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 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:

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


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.