Wednesday, December 24, 2008

137 kWh!

I'm very concerned. While I know most people would be thrilled to get a monthly usage of 137 kWh, (especially because it's from renewable sources making it 4% of the national average) I'm appalled. My last two months have both been 68 kWh, meaning I somehow doubled my electricity consumption from mid-October to mid-November. I cannot for the life of me figure out what happened and I'm really hoping they read the wrong meter (I live in an apartment building with lots of separate meters). Otherwise I'm going to have to run around my apartment searching for the mysterious object sucking away all my power. This is the highest value I've gotten since the first month I moved in over a year ago! I know I've been using my computer a lot, but I don't think its that much more than usual. Heat and stove are gas, so I'm at a total loss. All I know is this chart makes me really sad.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

life according to Randy Pausch, and also Tina

Today I read "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. I spent most of the time with both tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. It was uplifting, sad, funny, and overall- right on. The take away message in four words is- work hard, play hard. He speaks of 'brick walls' as opportunities to prove you really want and deserve something, getting tenure early because he was in his office at 10 pm on Friday nights and making sure to always ask (sometimes persistently) for the things you want. But also, he had a large collection of huge stuffed animals won at amusement parks, always took the optimistic Tigger view of life (as contrasted by Eeyore) and truly enjoyed all aspects of living. While doing this, he valued experiences over material objects, something he very much attributed to good parenting. One of the big purchases his parents made during his childhood was a full set of encyclopedias, and this very directly reflected the priorities in his household.

"Growing up, I thought there were two types of families:
1) Those who need a dictionary to get through dinner.
2) Those who don't
We were No. 1."

Times have changed a bit, but my dad's iPhone comes out regularly during family conversations because we need a definition or information.

In other news, weather is crazy so we have had basically no school: 4 day weekend due to ice storm, 3 days of school (one day I was an hour late due to snow), half day due to arriving blizzard, and 2 days cancelled due to blizzard (city streets offer insufficient space to pile snow while still allowing cars and pedestrians to travel). So, we've used 4 of our 5 snow days, and the first day of winter was only two days ago.

In all that time off I have had many accomplishments. I made lots of Christmas gifts and wrapped them without using anything new except a couple sheets of tissue paper. Every year we save bows, bags, ribbons, boxes and name tags. The name tags are especially wonderful since today I was able to affix tags with my five year old handwriting to gifts that I made at age twenty-three. That one small piece of paper which only serves the simple purpose of labeling to many people, now brings with it a deep history of past Christmases, and as we return them to the bag (with my 10 year old handwriting) it brings a promise of Christmases yet to come. I also made it to the library for the first time in months, helped dig someone out of her driveway, drove to CT and made up a new game (after my brother and I tired of playing with the usual rules).

Friday, December 12, 2008

snow

Today there is no school. It's not a snow day though, but rather an ice day. Freezing rain overnight caused power outages and dangerous driving conditions. I hope this isn't an indication that we're headed toward this sad situation:


Image courtesy of 1Sky's holiday e-cards.

The ice really isn't good for the trees:

But it does look pretty!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

organization

I think this: http://maps.google.com/transit says something huge about the United States' transportation. Namely, that it is chaotic and disconnected. The other countries listed have major transit systems- national, or large regions. Even when I was looking to take a train trip down the east coast Amtrak was divided into regions and the different parts didn't even seem well connected.

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day (12-1-2008)
Bristol-Myers Squibb donating $1 for every candle lit.


This year, because of the tremendous success of the initiative last year, Bristol-Myers Squibb agreed to fund the Light to Unite campaign again. Just visit the web site, light a candle and $1 will be donated to the National AIDS Fund. The goal is 100,000 candles lit to reach $100,000.

Please light a candle and you will be rewarded with the satisfaction of having helped, plus facts and stories about AIDS today.

www.lighttounite.org

Thursday, November 20, 2008

community

Today I had an unusually awful day at work, and was really not looking forward to going to my grad class. Tensions are very high at school (two fights in two days), November has been a strange month and by the end of the day I just wanted to go home. Of course, I went to class. While there I engaged in some really interesting discussions, and by the end of it, I felt great! Had I come directly home to my apartment where I live alone, I bet I would have sat at home, stewed for a good long while and eventually went to bed with the adrenaline still coursing through my body. Community serves a lot of great purposes that we often mention such as educating, organizing and accomplishing. However, it does so much more than that. Being around other people means we have sources of entertainment, distraction, engagement and support. The topic of tonight's discussion was not what helped me to settle down, it was the interaction with other people who happened not to be exhibiting signs of stress. Today, in anticipation of next week, I am thankful for happy people, and thankful to reclaim my membership in that group.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

forgotten amusements

Last week I got an advertisement in the mail from Comcast Digital Voice. The ad has a Madagascar theme, since the second movie just came out. Included in the mailing was a coloring page with the instructions "Let the kids run wild with this page of coloring fun!" First of all, I think this is a great idea, it encourages reuse of a mailing many would toss immediately in the trash (or hopefully at least paper recycling). Second, since I'm the only one in my household, and I don't want to waste anything, including a coloring page, I spent this evening coloring. And then, when I had finished the drawing they provided but wanted to keep coloring, I drew in a few more characters, and colored those as well. I can't remember when I last spent some time drawing, but I actually used to be rather good at it. I don't know why I don't do it more often. I have colored pencils, markers, sharpies and there's always scrap paper around. Perhaps I will make it a new goal to spend some time each week coloring. It certainly is relaxing and rejuvenating, no wonder kids love it!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

best choice: Target?

I've been procrastinating writing this month's APLS carnival entry, because I'm not sure how to write something honest that doesn't make me feel guilty.

The topic is:
Do you feel buying locally plays a large role in healing our environment? Are you a true locavore or do you make exceptions for certain items? What obstacles to buying locally do you face? Do you have any tips for others looking to buy locally? Or are there other factors, such as cost or limited selection that force you to buy items made in other parts of the world?

I shop very rarely, but I had Tuesday off (no school on election day around here) and needed to run some errands. My shopping list was eclectic: battery powered alarm clock, rechargeable batteries, bottle brush, bras and chapstick. One mile down the road from my apartment there is a shopping center with big name stores (Target, Borders, Home Depot, Walmart, Marshalls). Ten minutes away there is a strip with lots of stores, still all big names. Fifteen minutes away there is a mall, honestly I don't know what's in there, but I'd assume all big name stores. Ten minutes in another direction is the 'historic' part of town, which offers an antique store and a record store. They're small and local, but I don't need anything they offer. There is a Salvation Army 15 minutes away where I might have found the alarm clock, but none of the other items. So, after contemplating all of my options, I decided that the best I could do for the time being was shop as locally as I could in terms of driving distance, which landed me at Target. I was able to find everything on my list, making only one trip, which was exciting. But, I felt badly that I went to a super-store that has no investment in my area. Yes, I do know that the plastic alarm clock, in a plastic box, will probably break in a year, just like my last one did. I wish that my purchases hadn't traveled so far, and I know that me cutting down on travel to pick them up doesn't counteract that issue. But, I don't know what else to do. My area has no cute little Main St. with locally owned shops where I could get to know the owners and bring my items back for repair, rather than replacing my broken alarm clock with a brand new one. What do you do if you arrived in your area too late to support all the small businesses? There may be a few hiding out there somewhere, but even my friends who have been in the area for a long time don't know where to find a small coffee shop. Apparently all the nearby choices are Starbuck, Borders Cafe and Panera.

While grocery shopping I but local and organic whenever possible. There is one local business, an orchard just down the road from me, which I try to support. When considering what items I need to buy, first I reduce (really, I don't buy many non-consumables at all) and then I try to find the most sustainable choice (buying a bottle brush was smarter than replacing my bottles which weren't getting clean). In the end though, I'm still left buying things made someplace far away, by someone who is seeing very little of the money I'm spending.

Monday, November 03, 2008

eco-nut, the next addition to the DSM?

How far is too far? I read the article below as a spoof, but do others see it as a serious issue? Does the fact that it makes me nervous to watch a friend staring into my fridge with the door wide open mean I have anxiety? To me, this is all quite amusing, but it does make me wonder about an outsider's perspective.

From the 'Sunday Telegraph':

'Curse of the carborexic'
By Elle Halliwell

November 02, 2008 12:00am

A DARK side to being carbon-conscious has been discovered, with a growing number of people becoming green to the extreme. Experts are warning the global warming panic is promoting obsessive compulsive disorders among some. Dubbed "carborexics'' or "dark greens'', these individuals will factor their carbon impact into every aspect of their life and go to extremes to avoid using energy.

According to a study conducted by Porter Novelli this month, four per cent of Americans now fit the profile of a carborexic. Participants of the study who were considered dark green included a man who relieved himself on his lawn to save water, and a woman whose family slept en masse to save on heating.

Head of the University of Sydney Anxiety Disorders Clinic Dr Mairwen Jones had seen an increase in patients suffering from climate change-related obsessive compulsive `checking' disorders. She explained that some patients had begun checking their gas and power meters constantly to monitor their usage, while others worried about their petrol consumption and their car's odometer reading. "A person who says: 'I constantly check the tap', now it's not that they're worried about a flood, but they say 'I don't want to waste water with elevated temperatures and drought, and I'm worried about my impact on the environment'''.

Founder and CEO of eco retailer Todae, Danin Kahn, said while he was obsessed with reducing his carbon footprint, it was a way to lead by example. "You've got to be really passionate about it or it becomes too difficult,'' he said. "I don't eat any meat, when I drive I drive a hybrid, I try to walk to work as often as I can
and I power my gadgets with solar.''

In September Mr Kahn, 31, went on a no-plastic diet. "I went cold turkey; I didn't purchase anything with plastic,'' he said. Founder of raw cuisine catering company Conscious Choice Julie Mitsios runs workshops on how to prepare food without cooking. She said demand for classes was unprecedented, as people realized the impact their diet had on carbon consumption.

People with signs of OCD should contact the Sydney Anxiety Disorders Clinic on 9351 9426."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Your name on TV!

While you may not be able to get on your local television station teaching a math lesson (like the one I was videotaped doing yesterday), you can get your name on TV, along with an ad about climate change. All you have to do is go here: http://www.1sky.org/climate-ads. It actually costs less than $20 to get an ad on some channels, and you can also get it onto some regularly viewed channels like CNN. The challenge is, you have to figure out where you want your ad to play, and sadly there aren't too many cities available at the moment. I just thought it was a cool idea and wanted to share!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

satisfaction vs. resource use

Saturday I had a wonderful day of not-work, which was exactly what I needed. After a stressful week last week I told a friend that I needed a day of fun, so we headed to the city. I took the train in and we bought half price tickets for a show that afternoon. Then, we walked and enjoyed the weather. Got lunch and ate it in the park. Walked more and took the train to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Explored the museum, marveled at the interesting sculptures one woman created out of everyday objects (like a 3' cube built entirely from a whole lot of toothpicks, no glue) and enjoyed the view over the harbor. Then we went to see the show November, highly recommended, quite funny, in a pleasantly small theater in the round at a YWCA. Following the show we had dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with a very authentic atmosphere. Finally, pleasantly exhausted, we headed home. Overall resource use- food (which would have happened at home too), train emissions (which happen whether we're riding the train or not) and the energy required to open the buildings we visited (which would have been open whether we went or not). Basically, we spent the day enjoying the public resources and making the most of everything available to us. It was a perfect day of ease, intrigue and amusement. I hope to start spending many more leisurely days in the city, making use of everything that is open for me, and allowing my apartment to remain dormant for extra eco-benefits. Not to mention the emotional benefits of spending time with other people and laughing at a brilliantly acted satire!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

bursts of productivity

Yesterday was an excellent day. It started off very lazily, with a morning of falling back asleep, finding patches of sun to curl up in and lacking any and all motivation. Then, around 2:00 I decided to get going, I cleaned the entire apartment thoroughly, did laundry and cooked with a vengeance. Around 7:00 a friend came over, my brain shifted into low gear and things got done, but at a much slower pace. This weekend my kitchen produced: dal with rice, cheese panini, 2 quiche, spinach balls, tomato sauce, tortillas, salsa, black beans with cheese, ice cream, pancakes and latkes. My fridge is more full than I remember it ever being, and the freezer is filled to the brim as usual. Apparently it finally feels cool enough out that I want to cook again!

I've learned that habaneros are very small, but extremely potent. I made enough dal for several dinners with just one pepper, and my entire apartment became permeated with spicy air. Crazy. Those things are super effective at what they do. I'm a little scared to try the salsa today, after it's had time to really blend overnight.

I'm really pleased that I managed to create enough food in two days to last me at least the week. Having had a weekend burst of productivity like that will help me out a lot as I have a very busy week coming up! Now I just need to get some motivation to attack the large pile of papers that need correcting, organizing and writing. Or, I could curl up in that patch of sun over there that looks really nice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unnecessary technology

So I work at a brand new high school. It just opened last year and has all sorts of amazing technological advances. Some things, like computer labs, are absolutely necessary in our changing world. Others, however, are entirely unnecessary, and even cause problems we never before had. Today, for example, the power went out in the neighborhood. This means that only emergency lights were on, which is fine since my classroom has plenty of windows. It meant that I lost the play I was typing with my advisory students, but we could write it out on paper, no big deal. The big problem was that our bathrooms work entirely by sensors. Want to flush the toilet? Sorry, the sensor can't see that you moved so it won't flush. Want to wash your hands? Sorry, the sensor didn't notice any motion near the sink, water is staying inside the faucet. So, we went an entire day only using one particular set of bathrooms in dire emergencies. First of all, that's gross. Second, there was no reason for it! Toilets flush and faucets run perfectly when the power is off, that's the beauty of a pressure system. Not to mention, a power outage isn't the only time these sensor based systems malfunction. I've frequently had the toilet flush when I move an inch but am clearly still sitting. Sometimes that idea "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is far too appropriate.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

education overload

I'm drowning in education. I forgot how busy fall is, and how quickly it goes! A month ago school started, which means that I began teaching high school classes and began taking graduate courses. This weekend I'm going to a conference which will educate me on how to educate others. I spend my free time talking about my students and curriculum. If I remembered my dreams I'm sure I would tell you that I'm dreaming about school. So, education is my life.

This month's carnival isn't about math education though (what I get paid to do). The APLS carnival for October asks "How do you educate yourself about sustainable living? How do you pass that knowledge on to others? Do you educate your family members and friends? Are you a member of environmental organizations? Do you do volunteer work?" These questions are surprisingly similar to asking any of these with 'sustainable' replaced by 'math.' I think the best way to learn anything is to do it. So, when I wanted to learn how to grow veggies, I planted a whole bunch. They didn't all produce, and I had to solve lots of problems as I went along, but I learned far more than I could have by reading about gardening. When I joined Riot for Austerity I started by calculating my current usage, and then opened my eyes to where and how I was using resources with every step I take. There were plenty of times when I got an idea reading a blog or newsletter (and I do subscribe to a lot of both), but I didn't really learn how it worked until I did it.

I pass knowledge on to others in many of the same ways I do in my classroom (and often I'm passing on sustainability info this way while in the classroom). I provide motivation (why should I do anything?) before throwing out random ideas. I lead by example. I acknowledge that I most certainly don't have all of the answers, but that's the whole fun of it. I provide positive reinforcement when I notice improvement. I seek opportunities to learn new strategies from others. And I offer direct instruction only when neccessary and requested. I'm not here to force my opinions on anyone, but I believe strongly in what I do, and I want to help people realize that they want to join in. I have been surprised by some peoples' willingness to accept what I do, or others eagerness to share their accomplishments with me. These are the shining moments in a teacher's life- when their students are engaged and proud!

The majority of my education comes through personal interactions. These are frequently the most effective ways to produce changes. I am certainly seeing us reach the tipping point where eco-conscious thought is becoming mainstream and what is expected. This has happened because there are enough of those 'weird environmentalist people' in the community to make it seem normal. However, there are still major changes that need to occur, and these will require mass effort to influence major corporations and government representatives. At this point, we need to get organized and send clear messages. This is where the glory of the internet comes in. Groups like Avaaz, 350.org, 1sky, Oxfam and ONE are bringing huge numbers of people together. I belong to many email lists like these, where I can take action and contact the leaders who they think have the ability to instigate major chages. It does make a difference if I email my senator about whatever issue is on my mind. It makes an exponentially larger impression when vast numbers of people all speak up about the same issue. Organized action to educate our representatives on the concerns of the community is yet another way I'm actively involved in my concern for the future of our world.

So, it's probably fair to say that everything I do is done through the lens of an educator. My brain is incapable of snapping out of teacher mode, and I think this is a good thing. I look forward to a lifetime filled with teaching and learning on a variety of topics, which will certainly always include sustainable living.

Friday, October 03, 2008

October!

So, it's a new month; time has gone by and I am spending my Friday night doing work. I might have a lot on my plate this year, oops. My balcony is littered with the remains of my garden (what exactly do you do with dead plants and old soil without a big compost pile?) and my living room is littered with textbooks and papers. I'm in transition. It is no longer summer, school started before I was ready for it all and now there is a lot going on. The days are getting shorter, which I know from experience since the sun now gets up later than I do. Each week everything that has to get done does. I'm still finding time to get out and have fun but something always has to give. The articles don't get read as thoroughly as I might like, or non-urgent things pile up until I have time to address them. It is at this point when I wonder if that slightly smelly worm bin is really worth saving. Or I don't make it to the farm store and buy veggies at the grocery store. But then, the worm bin finds balance again (and I was a little congested so I didn't notice it in the meantime). And I have peppers that I grew myself (amazing!) so I didn't really have to buy many things at the grocery store which I could have gotten locally. There's still a lot of work to be done, but I can grade tonight and attack the balcony tomorrow when it is supposed to be beautiful out. Occasionally life gets overwhelming, but so many things will figure themselves out given enough time. And the rest? We always seem to manage. Robert Frost still says it best: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

Bostonites: This looks like a cool workshop about home heating for renters and homeowners alike. Because I know you need one more thing to add to your to-do list.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

new local group!

If you live in New England and are even slightly interested in living sustainably consider joining the New England APLS. There are also regional groups in the Great Lakes, Lower Midwest, Colorado and California. Check it out and send your friends!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

and the green grass grows all around all around...

Except the grass isn't green, and it's not growing. My apartment complex doesn't water the grass (yay water savings!) so the open areas are covered with patches of grass, some of it brown; patches of dirt, all of it brown and patches of clover, brilliantly green. Now that I think of it, clover is green, its soft, it feeds the bunnies and it clearly is capable of living in the New England environment far more independently than grass is. There's even the added bonus that some clovers are lucky, so it provides hours of entertainment for industrious children (and maybe some adults) looking for the coveted 4-leaf variety. With all this, clover seems like the perfect ground cover. So, how did we end up with grass? It can be prickly, requires tons of water, you have to mow it and it is the exact same color as clover. I've decided that if I ever have a lawn that isn't entirely covered with edible and decorative plants, I'm putting in clover. The landscaping companies make think I'm insane (can you even buy clover?) but at the moment it seems like an entirely viable option.

Also, if you ever doubted the cleaning power of "green" laundry detergent, doubt no longer. My Arm and Hammer Essentials got out an ink stain, without me doing anything! I always hear about people applying hairspray immediately afterward and a number of other urgently applied remedies. I, on the other hand, happened to notice a slightly faded ink stain on my shirt as I put it on one day (after having washed it) and when I mentioned it to my mother I was informed that the shirt was doomed since the stain had set. Not worrying about it, I threw the shirt in with the rest of the wash and as I was hanging it up to dry, saw to my amazement that the stain had disappeared! So, no pre-treatment, no extra detergent, just two regular washes and the ink was faded and gone. I must say, I'm impressed.

Monday, September 15, 2008

it's spreading!

Tonight I received a call from my friend informing me her father had asked her for my number. He called to tell me of the cool environmentally conscious action he had taken. Apparently my friend has told him some of the things I do, and as the most eco-minded person he knew, he wanted to share with me. Well, that would have made my day in and of itself, but then he told me what he did. He used water from his dehumidifier to wash his clothes! I find this totally amazing because a) I've never heard of anyone doing it and b) it takes some effort to save water and add it at the right time (he used it for wash and the first rinse). Apparently this saves about 28 gallons of water, according to the calculations of his 6th grade class. So, my actions affected my friend, who influenced her parents to change their habits, who engaged 20 something 6th graders, some of whom probably told their parents, some of whom probably told the other parents at the soccer game "You'll never guess what my son told me about his crazy teacher this year..." That's a really large web of people stemming from a few conversations I had. Whenever you fear that you're not having an impact making such small changes, realize how rapidly that impact can grow and see that in fact you are personally causing an exponential ripple effect which is slowing eroding the cultural norms (yes that was 3 metaphors in one, but I'm confident you can figure it out).

In other (now much less exciting) news, yesterday was Christmas. My parents had been wanting to get me a GPS and decided to give it to me early since I was talking about my careful, yet not always entirely succesful, navigation of the Boston roads. Purchasing this device made me realize that there are in fact environmentally friendly technology developments. Yes, I absolutely could get directions to where I'm going, but I can't account for every possible wrong turn, or need to get gas, or other necessary detour. So, having a GPS allows me to find the quickest route where I'm going at any time, thus reducing my driving. It also will work while walking or biking, which I will be more likely to do instead of driving if I know I won't be getting lost as it grows dark. Plus, my device has an excellent feature which allows me to program in a certain speed (I chose 70 mph to start) and it will beep at me every time I pass this speed. So, I'm getting where I'm going the most efficient way possible, using the mode of transport with the least impact and I'm being reminded to drive in a way that will increase my gas mileage (which, by the way, was 39 mpg last tank, which is 10 mpg more than my rather large sedan normally gets!).

Finally, I had a fantastic weekend of resource free fun. My grandmother, mother and I sat down to organize 10 years of photos. We have gone digital, but the last photo album our family has is from '98. It was great to hang out, reminisce and be proactive in organizing everything so that we will be able to do this more often (and without quite so much "when on earth did we do that?").

Friday, September 05, 2008

"fresh" air

So today I was driving home behind a woman who had one of those pine tree shaped air fresheners hanging from her rear view mirror. I never understood the appeal of such odor reducers/masks. Personally I like my car to smell like air, not chemical. And, if there's a gross smell in the car, then I want to clean the car, not camouflage it with another stronger scent. But, that opinion isn't really what made me feel the need to share this sighting. The punch line of this story is, the woman was driving in a..... convertible! Seriously? We were driving past a wooded area and her car was filled with fresh air. Are we that brain washed by commercialization that we need to have a pine scent hovering by our noses, even as we drive down the road with the top down and our noses hang out in the open air? I understand that she probably bought the air freshener for when the top is up, but it makes me seriously wonder what we could be convinced of needing. Maybe I should be spraying Febreze on my balcony or washing the dirt out of my plant containers?


Also, I found out today that "it takes the same amount of energy to produce just four sheets of paper as it does to power a laptop for an hour" from my ideal bite tip of the day. That made me feel pretty good about the number of blogs I read and games I play online. They are suggesting reading books on one of those e-book readers, which I'm not sure I'm quite ready to do, but its nice to know that since my laptop already exists I am actually being more effective playing online rather than buying a book of Sudoku puzzles.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

re-focus

It is so easy to get caught up in the hype, and to focus on the negative. I am sure there are some great biological explanations for why we often pay attention to bad experiences more strongly than good ones (such as: it's important to not eat the berry that makes you sick, but no big deal if you do or don't eat the one that you felt fine after) but the negativity of the media is far too skewed. I want to hear the success stories, I want to read about people who work together, I want to know what hopes and dreams we have. This happens with everything- war, natural disaster and politics. Currently I'm facing the presidential election news, and all I see are stories about Palin. Yes, I needed to hear that she had been chosen, and I want to know her stance, but that is all. I still want to hear about Obama's speech, which I actually didn't get to read about until today when I made a conscious effort to search the web for it. The Republicans timed things perfectly, and we all fell for it. Now, once I make my statement on who I support, I try to redirect conversations away from the rumors about Palin's family. I want to focus on progress and facts, hear about the issues and not the twisted quotes taken out of context. I hope that isn't too much to ask for.

I want paragraphs like this, a direct quote from Obama's speech, to get the attention it deserves. Here is a candidate who recognizes our differences, but can make some very strong positive statements to unify the country. Progress.

"We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort."

context

Friday, August 29, 2008

A is for Affluence

Another carnival from the APLS blog: This month's carnival is about Affluence. What do you think of the term? Does it apply to you? Do you dislike the word? Feel uncomfortable with it? Are there certain responsibilities that come with accepting that term?

The short and sweet of it is, it does apply and it makes me totally uncomfortable.

Recently, it made me uncomfortable when someone shared that her parents are millionaires and she just found out. I felt embarrassed for her for having announced that, and then felt embarrassed for myself that I had that reaction. I think I made my friend uncomfortable when I offered to pay for her train ticket to come visit me. I don't want to know how much money my parents have and I certainly don't go around announcing how much money I have (which I suppose I should admit is a lot more than the average 23 year old, especially one on a teacher's salary). Actually, not only do I not announce this fact, I hide it. I love having a reason to be frugal and sharing how little I pay for electricity and how infrequently I purchase consumer goods.

Why is money such a touchy subject? For me, its like white guilt. I don't want to be seen as someone who is privileged. I want to fit in with everyone else, and not have anyone assume that I'm a spoiled brat. Honestly, I am spoiled, not just compared to someone in a third world country, but compared to my students and the average American. My definition of spoiled doesn't mean that I can afford an iPhone (which I can, but I won't buy one), it means that I have the choice between the cheap brand and the organic one. It means that I have the flexibility to make a strong statement with where I chose to spend my money and also to make a statement with whether I spend money at all. It is one thing for someone to choose not to take a plane because they can't afford to, but it says something completely different when someone who could fly quite easily chooses to vacation nearby. I hope that people consider this responsibility when they make purchases. With each purchase or donation I try to use my money to promote change and growth in the directions I believe we should be headed in. If I want other people to begin doing the same, I think I will need to stop hiding from my affluence and start sharing that I live my life the way I do, not because I need to save money, but purely and simply because I believe it is important.

Hello, my name is Tina. I am affluent and living sustainably.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympic Cheer

I just finished watching the Olympic closing ceremony. I feel warm and proud, of my country, the athletes, the Chinese and the world. Some reports say that 4 billion people watched some part of the 17 days of competitions/performances, so the world should be filled with this afterglow. I was at a bar in Boston for my friend's birthday the night that Phelps was racing for his 8th gold medal. Anyone outside of that bar would have been sure that the Red Sox were on, and had just completed an amazing play. At no other time is there so much energy and intent focus on the television in Boston. Yet, a large group of people were cheering at the top of their lungs, for swimming! A set of American themed songs played while we cheered and gaped and sang along, stopping occasionally to marvel that we were doing all of this for swimming. Somehow human kind needs to use this energy for progress. Beijing did amazing things to reduce pollution when athletes were about to convene there. The world stood up and spoke up about humanitarian causes and got coverage because they seemed relevant. We need to seem relevant all the time, and care about the air everyone is breathing, not just the marathon runners. How?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

time vs. money

Today someone tried to put a monetary value on my time. I went to get my car inspected and have some basic maintenance done. After checking in I settled into the waiting room to do some preparation work for the upcoming school year. When I'd gotten a lot done I moved on to reading my book, ate a snack, read some more and finally (after 3 hours) I went to ask how much longer it would be. Turns out that the paper work for my car had been misplaced for a while, but I was all set to go in another 40 minutes. To apologize for the mistake and the extra time, they offered to find me a coupon and gave me a $10 gas card. At that point I was hungry and stiff from sitting in a hard chair so long that I didn't care what they gave me, I just wanted to go home. As I drove back, I realized what an absurd concept that really is. My wasted time is worth $10 in gas? The two don't compare. I have been thinking a lot lately about how important my time is. I enjoy working as a teacher because of all the built in vacation time, and the fact that I get home around 4:00 (even though I have more work to do). It is very important to me that I have a short commute, because I have no interest in spending my time in the car. Having extra money is not worth wasting my time. I feel very lucky that I can say that, that I have enough money, that I can afford to live near where I work, and that even though I wish I hadn't spent so long waiting for my car today, it didn't really cost me much more than some sunshine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Riot progress

Down to 21% for water use. 4% less than last month.
Gas is the only thing I'm still unhappy with my usage of. And its only going to increase as I head to grad school classes twice a week in Boston.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vacation Equations

Six weeks of an intensive math program may have influenced my thought process slightly. As I was writing down my thoughts on the vacation I just returned from I realized I was using mathematical symbols to do so. I give you the beautiful language of symbols:

tolls = traffic = aggravation + pollution
= money to keep up the road =? limited road use

mountains = free fun

lakes = cheap fun

waterfalls = {beautiful if next to the path
{hazardous if taking over the path

rain /= time to go shopping
= time to put on waterproof gear and do everything you were going to do

bug spray = small environmental impact + great personal reward

eating out = support of a local economy + fun to do on vacation

white mountains = beautiful + not too far = excellent vacation location

Key: ?= means conjecture
= { means either, or
/= means not equal

One last equation, which I will provide a proof for:
Tina hiking = excellent ad for crocs

I happen to hate wearing socks and only do so when its cold. This means that I refuse to wear hiking boots or anything that resembles normal hiking gear, instead I wear sandals, and more recently, crocs. These are the most excellent invention for hikers like me. This fact was not entirely evident to my family, who started the week making fun of me and every time I so much as slipped a centimeter my brother pronounced "That wouldn't have happened in sneakers!" Then, we reached a stream which had decided to cross the trail. My family looked on in horror, not water! I, on the other hand, boldly crossed, found the water to be refreshing, and was able to inform them that if they could cross this one barrier, the rest of the path appeared clear. Then, and many times more (as it rained and our trails turned into rivers) everyone was jealous of my footwear. Moral of the story? Crocs are cool. Or, more generally, even if something looks weird and foreign, it may turn out to be an excellent solution to the problems you didn't anticipate.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Living Sustainably

For the APLS carnival, I was going to write about living sustainably as being able to sustain yourself, with only a small community of people you actually know to depend on. I was going to tell you about growing my own vegetables, which is something I can do well, but needing someone else to hem my pants, because I simply cannot motivate myself to do it. I still believe that this small community is important. Less travel for goods and simply understanding the process that goes into the production of the items we consume is essential. But, as I write this, I am watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics. We are, and should be, part of a global community. What is happening in China matters to me. The political actions that their government takes as well as the simple beauty of the Chinese character for Harmony represented stunningly in the center of an enormous arena have an impact on my own life. Perhaps the most environmentally friendly way to engage in this global community is through the internet, such as the global handshake that Avaaz.org is passing around the world. Today I virtually shook hands with a woman in France, in solidarity, friendship and "committing to hold all our governments to a higher standard of peace, justice and respect for human dignity wherever they fall short." Living sustainably should not just be about sustaining myself, but sustaining the entire world that we share. I would say more, but I think the most important thing to do right now is appreciate the global unification of the Olympics. Watch these ceremonies, and feel how interconnected the world is. Then, in two weeks, we can decide how to capitalize on these connections for the betterment of our enormous society.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Lettuce in a Bag

I am always amazed how quickly our (my) perceptions change. When I first saw lettuce being sold in plastic bags, I thought it was an absurd idea. I mean, really, who can't rip up their own lettuce? Then, time passed, and there were huge shelves of bagged lettuce, next to a smaller shelf of heads of lettuce. There was this idea that bagged lettuce stayed fresher, and it really was easier to just pour it out. Plus, that variety factor. I can't find baby spinach in my grocery store except in individual bags, and no one can use up 5 heads of lettuce fast enough to get that great bag of mixed greens. So, for a while I subscribed to the lettuce in a bag group. Then I started thinking about buying local and reducing packaging so I went back to buying "whole lettuce." Earlier this season I bought seeds for corn salad, and tried to look at the store to see if they sold it. Those bags don't even label what kinds of lettuce are in them! They just say "baby greens" but I can clearly see 3 different colors and several textures, why don't I have the right to know what I'm eating? Turns out corn salad is delicious, (mostly because it is fresh and 100% local), but, I would never have known about it shopping in the store. The real reason I was motivated to write this post though, is that last weekend my parents got me a bag of lettuce. I was disappointed at the plastic, but otherwise not terribly bothered. Guess what? It is now brown and slimy! Totally gross, the pets have been looking at me wondering if I really expect them to eat it (which I don't but I couldn't separate all the bad parts out). Heads of lettuce do not get slimy, they do not turn brown, they do not send me running to the sink to rid my hands of the goo my "stay fresh" lettuce is covered in. Heads of lettuce dry out a little, and thats okay, my pets like it that way, and I do too. In just a few years I've come a full 360 degrees. It makes me seriously consider how many other things I do, that I never would have dreamed of in the past, simply because they have become commonplace.

Its almost like what's happened with Obama. Everyone is crying out for oil, since they think it will solve their problems. Can I blame him for wondering if they are right? No, I can't, but I can blame everyone who keeps quiet even though they know that more drilling locations (when so many aren't even being used) will not solve our problems. Let your voice be heard, let your ideas become so commonplace that people will wonder how they ever thought differently. Write to Obama and tell all your friends here: http://www.environmental-action.org/enviroaction.asp?id=2637

Feel free to use the letter I wrote below, or create your own.

Sen. Obama,

I was so impressed when I heard that you were the only presidential candidate who opposed granting oil companies a tax reprieve to drop gas prices for the summer. I am sure you understand my dismay now that I hear you are willing to consider any increase in offshore oil drilling. More oil drilling will mean more oil spills, more destruction to our ocean ecosystems, and a continuation of our dependence on oil.

Please support bold new clean energy programs, and not the dirty and dangerous answers from the past. Those who are complaining now will truly thank you for it in the future, because decreasing our dependence on oil means we can have a happy and healthy one.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Simplicity

The best things in life are usually the simplest ones. Friday night I relaxed and read a great book. Saturday I slept in, went for a bike ride, had fresh picked (that day!) corn for lunch and pancakes with strawberries for dinner. Today I cleaned, repotted some plants (my yucca is pushing 5' tall, and its offspring is catching up quickly), grocery shopped, napped during a thunderstorm and had a lovely phone conversation. Tonight I finish the weekend feeling accomplished and relaxed. I got everything done that I needed to, and almost everything done that I wanted to. The only thing missing- I have yet to find a spot to go swimming. The lake I biked by seems ideal, but there is only a tiny section that you're allowed to swim in and its actually just a wading area if you're more than 3 feet tall. I know there's a perfect secret lake somewhere, I just have to keep asking around until I find it.

Other things that make me disproportionately happy: I have two peppers growing now, and they are both rapidly increasing in size. There are also lots of tomatoes reaching what I expect to be full size. I keep waiting them to turn red, but watched tomatoes may be like a watched pot. Speaking of common phrases, I reinvented one this evening- "beware the path less traveled by, poison ivy may attack if you don't keep a watchful eye." A true statement regarding the park in Rockport. However, ocean water and napkins seem sufficient in poison ivy removal since I only got two tiny spots after walking through a knee-high bush of it.

One week left of classes. Then a week off in the White Mountains of NH. It really does feel like summer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Environment P___ Agency

What is it that EPA stands for again? Environmental Protection? No, must be Passive or Push-over or Pathetic or "Patently wrong". Too bad for that grasshopper...

Grist says:

The Grass Is Half Empty
EPA and Florida sucking at Everglades cleanup, says judge

Florida and the U.S. EPA have been skewered by a federal judge for their Everglades cleanup efforts (or rather, lack thereof). In 2003, Florida pushed back a deadline for reducing phosphorus pollution in the River of Grass from 2006 to 2016. By doing so, the state "violated its fundamental commitment and promise to protect the Everglades," U.S. District Judge Alan Gold ruled Tuesday. He also turned his Gavel of Shame on the EPA, saying the agency violated the Clean Water Act by not holding Florida to its deadline. The EPA turned a "blind eye" in concluding that the delay meant no change in water-quality standards, said Gold, and was "patently wrong and acted arbitrarily and capriciously." The ruling forces the EPA to review Florida's water-pollution standards for the Everglades and determine whether they pass federal muster.


More info here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Live life lightly, and announce it brightly

My brain was spinning with so many thoughts that I need to get down that I emailed myself, twice. I've occasionally done this to remind myself of something, but usually it wasn't a fact or quote, more like "Don't forget to ___ as soon as you read this." So, before I forget, this post is about stairmasters, placemats and coming out of the eco-closet. Have I piqued your curiosity?

Last week I was at a meeting with a bunch of teachers in my grad program discussing the idea of needing "real world applications" in math classes. I am a firm believer that my job is to teach problem solving; the quadratic equation is simply a context to place this habit of mind in. I have sometimes had trouble verbalizing this though. I did have a good response to the questioning of anti-derivatives and inverses: If you know how to do something (derive), hadn't you better know how to undo it (anti-derive)? But another teacher at the meeting had an excellent metaphor that applies far more generally: Do you get on the stairmaster because you need to be ready when you encounter an infinite flight of stairs? No, of course not, it is for exercise, and to develop a habit that can be applied in many situations. We're developling strong muscles, quick thinking brains.

I've realized this concept also applies to so many of the eco things I do. One woman I met recently has repeatedly reminded me that turning off my computer won't save the amount of electricity in ten years that turning off the AC for one year will. Meaning- why do you bother? When first accosted with this response, I dismissed it. Actually though, its a perfectly reasonable response. Turning off one light bulb is less than a drop in the ocean, but its a habit. Getting into the small habits makes the big ones easier. Its like the stairmaster- the point isn't the tiny amount of electricity (especially since mine comes entirely from renewable sources) the point is that in everything I do, my brain is trained to think about my impact and how to live life lightly.

Last night my family and I went to a steakhouse that my parents used to frequent when they lived in Boston. The placemats featured a drawing of a cow, with each cut outlined and labeled. The side margin featured these statistics: of a 1000 pound steer, 475 pounds are edible and 100 pounds are luxury cuts. I think this was supposed to make you feel really important about the choice piece of meat you were getting, but it just made me feel sad. I was mostly sad because of the waste but there was also the fact that they didn't have lobster and I'd spent the afternoon watching lobster traps, craving that really local meal. But back to the meat- it makes me wonder how much farm land was used to grow corn to feed to a cow that can't properly digest corn to feed a person who is only interested in 10% of the product? I've read plenty of statistics about the amount of grain required to produce one pound of meat, but I never considered the fact that more than half of the animal doesn't even get eaten. I ate salmon instead and felt bad about the suffering of that population too.

The reason I got to go out to dinner with my family last night is because they visited for the weekend. They hadn't been to visit since 2007 so a lot of eco-changes have occured since then. Before their arrival I went and hid most of my nutty environmental self in the (figurative and literal) eco-closet. I put away the grey-water collecting pot, tucked the cloth wipes in a corner and didn't ask them to bring vegetarian food. I am ashamed to admit this. Normally I am happy to announce across the internet everything I am doing and I talk to like-minded friends about changes we're making all the time. I offer little suggestions to my mother, and lament with my father when my brother can't remember to turn off the light, but I didn't want to reveal the full extent of my efforts. After the weekend is over, I fully regret that. Sure they laughed at me for hanging my laundry above my worm compost system, but really, who wouldn't? My father's response to his discovery that I am keeping my kitchen vegetarian was not to question my motivation or inquire if I'm eating healthfuly, but to ask if I wanted him to make me the vegetarian dishes he knows (he likes bringing me home made food frozen in individual servings, and I love being spoiled like that). I have realized that people can be surprisingly open and supportive of the green movement. Its okay to share things that are new and different. And honestly? Even if they had asked all the hard questions, I've read so many blogs and articles that I better know all the answers!

I think I'll make my new motto the title of this post:
Live life lightly and announce it brightly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

logic is lacking

As much as I wish I could avoid politics, they are everywhere and effect everything, so I cannot rightly ignore them. The lack of logic in so many of our policies pains me, but I will be the first one to say, I don't want to wade into the mire that is our government to fix everything myself. So, I will email my representative to thank her, I will appreciate HRC for doing all the hard work to get me this information in a timely manner and I will ask you to email your representatives if you support the stance below.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese writes:

"Eric Alva, the first American soldier wounded in Iraq, will testify before Congress tomorrow. He will speak out against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which forces people to be dishonest about their personal lives or face losing their jobs – or worse. Staff Sgt. Alva, who stepped on a landmine that resulted in the loss of his right leg, later came out as gay and is leading the fight against the law that forced him to deny his identity for so long.

With so many GLBT Americans serving courageously in Iraq and Afghanistan, momentum is rapidly building against this unfair, unsound policy. The law is exacting huge costs to the nation's best interests, even as it has dwindling public support. The military asks GLBT Americans to sacrifice for their country but won't give them fairness and dignity in exchange. Asked to defend freedom, GLBT Americans are denied their own freedom. I can't think of a policy less consistent with American values."


I recently read the book "Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers" and came upon a particularly insightful quotation which struck at the heart of this situation:

World War II WAC Sergeant Johnnie Phelps, in response to a request from General Eisenhower that she ferret out the lesbians in her battalion:

Yessir. If the General pleases I will be happy to do this investigation…. But, sir, it would be unfair of me not to tell you, my name is going to head the list…. You should also be aware that you're going to have to replace all the file clerks, the section heads, most of the commanders, and the motor pool…. I think you should also take into consideration that there have been no illegal pregnancies, no cases of venereal disease, and the General himself has been the one to award good conduct commendations and service commendations to these members of the WAC detachment.


General Eisenhower: Forget the order.
~Bunny MacCulloch interview with Johnnie Phelps, 1982

Please tell the military to do again today, as they did then, "Forget the order."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

hello brain?

Sometimes I worry about my brain. This weekend I have had multiple experiences to make me concerned. The first was yesterday morning- the train to Boston was running an hour late, so I decided to drive to the subway. I didn't really think this all the way through though, I just knew I was looking for a sign to Malden. It took me until I saw a sign informing I was in Worcester county for me to realize that the sign for Malden wasn't coming since I had taken the wrong highway! Had I been paying attention to the signs and if I knew the area better, I would have corrected this a very long time before. I was mildly impressed with my ability to get to another subway line from where I had gotten myself lost, but it didn't make up for the morning's stupidity. The worst part was, on the way home I looked at the map very carefully, planned out my route, and still managed to miss an exit completely without realizing it for 30 minutes. Am I really that out of the habit of driving?

Then, last night, after I finished reading my book (The Year of Living Biblically, I highly recommend it) I decided to look to see if I still had my favorite quotes marked in my bible from when I read part of it in high school. I found one, but vaguely remembered another about frogs that I couldn't find. I sat down and thought about it for a while, wondering what on earth it could have been about. Slowly, it dawned on me, that wasn't a bible verse, it was actually an Emily Dickinson poem. I'm curious what is going on in my brain that it groups Emily Dickinson and the bible into one lump of "quotes". The poem, by the way, is this one (I think!):

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I suppose I should be comforted by the fact that I'm not as bad off as the people described in this article. The author claims that people can't read through a long blog post, let alone an entire book. I try to take regular breaks from the computer (all day yesterday even) and I finished an entire book this weekend, so I should be doing okay, compared to some of the world. But, I would like my brain to be, something, I don't even know what. And that bothers me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

crane again?

Another crane comes crashing down. This time at an oil refinery. Seems like I was just writing about this...
On a happier note, its Friday! I have completed half of my summer program and took a midterm today. Taking that test showed that I really have learned a lot, and the stuff I've learned is fascinating. The material itself won't be particularly useful in life, but the thought process and dedication it has required certainly will be.

Tomorrow is the "World's Largest Backyard Athlete Competition" sponsored by Life is Good. It promises to be a fantastic day of outdoor fun including sunshine, music and spectatorship. Assuming they are selling clothing, I may even splurge and buy a pair of shorts. 2 of the 3 pairs I currently wear are 10 years old, I think the need is valid. Plus, money raised goes to great causes. Win, win!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Life is busy!

So far this week 2 friends visited, I had 3 12 hour days of class/travel (plus a bit of fun) and no one is cleaning my apartment or taking care of my plants for me. However, there are 2 small green spheres that might turn into tomatoes soon! The test will be to see if I can wait until they are ripe, or if I get overzealous and pull them off. Somehow I don't think cherry tomatoes work well for "fried green tomatoes." I should probably just rent the movie to take care of that craving.

Also, I got some bills today. Last month I reached all time lows of 7% for Natural Gas and 25% for water. That's a 9% drop for water in just a month! Apparently flushing uses a lot and I've been filling the watering can with whatever clean waste water I have. I can't wait to see what those numbers look like in the winter when I'm only watering plants once a week (rather than almost daily for the veggies). I wish that I could send my water savings somewhere else; we've been getting tons of rain recently so its really not necessary here like it is in other climates.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

spiffy title goes here

I was just reading Chile's rant about blog pet peeves, including frequently listing how many devoted readers one has. She did say that she enjoys reading random search keywords though, so I decided to head over to Google Analytics to see if I'd had any good ones lately. I got: layers in gangs, linear equation lemonade, mon-esday and moneyfor fun. None of them found exactly what they were looking for and stayed a grand total of 0 seconds. However, the searcher of greenpa miami came back. People search for strange things... Also, thanks to my 5(?) loyal readers. :)

The past two weeks have been fun, but exhausting. It is totally and completely beyond my comprehension why anyone would willing live more than 15 minutes from where they work. I'm commuting into Boston to do a grad program at BU for 6 weeks. I get up at 6 (earlier than I had to for school), leave the apartment at 6:30 (or 6:35 or 6:40), drive 15 minutes, take the commuter rail for an hour, take the subway for 20 minutes, walk for 10 minutes and have 30 minutes to spare until class starts. Repeat in reverse in the evening, which gets me home around 7:15. Each part of the trip isn't bad- there's no traffic on my drive, the train is pleasant and I love the forced quiet time, I enjoy being surrounded by people in the city and the 30 minutes in the park doing the crossword is ideal. However, add it all up, multiply by two and stick 8 hours of number theory in the middle? That equals exhaustion. Plus, add in the occasional barbecue or concert and I'm left spending Saturday wondering if my brain will ever be ready for Monday. This makes me appreciate my regular year schedule very, very much. It also makes me pity those who are stuck doing this every day, or worse, those who are driving 1-2 hours to and from work every day. The village theory of town planning is sounding better and better every time I ponder it.

Today's plan- grand opening of a local farmer's market, apparently its a big party!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

civilization should be like ants

I have recently been inspired by ants. Between two experiences of having them take over my kitchen (still working on the proper moisture level in the compost bin) and listening to a Radio Lab episode about them, I think they are a great model for civilization.

Colonies of ants have no government or specific duties. Each day they all take random paths wandering around their neighborhoods. One day, one of them, we'll call him Fred, finds a good path. Since they have been leaving a pheromone trail everywhere they go, another ant may happen along and wonder what happens if they follow Fred's path. Two ants going along the same path means the pheromones are doubled. Eventually if enough ants decide this "good" path is worth traveling, the scent will be so strong the entire colony will be taking the same route. Out of chaos, comes order. Its not just a semblance of order either.

Last week I had a mini-outbreak in my kitchen and I got to see what the initial stage of this looks like- pure randomness. There was one ant on my computer, one at the edge of the carpet and one on the shelf. No one knew where they were going, they were just out to explore. A few hours later several of them were taking the same path along the wall and I was able to see that they had found the container that had held my plants at school, which still had some apparently delicious mushy vegetation.

I found the major outbreak when I returned home from a weekend away. There was a line of ants traveling from their home to a plant pot. They were taking the most direct path possible- along the floor, up the counter, along the edge, up a specific leaf and into the pot; repeat in reverse - none of them wavered from it. No single ant had told everyone, "Hey! Guess what? I found a whole pile of supplies, follow along and help me get it!" Each ant just happened upon it, wondering why everyone else had gone that way. They realized the dirt was useful, and took some. Hundreds of tiny creatures were completely organized and being very productive, without anyone ever telling them what to do.

All it takes is someone like you, wandering around and sharing your path. If it turns out to be a good one, others will follow, we will reach critical mass and the entire civilization will begin following the same path together. Sure, it would be great if the government would spread the message far and wide, but we can do it ourselves, just like the ants.

Friday, June 27, 2008

groceries take two

Today I went to the farm store and grocery store. I went a little overboard when I saw all the fresh local produce! Apparently the very end of June is when food production begins around here. I bought strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce from Massachusetts. Asparagus came from New Jersey and an artichoke came from some unknown location (I forgot to check). That makes 5 fresh whole items, 3 of which were known local. Then I headed to the grocery store. 3 fresh whole items, 6 dry packaged items (do raisins really fit here?) and 6 wet packaged items. Two were local, three were organic.

Grand total: 8 fresh whole, 6 dry packaged, 6 wet packaged. 5 local, 3 organic.

Compared to last trip: 6 fresh whole, 2 dry packaged and 7 wet packaged. 1 local, 4 organic.

New goals: Find out what else is local, cut down on wet packaged things (especially the ones that aren't organic or local) and head to the farmers market.

I also tried to go on a bike ride, which ended up extending as far as the driveway of my apartment complex. I live on a hill. A really steep one. To get from the road to my apartment you have to traverse .5 mile of switchbacks. I got a great workout just heading down to drop off the trash. I really do want to do this bike commute thing, but lingering allergies combined with the fact that I can't easily ride up my own driveway? I'm also a little wary of leaving my bike at the train station for 12 hours. I'll drive it on Monday and see how things look, but I might need some new ideas on how to cut down transportation numbers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Its all relative

I was checking my budget today and realized I haven't paid an electricity bill in a while. In every other case I love my e-bills, but somehow National Grid and I don't always sync up. So, I found that there were two bills waiting for me, and the initial shock of the high price had me worried about usage. Then when I went to my bill the graph showed an increase for June! I hadn't increased since January- maybe the J months have it out to get me. In a panic I went and input my number in the Riot Calculator, it showed 2%, which had me further confused. My numbers have never been that low. How could I possible have used more electricity and had a smaller percent? Even my worst math students could tell you that just doesn't work. I finally figured out that in my last calculations I was still using the conventional box, even though I switched to renewable a while back. So in fact, even with my increase, I get to decrease my published number. And to think, all I set out to do was pay an overdue bill!

And now to the regularly scheduled post... (Do I ever post regularly? Hm, that might be an interesting regression. Focus!)

Now that its summer I get to do all the things that I really want to do, like drive 1.5 hours to Newton every day. Okay, so thats not exactly the best way to start out my summer of reduced fuel consumption but for a lot of reasons, its what happened for 3 days. To distract myself from my plummeting mileage as I sat in traffic I listened to radio lab podcasts. I love this show, it combines the child and the nerd in me. They ask a seemingly simple question such as "can you live without lies?" and get some fascinating answers from experts in a number of relevant fields. One study showed that lying to yourself (denial) makes people happier and more successful. I've always been a big fan of denial, and I love having science to back me up. This study made me think that the key to life is captured perfectly in the words of this prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

In other words- let denial take over when worry is getting in the way of your life. When worry will motivate necessary action, you should be worried until you take care of the problem. The eternal optimist that I am, this resonates with me. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being depressed about the state of the world, but then I think of all the things that I am doing along with so many others. And none of us would be accomplishing anything if we were sitting around being depressed. So, go live life joyfully and when you encounter yet another problem, just fix it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Economically Stimulating

As of yesterday at 3:07 I am a veteran teacher. Yes, all it takes to get that title in my school is surviving one year and making the insane decision to return for another.

A week ago I got a water bill saying I had used 1038 gallons in 40 days. That puts me at 26% of the average American (down from 34% at last check). The drop is due to shorter showers (turning off water in the middle), plus some general awareness. I'm surprised how much it dropped! Maybe I really will reach 10% with the changes I've made recently, although the plants have been very thirsty as of late.

I finally took the plunge, wiped my computer, and installed Ubuntu. Wow. Its amazing. The 8 minute start up? Replaced by 1 minute. The slow run time from using incompatible programs? Gone. I easily installed every program I wanted and removed everything I didn't. The interface is easy, logical and simple- just like I want life to be! Plus, Linux people are often mathy, which means that a standard program is one that develops beautiful fractals. This makes me happy in a way I can't put in words.

Today as I was driving home there was a huge thunder/lightning/rain/hail storm. It was intense enough to slow even the crazy Boston drivers to a crawl. The sky was dark and the noise of the rain and hail drowned out the booming thunder, not to mention my podcast. At one point so much pea sized hail was falling that it felt like I was driving on gravel. I know rain and hail occur during the summer in New England, but it made me wonder what sorts of intense weather we'll be experience as the climate continues to shift and morph.

Last Friday I received my "Economic Stimulus Package" and decided to put it right to work. For Father's day (a week after most celebrated it) my family convened in CT to canoe down the Farmington River. I was more than happy to hand over $120 of economic stimulation to a local company that provided canoes and a van service to drop us upriver. It was an exciting (rapids) and peaceful (calm water) experience that the four of us will remember forever. Even though I think the check sending program is absurd, I look forward to being economically stimulating by donating to and supporting small organizations that emphasize experiences, not things.

Monday, June 16, 2008

wigglers

My worms arrived on Saturday and seem to be settling in nicely. There was plenty of food in various states of decomposition ready and waiting for them. I know that you aren't supposed to disturb them, but I can't help but peak, frequently, to see how they're doing, make sure they aren't dying en masse and coo at them for finding their food so quickly. Yea, I know, "seriously woman, adopt some kids already so you have something normal to coo at." I'll get there some day, but for now worms, vegetation and degus are the only available recipients for my incessant nurturing.

The grey water flushing has been working like a charm. By leaving my 6 quart pot in the sink I collect nearly enough water with normal hand washing and tooth brushing type activities for a flush. Plus when I showered I plugged the drain and that got me a few more. My scooping method is not ideal (flimsy plastic flower pot liners that I was using as pots for the seedlings) but it was functional for a lazy Sunday. I also don't mind running the fresh water a little since I know its significantly less fresh water than would be used typically. The pot is almost sink shaped, so it doesn't get in the way too much, but I do have to remove it to wet my hair (on the days I don't shower).

I'm still in the data collection stage of analyzing my food. Yes, I am a math teacher, how did you guess? Today I went to the grocery store (since I forgot the farm store is closed on Mondays but I was out of food, and already in town). I bought 6 fresh, whole items (fruits, veggies and fungi); 2 dry packaged items (bread and wraps) and 7 wet packaged items. Four things were certified organic (3 wet, one dry). The only things I know are local are the wraps (the Cedar's factory is just up the road from here). One goal is to buy what I can from the farm store, since at least I'm supporting a local business. The next goal is to check out the farmer's market, which starts July 5. Beyond that, we'll see what the data shows!

One other thing-
When I turned my computer on today it showed a blue screen of death. I was secretly pleased. Then I restarted and everything worked perfectly. It almost motivated me to wipe and install Linux. But I'm scared.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Riot Progress

I have a few Riot updates. Last post I didn't have a good estimate of my garbage use, so I took note what day I emptied the trash and one week later weighed in. This was highly unscientific since a) I have no scale and b) I had a friend stay with me a few days of last week. However, I managed to accumulate very little trash and used my resources to calculate its mass. Holding trash and recycling (glass, plastic and metal) in one hand, and a container of salt in the other hand, I felt like a balanced scale. The salt container says it is 1 lb 10 ounces, but it wasn't full, but I didn't include my paper recycling. Even if I round up to 2 pounds that puts me at 6% of the average consumer. The weight was primarily in the glass bottles (we splurged on ginger beer), so I'm going to go out on a limb and say my trash production is really low, and not a personal priority. I'm still waiting on my actual worms, but their compost pile is getting nicely decomposed so they'll be able to dig right in. The decrease in water use for the disposal is definitely a plus.

I received a gas bill today, my lowest yet! This certainly has everything to do with the warm weather and nothing to do with me, but it was still exciting. Seven therms puts me at 9% in the heating and cooking category.

I've been doing some research on how to cut down on water use. Constantly cutting down on shower time is goal one, but its not a very fun goal. Goal two is reusing "waste" water. I've determined that it takes two small containers of water for the shower to heat up, and I use those to water my very thirsty plants. I lost my peas to the heat wave, and the peppers are barely holding on. Outdoor container gardening requires a lot of vigilance! I have also determined that when people instruct you to use a pipe wrench, metal pliers are not a good substitute. The PVC pipes under my sink look like the degus got in there to nibble, but still refuse to release their water. Not gonna lie though, the warning about noxious gases makes me reconsider my planned method of water collection. Plus the fact that I'm renting and my only remaining option is to use that really cool saw I bought... This leaves me searching for a suitable container to collect sink and shower water. Green Bean and I have decided I could become a rich woman selling tub and sink shaped containers or scoops in drought ridden areas. I can't wait to find even some vaguely appropriate container since I discovered (via Riot emails) that I can flush merely by pouring water into the toilet bowl, using even less water than a normal flush and not leaving any grey water to fester in the tank. If you're as curious as I am, here is the explanation of the wonders of your toilet's inner workings. Now I'm off to find something to hold two gallons of water in, I'm starting to see the benefits of being a pack rat!

Update: 6 quart pot worked perfectly! This is too cool.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Riot 4 Austerity

Since I have been using the riot calculator so much I decided that I may as well officially join. To mark my progress as a rioter I'm comparing baseline of when I moved in to this apartment to now. From now on I'll also post every time I calculate.

August/First Available:
R4A Calculator summary:
| Transport: 41% | Elec: 17% | H&C: 9% | Water: 45% | Goods: 49% |

17 gallons gas per month
152 kwh electricity per month (conventional)
7 therms natural gas per month
1347 gallons water per month
$400 new consumer goods per month

Most Recent:
R4A Calculator summary:
| Transport: 54% | Elec: 10% | H&C: 10% | Water: 34% | Goods: 8% |

22 gallons gasoline per month
92 kwh electricity per month (all renewable, mainly hydro)
8 therms natural gas per month
1014 gallons water per month
$65 new consumer goods per month ($45 for compost bin supplies)

Transport is the biggest thing I have to work on. It went up since I wasn't working in August. I drive 10 minutes to work, 10 minutes home, 5 days a week. My car is not terribly efficient (I've worked my way up to 26 mpg), but my driving is. I run errands on the way home so I don't have to make extra trips and I don't really drive many places anyway. Now that allergy season has ended I'll be biking more. I rode to the farm store today, cars aren't nearly as scary as I expected! But, this summer I'll be commuting to Boston every day. It will be a bike + train commute, but 80 miles of public transport a day still comes out to a lot.

I'm proud of my electricity and natural gas numbers, I don't intend to make any more changes in those areas. I just hope that summer heat won't change them (I'll require limited AC so I don't kill my pets).

Water is the area that I'm stuck on. I can't fathom where all that water is going! I shower 3 times a week (and only have the water on to get wet and rinse off), do 1 load of laundry a week, run the dishwasher maybe 2 times a week, cook, flush 2-3 times a day and water 22 pots of plants. I guess all that adds up. I use grey water for plants when I can. Next step is to figure out how hard it is to set up a collection system from the faucet(s).

I was shocked to see how low my purchases are compared to average. I was fully aware that I don't buy much, but in August I set up my entire apartment. I moved here from college, so all I had was my parent's old basement furniture to use in the living room and my grandmother's old kitchen supplies. I bought a dining room table set, bed, dresser, tv, tv stand and those million little things that you forget you need until its not there. That month I spent $400 on new stuff, which doesn't amount to half of what the average person spends! I also had a $200 gift certificate to target, even if I spent the entire thing in August (which I didn't) I would have spent 73% of what the average American buys in a month. What on earth is everyone buying??? I hope this category includes car payments or something that I'm not thinking of. Otherwise this planet is doomed.

Overall, I'm happy with my numbers. I look forward to biking a lot this summer, hopefully so much that I'll want to continue when I return to work in the fall. Any suggestions on how to help the water situation would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Crunchy Chicken

One amazing woman has had a huge impact on the carbon footprint of countless people, myself included. This woman is Crunchy Chicken. We are currently thanking her for her continued efforts and selfless initiatives, even in the face of great hardship, through donating to her organization Goods For Girls. When Crunchy made the decision to sign off of her blog for a while she said that she wouldn't be missed since there were so many other blogs like hers. I was shocked to hear that there was anyone else out there anywhere near her level, so I went on a crazed search for an appropriate substitute. I did stumble upon a few great blogs, but none could replace her. No one else offers constant challenges and inspiration that makes you feel like anything would be easy. She had me convinced that I could live without electricity for a month! Granted a lot of things got in the way of me going all the way off the grid (particularly the fact that the chosen month was May which is peak allergy season when I am not feeling up to finding creative ways around things), but I did make another significant dent in my electricity usage because I was motivated and didn't want to get left out. Crunchy is always making us think, then laugh, then feel proud of our accomplishments while knowing that we still have a long way to go. Thank goodness she is continuing to do this after her 24 hour "sign off." Thank you!!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

productivity

Yesterday I had a very productive day. During the day I got tons of organizing and grading done since I was proctoring MCAS for three hours (sooo long). On the way home I went grocery shopping. When I arrived at my door there was a package waiting- my compost bin! More accurately, the box contained some of the parts which would be necessary in the creation of my compost bin. I bought two "extra" levels of a worm condominium. They were made from recycled plastic so I don't feel as guilty about buying something to throw my trash in. Since I didn't get the whole set up I needed to make my own lid and base. I bought mesh, a 6 foot piece of wood and a saw. Not gonna lie, I'm really excited that I now own a saw. Using my really impressive carpentry skills I cut the wood into a frame (with a few bits left over to use as feet) and nailed it together. Add a little duct tape to attach the mesh and I have a stable lid to keep the worms happily inside their home. With an extra layer of mesh on the bottom of the lower level, a plastic sheet (unfolded bag) underneath and the feet in place I now have a worm-friendly, but escape free, compost bin with air flow. While doing all of this I also baked 12 pumpkin muffins and 2.5 loaves of pumpkin bread. Delicious breakfast for several weeks!

Today I added shredded paper and some food waste to the bins so the hungry worms due to arrive in the mail any day will have something to dig right in to. I also watered plants. I'm beginning to wonder if the plants are the reason my water usage is so high (34% of the US average according to Riot for Austerity). Cooking my own meals and washing my own dishes every day probably also contributes, but I'm willing to bet that 22 pots of thirsty plants is a significant factor in my inability to get down to the goal of 10%.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

technology

In order to get directions today I had to turn on my computer, wait 8 minutes, go to google maps and look them up. I could have gotten them from my friend, but she uses a gps, so she didn't know where she was going until she was already there. People used to get directions from maps, but I only have maps of my local area, not places an hour away.

This experience makes me want to be less dependent on my computer. But, I also really want a new one. It takes 8 minutes for me to do anything, then another minute to open a program, unless its excel, that will take several minutes. Waiting might be good for me, it certainly makes me hesitant to use the computer until I need it. But its also wasting tons of electricity I'm sure. And it doesn't help that I just really want a Mac. Five years doesn't seem like a long time for a piece of equipment to last, but for a laptop, it is. I wonder if I could wipe the computer and download Apple's interface. It wouldn't change the battery life (shorter than the time it takes to turn on) but it might clear out whatever causes it to take so long to turn on... I want the cool new thing and to be eco-friendly, dilemma!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Neon green straps

This makes me depressed:
If you think about people in great need of free medical clinics, the tribes in Guyana may seem reasonable. That is where this man started his charity work. "But now Stan spends most of his time bringing relief to the richest country in the world." (The United States)

On a brighter note, I had a superbly productive weekend. I geared my bike with a basket (from Salvation Army, attached with the velcro that comes on my lettuce, neon green of course) and otherwise prepped for the pedaling season (post-pollen). Vegetables moved outside to the balcony, some other plants got repotted. I started teaching myself to play the guitar (after finally finding a good book at my parent's house). Tons of grading got done (beyond what I had even hoped to accomplish) and I planned out the end of the school year, which is rapidly approaching! I cleaned, organized and sorted, resulting in a large pile of items to give away. Completed the book I was reading, did pilates and still had plenty of time to catch up on sleep. Three day weekends full of sunshine are amazing!

One other thing, I went grocery shopping. Normally this is not a momentous event. But, since I have a friend living with me for the week, I could buy all the produce I wanted without worrying it would spoil before I ate it! Okay, no, I couldn't buy everything, but I did get grapes, raspberries, red and orange peppers, portabello mushrooms, an avocado, an onion, tomatoes, a couple varieties of lettuce and fresh mozzarella. Usually I buy 1-2 peppers and lettuce for the degus. Sometimes I'll replace a pepper with another veggie, that I have to scramble to finish. Shopping for two is so much cooler than trying to find variety in eating asparagus 4 nights in a row. Plus, I had someone who wanted to go get gelato at 9 pm this evening when I mentioned craving ice cream. Living alone has some perks, but I'm seeing a lot of benefits to sharing space. Now if I could only find someone who could live with me without requiring the sleeper sofa to be unfolded all the time...

Friday, May 23, 2008

affluence

I found the new side bar icon on Arduous' website along with this link which informed me that I'm in the top 4.62% of the world. Plus I get a decent raise next year for sticking around, plus I have savings that don't get factored into that at all. I thought I was aware of the conditions other countries were in, but its really hard to wrap my mind around the prevalence of poverty when we stack people up based purely on income. And we think public school teachers have it rough...

Doing what for the grasshoppers?

Between reading the archives of a new (to me) blog and posting yesterday that I am doing it for the grasshoppers, I've been trying to think of what exactly it is that I'm doing. I'm stealing Arduous' list and editing it to fit my own habits.

I...
participated in buy nothing (except food and gas) month and didn't notice any differences from a normal month
bring my own bags on the rare occasion I do buy something (usually groceries)
take public transportation if its convenient, try to drive like a hyper-miler when its not
hardly used any heat. (thermostat set at Degu survival temp, 65* and taking advantage of neighbors and sun heat)
have the AC set at 80* (slightly higher than Degu survival temp but the thermostat is in a different room and I won't open the shade in their space)
use cloth instead of toilet paper, paper towels, sponges and tissues
let it mellow.
love my diva cup
take navy showers (surprisingly easy, especially with Dr. Bonner's tingly and warm peppermint soap, which as a bonus is totally natural)
save bread bags to use as lunch bags, re-use Ziploc bags, save plastic containers as Tupperware.
use every possible side/corner of paper for printing, list making, writing hall passes...
buy 100% recycled paper for the limited printing and photocopying needs at school.
do not clean excessively and with very limited chemicals (microfiber cloth, pants get worn until they are noticeably stained, my laundry soap is basically baking soda in a pretty green bottle)
only use my dryer as a shelf for my drying rack, which sits under my indoor clothes line.
have a maximum of one light on in the apartment at any one time
use power strips for all appliances whose plug I can reach
buy organic/local food whenever possible, my kitchen is a vegetarian space
will have really local herbs and vegetables, a la personal balcony garden.
do all sorts of crazy little things I couldn't possible mention like using a hair dryer diffuser to spread the water over my plants, concoct a clip for my mp3 player from a rubber band and old cell phone clip, etc.

I've always:
Not drank single serving bottled drinks
Rarely eaten out/gotten take out, not eaten frozen or one-serving convenience meals.
(Otherwise known as eating homemade meals daily)
Shut down the computer when its not in use
recycled everything possible (which reminds me, I need to complain again that we can't recycle cans. As in metal! The most recyclable of all materials!)

I want to:
compost
bike places rather than driving (like the grocery store, farm store and train station since I have to commute to Boston this summer)

So, if you're still reading I'm impressed, this has turned into an exercise for myself, not that this blog has ever been anything else. I'm also not ashamed to admit that when I get my bills I plug in my water, gas and electric here to see how I'm doing. Always makes me feel cool.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Save the grasshoppers!

In case you don't believe that species diversity really exists and that the everglades are worth protecting (and not mis-managing, stupid fires), check out this totally awesome photo:


Yup, that is my hand, and that thing is real, it was hanging around just a couple weeks ago. When I saw it I couldn't decide if it was a prehistoric being magically joining us today, or just a toy that I had seen in the science museum. It was quite friendly. I put my hand down on the railing for perspective and it climbed right up! Even hung on for the ride to visit the rest of my friends down the path. A little tickly with those weird sticky feet, but generally totally awesome.
I hope it made it through the blaze.

Polar bears may be cute and cuddly, but I'm doing it for the grasshopper.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Welcome to Miami

This weekend was a mini-vacation. A couple friends and I went down to Miami on Saturday and returned on Monday. The travel was complicated (as always) but I fully enjoyed my time there. We spent Sunday alternately kayaking and snorkeling in the keys (I never realized how many definitions there are for the word key, this is referencing low islands and reefs). The weather was perfect, the water totally clear and nature surrounded us. In some cases it surrounded us quite closely- we kayaked through a mangrove forest where the roots and branches grow together in amazing patterns. There were small channels, little throughways and suddenly an opening into the bay. Even right by the coast there were fascinating fish, coral and sea life. One being looked like silly string sprayed across the rocks and reef, but apparently if you reach toward it the tendrils get sucked up inside! We also spent some time at the everglades and saw a great number of alligators, plus some turtles and fish. The most exciting was definitely a grasshopper which looked like this (this is a similar one at a distance, it was actually that first bright color though). It walked around on my hand allowing us to take pictures and marvel at the fact that it was real. I had seen models of them in science museums, but I thought they were toys, not so realistic! I wasn't cool enough to actually carry my own camera, but I'm hoping to nab some other people's photos soon.

Between feeling guilty for the excess of pollution this weekend caused and hating the chaos that is air travel I'm swearing off flying. My bag got lost twice, flights were delayed and missed, I didn't get any meals after breakfast Monday, etc. We really need to master teleporting, it will instantly solve so many problems! Planes are generally awful, but I like seeing my friends and escaping the pollen.