Monday, December 31, 2007

Save Your Trash

Just read an AP story about Ari Derfel, a Berkeley caterer, who saved his trash for a whole year, composting food scraps. He apparently kept every tissue, every receipt, plastic bottle, and wrapper and put them in bins in his apartment. Here's Mr. Derfel's saveyourtrash blog. I just emailed him to ask if he would do an interview for the blog.

Got the photo from Mr. Derfel's blog via The San Francisco Chronicle (photo by Kim Komenich)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A List for Disney

I'm starting to make a list -- okay, I'm starting to think about a list, but it will have chex trail mix and wet naps on it. Because, I've discovered, if you don't want to pay the kingly ransom for food, snacks, and even cold, bottled water, it's best to bring your own containers of the stuff. While the kindly security officers look down on bringing in coolers to the parks, they do not mind a large baggie of chex trail mix and your own containers of water, discreetly tucked into a satchel. I think it must be some policy about meeting the dietary needs of their guests, as in, "my religion requires that I and my family stuff ourselves with a 1/4 cup of chex trail mix at 15 minute intervals. Same with water."

Still haven't heard from the good folks at Environmental Initiatives, possibly fogged in at their perch on Tom Sawyer Island -- we've had a lot of fog lately in this part of Florida, so I'm thinking something similar is brewing in Orlando.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2008 Slingshot Organizer is here

Got to Goering's fast enough to get one of the large, spiral-bound Slingshot planners. It's snazzy and, once again, it's red. If you didn't read the original post on the planners, you can see it here. Go here for a list of bookstores what sell it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More About Seitan

Here's the update: The seitan was a mess by the end of an hour's cooking time. A goopy, stringy mess. There was, maybe, one chunk that was vaguely reminiscent of what seitan looks like. I tasted it -- it's darn good, but I don't know if it's going to stand up to the rigours of turning it into wheat meat stroganoff.

While doing the first post on seitan I had come across this bulletin board where someone was whining about how they got dumplings out of their seitan brew instead of meaty chunks. Well, now that I'm the one whining about it, I'm going back over my searches in an attempt to find it again. In the meantime, I ran across this intriguingly named site, The Hillbilly Housewife, who has all sorts of tips about making seitan. I think the tip I will use in the future is using vital wheat gluten, eliminating the rinsing of the dough.

Okay, here's the thread from The Vegan Forum where advice is given on the making of seitan. I think wheat gluten is the way to go.

Oh well. I scooped out what I could into a container, and then threw the rest of it, broth and all, into the pot I'm making lentil/barley soup.

Update: I have to say, the soup turned out really, really good. The leftover chunks of seitan that I couldn't scoop out of the broth also went into the soup, giving it a good texture. I'm almost halfway done with this batch and am really enjoying it!

Seitan!

Nothing says "Christmas" like a big batch of good, old-fashioned seitan. Also, I had some veggies that were about to go completely bad.

I used the recipe for seitan from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson, but here's a seitan recipe
from Allison Wunderland that's very similar but doesn't really provide amounts. Here's another recipe through Associated Content that has actual amounts, if you're into knowing that sort of thing.

Also, the Vegetarian Resource Group has a nice little intro to seitan which provides a fair amount of information on its origins, and some really tasty-looking recipes.

The Vegan Planet recipe calls for a big amount of flour -- I just happened to have a bag of whole wheat flour that was languishing in our pantry -- and calls for a simmering broth made from your classic stock-type veggies like carrots, celery, garlic, and onion, and some soy sauce and bay leaves. The house smells like soup!

I made seitan once from a mix, so this is my first foray into making it from scratch. Apparently some recipes call for mixing spices right into the seitan, like poultry seasoning for chicken-flavored, or fennel and pepper for sausage-flavored, etc.

Just checked the seitan in the pot -- it still seems kind of gooey and it's about half-way through the cooking time. I hope I did it right. We'll see. If it turns out well, I'm going to make the fam some seitan strogranoff, combining the recipe from Vegan Planet with the one from the Vegetarian Resource Group. That was what we made with the from-the-mix seitan and it was so tasty.

More about Christmas Trees

In the midst of all the Christmas magic the past 2 days, I looked at the tree in my mom and dad-in-law's house and realized I was being really humbug about the whole live tree vs. artificial tree. They have a live, potted, pine tree that they keep indoors for a couple of weeks and decorate. After Christmas they plant it in their backyard and, in a couple of years, they cut it down and haul it back inside. It still ends with terminating the tree's life, but it seems more sensible to me than buying a cut tree every single year.

I read in O Magazine (yes, my mom-in-law passes them on to me) that in 2006 Americans bought 30 million cut trees*. There is apparently a crisis of where these trees go after they have served their purpose, but it seems there are a lot of opportunities to mulch the trees. The article also said that a tree can take up to 30 years to decompose on its own.

I just called our public utility and asked them what they did with old Christmas trees. I was happy to learn that Waste Management picks them up and turns them into mulch.

O Magazine (and this issue was just full of tips) also talked about the live Christmas tree concept and got their information from the Iowa State University's Department of Horticulture.

Here's an alarming blog piece from Scientific Blogging about the pros and cons of both artificial and live trees. I did not know that a lot of artificial trees can shed lead dust and that some artificial trees come with warnings because of lead content. Also, artificial trees are made from nonrenewable petroleum -- something I did know but prefer not to think about.

Now, what does this mean for our family? Well, I'm not sure. I have to get some florist's tape and do some repair work on some of the branches of the artificial tree we have, but after only about 4 years of use it's kind of falling apart. I still don't believe in cutting down trees just to keep in your house for a short while once a year, but I'm wondering if maybe the g-rents have the right idea; buy live trees each year, plant them out and then after one gets big enough, cut it down and bring it back inside for the next season. It will take a few years for this to actually work, but it might be worth a try.

Here's a link to Agricultural Marketing Resource Center's online discussion of the Christmas tree industry.

Here's a link to an article in the NY Times that discusses the debate of real vs. artificial, with some information on the history of Christmas trees.


* The reference for this article is: O: The Oprah Magazine, December 2007, Volume 8, Number 12, page 20 of special section "Green for the Holidays," entitled, "Treecycling."

Picture from Balsam Hill Christmas Tree Company, via Associated Press, via NY Times article referenced above.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Theme Parks and Carbon Footprints

It's official -- the fam is going to Disney for an overnight trip. I'm not going to say what day it is because it's embarrassing to admit you are a Floridian going to WDW on one of the busiest days of the year; in my defense with planning this trip, it was the only day (ironically enough) that we could get a room at the Florida Resident rate.

After our last trip to Disney, which I chronicled here, I've been thinking about how we could reduce our carbon footprint while at the park. I really did go to the TerraPass website to see if they had a "theme park" category for carbon offset; alas, I was disappointed.

Apparently, Universal Studios made a big to-do about their own efforts to reduce carbon emmissions with a "Green is Universal" festival in November. According to Green Living Online, Universal is the first theme park to "convert to green fuel and will be reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 260 tons annually." In addition to using biodiesel and ethanol in their diesel and flex-fuel cars on the property, Universal is also looking at ways to use the vegetable oil they're recycling in other vehicles. Universal is going to have vegetable oil-powered vehicles! That's so hippy-dippy, it's amazing.

So why isn't Disney doing the same things? I don't know if they are or not, so I went to the Disneyworld website and finally, after a little hunting, found a FAQ about just that question:

Q.What does the Walt Disney World Resort do to help the environment?
A. Environmentality is an attitude and a commitment to our environment, where we, as the Walt Disney organization, actively seek ways to be friendlier to our planet. We're committed to making smart choices now to preserve our world for the future. We encourage environmental awareness among our Cast, our Guests and the community.
For more information, please contact:

Environmental Initiatives
Walt Disney World Co.
P.O. Box 10,000
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
I don't know if "environmentality" is a word, but I guess it is now since Disney flaks have used it in a FAQ. So, anyway, I wrote them a letter and sent it off yesterday:

December 19, 2007

Dear Environmental Specialists,

Our family will be traveling to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World on XXXXXXX, and will be staying overnight. I would like any information you have regarding your environmental initiatives and what ways our family could make less of an environmental impact during our stay. In the interests of disclosure, I write a weblog on environmental living and will be chronicling this trip as part of a series of posts regarding carbon footprints and theme parks.

Thank you for any information you can provide and have a happy holiday.
We'll see if they can get it together to send me something in the next week -- I realize that's kind of asking a lot of Environmental Initiatives at WDW because they're probably located in a broom closet somewhere on Tom Sawyer Island and have to walk all the way to Main Street USA just to make a copy or send a fax, much less send information on living green at Disney. Also, we're coming up on "The Hammock" as the old man calls it -- that week between Christmas and New Year's day where any semblance of a workplace sort of disintegrates (at UF they just close the entire campus). I'm sure Disney, as anywhere else in the U.S., is similarly affected by "hammock-itis."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finger-Eating Christmas Trees and Other End of the Year Busyness

We're finally in the midst, on the doorstep if you will, of Christmas. DJ and I put up the tree on Sunday while the old man was shopping for dinner. Now, when DJ was born, I had already decided long ago that we would have an artificial tree. I don't believe in cutting down a perfectly good tree just to sit in my house to die for a month out of each year. I know that sounds humbug but I grew up with an artificial tree and don't feel like I was missing out. I see no need to change. And DJ doesn't care either way -- he enjoys decorating it and getting to plug in the lights.

This tree, however, as artificial as it seems, is really quite treacherous and has almost taken off a couple of fingers -- good ones, too, I might add. The genus -- arbor artificialis chinaexis -- is well known to pinch or otherwise disable many a good finger in its annual construction. Its goal? To render all human hands useless so that it may remain standing until at least March, when said hands are out of various traction devices.

Move to Virtual Real Estate
I've been trying to move the blog to a domain -- no, I should rephrase that; I've been meaning to move the blog to a domain, but have been thwarted by home, school, and crippling procrastination (I don't know if procrastination can be crippling, but it's more dramatic when you say "crippling" about anything, no?). Anyhow, in the last couple of days I've been looking at ways to move the posts to the new site quickly and cleanly. I'm hoping to have the new site up and functioning by the end of the year. I don't know if this is bad or not, but I'm going to keep the blogger site for now and cross-post, and see how it goes.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Another Book Crossing Update

After leaving my first Book Crossing book on the table in the 1st floor lounge of Library West, I decided that, instead of notifying Book Crossing about the non-existence of the other drop area, I would just create my own. That's the beauty of Book Crossing -- it's endlessly surprising where you can leave books on campus. The crook of a tree, a low brick wall near Century Tower, or a place that evidently exists in an alternate universe of Library West. So, I just made a new drop-off area of Library West, near the entrance of the 1st floor lounge, across from the buck of stars.

The first book I put there was scooped up within hours. There is apparently also a way to sign up for an email alert to releases in your area. A wise move if you want first crack at the new items. I did that and it's fun to see the other places on campus or in town where people leave stuff. I'm almost finished with a book (I'm not going to reveal title or author for shame of how trashy it is, but will definitely be a restorative after a busy semester) and it will soon be swimming in the Book Crossing Stream of Life.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Need-a-Bag? Project Update December

Well, it's been almost two months since we started Need-a-Bag? at the Alachua County Farmers Market. So far the project has gone really well; people are starting to understand what we're trying to do. So, instead of saying, "oh, but I have a million of those at home," when offered a free tote bag for their purchases, they now only say, "no, thank you." That's a big change and definitely a growing opportunity for all of us.

Leaving the bags, signs, and drop box by the fence along the front of the market for people to take as they need them has been a real boon; each weekend we find more missing and occasionally find some in the drop box. There is a rhythm beginning to take shape, I think.

Erika, the citrus woman and one of the farmers market organizers, has fully embraced the mission and goals of the Need-a-Bag? project and has given us her endorsement in a recent email letter, a little of which (the most important part pertaining to us, that is) is reprinted here:

*Protect the environment!* We will continue to provide plastic bags for your produce, but please consider recycling your grocery bags by bringing them to the market for your own personal use. Last year, we distributed over 1000 plastic bags during our citrus season. Tote bags are also a great item to store in the trunk of your car to use as shopping bags.

If you have visited the market recently, you may have been introduced to a new program created by two of our rather fabulous customers! Michele and Susan decided to take it upon themselves to reduce the number of plastic bags utilized by customers of our 441 market. Each Saturday morning from approximately 8:45 to 10, Susan and Michele pass out tote bags they have thrifted (and washed) to the crowd and/or hang available tote bags on the fences outside the market. If you are in need of a tote bag, please take advantage of this program and use one of their bags. If you are so inclined, please return the cleaned tote bag to Susan and Michele at the market the following Saturday.

If you have tote bags at home that you do not use in your everyday shopping, please consider donating to Susan and Michele (contact info in the ad section below). If you cannot locate Susan or Michele at the market, but would still like to donate your totes and/or tank tops (read their blog), you are more than welcome to hand them to us at our booth (#4) between 8:30 and noon. We will ensure the bags arrive at their destination.

The market still hopes to sell its very own tote bags in the future, but this is an excellent program that we hope you will support.
That was so awesome. And Erika and her dad sell some mighty sweet oranges, too, I might add. I was intrigued by her idea that shoppers should return the bags clean the following Saturday. I really hadn't even considered the idea that people take some responsibility in all of this. We'd probably just wash them again, anyway, since we wouldn't know which ones were already laundered. But it's definitely the direction we'd like to take it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Post-Partum Parade Depression

I’ve been feeling kind of “blah” the past couple of days and I can only assume it’s related to the parade being over. I mentioned on this blog about a month or so ago that I was gearing up to gather area cyclists to participate in the High Springs Christmas Parade in a show of support for cycling as a fun and healthy activity for the whole family. The centerpiece of my plan was the introduction of Queen Bicycle 2007 in her capacity as goodwill ambassador for all cyclists in Alachua County, and her attendant entourage.

And so, the parade came to pass on Saturday night and we actually pulled it off, but not without its share of mishaps. Part of the reason I’m feeling down is that I didn’t organize the getting-to-the-parade part of the whole deal well at all, and so lost the Gainesville Cycling Club who were going to turn out in their cycling finery, I’m sure, to help promote our cause. But I’ll never know what they wore, because they couldn’t find me, and vice-versa. As I found out later from the GCC organizer, they ended up with the High Springs BMX Club, and so paraded with them. Thank goodness they were able to participate, but it doesn’t alleviate the guilt I feel in not getting them to the right place.

We had still not found a rider for the Royal Pedicab (a bicycle rickshaw) transporting Queen Bicycle 2007 by the time of the parade start, but at the last minute our friend, Frog, took on the mantle of Royal Pedicab Driver. This was no small feat. Being a shy, retiring type, he was looking forward to just riding his low-rider chopper bike in the parade but was unable to get it to the truck in time for our departure. In despair, he was about to bail on the whole enterprise when DG stopped him and said, “Frog, you have to go to High Springs and ride the pedicab.” This is not something I’m sure Frog had counted on; like I said, he is a shy and retiring type and did not want to be thrust into the spotlight as Royal Pedicab Driver. He also did not want to really leave the city limits; I think it took him more than a couple of rich, chocolatey Ovaltines to get him into the Royal Volvo Stationwagon to drive the 20 miles to High Springs.

But he came through, God love him. And he rode the whole parade route. Even though Queen Bicycle 2007 herself is a lovely, wafer-thin creature, the pedicab was pretty darn heavy. I know, because I rode it home 3 miles from the pickup place on Friday night, with DG trailing behind me in her car to make sure I wouldn’t crash the darn thing. My upper thighs are still wailing at me. Frog came through, though, and he is a hero in my book.

As we came up the main drag, I realized that I do not like throwing candy at people. I had purchased a passal of SweeTarts, Starlight Mints, and Brachs assorted candies to give to people, not throw at people. I tried that a few times and almost put a couple of eyes out. I ended up just kind of skipping the candy like stones in front of the children screaming “Merry Christmas!” – I sussed that that was the code for “give me candy, now.” DG found the happy medium of handing the candy to individual children by the handfuls, and then when she ran low she would go to individual children at random like, “I choose you!” and give them one candy each.

We got to the parade announcer’s podium and I heard our group’s little introduction over the PA: “Alachua County in Motion was formed in 2006 to promote cycling as a fun, healthy activity for the whole family.” And, at that moment, my son and another child were performing some primitive form of bicycle jousting, using their helmets as the jousting poles.

And then it was over. We turned the corner and suddenly we were meandering back to the parade origination. We had circumnavigated the entire Main Street of High Springs, Florida, and completed our first parade as Alachua County in Motion. I hugged everyone and thanked them profusely, not the least of which was my husband, who patiently endures my crazy ideas.

I feel a little better blogging about it; I’m trying to shake off the blues, here, and writing always helps. We’ve already chosen our Queen Bicycle for next year and perhaps there will be some sort of coronation before then. As I try to snap out of this downer I find myself in, there is a glimmer of thought in perhaps putting in an application for UF’s Homecoming Parade. And maybe have a fleet of pedicabs for all the children who want to ride in the parade, to alleviate the bicycle jousting. And thank goodness the UF Homecoming Parade doesn’t allow candy throwing.

Thanks to Stacey for the great photo!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Catalogue Choice

Catalog Choice is something I first learned about at the Glom Shelter blog a ways back. After almost recycling the new issue of The New Yorker before reading it because it was stuck in between a pile of catalogs I decided that it was time to look a little more closely at Catalog Choice.

I'm here to tell you, it's amazing. After filling out a short sign-up form I was on my way to declining a whole bunch of catalogs that were stacking up in our recycling bin. It seems like everyone is represented on Catalog Choice's list of catalogs, so don't worry if Birds and Bees Marital Aids Company is something you don't think is widely known. It's probably there.

I even declined repeats from Wireless. Yes, I know. Now I won't know when it's time to get the old man that "I'm tired of being my wife's arm candy" sweatshirt he's been wanting.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rockefeller Tree Lighting

I'm sorry, this is so irritating -- the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, long a tradition of New Yorkers and others for over 70 years, has gone "green" (as if the 1000-story tall Spruce wasn't green enough). So this year the tree is going to have energy saving lights and solar panels to help ease energy burdens (here's a link to the AP story). I was reading in the wiki about the Rockefeller Tree that in previous years they turn the tree into mulch and other things as a way to alleviate any associated guilt about cutting down a 60 year-old tree (such as the one this year), the trunk being used for some equestrian team to jump over; this year they will be using the tree to make boards to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. I think that's all great -- waste not, want not, and Habitat for Humanity is an amazing organization. And don't get me wrong -- I love the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. It's part of my childhood and makes me misty just looking at the image for this entry.

But here's my idea: Why not plant a meaty-looking spruce at the center and decorate that? Allow it to grow as a testament to good stewardship. It won't be as spectacular but it will be someday, and families can return every year to monitor how much it has grown and hear about any trying adventures it may have had over the past year (you know it would be a target for vandals and nesting birds). How about a new Rockefeller Christmas Tree tradition?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pad Thai

Okay, this is going to be a major suck-up moment in Thursday's REL4936 class (one of the last, ohmygosh!). We're finishing up this lovely little book called Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet, and one of the "sustainable wonders" we'll be discussing is Pad Thai. You might ask yourself why such a dish would be so sustainable. The great thing about Seven Wonders -- it takes about 5 minutes to read and I encourage everyone to get a copy -- is that it discusses broad, important environmental issues in terms of seven simple, everyday items. For a lot of people, Pad Thai might not be that everyday, but it brings up the issues of sustainable food production for our world, soil erosion, and the overuse of meat in our American meals. It is also very tasty.

Anyway, we were starting to discuss Pad Thai before the end of the class on Tuesday and I just happened to notice the recipe for Pad Thai this time around. Honestly, I read the book cover to cover but glossed over the sidebar-type pages, I guess. So, after class I went to Ward's and bought the ingredients for Pad Thai and actually made some for the fam yesterday evening. Well, DJ (Dude Junior) had plain chicken and broccoli, but me and the old man totally scarfed it up. It wasn't all goopy like the Pad Thai you get in the restaurant -- I guess traditionally it's not made with peanut butter. I was heartily encouraged to continue making Pad Thai. I did throw some cashews in, but not that much.

There were two things I realized in thinking about the Pad Thai preparations this morning; I used few pots and pans (mostly trays for cut vegetables) and even though we did use meat, the old man and I probably ate 2/3 of a chicken breast between us (and there is still a bunch of Pad Thai left). So, in retrospect, it was not only tasty as all get-out, but it caused us to slow down on our meat consumption. The little bit of chicken we had was just enough.

Even though our kitchen is miniscule, Pad Thai was worth the effort. Of course I encourage you to read the book and try the recipe for yourself, but here is a recipe for Pad Thai from ThaiFoodandTravel.com that has lots of interesting information on the origins of Pad Thai.

Got the photo from Sightline Institute, formerly Northwestern Environment Watch

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Black Friday!

The old man showed me this quote from an article on Black Friday in our local newspaper and I had to pull it out for everyone to see. I think this sums up my impression of Black Friday:




Last year was the first time that 21-year-old University of Florida student Lindsey Jones went shopping on "Black Friday."
"I was at Target when it opened its doors and it was like something out of a movie," Jones recalled. "It was like it was the end of the world and you had to get in Target to be safe. Masses of women were running full force through the one main entrance."
Dirty looks and lots of running were commonplace, Jones said of the experience.
One mother lost her footing in the rush toward the door and fell flat on her face, Jones recalled.
Doesn't that just make you want to go out and buy, buy, buy? And so in keeping with the holiday spirit.

I've tried Buy Nothing Day as a normal practice. BND is the day after Thanksgiving and its purpose is to encourage people to not engage in the normal hogs-at-the-trough mentality of consumption that we've come to expect as our right on the day after Thanksgiving.

But Buy Nothing Day is too darn hard -- I never prepare by buying enough food in the days before to make it meaningful. This year I've decided to not worry about it. We're not big consumers in the classic, Black Friday sense. We've never gone on these rampages, mainly because we've never had enough money to really do it right.

If you insist on doing such a fool-headed thing, Punnymoney has an amusing post on Black Friday. The blog is apparently "pro" this sort of stuff so be warned.

Being aware of BND is enough for me, because it reminds me of the important thing -- I'm home with my family the day after Thanksgiving, giving me one more thing to be thankful for.

Swiped the image from Punnymoney

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bookcrossing Update

Sorry it took me so long to get back on this -- never did find the drop off point ("Library West - 1st Floor -Near Catalog Record Sign"...) so I'm going to have to notify the Bookcrossing folks and let them know that this is a non release area, when I can get confirmation that I am not a nincompoop and it really doesn't exist. With the next book I'm probably going to put it in the crook of a certain tree in the Plaza of the Americas. I ended up leaving it on the first floor by the cafe tables so hopefully someone caught it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Make your own lotion

Just made up some lotion for myself and DG -- she nixed the fragrance choice for my last batch, Champa Oriental, so I switched to a Paloma Picasso type for this one. God forbid I should make anyone smell like a "head shop" as I was so informed. I like to think of it as smelling more like "church."

Anyway, I haven't blogged much about my beauty and hygiene supply making, mostly because I haven't had time to make any. But with an unexpected day off from school for DJ (unexpected to me and the old man as today begins the Thanksgiving break) we ran errands in the morning on bike (I'm feeling smug and disgusted simultaneously, if that's possible) and then waited back at the casa for the old man to get home from work.

The lotion recipe I use comes from the good people at Florida Suncoast Soapworks and is really easy. It does require buying a couple of ingredients you can't find in your local health food store and there are only a couple of suggestions I would make to more cost-conscious people who want to try their hand at making this stuff; substitute emulsifying wax for the sorbitan stearate, which you can trade out in equal amounts. The recipe also calls for jojoba oil which is great but kind of pricey so you can use coconut oil which you can find in any health food store. If you use the emulsifying wax, make sure to pre-melt the mixture used in the oil phase with a hot water bath -- the previous batch I made still had flakes of e-wax in it which does not make for a pleasant lotioning experience.

Of course, finding a supplier near your home is probably better but Snowdrift Farm is also a good place to go for supplies and recipes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Flying Sphaghetti Monster is not the stuff of this forum but had to blog about it because the three men pictured, besides being kind of cute, are graduate students in the Religion Department at the state university where I slave away. Their panel discussion at the American Academy of Religion's annual conference on the Flying Spaghetti Monster caused a bit of an stir in the blogorama, and got the department and UF on the cultural map of mainstream media. I found out about this at Tuesday's REL4936 class where the instructor filled us in a little on what's happened since the conference. I also found out from the old man that it also apparently got these three men a ton of hate mail, so much so that they've had to have their email addresses removed from the campus directory.

C'mon people! Are we so threatened by the Flying Spaghetti Monster that we'd harass and verbally attack scholars who are real people and not some faceless, amorphous enemy? They only want to study FSM's implications in the broader context of popular culture and religion. But apparently there are a lot of dunderheads who can't quite wrap their brains around that fact. It was a religion conference not a sci-fi convention for goodness sake -- oh, wait. If the panel discussion had been at a sci-fi convention I probably wouldn't be blogging about this right now because no one would care.

I guess the throngs of hate-filled, anti-anything-but-my-faith folks are in a lull while waiting for the next same-sex union amendment to come down the pike. Sorry, getting down from my self-righteous soapbox, now.

Took the photo from the CNN piece

Sunday, November 18, 2007

New Need-a-Bag Update (Welcome to Need-a-Bag)

Oh my gosh -- it's been two weeks since I've said "boo" about this. Okay, I've been asked by DG to make this an introductory post, so here goes. If you were wondering, Need-a-Bag? is a project which is the dreamchild of my friend (here named DG for "Delicious G") and is simple yet dastardly in its execution -- oh, wait, that's her plan to take over the world. Never mind.

This project (and now we are forgetting about any plans to take over the world) has to do with the simple concept of enticing shoppers at our local farmer's market to use reusable tote bags for their shopping needs instead of plastic grocery bags which we all know are hurting the environment. So, we go to thrift stores and garage sales and find those ubiquitous throw-off promotional totes that you get at conferences, bank openings, and dubious other proffering opportunities, and we wash them and give them out at the farmer's market. Oh, and we also buy old tank tops, sew up the bottoms, and give those out as "T-totes." We have a drop box at the main entrance for people who have the wherewithal to actually locate bags they don't want or need to leave for us to wash and then recycle at the farmer's market.

We've been doing this for almost a month, now. If you click on the "Need-a-Bag? Project" link you will see the previous posts about said project. Last week was where we began to see progress -- when DG went back to the farmer's market to pick up the bags, sign-age, and drop box, she happily reported that there were only, like, four bags left! Dang! We had to get moving, so we purchased a passel more, made more signs, and flew back into action this weekend with renewed vigour.

I haven't received an update on our endeavors at the end of this Saturday's farmer's market excursion but, while helping DG set up before the opening, noticed an increased interest in the project. The new signs helped and a frequent farmer's market shopper handed us four bags he had extracted from his closet for our endeavor. Our first deposit! Thank you, masked project-helper.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Diva Cup (Boys -- TMI Alert)

Last night I finally broke down and went to Ward's to buy the Diva Cup. A friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me about the Diva Cup and how it has changed her life. Something like a reusable menstrual cup that changes your life...this I have to try! I was expecting it to be 40 dollars but was only about 24. Other than Instead (or, as I like to call it, "Instead of Nothing"), the rubber cup that looks more like a diaphragm, is not reusable, and has about the neatness factor of a mushroom-bacon-cheeseburger-with-extra-cheese, I had not ventured into the realm of reusable menstrual items, other than cloth menstrual pads. Many Moons used to have a cool pattern but I guess they got rid of it, so here's a decent looking pattern from Downsizer.net that looks doable.

So far the Diva Cup is pretty easy to use and not that messy -- at least not messy enough where I'm like "eww" (like with the above-mentioned Instead cup). I started at the end of my cycle this month which was probably a good thing -- I'm not dealing with a new item and the intensity of Aunt Flo's initial arrival, if you know what I mean.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dial Corp Responds RE: Purex Natural Elements

Mrs Nordlie
Page 1

November 12, 2007

Dear Mrs Nordlie:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us concerning Purex Natural Elements Liquid Detergent. Your comments are appreciated because they help us to understand how we can better serve our consumers.

Purex Natural Elements does contain a small amount of petroleum based ingredients. We try & keep it to a minimum and it's generally a smaller amount than most laundry detergents. There are also brighteners in the product.

We are constantly researching new technologies, packages and ingredients to improve our existing products and develop new ones. Your comments are very helpful because they let us know exactly what the consumer wants.

If we can be of further assistance, you may call us toll free at 1-800-258-3425 between 6:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time Monday through Thursday and between 6:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. MST on Friday.

Consumer Affairs

If you should need to contact us again regarding this matter please refer to the following contact number:
010425777A

PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL. THE MAILBOX IS USED FOR OUTBOUND EMAILS ONLY.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Old Futon Woes Once Again

Remember when I posted about recycling my futon? Okay, you probably don't, so here's the link to my original post about futon recycling. Well, that time I ended up not doing anything with the futon and eventually my husband hauled it to Goodwill, which gladly accepted it, milk-sippy stains and all. Now we have a cheap-ass futon we bought at Big Lots with a cheap-ass frame, and a floor model futon that we got for cheap at the local futon shop (here's a tip: Do NOT buy floor models no matter how much of a deal you get -- ours went completely flat within 6 months of use). We've got a little extra money coming in and so we're getting a new bedroom futon and frame. But what to do with the old one? I still cannot find any information on futon refurbishment. You'd think that in a country that prides itself on borrowing from other cultures, we would have borrowed a couple of futon refurbishers from their native Japan.

Here's a Metafilter thread on futon recycling that has some good ideas, such as making the futon into a dog bed (or two or three, depending on the size of your futon, I guess).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Arm and Hammer Essentials and Purex Natural Elements

Once again I'm blogging about products but I have to say, I've been using both of these detergents and have really liked them. I guess the folks at Arm and Hammer finally listened to all of the moms who complained about the overpowering smell because the bottle I picked up last night at the store was dye and fragrance free. We're almost at the end of our bottle of Purex Natural Elements. I just contacted Dial Corp. about whether or not the detergent is made with petroleum products or brighteners. Will update on their response.

Bookcrossing Update

I finally got around to putting one of those stickers in one of the books I have listed on Bookcrossing.com -- this one is Attachment Parenting by Katie Allison Granju and Betsy Kennedy. It took me five minutes to do this and yet I procrastinated for...wait, let me check the original post on Bookcrossing...eight months. It was March when I originally posted about Bookcrossing.

Now my only question is, where do I find the drop-off point? I'm using the Library West one and for the life of me cannot find it. I emailed fiberlibrarian about this so I should hear something soon. Besides feeling like an idiot, I'm now going to be late with the drop-off time. Will update more on this.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bicycling to Two Schools

Today was the day -- the old man took DJ to school in the car and I picked him up with the ride-along from campus. On the way home (after spending about 2 hrs at the park) we went through the Hogtown Creek Greenway which was pretty cool and ran into some friends of the family which was also really cool. I only walked one hill and it was the one that the greenway exits onto on the 16th Avenue side. Next time, however, I'm going to stay on 8th Avenue. There's that one monster hill and then the rest seem like cake.

The only thing that was a hassle was not remembering to bring snacks for the little guy, who was a mess by the time we reached 16th avenue and 13th Street, so we ended up spending 4 clams at the Buck of Stars. But the ride the rest of the way was a lot quieter, so it was worth it.

Bicycle Safety Pullover

This is so nerdy eco-cool I had to share it. I just made this pullover for the old man to wear when he bikes to work in the morning. The fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles. The fleece is so dark, however, I added the reflective tape to the collar and the front and back yoke so he would be more visible to cars. The pattern is McCall's 9443 (Stitch 'n Save).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Totey the Tote Bag

It's not entirely what I had in mind -- my ideal mascot costume would look more like a classic L.L. Bean canvas tote -- but it's something to think about...

Got the picture for this exorbitantly-priced mascot costume from animalmascots.com

This Week's Need-a-Bag? Update

I really shouldn't be blogging right now -- I should be studying, since I totally tanked on my last Age of Dinosaurs test (gah!) -- but it's been unusually busy at the library, considering it's homecoming weekend and we totally trounced Vandy. C'mon students and alumni, don't you have some post-game celebratory drinking to get to? But no, I've been busy helping people -- which is fine because I love that part of my job -- but it has left me no time to crack a book or even read this month's issue of Psychobabble Today.

Anyway, I just wanted to report about our latest farmer's market adventure. DG and I got there at roughly 8:10 am, stuck our stuff on the picnic table and then started handing out tote bags. When the person said, "I already have a ton of those," (but of course had none with them), we handed them the cute little half-sheet of literature we printed up last night; on one side is DG's commentary about the problem with "too many tote bags," and I had some facts about plastic grocery bags on the flip-side. I put a .jpg version with this entry to give a sense of what we are trying to do.

After the farmer's market opened we set up the remaining bags on the picnic table along with the literature, and DG put the drop-off basket just outside the main gate. Then we parted ways to run through the farmer's market to do our shopping. She's more attuned to the need to get to each table fast so you can get the best of whatever; I sort of meandered and ended up chatting with a lady I had met through mutual friends years ago. She was selling pineapples so I picked one out to bring home and I learned the secret to telling if the pineapple is ripe: Sniff the bottom of the pineapple and if you get a strong whiff of pineapple-y goodness it is ready to eat. In addition to the pineapple, here is my complete list of items purchased:
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Field Peas
  • Corn
I didn't want to get too much more than that because I just don't trust myself to cook a ton of food without it rotting in my fridge, first. Unlike DG, I'm still relatively new to this buying local food thing and am taking baby steps. Luckily there were choices of vegetables that I knew would get eaten at our house.

And, irony of ironies, I forgot to bring a tote bag from home and so used one of Need-a-Bag's many fabulous items.

After shopping and talking with DG's mom, we left the bags and stuff on the picnic table and went off in search of more bags (and more coffee). We ended up picking up something like 18 more bags at thrift stores and yard sales. Plus we each got some shoes and a couple of styling briefcase thermoses -- I am using mine right now and am quite happy. At 10:30 we picked up the stuff and went on home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ghost Bikes

I was looking at Bicycle Austin's email forum and read about this chilling yet effective memorial as a way to get people to start thinking about how big an impact cars and their drivers make on cyclists: Ghost Bicycles. The concept here is that a bike is spray-painted white and locked up where the cyclist was killed. Here's a post about ghost bikes on Visual Resistance.

Took the photo from Visual Resistance

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gap Once Again Caught Using Sweatshop Labor

Making DJ's Halloween costume (he was Davey Crockett, by the way) made me get more in touch with sewing again, a hobby I love. But sewing for me is also a way to reconnect with other humans, by making and giving articles of clothing I've made by hand. It also somewhat lessens one of the largest environmental impacts facing us today, the mass production of cheap clothing. In The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices the authors talk about the Personal Items and Services category and clothing comes out ahead of the pack in terms of impact:
Under clothing, for example, apparel is the leading source of environmental damage. The production of these products is surprisingly energy intensive...One reason clothing contributes to toxic water pollution is that the production of synthetic fibers from petroleum products and the dyeing and bleaching of cloth result in substantial releases of toxic chemicals (74-76).
And there's more to this section that's both fascinating and horrifying with respect to how big an impact buying new clothing makes on the environment. Yes, we all thought that driving our world-destroying SUVs down to the 7-11 just for a Slurpy and a newspaper was the cause of it all.

Now for a little disclosure: I do not buy all of my family's clothes used, nor do I make most of my family's clothing, either. I avoid buying the clothing that have "Made in Death Holes of Calcutta" tags in them, but I still do buy articles made in largely third-world or developing countries.

This article on CNN/Asia (funny how we have to read about these things on the subset of CNN proper -- like the real shoker of a story being buried on 10D) talks about how Gap Clothing "suddenly" found out that one of their subcontractors was employing child labor, but "employing" seems an understatement. Not just using child labor to make Gap's clothing, they were using SLAVE child labor to make Gap's clothing. And this isn't the first time Gap has been caught using child labor -- here is a Guardian article from 2004 that shows that this is a bad habit with the Gap Corporation. Gap claims they have 90 people worldwide to monitor their subcontractors' practices, so how did this slip under the radar? I'll tell you how, they didn't care -- caring might have hurt their bottom line. So, all this so-called Gap (Product) RED clothing Gap has been making to help fight AIDS in Africa is destroying the lives and families of other people in other ways. Thanks, Gap. I think about these kids making the clothing that kids in the U.S. will wear and it makes me rather ill.

In dwelling on the issue of sweat shop labor I've thought, well, doesn't this save families from complete poverty if they have just this little bit of income? And the answer is of course not, it's pure exploitation. So, what would be a better solution? Max Oelschlaeger, in Caring for Creation: An ecumenical approach to the environmental crisis, uses ideas from E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful to answer that question:
He [Schumacher] argues that what the economically impoverished people of the Third World require is appropriate technology, that is, technology consistent with their human and economic resources, cultural traditions, and geographical location. Rather than Western-style hydroelectric dams providing electricity for cities and water for agribusiness, the rural people of Africa need wells and filtration equipment that provide clean drinking water and supplies for irrigating local gardens. Rather than billions of dollars of financing for plants that make products for export with low-cost labor (jobs moved by international corporations from their own nations), the poor of the Third World need small loans to star locally owned businesses and craft industries (46-47).
I'm sorry that this post is becoming so long-winded but I am angry that I continue to buy clothing from Target when I know there is the possibility it was created in sweatshop conditions; even if the working conditions are acceptable, it is still adding to the ecological crisis.

Here is a BBC broadcast about "the real cost of cotton," as it makes its way up the chain to become cheap cotton t-shirts. Here is a Wikipedia article on Full Cost Accounting, or True Cost Accounting, which is way of viewing the economy in terms of what the items we purchase actually cost, without government subsidies, without sweatshop labor. It's really quite scary to think about, but something we need to face if we are to eradicate practices like sweatshop labor and the indifference by corporations to address those issues because it hurts the bottom line.

It took the Guardian Observer from the UK to reveal this latest truth about Gap's indifference to human suffering in the guise of humanitarian campaigns such as (Product) Red. I'm getting off my self-righteous high horse, now. Even though I know this is just scratching the surface of even beginning to do something about this problem, I vow to never visit another Gap store again.

More about Need-a-Bag? Project

The only thing about our experience that was frustrating (okay, well the only other thing and I'll get to the other thing in a bit) was that people couldn't quite wrap their brains around the concept. The bags were completely free and available to use instead of the plastic grocery bags but every time we would say, "hey, need a bag for your purchases?" they'd look at the proffered bag and sigh, "I have about 50 of those at home..." And then we'd see them later on with a ten plastic grocery bags filled with produce! It was really frustrating.

How do you get across the idea that it doesn't matter if you forgot your cloth shopping bags at home because we have some for you to use in the here and now? We also tried to get across the concept that people could drop off any extra cloth bags to be recycled through the project. That idea people seemed to understand and DG got a couple of people promising to bring some bags next weekend. I think the next time we go we're not going to get a table in the farmer's market proper, but just hand out bags to people waiting at the gate to get in and then have a box for people to drop off bags they want to give to the project. It will take less time and we'll have more success because when we did that this past weekend people were more receptive to taking the bags, especially when you practically shove them in their hands.

Also, we'll not swoop in and take over someone else's spot at the farmer's market, like we did this past weekend. This was completely unintentional, honest. When we got to the market and milled about in front of the gate looking expectant, Jared, the nice farmer's market superintendent, came up and said "hi, you must be the people who called yesterday." And this was true -- I had called yesterday and left a voicemail message to talk to someone about coming to the farmer's market. And so we said, "yeah, that's us," and Jared showed us in and set us up next to a nice lady from Nature Parks Operations.

Then, while DG was doing her actual Saturday farmer's market shopping, a woman stopped at the table and asked where she could find Jared. I looked around but didn't see him and said I'd keep an eye out for him. She explained that she was from Slow Food International and she was supposed to get a table at the farmer's market so she could recruit for a new Gainesville chapter. While she was talking it kind of became apparent to me that Jared thought me and DG were Slow Food International and gave us their spot. I saw the woman and her friend later on set up on the rickety old picnic table next to the gate -- probably where DG and I should have been. I didn't say anything for two reasons: one, I was not definitely sure that we had snaked this woman's spot and, two, we were here first, dammit! If Slow Food International had been a little faster, they would have gotten the primo spot, okay?

After DG got back and I told her my suspicions, we decided that we wouldn't take action immediately and would have our awkward conversation with Jared later. In the meantime, DG got some incredible croissants next door and I decided to go get some field peas from the lady up the aisle a piece. So, I'm standing there talking to the nice lady about how to prepare field peas and getting another recipe from a woman who was also standing there, and DG sidles up to me and whispers, "are you insane?" When I give her a "huh?" look she points at the plastic grocery bag I am now holding with the baggie of field peas inside. Duh! It was so automatic, we're chatting and before I know it she's bagged my purchase and handed it over. I sheepishly handed back the plastic grocery bag and went back with DG to our table.

All in all it was a lot of fun -- DG came up with the idea of putting a box just inside the gate for donations, and doing some literature to explain the concept a little more thoroughly. I'm going to add some factoids about plastic grocery bags. She just wants to get the thing started and then do some maintenance on it and then not have to do this every weekend. It was way fun but I agree that the commitment to coming to the farmer's market for an hour every week would be hard for me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Need-a-Bag? Project Takes Flight










That was sooo fun! We just got back -- DG went home to sleep but I'm still revved up from the excitement and caffeine of it all. Here are some pictures to commemorate our first trip to the Alachua County Farmer's Market as part of the Need-a-Bag? Project. I have to start making DJ's Halloween costume so I'll update on this post later.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Biking all over creation

I was crazy biking all over town on Tuesday with DJ on the ride-along. I think this is probably the most we've ever ridden together on the ride-along/bicycle setup and it was all because I was being impulsive. I decided to take DJ to the pool at the Y for one last swim before it got too cold and he said that he wanted to take the ride-along. I said, "are you sure? It's a long way from the house." He was adamant that we take the bikes and I was all, like, "yay, I get to go on a bikeride."

Here's the route we took -- I'll go back in when I'm on a computer that can do screen shots and put the graphic in then. It was wild -- while we were biking to the Y I had the sudden remembrance that we were supposed to be at a teacher conference at 6pm at DJ's school later that day and there was no way we were going to get home and get the car in time to make it. So, while we were swimming in the pool I decided we would just change clothes and ride to the school. We happened to meet some friends of ours while there who offered to give us a ride, but wasn't sure about transporting our bikes. I decided at the time it would be too much of a hassle to have to go back to the Y and get the bikes later so I declined, but about halfway to DJ's school I was kind of wishing I had taken her up on the offer.

It wasn't heinous -- the hills were kind of exhausting but DJ really loved riding down the hills fast so it was worth the climb and it was basically downhill to DJ's school, anyway. The thing I was more nervous about was the traffic, which was in the beginnings of rush-hour. Cars were whizzing past us while we were in the bike lane and it was kind of nerve-wracking. I took the sidewalk whenever it wasn't going to add to the hill-climb.

In no time we were at the school and saw the old man's bike already parked. We found him in the office, calling the house to tell us that the conference was actually starting at 7pm instead of 6pm, like I had thought. D'oh! We did have enough time to bike home!

Because DJ's teacher has been on medical leave the past couple of weeks the secretary told us it was not necessary to be there for the conference since there was no one for us to conference with. The sun was starting to set and we realized we only had one set of lights between us so we decided to scrap the whole thing and bike home.

By this time I was really exhausted, and DJ was complaining that his butt hurt from the ride-along seat. I could sympathize. We were crawling by the time we got to our street but got home just before dark. I took a shower and immediately crawled into bed to read to DJ while the old man made dinner. I felt O.K. in the morning but a little discouraged at how exhausted I was by the end of the ride. Those hills take a lot out of you, though, I have to rationalize. I want to do it again with a trip to DJ's school in the morning.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Because their email "tips" are getting kind of useless to me and, no, I do not care about where I can buy eco-friendly lingerie. No matter how you slice it, green consumerism is still consumerism.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cyclists Unite!

Here is a letter from our local student newspaper by a fellow who has thrown down the gauntlet and is challenging the Gainesville cycling community to take action against the metal juggernauts barrelling through our hamlet each day. Here's a quote from the letter:

The answer to this dilemma: There is strength in numbers. It's daunting to point your handlebars into a stream of traffic and swim among the big fish when you are alone. But imagine if everyone perched on the saddle of a two-legged horse ventured into the streets. Why, it would be a revolution! It would be the cars that would have to adapt. After all, they can't hit everyone.

"After all, they can't hit everyone." Dang! In your face! I was so impressed I went to Facebook and added him as a friend (no small feat for me as I only have 5 friends on facebook, including the two politicians I support). I hope we can be friends so I can help him plot his 2-wheeled revolution.

I love a parade!

This is the second year I'm going to attempt getting like-minded cyclists together to be a part of the High Springs Twilight Parade. Maybe this year I'll actually capture the hearts and imaginations of potential participants. I have a group of friends who are interested, but their part would be as Bicycle Queen and her entourage and I have to get our friend Alex-with-the-pedicab to sign on for this. A little bit of planning, but if Alex will agree to ride the pedicab the rest should fall into place. C'mon, people, it's going to be a blast!

Drive like you mean it!

I was once again looking for info on the 2-mile rule for cycling. I had gotten a tip the other day that No Impact Man would have information on it, but so far have not come up with anything from his blog. And I should really be doing my reading for REL4936 -- just found out yesterday that the undergrads in the class have to do an in-class writing next week and I'm freaking out and wondering if I've read the material thoroughly enough.

Anyway, so while I've been procrastinating I came across this cool newsletter called Bike Traffic which is part of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, my new favorite cycling website (and, currently, my only cycling website). Sure, they're in Chi-town, but if they can build a strong cycling community in the Windy City where life is cheap then I can certainly benefit from their wisdom in my own attempts to promote cycling in Hogtowne.

Got the Driver's Pledge logo from CBF from a defunct page but you can sign the new pledge at the sister site Healthy Streets Campaign.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Update on Weaning from Deodorants

Well, it's official -- the crystal deodorant is causing a rash in my armpit area. Usually on the left side, hmm... I put cortisone on it and don't use the deodorant, and the rash goes away in a couple of days. I'm a little distraught by it all because I still have a stink when I don't use deodorant -- after over 6 months of diligent deodorant eschewing I'm still kind of smelly. Okay, maybe I could do more like change my diet but, please, I can only be so energetic about these things. I'm teetering on the brink of "going back out" and totally using the Old Spice. Gah!

Rattlesnake Crick

Finally went with DJ to visit Rattlesnake Creek to hunt for shark's teeth. Our guides for this trip were our sparky friends and following "B's" instructions brought baggie, colander, spoon, and extra clothes for DJ (and boy was he sandy afterwards). It was a neat trip, and while we were tromping through ankle-deep waters along the creek bed looking for fossils I tried to make a conscious effort to look around me and note the area I was in. I'm trying to be more biospherically aware of my surroundings, after reading Mitchell Thomashow's Bringing the Biosphere Home. Well, we saw damsel flies, got bit by multiple mosquitos, and found a fossilized beer can pull tab. No, actually we did find a lot of shark's teeth and other fossils thanks to B's oldest son. I found a fistful of sand in my eye from B's youngest son so spent a bunch of time wiping my left eye. I finally started rinsing it with the creek water and that seemed to help.

I swiped these photos of another visit to Rattlesnake Creek from Hogtown Sparky.

Monday, October 15, 2007

P.S. It's Blog Action Day

And I have blogged about the environment on October 15th. Hope it was a success!

Acorns revisited

So I've been reading Bringing the Biosphere Home by Mitchell Thomashow for class and thinking about the acorn crisis as described by Carl Schaad on his blog, Blog Hero! and wondered if this was a way for people to discuss the same phenomena from different places. A discussion about acorns in the comments section of a blog could be the jumping off point for a whole exchange of information about each person's area.

Here's a quote from the book:
To interpret the biosphere, I propose a barefoot global change science. Cadres of citizens, schoolchildren, elders -- people from all walks of life -- meet in schools, libraries, parks, and on the Internet, to share stories and data. They pool their observations and expertise so they can track environmental change in their neighborhood. Via electronic communications, they compare data with folks from other places. Professional environmental scientists work regularly with citizen groups and schoolchildren to provide training and guidance. They jointly establish local research projects. Artists draw biospheric murals on the sides of buildings. A special television channel shows global change satellite maps twenty-four hours a day. Every computer is sold with built-in geographic information system software (135).

Thomashow says in the next paragraph, "Perhaps this is a naive dream." It's a groovy dream, I say, and one that can happen, we just have to figure out a way to communicate this idea to people that goes beyond exchanging our folk wisdom about bumper crops of acorns spelling a cold winter, and really, really start observing the changes going on in our little part of the biosphere. That's the gist of Thomashow's message, I think.

Borrowed the photo from MIT Press.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Acorns

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Blog Hero!, the other day and the author, Carl Schaad, told this humorous story about how he couldn't find his car the other day because it had been buried in acorns -- here's the link. Anyway, the thing that I found intriguing about the post (other than the fact that he mentioned "The A-Team"-- no one talks about The A-Team anymore...sigh) was the comments section. People around the country and the world were giving their reports on the signs of a long ol' winter -- one guy in Costa Rica said that the migratory birds were returning to his part of the world early as an indication of a cold winter up north. The last comment was a woman who wondered, "Hey, if it's a REALLY cold winter, what does that do to the whole global warming issue?" I read into that statement a kind of hopefulness that maybe the whole global warming thing was just bunk, anyway.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

White Cliffs of Clover

We had a lot of rain the past week, and the clover seed sprouted. I had to seed twice, but with all the rain by Friday it was obvious that the clover addition to our lawn was a done deal. This photo was taken in the neighborhood litterbox area. In your face, anonymous cats!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Eco-Fatigue

A couple of times recently I've come into contact with this phenomena of "eco-fatigue." It seems inevitable that people get so worked up into a frenzy about living "green" that they start to get a little frazzled by it all. As I have been reading in The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, it's important to look at the big picture. One thing the authors want readers to keep in mind is weight. The weight of what you consume is more environmentally damaging than what is consumed. That's why, they contend, it is important to make the sound eco-choices when buying that new fridge or stove.

One example of this was listening to Talk of The Nation one day on my way home from campus. They had on Michael Valkys, a reporter for The Poughkeepsie Journal who was discussing a city ordinance that prohibits homeowners from placing clotheslines or drying clothing in the front of the house, critics claiming it takes away from the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood. So, essentially, if you put clothes on a drying rack on your porch or in your driveway you are a law-breaker.

My feeling is that if you want aesthetic appeal when you're outside, go to a national park. As the discussion went on they turned to the phones to get people's input about this, and it was a litany of complaints about not only this topic, but people complaining about other things about being environmental that get on their nerves. Maybe this was a good outlet for the frustrations people feel in dealing with these green decisions every day, but I felt like it was a little bit of a bash-fest to environmental living.

The No Impact Man Toast Debacle
DG keeps me up to date on No Impact Man, being a frequent watcher of his daily travails to leave less of a footprint. Awhile back she told me about a No Impact Man post about toast that, in retrospect, completely typifies this eco-fatigue. After making all this effort to make no-impact toast for his little daughter, Mrs. No Impact Man swoops in and gobbles down said toast and, understandably, he was grumpy. His fatigue, of course, may be more acute having to run a toaster off a solar-charged battery or camp toaster, or whatever, but when you are No Impact Man, things like making toast take on a lot more import. Daily chores that take 5-seconds for the rest of us world-destroyers are Herculean endeavors for him that require actual intention and then planning, and finally manifestation. Whew. I'm getting tired just thinking about making toast from a solar-powered toaster.

Took the beautiful toast pic from No Impact Man.

Two-Mile Rule for Cycling

Well, couldn't find anything on the 2-mile rule -- I know I'm not making it up, I saw it on some website, somewhere. But I'm going to post on it, anyway, to get it out there since I'm already using it in my posts.

The 2-mile rule for cycling is, simply put, using your bicycle for trips that fall within a 2-mile radius from your house. On this now-mythical website the person (forever unknown) gave a simple way to calculate this using a map and a compass. Using your bike computer (if you don't have one they can run really cheap to really expensive) would be a definitive way to figure out distances. Mapquest and Bikely.com would also work well for figuring out distances to some of your more frequent destinations.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More about clotheslines

In my rush to talk about the book I’m reading for class I totally forgot to tell the story about starting to use a clothesline for our laundry. The point I was going to make by bringing up the book was that it said that electric clothes driers use up a lot of energy which contributes to all the pollution that goes into making said energy.

Reading The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices finally gave me the kick in the butt to do something so yesterday, before picking up DJ from school, I strung up a clothesline between two pine trees in the backyard. After washing the clothes I decided to do something that my mom-in-law does with her clothes, which is putting them in the dryer for 10 minutes to get the wrinkles out from washing. I figured that would be a good way to compromise so I wouldn’t have to use an iron (egads). While the clothes were in the dryer the storm clouds rolled in for an impromptu afternoon shower our part of the country is so famous for, and after it was over I hung up the clothes. Some of the smaller items went on a fold-able drying rack.

Heat and humidity combined, along with more of these spontaneous showers made the drying time a lot longer and was finally able to pull them off the line the next day. The verdict is that it was an overall success, however. The only casualty was one of my button downs – it fell off and got kind of dirty so I ended having to wash that one over again.

I just hung up the second round. It really doesn’t take that long to do this and if I do it every day we can avoid the Sunday afternoon frenzy of clothes washing that occurs every week. If I can keep it up maybe we’ll end up installing another umbrella clothesline.

Clothesline in the rainy-time

So, yesterday I said, "today is the day I start using a clothesline." Right now I'm reading The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices by Michael Brower and Warren Leon for REL4936 and it's a way easier read than Confronting Consumption. And where Confronting Consumption was frustrating in that it laid out all of these environmental woes brought on by wanton consumption, it wasn't a citizen action guide, either. The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices is still not a citizen's action get-involved-in-your-community-to-act-globally kind of thing because, as you can see from the title, it directs its message to "consumers", but it is still a great guide. I especially like the calm, measured tone of the book -- having been written by The Union of Concerned Scientists it is not hysterical by any means. And it is actually rather reassuring about the things we do and don't do. If you don't recycle that bottle of tomato sauce because it's too gooey or crusty or whatever, and you throw it away--the message from this book seems to be that it's okay, and the energy you would spend cleaning it with hot water might negate the positives of recycling it in the first place. I guess the main message is "don't sweat the small stuff." For example, here's a list they give of "The Most Harmful Consumer Activities" in order of heinousness (p50):
  • Cars and light trucks
  • Meat and poultry
  • Fruit, vegetables, and grains
  • Home heating, hot water, and air conditioning
  • Household appliances and lighting
  • Home construction
  • Household water and sewage
Looking at the list your first reaction might be like, "but I need my truck, and my family eating less meat is not in the cards." And you know what? That's okay. It's the way we perform these environmentally damaging activities rather than whether or not we do them at all. Going car-free is something few people can do reasonably, as you've seen from some of my posts on my efforts to use our car less. Practically speaking, I could not give up my car even though it is on the top of the list of most harmfull consumer activities. But when it was time to buy a new car, we chose not to get another world-destroying SUV and got our cute little Honda Fit. It's fuel efficient, low emission, and combined with walking and biking we have (in my opinion) reduced our impact considerably from when we still owned the Explorer (or the "exploder" as our mechanic liked to joke -- ha, ha.).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ugly Bagel, Anyone?

I went into kind of a cooking frenzy with our purchases after getting back from the bike ride with DJ to Ward's. It started with wanting to make some hummus for the week so I quick cooked some of the dried chick peas and began boiling those. Then I decided to make some bagels with the whole wheat bread flour using the Outrageously Easy Big Bread recipe from Vegweb.com. The dough didn't come out as perfectly as it always does -- I think it was a combination of using boiling water instead of merely hot and too much flour (the recipe calls for 6 cups all told but I could easily have gotten away with 5). And then I didn't follow the bagel recipe I have and let the dough go through one rise before shaping them.

Yep, they're pretty darn ugly but they taste great (I'm eating half of one with a little margarine) and they'll easily last the week. This way I can bring my own bagels to campus, not spend money, and not have to worry about packaging, period!

After making the hummus and cutting up some squash, zucchini, and onions I decided to use up the mashed potatoes from the chicken dinner last week and used a recipe for Mashed Potato Pancakes from Mr. Breakfast using some of the cut up veggies, some sad looking scallions from the bottom of the crisper, and some equally wilty spinach in the other crisper. They were awesome!!!

Bike Caravan!

I really don't know if this was safe for myself or my child, but I got a bug up my butt to apply the 2-mile rule to Sunday shopping. With the old man out and about, I gave DJ the choice of going to the store by car or by bike, and he said bike. Hooray! It took a little bit of set up and then we were off to the grocery store with canvas totes and reusable bulk food baggies. I am cringing at how truly green-nerdy that sounds as I write this. Anyway, as we were biking up our street I wondered to myself, "gee, I wonder if two wash n' dries are going to be enough," which shows you the level of planning I put into it. I just kind of decided I wasn't going to make a big deal out of this trip and magically things would work in our favor and all the things I should have been thinking about before going out (flat tires, tipping over going over uneven pavement, bandaids after crashing, insurance cards) are kind of occurring to me now. But everything went perfectly. It was all fine and we got some exercise and got at least half of the things we need for the week (I'll go to the other store for the rest of it after Sunday dinner with the parents-in-law). I thought the bike trailer would be a bad add-on but it worked pretty great, actually.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Need-a-Bag? Project

Okay, so DG and I got together on Thursday eve to try our hand at making "T-totes." I was informed by Ms. G that "T-bag" is slang for some sex act, so I think we're calling them "T-totes," now (that's not a sex act, is it? Geez). Anyway, she brought over all these fabulous tanks from various thrift shops and we spent about a half hour sewing the bottoms up (it would have taken less time except the thread kept breaking on my machine [I really have to get it cleaned]). But when they were done they were stretchy, seemed strong and would be able to hold various produce items found at a farmer's market or neighborhood grocery store. So, I think we're going to go to the farmer's market next Saturday and hand the "T-totes" out, along with the other totes we picked up at the thrift stores around town.

More About Commuting by Bike

Well, I decided on Friday when DJ was with the g-rents that I would test the route to take him to school by bike. I'm going back on Bikely.com to modify the route some but it was actually okay. There is one truly gnarly hill that you have to get up on the way home, and while I did it (huffing and puffing the whole way -- out of shape, much?) I don't think I'd be able to do it even with DJ helping on the ridealong. We'll walk that one. It took about 40 minutes from the school to the house, that was going uphill and with a headwind most of the way, but if we plan on leaving the house by 7 am we should get there by the bell. I'm feeling confident about this and think we could try it as early as Tuesday morning.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Update on Washing Hair with Baking Soda and Vinegar

Well, I've been completely shamps-free for over 2 months now. I just don't wash my hair that often now -- an accidental environmentalist side benefit of being lazy. And it's totally easy--I should be using bottles to keep supplies of the mixtures like DG does and that way I might be doing it more. Today I'm feeling especially grubby because I rode to work and it was so humid this morning. I'm still sweating.

Update on Commuting to School

Enthusiasm for taking my son to school by bike has been waning. I was briefly inspired by a dad who picks up his daughter at my son's school using a tandem, so I chatted him up before school let out the other day. Unfortunately, he couldn't really give me any tips because his commute is about a half-mile. Lucky. His child is sooo zoned for that school. Anyway, here's what I'm going to do today; after I get out of work at noon I'm going to ride to my son's school from campus and then home, just to get a feel for how treacherous it would be (and by treacherous I mean cars, not so much the amazingly steep hill on 8th Ave.) with DJ in tow. The g-rents are picking him up today so I don't have to worry about transpo.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Book: Confronting Consumption

I'm reading Confronting Consumption for the REL4936 class and it's all fairly blowing my mind. I'm having a bit of a disconnect. As I first read this stuff about individualization of environmentalism it was coming across totally as Greek. Then it slowly dawned on me what was being said and I kind of had an uncomfortable epiphany. The main gist of the book covers the different ways we are sort of fooling ourselves out of our rightful inheritance to the "good things" in life by pursuing a completely manufactured "good life." Does that make sense? Instead of citizens working towards keeping harmful industrial practices in check we've somehow fooled ourselves into taking the brunt of the results of these harmful practices on our own shoulders so we exercise our voices on these issues by individual consumer decisions rather than by being better caretakers. When we should be combining less individual transportation by car with demanding more stringent emissions and fuel standards, we are instead encouraged to buy more fuel-efficient cars and make no other changes to our lifestyle; instead of buying less packaged products and demanding that companies find better alternatives to present packaging technologies, we are instead encouraged to recycle more vigorously and buy "earth-friendly" packaging.

The "10 things you can do to save the earth" philosophy has been heavily damned in these pages and I'm faced with the uncomfortable realization that a lot of my current assumptions about how to "live green" have been based largely on this notion of being a consumer first and a citizen second.

I was talking about the book this morning with one of the librarians I work with, and after going on about the individualization of environmentalism, and how we are squandering social and political capital when we don't face these tougher issues of action, she asked, "does the book say anything about what we're supposed to do?" She touched, I think, on the fundamental question a lot of us are asking, which is how do we get out of this mess? The essays in Confronting Consumption are not an instruction book to action but an outline of the problems citizens are up against and which problems are the most pressing. So far it is an incredible read, but not for the faint of heart or the easily angered.