Monday, March 31, 2008

Six Word Meme- Song Edition!

Earlier today, Student Doctor Green who is both awesome and hilarious even while on her death bed, called my blog 'challengicious' which I found particularly funny. I liked it so much I had to incorporate it in my six word meme.

So, with apologies to Fergie, ahem:

"Challengicious definition makes the greenies nutso!"

Yeah! E to the C to the O-N-U-T-S-O-S to the E, to the C, to the, to the, to the, oh, you want me to stop?

Oh. Okay then.

Thanks to Mad Hatter for the tag! I think most people have already done this meme, so I'm not officially tagging anyone, but if you want to play along, consider yourself tagged!

Armchair Activist Challenge Wrap Up

Well, today is March 31st which means that this challenge is officially coming to a close. I say officially because I hope to continue writing letters and signing letters until my hands fall off!

This challenge was ... a lot harder than I thought it would be. It turns out finding petitions and such to sign for fifteen minutes a day is hard. It also turns out that I (get ready for this) don't know everything about every single issue out there! I know, I know, you're shocked and appalled.

But the point is, while I went in assuming that I would be well-informed enough that I would never just mindlessly click and sign, I found that much of the time I didn't have anything to add to the conversation. I don't know anything about grey wolves except that they were until very recently endangered and under federal protection.

This challenge also gave me a greater appreciation for lobbyists if you can believe that. I know, I know, lobbies are evil. And it is true that many lobbyists are corrupt and that lobbyist influence on Washington has been especially problematic in recent years. But the truth is, lobbyists are not inherently bad.

In fact, lobbyists are designed to help citizens because it's impossible for the average citizen, even the average informed citizen, to keep abreast of every political item going on that would be of interest to them. A "good" lobbyist represents the people's interests in government.

I'm glad I have Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Greenpeace, etc representing my interests. I'm glad that those lobbies exist because frankly, I needed their action updates desperately. I need them sitting on Congress' head, paying attention when a bill comes up that would be of interest to me. I need them telling me what's going on right now and when I need to be calling my Senator.

So I actually think that lobbyists have their place and value. I think the problem we run into today has less to do with lobbying in general and more to do with the fact that we treat corporations like individuals. But corporations aren't like people. Corporate lobbies represent the best interests of a corporation, not the best interests of people. Unfortunately, many times the best interests of corporations run completely counter to the interests of people. (There's a really boring movie about this called "The Corporation." I don't really recommend it because I thought it was dry and I fell asleep halfway through it, but it was certainly very educational.)

So I don't really know what the answer is, but certainly my realization as to the necessity of lobbyists further reinforced my belief that very little in life is truly black and white.

Anyway, this month was definitely a learning experience for me. There were a lot of failures. Many of my personal letters to small businesses never got answered. And I'm not going to lie, the sting of California's Air Resources Board gutting the ZEV program was bad. And no, I did not feel better because "at least I did something."

But activism is a life-long thing. You are always going to win some and lose some. And I do feel confident that the more people who get involved, the more we'll start to win.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my most difficult monthly challenge yet! I can't wait to tell you guys all about it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Brand New Wardrobe

Guys, guys! Guess what? Today I went out and got four pairs of pants, a skirt, a pair of pajamas, two dresses, five tops, a belt, and three pairs of shoes!!

Yes, I'm serious. But no, I did not fall off the wagon.

See, back during FeGROCMo, I decided to organize a clothing swap to get rid of some of the clutter in my closet. Unfortunately, life intervened and the clothing swap had to be postponed.

In the meantime I realized the clothing swap was slightly more controversial than I had expected. There were some concerns expressed about all of us girls being different shapes and sizes, and people were concerned that while some people might have lots of clothes to swap, others would be left out. And then there were the myriad of scheduling conflicts with any and all dates.

So the swap almost fell apart. But then Honda wanted to go to the mall, and our friend Pi suggested we come over to her place, she'd make us delicious breakfast, the three of us could swap clothes, and then go shopping.

And that's what we did.

When I started looking through my closet for the swap, I realized I could not just bring the ugly stained stuff. In fact, it was probably best that the ugly stained stuff get left behind. So I decided to cull through my huge collection of dresses and take all the stuff that didn't fit me properly or that I never wore. Then I did the same for tops. And bottoms.

A lot of stuff got put in the pile that I REALLY didn't want to get rid of. Not because I ever wore the items in question, but because I was nostalgic for the items in question. I wavered and wavered over the red dress with the floral print from Express that I bought in the summer of 2001. I had loved it so much! I had worn it incessantly for several summers. It was a good dress.

But it no longer fits right. I've lost that freshman 15, and it's just not flattering anymore. Still, I was hesitant to part with it.
"Well," I told myself, "If no one wants it, I'll take it back."

Because, for me, it's easier to give up my babies, by which I mean my clothes, to my friends. Not because I intend to call them and be like, "Hey, you know that dress I gave you? Can I have it back?" but just because I know that my clothes will have a good home where they will be loved and live to frolic and play another day. So I was able to put together a pretty decent collection of stuff for the clothing swap.

I went to the swap not really expecting it to be THAT successful. Pi, Honda, and I are three very different body types and we all have different tastes. But it turned out we all managed to find several pieces of clothing that we liked and that fit! I wasn't really planning on taking too much. After all, I was trying to reduce clutter in my closet, not add to it. But Pi and Honda who are familiar with both me and the increasingly hobo-tastic state of many of my clothing staples were like, "You're taking those shirts. They look great on you." And you know, they did. So I took them.

And when no one wanted the Express red dress, I was totally chill about throwing it into our communal Goodwill pile. I guess I just needed a little push.

After that, we headed to the mall, which normally I avoid because me going to a mall is a little like an alcoholic going to a bar. Today though, I felt pretty okay with the not buying given that I had just gotten a wardrobe makeover for free.

Then I came home and as I put away my new clothes, I managed to further weed out some stuff I just didn't need anymore now that I had my shiny new couture. So, even though I ended up getting more at the swap than I expected, I think I did end up with a net decrease in closet clutter.

All in all, a very successful day.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Goods 4 Girls

Goods for Girls

Some of you may have noticed the button on my side bar for Goods 4 Girls, but I wanted to take some time out today to explain what this organization is about. It was started by eco-blogger extraordinaire Crunchy Chicken and its mission is to provide young girls in Africa with proper menstrual products.

Right now, many girls do not have access to proper supplies, and thus are relying on things such as rags and newspapers. As a result, many of these young women choose to stay home from school while on their period. I don't need to tell you the impact such regular absences have on young girl's education.

Now, Proctor and Gamble has started a program to get disposable pads to many girls in Africa. Unfortunately, this program has several problems:

1) Disposable products are just that. Supplies of disposable pads need to be constantly replaced by aid programs for the girls to get a regular, sustained benefit. By contrast, most cloth pads last about 5 years or so.
2) Disposable products also create problems of disposal. Most garbage is incinerated in these areas, so Proctor and Gamble's answer is to put incinerators in the bathroom and train teachers in burning pads. Because burning pads made out of plastics is a really good idea. And teachers of poor children in Africa don't have other things to do other than burning pads all day.
3) In some parts of Africa, people believe that blood has spell-casting properties further complicating the disposability of pads. Used pads can't ever be left where other people can possibly have access to them.

By contrast, with cloth pads, the girls are able to wash out the pads themselves. (Goods 4 Girls is making sure that the communities they service are ones in which the girls have adequate access to water.)

So what can you do? It's simple. You can either make your own pads to donate to Goods 4 Girls, or you can purchase a menstrual pad kit at several places including Glad Rags, Lunapads, or Punky's Pads. Or you can donate directly to Goods 4 Girls here. Even if you can't donate much, even if you can only donate a few bucks. Every bit helps.

Thanks guys. Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Green Drinks Recap

I went to an LA Green Drinks event last night. Sadly, I had to leave early because I was dying of hunger (it was held at a restaurant, so I went without eating assuming other people would be ordering food and then that turned out not to be the case.)

In general though, it was a really great experience and I am really looking forward to the next Green Drinks event. It was nice to meet some people who are truly passionate about the environment. I spent a lot of time talking to one woman, who is a freelance graphic designer. And as she described all the changes she's made to her business, from switching to recycled paper to running her printers on alternative energy ... well it warmed my little heart. Yes, she told me that making her business green DID cost money, but that at the end of the day, profit wasn't everything.

Now this is something I believe, and in fact I've probably said as much, but, frankly, it's easy for me to say to businesses, oh profit isn't everything. But if my personal income was on the line, I might feel differently. (I hope I wouldn't, but I don't know for sure.) The fact that she does what she does when her income is on the line is pretty darn awesome.

All in all, I met some cool people, and learned about some interesting eco-events going on in my city. (By the by, if you're an Angeleno, check out for a cool calendar of green events happening in the next month.) I only wish I had found out about this group SOONER.

P.S. Also, for the Angelenos in the hizzouse, local LA band The Pity Party needs your old cereal boxes. (They make their album covers out of them complete with original art.) If you have cereal boxes to donate to the cause, Mouse has the details of how to contact The Pity Party up on his blog. They're getting my cereal boxes this weekend. :)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why Never To Invite Me To Your Party

I know most of you think that because I live in LA, my life must naturally be super glamorous and involve a lot of booze, hookers and blow. And I mean, well OBVIOUSLY it does, that's pretty much the law here. I DO however do my part for the environment, and insist on only the finest organic blow though. Preferably fair black market trade.

(Heh, can I tell you that I actually just had to look up blow on Wikipedia to make sure it really was the drug I thought it was. I am so cool. Lindsey, Paris, call me!)

Anyway, last night I was in Hollywood, doing the Hollywood drink thang. And look, I can talk shop with the best of them, I read my trades, I occasionally peruse Defamer. I know that TMZ stands for thirty-mile zone. But I'm not used to it so much anymore, I've been kind of a bad networker lately, preferring to spend my free time seeing music shows or making crackers or reading books or drinking wine with a close friend. So, I'm a little out of it amongst people for whom this is a nightly ritual. I was doing my best though, and it was all going well.

And then... okay first of all, I want to START by blaming the wine. When I get drunk, I start losing inhibitions and when I start losing inhibitions the eco-nut in me comes out.

So here's what happened. I was talking to this guy and somehow Sharper Image came up. And we got started talking about all the pointless junk items there are in the world, and we were making fun of all the dumb gadgets we'd seen or coveted or even ended up BUYING for God knows what reason. And then I couldn't help it and I totally blabbed about my non-consumer project which FASCINATED him, so that encouraged me to talk more, and somehow we ended up talking about health care and from there on we ended up talking about libertarianism, states rights, CAFOs and then I started quoting Michael Pollan.

By then I was starting to sober up, and as such, was sort of realizing to my chagrin that I had just spent two hours not at all talking shop. And that this guy was a stranger who was now probably going to know me as Crazy Lady Who Hasn't Bought New Clothes In Seven Months. So, I began apologizing for the weighty tone our conversation had taken.

"Oh no!" he said. "It's so cool to have an ACTUAL conversation in Hollywood," and he handed me his business card. "Let's keep in touch."

"Sure," I said, "I'll email you so you have my info."

I am not a natural at networking. I don't like it, and I don't work at it as much as I should. So, I don't think I've ever before gone to drinks with a bunch of people I didn't know, and actually made a viable contact in one night. Which is kind of okay by me. I still make contacts, I just make them slowly, and build stronger ties with the fewer contacts I have. But it was kind of cool to drive home and realize, hey, I totally kicked networking ASS tonight!

Which brings me to the moral of my story:

1) I am a total nerd and deserve to never be invited to anything ever again.
2) If you give them a chance, people will totally surprise you. I've always said that while there are a lot of shallow people in LA, there are also a lot of really cool, intelligent people here. Even in Hollywood. Last night, my acquaintance proved me right.

Tonight I'm planning on going to an LA Green Drinks event. (Though I reserve the right to chicken out because I'm not going to know ANYONE there at ALL, and as much as I kicked networking ass and all, two nights in a row might be too much for me.) But it'll be interesting to see how tonight contrasts with last night. I'll let you know....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More Armchair Activism

I'm trying not to inundate you guys with petitions to sign, but as most of you know, my March monthly challenge is 15 minutes of armchair activism a day. I feel so strongly about today's petition that I wanted to pass it on.

If you are a California resident, please go to the Union of Concerned Scientists Website and sign the petition directed at California's Air Resources Board demanding that they save the Zero Emission Vehicles program which is in danger of being significantly watered down.

This is something I feel very strongly about. Electric vehicles are ALREADY a technological reality. The reason none of us are zooming around in electric cars has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with car and oil companies who stand to lose greatly when electric cars become widely available. So, please, sign the petition, and then go watch Who Killed the Electric Car. Preferably with plenty of hard liquor. Because you're going to need it.

A Not Entirely Comprehensive List of Changes I've Made To My Life

In addition to the changes I make every month for a month and the year long non-consumerist challenge, I've made a lot of smaller day to day changes in my life since starting this blog. Here are some of the changes I've successfully made:

1) Using rags instead of paper towels for almost everything. (I have one roll of paper towels that's lasted me about 5 months or so. I plan to keep it that way.)
2) Not drinking bottled water.
3) Cutting drastically the number of bottled and canned sodas/other drinks I consume. And when I do succumb, I only drink from aluminum cans or glass bottles. No plastic bottles.
4) Using my own bowl/spoon/fork/plate at work instead of disposables.
5) No more frozen meals or other one-serving convenience meals.
6) Saving bread bags to hold produce.
7) Washing out Ziploc bags and re-using them.
8) Saving yogurt containers as Tupperware.
9) Borrowing kitchen stuff from a friend instead of buying my own stuff.
10) Buying beans, rice, sugar, etc in bulk and bringing my own containers.
11) Not using the garbage can under my desk at work so that the plastic bag isn't being changed every day. (I use the trash can in the kitchen instead.)
12) No heat.
13) Opening my window more often because outside air even in polluted LA is better than indoor air.
14) Switched from rubber cement to eco-friendly glue for scrapbook projects. The only problem is that this glue smells so good I want to eat it!
15) No toilet paper for number one when I'm at home.
16) Letting it mellow. (Which frankly, is SO much easier from an 'ew' standpoint when there's no tp in the bowl.)
17) Using compressed sponges from Trader Joe's that come in minimal packaging.
18) Using the nylon bags that California Cuties come in for scrubbies.
19) Reusing envelopes to make shopping lists on.
20) Using the bar soap that had accumulated in my bathroom instead of buying new body wash.
21) Getting on my hands and knees and scrubbing the floor instead of using the Swiffer. (Which to be honest never REALLY worked.)
22) Being okay with some dirt.
23) Adopting a live and let live standpoint when I see ONE ant or spider or other bug in my apartment. (I plan to take action though if I see a whole gang though.)
24) Freecycle.
25) Spend more time in my bedroom which gets a lot of natural light instead of sitting in my living room where I always have to have a light turned on even during the day.
26) Walk as much as I can to things.
27) Using my stash of plastic grocery bags from when I still got plastic grocery bags as trash bags. It now takes me at least two weeks to fill one little grocery bag up.
28) Cutting down drastically on fast food, take out, delivery etc. Trying to only get delivery or fast food when I know that the restaurant does NOT use Styrofoam.
29) Use a diva cup!
30) Buying organic all the time as opposed to only when I feel like I have enough money.
31) Subbing ingredients in recipes instead of going out and buying a whole bottle of watchamagiggit just for one recipe.
32) Using a hand towel at work instead of paper towels in the bathroom.
33) Donating money to environmental organizations and writing letters and emails regarding environmental issues.
34) Keeping my microwave, electric kettle and toaster unplugged when not in use.
35) Shutting down my computer every day instead of leaving it on.

Okay there's probably more, but that's all I can remember for now. Here are the changes I have NOT yet made, but have hopes I will implement soon:

1) Go to the farmer's market instead of buying produce at the store.
2) Get rid of non-stick pans.
3) Use natural cleaning products. (I'm using up the "unnatural products" that I still have from my pre-environmentally conscious days.)
4) Compost. Well maybe. I have fears about killing my worms. Or else the worms gnawing at me in my sleep.
5) Using no A/C. (I actually kind of hate air conditioning so this shouldn't be SUPER hard on me.)
6) Using solid shampoo. This one won't happen for a while. I go through about one shampoo bottle a year, and I still have PLENTY of shampoo left.

And here is some stuff that just didn't work for me:
1) Bringing my own Tupperware to restaurants for leftovers. For some reason I just can't remember to do this. Ever.
2) Using hankies. I hate this so much. I don't know why it's so hard, but it is. Luckily I haven't gotten a bad cold since I started this project, but if I did, I will probably just use my toilet paper.
3) Making my own crackers. Yeah.

There's probably stuff I'm forgetting, but for now that's what I've got. I have to say, that the BIGGEST change I've made is simply: being more mindful of my actions at all times. If I could boil down "green" living into one thing, that would be it. We all occasionally screw up. The point is not to be perfect, the point is just to always be conscious of your actions and choices.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Finding Meditation In Odd Places

The past week or so I've taken to showering by candlelight. It started the night before the anniversary of the Iraq War, but it's continued on ever since. I'd like to say it's all about reducing my electric usage, but frankly I don't think the savings from ten minutes or less of electric light are particularly meaningful.

But what I have found is that my showers are much more calming and meditative taken in the half-light of a candle. I never noticed how loud the fan was in my bathroom, until I showered with it off. I never realized how easily I could see the moon from my small bathroom window, until I started showering in semi-darkness.

I am not good at meditation. I am not good at taking time to let myself unwind. I think, constantly and obsessively. I am a high strung, easily stressed out person. Always have, always will be.

But I have to say, showering by candlelight is extremely therapeutic. Somehow, it turns my daily shower, from a routine to a tranquil more special experience. Like going to a fancy spa. Only much cheaper.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Let's Start At The Very Beginning, A Very Good Place To Start

When I was younger, I used to sing. Constantly. I was that freak fourth grader who used to hum unconsciously while doing my math assignments. I sang in the shower. I sang in my room. I joined choirs upon choirs. I was in musicals. My senior year of high school I was very serious about my music. I sang every day for at LEAST two hours. Some days more. I always assumed music would be a very large part of my life.

And it was, for a time. I went to college and lived in an arts dorm where everyone sat around and sang "Brown Eyed Girl," at two in the morning. I joined one of the college choruses and sang with them for a while.

And then ... somehow, so gradually, that I didn't even notice it, I stopped.

I quit the choir for lack of time.

The people in my dorm realized that we all had quite a lot of homework to do/alcohol to drink/cooler people to hang out with, and so the 2:00 am glee club was disbanded.

I still sang occasionally. And every time I came home, my dad would corral me into performing. Something. Anything. It was kind of embarrassing actually because I hadn't learnt any new songs in years. Still, he was happy listening to the same stuff every time. He even asked me to make him a CD of my singing, but I just never found the time.

A few years later, my dad died. I sang at his memorial service.

And after that, aside from some drunken karaoke, I almost never sang. Other people sing in the car, in the shower, while they work.

But me? Whose whole life used to revolve around music?

I kept my mouth shut.

The funny thing is, I LOVED singing karaoke. Adored it. There was a high I felt when I sang that I just never got anywhere else. I toyed with singing again, taking lessons.

But it always fell by the wayside. "My voice isn't good anymore. I've lost my ear and my technique," I thought to myself. I continued to stay mostly silent.

And then a few weeks ago, I was listening to my new (old) Regina Spektor CD in the car. And I couldn't help myself. I started to sing along. And it was like a light had been turned back on. I started to sing in the car, while cleaning house, while chopping vegetables. I couldn't believe how good I felt. How much I had MISSED this.

Today, I read with amusement Ecogeofemme's post about turning 29. (Happy birthday, EGF!!) And I started thinking more about my impending demise 29th birthday in June. See, I have this list of stuff that I want to get done before I turn 30 and learning the guitar is at that top of that list. In fact, a year ago, I bought a used guitar off Craigslist, intending to get a head start on this item on my list, but somehow, once again, I never seemed to have the time, and my guitar has been wasting away in its corner ever since.

But, the thing is, I'll kind of never have the time. But at some point you just have to make time. So I'm going to brush the dust off that guitar, and start practicing again. Because I may be busy, but what I've learned is, I need music back in my life. Not having time is no longer an option.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Food For Thought 2

My uncle works in the dry lands of India doing watershed development. Water isn't the sexiest of issues for Non-Resident Indians, and so when my uncle speaks or does fundraisers, he's often asked, "Why water? Why not women's literacy or something like that?" To which my uncle invariably replies, "If people cannot EAT they don't have much use for reading."

Yesterday I talked about how most first world citizens have their basic needs met, yet still live in a state of uncertainty. While this is true, what I failed to mention was that for many Americans, secondary needs such as health care and affordable education are not being met. Why is this important? Because, simply put, if people are sick, if they are going into debt to pay medical bills, or college tuition, they aren't going to care so much about global warming.

In fact, according to a 2005 Nicholas Institute poll, when voters were asked what issue was the most important to them personally, the environment ranked last at ten percent. The economy/jobs ranked first at 34%, health care came in second at 25%, and Iraq came in 3rd at 22% (Break Through 32.)

Honestly, the most surprising thing about that for me? Is that a whole ten percent of voters chose the environment. Because as concerned as I am about the environment, if I'm being honest, I'd probably choose health care as my number one issue.

So what does this mean? Does it mean we have to wait around until we solve health care before doing anything about the environment? No, of course not. The real answer is that we can't afford to pick and choose one most important thing. It's all important. The more confident people are in the economy, the more likely they are to start looking outward more, and the more likely they will care about the world they live in. Getting out of Iraq means that money will be freed up for things like tackling our debt, or fixing health care. Healthier citizens have more energy to focus on such things as the environment.

As for my uncle, once his NGO had time to tackle the most urgent water needs, they did start a woman's cooperative. The women are learning important skills from reading to sewing to even using computers. Most importantly, they have learnt to make and sell products so they can earn a living, and be guaranteed fair wages. Here is a reusable bag one of them made:

Ecological AND empowering for women! What could be better than that?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Food For Thought (Metaphorical Not Literal)

I've started reading Break Through by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. Nordhaus and Shellenberger definitely challenge conventional thinking, which I love, and so far its been an extremely thought provoking read. I'd like to quote a couple paragraphs which I found particularly compelling:
It is not just environmentalists who misunderstand the prosperity-fulfillment connection. In private conversations, meetings, and discussions, we often hear progressives lament public apathy and cynicism and make statements such as "Things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better." We emphatically disagree. In our view, things have to get better before they can get better. Immiseration theory- the view that increasing suffering leads to progressive social change- has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Progressive social reforms, from the Civil Rights Act to the Clean Water Act, tend to occur during times of prosperity and rising expectations- not immiseration and declining expectations. Both the environmental movement and the civil rights movement emerged as a consequence of rising prosperity. (Break Through 36)

A good argument that frankly, rings true to me. When I think of the grand majority of social contract programs, such as the NHS in Britain or the United States' Medicare program, they were birthed during times of rising prosperity. Nordhaus and Shellenberger use Maslow's hierarchy of needs to explain this phenomenon. When times are tough, people are more concerned with their basic needs: food, housing, etc. In more prosperous years, people are more likely to look outward to the good of society.

Okay, so for the sake of argument, let's posit that what Nordhaus and Shellenberger say is correct. Let's say that things do need to "get better before they get better." Where does that leave us today? Most first world citizens have their basic needs met, yet still live in a state of doubt and instability that is likely preventing many people from looking outward more. Is there a way we can harness the uncertainty of these times into positive energy? Or ... are we screwed?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Prayer

Wednesday, March 19th marks the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War. Tonight I came home and took a shower by candle light. It was all I could think to do right now to commemorate the troops who have passed away and those that fight on.

I'd like to talk about how demand for oil is destroying the fabric of our country. I'd like to wax eloquent on the plight of the Iraqi people. But not now.

Because frankly, right now, all I can or want to do is to offer up my agnostic prayers for my friend's brother who had to return to Iraq mere weeks after the untimely death of his sister.

Stay safe, kiddo. Your momma needs you to come home all in one piece. Hell, we all need you to come home in one piece.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Adventures in Crackers 2: The Mighty Sucks

When we last left our heroine (that would be me) she was driving home at 9:30 at night intending to make butter and crackers that evening. She also had yet to have her dinner so she was a little tired and cranky and probably not within her right mind. Otherwise she would never have come up with such a bad plan. Or would she...

By the time I got home it was a quarter to ten. I was starving, and not a little tired. I briefly thought about postponing my cracker-making, but I was really excited now to try it out. So I fried some of the polenta for dinner (with olive oil, mmm) and put the cream on the counter so it could warm up slightly.

Finally, at about 10:10, I was ready to start making the butter.

Now, if you look at Crunchy's instructions, you will see these helpful and so pretty pictures of what happens after four minutes and five minutes, etc. You will also see that Crunchy managed to make her mason jar butter in fifteen minutes.

Yeah. Turns out, La Crunch has much stronger arm muscles than I do. Because it took me about 15 minutes of shaking my jar like a mad woman before my butter began to look like Crunchy's did at 4 minutes.

At twenty minutes I started wondering if I was doing "it" wrong. By "it" I mean, the shaking, the jar, my life, etc.

After twenty five minutes I wondered if my arms were going to fall off.

FINALLY, a whole 45 minutes after I started, I had butter.

Joe my God, I MADE my own butter! Suddenly, it was all worth it.

Of course, now it was almost 11:00pm, and I hadn't even started on the crackers yet. But I had experienced the thrill of butter success, so I was determined to get working on the crackers. "How long could it take, really?" I thought.

At first everything was smooth going, and I was optimistic that I might have the crackers done at a 'reasonable' hour. I blended, I spiced, blended some more, and then just as I was adding the last ingredient, that damn butter milk that started all of this melodrama, my notoriously cranky blender overheated and died.


So then, I tried to mix the buttermilk in using the hand mixer, but ... that wasn't so much working out.

So then, I decided to just knead the buttermilk in by hand, and I ended up with sticky gloop all over my hands.

By now, it was past 1:00 am. I was tired, I was defeated. I threw the gloopy doughy mess in the fridge, left the kitchen in its disastrous state, and went to bed.

The next day (Friday) I was supposed to spend at a bar with some friends. But a bunch of people bailed, and plans were postponed. So I was free to spend my Friday night dealing with the cracker debacle. Lucky me!

I staggered out of work at about 8:45 pm, and headed home. Let me tell you, the last thing I wanted to do at that point was deal with this cracker dough. But I figured if I didn't try and bake it tonight, it was never going to be made as my mom and sister were going to be in town over the weekend.

The dough was as gloopy as I remembered it.

I tried to roll it out (I figured even though the milk hadn't been blended in properly, it probably didn't need more milk.)

The gloop stuck to the pin. It would not roll.

Finally, I decided I must need more flour. After all, this dough did not look like dough.

I added more flour. And polenta.

And then like a crazy person added more flour.

Yes! Finally, this looks like dough.

I rolled it out and cut the crackers from a glass. I didn't care that the crackers were thicker than any cracker I had ever seen before. I had long given up on anyone other than me eating these crackers and I just wanted to have them done. Who cares how they looked.

They turned out so bad, that I took a small bite (and by a bite, I mean, literally, I ate a crumb) and spit it out.

So I decided I had to at least TRY and make these crackers vaguely edible. So I rolled them out very thin, and cut them all pretty. And baked 'em.

And they still tasted as nasty as all get out.


What I realized, finally, was that I actually have no concept of what cracker dough looks like. And cookie dough is obviously more floury because they are supposed to be moist and chewy. Unlike crackers which are supposed to be ... crispy. So my adding more flour was dumb. Though I don't know how I was supposed to roll out the dough when it was so wet and sticky.

So I had to throw all the dough and "crackers" out in the trash. And I had been doing so well with the No Waste Challenge as of late. Oh well, I guess it was educational.

Meanwhile, I am now desperately craving crackers. So I'm off to Trader Joe's to get the good stuff.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Adventures in Crackers Part 1

Are you tired of reading about my cooking fiascoes yet? Because boy do I have another one for you today.

I've been meaning to try my hand at making crackers ever since I read Cindy W's post about it. I found a recipe that sounded very tasty, yet doable and anyway I had all this butter I needed to use up on something. Why not this?

I snuck out of work at 8:15pm last night, and headed to Honda's to pick up her silicone baking mats and rolling pin that she was letting me borrow. (By the way, if you plan to become a non-consumerist, I highly recommend befriending someone who got married less than a year ago so you can borrow all their new fancy schmancy kitchen gear.)

The recipe called for a cup of whole wheat flour. Now, I don't actually use flour a lot because I don't actually bake ALL that often. (I find that baking goodies means eating more of said goodies. So I try to keep it to a minimum.) So I was kind of meh about buying a whole sack of King Arthur when I needed such a small amount. And then I had a brain wave. (Yes, it occasionally happens. Don't look so shocked.)

Why not stop by that bulk food store I discovered last week? Since everything is in bulk bins, I was free to buy as much or as little as I wanted. And by the by, THIS to me is the true beauty of the bulk food store. Because, frankly, buying in bulk is not for me. I live alone in a small one bedroom apartment with a pretty tiny kitchen and no storage space. I would much rather buy my flour by the cup than the ton.

Anyway, fortunately I had a plethora of Tupperware and yogurt containers in my car. (Don't ask.) I stuck them in my grocery bag and walked over from Honda's apartment to the store. Sigh. Can I tell you how much I am in love with this store? They have everything you can imagine in bulk bins. Spices, sugar, oats, flour, honey, oil, dishwasher soap. Everything that is except for whole wheat flour. Oh there were bins for them. Two actually, one for whole wheat flour and one for whole wheat pastry flour. But both were empty. Sad! I briefly considered buying whole oat flour instead, but as much as I am learning to substitute ingredients, flour seemed like a big thing to be messing with in a cracker recipe.

But I just couldn't leave without buying anything, so I decided to buy some kidney beans and whole wheat basmati rice to make some rajma next week. I put my container under the spout, pulled the handle down, aaaaand kidney beans started raining down all over, in my container, on my clothes, and all over the floor. I tried to push the handle up quickly, but it was too late. I had officially made a huge embarrassment of myself.

Luckily, the store employee was super sweet, and tried to console me saying stuff like, "Those bins are hard to close!" and "Believe me, I've seen way worse." But, man did I feel stupid. I manage to get my rice without mishap, had my containers weighed, paid and slunk out of the store.

The Albertsons across the street used to be totally ghetto, but Honda said it had yuppified recently and boy was she right. I picked up the polenta, some cheese, and my whole wheat flour and then headed to the dairy aisle to get buttermilk. But the buttermilk came in a quart container, and it seemed patently ridiculous to buy a quart of buttermilk when I only needed 3/4 a cup. I stared at the buttermilk, wondering if I was going to have to spend the whole month looking for new recipes involving buttermilk just to use up a quart.

And then I had another idea! I remembered Melinda talking about making buttermilk biscuits and how when you turn cream into butter, buttermilk is a byproduct. And that Crunchy had swore that making butter was very easy and basically just involved shaking cream in a mason jar for 15 minutes. Why not just make my own butter/buttermilk?

Rational Arduous piped up. "Um, it's almost 9:30pm. You're already trying to make CRACKERS which you've never done before. And now you're going to try to make your own butter? Dumb."

To which Irrational Arduous responded, "Well Crunchy SAID it was easy. And I don't want a whole quart of buttermilk."

"Yeah, and you know what else you don't need more of? Butter! That's WHY YOU'RE MAKING CRACKERS YOU FOOL. TO GET RID OF YOUR BUTTER!"

"Yes but butter is more useful than buttermilk. Besides, making my own butter makes for a better blog."

Rational Arduous had no response.

And so I headed home to get started. The time was 9:33 PM. [Insert 24-esque beep, beep, beep...]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eco or Nut

Yesterday, Beany said that she liked reading my blog because it was like, proof that there are other people out there who are just as crazy as she is, or even crazier than she is. I find it interesting that Miz S*ck But Don't F*ck finds my posts about the Diva Cup oh so out there! Whatevs, Beany, I am SO NOT as nutty as you!! :)

But Beany brings up a good point. Because, see, there is a fine line between being good to the environment, and being crazy. I know, I know, crazy eco-bloggers it is hard to see that line sometimes. Because what seemed nutty to us once, like the diva cup, now seems oh so sane. And the more you delve into the green blogosphere the more that crazy becomes normal, and you start to wonder, if said fine line even exists. Can anything be crazy where saving the earth is concerned?

Well, I'm here to tell you that the answer to that is yes. And to help you understand the fine line between crazy green and just plain old crazy, I have drawn up this handy primer.

Eco: Looking for a mate who shares your passion for the environment.
Nuts: Leading with, "I don't use toilet paper and I compost my poop," on a first date.

Eco: Bringing in your own dishes and utensils to work to avoid using disposable products.
Nuts: Screaming, "It's killing the world! Get it away from me!" and fleeing the room when the Big Boss gives you a piece of birthday cake on a paper plate.

Eco: Greening up your birth control.
Nuts: Skipping the condom with Dude You Just Met At The Bar because of the plastic waste.

Eco: Expressing your disapproval over pesticide spraying by writing the Governor a strongly worded email.
Nuts: Expressing your disapproval by drunk dialing the Governor and singing "You Oughta Know," into his voice mail.

Eco: Using hot pasta water to kill weeds.
Nuts: Saving greywater to kill aliens. Aliens who die when they touch water are NEVER GOING TO COME TO A PLANET THAT IS MOSTLY WATER. I don't care what M. Night tells you! This also holds true for saving greywater to kill wicked witches.

Eco: Adhering to a healthy vegan diet.
Nuts: Refusing to breastfeed your baby at all costs because breast milk comes from an animal.

Eco: Telling your friends how much you like your new diva cup.
Nuts: Talking about your cycle all through Thanksgiving dinner with your new Sig O's family, and then asking his mom if she'd like some of your blood to fertilize her plants.

Any questions?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When Life Hands You The Suck Make Less-Suck-Ade

The past year and a half or so has been pretty hard for me for a variety of reasons including but not limited to being literally a world away from The King and some career things that I won't bore you with.

I know that there are a lot of people much worse off than me. I know that in general I have led a very blessed life, and therefore I shouldn't whine or complain, but the point is that for a good long while I felt nearly constantly depressed, heartsick, and lonely.

And I think that that is part of what turned me towards environmentalism. Similar to how some people find God in tough times, I found living simply.

I guess it gave me a project. It gave me something to do. Something to think about other than myself that was greater than myself. I've already written about how this experiment has affected me monetarily, and as I wrote, the reason that my finances got better is also the same reason that I started to get better. By focusing on something greater than myself, I was able to pull myself out my funk.

I'm not really a religious person. I was brought up in a household where religion didn't enter the picture too much. And yet, instinctively, in hard times I followed the path of a more spiritual person. I started to focus on a greater cause, and I took a leap of faith that my teeny tiny individual actions of not buying clothes or not using toilet paper or bringing my own bag could have some positive impact on the world.

I became more involved in the world around me. I started getting more involved with my volunteer organization, and going to see more local LA bands. I started just walking around the neighborhood more. At first, I was going through the motions. But gradually, I started to realize that ever so slowly, the fog was lifting.

I found a vibrant, wonderful community of fellow bloggers, all of you amazing people who share your lives with me and read my stories even though you've never met me, and don't even know my real name.

I was talking to a friend last night about how much things have sucked and been awful in the past year or so, and I realized that, amazingly, I feel okay now. In fact I feel really good, maybe not the best I've ever been, but probably emotionally healthier than I've ever felt in my life. Because now every day is a new adventure in which I might decide to try out a new recipe, or organize a clothing swap, or write a letter to my legislators about a high speed train. I can't tell you how empowering that is. And every day I read your blogs and I learn something new, or someone makes me think about something I've never thought of before.

I've never been someone who lived much in the moment. I've always been the type to dream (and unfortunately stress out) about what might be or what will be.

I still think about the future of course. But not obsessively. Not as much as I used to. Because, for the first time in my life, I'm learning how to live one day at a time. For the first time in my life, I'm learning to enjoy the journey.

(Whew! What is up with all these introspective posts! I promise tomorrow I'll post about something that isn't me, me, me!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Economics of Laziness

Way back when, a few days before Super Tuesday, The King emailed me excitedly. "Forget about Hillary and Obama. The world needs another Bertrand Russell." He added that I should read this essay for discussion.

Well, clearly, I wasn't going to forget about Hillary and Obama days before Super Tuesday. I glanced at the essay, which was titled "In Praise of Idleness," figured it was some sort of sartorical piece, and headed off to

It wasn't until Super Tuesday had passed, that I realized that The King was going to want my take on this essay soon enough and that I'd better stop stalling.

So I started to read. And it IS sartorical, and yet it's not. And the more I read it, the more I started digging it. I mean how could I not? People, he proposes 4 hour workdays. And says stuff like this:

Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

It is insane, and yet, on a macro scale, this is typical of our boom and bust economy. The tech industry gets bigger and bigger and bigger until websites with absolutely no purpose are being publicly traded for billions of dollars, at which point the bubble bursts and recession hits. Then the housing market picks up until more and more condos and houses are built and more and more and at some point the bubble bursts. And on it continues. And yet, no one seems to think, well maybe we should stop building so many damn houses. Because God forbid anyone mess with that hallowed of hallows the "free market." You know, I had some goldfish when I was little that would keep eating food until they died if you allowed them to do it. Funnily enough, we did not think that was a good system either.

So, on its own I think it's worthwhile reading, and definitely provocative whether or not you agree with him. Which I do and I don't.

I reluctantly concede that 4 hour workdays don't seem possible in this world. I do think 6-7 hour workdays ARE a possibility. Let's go back to the bowling pins example. Basically the problem today is that most Americans already have enough "bowling pins" to meet their needs. So companies now have two options. They can go out of business, or they can convince Americans that while they have they may have any old bowling pins, what they need are these PARTICULAR bowling pins. See while ordinary bowling pins fall down when a ball hits them, these bowling pins do THAT TOO but they also play music/act as a camera/have a calendar. (Nevermind that you have a music player, camera, and calendar.) Surely you don't want to be the only one without these new, MORE awesome bowling pins.

And it works. And so we continue to buy crap we don't need. And GDP continues to grow, and traditional economists think that life must be good.

Except it's not. Because while we may have these extra-special bowling pins, we don't have universally high quality schools, or health care, or mass transit, or day care. While our GDP may have gone up, our GPI or Gross Progress Indicator has remained relatively stagnant since 1970. What does that mean? Basically, that an increase in GDP hasn't translated into an increase of happiness.

We Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet somehow, none of it is making us happy.

What would happen if we collectively decided we didn't need those new bowling pins? Would our economy collapse?

Or would a new economy develop? One that was less dependent on exploiting third-world labor? One that was less about stuff and more about society?

Yes, there WOULD need fewer bowling pin manufacturing companies. Some people in those areas would lose their jobs. But what if we took the words of Bertrand Russell to heart? What if we set a maximum workday of 7-8 hours?

Could we create an economy that employed more firefighters and policemen and doctors and nurses so that all those people weren't required to work 10-12 hour days? If we weren't buying so much stuff, would we be willing to pay slightly more in taxes to hire more teachers, or to build more subways, or to provide more aid to public universities?

Maybe we could make up for decreases in employment in retail with increases in employment of daycare workers. Maybe we'd need fewer people to design and build luxury condos, but we could use more people to design and build dams and bridges. Or maybe we could hire people to reinforce the infrastructure we already have.

Okay, this is all very well and good, you might be thinking, but doesn't this mean slowing human progress? What if we had told HIV researchers to take weekends off? Or cancer researchers? Or the scientists working on carbon sequestration or photovoltaic cells?

Well, several months ago a friend of mine was telling me about his mother who was a chemist in the private sector. Apparently she helped to design that little plastic underneath the bottle cap of plastic soda bottles.

Now, this is not to denigrate her achievement. I'm sure the science behind that little plastic is complex, and probably very interesting to chemists. But, what if there wasn't such a need? What if we weren't such a disposable culture and we didn't need chemists working on such a product? What if the financial incentives in science were not on little plastic in bottle caps and were more in line with the public good? What if we weren't squandering scientists on such problems? AND what if our 6-7 hour a day work schedule allowed more women/mother scientists to participate in the work force?

Would it be possible that we'd be able to have our cake and eat it too? Could we continue human progress at a fast rate, and yet allow individuals a more unhurried, relaxed life?

I don't have the answers. But it seems clear that the system as we know it is broken. So instead of finding ways to band-aid the current system, what if we all tried to come up with newer, better systems? Because, while I may not have the answers, what I do know is this: there has GOT to be a better way. And surely we Americans, who pride ourselves on our innovativeness and creativeness, can and WILL find the solution to this problem. Because life as we know it cannot go on forever.

I just hope we find a solution sooner rather than later.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Give Me More Petitions People!!

I am now signed up for ...

Union Of Concerned Scientists
It's Our Healthcare
Sierra Club

And probably more I have forgotten about.

And yet, I am running out of petitions to sign.

So if any of you have a cause/petition/etc, let me know! I'll sign it! (Unless your cause is like, killing baby seals or something. In which case, I won't.)

The Simpler Life

Once upon a time, when I first started discovering the wonderful world of blogs, my favorite blogs were money and debt blogs.

I mean, I was doing okay, financially. I had a car loan, but no credit card debt. Still, I worried about money. Somehow, it all seemed to shoot out of my bank account every month at faster and faster rates.

And while, yes, technically, I was fine, I did find myself sometimes running up balances on my credit card that I couldn't pay off without pulling a little money out of savings. I would lie awake at night and stress out about money. How much would my credit card be this month? How were my savings doing? Should I reduce my contribution to my 401(k)?

So I read money blogs. And read and read and read. And they were great and offered very common sense advice that generally boiled down to this: spend less.

And that is good advice. And yet, every month, my credit card bill seemed to be higher than the month previous. Every month there seemed to be SOME REASON why I couldn't cut costs down.

I tried financial diets. I decided not to spend any money on anything unnecessary for a month. I spent the whole month desperately fiendy and wishing I could buy a myriad of things: dresses, purses, shoes, etc.

Nothing seemed to work. And the credit card bills continued their inexorable climb.

And then one day, I saw No Impact Man on the Colbert Report. Suddenly, I was not thinking of my purchases in terms of their monetary cost to me, but their environmental cost.

I decided to stop buying new things for a year. I decided not to buy any clothes, new or used, for a year.

I didn't really notice it at first. True, my August credit card bill was $500 less than my July credit card bill, but July had been an expensive month. While my August credit card bill was low, it wasn't abnormally low.

But then September's bill came and October's and November's and I started to realize that what was odd about these bills wasn't that they were so low. Again, none of them were insanely low. It's just that even though I had had various crises like a $510 car maintenance that normally would result in an insanely high credit card bill, I was still somehow able to keep the credit card bills down.

December hit. I had bought most of my presents before then, but I still had family presents which tend to be the most expensive ones anyway. I also threw a holiday party at my house. And yet? Thanks to DeSloFooMo, December's credit card bill reached a low I hadn't seen in over a year: $400 less than August's credit card bill.

This past month was an expensive one for a variety of reasons including a last minute ticket to the funeral in Chicago. That's okay really. That's what savings accounts are designed for: stuff like funerals that you can't plan in advance for.

But, as it turned out, I didn't need to dip into savings. My credit card bill was slightly higher than it has been lately, but still nowhere near as high as July. Only slightly higher than that "low month" of August. And because my credit card bills had been so insanely low the couple months prior, I had more than enough money to pay off the bill.

So oddly enough, my money issues began to end the moment I stopped obsessing over money, and started focusing on the bigger picture. While I could never quit with the buying when it was just about me and my finances, somehow I was able to give up shopping fairly easily when I realized that this was about more than myself.

I gave up the debt blogs except for one, my favorite. I don't really need them anymore. I've learned, finally, how to just spend less.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Updating Goodness

Hey guys! I'm back! I decided to do Melinda's Technology Challenge, so I spent 43.33 hours without my TV and internet! (I did use my car, and car radio, cell phone, and kitchen appliances though.) I thought about going the whole 47 hour weekend, but finally at 8:20 PM I couldn't stand NOT KNOWING WHAT WAS GOING ON! So I fired up the TV and the internet to find out what I missed. (Turned out, not a whole lot.)

Anyway, it was an interesting challenge. It turns out that I use my computer/internet for just about everything and am pretty darn unproductive without it. So I spent most of the weekend reading and drinking cups of tea. On the whole, not a bad way to spend a weekend!

The Technology Challenge is one of four challenges I've been undertaking (well I guess five if you count Freeze Yer Buns which I don't really at this point.) I really like challenges, because even if I don't meet my goals, I think that by setting the goals I get further than I would have otherwise.

For example, while I haven't met all the goals I set for Chile's Stress Less Challenge, I have taken more time to appreciate the little things in my life.

The Armchair Activist challenge is also going well though I am finding it's not easy to come up with fifteen minutes every day. But what I like about this challenge is that, even after 9 days, I feel more connected to things going around in the world around me. The other day I spent my fifteen minutes talking to a girl in front of the Trader Joe's who was trying to get a petition to the State Legislature signed for a high speed train between LA and San Francisco. Now, you've got to understand, people have been talking about that high speed train since the dawn of time. So we Californians do tend to dismiss the LA-SF train as something nice that will happen about the time when world peace is achieved. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the train is very likely going to be on the ballot in November. As in 8 months from now. And that if the measure succeeds, certain regions could be connected within the next couple years.

But the train still needs legislator support. So, if you're a Californian, please sign the petition at and tell your state legislators that you want to finally, finally!, make the high speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco a reality.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Open Your Eyes

Sometimes I am bewildered by what we can miss if we're not watching out for it. And by we, I of course mean me. Because frankly, I have a habit of being in my own head too much, and on planet Earth a little too seldom.

All this to say that this evening, I was headed to Honda's house, and the parking was a huge ol' pain, so I ended up parking a million miles away. Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But just a little one.

Anyway, I realized that I was across the street from this natural food market. Now, I have seen this market many times, but I always assumed they just sold vitamins and eye of newt and such. Now, I stared at the market with new eyes and wondered if it might be one of those bulk food goods stores I have heard so much about on the internets.

I was late to Honda's, but whatever, I walked in anyway. And, seriously? It was like I had died and gone to bulk unpackaged food heaven. And not only did they have bulk flour and rice and spices and beans and everything else good, but they also offered bulk laundry soap and dishwashing soap. 

How did I completely miss this damn store all this time?! I mean seriously. This store is down the street from Honda's place, and frankly, it's only a 20 minute walk from my place. I was so excited, I wanted to buy up the entire store right there and then. But, I didn't have any bags or containers with me. And well, frankly, I didn't actually need food. 

Anyway, now I know. Better late than never, I guess. 

P.S. Melinda at Elements In Time has conned gently persuaded me to give up internet and other technologies for a day. I'm going to try for tomorrow. We'll see how I do.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Life Less Disposable

Recently Colin at No Impact Man cited an amazing statistic by Heather Rogers, namely, that 80% of products sold in America are designed to be used once and tossed.

Now, I haven't read Rogers' book, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, yet, nor do I know where she got such a statistic from. At first it seemed like such an outrageously high number that I was inclined to dismiss it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there's an awful lot of stuff out there that fits the bill: envelopes, scotch tape, packaging, cotton balls, paper cups, Biore pore strips, PAPER, etc etc.

Since then, I like to play this little game with myself. My mission in this game is to find ways to use things TWICE.

I mean, look, first of all, I try not to use unnecessary one-time use products. And there's a lot of "disposable" stuff that I use over and over again. Ziploc bags are a good example. But there's also a lot of stuff I'm just not going to use 20 times or even five times. But, I can maybe find a way to use them twice.

Like envelopes. If I get a manila envelope that wasn't actually sealed, but just held shut by the brass fastener, I'll throw a label on over where my address was marked, and send that envelope back out to someone else. If the envelope was sealed, I might use the back of the envelope to make a grocery list.

Since I can't recycle carbon copy paper, I rip it up and use it to mark the pages in my books when I read something blog-worthy.

Paper gets de-bradded and de-paper clipped before it goes in the recycling. Yeah, you can keep that stuff in, but why, when you can re-use it!

Packaging materials get saved. All of it. Boxes, ribbons, wrapping paper, bubble wrap.

I will even on occasion use one tea bag to make two cups of tea.

And every time I come up with a way to use one more thing twice, I get all excited, like I've just advanced to the next round of America's Next Top Re-user. What that says about me and my life (or lack thereof), I don't know. ;)

Good News!

Bow chicka bow bow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Just When I Think I'm Free of CNN, They Reel Me Back In

Sorry I was away yesterday. I was trying to write an in depth post about how by reducing consumerism as a society, we could decrease working hours, but yesterday was too distracting with all the election drama. Hopefully I'll have that post for you all by tomorrow or Friday.

Speaking of the election, I am starting to feel like I might as well turn over my paycheck to the Democrats the way I am constantly guilted into giving money to them. Has anyone else experienced this? Everywhere I turn, I am getting emails and phone calls, and getting stopped on the street. And everyone is asking me to donate money.

And while I'm happy that for the first time in forever the Democrats are the ones winning the money game (in February, Obama and Clinton raised about $85 mil combined versus a paltry $12 mil from McCain) the non-consumerist in me feels queasy about all the money sloshed around. And ... for what? For some ads and counter ads all about little children at 3:00 am?


Aren't there better uses for this money?

Now, look. I'm going to continue to donate to the Democratic Party because this is the system we have *now.* And, honestly, I don't know that there IS a better system. Citizens have a right to donate to presidential campaigns. It's part of our free speech rights.

But I wish there was a better way. I'm troubled by the millions and millions of dollars that are lavished on campaigns. I'm worried that every campaign these days is getting more and more expensive.

On the other hand, if Obama wins the nomination, I don't want him to take public funding for the general election. Obama has shown that he can beat McCain handily in the money game if they don't accept public funding. Why give up this advantage the one year it favors Democrats?

So, I guess that means, while I'm troubled by all the money, I'd rather win more than anything.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Wherein I Officially End An Important Relationship

Fix the Farm Bill

Crunchy Chicken made my fifteen minutes of armchair activism fairly easy this morning, with her most recent campaign to fix the farm bill. I urge you all to write your representative about this. The farm bill doesn't get much attention, which is weird considering how it almost single-handedly directs how agriculture is conducted in this country. Crunchy makes it super-easy for you too providing a template and everything. I took her template, and tweaked it a little to talk about how modifying the farm bill is good for California as well as the rest of the country.

Speaking of food, I gotta tell you, I never, ever thought of myself as someone who could cook before. Oh, I could follow a recipe, but to me there's a keen distinction between following a recipe (which anyone who can read can do) and cooking. I could do the former, and I could do the former well, even for complicated dishes. But I did not know how to cook the simplest dish.

But ever since DeSloFooMo, I've been forced to learn. Now that frozen or one-serving meals are pretty much verboten, if I want to eat, I have to do more than microwave. And I gotta tell you, that what started as a personal campaign against waste has become much more. It's not just that frozen meals produce a lot of trash, they have a lot of preservatives and sodium. And frankly? Now that I've started to remember what a home cooked meal tastes like? Well, Lean Cusine just doesn't compare.

On Wednesday night, I decided to try out a turkey-bacon chili recipe for the first time. I left out two spices I didn't have, and subbed in five others that I did have. Six months ago, I would never, ever have thought to defy a recipe. That would be blasphemy! I would have hurried off to the store and bought the two spices I didn't own, and never thought of adding anything else. But, now those once-weak cooking muscles are much stronger, and I'm no longer afraid to use those muscles. It's exciting to take a recipe and "make it my own," as Simon Cowell would say.

Fast-forward to Friday, when I handed a bowl of my chili to a co-worker of mine. "Wow," she said tasting it. "You know, I'm a Texan, and so I'm a huge chili snob. This? Is good chili."

Wow. No one ever complimented my microwaving skills like that!

So, sorry, Lean Cuisine. You probably have been wondering why I've been avoiding your eye in the grocery store. Why I ignore your calls. You send me coupons (5 for $10!) and I am still not enticed. And well, you've been good to me in the past, so I feel I owe you an explanation.

It's like this. We had a good run. But frankly, I've changed, and you ... well you haven't. It's not your fault, exactly. It's me. I want more than what you could provide me. I want food instead of maltodextrin and xanthan gum, and taste instead of cardboard. You were convenient, Lean Cuisine, but you didn't have much else to offer. So it's over. Don't try to call me or email anymore. Let's just agree to go our separate ways. No muss. No fuss. Breaking up is never easy. But it's time.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Armchair Activism #2

So, I decided to go for a more ... attention-grabbing method in today's armchair activism, since I'm dealing with a bigger company, and I think that with bigger companies it's good to differentiate yourself. Will it get results? We'll have to wait to see. Here it is:

Trader Joe's! You know how I love you, and yet lately I feel like you've become like that boyfriend that I love, but that still always disappoints.

Yesterday I walked into your store and saw that you were selling your insulated bags in PLASTIC SHRINK WRAP! Plastic shrink wrap, Trader Joe's! Wherefore has thou forsaken me?

The whole POINT of reusable bags is to lessen plastic and paper waste. There's not a safety or hygiene reason for plastic shrink wrap around a reusable bag, so please, Trader Joe's, don't keep breaking my heart.

Sincerely, Arduous
And now I'm off to enjoy what little weekend there is left. Happy Sunday, all!

Psst, Logan, I'm dedicating this post to you!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Armchair Activism #1

So, the votes are in and you overwhelmingly voted for MaArAcMo, or the Armchair Activist Challenge! So every day this month, I am going to spend 15 minutes a day on armchair activism, whether that be signing email petitions, or writing local businesses or calling my Congresswoman.

I also want to credit Melinda at Elements of Time for this idea. Melinda actually makes it really easy to be an armchair activist, so for any of you who are interested in playing along at home, here is a list of websites that she's provided. I have subscribed to some of these lists already, but you can bet I'm going to get subscribed to all of them now! Thanks, Melinda!

But for my first day of armchair activism, I'm going to go local. See, yesterday, my co-worker was going out to our local frozen yogurt joint, and she offered to pick some up for me, and in a moment of weakness I agreed. I know, I should have politely declined, what with the fiesta of bacon that I'm enjoying now. Plus, when people pick food up for you, you can't control things like whether or not the yogurt will come with a plastic lid, or whether they will bring back 50 plastic spoons. But it was FRIDAY and it was FROZEN YOGURT. How could I pass it up? Plus, it's supporting a local, small business! That's always good, right?

Well, when she dropped the frozen yogurt off on my desk, I very much wished I had passed. Not only was there a plastic lid, but the frozen yogurt was in a styrofoam cup. And THEN on TOP OF ALL THAT, they wrapped some of the cups (though thankfully not mine) in aluminum foil. I mean, seriously, who does that?!  

Now I guess I didn't remember this because I rarely go to our small, local frozen yogurt place because, well, I'm a Pinkberry fan (which, I guess,  is also actually local if not small anymore.) And when I do go to this frozen yogurt place, I tend to follow Vanessa's dictum and get a cone. But I don't want a small, local Los Angeles fixture to go out of business. I just want them to use less waste. So today I wrote them this letter:

Dear Owner:

I was excited to enjoy your yogurt this past Friday, but dismayed when I realized that you put your yogurt in Styrofoam cups. As I’m sure you are aware, Styrofoam is one of the worst containers for the environment as it never biodegrades and remains in the landfill indefinitely. I’m asking that you consider an alternative such as paper cups for your yogurt.

I understand that sometimes Styrofoam is cheaper than paper, but as a customer, I would be happy to pay the few cents more per cup of yogurt, and I would bet that most of your customers would agree.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration of this matter.



I'm going to print the letter out on Monday and mail it out on my lunch break. I also included my email address, so I'll be interested to see if I get any sort of response.