Monday, January 31, 2011

Want People to Stop Driving? Cut Down on Parking Spaces.

A new study confirms something I've believed for quite a while: the more difficult parking becomes, the less people will drive.

The study mostly focused on European cities because ... well, here in America not having parking is considered heretical.

I've written before about how when I lived in LA, I used to consistently drive places an easy walking distance from my apartment simply because I could. There was always ample parking. It was faster to drive and more convenient, so why walk to the sandwich shop a couple blocks away or the pizza place or the laundromat? Why walk to the grocery store, even if I am only picking up a couple things? I have a car and it has a huge parking lot.

On the other hand if parking had been scarce or expensive? You bet I would have walked.

Cheap and easy parking changes the calculus we make when we are deciding whether to drive or to walk or to take public transportation. For example, right now I take public transit to work every day. Public transit is almost as fast and it's relaxing. I'd much prefer to read a book on the subway than fight traffic.

Public transit is also cheaper. But it's ONLY cheaper when I factor in the cost of parking all day in a garage. Without that cost, even with the sky-high price of gas, it would probably be cheaper for me to drive. (Factoring in the cost of wear and tear on my car might change the calculation, but let's face it: most people don't factor wear and tear in when they're making these back-of-the-envelope calculations.)

When you make parking scarce and expensive, you start to then build your city for walkers and bikers and public transit. Without massive parking lots everywhere, your city may have more room for parks and gardens and playgrounds.

We don't have to make parking cheap and easy. No one really wants to pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

So let's not.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mattresses and More

via XKCD

You know, I totally meant to spend some time on this blog writing about my search for a new eco-mattress, a search that I undertook in ... September. But then I got engaged in October, and then the holidays came up not long thereafter, and then I went to India, and pretty soon, it's January and I haven't started that set of posts.

But in a way it's a good thing because we've had ample time to break in our mattress so I can give a really full review on that. First things first, though, so I'm going to tell you a little bit more about our search. I'm not going to go into the specifics in terms of comfort (because that's so personal) but mostly focus on the eco-aspects of the different mattresses.

We are lucky living in the Bay Area, so we had a LOT of options for eco-mattress stores. No need to wander Mattress Discounters in search of their ONE eco-mattress. If you don't live in the Bay Area, finding a mattress might be slightly harder, but luckily, almost all of the places we looked at deliver, and they usually have a fairly decent return policy.


One of the first places we ended up looking was Keetsa. Keetsa came at the recommendation of a friend and their store is located not too far away in San Francisco itself. Though they have one full latex mattress, they are mostly known for their wide range of memory foam mattresses. (You may know memory foam by the brand name Tempur-pedic. Tempur-pedic mattresses are probably the most well known memory foam mattresses, but they aren't the only kind out there.)

Here is the good about Keetsa: their mattresses are reasonably affordable as far as eco-mattresses go. And while most memory foam mattresses often off-gas toxic levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Keetsa ran a test that shows that their mattresses do not emit VOCs, and they put that test up on their website.

Most memory foam mattresses are made with 100% petroleum, but Keetsa substitute 20% of the petroleum in their mattresses with castor bean oil. And -this is kind of fun- they stick their mattresses in a box so that you can fit your mattress in the back of your car saving time, energy, money, etc.

BUT, their memory foam mattresses are still 80% petroleum. And while they say they don't emit VOCs (and put up a test to prove it) I wasn't entirely convinced. Ideally, I'd like to see a third party independently conduct a test and see what they say.

The other thing that was slightly hilarious was how all the other green mattress stores really, really dislike Keetsa. When we went to one store, the proprietor told us that he had a mattress that came in a box and I immediately exclaimed, "Oh! Like Keetsa!" and he went really quiet and it was really clear that he did NOT LIKE the comparison at all because his eco-mattress was NOTHING like Keetsa even if it did come in a box. In another instance, a saleswoman basically cautioned us against green-washing and then said, "I mean they're affordable, but they only substitute 20% of the petroleum in their mattresses."

Which is fair enough. Keetsa is not a perfect option, but we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. They produce reasonably affordable mattresses, I do believe they strive to be as Earth-friendly as possible, and their mattresses appear not to emit VOCs. And according to Yelp, a lot of people find their mattresses really comfortable. Plus, you do always have the option of buying their natural latex mattress which is 100% latex and thus has no petroleum nor VOCs.

Ultimately, though, we decided to keep looking. More mattresses coming up later this week....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My War with Plastic (and other stuff that makes me nervous)

I gotta tell you, for years I was that environmentalist who didn't give a crap about all that toxic buildup worry. Was Teflon giving you cancer? What about BPA in cans? Don't ask me, I didn't care.

Oh sure, I tried occasionally. I made the obvious changes. Studies say dryer sheets are carcinogenic. I feel like I derive very little utility from dryer sheets. So I tossed 'em.

But I kept my non-stick. I kept my plastic. And I sure as hell didn't worry about BPA.

But lately, I dunno, something's changed. Maybe it's all the attention being paid to this kinda stuff by bloggers I respect. Maybe it's that diseases like cancer are suddenly more real for me now that I personally know a number of people who have or have had cancer. Maybe it's just turning thirty and being struck by the weight of my own mortality. Or maybe it's all my pregnant friends who are uber careful with what they eat and what kind of chemicals they expose themselves to.

And suddenly, I've started to worry a lot more about plastic, BPA, and everything else.

I'm torn between my desire to throw out a ton of potentially toxic crap out and my belief in consuming less. Sure my cutting boards are plastic, but is that so bad? Do I really want to get rid of them? What about the energy waste in making wood cutting boards?

Similarly I'm torn between my (maybe somewhat justified?) paranoia and my rational feeling that I need to think critically about risk. Do I prefer to eat organic vegetables? Yes. Do I think conventional vegetables are better than no vegetables. Yes. Do I think my plastic cutting board might give me cancer? Maybe. Do I know that people die in car accidents all the time? Yes. Do I still drive a car? Yes. Do I even think twice about that? No. Do I understand the cognitive dissonance here?

Look, I'm not saying here don't worry about BPA. I worry about it. I worry about a lot of things. But I'm also learning that excessive worry is not good for me ... in fact it might be just as bad for me as BPA. Seriously. There are lots of interesting articles out there on the effect of worry and stress on the body.

So I think there has to be a balance. Between caring about potential toxins, and not letting them run your life. Between dealing with stuff like BPA in a cautious fashion without keeping yourself up at night.

I mean, I haven't yet found that balance. But I'm workin on it. And if you know what it is, give me a shout.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Food Waste (Again)

On Sunday, we went to the Trader Joes.

I'm not sure what it is about Trader Joes, but going there always inspires in me this desire to buy, buy, buy. I can't tell you the number of times that I've gone in there to pick up one solitary item, and ended up with about two bags full of groceries. Something about Trader Joes simply awakens my consumeristic instinct, and because it's food, I let myself go crazy. Sure, why not buy some mango chutney and some Thai red curry sauce and some little cranberry bran muffins. It's food!

Except, of course, that when we buy too much food. Food that we probably cannot consume before it goes bad.

But I didn't care on Sunday. I was hungry (which is a bad time to shop) and I was at Trader Joes! I love Trader Joes! We only come here once a month or so! And so I bought, and bought, and bought as my fiance looked dubiously at our cart. "Put that back," he'd sometimes say. But I didn't.

As we waited to get rung up, he muttered under his throat about all the vegetables we'd have rotting in our fridge at the end of the week.

I felt indignant. I can eat all those vegetables! I will show him!

So, I made dahl. Used up some tomatoes and onion. Ended up with an enormous pot of food (seriously, how does one cup of lentils turn into a week's worth of food? People who say you cannot feed a family nutritiously on the cheap have clearly never seen the power of lentils.)

I ate carrots with hummus. Snow peas with nothing. A whole box of crackers (okay clearly that wasn't supposed to happen.) I emptied a bag of mushrooms into our pasta sauce last night.

And I am pleased to say, that I think I am winning. Ruchi: 1, Rotten Vegetables (and cynical fiance): 0. (The fiance actually forgot to eat his dinner last night and left his bowl of pasta on the table uneaten all night long, but that's not my fault.)

I am pleased that I have managed to succeed (so far) in my war against rotting food, but I also feel exhausted. The sheer weight of trying not to waste is tiring.

And yet, you know, I think this is important stuff.

A couple days ago, Andrew Revkin posted an interesting conversation on Dot Earth about the future of food. In it, he featured two thinkers, almost diametrically opposed to each other. One (Lester Brown) believes we will soon be unable to produce enough food for the world, the other (Vaclav Smil) patently disagrees. Yet, as Revkin points out, both "agree that today’s norms for food in developed countries won’t hold up in decades to come. These include a disregard for waste and a seeming inability in many countries to divert from overindulgence without seeing that as some kind of sacrifice."

What does that tell you? Doomers and non-doomers alike agree that we can't continue on the path of America. We must learn to waste less, to eat less meat, and to not stuff ourselves sick.

So while my constant scheming to keep our vegetables from rotting may seem over the top and require too much energy, I'm going to keep it up. It's important.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Weddings and Feminism

We have a pretty equitable split in the household chores over here. All the cooking, the cleaning, etc, gets done in what I would imagine comes close to a 50/50 split (but I don't really know because we don't actually track every minute of household work to find out.) We don't both do the same work ... it's not you do the dishes this week and I'll do them next week. It's more like we split the work based on what we're good at and what we like doing. I'm better at the larger broad-based, organizational kind of thing, whereas my fiance is much, much more OCD than I am.

So, for example, I'm more likely to search online for recipes, come up with potential meals for the week and put needed ingredients on our shopping list. But we *have* a shopping list because my fiance is compulsive about keeping one. And in terms of the cooking, my fiance is much better at chopping and more attentive to detail than I am. (I'm more likely to throw things in with reckless abandon, figuring, whatever, it'll work out!)

It's similar with the wedding stuff. On the surface, most of our wedding vendors probably assume we're the stereotypical couple where the bride does all the planning for HER big day, because I'm the one in communication with all of them. I'm the one who does the research, sends the emails, and keeps on top of scheduling meetings.

But my fiance has opinions on EVERYTHING, and every decision we make is a very joint decision. He's the one who spent time to really sit down and format our receipt tracking system, our guest list system, and he'll be the one to deal with a lot of the website formatting. Again, with the small details, he's much more particular than I am.

And it made me wonder. I can't imagine we're alone. This is 2011 after all. How come, if there are so many couples out there with equitable arrangements, are most of the cooking blogs, wedding blogs, and personal sustainability blogs written by women and commented on by women? How come wedding websites always seem to be told from the woman's point of view?

It's weird. My fiance is JUST as invested in wedding planning as I am. Like, when I hear a bride talk about how she tries not to bore her fiance with wedding stuff he doesn't care about, I am always like, "Wow, there's wedding stuff her fiance doesn't care about? How refreshing" followed by wondering if her fiance is similarly considerate about details she doesn't care about. (Or are women just naturally interested in each and every aspect of their wedding?)

But, my fiance does not think it's fun to read wedding blogs or do wedding vendor research or anything of the kind. He will do it if and when he needs to because party ain't gonna plan itself. He's more than happy to discuss weddings we've been to and talk about what he liked and disliked, but he doesn't want to troll Martha Stewart Weddings to find the latest on wedding trends. (Although, I don't particularly want to do this either. I still don't really know what bunting or poms are and I really don't care.)

I think this is fine, mostly. I don't need him to read wedding blogs; I need him to be invested in our own wedding. But I really do wonder why I love reading about wedding stuff for fun even, whereas he doesn't really care. And I do wonder if we sort of do a dis-service to the world by falling into strict gender roles when it comes to the "public face" of our wedding.

On the other hand, it seems silly to make my husband-to-be act as the communications person and me act as the organizational person just to show the world at large that we're not the stereotypical gendered couple, we're not! when it's so clear that our strengths lie in the reverse.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is Quick Cooking a Myth

Yesterday, as I was making my soup at 5:00 am (carrot and mushroom because that's what I had on hand, and it turned out delicious), I was meditating on the time that cooking takes.

There's a post that Sharon Astyk wrote at some point that has always stuck with me about how cooking takes time, and how those recipes that claim you can cook something in fifteen minutes are pretty much a myth.

It's a great post, and if anyone knows where it is on her myriads of different blogs, please let me know so I can link to it.

Sharon basically argues that meals made in fifteen minutes are called salads. I'd argue that you can also scramble an egg or make a very simple omelette in about fifteen minutes, but other than that, things take time.

Of course, Sharon makes food from scratch, from scratch. I don't do that. I don't can pasta sauce, or make my own butter or yogurt, or my own bread, or anything of that sort. I'm perfectly happy to buy ready-made hummus and sauces and jams and breads.

Still, I find that cooking (as opposed to say assembling a sandwich or what have you) inevitably takes me at least twenty minutes if not more.

On Wednesday night I made spaghetti. This is probably the simplest thing that I can claim that I "cook." I buy whole wheat pasta and canned tomato sauce. All I have to do is cook the pasta and chop some vegetables to add to the sauce, cook the vegetables, and heat the sauce.

I've made this meal a bajillion times over the years. It requires no spices, no looking up recipes on the internet, just chopping and cooking.

It took me 20 minutes.

Perhaps I am slower than most people. I would argue that that's very probable: if you cook every day you probably are a faster chopper than I am. But it's hard to be faster about things like getting your water to a roiling boil or cooking pasta until it's the right level of tenderness. While some people can probably make spaghetti in fewer than 20 minutes, I'd venture that it's hard to make it in much fewer minutes.

Of course, as Sharon points out, some things require forethought and not much more. The soup I made yesterday took me about half an hour all told, reading the recipe, chopping the vegetables, adding spices, blending the soup when it finished cooking. But it also simmered in my slow cooker for twelve hours. I didn't have to think about it while it was cooking, but I did have to have the presence of mind to start cooking early enough that the soup would be ready to eat for dinner.

Ultimately, I think the idea of "quick cooking" while super-appealing is pretty much a myth. Which isn't to say that you can't feed yourself quickly: make a sandwich, make a salad, make a scrambled egg. But if you're actually cooking food? I find I have to block off at least a half hour.

What's your experience cooking? Can you prepare a meal in under half an hour?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

January Resolutions

I'm still working on figuring out what my New Year's Resolutions are but 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty eventful year. I started a new job yesterday and, of course, this fall I'm getting married. Given that, it probably makes sense to keep the resolutions on the light side.

Looking back, I didn't really succeed in my resolutions from last year, but I don't really mind. My issues with cholesterol really sharpened my focus in March of last year, and I managed to develop a consistent exercise routine and really shape up my eating habits, all while losing about 10 pounds. It's not exactly what I aimed for in January, but physically healthier and stronger in nine months? I'll take it.

I do have a resolution for January, and you've heard this one before... it's to cook more.


Some people are yo-yo dieters, I'm a yo-yo cooker. Every six months or so, I realize I've been eating out way too much and begin to go on a cooking binge. I scour internet cooking websites for new favorite dishes, and experiment with my own recipes. I assiduously meal plan and grocery shop regularly. And I get in a habit of cooking dinner for myself, a habit that lasts until I go out of town two weekends in a row or I get sick or there's a crisis at work, and all of a sudden I'm back where I started. Eating out several times a week.


I'm not sure how to get out of yo-yo mode, but for now, I'm back to the kitchen. Last night it was pretty simple: spaghetti, sauce, added vegetables. Today, I took advantage of my jet-lag to make some soup at 5:00 in the morning. This weekend, I'll make some dahl maybe or another batch of soup.

And maybe, just maybe, this time my resolution will stick. But I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life List Accomplishments

I've been reading a lot lately on the internets about life lists, and now that it is January (actually it's December, but I'm scheduling this post ... shhhh!) I figure there will be a lot of goal oriented posts out there. What do I want to accomplish this year, and the rest of my life?

I'm going to think it over and post about it ... maybe even make a life list or a 40 before 40. But, I also think we sometimes give short shrift to what we've already accomplished. January is all about new resolutions, and not enough about goals achieved.

So I thought, instead of a typical New Year resolution post (I'll still write that ... just not now), I'd do something a little different.

The last time I moved house, I found an old list buried away entitled "By 30." It's a list of things I wanted to accomplish by the time I was thirty that I wrote with my roommates one drunken night right around the time of our college graduation.

I initially approached the list with a little trepidation. I hadn't really read it ... probably since that drunken night almost ten years ago. Was this going to make me feel bad about myself? Was I going to feel like my 22-year old self would find my thirty-plus self sort of pathetic?

Turns out ... not so much. I was surprised to find how many of the things on the list I actually did achieve. And of the stuff that I have not, some of it no longer matters to me, and some of it ... well it's going on my by 40 list. I haven't done everything I wanted to do, but I'm definitely not pathetic.

Here's the list with my notes:

By 30, I want...
1) An exciting life - Yes. Well I think it's relatively exciting anyway, and I'm all who matters.

2) To have lived in Europe- Yes! Best decision ever.

3) To be an activist- Yes, I think what I do here (and elsewhere) counts.

4) To be a social worker- No? This is very weird ... I didn't know I ever wanted to be a social worker. But I do like to help people, and I think I have done that from time to time.

5) To work for Miramax- Sorta? I never worked for Miramax specifically, and I really don't care. I have worked for a number of other film and television companies in various capacities.

6) To be creative- Yes, I think I've been fairly creative, though perhaps not as much as I would like (2nd barely written novel looks forlorn in a corner)

7) To be well liked - Yes? I think I'm reasonably well liked, and at least by the people that matter to me, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that I love and feel loved

8) To be successful at work- Yeah, I think I've been reasonably successful, but I also feel like this is a constant goal to be successful and to continue to be successful.

9) To know how to play guitar- No. BOOOOO. This is something I've really wanted to learn for years now. Time to finally make time.

10) To be on the cover of a magazine- No. Don't care.

11) To be sexy- Heh. Well, my fiance finds my sexy, and that's kinda all that matters.

12) To be thin- Yup. Of course, I no longer eat cheese. Or butter. Or a whole host of other delicious foods. But I am think. And more importantly, my cholesterol is relatively in check.

13) To be married- Not quite. But this fall!

14) To be a mother- No. I'm okay that this didn't happen by 30, but it's on my life list.

15) To find my great love- Yup.

16) To be happy- Yup.

17) To be content- Hmm... I'm pretty happy often, but content? Content is something I need to work on.

18) To be able to speak Hindi- Well, it's pretty rusty ... This is another one that I want to work on.

19) Some answers- Sure, I guess I have some. Not all. But some? Yeah, I think so.

20) Money- Heh. Well, I'm not Scrooge McDuck, but I do have more money than I had at 22.

21) To be successful- Yeah. I feel generally successful, but again, I think this is an evolving goal.

22) A house- Not yet. Hopefully in the next ten years.

23) To have good friends- Yes. I am blessed with the most amazing friends that walked the planet. And for that, I am forever grateful.

24) To be an actor- Been there, done that.

25) To have been acting- Not sure what the distinction was supposed to be here... I'm chalking this up to my drunkenness.

26) To have seen the top 100 movies- No. Don't really care.

27) To be singing again- Well, not as of this moment. And it's something I really want to get back into more seriously.

28) To have helped- I'd like to think I have helped a little in some way. I hope to continue to help in the future.

29) To be settled- Yeah, I'd say so.

30) To be smart- Well, I guess I'm smart enough. I still have a lot to learn though.

31) To use tampons- Heh. This is funny because I always hated them but also hated maxi pads. Luckily, my life, in this aspect, is even awesomer than I could IMAGINE when I was 22, because I use a diva cup.

32) To not be afraid- Mmm. I think I still am often rooted in fear. But maybe fear is okay ... as long as you accept your fear and don't let it prevent you from acting. I don't know. I think I still have work to do on this one.

So ... out of 32 goals (really 31, since one was basically a repeat), I've accomplished or somewhat accomplished 20. Of the remaining 11, I hope to accomplish 8, and I don't care about 3.

Not bad for a drunken life list that was shoved in a box for the past nine years. And what I love about the list is that it also reminds me that, at my core, I'm much the same person who I was at 22. I may be wiser, saner (I hope), and more confident and at ease with myself, but ... I'm me. Even several career changes and dreams later. And there's something so comforting about that.