopamine. But what I know about myself is this — that I miraculously somehow seem to find the energy to act from love, from optimism, and for something. I have not managed, in twenty years, to take substantial action to do less bad. But I have a hunch that I could take a lot of action to do more good.

So that’s the plan. And in this spirit, I have come up with a challenge for myself — and for anyone else who might also be motivated by doing more good. A moderately epic battle to support good guys everywhere. And when I finish the challenge, I will decrease my energy bills, improve my health, breathe cleaner air, have less road rage (this would be a pretty big win), support job growth, support local farmers, waste less food, educate girls (which is good for girls and boys), increase carbon in soil and forests (where we like it), drive innovation in energy, batteries, lighting, appliances, and transit, and incidentally send fewer invisible gases to the sky (details on challenge activities can be found here or downloaded below).

The challenge is meant to be played as a game – on your own, as a family, with a friend, a group, or a virtual community.

I take on this challenge accepting that doing something, taking some concrete action, may not fix the problem. Doesn’t change anyone’s mind, might not change the world, takes time to figure out, and can cost money (and save money, there is a bright side!). But doing something– in this spirit — is good for me. It directs my thought towards what is possible, what is feasible, what I can support. For me, it’s the only option.

The challenge is a work in progress that will be updated as I go. I’ll share further thoughts and resources under the Happy Atmosphere Challenge. If anyone else in this wide world decides to take the challenge, I would love to hear about it, either in the blog comments or through the contact form. Resources or tips shared via comments will improve the challenge and be added to the resource section. Corrections or different opinions are very welcome. You can subscribe to the blog to receive further details, resources, and updates for the challenge.

I am hopeful. Hopeful that there is something we don’t yet understand that will mean that all of the models run by all of the scientists don’t come to pass. Hopeful that the pace of innovation is breathtaking and people are working — this very minute — on solutions that, given our investment and support, could store carbon back in the earth by 2050 (more about the book Drawdown in future posts). And hopeful that – one month from today – I’ll (finally) be able to report on the multiple steps forward – towards the good – that have eluded me for too long.

Download the Happy Atmosphere Challenge Now!

First mission is coming soon!

First up, I am excited to report that in two weeks the Jenny Goodguts blog has already passed the total number of subscribers from the Jenaissance blog (in over two years) – hip hip hooray!! I will be sure to report back when we pass 100 and when the first person subscribes who I do not personally know ; )

I will be asking for your help in sharing posts with folks who might enjoy them, but still working on building the site a bit (of course, you are always invited to share anything you like at any time!).

The first mission will be out ANY DAY NOW. I’m struggling with it a bit because while I thrive on complexity and lists (that look like tax forms, as my editor/husband might have put it when reviewing the mission last night), I think many people are likely to take a look at the ‘game’ in its current format and be a bit overwhelmed. So I’m going to take another day or two before sharing.

I also want to let readers know that the  “healthy atmosphere/healthy wallet/support innovation/market-driven/creating jobs/longer life/personal responsibility/loving God’s creation/green earth” challenge (or something like that) is going to be super fun, but it is in some ways a more difficult mission than I had imagined beginning with. It just seemed like the time was right and I’ve been waiting to do some of these things for too long.

I hope you will consider playing the game along with me — I will provide as many resources as I can to help you on the journey! There are many ways to play. As a sort of preview and to get you thinking, there is a large menu of actions. Each action is worth a certain number of points. You can play on your own and set a target for the number of points you want to earn to get either a gold, silver or bronze badge. You can get a group together and set a target number of points and when the group as a whole reaches that number you do something (have a potluck, have a party, go on a picnic, donate to charity, group leaders posts something silly on Facebook — you can be creative). The other option is to divide into two teams to challenge each other and the team that scores the most points wins something (party provided by other team, etc) – this would work well in a workplace, that’s my vision ; )

Here’s a hint: the easiest way to get a big score is to find someone who probably hasn’t done a lot of the things on the list and see if they’d play with you. I will be providing resources and links to help and the team can support each other if people need help figuring anything out.

So that’s what I have in mind. Now I just have to take this tax form and make it look more like a game. Stay tuned and start thinking about who you could play with!

Paris and Pittsburgh


This is not how it was supposed to go. There’s been no basic training and I’m not ready. But it looks like Jenny has a quest for me and she won’t take no for an answer. I was hoping my first nemesis could be Clutterista. I knew The Usurer was too big a fish to fry without some experience and better secret weapons. But there’s Loop-O, the lord of indecision, who I was excited to do battle with, and Glossy (that terrifying vixen who stares at me in her different forms when I’m at the check-out counter in the grocery store, whispering that I’m not quite enough).

But no, I am a part of this world and I live in real time and real time has its own momentum and its own needs. So here we go…

My first “real” job out of college was working as an intern at Yes! Magazine. They happened to be putting together an issue about climate change, a topic that I had no interest in – at all. Yuck. But ok, I took the job and did some research on carbon footprints and renewables and dusted my hands of the whole thing. This was in the era of Y2K — maybe this climate stuff was overblown and would just go away, right?

Over time, along with significant personal aversion, everywhere I went it seemed like things started revolving around climate. My Masters research was on climate. That’s all anyone seemed to be talking about. Bor-ing. Eventually I started working on UN climate negotiations during my time at Conservation International. I even married someone who studies climate change. Truth is, I can’t stand talking about climate change or even thinking about it because it is  a) boring and b)terrifying. TERRIFYING!!!

Can’t we just keep living like we are living here in America and everyone worldwide can eventually live this way and be happy and have more, more, more and God will fix the climate??

I have been looking – as hard as I can – for some (legitimate) reason to have hope that maybe climate change won’t be as bad as people say. I promise you, if there was any good evidence to discredit climate change I would tape it up to my mirror and look at it every morning. I want it to be untrue. But the truth is the reason I can’t get away from this dang climate change stuff is that none of us can and nothing we are working on can either until we do something about it (the Chinese did not pay me to say that).

But do I own a bike helmet? Is my house powered with renewable energy? Have I even invested in insulation? No. It costs money, it is never the priority, and it takes time to figure it out and change.

I need time to think. I feel like I understand why 22 senators wrote a letter urging Trump to get out of the Paris Agreement, there is a somewhat clear cause and effect in my mind to explain that. But what I want to understand is why my mom’s friend thinks climate change isn’t real, or doesn’t “believe” that if you take a terrarium and fill it with carbon dioxide the temperature inside the box will increase. That’s physics. You can do it yourself. And we know where carbon dioxide comes from. We can measure it, it has been measured.

Jenny Goodguts is a systems gal. She is not into politics or propaganda – on either side of the political spectrum. She knows there are people in every part of the world who are scared, disappointed, overwhelmed, angry, worried about their kids for lots of different reasons. And those same people love something and mostly work hard every day until they can’t anymore and then they play iPad games, watch more CSI, get drunk or [insert additional ways to escape].

Jenny likes to think about actions and reactions, about what an individual person can do to address root causes. Making people feel bad, or feel scared, is usually not so motivating and mostly divisive and helps us to build our defenses and further congeal into sides. Those of us who “believe” in climate change (do people “believe” in physics?) are circling around our despair, disappointment, pointing fingers and sharing statistics that we all already agree with. The “others” are not reading these articles. They don’t care what the MIT scientists said yesterday after the speech in the Rose Garden. 0.2 and 0.9 promise seriously different futures, but the only people paying attention to the difference in those numbers already care.

We care. But please see above. Bike helmet (uncheck). Renewable power in home (uncheck). Food miles. Food waste. Quarter-pounders. Investments. Old appliances. Driving son to school (less than half mile away). Not carpooling.

So the first quest is going to be a climate quest. Part of me wishes it were something else to take my mind off of the possible ramifications of what just happened. But this will be the crucible for beginning to forge my super powers – one of which has to be a method for not slipping into despair in the face of fear.

There is TONS of good news on the climate change front. There is so much happening in business, finance, government, communities, cities, research. It is  solvable (unless we’ve already passed a tipping point but lets not worry about that here) and there is money to be made, there are jobs to be created, songs to be sung, coral to be saved. There are things I can do this very minute (Like, I just turned my thermostat up, for example. Just now.)

I’m going to spend a bit of time this weekend mapping out the quest and will return first thing next week with a plan of action. Until then, just try to eat less beef, dust off your bike, and turn up your thermostat. We’ll get more creative next week.