Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Does It Mean to Live Sustainably

Okay, I'm going to go ahead and get the ball rolling on this one. For our inaugural APLS carnival, Melissa posed the question, "What does living sustainably mean to you?"

When people discuss living sustainably, they're generally talking about the ways that they have reduced their carbon footprint. I'm not going to give you a laundry list of things I've done to live lightly, mostly, because I've already done that. Instead I'd like to explore what living sustainably really means to me, personally.

In my mind, living sustainably is about finding balance. I've talked a lot about how I believe APLS are people who embrace the duality of living a lower impact life in a higher impact world. But by balance I don't just mean societal balance. I mean personal balance as well.

When I first embarked on my non-consumerist challenge, I decided to pursue a path that theoretically, I could continue indefinitely (albeit with minor tweaking and the odd 'cheat' here and there.)

I think, I can live quite happily buying 90% used stuff. Sure, I'm really looking forward to new underwear and socks, and when my laptop finally goes completely and totally dead, I'll likely buy a new computer. But even when my year is over, I will probably be buying most of my stuff used.

I thought about pursuing a different challenge. I thought about including restaurants, movies, plays, and other experiences under my non-consumerism banner. But such a life is not sustainable for me. Eating out, seeing a movie or a play, listening to a band? These things give me great pleasure, and they generally allow me to spend some time with a friend or family member. If I never went to a restaurant or never saw another play, I would be less happy than I am today. And if I had made the rules too strict, I might have given up and started buying everything again. So to me, not buying stuff, but allowing myself to buy experiences is the right balance. It's something that I can sustain.

Sustainable living, then, is about living lighter, yes, but it's also about living happier, and with less guilt. It's about recognizing that the perfect is the enemy of the good, that we can't go it alone, and that yes, sometimes we have to compromise our ideals. If an aspect of living lighter is making you miserable, then ... it's not sustainable. It just isn't. And that means we have to figure out a way to make living lighter not miserable.

The truth is, there is no one size fits all answer to living sustainably. I may have gone a year without buying clothes, but I still buy my jam. I don't make my own bread or pasta sauce. What works for me may not work for someone else. Which is why I think living sustainably also means having an open mind, being willing to try out new things, and being okay with failure. Who knew that going without toilet paper for number one would be one of the easiest changes I'd make? Not me!

My rule is try everything LEGAL once (yes, this ruled out pee terrorism.) Give it your best shot, and see how you do. If it works for you, great. If it doesn't, try something else out. This isn't about guilt. This isn't a competition. This is about what makes sense for you and your life and your circumstances.

Balance. It's a tricky thing to find initially, but once you figure it out, you'll never go back to living any other way.

What does living sustainably mean to you? Get your posts up by August 12th in order to be included in the APLS Carnival.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid!

A couple nights, ago, I was hanging out with Miss V, drinking some wine, and we started discussing our furniture. What? Are you telling me you don't spend your weekends getting drunk and talking about end-tables? 

Anyway, SPECIFICALLY, we were sitting there laughingly looking at the half of our joined furniture that had ended up in her apartment, wondering ... why the hell we spent so much money on new, crappy furniture.

"Why did we buy that horrible TV stand new for $40?" I asked looking at the TV stand that was, for so long, the bane of our collective TV watching existence, and is now merely the bane of Miss V's crime drama watching existence.

Miss V: "Uh, excuse me, it was $80! At K-Mart!"
Arduous: "$80!! We paid $80 for that thing?"
Miss V: "Yes! Because I was obsessed with finding a TV stand that would match our coffee table."
Arduous: "It doesn't even MATCH!"
Miss V: "Look, it was the CLOSEST I could find."
Arduous: "And why did we buy a new coffee table anyway?"
Miss V: "I don't know, but I loved our coffee table."
Arduous: "Oh, don't get me wrong, I love it too, but, hello, it's an Ikea coffee table."
Miss V: Right? There are probably like 20 JUST LIKE IT on Craigslist.
Arduous: For cheaper.
Miss V: Yeah. And yet for some reason...
Arduous: It just didn't OCCUR to us.
Miss V: No. Why didn't it occur to us? I mean, we had less money then than we do now.
Arduous: I know, it's so weird. Like, why did I buy new bookshelves?
Miss V: Seriously, why? There are literally 50 Billy bookcases on Craigslist right now.
Arduous: For $30. And like ... the TV we bought? I just feel like, if you're not going to buy an LCD TV, then why not buy off Craigslist? You're going to get something just as good for $50.
Miss V: I got the TV in our bedroom off of Craigslist for $50!!
Arduous: See!
Miss V: Why didn't we think of this sooner?
Arduous: I really don't know.

There is nothing like packing up an apartment and getting rid of stuff to remind you of how the worth of your possessions drops dramatically the second you leave the store. They say this is true of cars. That the moment you drive your new car off the dealer's lot, your car drops steeply in value.

But the same is true of just about anything. The $15.00 new book is selling for $5 used on Amazon Marketplace. The $90.00 Billy bookcase is $30 on Craigslist. The Toshiba television that you bought for $300 and used for six months? You'll be lucky to sell it for $75.00.

On the other hand, if you buy a used book for $5, you can likely sell it for the same exact price. If you buy a two year old bookcase for $30, and then use it for another 3 years, you'll still probably get about $25 from someone. And as long as your television isn't too old, and is in working condition? Someone will probably give you $50 for it.

So, even if you don't care about the environmental cost of your stuff, there's still a pretty good reason to buy used. Buying used just makes good financial sense. From an investment point of view, while both new and used bookcases are generally depreciating assets, a used bookcase tends to depreciate less than a new bookcase. And from a utility point of view? A used bookcase is going to work just as well as a new bookcase. 

Sure there are a few things that are probably worth buying new. A laptop. Maybe an iPod, or a cell phone. But a used book, a used table, a used set of dishes? Those things? Tend to work just as well after a few years of use as they worked the day they were first bought new from the store.

With that said, anyone want to buy some crappy Ikea furniture? Call me!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Let's Back Up

There's a story, a story I've been reluctant to tell, because I'm not sure how to tell it the right way. But I'm going to do my best, so bear with me.

About a month ago I was at the Vons to buy my monthly bus pass for July. I was late for work, and normally, I would have been grouchy and impatient. But, as it happened, I was in a good mood, it was a beautiful day, and, for once my sense of perspective hadn't deserted me. So I was standing in line, idly looking at the magazines, when I became aware that the woman in front of me was kinda ... hysterical.

Apparently she'd either lost her wallet or it had been stolen earlier that day, I couldn't figure out which, and she was trying to pay for her packed sandwich by check. Except, of course, the Vons clerk wanted to see her ID, and since she had lost her wallet, she didn't have one. And so they were going on and on in a little circle.

"I'm sorry ma'am, I need some ID, those are the rules."
"Well how can I show you ID if I LOST MY WALLET!!"

Now, frankly, this woman wasn't doing herself any favors. She was growing more and more stressed out, and when the store manager asked her is she could give them her license number she didn't do anything to meet him half way. She could have said, "Sure. I will get you my license number." 

But instead she was talking about how her checking account was FINE, and yes she could get them her license number but she didn't KNOW it, and she didn't have TIME, and so on, and so on.

So I'm watching all this, and I'll tell you straight. My normal response would have been to get huffy like her. To start tapping my foot. To wonder why the HELL I picked this DAMN LINE when I'm late for work. 

My normal response would have been to take her histrionics, and top it.

But, I didn't. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it was the month of the Giving Challenge and it was having a positive effect on me. I don't know. The point is, I looked at this semi-hysterical woman and I thought, "This woman could be me."

She was freaking out because she a) lost her wallet today and b) because she was starving. Her blood sugar had probably bottomed out, and that's why she couldn't keep it together. 

And because I saw myself in her cranky, fatigued self, I shifted. Instead of thinking, "God, why can't this woman get her act together and stop acting like a crazy person? She's holding up the line!" I thought, "This is a person who needs someone to be nice to them."

So I piped up.

"I'll pay for the sandwich," I told the Vons clerk.

"Okay!" said the Vons clerk, clearly relieved at having the situation finally solved.

Meanwhile the woman was floored.

"What? No, no, you can't do that!"

"It's okay, really. It's like six bucks. And you're starving. Don't worry about it," I said.

"Well, no, I mean, I haven't eaten lunch, but it's not like I can't afford food. I do eat. I'm not ACTUALLY starving!"

"No, no, I get it. I totally know what you mean. But seriously, don't worry about it."

And the woman looked so relieved to have her sandwich, to have something going right in this really crappy day, that I really couldn't have cared less about the six bucks. But she, who a minute ago had been extremely difficult with the Vons clerk, was now extremely eager to repay me even though I said it wasn't necessary.

I told her she could write me a check, since I didn't need to verify her ID. 

She wrote me the check, promised me the money was in the bank, handed me her card in case anything went wrong, and thanked me effusively.

I didn't cash the check. I have no doubt the money is in there, and perhaps I will cash it yet, but for now, I prefer to see that check as a reminder.

See, I tell you this story, and this is why I said this was tricky. I'm not telling this story so you can see what a good person I am. I'm not particularly good. I'm not particularly bad either. I have my moments of kindness, and my moments of bitchiness like everyone else. At that moment, I was a good person, but believe you me, there have been plenty of moments of bad, selfish behavior in my past, present, and future.

But you see, this story isn't about me. This story is about a woman who had a really crappy day. This story is about a woman who wasn't particularly good, nor particularly bad, but who was crabby because she had lost her wallet and hadn't had lunch, and now the Vons clerk was giving her a hard time. And because she was having a bad day, and the Vons clerk was being difficult, she responded by being similarly difficult. Which, I think, is human nature. And when someone did something nice to her, she snapped out of her crabby funk, and became the generally decent human being she probably is most of the time.

I tend to spend my life wondering why people don't cut me slack when I'm having a bad day or I make a mistake, and yet, the minute someone else is cranky or rude or difficult or makes a mistake, I become Judgey McJudgerpants. "What a terrible person that is who just stole my parking spot!" "Oh my God, how long is that guy going to whine? Get OVER it!" "That bubble head is totally not paying attention to anyone else on the street. She acts like she owns to road!"

And I don't stop to think that terrible person might have spent the last 20 minutes listening to a screaming toddler. Or that the whining guy might have had his heart broken recently. OR that bubble head might not actually be a bubble head, but might have made an honest driving mistake, and she might actually be sorry for pulling out in front of my car like that.

But you see, when I assume the worst about people, it never makes the situation better. Instead, it makes me cranky and badly behaved because I'm so busy stewing and judging other people. And when people see me cranky, well ... they feed off that.

Humans are responsive beings. 

By contrast, when I am nice to someone, even if it's someone I don't really like, frequently that person will turn around and surprise me by being super nice back.

That's why I keep that check. To remind myself that while yes, human beings can be cranky and rude and selfish and dumb, we also have a great capacity for love and kindness and good.

That kindness begets kindness. And crabbiness begets crabbiness. 

That I am not a saint, not a devil. I am not better nor worse than anyone else.

And at the end of the day? That I should err on the side of cutting people slack. Because, here's the kicker. I would rather believe in the basic goodness of human beings. When I believe people are good, I strive to be good as well. I am happier, more generous, and just nicer when I focus on the positive rather than the negative.

So even if I cut someone slack who doesn't deserve it? Who really is rude or mean or selfish all the time? Who cares? That person already has a miserable life without my adding to it. 

But most likely, that person isn't a terrible, mean, selfish person. They're just a human being with good days and bad days. Just like me. Just like everyone else.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh My God, You Guys

I just looked at the calendar and realized I have FIVE DAYS LEFT!!



Okay, okay, so I'm trying to get rid of stuff so I probably won't want MORE stuff to pack. And okay, I'm going into debt for school, so I won't want to you know, spend a ton of money. And fine, the exchange rate is so bad, that I won't end up buying anything new in London if I can help it. And yeah, most likely the only stuff I'll end up buying will be kind of boring necessary items like good walking shoes or one of those adaptor humdingies for my laptop. And FINE, you are right, my attitude about consumerism has drastically changed over the year, so I don't even WANT to buy that much anymore.


That the end of my year is kind of pointless and arbitrary because nothing will really change? That aside from buying a couple new things now and again, I'll mostly continue to buy less and buy used?

God. You people are such buzz kills.

Five days!

The APLS Carnival

On Friday, I wrote about the importance of reaching out and reading blogs in other fields. Now many of you may be wondering, Okay, but what's in it for me? What's the practical application in reading music blogs or science blogs or food blogs?!! I'm really busy, Arduous!!!

And, I get that. But let me give you a good example of why reading various blogs can have a positive effect. As I've mentioned, I read a lot of women in science blogs. And one of the things I've always enjoyed has been their very elegant and well put-together Scientiae Carnival. I would read all their carnival posts, and I'd wish that we eco-folk had as good a carnival as they have.

I know, Treehugger has a Carnival of The Green. And, don't get me wrong. I completely appreciate the work that goes into that carnival, and I'm glad it's there. But what makes Scientiae a truly great carnival is:
  • It's only once a month so it feels like a real "event"
  • There's a specified topic
  • The carnival isn't just a list of links. The hosts make a huge effort to provide a little commentary about the various blog posts. See this truly excellent example at Thus Spake Zuska.
So, for months, I've been sitting here thinking, "I wish there was a carnival like that for eco-nuts!"

But I didn't do anything about it.

Until one day, I went to read my daily bean, and that Green Bean, she's a doer. (Seriously, does the girl EVER sleep?) Anyway, she was knee deep in her latest project: this one, connecting APLS to APLS.

And I got inspired. So I emailed Green Bean about an APLS carnival, and she was on board, and we got Melissa involved, and thus, The APLS Blog was born.

The APLS carnival is a carnival devoted to living sustainably in an affluent society. And anyone can play. We welcome money bloggers, knitters, music bloggers, scientists, vegans, you name it! Even you hold outs without blogs; we have a way for you to play along as well. Melissa will be hosting the first go around, but after that we will definitely be be looking for hosts. We hope that the carnival will be a good opportunity to learn about other APLS, and hear varied points of view.

Eventually, we also hope that the APLS blog will have a region-specific component that will serve as a warehouse of information for APLS. For example, the California section of the blog would include the names of all APLS living in California, as well as sustainable living resources: CSAs, information on famers' markets, good restaurants, etc. If you would like to help us build this "eco-database" PLEASE get in touch. We can't do it by ourselves!

So take a look at the new blog, and tell us what you think. And then get writing! We hope to have our first carnival up by August 15th!

*A big shout out to all the women behind the Scientiae Carnival, especially Skookumchick. And a huge thank you to my partners in crime, Green Bean and Melissa. 

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Can't We All Agree To Go Naked?

Or maybe, cuz that would get cold, we could all agree that we will all wear some sort of uniform every day? And that this uniform can be worn to any number of occasions: weddings, work, school, clubs, because that's all anyone ever wears? Because seriously, that would make my life a LOT easier right now.

In a state of hysteria today, I packed one bag of my "warm clothes" for London. Somehow the bag filled up ... way too quickly. "That's okay," I thought. I won't need as much summer stuff, and anyway, tee-shirts are less bulky. 

But then I started thinking of all the other things I'm going to need to take with me... my Wusthof knives (I paid a small fortune for them, I love them, they're coming with me), maybe some pictures (How much do I care about my friends and family?), couple of towels, a set of sheets, toiletries, shoes, and I realized there was no way in hell all of that was going to fit in the second suitcase.

Blah. How do I own this many clothes!!! May I remind you all that I haven't bought any clothes in a YEAR!! 

Okay. Obviously more of these clothes are going to Goodwill. Hey, anyone, can you help me out here? I heard that it's okay to send torn clothes to Goodwill because they also do textile recycling. Can anyone confirm? And if not, is there a better place to send your bad clothes for recycling? Yes, I know Patagonia recycles but these aren't Patagonia clothes....

If you need me, I'll be over here having a little mental breakdown.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Last night I covered a music show for Mouse who's off gallavanting around Portland with Airborne Toxic Event. My guest post is up at Classical Geek Theatre. Go check it out.

Your Weekend Homework

A few days ago, Green Bean wrote a really great post about reaching out to a diverse group of people. As much as we may all love reading blogs by similarly eco-freakish people, we don't only want to be preaching to the choir. It's important to keep reaching out to others.

Now, as it happens, I read a fairly random group of blogs, mostly because I like 'em. I am not a scientist, but I read a bunch of science blogs anyway. I am not in debt (though I soon will be!) nor do I own any big investments, but I think money blogs often offer very practical, important advice. I am not a mommy (yet), but I love the few mommy blogs I read. And while I'm not a hard core music buff, I enjoy reading music blogs and learning about new bands.

I don't read these blogs because I'm trying to find new people to convert to my cause. I just read these blogs because I like what those bloggers have to say. I enjoy smart, funny people and there are smart and funny people all OVER the blogosphere. I also like having many friends who are PhDs. It makes me feel all speshul and important. Or alternately insecure and stoopid.

But the side benefit is that I get to exposed to various viewpoints. All the bloggers I read are intelligent people who care about the environment. And while they may use paper towels, and buy new stuff from time to time, they also visit farmers markets or make their own cheese or bike to work. In fact, one of the most hard-core greenies I know is my science blogger friend CAE. (Seriously, NEVER OWNED A CAR. She is WAY more hard-core than I.)

I can't really say why non eco-bloggers choose to read my blog. I would like to hope that they come here for my unique viewpoint. Or maybe because I pay them to be my friends, you know it's hard to say. (Joking!) But I aspire to write posts that make all my readers (green bloggers or no) laugh or think or laugh AND think at the SAME TIME!

My point is, I think I am a better blogger because I read a diverse group of blogs. I also think my blog would lose something if the only people who commented were also eco-bloggers like me.

Now I know that we all have only so many hours in the day for blog reading and commenting. But this weekend I urge you to check out one new blog that isn't in your "blog field." Meaning, if you are a debt blogger, check out a mommy blog. Or if you are a mommy blogger, maybe check out a science blog. You can use my sidebar if you like, as a launching off point. I recommend every single one of them.

And then? Come report back here, and let me know what you thought.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

100 Items

A while back, I heard about the 100 Items Movement from Charles and it got my thinking. If I could only have 100 items, what would I keep and what would I give away. (Note: there does seem to be some confusion among participants as to whether the rule is 100 items or 100 KINDS of items. Kind of like at the grocery store when you want to get in the "12 items or less" express lane and you can't decide if your 6 cans of pineapple and 7 other things qualifies or not.)

Of course, now that I prep a move to another continent, such ponderings are no longer idle. I have to figure out really and truly, what do I need?

For example, do I need my completely tacky margarita glasses that came to me courtesy of Honda courtesy of Honda's former boss? They're super tacky, and I never drink margaritas, but see, the thing is, that they're so tacky that they come around to awesome. And what if I got rid of them and could never find similarly awesome/tacky glasses? And what about the Complete Facsimile of William Shakespeare's First Folio? A#1, I'm no longer an actress. A#2, the whole first folio is available online anyway. But, but, but ... it's SHAKESPEARE. How do you GIVE AWAY your SHAKESPEARE?!

Right. Clearly I have issues. 

The truth is, I need very little. I have often thought of my apartment as an expensive storage unit. I'm rarely home, and when I am home, I'm usually sleeping. The rest of the time, I'm either at the computer, watching TV, reading a book, or cooking, in that order. I have a lot of stuff, and most of it just doesn't get touched.

When Annie went on her big trip around the world, I was once again reminded of how little one actually needs. Annie carried a backpack around for six months. For six months, she relied on only the things that fit in said backpack. And you know what? She seemed to survive okay. 

And yet, stuff, as Charles has written, is a signifier. Stuff tells people who we are. When you come into my apartment, you can tell immediately by the five bookshelves that I am a voracious reader. You can tell by the artwork that I like cute vintage prints. You can tell by my DVD collection that I like chick flicks and the TV show Friends. And you can tell by the accent pieces hanging around that I like stuff with an Indian motif. Point is, my apartment says something about me. My stuff is me. I am my stuff.

Back to the 100 items. What would be on my list of necessary items?

1. laptop (love how that comes first?)
2. mattress (love how this only comes AFTER laptop?)
3. camera
4. underwear (clearly my priorities are out of whack)
5. iPod
6. books (cheating since I have probably a couple hundred of these)
7. oh crap. have to include things like toothbrush!
8. this is hard!!
9. copper bottom pot
10. frying pan
11. bowl
12. kettle
13. damnit. forgot about clothes. pants?
14. so guess I need shirts too then.
15. are dresses a need?
16. shoes
17. bras! bras! bras! (ouch)
18. cell phone
19. damn it. forgot about the socks
20. this is impossible!!!

Sigh. As you can tell, it doesn't look like I'll be joining the 100 Items Club anytime soon. Nor the 100 Kinds of Items. But, if you'll excuse me, I do have to go drink a margarita while reading some Shakespeare....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Deep Economy Winner

And the winner is Ave! Ave, email me at arduousblog (at) gmail (dot) com with your address. Thanks for playing everyone!

How I Became An Environmentalist

I'd always cared about the environment ... sort of ... in theory. I recycled, when I could. I even had a couple reusable bags. Sometimes I ate organic when it was not too expensive. After seeing An Inconvenient Truth, I immediately went home and bought some carbon offsets. And then had nightmares for a week.

But ... I didn't really do anything more than that, because frankly, what could I do? Al Gore was a Vice President for pete's sake, and he was reduced to power point presentations. How was it possible that anything I did could have an effect?

So ... I ignored climate change, basically. I mean, rationally, I believed it was happening, but basically yes, I was in denial. Because to contemplate something like that without feeling like I could do anything about it? It was just too horrifying to contemplate.

And then one day, I was lying on my futon watching The Colbert Report, when everything shifted. Evan Osnos was talking about cashmere goats, and how they were ruining China's land with their hooves. Stephen Colbert was suggesting that the goats should maybe wear cashmere booties.

And I was sitting there thinking idly, "Wow it's too bad about China's land. But man, it would be sad to give up cashmere. Except, I kinda already have a lot of cashmere. Hmmmm. Hey, I know! Maybe I won't buy any more cashmere since I already have so much. Or better yet, maybe I just won't buy anything new at all!!"

I know, I know, what you are going to say. Arduous, your inner thoughts are eloquent! It's true. My inner thoughts could fill a really .... boring quote book. That no one would read. Sorry, I do wish my aha! moment was a little more spectacular. Instead it involved a cable comedy show and later on a toilet seat cover Stephen claimed was made of cashmere. But I guess it would be fitting that as an environmentalist who tries not to take herself too seriously, I would find my "call to action" in such a way.

Anyway, that's my story. What's yours?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Collapsed on couch. Can't move. New post on Wednesday (if I ever get off the couch that is.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review & Giveaway: Deep Economy

I've been thinking a lot lately about how the order in which you read books really matters. How would I have felt about reading Deep Economy by Bill McKibben if I had read it last October, instead of now? My guess is that I would have found the book life-changing, whereas when I read it now, it merely felt somewhat affirming and a little econ-lite. On the other hand, when I first started to read Deep Economy in May, right after reading Break Through (which I did find life-changing) I wasn't even able to find McKibben's words affirming. Instead, I got 20 pages in, and gave up in disgust.

After that, I almost didn't come back to Deep Economy and that would have been too bad. Because while I don't think I learned that much, there is plenty of value to be found in McKibben's book on growing local communities. If you are a relatively new greenie, I think the book is one well-worth reading. If, however, you have spent the past nine months reading No Impact Man, Melinda, and Green Bean and her thought provoking APLS posts, you're not going to learn that much in this book. Still, it's always nice to feel validated, right?

McKibben's subtitle for the book pretty much gives the show away: The Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future. And as you would expect, the book is about how building communities and supporting local economies is good for both people and the environment. He is particularly good at making his case when he's discussing food, and his chapter, "The Year of Eating Locally," was definitely my favorite. McKibben offers a fascinating example on farming without oil: Cuba. Basically, when the Soviet Union, and thus Cuba's main source of oil, collapsed, Cuba went through its own miniature peak oil crisis. Many were convinced that the Cubans would be on the brink of starvation very shortly. After all, goes the common argument, local small farms can provide enough food for the few and crunchy, but it doesn't work on the large scale. How do you farm for an entire nation without oil? Well, it turns out, hundreds of small, local farms are able to produce more food than the naysayers believe:

Cubans produce as much food today as they did before the Soviet Union collapsed. They're still short of meat, and the milk supply remains a real problem, but their caloric intake has returned to normal. (73)

More people are farmers in Cuba now, but farming also pays better than it used to. There are thousands of urban gardens in Cuba, and thanks to scientific and technological advances in sustainable farming, the farms are incredibly food efficient.

Deep Economy is worth reading for that chapter alone. Of course, there are a myriad of reasons specifically related to food (it's not durable, it is an absolute necessity of life) that make local food a sensible option. But is McKibben able to make the case across the board, that locally produced goods sold by local businesses is the most sensible option? Is he able to convince us of the importance of community?

The answer is ... sometimes. McKibben does a decent job of explaining why a Wal-Mart depresses communities, while mom and pop shops can revitalize communities. But when he discusses energy, his arguments become more tenuous and it feels a little like McKibben is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. For example, McKibben suggests:

So to really make localized power generation work you need a community. Ask yourself why Japan leads the world in building a decentralized solar-panel energy economy. Because it has so much sun (it doesn't), or because it has so much fellowship? Because it's equatorial (it's not), or because people feel both an obligation to one another, and an ability to trust one another? (148)

Ummm, really, Bill McKibben, REALLY? Japan leads the world in the solar energy industry because the Japanese are predisposed to fellowship and community? Are we talking about the Japan where there is an ACTUAL NAME (hikikomori) for boys who lock themselves in their rooms for at least six months with little to no contact with the outside world? Seriously, sir, go read some Murakami. How about because Japan is a freaking ISLAND highly dependent on increasingly expensive foreign oil!! For crying out loud.

I personally practice mostly local eating, but I do have some qualms about localism in general. In some ways, I would prefer to buy a widget made under fair trade practices in China rather than a widget made in the US. I worry considerably that a movement to localize economies carries a cost to the third world. To McKibben's credit, he acknowledges this in a moving passage about how a shower-curtain factory in rural China has changed most of the factory workers' lives for the better. McKibben argues that while growth in the US is neither necessary nor desirable, growth in China is often desirable. But for some reason he never really connects the dots. That without the US buying shower curtains, China has no reason to make shower curtains.

Despite its flaws, I would still recommend Deep Economy, especially to those relatively new to the environmental movement and/or those without much of a social sciences background.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommended for light and medium green readers.
Note: If you have an economics major or minor, McKibben's dependence on anecdotal evidence will likely annoy you.

So now you have my review. But in the immortal words of Lavar Burton, "you don't have to take my word for it." I'm giving away my copy of Deep Economy. Leave a comment if you want to be entered into the drawing. I'm using a random number generator to select the winner, so please, save your knees. No begging necessary!
ETA: I forgot to give a deadline for the drawing! Please enter by Wednesday, July 23rd at 6:00pm Pacific. Thanks!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Taking A Deep Breath, And Diving In

Well, it's official. After 7 years in the entertainment industry, and four years in television, I am leaving the business, perhaps for good, at the end of August. 

It's bittersweet. I know most people picture "the biz" as being a horrible place where people yell and throw things all the time. But by and large, that hasn't been my experience. I have been so fortunate as to work with truly wonderful, intelligent, and funny people. I love television, and I love the people I work with. I feel inordinately blessed to have had the amazing experiences that I have had in this business.


I've also found myself getting tugged in another direction, little by little. 

And so, I'm leaving to pursue a masters degree in a public affairs field. In London.

Yes, London. As in England.

Holy, s**t.

I am very scared. I don't know what I want to do with my life. I'd like to help people. I'd love to do more to solve the world's problems. It would be awesome to be writing more as a job job. But really, I have no clue what it will involve or where I'll be going. 

Today has been a roller-coaster of emotions. There were moments of elation and giddiness, and moments where I thought I was going to have a total melt-down. What am I DOING? I have no experience in public affairs, I was a drama major for crying out loud!! This is ridiculous and stupid and freaking terrifying. As I emailed Colin to tell him the news, I expressed some of these fears. 

And Colin, how I love him, wrote me back something very reassuring and true and so I'll share it with you all. He said, "I get the being scared. Not following your true path is a scarier option."

So I'm doing it. Even if I feel like throwing up a little. I leave LA at the end of August, and then I'll spend three weeks in India visiting my relatives, many of whom I haven't seen in five years. And then I go to London. 

For a year.

But the good news is, you all get to come with me to London! I can't pack Honda or Miss V in my suitcase, but my laptop fits nicely. And so as I learn to navigate my way through my new field and my new city, I'll still have you all to confide in. I'll be leaning on you Brits to help me figure out where I can buy a used cell phone, and I'll be leaning on the Americans to keep me from getting homesick. And I'll hope that the rest of the world reminds me constantly that this little planet is shrinking, and that the only way we're going to solve our problems is by helping each other out whether we be in Kalamazoo, Michigan or Timbuktu, Mali.

So yeah. Moving to England. I hear it rains a lot there, but, on the bright side, they know how to make a proper cup of tea.

I think I'll be okay.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Weekly Update

Hi Chile, hi Megan. How you gals been doing? Megan, did you have a fun trip?

I sure did. And yes, it did involve spending money, though honestly, it still wasn't a ton of money.

On Friday, July 11th, I ended up getting a last minute oil change for my car. I've been driving so much less than usual, that I have sort of been neglecting my car's upkeep, and in fact eight months had gone by since my last oil change. Of course, in that time, I had only put 5,600 miles on the car, but my manual says to change the oil at 6 months or 7,500 miles. Since it was less than 7,500 miles (though over six months), I thought that I was probably okay, but, in the end, paranoia won out (what if I get stuck in the middle of the desert!) and I got the oil change. So that set me back to the tune of $41.35.

I made Honda, Pie and myself sandwiches for the ride over to Vegas, to save us all the time and money. We arrived in Vegas around 11:00pm, and promptly ordered a few round of drinks. I paid for one round for my friends. Cost of drinks: $58.50.

The next morning, we ate breakfast at a terrible restaurant. Terrible AND expensive. Did I mention we were hungover? Blech. $25.00.

But we made up for it by eating a very nice dinner that night for $25.00.

And the next day, we had a delicious breakfast buffet for $18.32.

Aside from that, I paid $28.00 for gas, and $15.00 for a taxi ride we took.

So in total that comes out to ... $211.17 (not including the $100 for the hotel that I'd paid in advance.) $211.17, for a weekend that was, to quote Mastercard, priceless.

I think I did pretty well, actually, all things considered.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blogging About Blogging

My friend Mouse has a saying: "Blogging About Blogging Is Like Self-Sustained Solo Snogging."

It's catchy, it's true, and it's his nice Midwestern boy way of saying something that I would probably say in a much dirtier albeit less alliterative fashion. But I won't, for your sake dear reader. I am PG-13 because I CARE about you all and your delicate eyes!

Anyway, I mentioned about a week ago, that there were some changes taking place in my life, and this blog is no exception. Don't worry, I'm not threatening blog retirement or a reduction in blog posts like those fakers Pollo Crujiente and Judia Verde. But, my non-consumerist year is almost over, and that makes it very likely that the blog will slightly shift in focus.

If you've been reading since the beginning, or if you've combed the archives, you can see that the blog has already changed a lot since I started writing in October. Back then, I was still a novice greenie, muddling my way through. It's a little hard for me to believe, but a mere nine months ago, I was still eating mostly frozen and pre-packaged meals. I was using tampons and paper towels, and I always, always drove to work. I drank a couple cans of Diet Coke a day, and I was terrified to freeze my buns. I was still figuring things out, trying to negotiate my way, and my blog reflected that, consisting mostly of personal stories.

I've changed a lot since then. By this, I don't mean that I'm perfect, or that I've made all the changes I want to make. I still am dragging my feet on the composting. I want to learn how to can jam and pasta sauce. And of course, I fall off the wagon from time to time, and I make mistakes. I'll get lazy one morning and drive to work. Or I'll succumb to a can of Dr. Pepper. But the difference is, now that can of Dr. Pepper is an aberration as opposed to a regular indulgence. So while I have a long way to go, I have a better sense of who I am, of where I am, and of where I want to go. And as I've dealt with these personal struggles, I've become aware of how societal, corporate and governmental structures make my green journey easier or harder. I've grown much more interested in making changes on a macro level, as opposed to just focusing on the micro. Thus, the blog has shifted so that now, it's not 100% personal stories, but is more 60% personal, 40% big picture. And, I think that's a good balance. It might tilt a little more big picture in the future, but I still fully intend to keep the personal journey stories in here too.

Now, I very firmly believe that this is not just my blog, but that it belongs, in a way, to my readers as well. So, I want to ask you all, what kind of posts do you like to read? What do you wish I'd focus more on? What do you enjoy that I already do focus on?

The second thing that might change is the monthly challenge thang. I have already received complaints from certain Chiles and Beans that the abbreviations are annoying. I know, it's a silly little format. It happened by accident, and then I stuck to it. But I have no problem changing. 

Except, I'm kind of wondering about the monthly challenges themselves. The challenges are personal challenges, not group challenges, and I did that, for a multitude of reasons, but I've kept them personal challenges mostly because I don't like telling y'all what to do. And while I think that's a good principle to have in general, it's starting to feel a little silly. More and more, when I take on a monthly challenge, I get people commenting saying, "Cool! Count me in!!" and I'm like, "Great, love to have you play along!" but ... I don't keep track of who's participating, I don't do check-ins, I don't have a cute doo-dad for you to add to your blog. Do people want me to host group challenges? I kinda feel like Crunchy and Chile have cornered the market on this, but again, I'm willing to host challenges if that's what more people would like.

And if you wouldn't like to participate in challenges, do you like the monthly challenge format in general? Do you want to continue to see me set challenges for myself every month? I admit, I personally have learned a lot from the challenges (though I am starting to slowly run out of ideas) but I want to know how much it adds to your blog experience.

Is there anything I haven't covered? Anyone want to comment on the crappy layout? (I know, I have terrible visual design skills. I've recruited a friend to help me with the layout, but the re-design will probably take a while.) People think the blog is too text heavy? People want shorter posts? Longer posts? I would love your input. Obviously, I'm not going to be able to please everybody, but do know, I will take all your comments, compliments, and critiques into consideration as we move forward together. 

Lastly, I just want to say thanks so much to all my readers and commenters. I am a better blogger, writer, and person because of you all. You guys rock!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Ethics of Eating Meat

One of the things I've been noticing this month is that by not going out to restaurants as often, I'm also eating less meat.

I don't cook very much meat. In fact, I probably cook 1-2 lbs of meat, if that, every month. That's it. This is a hold out from my vegetarian days. I was a vegetarian for four years, and even when I stopped, cooking meat still freaked me out. Besides that, on the rare occasion I cook, I usually choose to make the foods I grew up on: daals, sabzis, etc. As a result, most of the dishes I cook are vegetarian. By contrast, when I eat out, anything goes. And because most menus feature a considerable amount of meat, meat it usually is.

Thus, lately, I've started to worry that along with my bad restaurant habit, I've developed a bad meat habit. Growing up, my family ate meat, but given that we are Indians, meat was never a daily presence at the dining table. When I was 15, I gave up red meat, mostly for health reasons. When I entered college, I ended up giving up all meat for reasons I was never able to fully articulate to myself. I think part of it was that I didn't enjoy eating meat at the time. And part of it, honestly, was because being a vegetarian gave me a sense of identity. As an eighteen year old trying to negotiate college life in the Midwest, I think it was very important to me to be able to label "who I was." But it didn't last. By the time I turned 22, I had decided that my reasons for being vegetarian were pointless and arbitrary (which they kind of were.) And so I decided to start eating meat again, except for beef which my ever-vague association with Hinduism forbade. At 24, I decided that because I'm not really religious, I might as well eat beef. So now, I eat everything, though I still eat very little pork and beef, and mostly eat chicken, turkey, fish, and now bison.

Interestingly, it's only now, as a little eco-freak, that I have real reasons for laying off the meat. But by this point, I've developed a taste for the good stuff. I don't want to give up sushi or Korean barbecue, or bison burgers. But more and more, I'm starting to question if my eating meat is particularly ethical.

Michael Pollan makes good arguments for eating meat in The Omnivore's Dilemma, and for a while, I clung to his arguments. To briefly summarize, Pollan argues that vegetarians who eschew eating meat because they care for animals are putting a pig's interest ahead of Pig's interest. Meaning, that by eating domesticated animals, we, ironically, ensure the species survival. And indeed, demand for bison meat has enabled American ranchers to grow the bison population to the point where bison will probably never be endangered again. This argument makes good sense.

Except that, the truth is, while I care about animals to a certain extent, I don't care about animals more than I care about humans. My priority is always people first, then other species. I am aware that it's a selfish belief system, but, there it is. Given this, it follows that I should lay aside the questions of pig or Pig and instead focus on the questions of man and woman.

Is meat consumption good for other human beings, particularly those in the third world? Not really. Raj Patel writes on his blog, Stuffed and Starved, "The amount of grains fed to US livestock would be enough to feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet. The number of food-insecure people in the world in 2006 was, incidentally, 854 million."

Now, I know that the problems with food insecurity have more to do with distribution than production. I know that even if everyone in America suddenly became a vegetarian, that doesn't mean that hunger would be eradicated. But it gives us perspective, doesn't it? We Americans may feel like we have a "right" to meat, but don't those food-insecure people have more right to food, period?

Michael Pollan's other argument was that in certain areas of the country, the land really wasn't suited for vegetable growing, and thus, meat eating WAS the most energy efficient use of the land. While that might be a fair argument in New England, it really doesn't hold water here in fertile California. Just because SOME people's land is best suited to animal raising, doesn't mean that we all should get a free pass, meat wise. In that case, it seems that, yes, meat eating should be acceptable in areas where meat is pretty much all that's available, or where meat eating is energy efficient. But in areas where the land is perfectly suited for vegetation, we have no excuse.

And yet, even with all those arguments in favor of vegetarianism, I can't bring myself to abjure completely. Why is it so hard to give up? Raj Patel hypothesizes that societal taboos against vegetarianism (i.e. the belief that "real men" eat meat) make giving up meat more difficult.

But, I'm a woman, an Indian, an environmentalist, AND a Californian, for crying out loud. Plenty of people already assume I must be a vegetarian. Besides, if I could buck society as an 18 year old in the Midwest, surely I could buck society now.

Alas, I can only admit that I enjoy meat too much. I'm also, strangely, much healthier now that I eat some meat. My cholesterol is lower, and I weigh less than I used to. So, for the time being, I plan to continue my omnivorous ways, but I intend to watch my meat consumption much more carefully than I have been. Because, I believe in good things in moderation. And I think, for me, eating a little meat here or there, is defensible. But meat should be seen more as a privilege and treat, and less of a right or daily rite.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vegas, Baby Vegas

I'm back from Vegas! Sans pictures, because I am lazy. Maybe tomorrow. Who knows? 

Vegas was wonderful in many respects. I spent the entire weekend getting quality time with 5 of my favorite girls, and one of my favorite guys. I didn't get on a computer, I didn't watch TV, I didn't read a newspaper, I just hung out with my friends, ate food, got drunk, and hung out at the pool (in no particular order.)

It was Danger J's first time in Vegas, so we took him around from casino to casino, showing him the Eiffel Tower at Paris, the Chihuly sculpture at the Bellagio, the canals at the Venetian, the Caesar Salads at Caesar's Palace. (Okay I made the last one up.) It was really neat getting to see Vegas almost for the first time through his eyes: the beauty, the seediness, and the ostentatiousness. "Vegas is like one huge mall," Danger J finally declared, and ... it is. The Strip is known more for its casinos and its exotic dancers, but it is also absolutely bursting with shops, shops, and more shops. Consumerism knows no bounds here in Sin City. If you're not the gambling type, fear not. You can lose your money to some tacky jewelry instead!!

Overall, I tried to keep the blogging in my head to a minimum, and instead just enjoy the company of my friends. We are all in our late twenties or very early thirties. It won't be too long before marriage and children prevents us from engaging in a weekend of debauchery. I wanted to make the most of the weekend, instead of wasting time agonizing over the plastic waste in Vegas (yes, it's terrible) or the water waste (bad, though clearly steps have been taken so it's not quite as bad as one might fear) or the food waste (the buffets! the buffets!)

Oh, sure, I had my moments, like at breakfast when the waitress threw like 15 straws at us, and I reacted like someone had just killed a puppy. (Honda: What is wrong with you? Me: Nothing. Honda: Oh my God. It's the straws, isn't it? Me: No? Honda: Yes. Me: Yes.)

And then there was the yard (yes a yard) of some delicious pina colada concoction that came in a ridiculous plastic glass. Every time we go to Vegas, we end up buying one of these, and this year was no exception. Yes, I did hear Fake Plastic Fish writhing in agony, but what can I say? I am a weak woman when it comes to my bitch booze.

I didn't, I am proud to say, end up with an over-priced bottle of water though. Instead, I carted my Klean Kanteen around with me, filling it up in the hotel sink. I also didn't end up buying any of the junk I might normally have succumbed to: no chocolate at 2 am, no ice cream, no pretzels. Instead, I stuck to the necessities: meals and alcohol. I'll offer a detailed accounting later, once the credit card charges get processed, but all told, I think the Vegas vacation cost about $275 including the $100 for the hotel that was paid ages ago.

And that, is honestly why we go to Vegas. There are few places that we can go to for that little money. Pie and I spent some time in the car on the way back trying to think of other places that might be more suitable since we don't really gamble, and aren't much into the clubbing scene anymore. But unfortunately, there aren't many places within a five hour drive of LA where one could find nice hotels priced cheaply, and good restaurants, and a pool. 

So anyway, that's our trip to Las Vegas. It was a fabulous weekend, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world, but at the same time, I couldn't help but feel that Las Vegas, and especially the Strip, is just not sustainable. Because I live in LA, I am extremely hesitant of calling places unsustainable. I have learnt that even cities like LA that don't seem eco-friendly at all, can actually be very sustainable in their own ways. But the Strip is out of control extravagant, and I really can't foresee that kind of decadence surviving the next 20-30 years. 

And in a way, that's too bad. Because yes, Vegas is opulent and ridiculous, but she is also a city of love, of friendship, of dreams, and of plain old fun. I have teetered out into her streets, arm in arm with one of my best friends, drunkenly expounding on everything and nothing in particular. We have stayed up all night gossiping in our hotel room. I have danced until I thought my legs were going to fall off in the club. Vegas is littered with memories of my twenties. It is a city that I used to hate, and which I have grown to love. Because, ultimately, for me, going to Vegas doesn't mean gambling, or seeing over-priced shows, or hooking up. Vegas means spending time with people I love. And it's frustrating to me to think that this place that has provided me with so many fond memories, is ultimately not sustainable. 

But I don't think it is. I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cooking For One

When I switched to shopping mostly at the farmers' market instead of mostly at Trader Joe's, my food waste soared. I haven't really blogged much about it, because I'm kind of embarassed about it, but there it is.

Why did my food waste soar? For many reasons. One, because all the produce at the farmers' market looked so good, that my eyes would be bigger than my stomach, and I would buy too much. Two, because I was trying to do one big shop every week instead of doing 3-4 small shops every week, and I would get stressed out that if I didn't buy tomatoes now I would be screwed if I needed tomatoes later in the week. Three, because I read a lot of food porn. And I would get convinced that I just HAD to cook this recipe, but then ... I am lazy. And I lack follow through. And I would work until 7:30 most nights. And four, because I would buy all this food from the farmers' market and then end up eating out.

I know from reading Rubbish that I'm not the only American with a food waste problem. Food waste comprises a large portion of our landfills. Rathje and Murphy, the authors of Rubbish argue that when you eat roughly the same thing day after day, you are less likely to produce waste. Eating the same thing every day can be boring, but in my experience, they are right.

So part of my objective in July was to not waste any food, because frankly, if I'm trying to go without spending money on groceries for a month, then I can't afford any food waste. The first couple day of July, I ate cereal for breakfast, bread and cheese for lunch, and pancakes for dinner. I used up every last drop of batter, and ate the ends of my bread. I went home to the Bay Area for the weekend, and my mom packed me a cooler full of leftover food: fish, potatoes, and mushrooms. So then, for the next few days, that's all I ate. Fish and potatoes. Mushrooms and potatoes. Fish and mushrooms. Fish and a glass of chocolate milk. Potatoes and milk. (That was kind of a weird meal.)

Was it boring? Yes, kind of. Did I get a little freaked out about the lack of leafy green veggies in my diet? Definitely. Did I waste any food? No, I did not.

And now that the fish, mushrooms, potatoes, and milk are all finished, I'll probably go back to the pancakes (have to finish off the yogurt and eggs!) And for lunch, I'll probably end up eating peanut butter and jelly for a week.

It is nice not to be having food waste guilt. It is nice to not have the stress of cooking. And I LIKE peanut butter and jelly and pancakes. I could probably eat peanut butter and jelly for the rest of my life.

But it also doesn't seem super healthy. And I guess that's what I struggle with. When you are one person, and you eat something around 1700 calories a day, how do you fit in the veggies, the fiber, the carbs, the fats, and not have left over waste? Can I just throw farmers' market veggies in the freezer willy nilly? Because, I'll tell you what. Farmers' market produce is great. But I miss the convenience of frozen broccoli and spinach. I miss being able to sprinkle some veggies on a dish, and then being able to stick the rest of the veggies back in the freezer without worrying about waste.

Someone help me out before I get scurvy!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Forgive Me Megan, For I Have Sinned

All right. The first eight days I did really well, and then yesterday, I ended up spending $22.00 on a phone card and $9.19 on postage for various things I mailed out (including the cheese kit.)

Running total is $31.19.

Tonight is my cousin's 17th birthday and I'm going to give her cashola. (Fool proof gift for teens.) That counts as spending, yes? So that's another $50.00 right there.


Sigh. You are so kicking my ass.

Out of curiosity, I turned to my June credit card bill to see how much I had racked up in the first ten days of June. Taking out the exempted charges (bills, medical stuff, etc), I was left with the following:

June 3rd: $60 of farmers' market cash. (You pay with your credit card, and they give you little farmers' market bucks you can use at the stalls.)

June 5th: $17.40 on lunch with a friend.

June 5th: $22.00 for a phone card. (I clearly need to get with the Skype.)

June 6th: $50.00 for gas.

June 8th: $161.71 for dinner. (I treated all of my friends to dinner.)

June 9th: $17.00 for a weekly bus pass.

June 10th: $5.45 for postage. I can't remember what this was for.

June 10th: $9.77 at the grocery store. Again, can't remember what I bought there.

For a grand total of ... $343.33.

Um, I'm sorry, WHAT?!?! Did I seriously spend $343.33 in the first ten days of June? And of course, that's just my credit card charges, so it's possible I spent MORE than that in cash (though I don't tend to keep much cash on me.)

Okay, fine, I know I used the farmers' market cash for the rest of the month. And I guess almost half of that money was used to treat my friends to dinner which isn't something I do terribly often, but is a nice thing to do once in a while. But still. I mean sheesh. For an alleged non-consumer, I sure do find ways to spend my money!

So, anyway, Megan, you may be beating the pants off of me, but at least I am kicking the butt of June Arduous?

Of course this weekend, I go to Vegas, ie The Most Unsustainable Place On Earth. I'll give you an update on Monday.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In Which I Argue That It's Okay To Compromise Your Ideals

Last night, after I wrote yesterday's post, Honda and I ended up having a semi-long phone conversation about the whole mall thing in specific, and my environmentalist lifestyle in general.

"Sometimes I feel like you're part of this new religion and some of the things that we used to enjoy and do together are now not okay," she said to me.

And that was hard to hear, but I knew where she was coming from, and told her so. "To be fair," I said to her, "I think we're talking shades of Protestant here. I mean it's not like you're that materialistic either."

And she agreed with me, and we talked some more, and in the end, we decided that at the end of my non-consumerist year, Miss V and Honda will come over, check out my closet, and figure out with me exactly what I need. If I need staples like sensible shoes, then we'll probably go to the mall to try and find something. If they decide, on reflection, that I don't really need new clothes, then we'll just hit up the thrift stores and see if we can score some cute designer dresses for cheap. In the end, I think we came up with a fun plan that will allow us all to spend quality time with each other. And honestly, if Honda didn't ever pressure me to buy new shoes, I'd probably be wearing 10 year old shoes that didn't support my feet and that had massive holes in the soles. So it's not like she doesn't have valid reasons for overseeing my shoe collection.

Which brings me to the point of this post: compromise. What I'm learning is that life is about compromise. Sometimes, life is even about compromising your ideals.

A couple days ago, Colin Beavan wrote a very powerful post. And he included a quote from his dad that has stuck with me for the past couple days. His dad said, "You should worry less about your carbon footprint and more about your family footprint."

I'm realizing more and more how true that statement is. We environmentalists talk a lot about the benefit environmental living can have on your relationships. Less time watching TV or working, and more time eating family dinner or playing Scrabble.

But it is undeniable that there is also a flip-side. Commuting by bus instead of car can mean more time spent away from your child. Staying close to home instead of getting on a plane can mean less time with distant family and friends.

Where's the balance? What's the solution?

It's a tough question. For some people, the environment trumps all. They are not willing to compromise their ideals for their family and friends. I understand this thinking. After all, compromising your ideals? That sounds at best hypocritical, and at worst, akin to rending your soul in two.

But for me, personally, I've learnt that I can't NOT compromise. Ultimately, my friends and family are more precious than anything else in this world, including my lofty-minded ideals.

Let me give you an example. When my dad died unexpectedly four years ago, I had FIVE friends fly from all over the country to be with me. Literally, I called them crying, and the next thing I knew, they were beside me.

I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. That they would drop everything to be beside me is a testament to how absolutely spectacular my friends are.

What if they had decided not to come because of the carbon emissions? How would I have felt?

Lonely. Crappy. Unloved.

Because I needed them there with me. And they knew that. They knew that it was more important to be with me than it was to be at their jobs or their homes. So they came.

And if the situation is ever reversed, you can bet I will hop on a freaking plane and head wherever, to be with my friends in their time of need.

Carbon emissions be damned.

Is it selfish of me to put my friends and family ahead of the environmental movement?

Yes, it is. But without them, I'm just a lonely, sad person who sits in my un-air-conditioned apartment eating my stupid local sandwich alone. They are my r'aison d'etre. If I didn't have my loved ones, frankly, I'm not sure I would be able to remember why I was trying to "save the world" in the first place.

But there is a silver lining to this cloud of compromise.

You see, I'm not the only one making compromises and adjustments.

A couple weeks ago I was in Honda's Honda, and it was kinda unnaturally stuffy in there. "I'm trying to challenge myself to do without the a/c in my car and at home," she said to me.

Mind you, I had never told Honda not to use her air conditioner. To be perfectly honest, I still use MY air conditioner in the car. But after watching me take on challenge after challenge, she had decided to set this challenge for herself. And I was mad impressed and proud of her. And also hot and sweaty. No car a/c is hard!

This past weekend, I went up to the Bay Area to my mom's house. Staying at someone else's home generally requires environmental compromises, and a couple months ago, my mom and I had gotten into a little argument about some fruit from New Zealand. So I was trying not to push my values onto her, and when we were discussing how to procure martini glasses for a party she was throwing, I swallowed my ideals and mentioned that party stores do make plastic martini glasses.

"Plastic cups?" she asked in disbelief that I would even talk of such a thing. "No, I don't want plastic cups. Haven't you noticed? I'm not using any disposable plastic for this party."

I hadn't noticed, exactly, but she was right. In fact, the only disposable items were a few appetizer napkins. My mom threw a party for thirty people, and didn't use a single plastic cup. Not one. Pretty impressive, huh?

In the end, I think that it's because I make compromises, because I am flexible, that my friends and family are willing to make changes to their lives. If I was unyielding, I think they would feel alienated from me, instead of inspired by me.

And so, I have to remember. There is no one right answer. These things are not black and white. My moral code is not intrinsically superior to anyone else's. And that being a good environmentalist/friend/relative/person means spending less time prostelytizing and judging and more time accepting and listening.

Because one person can't save the world. We're going to need all hands on deck. But we're never going to get there without making some compromises along the way.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

26 Days

I know, I know. Once again I let another month go by without comment. The thing is though, that really there isn't much to say. I've been a non-consumer for so long now, that it's just ... my life. When I started this blog, I was still figuring all this out, still determining my values system, etc. I ran wild at used bookstores, and snapped stuff up on eBay. Now? Honestly, I don't even buy used that often. I can't quite recall the last durable thing I bought. I bought a few second-hand books with a gift card in May. The egregious cheesecloth, rennet, and citric acid, soon on its way to Dasha, in May. I think I got the battery for my iPod in April? Maybe another used book or two courtesy of a gift card? It's difficult to remember.

So the point is, talking about my non-consumerism feels a little foolish these days. What am I supposed to say? Woke up today, brushed my teeth, went to work, didn't buy anything? It's strange. I expected the July Pseudo Freegan Month to be a bigger deal. I thought it would make me re-evaluate my relationship with money, or that I'd be suffering more angst. And, I'm not. Not really. Yeah there are days when co-workers ask me to lunch, and it gets complicated. Yes, sometimes I miss eating out. But by and large, it's just an extension of what I've already been doing. Maybe as the month goes on, I'll start to feel differently, but right now ... meh.

On the other hand ... a couple weekends ago, Honda, Miss V, Annie and I were having breakfast. And Honda asked when my non-consumerist year ended. "August 3rd," I responded.

"Thank GOD!" exclaimed Honda. "I can't wait."

"I'm really not sure what you think is going to happen in August," I said getting a little uncomfortable.

"Uh, well, we're definitely going to the MALL!" Miss V pronounced.

"Ohhhhhkay," I muttered into my french toast.

The weird thing is, my girlfriends are not even major shoppers or anything. I know this conversation makes it sound as if they routinely spend their weekends at Bloomies, but ... they don't. They hardly ever shop themselves. Honda has a few clothes in her closet from high school for crying out loud!

And yet, they are eager for the year to be over. They are ready to take me clothes shopping, and underwear shopping, and especially shoe shopping. And I get it. Because I think, to a certain extent, what they're tired of, is mostly the strictness of the rules I've imposed for myself. It's not like they expect me to turn into some sort of fashionista who cares about the new style in jeans. I've never been that person. But they love me and they want me to occasionally indulge myself when I see a beautiful dress or a cute tee. They want me to wear shoes that aren't old and falling apart. And even I know I need new underwear.

But ... I'm not sure I'm ready for the mall. I don't know. Does that sound stupid? It's true though. I still love pretty dresses, and I think I would enjoy trying new clothes on and searching for that perfect outfit (after all, it's been a freaking YEAR since I've been inside a fitting room.) But the idea of buying new clothes ... it just feels so weird and foreign. And I keep thinking, my clothes are fine. Why do I need new clothes? And then the clothes I actually do need like underwear and bras just seem so BORING. Who wants to spend money on that stuff? Not me.

So yeah, I dunno. I guess I'm looking forward to August 3rd? Sorta? Maybe? Kinda? Barely?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Blowing In The Wind

I had this post almost fully written about my vacation with my family and how awesome it was, and how we had quality together time and played charades, and blah blah blah happy vacation-cakes.

But I'm not feeling it.

And so today, I read one of Beth's posts, and then I went to the bathroom and cried a little. Because she was so honest, and so brave, two qualities in which I've been lacking.

So I've decided to switch gears. You see, there are some Changes-With-A-Capital-C that are about to happen in my life. I'm not ready to give you specifics just yet, but trust me. This is major.

These are good changes. Fabulous even. But it is undeniable that my life will be Different.

And I am scared shitless.

For months, I have been avoiding this. I have tried to talk as little as possible with my friends about these happenings, which I think, surprises them since, like I said, these are good changes. Instead, I have been hanging on, bitterly, to my old, same life. I clutch at the days, fighting the imminent passage of time. And I can't. As much as I wish I could, I can't stop time.

What am I so afraid of? Everything and nothing. In fact, there is no one thing that I can point to, and say, "This makes me afraid." Instead, it is change itself that scares me.

And it occurs to me, that this same fear of change can be applied to the environmentalist movement. I can sit here and wonder, "How can people bury their head in the sand when the world is in crisis?" but am I any better? In fact, I'm worse because I'm sitting here burying my head in the sand because of upcoming GOOD changes. Is it any wonder then, that when environmentalists tell people that the icebergs are melting, and that life as we know it is in peril, that people put hands over their ears and sing all, "Lalala I can't HEAAAR YOOOOUUU!!" It's a coping mechanism. And it's human.

But it's not working. Not for me. And not for the rest of us. And so, today, I remind myself, it is okay to be afraid. But it is not okay for me to be ruled by fear. Because it's tried and trite, but I find FDR's quote really true here, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

See, the truth is, human beings are adaptable. Extremely so. And thus, the fear of change is often much worse than the change itself.

I will be fine. We will be fine. It won't be easy, but we will learn to adapt, as we have always done. Because we are stronger than we think we are.

When my father died at the same time my mother was diagnosed with cancer, several people said to me, "I don't know how you handle all that. You're so strong." And as much as I understood what they meant, I always found such sentiments kind of funny. How did I handle it? What choice did I have? The world wasn't going to stop turning, and I wasn't going to spontaneously die of grief, though I occasionally wished I would. I had to handle it. And so, given no other option but to be strong, I was ... strong. 

Until you are tested, you never really know your own strength, I don't think. But when push comes to shove, you are reminded that yes, you are strong. And so now, I look at women like Crunchy and Leila, who are dealing with personal adversity, and I remember, that yes, these are two incredibly strong, brave women. That they are able to laugh, and make their readers laugh in spite of the difficulties they face is amazing. But Crunchy and Leila are not unique. I say this, not to take away from their courageousness, which is truly inspiring, but because I believe we ALL have the capacity to be as courageous as Crunchy and Leila. 

And so, right now, as I anticipate the major changes that are soon to come, I am going to reach deep down and try and pull up that strength and bravery that I know are in me, somewhere. Because change is scary, but deep in my heart, I know, I KNOW, there ain't nothing I can't handle.

For those of you reading who aren't so sure. Who are scared of change, who don't think you could survive if X were to happen? I am going to look you straight in the eye, and say, "Yes. Yes you would survive." I'm not saying it would be easy, that there wouldn't be a period of adjustment, that there wouldn't be grief, tears, anger, or throwing things. But the point is, you would survive. And eventually, you might even thrive.

That's the hope I'm going to leave you with. Thriving. Because while certain changes, like losing a loved one, are undeniably bad, and some are definitely good, sometimes a change you think is going to be bad and difficult, actually ends up being easier and more fun than you would imagine. Sometimes, a change will do you good.


Sheesh, is the weekend already over? I'm still recovering from my vacation. I hope everyone else had a wonderful holiday (or just a nice weekend if you're not an American) and I'll be back with a proper post tomorrow. Sorry all. Happy Monday?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Taking the day off to spend with friends and family. Happy 4th of July! In the mean time, check out this cool blog post, about the magic of public transit.

P.S. Happy birthday, Sciencemama!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Eating Socially For Free

I kid you not, literally 11 hours into the Pseudo Freegan Challenge, my mettle was tested for the first time.

It began very simply.

"Wanna go to lunch?"

I have a very, very hard time saying no to that. I enjoy being social, I enjoy eating out, I enjoy the activity of "breaking bread" with another human being. Sharing meals with other people is an important aspect of my life.

It's also the number one charge on my credit card bill. Every month my bill is a litany of food-related charges: Mexican, sushi, California cuisine, pizza. Not only does my restaurant addiction hurt my finances, but I've found that in the past month, it's messed with my meal planning as well. Because I agree to go out to eat at the drop of a hat, the shiny, happy food I buy at the farmers' market sometimes rots before I have a chance to cook. To make matters worse, while I rarely go to chain restaurants and almost never eat fast food, I don't only patronize restaurants that serve local, sustainable, organic food either. So though my grocery shopping tends to be very environmentally responsible these days, it's counter-balanced by my less than eco-friendly meal consumption at restaurants.

I'm obviously not against eating out, but clearly I haven't learned moderation. And I simply have to figure out a good way to curb my restaurant addiction while still spending time with my friends, family, and co-workers.

On Tuesday, when my co-worker asked me to lunch, I told her very honestly, "I'm on a spending freeze." Then I offered to either sit with her while she ate, or just go for a walk during lunch. She suggested we walk over to her apartment during lunch. I could bring my sandwich, she'd heat up her leftovers, and we could spend our lunch hour relaxing and chatting for free.

So that's what we did. And it was great. I got to meet my friend's cats and see her apartment. I didn't spend any money, and my sandwich was made with farmers' market bread, cheese, and produce.

Tuesday it worked out just fine. Let's hope the rest of the month works out that well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

And The Winner Is....

The random number generator picked Dasha! Dasha, please email me at arduousblog (at) gmail (dot) com with your address so I can mail out your cheese kit. Thanks for playing everyone.

You Knew It Was Coming....

The other night, I came home after a long day at work, exhausted and starving. It was too late to begin any major cooking, but I really, really did not feel like a sandwich. I thought longingly of pizza delivery, but being the good girl I am, I steeled myself. "I am not going to spend money. I am going to cook," I told myself. And then inspiration: Melinda's yogurt pancakes.

Since I could feel my blood sugar dropping rapidly, I set to work as quickly as possible. I substituted whole wheat flour for all purpose since that's all I have, and I mixed all the ingredients dry and wet in one bowl because um, I'm lazy and I didn't want to wash two bowls. And of course, I waited about five seconds for the yogurt and the baking soda to react with each other.

Given that I adjusted Melinda's recipe to meet my laziness standards, I wasn't sure whether the pancakes would turn out great, but what the hell, I thought, they'll be edible and that's all that matters. I fried the pancakes up, my stomach growling impatiently as I waited for them to turn brown.

Guys, these pancakes were insanely delicious. I'm not kidding, they might have been the best pancakes I've ever had. They were so good, that I think I'm going to rename them Melinda's Yogurt Pancrack. I just added a bit of farmers' market jam and I was good to go.

Now you might be wondering, why is there only one pancake in this picture? Where are the other artfully arranged pancakes? Well, here is the sad, sad story. While Green Bean, Beany, and Melinda may be all Classy Dames who sit down to eat with cloth napkins and candlesticks and take time to artfully arrange berries for their pictures of food porn, I am not. So the second a pancake came off the grill, I ladled more batter onto the pan, and then gobbled down my pancake. Yes, I know, Michael Pollan would kill me. But I bet he's never eaten Melinda's Yogurt Pancrack or surely he would understand.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

In Other News....

My review of Rubbish is up over at The Blogging Bookworm. I gave it five stars. Check it out.

The July Pseudo Freegan Challenge

A few months ago, Megan from Fix contacted me with an idea for a monthly challenge: a month of freeganism or buying nothing AT ALL. "I'll do it with you!" she said.

And because I'm a sucker for challenges and because I have a competitive streak, oh and also because I am totally NUTS, I agreed. But I still had reservations. "What about food?" I asked, "because I really don't have time to be going dumpster diving at the Au Bon Pain."

(You guys like how the TIME was my issue here and not really the uh ... dumpster diving?)

Megan agreed that the food was problematic. And then we remembered, duh! We have rent to pay. And bills. And turning off your phone for a month is a pain in the ass. And I have recurring donations to Planned Parenthood on my credit card.

Anyway, one thing led to another and we ended up deciding that this month would be the Pseudo Freegan Challenge. So ... we'll still be paying rent and our bills and donations. We'll still pay for medications if need be.

But other than those necessities, we're going to be spending as little money as possible. No snacks, no soda, no movies, no paid concerts, nada. All monetary spending that is not rent or a monthly bill or medication will go up on our blog. And yes, this includes food. If we mess up, and go to a movie, it goes on our blog. And at the end of the month, the one who has spent the least amount of money ... gets to declare victory and talk smack about the other.

Obviously this is going to be a challenging month. Megan gets food at work. I do not, so that puts me at a disadvantage in that category. We both have weekend trips planned for July (one weekend with the family in the Bay Area and a girl's weekend in Vegas) so obviously we're going to end up spending money there. I prepped a little for the challenge by filling gas in my tank and buying my July metro pass before June ended. And I did some grocery shopping over the weekend. I didn't spend much more money than I normally spend, but I did tailor my shopping with the challenge in mind, opting for stuff that I could freeze or store for a month like pasta sauce, bread and bison meat, instead of a ton of fruits and vegetables. Other than that, I bought tickets to a couple events in August (Les Miz at the Hollywood Bowl!!) and that was the extent of my planning.

Why did we decide on this challenge? Especially when Megan's already done the non-consumer thing for a whole year? Neither of us are against eating out at restaurants or seeing movies or paying for concerts. So why even bother?

I'll let Megan speak for herself, but for me, personally, I thought it would be interesting from a psychological perspective to really examine my relationship with money. I want to see how deprived I felt if I didn't allow myself to spend at all. I want to save money for some upcoming adventures. And frankly, it's summer and Los Angeles has hundreds of free events all over the city. I want to see if I can start taking advantage of those, instead of taking the easy road and going to a movie theatre.

So ... we'll see. I fully expect Megan to kick my ass up and down the block. But if that happens, that's okay too. Because as seriously as I am taking this challenge, I also know that I am going to have to give up on perfection right away. There are days when I will end up spending money. And on those days, I will come here and blog about it, and then go back to trying not to spend anything at all. It's going to be an interesting month.