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.