Monday, May 24, 2010

Greetings From A Green Bed & Breakfast!

Inn Nature earth-sheltered, solar-powered house.
Here I am enjoying the sun in Sarah's organic garden
I just returned from Amherst, Massachusetts, where I attended the college graduation of my son Maxwell. The Amherst-area hotels and inns were booked months in advance, so I did a web search for accomodations further west, toward the Berkshires. That is how I discovered Inn Nature, a solar-powered, earth-sheltered, "off the grid" bed & breakfast in Chesterfield, Ma.

Built into a hillside on twelve acres of woodland and meadow, Inn Nature provides an opportunity to reduce one's carbon footprint while enjoying the peace and quiet of this tranquil, rural area. Inn Nature is completely off the grid (no utility companies), harnessing the power of the sun for all its electricity.

Owner and inn-keeper, Sarah Prince, gave me an informative tour of the house and property. Because the house is built into a hillside, the rear and top are covered with 4 feet of earth, thus we were able to climb up on top of the roof, which is covered with plants, grass and solar panels (which provide power for the house).

"Earth sheltering is an effective way to regulate temperature in a home. It works well in almost any climate. Just below the frost line, the earth stays a fairly constant temperature: 50 degrees F, plus or minus a few degrees, depending on where you live. The surrounding soil provides natural insulation, making these houses inexpensive to heat and cool. The best location for an earth sheltered house is on a well-drained hillside. Windows facing the south or an overhead skylight will fill the interior with sunshine.

In the winter, earth-sheltered homes require very little additional heat to warm them. In the summer, the interior stays cool — while it may be 100F outside, the house will stay at comfortable 70F, thanks to it’s earthen wrap."

(from Optimal Green: Modern Earth Sheltering (

"Earth-sheltered homes are very energy efficient. This type of construction can save as much as 85% on your home's use of fossil fuels for both heating and cooling. In fact, you can even incorporate passive annual heat storage, that effectively allows you to save heat in the summer to use in the winter!

Surprisingly, you also can save on lighting. Most designers of these homes recommend a south or south-east exposure, which guarantees a lot of light, as long as the home has a window for most rooms on the exposed side. Any additional needs for natural light can often be addressed with tubular skylights that can actually funnel light to the place where it is also save a bundle on maintenance. Because your walls are poured concrete, you don't have to do a lot of upkeep. In fact, an earth-sheltered house won't need a new roof or many other kinds of regular upkeep to either the exterior or interior. If you pick the right interior finishes, you could have a virtually maintenance-free home."

(from Mortgage Guide 101 Blog "Going Green: The Earth-Sheltered Home")

Berkeley College is working to reduce its carbon footprint. Click HERE to read the Project Greenpath newsletter.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reflecting on the Service-Learning Experience

An important part of academic service-learning is reflecting on the experience through writing in a reflective journal. For each journal entry, students are provided with a writing prompt(questions, quotes, etc). What has surprised me about the service partner and the people they serve? • What are the specific tasks I am responsible for in order to complete my team service-learning project? • What am I learning about others and myself? are just a few examples. Below are some excerpts from my students' reflective journals during the first few weeks of this course. It is already possible to see a shift in the students' perceptions and attitudes.

It amazed me how many people from all over the world know about this organization and travel and make living arrangements in Mexico to volunteer. There are so many volunteers of all ages. It was heartwarming to see such commitment in these childrens' lives. The majority of the volunteers are not Spanish speakers, yet the language barrier did not stop them from giving 100%. -A.A.

When you hear of centers that help families, they are not always in the best condition. I had the misconception that it wouldn't be a really clean environment. But, then I read the stories and saw the pictures, and it was truly amazing to me that the center was so nice. That is how you know the volunteers and staff really care about making the children and mothers feel more comfortable. What surprised me about the people they serve is that anyone could have a hard time in their life and be in the same situation. Sometimes we don’t look at what we have in common with others in that type of situation or with the homeless; it doesn’t take much to end up in their shoes. --V.A.

The dedication and achievement of those individuals involved with Casa surprised me. I was so captivated, thinking how some people can devote their valuable life to this kind of work. Actually, volunteering is a really magnificent and noble job. Volunteering gives us an opportunity to change lives, including our own. If we feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the news of a disaster, volunteering to help can be a great way to cope. If we’d like to support a cause but can't afford to donate money, we can donate our time instead. -M.A.

It surprised me how the service partner has news letters and updates on what’s going on in the community. I was amazed at how they have so many videos to show their love for what they are doing for Casa de los Angeles. I also like the way each family has stories, and how the service partners tell you a little about it. -S.D.

What really surprised me was that every woman is a part of this community and has to donate time to this wonderful place, maybe by making food or cleaning. This way it seems to be more of a bond between these people and this place. At first, I thought “that’s a bummer” you have a job and also you have to donate your time and energy to this place. But, after I watched some videos on, I quickly changed my mind. You see, I was thinking in terms of American culture and here, I don’t think women would go for it. --A.K.

I was very surprised to see that Casa has an enormous list of volunteers. The list has to be about 5 pages long! It’s amazing how many generous people there are. I truly felt that warm feeling inside when I saw the list. I often see and deal with people who can’t find time to help out or even donate, but it is great to see that people are slowly becoming more involved. --C.L.

I am learning that I do not appreciate the things I have as much as I should. Every day I wake up and take my life for granted. The things that I have, I do not have because I deserve them as a person. I have them because my father has worked hard for his family. I am learning that while I stress about the small things in life, there are people out there that are truly working so hard just to be happy, but it seems the harder they work, the tougher things get for them. We as a society need to come together and help the people who need us the most. --D.P.

As many Americans do, I always had the impression I couldn’t make much of a difference by myself, but since becoming aware of Casa de Los Angeles, I see how much help they are giving to these families by something as simple as watching their children for only a few hours a day. --T.R.

These past weeks I have come to learn about many situations around the world that I never knew were happening. I am not trying to sound like I don’t watch the news or don’t care, but after taking this course, it has given me an interest in finding other organizations and reading about the kinds of services they provide. I found American Red Cross so interesting but yet shocked, because I never knew how many people are in need of help. When I saw Casa de Los Angeles, I learned that mothers in Mexico need daycare in order for them to work and earn money to survive. To me this is wonderful that Donna was able to do this for these families and bring joy to the childrens' hearts. Seeing their pictures and videos has taught me that there are good people in this world, people who care and have a heart to help others, and Donna is that example for them. I would love to volunteer myself because I love working with children and that will be such an amazing experience for me. --C.S.

Below is a wonderful slide show of photos of Casa families, courtesy of Kim Francois.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that celebrates the victory of the Mexican Army over the French in 1862 at the Batalla de Puebla (Battle of Puebla), about 100 miles east of Mexico City. "Although, the Mexican army was later defeated, the "Batalla de Puebla" came to represent a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. With this victory, Mexico demonstrated to the world that Mexico and all of Latin America were willing to defend themselves of any foreign intervention. Especially those from imperialist states bent on world conquest" (Cinco de Mayo, UCLA)

Many in the U.S. wrongly believe that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican Independence, which took place more than 50 years earlier in 1810. The holiday of Cinco de Mayo has evolved into more of a Chicano celebration in the US and on a much grander scale than in Mexico. "People of Mexican descent in the United States celebrate this significant day by having parades, mariachi music, folklorico dancing and other types of festive activities" (Cinco de Mayo - UCLA).