Friday, December 31, 2010

No Resolutions, no hair-dye philosophy

I've spent the last week creating a super detailed life-plan on Google Docs. I'm not much of a spreadsheet maker, but I'm hoping that by putting in serious time planning, creating routines, and writing lists ahead of time, I can make 2011 a year of focused, intentional living. It's about creating measurable goals, not resolving to improve. A resolution is the desire and the intent. The goals are the map. The routine and micromovement lists are the pedals and handlebars. Now I just have to mount the bike & ride.

 I've been flitting from project to project for the past 7 months. Now it's time to delve deep into life and actually accomplish something. Last year I was a water skipper. This year I am leaving the surface, it's the year of the beaver, baby. I'm building life-structures with roots that go deep this year. A life lived on the surface is disposable. When I live on the surface, I can easily hide my values, revert back to the old me, or give up. I want to live life with values that are twined around my alveoli, submerged in the chambers of my heart, and tattooed in my pores. I need to dig my heels in and really commit to a low-impact lifestyle. This means deep fundamental changes, supported by daily routine.

For a first step, I'm doing a carbon cleanse. Join me, please. It's only one week, but it could spiral into a lifestyle overhaul...if you let it.  I will be blogging my experience here next week.

And if you need a swift kick in the pants to get moving: Calling all Fanatics

I 'm headed into 2011 with excitement & purpose. Thanks to awesome & inspirational friends who've helped me begin this journey. Thank you , Mom, for sewing, creating, and getting worked up  with me. Thank you, John for supporting all the changes I'm implementing around here, and running with them. Thanks to Lauren and Nick for your links and posts to inspire and move me toward action  & growth. Thank you Rob for reading all my random blogs & feeding me ideas.   You all push me to be better.  Thank you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Garden aGlow

We took the kids to the Winter Garden aGlow at the Idaho Botanical Gardens on Monday. This year they've started "Carpool Mondays" so a van-load of people can get into the Gardens for $20. With adults usually costing $8 and kids $4, we'd normally have to pay $32. Good deal!

It's pretty out there at the gardens, lots of lights wrapped from trees, hanging from trees, sitting in bushes, lining walkways. It's not something I'd feel compelled to do every year, but it was nice. We stopped to see Prancer, who looked like the weight of his antlers was a bit much for him.

When I read online that there are 250,000 lights out there, I was a little uncomfortable. Once you're aware of the energy drain things create, you see it everywhere. Sometimes it's hard not to be a little Scrooge-ish if you focus on the green factor. I decided to use the trip as a research opportunity, to learn, rather than to judge. I wrote up my findings in a review. You can see it here. (Well, crud...it's awaiting review. I'll repost the link when it's functional.)

The kids had a great time tromping through the mud, seeing Santa, and ringing the big bell they have hanging in the middle of the gardens. I think it would make a really great trip in the summer, to show the kids the ecological diversity, and to teach them about local versus exotic plants. They've decided that a botanical garden is a zoo for plants, and they're kind of right.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

RRR Room by Room- Main Bathroom

The laundry system is working out beautifully. I like that I have two specific days in which clean laundry is put away and dirty laundry appears in the laundry room. It gives me a deadline to work towards, and I can see my progress. Instead of trudging from bedroom to bedroom collecting the laundry every day or two and never seeing the end, I just have to get through what was brought in. I can look and say, "I've washed all the laundry that was brought in since Wednesday. Sweet!" It's a nice way to see progress, which I find motivating.

So, with one success under my belt, I move on down the hall to the main bathroom. I would love to post a picture of how nice and clean I got the room, but alas the camera is missing. We had it Monday, now it's gone. I suspect the girls, since it isn't anywhere obvious. They like to put things in the pantry, behind the couch, bury stuff in the dog food...

Here's an older picture Girl 1 took of me in the bathroom a while back:

Anyway. Ways to make the bathroom more efficient.

  • I would like a dual flush toilet, the man likes low-flow. I think in this bathroom we will probably get dual flush, since this is the bathroom that is used the most.
  • In the meantime, I am going to put a bottle of water in the tank to reduce water use for each flush.
  • We use vinegar and baking soda to clean all the surfaces
  • When the Windex runs out, I'll start using vinegar to clean the mirror
  • We've already switched to cloth towels and rags to clean everything, we haven't had paper towels in the house in months. I have a separate set for bathrooms, just because I don't like to use the same cloths to clean the toilet as I do the kitchen counters (imagine that). We have colored wash cloths for the kitchen, and since I'm using Econobum cloth diapers, I use my failed Gerber cloth diaper experiment  to clean the bathrooms. 
  • We need to put a faucet aerator on the sink. This is especially important since Girl 1 sneaks in there all the time to play in the water.
  • No one uses this shower, so a low-flow head isn't at the top of the list, but it would be nice at some point for the random house guest.
  • There is no shower curtain (again, we don't shower in here) but it would look better if we had one, and then guests could shower here. We'll need to stay away from PVC or nylon/vinyl curtains. I'd like a hemp shower curtain, or an organic cotton one. These are crazy expensive though. 
  • We have a frosted energy efficient window in this bathroom, so that's good.
  • We need to switch to biodegradable soaps. Many soaps have petroleum in them. Biodegradable/organic soaps don't. 
  • We need CFL vanity bulbs for over the mirror
  • We need to give up my beloved Charmin and switch to toilet paper made from recycled content
This is a tiny room, and look how many things there are to do. It's a little overwhelming. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

RRR Room by Room- Laundry Room backcasting

SNOW DAY TODAY!

Last night we were pretty sure school would be cancelled today. The snow was piling up, and there was no sign of it stopping. We woke up this morning, and sure enough, school is cancelled. At this very moment the boys are calling their neighborhood friends & planning to walk across the street to the school & build massive snow forts on the field. That way they'll have forts to play in when school is back in session. So. Fun.

 I jumped on the snow day opportunity to have the kids put their laundry away. I'm not going to spoil their stay-at-home fun by making them clean all day, but I couldn't pass up the chance to get the laundry room cleared out. The deal was, put away all your laundry (including hang ups) and you have the rest of the day to yourself. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.





Tops cleaned off
I've been doing load after load of laundry since Monday. I've kept it going every waking moment. Literally. We have these giant capacity He machines, and I am thrilled to announce that the laundry is d.o.n.e. There is a start on a new load of darks, and there is a load in each machine right now, but that's it. I have officially caught up.

All the laundry that is left to wash




 
Rediscovered the floor








I haven't put the girls' laundry away yet, you can see it there on the shelves. That's because they decided to pull EVERYTHING, all the bins, containers, everything, out of their closets and dump it all in the middle of their room. Once that is cleaned up (hopefully after nap) I will have everything put away. Except the socks that I've washed since Monday's Sock Go Fish game. All those left socks you've lost? They end up at my house, I think. Still, to have it this close to totally done is unheard of.

I have serious doubts about keeping it this way, but greenness, cheapness, and cleanliness demands it. We have a TON of clothes. It's wasteful and silly. Once everything is put away, it's obvious that "I don't have anything to wear!" is completely untrue. I don't need to buy more, and if I keep the laundry up, I'll know when I do.

Beginning with the end in mind, imagining my ideal goal of a laundry room that looks like this all the time...how awesome.

~Backcasting~
The Dream: To have no more than a load of laundry waiting at any given time. To have no more than a week's worth of wash on the shelves or hanging up at any one time. To be able to leave the laundry room door standing wide open, even when company is coming over. To have a eco-friendly, organized, sustainable laundry system.

Steps, from last to first

  • We need to put our clean laundry away at least twice a week. Wednesday night and Saturday morning might work. 
  • I need to do each load from wash to dry to fold immediately.
  • I need to wash a load of laundry every day, to keep it going.
  • I need a bin for each type of laundry in the laundry room.
  • I need to tell the fam the new routine, and enforce it until it is habit. 
  • I need the dirty laundry sorted into towels/bedding, darks, and whites.
  • I need the dirty laundry brought up and sorted at least twice a week. Let's combine this with the putting away of the clean, so as to minimize fights.
  • I can make the run around during the day if I need more clothes for a load.
  • Efficiency demands only running the washer/dryer when there is a full load.
I'm finding making a list of steps backward like this kind of confusing. At least for laundry.

Side Steps/Extras:
  • When I get to the bedroom RRRs, I am going to switch us to the file form of clothing storage.
  • I'd like to bring some things of beauty into the laundry room to put on the shelf behind the machines. No reason the room has to be a dungeon.
  • I've put a bowl on the dryer to throw in the random pocket flotsam that appears in the wash (like erasers, little toys, money). 
  • I have a bag for donations in the closet, for things that I'm not going to hand down.  

Green Goals:
  • We have high efficiency machines, so that's great.
  • We have blinds up on the window that the sun shines in. 
  • We need to switch the light bulb to a CFL when this one burns out
  • I'd like to try making my own laundry detergent. Keep thinking that, never get around to it.
  • Switch back to line drying in the spring. There isn't time or room for indoor air drying all our wash.



This must not be allowed to happen again. 
It can be done. Oh yes. It can be done.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leapfrog with a rear view mirror.

I tend to make resolutions rather than set goals. When I do set goals, they are often random, timeless wishes that I make no concrete path toward achieving. Or, if I do have some sort of yellow brick road in my mind to get to my goal, I make no plans for sustainability.

And then I wonder why I fail, burn out, or forget.

Today I learned a new word: backcasting. Backcasting is a reframing technique that changes the way one makes plans. It's similar to plain old goal setting except that it turns the process upside down. It's like when you're putting together a puzzle and you walk around to the other side of the table. Same puzzle. Same pieces, but the new perspective can unlock your mind and get you moving.

It starts the same way every other tedious goal-setting relationship-building communication training seminar ever starts: Begin with the end in mind.

But not just a goal, a sentence, a note on a list. Imagine your future. As a creative writer, this appeals to me. It means I stop. I shut my eyes and I fantasize about what I want. I imagine myself in the moment, living the future I want. This is not a resolution like "I will lose forty pounds by March." Instead I shut my eyes and picture myself at my sister's upcoming wedding in March. I create the scene, my siblings (some of whom I haven't seen in 9 years) around me. I picture the dress I wear, my hair. I allow myself to create this future and experience it mentally. I see myself lighter and healthier, spending time with my family.

I don't start with frustration and despair at where I'm at. I begin by reveling in where I am going. I am motivated and inspired, rather than starting with failure chained to my ankles.

Then I work, step by step backward toward today. I plan out each fundamental change that has to happen in reverse order, rewinding from my happy actualized self back toward the me I am today. These can be baby concrete steps, as well as principles. It's like a logic puzzle, working from effect to cause, effect to cause, all the way back to square one.

Hindsight is 20/20, right? So role play yourself into a vantage point where you can see what you should have done, with the amazing opportunity to actually do it.

The trick though, is to make sure that your steps lead toward sustainability, that your vision of that fulfilling future includes the amazing freedom and joy that comes from knowing you can stay this way. Imagine a future where your goal is permanent, where you are maintaining your dream, and then build the steps to make that vision real.

Next post: backcasting my way to laundry sustainability.

 

Monday, November 29, 2010

RRR Room by Room- Laundry Room...theoretical deep clean

The laundry room is across the hall from our office. Once upon a time, long before we moved in, it was a bedroom. It's a nice, large, out of the way room in which we can heap pile upon pile of our dirty laundry. Seven people dirty a lot of clothes.

I can't catch up. I hate laundry, not the washing, but the folding. I have been meaning to do a deep clean of the laundry room for days, and I've been avoiding it. It's overwhelming. Blankets and socks and jeans...oh my. Because I've been so remiss at actually doing the laundry, it's holding up my efficiency checklist, and my blogging. If I wait until I've caught up the laundry, I'll never blog again.

Why is it important to have the laundry done?
1. I would be calmer if the kids knew where their clothes were & didn't need me to chase them down. (Are they hanging in the laundry room? Are they hanging in your closet? Are there any clean pants? The suspense is killing us.)
2. When the laundry gets behind, so does my cloth diapering. We have to switch to disposables. It's like pouring money down the drain, and it's such a polluting mess. The inserts aren't an issue, but the covers have to air dry, so if I get behind, we have to wait.
3. Wrinkles! Running the dryer to de-wrinkle clothes: not eco-friendly.
4. Knowing who really needs clothes & who doesn't. Boy 1 & 2 are growing like crazy. Keeping them in clothes is a trick, but if I have them all washed & they are put away, I can tell what they are really running low on, and what they aren't. Plus, if I had all the laundry caught up, I could sort out the outgrown stuff & post it on threadUP.

So the meantime solution:

Piles & baskets full of humiliation
I've made piles. Stuffed things in baskets. Scootched all the dirty laundry to one corner of the room. For the record both my He washer and dryer have been running all day. So there has been a little progress. My embarrassment at this full disclosure (which isn't full at all, you don't get to see the rest of the room. Hideous.) hopefully will inspire me to keep pushing the laundry through. 

Some plans to get the job done:
Sock basket
  • Tonight we're playing Sock Go Fish with the kids. This involves the giant basket of socks which I refuse to fold (I hate hate hate pairing, folding, sorting socks. h.a.t.e. it.). We pull out the sock basket, each of us grabs out 5 socks and take turns looking for matches. "Do you have a Hanes with green letters?" "Go fish." 
  • The children need to put their laundry away. They each have a shelf in the laundry room with their name on it. The shelves are filling up as I attempt to get all this laundry done. It needs to go into their dressers & closets, rather than having them gather in the laundry room to get ready for school every morning. 
  • A routine. There has to be a way to make laundry a part of my daily routine. I've tried the Fly Lady way, but I'm really bad at sticking to it for long, and it doesn't allow for all my crafting, content managing, blogging, kid playing time. It's too restrictive. Maybe a load every morning & one every night? I hate schedules, but something has to happen so that the laundry gets did.
I have to get this room under control and then find time & energy efficient ways to keep it going. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Interactivism

I'm repeatedly surprised by how very tired sitting, smiling, and schmoozing can be. I used to work retail, it 6 hours wore me out. I spent most of yesterday and today behind our REpUrpoSE table at the holiday bazaar, and I am physically exhausted. I sat, I smiled, said "Hi!" opened the bags, closed the bags, explained the purpose, talked about plastic bag waste, and I feel like I ran a marathon. So weird.

I was so nervous when we set up Thursday night. I couldn't gauge if the display looked good, if the bags were arranged right, if we fit in with the other vendors, if we had enough literature, if I had too much...I was really anxious. Friday morning I was a fidgety mess. What if no one cared? What if I offended people? What if the bags were crap?

Set up and ready to go. 
At 9 a.m. on a Friday morning, the crowd consists of a bunch of people in appliquéd sweaters who call you "Dear" and tell you how clever you are. They aren't really interested in buying, or in being converted away from plastic, but they are a sweet bunch. I started to relax.

Then the grade school kids started coming in to do their shopping throughout the school day. They were awesome. I got to talk to dozens of kids about plastic bags, and the waste we make when we use them and toss them. The kids were so excited by the sandwich wrap place mats. They liked the tank top totes. 

A highlight:

Third Grade Boy: So, whater these things?

Me: Let me show you. (A sandwich wrap/placemat demo ensued.) You use these instead of your plastic sandwich bags in your lunch.

Third Grade Boy: Because plastic is bad (he came up with that, I hadn't had time to get to that part of the schpiel.).

Me: Exactly. Because plastic is bad.

Third Grade Boy: Well then I need one of these. 

He bought one and then proceeded to drag everyone he could get his little hands on over to my table and tell them that they should get one of these wraps, because plastic is bad, allowing me to explain why. So awesome. 

By the end of Day 1, half of the wraps were gone.  

Day 2 was a different crowd, but still very open to what we were trying to say. We had long-time bazaar vendors give me tips and tricks. We had people come up and get excited about making their own tank top totes. We showed them the corner trick and told them how I did it. People were thinking.We had someone come up and tell me that my table had them thinking about the food at the bazaar and how it would be better to serve it on paper plates than Styrofoam. We had people brainstorming ways to remember their bags. We got to educate people about the latest lead paint-reusable bag scare. We passed out info on the Garbage Patch. My parents were there supporting and selling, my husband and friends were there to support me. It was wonderful.

Some of the bags went well. The gift bags and produce bags didn't do as well, but we're looking into what we can do with them. By the end of today, we had sold around forty sandwich wraps, with requests for more. I'm going to be making more and putting them on our etsy site a.s.a.p.

Slim pickin's left


I think it was a success. We have good ideas for more projects. We got to network with some other people as revved up about reusing as I am. And I got to educate my community. I am beyond pleased.

I immediately went out and spent some of the earnings on more fabric. I can't wait to get to crafting more bags, wraps, and other reusables.

New bags, here we come!



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leaving the Bat Cave

This weekend I'm going out to do a little awareness raising. It's kind of new for me to do this in real life, instead of online. I've come to realize though that with things like facebook friends, blog hops, Google reader feeds, you can become insulated. By educating online, often you end up preaching to the choir. You only read the sides of topics you search for, and you're only read by those who are already looking for what you're saying.

In order to effect true change, you have to take the message outside of the bubble. You have to step out into the world and encounter those who have no idea that the problems exist, and you have to open dialog with those who disagee with you.


My kids' school is having their Holiday Bazaar. Crafters bring their wares and sell them as Christmas presents and whatnot. My mom and I have been sewing like crazy, making sandwich wraps, reusable produce bags, Uttts (Upcycled Tank Top Totes), and snack bags. We are going to have a table at the bazaar.


My hope is to make a little money selling items that have the potential to make a real difference in the world. I want to educate the kids and shoppers who will attend the bazaar on the dangers of plastics, and show them how easy and fun it can be to change.


Some of the facts on our table:
  • Every year, around 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide.
  • Every day more than 20,000,000 sandwich bags go into U.S. landfills.  
  • Ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. 70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade.
This is a serious problem because plastic:
  • Doesn't recycle, it downcycles. It loses integrity in the recycling process.
  • Releases toxins into the ground water from landfill sites
  • Gets into the food chain through animals that ingest small particles of plastic--you're eating and drinking plastic chemicals every single day.
  • Stays in the environment for hundreds of years while they break down
  • Wastes energy during the manufacturing process
  • Kills an estimated 100,000 marine animals each year
  • Turns our oceans into "plastic soup"
I hope to educate people, I hope to persuade them to stop using boring, deadly, toxic, lame plastic. I hope they like our wraps and bags, and I really hope I don't look foolish.

What do you do, in the real world, to make a difference?

Here's an awesome video from Green Sangha:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

RRR Room by Room- Office Goals

Home Office

Yesterday I blogged about all the office organizing  I did. Now that everything is in its place and I can see all I have going on, I can set some goals to have a more energy efficient office. Below is my list, and I've tried to sort it from simplest/cheapest to most complicated/expensive.

Office Goals:

  • Put the recycling bag where both The Man and I can reach it. 
    • Tiny little step, but in this house, anything to make things easier/faster/or more mindless encourages us to stick to it. We're good at putting in extra effort at first, but every precious second counts when you have 5 kids and a million projects. We crap out after a while if things aren't easy. I'm going to recycle more if I don't have to walk across the room to do it. Sad, but true.
  • Take notes in Microsoft OneNote and Gmail Tasks 
    • I need to reduce the amount of paper I use. I LOVE lists. I love seeing all my to-do's laid out, I love crossing them off. It's so satisfying. I've been know to have a complete lock-up, melt-down, freak-out when I lose a list I've been working off of. Using these two programs (which I already had pining for me on the 'puter) reduces the amount of paper I use, and helps hang on to my sweet, sweet lists. 
  • Shut down the computers at night.
    • I have guilt that we haven't been doing this. I did set the computers up to go into hibernate mode when we aren't using them, but even in standby mode, computers can draw up to 40 watts of power. I find a sense of comfort in being able to jiggle the mouse and instantly begin netting. But I don't really need to be able to...so I think The Man and I need to start turning the computers off at night. I feel anxious about this. So weird.
  • Make sure all the bills that can be sent as e-statements are e-statements.
    • The Man does all the bill paying. This isn't fair to him, and it's something we keep saying that I need to be involved with, but we never quite get there. It's high-stress for both of us, since he's the Saver of the Money and I'm the Spender of the Money (because I buy the food, the kids' clothes, gifts, etc.). So I don't know how many of the massive piles of bills/statements we get could be sent electronically to us. I also don't know if this would work with The Man's system for bill pay. It's a discussion we need to have.
  • Find out how to cancel our phone book subscription.
    • We NEVER use the phone book. I rip the coupons out of them and immediately recycle them when they appear on our doorstep. I didn't realize until just recently that I had a choice about this (I'm slow.) I've searched the website for Impact Directories who provides our local phone book, but all I can seem to find is how to get more phone books (because, really, who doesn't need another phone book?) so this will warrant a phone call.
  • Get some plants.
    • Did you notice in yesterday's picture how stark our office is? We've lived here since May, but we haven't touched the office. It's sterile and serious. I don't want to be distracted, but I'd like to warm it up. Some plants living and transpiring in here would really make it nice...and keep me thinkin' green thinks. 
  • Install blinds
    • If you look in the far corner of the office picture, you can see two sets of blinds propped up. Those were in our laundry room before we had all the windows replaced, but the windows in the laundry room & the office are the same size. Since I tend to be in here working when the morning sun is pouring in. If we had blinds the blinds up, we could block that light and any heat/air transfer through the windows, but also open them to let in natural light to save on electricity. 
  • Buy and use recycled office products
    • We don't, and that's just stupid. I'm telling you, we operate on the lazy system, doing what we've always done because it requires no thought and little effort. We can buy recycled printer paper, recycled pens, refill our printer cartridges, and even use stapleless staplers (although I don't do a lot of stapling, so that's down the list a bit...since they're made of evil evil plastic.) One thing I am going to do is go down to my stash of empty canisters (coffee cans, pb jars, etc.) and pick a container to put by the printer to put the cartridges in when they're empty, so it's easier to remember to get them refilled.
We have CFLs in here already, and once LEDs become cheaper, we'll probably do the switch. Luckily our scanner/copier are built into our printers...although I'm not sure we need two printers. The only other things plugged in are the modem and router, and the house phone. We'd ditch that except I'm not ready to buy Boy 1 a cell phone and he is starting to get calls. Boy 2 does too, actually. 

So there are the goals for the office. I hope to have most of them started by this time next week. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

RRR Room by Room- Office deep clean

I've been blathering. I've fallen into a pattern of either not writing at all, or writing a random spew of whatever happened to be in my mind. I think some of that is good, but I need to get back to goals and greening up our home. I think the most effective way to do that is to go room by room through our house and see what I can make more efficient and less wasteful.

My desk is the far one. The Man's is to the left.
Home Office


This is our office. I'm starting here because it happens to be at one end of the house, so it's a good place to begin and work my way west through the house. It's also the room where I spend quite a lot of time, blogging, reading, talking to grown ups, and doing my day job (content manager).

Contrary as it is to my way of functioning (because I am a world-class slob) cleanliness & organization lead to efficiency. I can't see what to green if I can't even walk in the room.

This is as clean as the office is ever going to be. I started by giving it a deep clean. This room was so messy you couldn't see the floor or any desktop. It gets that way a lot. I'm messy.

 I started in that far corner there and sorted. I worked my way from left to right and back toward the door. I had a brown paper bag for recycling and a small trash can for garbage. I made a pile for things that don't belong in the office to put away when I was done. That's the key to success here: DON'T LEAVE THE ROOM TO PUT THINGS AWAY. There are too many distractions if I leave the room. I put all the toys and books and such away after the rest of the room was done.

No longer living by the pile method.
 I sifted papers I have to keep from waste. The keepers were sorted into piles based on subject: Kids' school items, Social justice papers, Christmas planning, Student Loans (ick), work papers, blank paper & office supplies, couponing stuff, etc. I worked my way across the whole room (desks, floor, and shelves) until everything was sorted. I found a ton of office supplies buried, and even an empty file box (you can see it there by my desk) to file all my piles into.

Normally I make a big pile of all the papers that require action, ruining my clean desk space immediately. This time, as I filed papers into the newly found bucket, I entered any relevant to-do's in a task list on Gmail. Now they are right there on my screen, rather than buried in a pile. I knocked more things off that list yesterday than I have in a month.

I had four paper bags of recycling and a little can full of trash when I was done. Horrifying. I have to get this room under control.

Having everything in its place leads to less waste. We had three partial reams of paper in here, scattered about. By putting all three together, I know I don't have to buy more paper. My mind is calmer, my movement freer.

Now that the office is clean, tomorrow I can create a list of action items to save energy and resources.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pets and Perspective

Sometimes I get completely overwhelmed by all the implications of plastic. I don't want to be that insane doomsdayer who stands on the corner and screams about the end of the world. But sometimes I feel like Armageddon might just manifest as a tidal wave of suffocating plastic.

Boy 2 had a birthday about three weeks ago. The one thing he has been after us to get him since time out of mind is a turtle. I did the research, and it turns out that turtles are pretty low maintenance, and land tortoises even more so. We found a Russian tortoise on craigslist (not supposed to sell pets there, but oh well.). The tortoise and my son are both ten years old. Russian tortoises have a life span of 50 years, so this is no small commitment, even if they are easy to care for.

Birthday Glee!

Knowing full well that if left to his own devices, Boy 2 would name his new pet something creative like "Yertle" or "Shelly", we helped find names that were original. I was hoping for Vlad the Impaler, but I was shot down. Putin was my second choice, but the boys heard "pootin'" and that one quickly left the list. The Russian tortoise's new name is Gorbachev, Gorby for short. I mispronounce it and call him "Gorbachoff Hasselhoff" (see, because he's a slow runner, Baywatch style). I think it's hilarious. The rest of the family thinks I'm annoying. Oh well.

Anyway, I never expected a reptile to be so damn charming. He's a doll. He has this little snuffly noise he makes when you hold him. He gets so excited when I come to the tank, and he stretches his little turtle neck out to me. He snuggles. I kid you not. He's like...the best pet ever. He's so endearing, and smart. He comes to the glass of the tank when we feed him, he knows. He bangs his shell on the cage when he's hungry. He basks under his little heat lamp, he burrows. He yawns and it's like...amazing somehow. I can't convey how utterly sweet he is. I know he's a turtle, but that's the point, I didn't expect him to be so aware and communicative.

Eatin' green.
We know dogs and horses (and grudgingly, I suppose cats too) are smart, social, and interactive. Somehow I placed reptiles, birds, and fish in the same category as earthworms or flowers as far as sentience goes...and maybe even earthworms and flowers deserve more credit.

I read about all the plastic in the oceans. I watch videos of crabs eating little scraps of plastic shopping bags off the shoreline. I see horrifying pictures of birds decomposed into nothing but bones, feathers, and a pile of plastic where their stomachs used to be. I see what may or may not be a real picture of a turtle whose shell is deformed by a plastic ring encircling it since it was a baby. And I won't post any of those things here, because I'm not going to start a shock campaign...not today.

But when I watch Gorby trundling around, snuffling my son and doing The Hoff Baywatch Run over to his water bowl when we fill it up, and I think about all of those animals poisoned from the outside by oil slicks, strangled from the inside by plastic waste...it gets personal. Animals know. They are aware. Doesn't your dog get mad at you? Doesn't she feel sadness when she's in trouble? Doesn't your cat feel pain? Seagulls and seahorses and dolphins and whales and turtles... If they were human babies, wouldn't we take more notice? Probably only if it was happening on the sidewalk outside our homes. Because it's easy to dismiss if it isn't personal.

If I dumped my plastic bags, popped balloons, tampon applicators, and cigarette lighters my neighbor's nursery, there would be an uproar. How utterly anthropocentric and crass to do the same outdoors where animals are living and raising their young. It has to stop.

I'm starting the show us your plastic challenge at Fake Plastic Fish tomorrow. I encourage anyone reading this to join me. Awareness is the first step toward action. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Still Here in the Stillness

If you'd rather be inspired than listen to me wallow, click here: Politics Shmolitics

I haven't been blogging lately. It isn't that I'm quitting, or that I don't have anything to say, but life is so full...there are so many things I want to do. A good friend of mine told me that while I'm not flaky, I'm flighty. It's true. I treat life like one big buffet of experience and action, trying a bit of this, sampling a bit of that, overfilling my plate to the point of sheer life-living gluttony. What usually happens is my metaphorical peaches seep into my figurative mashed potatoes and soak my allegorical chocolate cake. I end up overstuffed and ready to vomit...nearly literally.

So we threw a big Halloween/birthday bash. I've been wanting to blog about the recycled decorations, but haven't gotten there.

My husband traveled nearly all the month of October and the three-year-old was hell bent on destroying the house. She ruined a keyboard, filled drawers with water, ate toothpaste off the bathroom wall with a Q-Tip, filled the couch cup holders with water, bit her sister, drew on the floor...I swear I watch her, she's just fast.

I picked up my creative writing blog and set it back down again.

I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, and so far I have 5,234 words over the last three days.

I researched candidates, voted, grumbled as my state remained incumbently red (I know incumbently isn't a word. Shut the front door & don't let it hitcha...) and smiled as my district stayed incumbently blue. (Which in Idaho really is more a shade of purple.) Generally...the two party system is a joke anyway...but I have not the time to go into that here.

I've been debating my way around the merits of the welfare system and inching closer to a full repudiation (oh dear lord I typed refudiation...get thee away, Sarah Palin! Back! Back!) of the capitalist system we currently live in...and wishing I knew more about economics so that I could align what's in my heart (bleeding though it may be) with what's logical and factual.

I've been working with my mom on making plastic bag alternatives, tank-top tote bags, sandwich wraps, reusable produce bags, etc. We're hoping to raise awareness and make a little money at the kids' holiday bazaar. I'm really nervous about this...I don't want to look foolish or inept.

I've been room parenting, putting on a class party, helping gather volunteers for the carnival, all that fun stuff.

I've still been working from home, doing my webmaster thing.

And on and on and on. And every time I drop a ball, like this blog, I feel overwhelmingly guilty, because it's all good stuff, and it's all important. So I've gone quiet here, and I hear the voices of responsibility taunting me about one more project started and dropped, one more thing unfinished. I will blog when I can, and hopefully there will still be those listening when I take the moments to speak up. I just have to find a way to keep my sopping mashed potato-laden metaphorical cake & eat it too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

eco-partay

 October is a crazy month for us. The Man travels all month long, only returning home on the weekends, and the occasional mid-week stop to reload the truck and take off again.


 It's also a busy month for us birthday-wise. Boy 2's birthday is the 19th, Girl 2's birthday is the 22nd, and the Man's birthday is the 24th.


Then of course there is Halloween...the costumes and such associated with that (and all the room parent things), the end of football season, ect. etc. etc. Most of which I do solo, because like I said, the Man is out of town all month.





So in order to calm things down and work toward a minimalist lifestyle, I decided to throw a giant party.

Ha.


I'm actually looking forward to it, I love a good party, and I love party planning. But time is getting away from me. One thing I'm realizing is, throwing a party that doesn't generate unreal amounts of waste is difficult. For example, I'm pretty sure we don't own enough plates. We can use paper...but I'm going to feel awful about it. Same thing with cups. I suppose we could ask people to bring their own from home, but that seems ridiculous.

I'm looking into making the decorations myself from things I have around the house. That's less expensive, and it means I don't buy a bunch of paper or plastic junk that will just get tossed after the party. I'm pretty excited about some of the ideas out there, especially some that tips4green collected.

I think this will be our last big event before we calm down and slow ourselves for winter. The kids' football is ending, one of our volunteering gigs is ending, the Man will be back in town...it's a good time to simplify. So this will be our fall version of Mardi Gras. While we won't be hibernating, I'm really looking forward to slipping in to a calmer, more family-focused time of year.

Ice cream floor picnics are the best.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reuse

So, I've stashed the soap box under the bed for another day. I'm going to focus on reusing. I sort of adore this "R", because while reusing often means buying something you can use over & over to replace disposables (like rags instead of paper towels, or using cloth grocery bags) it also means repurposing. Which equals crafting. Which equals bliss and glee. Blgee. Gliss.

Shopping bags/purses made of tank tops. Check it:

They still look like shirts...but they're totally functional as bags. 


I posted some earlier attempts at reusable sandwich bags, and while they worked, they didn't hold up well with repeated washings. Even though I air-dried, there was some fabric shrinkage, and the mylar liners became wrinkly crinkly. The bags are still totally functional, they just aren't as pretty as they once were.

This is the new version:

A sandwich wrap

Unwrapping



It's a place mat. 

I love these. I have a bunch of old sheets and things to repurpose into bags, and I have vinyl lining to make clean-up easier. And these are washable in the laundry, rather than top shelf of the dish washer. 

Here's another:



I successfully sewed Velcro for the first time ever...that's pretty rad. And I'm loving the idea of keeping germs off my PBJ and crumbs outta my keyboard. 

I'm thinking of demolishing old hoodies into new and amazing things...beware...it has started. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

RRR matey

Last Wednesday we only had one bag of trash go out in the weekly pick-up can. 7 people. 1 dog. 7 days. 1 bag of trash.

Awesomeness.

However, we have a preponderance of recycling to go out this week. While I feel much better about the amount of waste headed out trapped in plastic bags, taking up landfill space, I'm a bit bothered by the overall waste we're putting out. Because recycling still is waste, just less so. It takes energy to transport, energy to process, energy to transform...and all of that takes money too. City money that might be better spent elsewhere...if I cut down our overall output of packaging.

So a reality check. The 3 R's:



Reduce
Reuse
Recycle.
They aren't in that order randomly.




Reduce

I've done some of this with turning the lights off, using a clothes line, switching to cloth diapers (which also has a reuse element to it), putting in vinyl windows to reduce our heating & a/c use. I've also done a bit of this with buying in bulk, reducing packaging. We've also reduced our driving time by moving near everything we do. We used to fill the gas tank every 6-7 days. I filled it today. The last time we put gas in the van was September 10th. 25 days ago. That is phenomenal. I was hoping to make it 4 weeks, but we were just a bit short of that. Still...25 days on a tank of gas...

Now, I'm going to do something I don't often do:

Reducing means buying less. Buying things, consuming, is antithetical to a green lifestyle. Always. Doing without is the greenest option. We all have a number of things we just have to have. We have to eat. We need shelter and clothing. And when we make those purchases, we need to make them as wisely as possible to do the least amount of consumption, the least damage we can. But consumerism kills the planet. 

I may be shooting myself in the foot with this next bit, but it's heavy on my mind. (Oy! What a metaphor mishmash I've created. Soap boxes and foot shooting and mind weights, oh my!) "Green giveaways" are NOT living up to the pursuit of sustainability. I'm following a slew of blogs right now to learn as much as I can about living the most eco-friendly lifestyle possible. There are parents around the globe trying their hardest to be good stewards of the planet we are leaving our children, and I truly appreciate the work they are doing. So many of these blogs are offering giveaways. Eco-toys, eco-books, eco-make-up. And I get it. Money is tough. I'd love to help my family with my writing, and I know that sponsorship is a huge deal, as is getting free things for your family. And I'll admit I've entered a couple of giveaways trying to get cloth diapers for Girl 2. Those things are expensive, and we really can't afford many. 

But I think I have to stop. It's hypocritical. Because shipping one cloth diaper across the country is a waste. Shipping a box of wooden blocks from NYC to Idaho is a waste. Buying local is reducing. Buying less...that's even better. Asking, "What can I buy so that I'm more Earth-friendly?" is like asking, "What can I eat so that I lose weight?"  Both are fair questions, to a point. But really we should ask, "Can I cut this out? Do I really need this?" Endless acquisition is toxic.

Junk Lady from Henson's "Labyrinth"

 Minimalism is really the only true path to sustainability. That's hard for me to say. I like stuff. I want things. I hate my cell phone. I want a new one. I want new clothes, books, a bike...My computer is slow, I'd like an iPad...or even a laptop. I have five children! I'm hardly the picture of minimalism. Just the other day I posted my pages and pages of to-dos...not a minimalist lifestyle. I need to work harder to pare away the crap. 

Every single choice we make affects someone on this planet. That sounds overblown, but it isn't. What I buy affects the economy and jobs. It affects wildlife and plant life. It affects the people who see me with my new acquisition. It affects my children. Some things are small, and not a huge deal, others are significant. But every purchase/action has an effect. We talk about purchasing power, but in a capitalist society it's easy to overlook the power of putting your wallet back in your pocket.

There are two more "R's" to discuss... but I'm feeling a bit like I've shouted in church. Reusing and Recycling can wait for another day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stillness

This week a window installer came out and replaced all our ancient aluminum windows with vinyl energy star windows. This, like everything else that has gone on with the house, was a bit of an ordeal. The tests showed that we have lead paint a few layers down, so we had to go into full on hazmat lock down in every room he worked in. There were wacky tents set up around every window. I felt like E.T. with pneumonia...

Anyway. I'd post pictures, but they're windows. What I can't take a picture of is how I can't feel the air conditioner when I stand near the windows in the back. Or how warm the girls' room is now that there is no draft pouring in around the window frames. I'm so glad we had them put in before winter.

While the installer was working, all the furniture in the house was in the living room. This meant no computer, no Netflix, no internet. Life slowed down to a crawl. I didn't read a glut of articles on my Google Reader. I didn't chat, blog, or even work (that part was kind of lame...money is nice). I did read two books...my first two all year. I did the Jumble & the crossword every day. I played blocks, trains, and Little People with the girls. I started a writing a story I've been stewing on for months. I took a nap. It was incredibly restful.

There's something cleansing about being still. I didn't "get anything done", but I realized that my life has become focused on production. It's all about lists and to-dos, and what I can accomplish. And all that's great. But I think I might institute a monthly day of stillness...as a starter. Weekly seems like too much. I'd like to take one day out of every 30 and just...breathe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aubergine Adventures

Still on that mission to master eggplant. It's so pretty...it's so weird. I need to be able to cook eggplant in a way that tastes good to the whole family. I don't have a rational reason for this. I just wanna.

I think we've finally found a recipe we all like. I say, "think" because the man had a pretty bad head cold when we had this, and couldn't taste anything. The kids loved it though, and I loved it. It's nice enough and yummy enough I'd serve it to company. In fact, I think it would serve as a nice substitution for hamburgers at a barbecue for my non-meat eating friends.


"Eggplant Torta Sandwich
Marinated Eggplant
1 lb eggplant, preferably small, young eggplant
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Sandwich
2/3 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 chipotles in adobo sauce, seeds removed
1 cup refried beans
2 ripe red tomatoes, seeded and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced into 1/4 inch clices
1/2 lb shredded romaine or iceberg lettuce
4 pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced very thinly
1 red onion, sliced into thin rings
4 crusty French or rustic-style sandwich rolls

1. Prepare the eggplant first. Slice it lengthwise, about 1/4 inch thick, place in a colander above a sink and lightly salt with kosher salt, if desired. Let the eggplant soften and drain for 30 minutes. While the eggplant drains, prepare the marinade by whisking together the lime juice, olive oil, tomato paste, garlic, oregano and cumin. Add the drained eggplant, coat the slices with marinade and let stand for 10 minutes, turning the slices occasionally.
Heat the oven to 375F. When ready to roast the eggplant, lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet and spread with a layer of eggplant, trying not to overlap the slices too much. Brush each side generously with the marinade and roast for 10 to 12 minutes, slipping each slice and roasting for another 10 minutes until the eggplant is tender. remove from the oven and wrap in foil to keep the eggplant warm.

2. To make the chipotle mayonnaise, pulse the vegan mayonnaise and chipotle peppers in a food processor until smooth. Warm the refried beans either in the microwave or on a stovetop, adding a little water if necessary to creat a spreadable consistency. Have ready the tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and red onion rings.

3. Slice each sandwich roll in half horizontally, and, if desired, remove some of the bread inside to allow more room for the filling. Toast or grill each roll half until hot. Assemble sandwich by spreading the inside of a roll with chipotle mayonnaise, then topping that with the refried beans. Stack on the bottom half a generous layer each of eggplant, tomato, avocado, shredded lettuce, jalapeno and some onions. Top with the upper half of the roll. Slice each sandwich in half and serve immediately."

My tweaks:
  • I didn't use vegan mayo, because Best Foods is all some of us will eat around here. Instead of putting chipotle peppers in the mayo (I couldn't find them) I added chili powder & a little cumin. Because I love cumin. 
  • I didn't put jalapeños, because I forgot. 
  • I didn't bother to warm the beans.
  • I added a slice of pepper jack to each sandwich, mostly because I have a cheese addiction.
Not pretty, but pretty delish.


While the once a week meatlessness is going well, it's just a minor thing. I'm very excited for tomorrow...we're getting vinyl energy efficient windows. That's a serious energy conserver. Details to come...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Squishy Tushies

There are some days I'd really like to be plugged back in to the Matrix.

Now that I'm really paying attention to our habits and lifestyle, there is so much potential for guilt. While there is much internet discussion about slacktivism and people easing their consciences with quick band-aid fixes, I think the converse is true as well. Sometimes there's so much I want to do, I'm almost paralyzed by the guilt/difficulty of doing it all. I don't want to be a slacktivist, I want to change the world.

My favorite writer, Anthony Doerr, recently wrote a somewhat depressing and frustrating article about how little awareness really changes things, and extreme technological fixes might just be the only viable solution. He also seems to be saying that even on the path to extinction we can stop to smell the roses.

I can't decide if I feel admiration or anger.

But enough of this intellectual codswallop! I'm a stay-at-home mom, I shouldn't be reading or thinking. I should be talking about baby bowel movements and diapers.*

*Sarcasm         

So.

In an earlier post I fretted about the expense and complications of cloth diapering vs. my huge guilt over the number of dipes Girl 2 is generating. The internet is CRAZY confusing when it comes to cloth diapering, even though there are 80 gazillion sites that claim to have an easy explanation. I gave up and decided that diapering was the one area I was just going to have to remain a wasteful Earth killer. Maybe I could potty train Girl 2 sooner, to reduce the number?

A friend of mine read my blog and shot me an email about how she cloth diapers. She was straight-forward, she was simple, and she told me what I really need in practical terms. Here's what she said, in a nutshell:


  • I need a minimum of 3 diaper covers. She recommended Econobum   
  • I need a stack of pre-fold diapers. Each of the diaper covers comes with one, plus you can use a good, absorbent flannel to make your own. Basically it's a 30 inch square, which you fold thusly. (first set of pics). I can use old receiving blankets.
  • Then you just have to make sure you wash them sans fabric softener, and check to make sure your detergent works well with them. She recommended washing with baking soda.
Here's my math, once I understood what I really needed:
           I spend an average of .18 on a disposable diaper. (coupons!)
           If I do 5 changes a day, that's $0.90 a day in diapers.
           One econobum cover costs $9.95 on Amazon (free shipping since it'd be over $25)
           I can get by with 3, which would be a total of $29.85
           I have lots of flannel receiving blankets I'm not using, so the insert part is basically free.

          $29.85/.9 = 33.16, so basically in 34 days, I'd have broken even. 

One month. Seriously. 

So I talked to the man, and we decided to go for it. I bought 3 Econobums, folded all my old receiving blankets into diapers, and then the sweetest part, my cloth diaper mentor sent me this care package:

My econobum purchases with lots of adorable prefolds from my cloth diaper guru. 


Girl 2 has been wearing cloth diapers since Saturday afternoon, and it is going great. 


The relief I feel from eliminating disposable diapers is HUGE. I didn't realize how heavily it was weighing on me every time I rolled one up and pitched it in the trash. We still have a big stash of them, so she'll be wearing  one a night since she sleeps so long. That should give me a little wiggle room with laundry too. I can do the wash at night.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Progress

Yesterday while Boy 3 was hanging upside-down by his knee pits (in gymnastics) and I had the mom-chauffeur down time that comes with it, I made a list of all of my responsibilities as well as everything I'd like to fit into my day. It was a hefty list. I categorized, sorted and shifted all of it into list after list, until I came up with a schedule that allows me to do it all. It isn't sustainable, and it means functioning on 6 hours of sleep, which I'm not sure I can do for an extended period of time. My hope is that if I stick to the routine for a week or two, I should be able to determine what can use less time, what can be cut. Hopefully I can slim down my day a bit.

I love lists. Two of those are front and back.

Bright side: it's a quarter after 8 and I've meditated, done a load of laundry, exercised, made the kids' lunches, fed the girls, had breakfast, and now I'm blogging. That's pretty serious productivity for me.

So. Progress.

Today, being Wednesday, is garbage day. We are down to two bags of trash in a week, plus a little extra. That's pretty good.




Composting...basically it's a big box the dog eats out of right now. So sick. I really need to get that wire to enclose it. But less trash is going to the landfill...more is being processed through the dog. Eww.

Recycling week this week. They pick up every two weeks, and we are consistently using more than the alloted can. We're going to ask for a second. That's good in that it means we're being more conscious and  recycling everything we can. It's bad in that there's still a lot of waste.

The big can. 


The extra can.


Finally, and the most exciting for me, school is back so we can take a realistic look at our gasoline consumption. At our old house out in suburbia we would have to fill up the van every 5-7 days. I don't think we ever made it more than a week on a tank of gas. 6 days is a reasonable average. And that's just my van. Horrible. I last filled the car on September 10th. That's 12 days ago, twice the span we used to be able to go before filling up...and we're still sitting at 3/4 of a tank. Seriously. I can't wait to see how long this tank lasts us. It's pretty amazing.

So all in all, we're trucking right along. But I sense I'm getting complacent. I'm not searching for the ways to cut like I did when I first started. I'm thinking a room by room analysis is next.