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


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 appliqu├ęd 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.