Holiday Hiatus

Here in Tinseltown, we believe in long, drawn out, unpaid vacations. Because this (frankly unwanted) vacation time will impinge upon my constant computer vigilance, I will be updating less frequently until the beginning of January.
In the meantime, if there's anything you'd like to see written about in this blog, post a comment and I'll cover it. Otherwise, look forward to local food lectures, ideas for green decluttering, and eco-friendly snack ideas.

Happy holidays, everyone! Enjoy your snow, mistletoe, and other optional holiday accouterments.

In case you thought this post would be without pictures, allow me to prove you wrong. May I present our mushy-lovey wannabe Christmas card photo:


Edit to Lower-Impact Christmas

Though we love the idea of reusing this year's do-it-yourself tree, we'll probably go with a Cardboard Christmas tree next year. This product seems super great and my only problem with it is that I found it after we had already made our own.


Our Low-Impact Christmas

Lately, I've been trying to get in the holiday spirit in this snowless, not-that-cold town. Let me tell you, it's tough. First of all, I wore flip flops to Thanksgiving dinner... can we say "major paradigm shift?" Then, there was the issue of the tree. I'm allergic to cut trees, they make my face melt in boogers. Despite my allergy, we didn't want to buy a PVC-and-lead-laden synthetic Christmas tree.
We were left with quite a dilemma.

I searched online for sustainable alternatives and I found a few possibilities, but none of them seemed right for us. First, there was the giant Christmas tree made of knitted sweater sleeves. Now, I like knitting, but I've already got a few projects on the needles and I can't multitask that well. Then, I found patterns for mini knitted Christmas trees, but we wanted something on which we could string standard size lights. There was also the incredible Mountain Dew Christmas tree, made of more Mountain Dew cans than we could ever drain. Obviously, not a real option for us, though a truly unique recycling effort.

We tried other living tree options: like tiny evergreen indoor shrubs or potted pines, but they cost a good deal more than our budget allows and I have a totally un-green thumb. So, we were left with a potentially evergreen-free holiday.

No, we had to create our own Christmas tree alternative. TheBoy suggested something that I initially shot-down, but which later became our option: a paper tree. I had thought maybe of a hat rack or a ladder (or tripod, which we actually have), but we decided against those, too. A few more soul-searching conversations later, and we had decided to make a brief Target run for some posterboard, green paint, and a paint brush.

We ended up coming home with two neon green posterboards, a bottle of Crayola non-toxic kids' paint, a quality paintbrush, and some pretty candy-cane striped ribbon. Some creative cutting and sloppy brushstrokes produced the proto-tree and some tape, LED Christmas lights, striped ribbon, and a few ornaments gathered up to make a truly festive, sustainable holiday wall ornament.

After I'd finished the tree, I still had some green paint leftover. Following a suggestion that I found on the wonderful internets, I painted our still-fresh Halloween and Thanksgiving pumpkins. After a few more coats, I'll use a pretty silver sharpie to color on some stars and make our previously fall-themed decorations into a lovely holiday bauble. After the holidays, I'll cut the bottoms out of the pumpkins and roast the seeds to make a delicious, edible New Years treat -- I may even wash off the paint and feed the gourd to our pet. I'm sure they'd love the treat!

Aside from the tree, we're trying to lower the impact of our gift-giving. Without skimping on quality, we've been able to produce great gifts for our family and friends. Instead of gifting TheBoy's dad with another worthless golf thing, we all chipped in to buy him a personalized iPod -- something that he'll really use for a long time. For his mother, we found a local-artist-made cheese plate made out of a recycled wine bottle. I knitted up a gift bag in polyester yarn made from recycled plastic bottles. How awesome! For one friend, instead of a lame-o worthless gift, we found him an affordable flatware set to replace his flock of years-old plastic forks. For all our other friends, we're making cookies -- having fun and spending time together, instead of finding them landfill-bound gag gifts. Overall, we've spent this holiday season thinking hard about how useful and loving our gifts will be when bestowed upon our loved ones.

What things are you doing to make your holiday lower-impact?


The Second R

The three big R's of conservation: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. All three of them are important, and I'm going to start a three-part series on them, starting with number two (of course!).

Really, I think that reusing is the easiest method of conservation. Unlike reducing, which takes habit changes, and unlike recycling, which can be tough if you don't have curbside pickup -- all you need to reuse things is a little creativity.

Take, for instance, my reluctance to buy a rolling pint o make my gingerbread cookies. You can read the whole story here, but the short story is: rolling pin was too pricey, so I used a wine bottle.

Another instance was when I had TheBoy's lunch all ready to go, but his lunch carry-bag was dirty. Instead of letting the box go unwrapped (and possibly spill all over my backpack), I used a dinner napkin as a temporary furoshiki, or Japanese lunchbox wrap. TheBoy was also able to use the napkin for its intended purpose of cleaning up untidy lunch messes.

Another, more fun creative reuse was the first time I did laundry in our new apartment. We hadn't bought a drying rack yet, but I hate drying clothes and wasting all that energy just to shorten the wearable lifetime of my clothing. So, I piled our clothes all over the house, including on an endtable in the living room. What a sight to see!
Even much simpler reuses can be really effective. I have a lot of little items in my kitchen -- mostly stuff that I use to pack our lunches. So, instead of letting the drawer become a horrible jumble of junk, I used a flatware organizer to keep all my lunchbox accessories tidy and accessible. This picture doesn't truly do the drawer, or its contents, justice -- you can barely see the pink jelly bean-shaped Easter egg that my mother gave me: I use it to put nuts and small candies into our lunches without them getting everywhere. You can see the reusable silicone baking cups, though -- I constantly use them in our lunches to organize small portions of foods that shouldn't touch other foods. Today, in fact, I'm using one to separate some vegetable stir fry from grapes in TheBoy's lunch. Of course, simply using reusable lunchboxes counts as reuse, too.

TheBoy wore an old pair of pants into unwearable rags. Instead of throwing them out, I'm giving them new life as a draft dodger -- I'll patch the holes (with rag patches, likely) and sew the legs and waist shut. Addition of some batting and maybe some baggies full of sand or kitty litter will make that old pair of pants into a charming way to keep cold air from seeping under our door.

Another of the very simple things we reuse is ziploc bags. TheBoy's mother gave us a huuuuge package of baggies when we moved into the new place and, instead of potentially insulting her and turning them down, we accepted them and use them very carefully. We use one gallon size bag to keep our worm compost scraps in the freezer (so they don't rot and make the worms sick). Instead of throwing out the bag at the end of the week when we feed our worms, I wash the bag with soapy water and reuse it until it no longer seals, and only then will I reluctantly pitch it our. We reuse bags like that frequently, just not with raw meats. If a bag holds strawberries in the fridge, it's eligible for a second life as a cookie bag or bag of toiletries for travel.

What interesting ways have you found to reuse things in your own household?


Saving Paper

This morning, the heavens opened over L.A.
And this morning, I awoke to the glorious sound of rain -- not from the outside, tapping on the window, but from inside, dripping into my windowsill. ::sigh::

Fortunately, the windowsill is wide and the rain was only leaking in through a relatively small hole, so there was no major problem, but we were still a little miffed ("what hasn't gone wrong in our apartment" was the phrase of the morning). There was one positive outcome of the rainy windowsill, though: I got the opportunity to save a great deal of paper towels by reusing a dirty bath towel. The windowsill, you see, is pretty dingy (the fires in L.A. left a huge dust deposit) and I was sorely tempted to take advantage of the water to clean up the sill and dry at the same time, with paper towels. Instead, I achieved the same goal with a brown bath towel that won't show the dirt. Though this seems like a small accomplishment, to me, it's a major leap.

I grew up cleaning up all messes with paper towels, no matter how extensive. Paper towels, of course, have their place: they're great for bug killing (I actually cut up paper towels to make tiny, bug-killing swatches) and they're fabulous for wiping up staining spills (more on that in a moment), but, by and large, they are a nuisance about which I feel guilty.
So, I am attempting to switch off my paper towel addiction. By enriching my already plentiful stock of dish towels, I hope to keep the kitchen paper-free. I hope to hit up some thrift stores for new-to-me items and, when they're stained beyond recognition, I plan to donate them to either the rag pile or an animal shelter where they'll use the towels as bedding for lonesome animals.

Part of my reluctance to use non-paper towels, especially in the kitchen, is my intolerance for stains. Slowly, though, I am learning to let go. A stained kitchen towel is not a sign of weakness or any other negative. Instead, it is a positive, healthy, natural progression in a paper-free kitchen. I can be proud of my stained towels for the positive impact they'll make on my environmental efforts. And, if I'm feeling a little less proud, maybe I can set aside a few towels for when company comes over.

Fortunately, most of our towels are hand-me-downs from my mother and are already colorful, so a little staining won't make a huge difference.


Food (Democracy) Fights

When I can, I try to take advantage of the many golden food opportunities here in the Golden State (that is California's motto, right?). I try to make it every week to the year-round Hollywood Farmers' Market right , I try to buy organic, use my food dollars to vote for sustainable choices... In short, I'm trying to make my mark.
Some notable others, though, have been able to make a much greater impact than I can alone. Their work has culminated in a petition to foster Food Democracy in our new administration. You can sign the petition here -- it's basically a letter to the President-Elect stating that we need to develop sustainable food practices in the United States. It concludes with a shortlist of suggested Secretary of Agriculture candidates. (Thanks to GreenBean for the initial info about Food Democracy).

Other major impacts on the food movement have come in the form of one book that I adore, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and in the form of one book that I'm just starting, Babara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Look for full book reviews of both books in the future. Pollan's fantastic (and very lengthy) New York Times article on the matter is both enlightening and upsetting. Take a look at it before you make your next grocery store trip.

P.S. One of my favorite ways to practice sustainable produce procurement is to check out Fallen Fruit's website, looking for local, public fruit. Fallen Fruit publishes a map of all the public fruit in an area. Public fruit is fruit that grows over public space -- like the pomegranates that hang over the sidewalk in front of my neighbor's lawn. Yum! They are so tart and fresh and way better than store-bought.


In my life, there are all kinds of special pollutants.
Of course, there's the obligatory smog (it's pretty awfu!), but there are other pollutants that I barely think about until I come stumbling across them.

We all know about the variety of pollutants out there: toxin waste in the water, nasty chems in the air, smelly garbage that leaves our tailpipes.... but what about all the waste that isn't so tangible?
At work, they're doing some construction on our ceiling and it's filling my office environment with some pretty unpleasant pollutants. The workers are wearing face masks and we're just all developing runny noses and (even more) irritated attitudes. Their construction dust is a major air pollutant for our micro-environment.

Another set of contractors at work is building a new, totally unnecessary railing on the staircase right by my desk. These men are hammering, hollering, and, worst of all, dentist-drilling all day. Their bothersome noise distracts us from work and keeps us feeling unpleasant all day. Another pollutant.

Work another, more insidious, pollutant: people. Working in the entertainment industry is a serious far cry from my wholesome previous jobs as a tutor or even an employee in a convenience store. The office politics scenario is totally foreign to me and I managed to make some serious faux pas before I learned to hold my tongue -- even when some jerkbag stuck a huge box of recyclables in the garbage, not the recylcing bin right next to the garbage can. These office politics, more than any of the other, temporary pollutants, is the most irksome.

Even when we clean up our act in terms of tangible pollutants and leave behind the transigent noise and dust pollution, we'll still have damaging human run-off distressing our environments.
How do you deal with human-attitude waste?


Walking to Work

I live in Los Angeles. When I decided that I would forego a car, here, in the car capital of the Western world, I met a lot of skepticism. It was hard enough to go carless in my college town (dear old State College, PA) and even tougher to go car-free in my hometown, West Chester, PA. Getting around in a major city, one without a major/fantastic public transportation system, sounded almost impossible.

It's not.

Walking and biking in Los Angeles is not only possible but, sometimes, fun and entertaining. First up, the weather is always great. You're almost never going to be walking in the rain, and you'll nevernever be walking through snow. I've got a great tan (well, I'm a little less pale than usual for December) from my morning walks. Of course, when it does rain, watch out! The people around here drive like maniacs when the rain falls. If you can imagine how east-coasters drive in 3-4 feet of snow, then you can perfectly picture how L.A. drivers handle rain.

Seeing people on the street is always an interesting treat for me -- it isn't usually the fancy, Hummer-drivers walking around, it's the pepole with real issues and real interests. (Who am I to judge, of course, but I'll take a walker over a wanton polluter any day). Unfortunately, many of the people you see on the street are homeless people, wandering around, pushing their grocery carts full of cast-offs. Occasionally, I have the chance to help someone out, even if it's only in a small way, by picking up that bag they dropped, or just smiling out from the smog.

Before I started working so close to home, I worked pretty far away -- a 45 minute-by-car commute. Instead of caving and buying a car, I combined biking and a Metro ride to give myself some great exercise and some time to quiet down on the bus. I biked to the bus stop, slung my bike onto the front of the bus, and then biked from the bus stop near my destination to my employer. I biked for less than a mile and the bus ride + biking only took about 1 hour. Instead of slapping myself into an expensive machine, wasting precious resources (oil and freetime), I got some healthy sunshine and fresh air and some time to work on my knitting and reading.

I am really pleased that I'm in a situation to walk or bike to work, but what about other people who don't live 1 mile from their employers? They shouldn't despair! Even L.A.'s famously awful Metro system isn't all that bad. They have a really handy website with a trip-planner and information about how to purchase fare pass cards. Considering traffic, the buses are sometimes faster than driving because people give them a wide berth, preventing them from getting stuck behind any grandmas or smart pedestrians (the occasional extra-dumb person will dart in front of a bus, but most have a little more sense than that). The rail lines, though I haven't actually used them, are supposed to be pretty awesome, too. If nothing else, they're super clean because not that many people really use them. In fact, the station at Hollywood and Argyle, right outside the Pantages theatre, is really cool looking. I want to ride the rails just to see that station again.
I like to take advantage of my Metro time to knit, read, or just think and observe.


New Gears

Once again, I'm changing the tune of this blog. From here on out, look for happy updates about the environment and my attempts to decrease my (our) impact on it.

Recent Green Changes:
  • Make homemade, whole wheat bread (just bought organic flour to make this ++ effective)
  • Stop wasting food: compost absolutely everything possible (even when I don't feel like it)
  • Buy as much produce as possible at Hollywood Farmers' Market, organic when able
  • Use only free-range, organic eggs
  • Stop using antibacterial soap. Regular soap works just as well
  • Make less garbage
  • Turn lights off when leaving the room, every time
  • Clean with sustainable cleaners (vinegar, Clorox GreenWorks, non-phosphate dishsoap)
  • Attend more local entertainment activities (as opposed to car-based travel)
  • Walk/Bike to work
  • Walk to local activities as much as possible (church and restaurants, for instance)
  • Take shorter showers (together? too scandalous!)
  • Combine cooking (cook lasagna right after bread while the oven is still hot)
  • Use a sweater instead of the heater
  • Repurpose ratty old t-shirts into cleaning rags
  • Use natural light as much as possible instead of lamps
  • Wash clothes in warm, not hot water (except for that one time I had to kill the kitten flees)
  • Hang clothes to dry on rack or hangers

Green Goals:
  • Eat less meat (3x per week, max)
  • Consume less dairy
  • Switch toiletries to organics (toothpaste to baking soda, shampoo to castille soap)
  • Connect with loved ones instead of gift-giving (or homemade gifts, too!)
  • Eschew unnecessary packaging
  • Use bulk bins as much as possible
  • Buy organic as much as possible
  • Unplug appliances/electronics when not in use
  • As they burn out, replace old lightbulbs with CFLs
  • Use LED Christmas lights (yeah, we have holiday spirit!)
  • DON'T buy a plastic Christmas tree (PVC + shipping from China + other toxins = NO)
  • Wash clothes in cold water
Whew! Now that the lists are out, the real blogging can begin.


Dr. Horrible and Earthquakes

Dear California, wtf? Don't you think you're a bit warm to be shivering in late July? Yesterday, I finally realized that I'm moving to one of the most seismically active regions in the world -- Southern California. I got a tweet yesterday from TheBoy saying "Felt the Quake. Ok at Paramount." (Paramount being his place of employment.. my metropolitan baby). Yikes! That little message really brought home the message: California just isn't as safe as Pennsylvania, at least in terms of still earth. Though it measured a 5.4 on the Richter scale, this quake didn't really do any damage, except maybe a few broken vases in Pasadena. Well, that's a relief, but, as this article seems adamant upon proving, the "Big One" is still out there.. lurking(?) in the shadows, just waiting to get it's rocky hands on our sprawling city. Now, I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty presumptuous of these scientists to just go about spreading fear among already tense Californians, telling them that they're going to get a bigger shock soon. As far as I understand, there are zero earthquake detection abilities and zero reason for scientists to try to frighten everyone, especially considering how well Los Angeles reacted to this quake, and how much they improved infrastructure since the last "Big One" in '94. 

Despite the quake and its faulty news coverage, some good news has come out of SoCal lately: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog. Let me set the scene for you: Neil Patrick Harris (famous for Doogie Howser, among other roles) plays Dr. Horrible, the sentimental but evil supervillain just trying to make his way into the Evil League of Evil and get the girl of his dreams. His archnemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion, of Firefly fame), has other plans, though, and woos the girl (Felicia Day, star of The Guild web series) while foiling evil plans. The best part of this combination (aside from Malcolm Reynolds, reborn)? It's a MUSICAL. By JOSS WHEDON (and his extended family). !! 

This brilliant, three-episode web series is the baby of the writers' strike and the internet: a perfect match as any. Their web distribution scheme was great; releasing a new episode every other day and leaving them up for only a few more days before making them exclusively available on iTunes (unfortunately with DRM, but what can you do about that for now?). Now, of course, Hulu, the interweb's favorite source for streaming video, has hooked us up and, Dr. Horrible's creators, in a really awesome move, posted the streaming video back up on their site. Way to go, internet! Way to go Whedon! Seriously, could I be more of a ridiculous fangirl right now? Probably not. Go watch it! 


Old News and Obama

Old news first: a few months ago, I attended a really interesting symposium. Hosted at the Penn Stater Conference Center, the symposium was about teaching and learning with technology. There, I really picked up my interest in Twitter and got a chance to hear TheManHimself, Lawrence Lessig, speak about Free Culture and how copyright is hurting academia. Aside from all the glitz and glamor of attending a whole conference based on hurling insults at current copyright regulation (among other things, of course), I made my way into a podcast. A symposium staff member was going around with an iPod with a mic attachment, asking people for their input on the symposium. Incidentally, I was the only undergrad in attendance, so, of course, he had to seek me out. 

Well, I did a google search today for my name (if you haven't tried it lately, I urge you to do so, if only because it's fascinating). The first result was something totally new to me, an "on the street" interview. But, what that revealed was the podcast from the symposium with my somewhat-less-than-eloquent remarks and geeking over Lessig. So, check out the recording here, if you're so inclined (just follow the link to "Klunk on new media as literature").

Now, for the second half of the title. Obama. 
I've never made my affection for Obama a secret. I think he's the best candidate for the job (because, while I agree with some Libertarian principles, I also appreciate free public education and think that the "social welfare" model trumps the "Ayn Rand for president" model). So, yeah, I reregistered in PA so that I could vote for him in the primary and, yeah, I support his campaign (and found many interesting views on him while in Ireland). What I really love about him, aside from his ideals and his considerable skill at evading questions, is his ability to really embody exactly what I think of as a president. Case in point, his recent trip to the Middle East. No one will argue that Obama is charismatic, but subtly evoking Kennedy, as this NY Times article suggests, trumps even my highest expectations. Obama is wonderfully restrained without seeming apathetic. He is more or less religion-neutral, but has the high moral standards that I value over religious piety. 
And, to be superficial about it, he looks awesome in front of a sand-colored background (though maybe that's a function of the fact that he, himself, is not sand-colored).


Community of Benevolence

This morning I took my future mother-in-law* out to brunch. We had a lovely time talking about my recent trip to Ireland and about her plans for the rest of the week, among other things. In between our pleasant non-conversation, she asked what I expected to pursue as a career in California.** I explained to her that I want to work for adult literacy through the means of a non-profit. Needless to say, she had never even considered that as a career choice and really didn't understand why I would bother to go into such a non-lucrative and unglamorous position.*** I pontificated on the subject: on my passion for solving problems of illiteracy out of a sense of fairness, but also out of simple economic need. Educated people make better decisions; they can protect the environment by knowing how to recycle, they can get better jobs by having desirable skills, they can improve their own lives and enrich the community. 

Well, as I was pontificating, the lady at the booth behind us was listening in because, as she was leaving, she excused herself into our conversation to comment on my ambition. She actually thanked me for my career choice. Her husband, she said, is a doctor who recently started his own little philanthropic notion to visit homebound patients. this woman was so excited that "young people actually care" to help others -- she was headed straight home to tell her husband that he can consider himself in good company.

One of the things that I love about tutoring, that I didn't even think of when I started the work, is the community that forms from the action of teaching another person in a language they understand. There is something so rewarding about finally communicating an idea to someone who couldn't grasp it before. I will never forget (or forgo) the wonderful group of friends that I made while tutoring at Penn State. Now I know there is yet another community -- that formed between people who, while engaging in different occupations, have the goal of helping others. 

*did I mention that I am engaged, as of May 11th?
**did I mention that I'm moving to Los Angeles in slightly less than one month?
***she's not as shallow as I make her out to be. she's a wonderful woman with practical concerns... like rent and groceries.


playing ketchup.

dear neglected audience,

i am a terrible blogger. please forgive me.
i also have a boring life.
this blog is going on permanent hiatus, as of now -- though i might revive it in the future (or during my trip to Ireland in the summer).