Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hello World, I live sustainably!

Kellie, from Greenhab is hosting this month's APLS carnival, and she asks this:

So, I'm wondering when, where, how, and how much you proselytize living green? When do you just let it go? When is it not worth it to start something? Or do you always speak up? How loud? Are you a tell-it-like-it-is person? Or do you try to take a gentle approach? And, although I use "proselytize" in the loosest way, does living a sustainable lifestyle feel almost like a religion to you?

I find that I run the gamut from silent to all points bulletins regarding my environmentalism. It depends on the situation, the people I'm with, the issue at hand and the mood I'm in. Sometimes I have the energy to get into a deep discussion, and think it would be profitable; at other times I just mind my own business and wish to myself that things were different.

The vast majority of the time I am quietly announcing my viewpoint by doing little things such as carrying reusable bags, using my reusable water bottle or sticking to a vegetarian diet. I don't usually think of these things as announcing anything, until someone else comments. As I was exiting the farm store a few weeks a go a couple walked past me in the parking lot, saw my bags, and said to each other "oh yea! we have bags in the car, let's go get them." I was secretly thrilled that they were inspired by my action to their own action, of course it was small, but it was still exciting. A similar thing happened when someone at a conference was explaining the excessive waste of plastic water bottles and used me (with my metal bottle) as an example. He was the one making the bigger impact, by actually speaking out, but I was proud to provide an easy reference point.

Sometimes the quiet announcements lead to conversations and education opportunities. I bring a vegetarian lunch to school each day, and one day another teacher asked why I had decided to become vegetarian. I took the opportunity to discuss the sustainability issues with meat production. Then, just a few weeks later she informed me that she'd decided to become a vegetarian, and to drag her whole family along with her. She asked a few more questions and I was able to be a further resource for how to transition meat out of her diet. And all I did was eat lunch in the presence of others.

People I know better (students and friends) are exposed to a slightly louder rumble of my eco-friendly behaviors. My classroom has paper and bottle recycling bins, and I vocally correct any student who uses the wrong bin. I usually don't have to do all the educating though, peers are great enforcers and yell at kids for "killing the trees!" if they ignore my reminders.

For those friends who pass the cut and make it into my apartment, things are much more obvious and I am more vocal. If you ask to use the bathroom you get told how to flush the toilet with grey water (but you have to ask to find out what the little pieces of cloth by the toilet are for). It's obvious that everything is on power strips, and that lighting is limited to just the area we are occupying. I don't hesitate to remind people to turn off the kitchen light as they leave the room or squirm at the idea of turning on the TV if we're otherwise occupied.

Some things, though, are just so exciting I have to shout it to the world. Getting my new (to me) keyboard was like that. I went on craigslist and found an amazing deal for a 72 key (that's huge in the keyboard world) instrument with amazing sound in excellent condition. It was so wonderful and I was so thrilled with this huge success of buying used that Twitter, my parents and my friends heard all about it. I still tell everyone who walks into the room how cheap I got it and how great the reviews are and just ramble on and on about it forever! Buying less is best, but buying used and getting something that you really love, just amazing.

So, while my blog banner says I "live life lightly and announcing it brightly" there are clearly many shades of brightness that occur on a day to day basis. And I think this is good; for me, and for those who have to spend time with me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Does Size Matter? APLS Carnival

This month I hosted the APLS blog carnival and had a great round of contribution regarding all matters of size.

For Robbie becoming a mom was what got her serious about her environmental efforts, so the increase in family size played a big role in how she thought about being green.

Lisa and I thought about how having just a few people in our households affects things like meal planning. We also compared ourselves to the green moms who seem to dominate the blogosphere.

For others, family size was not the deciding factor, rather something else trumped it. For Steph family size is less important than time and energy available to dedicate to green efforts. And Kellie said, "I find the bigger contention lies not in how many people are in our family, but what those family members are willing to do."

Linda looked into product size, and discovered that the way to reduce packaging was by buying more.

Finally, a couple people looked at how the size of their house affected their ability to be environmentally friendly. At one end of the spectrum is Heather who finds that since her house is smaller than she might like it is hard to store food and have equipment for different green projects. At the other end is Abbie who feels some eco-guilt for having built such a large house for just the two of them (soon to be three!), but I have no doubt she will make good use of the space for a lifetime.

Thanks to everyone who contributed! It was great to read all the viewpoints of the APLS members who come to the sustainability movement from varying perspectives. Look for the next carnival at the APLS blog, Kellie will be announcing her fall themed topic soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Party of One

As I pondered what to make for dinner tonight I recalled the milk sitting in the fridge that needs to get used up and thought "Curry dishes are milky, I bet I could make that." So I set out on to read a bunch of recipes, largely ignored all of them, boiled noodles, cooked veggies in milk + coconut oil (turns out curries use coconut milk), threw a bunch of spices at it and ended up with an interesting result. As I was eating, I thought to myself "It's sure a good thing I don't cook for anyone else!" What I ended up with was very edible and didn't taste bad, but it was too sweet, weirdly thick and the spices were off in their proportions. It was yet another moment when I realized that I live my life differently based on the size of my household; when there's just one of me it's easy to take risks in the kitchen since I'm the only one who has to stomach the results. There's also no one around to point out the gross factor in using my 'hair gel' as an ingredient in my dinner (coconut oil does wonders for taming frizz). On the other hand, if there were other people living with me there might not have been the desperation to use up the milk because someone might be around to just drink it (I can't stomach milk plain due to a childhood allergy).

There are plenty of other areas of my life that are more or less flexible based on the fact that I'm the sole member of my household. Crunchy Chicken is gearing up for this year's cloth wipe challenge and there have been quite a few comments about how people can't participate because of the other people who use their bathroom. I just tuck my bag of used wipes behind something when guests arrive, and otherwise no one is around to notice (let alone be offended by) a pile of folded cloths on the counter or in the bag or drying on a rack in the laundry room. Speaking of my laundry room (which is really just a closet) it's a simple task to line dry my laundry since I only produce one load a week and a rope zig-zagging through the shelves in that closet can hold a full load. I once told some co-workers about line drying when explaining how my electric bill is so low and got the response "You can tell she doesn't have kids if she has time to do that." Since no one is demanding my attention I also choose to take the 2 hour commute via public transportation to grad school classes, rather than the 40 minute drive. I can also set the thermostat wherever I want, and choose to let my apartment get a bit stuffy to conserve warmth (to the chagrin of my friend who visited last weekend). This is not to say that I wouldn't do these things with kids or a partner, it's just easy to do now because I don't have to worry about missing time that could be spent with others or negotiate with anyone else's preferences.

There are also items that are harder to manage on my own. You may have read some of the saga that was my multiple failed attempts to compost. As one person who tries to minimize food waste without a yard, I have yet to find a way to compost. I also have to buy things in smaller packages, which means more waste. I was shopping with a friend and he tried to convince me to buy the double sized can of baked beans (cheaper and less packaging than buying 2 cans), but I really only want to eat half a can and then am good for several weeks, so the double size would either result in me being exceedingly sick of baked beans or an entire can being sent down the disposal, neither of which are good choices. I want to buy in bulk, but I have limited space and limited usage of most things so getting a membership at someplace like Costco just isn't feasible (I was heartened to see my twitter friend @ashleymarie6 facing that conundrum as well). Same thing with getting a CSA share, I couldn't possibly use a family size one. My friend did offer to give me her leftovers if she gets a share next summer, but we'll see how many leftovers there actually are!

Overall, I'm enjoying these years in my 20's to 'go wild' (with environmentalism, not much of a party-er), figure out which changes are workable and develop habits that will later become so ingrained I no longer think of them as extra effort. But, I look forward to a time when I'll have my own house to make bigger changes (a real garden with rain barrels!), to being able to share the burdens and joys of eco-living with other people, and to having enough food waste to finally sustain a population of worms.

(This post is my contribution to September's APLS Carnival, which I am hosting. Email me a link to your post by Sept. 15 to be included!)

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The past couple weeks I've been on vacation. After 6 weeks of an intense graduate school program I was very ready for the time off, but only 3 days into being home with no plans I was itching for a task, a project, someone else to entertain me, anything. Turns out I really don't enjoy doing nothing, so I got to work preparing for the school year and helping my friend remodel her house. Thus occupied with places to focus my energy I made it through the next 3 days. At this point I was invited to a friend's lake house in Maine. While there I discovered that a friend and a body of water were really all the entertainment I required. Another 3 days whizzed by with a bit of sailing, some swimming, and a lot of hours just hanging out by the water. Next I traveled to my parents' house in CT.

A couple years ago they built their new 'summer home' and I love spending time there. The 'summer home' isn't actually a home at all, it is simply a remodeled porch. It is a nice room with a table for eating at and some comfortable chairs for lounging in. The 'commute' from home to the summer place involves opening a door in the kitchen and crossing a threshold into the new space. The thing is, it actually feels like you've traveled to a distant location- this area isn't air conditioned so it's filled with fresh air, the sounds of nature penetrate the screens and the temperature changes to reflect what's happening outside, plus it's decorated so it feels rather Tuscan. It's amazing what a slight change of atmosphere can do; coming out to play cards in the evening feels like an exciting event, but we still have all the comforts of home and never have to pack!

On the occasions when we've felt the need to venture out of our summer place, we've been going on day trips. We went out to lunch at a new restaurant right in town (10 minutes away) but it was still exciting since none of us had been before (by the way, they made guacamole with fruit in it, delicious!). One evening we went to a minor league baseball game (40 minutes away) for just $12 a seat and an awesome view of a fun game I couldn't differentiate from the professionals. Another day we went to the beach (1.5 hours away) and enjoyed a wonderful day of sitting in the sand, dipping our feet in the water (no way I was getting into the frigid ocean) and eating the lunch we'd brought with us. Today we traveled to some wineries (1 hour away), did a few wine tastings and had a delicious lunch at an amazing Italian restaurant.

So, in these weeks of vacation I've learned some very important things:
Sitting at home by myself gets boring fast, but it's really easy to solve that problem. Traveling less than 2 hours at a time I can get myself to a lake, friends, family, great food, sports, ocean, local wine and so much more. Nothing that I've done has been expensive; I haven't gone anywhere new, flown, or paid for a hotel, let alone a resort. Even though I spent 18 years living at my parent's house there are still many new and interesting things to do in the area. When I go home this weekend I will have no need for a vacation to recover from my vacation since everything I've done has been relaxing, simple and low key. There have been plenty of opportunities to be excited, and I've had new experiences, but there is always time to unwind and I'm not packing my days so tightly that I'll need to recoup when I get home. In conclusion, staycations are awesome as long as you do a bit of research and planning (but still way less than would be required for a vacation to somewhere new).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Environment and The Economy

First, wow, I can't believe I haven't posted here since May. I mean, I can, since I've been using twitter (@crstn85) to broadcast my thoughts, and since I haven't had a day off since Memorial day, but still, I used to use this blog regularly. Sorry blogger.

The August topic for APLS is Green on the Cheap: Has the economy impacted how you live green? Do you buy fewer green products to save money? Or have you redoubled your efforts to live sustainably? What have you learned about living environmentally friendly on a budget?

Helping the environment and surviving the economy are not opposing forces. You can succeed in each failing system via the same methods. If you lack resources (monetary or planetary) you have to learn to use less and to use what you do have effectively. Using less stuff means spending less money, just as buying less means getting less stuff. Of course cutting back can only go so far and so this argument doesn't hold well for anyone who has lost income and can no longer afford the basics. Assuming you can afford the basics though, it's a good time to look for alternate ways to get the things you want and need.

Recently I got a bigger TV, not because I particularly wanted one but because it was free and my friend couldn't think of anyone else who would want an old TV without a remote. This made me realize I must be in a special class of people - what most people think of as junk I considered an upgrade. This fact was made especially clear to me this summer as I began looking around the trash area of my apartment complex. So far I've scored a fun card game and a DVD rack. Some people are actually good about leaving quality items off to the side so it's like we have our own freecycle in the apartment complex. These are things we should be doing all the time though, not just when money is tight and we recognize that someone else might want what we no longer do. It should be second nature to check in with neighbors to see if they could use something you're getting rid of, and if not, it should be donated rather than left by the curb where hopefully someone will take it before the trash pick up date.

I've never been one to buy a lot of green products; I do fairly well as far as cleaning supplies with water, microfiber cloths, Dr. Bonners soap and hydrogen peroxide for emergencies (wine on the carpet). I use cloth rather than paper products and I've never been into gadgets, eco or otherwise. I suppose that just leaves food, where I do try to buy organic and local. But, the extra expense is far outweighed by the absence of meat, and the money I'm saving not buying all those other things I just mentioned. My low electric bill makes the additional cost of 'green power' hardly noticeable, and the cool, cloudy summer has certainly helped to keep that one extra low.

Since I've been trying to live sustainably for a while now, all of these shifts - toward conserving and saving money and generally consuming less - fit in with what I'm already doing. I hope that, if nothing else, people come out of this experience realizing that there is a lot to be said for sustainability, in all of its interpretations.

Friday, May 29, 2009

allergy season

Right now I'm in the worst part of allergy season. I'm on so much medication to remain semi-functional that I can no longer tell which symptoms are side-effects and which are regular old symptoms. Being environmentally friendly isn't exactly my number 1 priority at the moment. To give you some perspective, getting the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and the pile of dirty dishes into the newly emptied machine was a huge accomplishment, over due by several days. I decided to tackle the task simply because I was stuck in the kitchen for the 1 minute it took my dinner to heat in the microwave. Yes, I did buy macaroni and cheese that I could heat up in 1 minute so that I wouldn't have to actually cook. But, I bought the kind that is made locally, by the people who run the farm store down the street. Not only is it far, far superior in taste (I can't stomach the stuff from a box, even if it is organic, just, ew) it's also supporting my local economy, and it only traveled a mile from where it was made to where it was consumed. Plus, they try to source ingredients locally as well. It's not organic or homemade by me, but it is far better than trying to get away with a few bites of hummus and chips for dinner, since that's the only thing that can go directly from fridge to plate.

It's also great when other things are such ingrained habits that I can complete them even as I stumble off to bed, my brain already shifted into the lowest gear that still allows me to walk. I turn off lights, unplug cords and flush with grey water with as much thought as it takes to put one foot in front of the other. Often I climb into bed and try to remember if I'd done something, simply because it had become so automatic that my brain didn't find the memory worth recording.

There are plenty of things that aren't so eco-friendly about allergy season- medications are bad in many ways, lots of tissues, lots more time spent in front of a screen rather than out enjoying the world and short cuts taken when I might have taken the time and energy to do something 'right' on another day. But, we do the best we can, and I rest easier knowing that my dinner was delicious and came in a reusable container, and that many of my habits remain intact simply because they have become habit.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Compost Conundrum

So, like any good eco-nut, I can't bear to think of throwing away food scraps that could return to the Earth and feed my vegetables rather than being trapped in a land fill. I did some research, decided that a worm bin would be great, and set everything up. First I collected food for a while, then I got the worms and continued to add what I hope were the proper proportions of carbon and nitrogen and water. As time passed, my worm population dwindled, until I couldn't find any worms left. See, the problem is, I don't have much food waste. This is great for me and my budget, but it didn't work out so well for the worms.

That system failed, I moved my compost bin out to the balcony and continued to add whatever food waste I had. Since it was winter, and the bin was totally dried out, nothing broke down. It is now spring and I have an overflowing bin of food scraps (predominantly egg shells actually) which is all in nearly the same state as when I put it in, with the occasional addition of mold/fungus.

Clearly the system needs some help to break down any time soon. Enter the possibility of miraculous 4 week decomposition with the help of Bokashi! Maybe. This stuff is filled with micro-organisms that pickle your food waste in a couple weeks, then if you mix it in with some soil you get rapidly decomposed organic matter. It seems too good to be true, and I can't decide if its worthwhile.

I also found a local farm that might take my materials and convert them into compost for me. There is a certain satisfaction in creating my own, but if its going to be more effective to have someone else do it, I'm willing to make that sacrifice.

So, what do I do? Make my own pickled stuff or have someone else make regular compost?

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I went to clear off my camera today before we start a photo project at school, and discovered the only photos I've taken are of plants. Not that surprising since it's both planting season and plants dominate my apartment, but still makes me feel like maybe I should bring my camera out with me more. As long as I have the photos, I may as well share.

My african violet is really happy:

I bought a kit for hanging strawberries. Look at the growth in just 3 days of semi-cloudy weather. Nice work Yankee Candle Company!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Internet Dependency

When I got home from work last Friday afternoon I turned on the computer and plugged in my modem - standard procedure whenever I get home. However, something not so standard occurred - my computer didn't connect to the internet. My first reaction was mild panic, but I figured it must be a minor glitch and so I fiddled with a few settings, turned things off and back on, and waited a while. When it was clear something was wrong, I decided to contact my internet provider; here arrived stumbling block number one: everything I do, I do online. Normal procedure would be to check a website for tips, then to email or talk to someone online, and only as a last resort actually pick up the phone. But only that last resort was available, so I was forced to dig out an old bill (from before they went paperless) to find a phone number and call.

The representative (once I finally got through to him) informed me that my modem looked fine from his end, but it was really old- so old they stopped making the model in 2005 (which is eons ago for electronics). The solution was to go trade in my modem the next day. This, however, did nothing to solve the problem, and another call left me with the information that they didn't know what was wrong and couldn't help me since I use Linux. Many hours of troubleshooting and a lot of phone calls later, it's Tuesday and I'm dying without an internet connection. I'm worried that my computer is truly broken and decide to wipe the operating system and reinstall. Thankfully this solves my problem, and in the mean time I've learned a lot.

-Just because electronics are really old, that doesn't mean they're useless
My old modem turned on faster than the new one
My computer is 6 years old and still going strong

-Most people aren't willing to put in the effort to fix things
The first reaction was to go replace the old thing- it must be broken
I was kind of tempted to use this as an excuse to buy a shiny new computer
Reinstalling was actually really easy, and it only took 1 evening to get back up and running just like I was previously

-I'm totally and completely dependent on technology
I had to call friends many times this weekend to look up phone numbers
I didn't know what to wear on Saturday without
I rushed needlessly to the train since I had no idea how long it would take to get somewhere without
My computer is the essence of my entertainment- music, games, blogs...
I had limited to no contact with most people I know while I was offline

While I appreciated the reminder that I should be less dependent on technology, mostly I am just very thankful to have my internet back and that I didn't have to buy anything new (hopefully they'll recycle the modem I traded in).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

not the point

Ok, so I joined this Facebook group/application/whatever called Hot Dish. I think they are associated with Their tagline is 'serving up the hottest climate news' so ever so boldly I assumed they would be a 'green' organization. In the 4 months since I joined I have won: a t-shirt, a license plate frame and a bookmark. Why is a group whose sole purpose is reporting on the environment distributing stuff all over the country? (or maybe even world?) I tried to explain this concern to customer service when I got an email today reminding me I still hadn't given them my t-shirt size or mailing address. I suggested that instead of sending me more 'stuff' they could just donate the money they would have spent to an organization dedicated to combatting climate change.

The response:
"Thanks for your thoughtful question. Unfortunately, the t-shirts, license frames, and bookmarks were preordered in bulk, so we can't recoup the cost. However, I will try to find another user who's interested in them! Thanks for being committed to reducing your stuff."

At least she appreciated my efforts, but that wasn't really the point.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

short and sweet

I've gotten lazy. Blame the pollen that my immune system feels compelled to wage war against. Instead of blog posts I've been twittering lately. Maybe someday soon I'll have something big to say, but until then I'm sticking to 140 characters here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

cleaning supplies, garden plan!

Last week I got a coupon book in the mail from Target. I flipped through it out of curiosity- and discovered that there wasn't a single item in there that I buy. Some of it was paper products (I use cloth everything), other things were processed foods (which I don't eat) and still others were cleaning products. I was most surprised by my non-use of cleaning products. It's not that I don't clean, I do. In fact I spent yesterday afternoon giving the apartment a thorough cleaning. But, in the process of cleaning I only used water and microfiber cloths on the bathroom mirrors and counters, Dr. Bronner's for the toilet and a broom for the floor. In the kitchen I use a sponge or cloth (or more recently my new biodegradable sponge cloth) with the minimum amount of soap and a broom. The rest of the apartment gets vacuumed (with my bagless vacuum) and dusted with another microfiber cloth. My surfaces all look clean and shiny. There's no mold growing or weird sticky spots. There must not be tons of hazardous bacteria lingering since I get sick far, far less than I ever have (which I acknowledge is due to my living alone, not my superior cleaning skills). So why do people have kitchen and bathroom cabinets stocked with toxic chemicals?

Perhaps some of the bottles are for occasional use, rather than every day, but even for hard to remove rust or hard water I just found out about "Bar Keepers Friend" which is an all purpose cleanser/polish. It was recommended for stains on my pots/pans (which it worked wonders on) and the website says it works for "stainless steel, porcelain, ceramic tile, plastic, copper, china, fiberglass, imitation marble, tile, grout, chrome, and composition sinks." It's derived from rhubarb and biodegradable. Some people even use it in their laundry as bleach. Especially now, when people are looking for ways to trim their budgets, it makes so much more sense to buy one thing that can serve multiple purposes than finding a separate tool for each and every mutation of the same basic problem (in this case- something needs to be cleaned).

On another note- it's spring! Instead of grading and planning this afternoon, I plotted out my balcony garden. The biggest difficulty at this point is figuring out if I really have space to leave the hammock set up all the time. I drew it to nearly to scale, but I haven't measured the hammock, so I'm not sure if I'll have room to tend to everything with it up.

(The yucca is a decorative palm, and since it's been with me for 4 years and is nearly as tall as I am it is definitely not available for eating!)

I have full sun all day since my apartment is South facing. I tried to grow all of these things last year to varying amounts of success, except the strawberries, which are new. A school fundraiser was selling hanging strawberry kits, so I decided to try them out. Last year that spot was used for swedish ivy (another decorative) which will survive just fine in its indoor location. Now I just have to retrieve the soil from school (we're running an experiment growing peas in various conditions) and start the seeds. Except the carrots. I realize now that repotting carrots is highly unintelligent, so they will wait, and hopefully will be much less twisted this year.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

another electric development

So, this winter has been a rough one in terms of my electricity usage. There were some unexpected spikes that could not be explained, except perhaps by the cold weather making the hot water heater work extra hard. Today though, I got my electric bill, and recorded my lowest usage yet!

Here's the run down of the insanity:
From when I moved in August '07 through October '08 my numbers ranged from 60-100 kWh, tending toward the low 60's at the end.
November: 137 kWh (double the previous several months!)
December: 301 (double Nov. which is 4 times 'normal'!)
January: 192 (better, but still very high)
February: 59 kWh (my lowest number ever)

Without November-January in there, the low number in Feb. wouldn't have been terribly surprising since I was away on vacation for a week in Feb. but that is a huge drop in a month that was still very cold. All I can say is this was an interesting adventure, and I'm glad to be back to the realm of normal. I hope we stay here, it's nice. Also, thank goodness for renewable sources of electricity- I never actually passed the 10% line during all this, so at least I wasn't suffering major carbon guilt along with the confusion and outrage.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

it's easy being green

While I was in NM I saw a really cool spice rack- the spices were all held in metal containers and magnetically attached to a metal sheet that hung on the wall. It's a perfect solution to limited counter/cabinet space, which is definitely the situation I'm in. Of course, I saw no need to buy a pre-made set, especially not one that would need to be shipped across the country. As I began considering how to do this myself, I thought of using the fridge as my magnetic surface, but was reasonably confident that opening the door enough times would eventually result in spices flying all over the kitchen. After doing a bit of online research I saw that someone had thought to use the side of the refrigerator, and I realized that this would work in my kitchen too. Step one - find a surface - was complete with no purchases or new materials. Step two - magnets - easily accomplished this afternoon at the craft store. I was a little disappointed with Home Depot for not having anything appropriate, since I'm used to them having everything I need and more, but Michaels pulled through with the super strong Neo Magnets. Step three - containers - we went to several different stores (all on the same street so no wild goose chase of driving, but still more time than I should have spent) looking for matching glass or similar containers to put the spices in. My original instinct was simply to use whatever containers I currently had, but I sort of wanted the sleek look of matching containers, plus I didn't want to glue my magnets onto the containers and then need to eventually detach them. After our fruitless search I decided to just start by using the glass spice jars I already had, and then I would replace with glass as I went along, refilling the magnetized ones and perhaps relabeling as necessary. But then, I opened my drawer and saw duct tape- the perfect solution for any problem. Amazingly, a small piece of duct tape can attach the magnet securely enough to all of my spice bottles and even through the tapes the magnet still adheres to the fridge solidly enough not to slip at all (except the basil, which required 2 magnets). So now I have my spices within easy reach, my pantry has more space and I have a flexible, decent looking display. See?

Yesterday I got a T-shirt from a friend that says "It's easy being green" and features Kermit (it's made of organic cotton and non-toxic dyes, Disney is doing some good stuff). Today I wore it and also felt like I lived out the statement. While it would have been really easy to buy a pre-made set to solve my spice issues (or better yet, buy all pre-made food so I wouldn't even need spices), but I decided to do it myself using nearly all materials that I had on hand, and it was still easy! The only thing I purchased was magnets. This is definitely a sustainable system, as I add spices to my stock, I just buy more magnets and fill in the space. This also makes me want to cook- thinking about spices all day made me hungry and anxious to try out the system!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

meandering and musing

Today is the final day of my vacation. February vacation has always been a favorite of mine, it's the first time off that doesn't include a holiday which means it can be really relaxing. I should also admit I like it because it includes my birthday and getting a week off of school is always an excellent present.

This week I really packed things in and created more of a carbon output than I would care to think about. I started the week with a trip to CT to visit my parents. For my birthday they gave me one winter gift: a gorgeous soft and funky scarf that my mom knit herself and one summer gift: a hammock! Now I can really feel tropical in the warm weather, crowding all my plants and the hammock onto my balcony will really give me the feeling of being out in the wild. I set up the hammock when I got home yesterday just for fun, and was able to swing and read for a little while wrapped up in my scarf and a blanket.

Saturday night we got to go to a symphony concert. The CT opera recently had to close mid-season due to finances and so the director gave a brief speech at the beginning outlining the plans of the symphony and promising that they would not close mid-season so please buy season tickets. It made me realize that I would like to support the arts more. I go to all the student performances at school, but I should really look into what professional events I could attend. This is where I wish that I was better about going to things by myself.

Sunday I departed for New Mexico. I was worried about being bored traveling by myself so I over packed my carry on- grading, books, crosswords, mp3 player full of podcasts and a deck of cards. Needless to say I only got to the grading and the book but it was nice to have the mp3 player for background music to block out the chatterbox sitting next to me on the second flight. As a listener rather than a talker I am amazed by how some people can just talk and talk and talk; as long as the guy across the aisle wanted to listen, I didn't mind, I just don't have that much to say and it was surprising to me how much he did.

When I arrived in Albuquerque my friends picked me up and we headed up to Santa Fe. We were supposed to quickly stop by their new place and pick up the dog before heading back to their soon to be old home (they moved while I was visiting). It wasn't quite as quick as we expected though, since they had locked the keys in the house! After quite a few different failed methods, we did manage to get in and save the dog. It was certainly an exciting start to my visit.

The next day saw a delicious brunch which included my introduction to green chilies (a staple of NM) and a trip up to Diablo Canyon. Santa Fe is already about 7,000 feet above sea level, and we headed even further into the Rockies and then down into a canyon. This part of the state is desert, which was a new landscape for me. Even though it was only 40 degrees out, the sun was strong enough that I could leave behind my coat. The paths we walked were sand, and there were boulders, cacti, other unique flora and huge cliffs surrounding us. A few people were rock climbing but otherwise we had a vast landscape (including those huge skies I recognized from trips to Colorado) to ourselves.

That evening was filled mostly with relaxing at home, but we managed to fit in a brief visit to a unique art exhibit. A group of artists rent a space together and invite others to help them transform it each month. On the first day everyone gathers and chooses a location in the room and then that area is theirs to do what they want with. The final product, which is what I saw, is an interesting blend of different styles and interests, tucked into corners, under tables as well as atop them, painted directly on to the floor, and hanging from the ceiling. A few things carry throughout the space (ghosts hung around the room to commemorate the opening of that show on Friday the 13th) but mostly every way you turn is unique and requires individual attention. Nothing they do there is for sale, and everything will be removed at the end of the month long exhibit. It was a really interesting introduction to the art scene in Santa Fe (art is huge in the city and is the reason my friends moved there).

In the following days we explored Taos and Santa Fe, visiting galleries and parks, relaxing at home and meeting friends. I purchased a few keepsakes, including a vase made by natives that captures some of the colors and textures of New Mexico. Mostly though, we looked and were careful not to touch as the art we enjoyed was far out of our price range. I left the state satisfied with having seen the unique aspects of the area - the landscape and the art - while still having found plenty of time to relax and enjoy just being with my friends.

The return to CT brought more visits with family, a night out in New Haven and a visit with a college friend. Then, I finally returned to the apartment. Since my return yesterday I've been attempting to maintain that relaxed yet accomplished sensation while scurrying around to get life back into order. Tomorrow I return to school and I hope that everyone (including myself) will be ready to get back into the habits and structure that we have escaped from for what seems a very long time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

the nature of nature

This month's APLS carnival asks:

What is "nature" in the first place? What makes nature so powerful or meaningful? How has your experience with the natural world shaped your own environmentalism?

Last weekend I traveled across the state into my old stomping ground, Western Mass. I was headed to visit my best friend from college. When I arrived Friday night we grabbed dinner and spent some time exploring the natural food stores. We found some really interesting bits of nature there, including emu eggs! They are huge and green and amazing. While our first interaction with nature occurred in the warmth and safety of a store, it transported us to thoughts of a distant environment. Seeing eggs isn't normally an exciting experience (although I do get a certain warm glow from buying my local and organic 6 packs) but seeing such an exotic variety prompts thoughts of why on earth eggs should be green and sparkle. Was Dr. Seuss familiar with emu eggs when he wrote his story Green Eggs and Ham?

Saturday brought a more typical experience with nature: a hike. Getting to take trek through the snow, where the tracks of animals who had passed that way were prevalent and visible, and seeing the different ways the vegetation was coping with the weather was a great experience. The view from the peak was awe inspiring; seeing the towns surrounding us, mixed in with all the trees and meadows had a wonderfully calming and peaceful effect. Getting some fresh air, exercising and spending time with great people added to the overall effect. Plus, since the trail was covered in packed down snow, it had created what we visualized to be a luge track. My friend and I had worn snow pants and so when we headed back down the mountain, we just sat down on all the slanted portions and let gravity do its thing. That was way more fun than it should have been. Sliding down a trail in the middle of the woods brings out the pure glee I associate with five year olds. The quiet of a snowy forest, combined with the giggles and shrieks of adults acting like kids: now that is an excellent way to experience nature.

On Sunday we went sledding, and actually used sleds. It was a lot of fun, but we were on a hill on campus, facing a parking lot and a building. It definitely didn't have the same feel as being in the middle of the woods, or of being able to slide without needing plastic. We tried to slide down the hill without the sleds to recreate the experience from the previous day, but couldn't because the snow was too wet by then. Even so, it wouldn't have been the same, without the canopy of trees over the narrow trail, packed down only by other hikers seeking the same peaceful journey and rewarding view we had accomplished.

My efforts to conserve are definitely motivated by my experiences with nature. Whether it be a distant creature I've never encountered or the forests that surround my neighborhood, I want nature to continue running its course uninterrupted. I want to buy materials harvested sustainably, so that those farms or forests will continue to be prosperous and the land won't lay barren. But also, I want to make sure that no one has to infringe on what land is left near me. I'm selfish, and I want my forests to stay forests, so I try to do what I can to keep everyone else from needing them for lumber, farming or building.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

bagged lettuce?

If anyone needs an interesting research project- studying the bagged lettuce phenomenon might be worthwhile. I say this because I've been checking out my Google Analytics. My blog's second most visited page (first is the front page) is my entry about "Lettuce in a Bag". Of 17 google searches that led people to my site in the past month, 11 of them had to do with lettuce. I wrote this post in August, about my evolving relationship with bagged lettuce. Since then 45 people have stopped in because they wanted to know about lettuce (out of 69 searches total). First of all, I had no idea there were so many people curious enough about bagged lettuce to make it to #15 on their google search. Second of all, how am I still #15 after 6 months?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

a little too easy

This evening I got an email from this cellist I really like (Zoe Keating) and she mentioned that she was recording a new album. This made me realize that she must already have an album and I don't just have to wait for her to show up on my Pandora radio station! So, I headed on over to, searched and was immediately given the choice between singles, an ep and the album. I chose the album, and before I even previewed the songs I saw this button which called out to me saying "Buy MP3 album with 1-click". Since it was there, and beckoning, I clicked. Immediately the songs began downloading and in moments I had a full CD on my computer. As I started listening, I wondered who those other artists were that other people had bought, and I found another cellist I liked, and there was the 1-click button again, and I had another CD! It's so easy! Click and listen to whatever you want! Now!

In my case, things worked out fine. I bought 2 full CD's for under $15, they were artists I like and listen to regularly (I already had podcasts they did on the radio show Radio Lab from WNYC) and I didn't have to bother with anything plastic. However, I'm sure you can see how dangerous this is for impulse shoppers. Save your credit card with amazon once and forever more you can buy things with one click. Not much thinking gets done with one click. I liked having to get up, find my wallet and really know I was buying something. There are so many times when I wonder at peoples' lack of self control - I mean really, how could they build up so much credit card debt and yet keep buying non-essentials? But then, you see how far removed shopping can be from reality. I give a website a number, and they give me some stuff. The connection to my money that I worked hard to earn is getting stretched further and further away. No one reminds you how much you have or owe when you get to the checkout. Personal responsibility is essential, but the market is full of people trying to figure out how to make you forget responsibilities, and this worries me.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

making choices

APLS Carnival This Month: "What mental tricks do you use on yourself to help you make the right choices, even when they make life a little harder? Or, conversely, does your mind play games that trick you into making the wrong decisions?"

In some cases, the biggest trigger in my brain when I'm making a choice is what will people think. Now, many people would be surprised to hear this coming from me, I'm not a 'go with the crowd' type of person. However, I'm thinking of very specific people's opinions when I consider this. My friend who had to give up her worms when she moved and convinced me to get some so she could live vicariously- she would be very disappointed if I gave up composting because of one little ant infestation. Or, would I be willing to admit that I turned the heat up a few degrees to my friend who I am constantly badgering to lower her thermostat?

Other times, it's intrigue with the science behind things. Flushing my toilet with grey water is still fascinating to me, the brilliant pressure system, how much water is necessary, actually noticing the effects when someone else uses the pipes I share with my neighbors. Or, the mathematics- every month is a push to see if I can get closer to the 90% reduction. What exactly contributed to that increase or decrease in gas/electricity/water. Recently my electricity usage skyrocketed, and I felt a distinct loss of control. I truly enjoying knowing where each number comes from and that I chose to use that much.

Most of all, I don't offer my mind the option to want something I don't need. I can't remember the last time I went to the mall. I check out prices online before shopping, and then I only need to go to one store and can head directly to the aisle I know my item is in. I don't watch tv and therefore don't see the ads there. When I am out, I'm often out with other vegetarians, people who know me as an eco-nut and friends who would be more surprised if I didn't chose the sustainable option.

However, there are plenty of things that I don't do. I wanted to bike more this summer, but it really didn't happen. I rationalized that I was in grad school and away 12 hours a day so it was okay. That wasn't a perfect reason, but I can live with my imperfections and the occasional drive down the road to get groceries in my semi-gas-guzzling vehicle.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


There are a number of websites available to inform our upcoming president what we think the most urgent issues are. Check out to make sure the top 10 ideas represent your interests. You can also vote on questions others have asked Obama to address at

Even though the presidential election is over, there is still a lot of voting to do!

P.S. After a lot of efforts and checking, the only thing that might be causing the electricity increase is my water heater. Apparently the closet it is contained in had the heat set very low, nearly off, and since it's a room off of the balcony the water heater must have been working very hard to keep hot. When my next bill arrives (in 17 days) I'm supposed to report back if this actually helped. Or maybe I'll just go check my meter in a few days and see how we're doing.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Help! Electric usage skyrocketing for no (known) reason!

Okay, I am majorly concerned, and no longer just from the environmentalist perspective. I've been consistently under 100 kWh per month for nine months, last January offered a brief spike to 112 kWh and then back down. And before those is getting back into the months when I was using my dryer and all those other things. Highest ever was the first month I moved in, 157 kWh. So now we have some background. Mid-October to Mid-November showed a doubling from previous months up to 137 kWh. This threw me for a loop and had me quite concerned since I could not think of any change in habits that would produce such numbers. Then, Mid-November to Mid-December resulted in 301 kWh. The doubled number was more than doubled. Exponential growth. Totally unexplained. Big Problem!

I immediately contacted the electric company, and while they see good reason for my concern, they don't think anything is wrong on their end. They are taking actual readings and think the meter is working fine. The representative suggested it may be due to a dehumidifier or space heater (neither of which I have) or faulty equipment (which has me worried). I contacted the management of my apartment complex to come check out the fridge, heating system and anything else they can think of (this makes me appreciate being a renter). I still think I would know if my fridge was running overtime, and I know the heat doesn't turn on very often. My brain cannot comprehend these numbers. I seriously hope that someone offers me an answer soon! (Can you, dear reader?)

On a happier note I shrink wrapped my windows (supposed to work as insulation like double paned glass would). I'm not yet sure how much it's helping (hard to tell when the temperatures fluctuate so much) but I was impressed that when I had a few friends over the other night the temperature rose to 76 without us cooking anything. The heat is set at 65 (pet survival temp).

I'm also looking forward to taking yoga classes. After some searching I decided to go to a small local studio so that I'm not driving far, my money is going to a local organization and they're small enough to actually do things like respond to my email with a personalized recommendation within 24 hours! Plus, they have a recycling program, how cool is that?

I'm trying to focus on these things. But I'm worried that whatever crazy thing is using 200 kWh of electricity in a month is going to catch on fire! Anyone had anything like this happen? Ideas/solutions?