Friday, September 28, 2007

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 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 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.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Project: DIY BioDiesel!

Ohmygosh. I can't stand it. I was going to stop blogging after the last post because I really have to get some class reading done but I stopped by this Blogspot site on my way out and became entranced.

Named simply Biodiesel, the blog starts off with the top 10 reasons why you should make your own biodiesel. Then it takes you to a list of articles by the author of the blog, a Mr. Then, where, among other things, you can learn the best games to play at a child's birthday party. I found the link to the article on making your own bathtub biodiesel (not the real name but it should be) and it sounds even scarier to make than cold-process soap. Anti-freeze? Lye? Yow!

Who is this mysterious Mr. Then, who simultaneously unlocks the secrets to party games and homemade biodiesel? Perhaps the world is not ready to know the answer.

Swiped photo from Biodiesel blogspot blog. Thank you, Mr. Then.

Biking because I like it

Just got the old Schwinn back from the mechanic's today -- the rear hub is still bumpy but they couldn't do anything for it. It is so nice to ride it again, and today was the day when I needed a tank bike, riding through the orange and blue-clad throngs of Gator fandom to get to work.

I've been thinking a lot about commuting by bike, especially since these two things have occurred: I am supposed to write short responses on three eco-friendly activities for REL4936, one of these being commuting by bike and; our little Honda Fit is not so fit after a smack-up last weekend so we've been driving my in-laws' humongous SUV.

In this blog I've talked the talk about commuting to campus by bicycle and wanting to commute by bike with DJ. Even after getting the ride-along working properly and DJ becoming acclimated to it, I still never took that step to taking him to his preschool on campus via bicycle. Now he goes to a school that's not as close to campus, but still not that far, either. I did a Mapquest calculation of how long the commute would be to DJ's school by bike and it's almost 4 miles. Then it's probably another couple of miles to campus from there. This is not bad but it would take a little more planning.

By now, commuting to campus by bike is like nothing for me, so writing that short response for my class would be a piece of cake, normally. But I want to do something more so I think for this part of the assignment I'm going to write about taking DJ to his school and then mine on one of the days that I would normally take him by car. Planning out a route would be the first step, so I went to and created a route that I thought would be the best way to get there. I wasn't too far off in my estimate -- 6.5 miles one way. Ouch. Okay, 13 miles round trip, I can do that -- the real question is, will DJ want to do that...

I like WikiHow because people write how-to's on things like how to clean your room -- I just read that one, in fact, and it was very instructive. I also just read one on How to Commute By Bicycle and it was really a good read, and for anyone ready to take the plunge and commute this way, it's a good place to start. Another good article to read for planning is How to Not Get Hit By Cars, a handy little e-pamphlet connected to Bicycle Universe out of Austin, TX.

Snaked the image for this bumper sticker from Microcosm Publishing

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Raking in the Clover

Monday, before picking DJ up from school, I got out the bag of white clover seed I had bought at the feed and seed over the weekend and raked some of it into the front patch of sand in front of our house. At one time I had the bright idea of filling in a patch of dirt by our front door, that DJ insisted on digging in, with play sand. This was a brilliant plan which provided DJ with an excellent dump truck area -- for about five minutes, until the neighborhood cats discovered it and decided to use it for a different kind of dumping. So hopefully we'll get the much-needed rain that was promised today (and still, as of this posting, has yet to arrive) and maybe fill in some of that sand with clover. I have no idea if this is possible but as a first foray into sprouting clover where it is desperately needed on our lawn, I felt this was a good place to start. After the old man mows this weekend I'll begin raking in the next batch of seed and see what happens.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The 10 Dollar Compost Bin

I finally bit the proverbial bullet and heighed myself to the local plastic crap store and bought the cheapest plastic garbage can I could find (and I realize this totally blows my compact to not buy any new cheap plastic crap, now matter how beneficial to our household). On Sunday afternoon I went to work sawing off the bottom while DJ sat on the can to steady it, insuring that it would never be used for anything other than a compost bin. I really wish I had a working camera right now to document with photos but you're just going to have trust me. By the time I had accomplished this DJ was aching to use the saw so I helped him saw down a small weed tree trying to crowd out an azalea bush. By the time this was accomplished DJ was hot and bored and went inside to watch the second volume of Gatchaman in the AC while I dug out the little-used awl and hammer.

I got as far as pounding one hole into the side of the bin (it is a pretty tough cheap plastic garbage can) before realizing that I would need nigh on one thousand of these holes and risked incurring the wrath of my neighbors, who are generally a quiet, peaceable people but are not above throwing an old shoe or tin can at someone making an insane racket in their driveway. Leaving the bottom on would have provided more stability in making said hole but, alas, design issues like that are best left to the engineers.

So much for the lo-tech strategy; now I have to dig out a pair of safety goggles and find a time when I can drag out the power drill. I got the idea from the City of Nashville's page on Composting but I can't find the part where you have to bury it 6 inches into the ground -- I know I got that idea from somewhere, but I'm going to do it anyway and see what happens.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Global Ecological Footprint Calculator

Here is another footprint calculator, also through Redifining Progress. I like this one because it calculates your footprint as you move through the questions, which is great if you want to weasle on any questions that don't fit in with your reality.

Here's the link to the original post on eco footprints -- I'm going to write another post on this because I so totally lied on the first one and, since doing these is an assignment for REL4936 this semester I'm going to actually have to be kinda honest...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bagels and Packaging and Bracketology

Because obviously I have nothing better to do right now I finally decided on the best bagel place near campus based on taste (natch), ease of use, and least amount of packaging per purchase. Bagels Unlimited came out ahead of the pack, as you can see from my laborious efforts to graphically exemplify Bagels Unlimited's superiority.