Saturday, May 31, 2008

Everything in moderation

I really enjoy blogging. It's a great way for me to keep myself accountable, have interesting exchanges of idea, force myself to research things I'm wondering about, "meet" like-minded people, and a chance for me to be a little creative.

I also enjoy reading other people's blogs, and surfing the internet. The problem is that I've turned into a bit of a computer potato lately. I've never been much into watching tv for hours on end, but I've found I've fallen into the habit lately of getting up, turning on the water for coffee or tea, and sitting down to check my email. All three accounts. Then I read comments on my blog. Then I check out facebook for a while, read other blogs, check the news, pay bills, look at links in emails friends and families have sent me, and by that point I usually can start the whole process all over again.

The problem is, I end up spending waaaay too much time online every day, and way too little time actually doing things. It's a lot easier to justify too much time online than it is too much TV - after all, being online allows many benefits TV doesn't - staying in touch with people, educating yourself about new topics, even making some extra cash selling stuff - but it can also become a mindless way to disconnect with the world around us. So, I’ve decided I’ll have scheduled internet time for myself. It won’t be until later in the day, so that I’ll be much more likely to get carried away doing other projects and put off my internet time, rather than the other way around.

While we were away last weekend, we had no internet connection available (no phone either) and I was surprised to find that I didn’t miss it all that much. Somehow, though, when the computer is sitting there looking at me, I just have to crack it open and see what fun I’m missing out on. I think I’ll try something similar to what my parents did a long time ago – when I was really little, they kept the television in a closet, so that when they wanted to watch it, there had to be a conscious effort to pull it out and plug it in. I think that’s what I’ll do – physically put the laptop away until it’s time to pull it out to work on a blog or pay bills.

I’ve read posts from others thinking along similar lines lately – it’s not that I don’t have the time or energy to blog, because I do, and I’ll continue to do so. It just may not be every day, because I’m hoping to be too busy doing other things some days. I have a feeling that won’t be a problem, once I actually get off the couch and turn this machine off.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fast Food Nation

I read the book "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser this month for Green Bean's "Be A Bookworm" challenge. It was a very interesting read, with tons of facts, and was obviously very well documented. There is even an afterword where the author addresses some of the criticism the book received when it was first published. Every page I read convinced me of the wisdom of my decision to become a flexitarian!

It's sort of like Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" for the twenty-first century - a book he discusses at some length early on. Like Sinclair, he looks at the often appalling conditions for the workers preparing and packing meat, as well as the meat itself and various issues surrounding it, such as disease and poor hygiene.

Actually, what was interesting about this book was that it was as much an indictment of the meat industry as it was the fast food industry. It was told with fast food as the focal point, but honestly, I can't say I ever have any desire to eat meat again - whether it's from Wendys or Safeway is of no interest to me right now. My cat, I promise you, has never eaten fast food in his life - but this book made me finally cave in and start buying him organic cat food. I can't even go into the reasons why without feeling nauseous, but trust me. There's some gross stuff out there in our food supply - and our pets'.

Schlosser examines how the fast food industry has changed virtually every aspect of life in this country, from how we farm, to how we fund education, and even how we buy clothes. He examines how large corporations are often able to ensure compliance with food safety guidelines much more effectively than federal agencies. He examines the correlation between fast food restaurants and violence. There is an extremely wide array of topics he covers. At times, I wanted a little more depth on some of these, but the "big" issues, such as pervasive dangerous working conditions in meat packing plants and the health risks associated with eating improperly handled meat, are dealt with in quite a lot of detail.

I highly recommend checking it out - unless you really love Big Macs and Whoppers (although good news - my favorite place ever for burgers, In N Out, got a pass from the author, so I know there is one "safe" place I can go if I really need a fast food fix).

I often felt like I would have liked this book even more if I'd read it when it was first published close to a decade ago - even if the information is still relevant, something about reading a book full of statistics that are ten plus years old makes me wonder what has changed (for better or worse) since the words were written.

Unless you feel like reading about meat with "visible fecal contamination" will make you physically ill, check this book out if you haven't already.

In June, I'm going to Still Be a Bookworm - I'm reading "The No-Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade" - I'll let you know my thoughts at the end of the month!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

who wants to wash dishes anyway?

alex in wonderland 8
Originally uploaded by independentman
The answer to this question, I found to my surprise, is me...well, at least some of the time...

We went away to the ocean for the long weekend, and it was great - we had nice weather, beautiful scenery, and it was really nice to get out of the city and visit a part of the state I hadn't seen before. I'd forgotten how much work it can be to coordinate a big group of people to go away on an overnight trip, especially now that we have friends with kids.

Overall, I think we did some okay, and some not so great things on our trip, environmentally speaking. The destination itself was about 2 hours away, and since the alternative plan originally discussed involved "several" small day trips, I think our fuel use was not horrible.

We cooked all of our meals ahead of time and packed them up in a cooler, so we avoided the waste that is so often involved in eating in a restaurant (or takeout, as often ends up being the case when there are little kids involved).

What was not so great was to witness the amount of trash we created. We separated out glass bottles for recycling (it's California, after all...they must at least recycle glass, right?), but the rental office was closed while we were there and no information was left as to what else we could or could not recycle, so a lot of stuff got put in the trash that, at least in our house, would normally be recycled. I considered bringing it all home but we were packed in the car pretty snugly, and I'm 99% positive that I would have been voted down on that one.

A big part of this trash came from paper products. I have some paper towels left in the house from before I decided to give them up, but we've trimmed our use to the point where we go through a roll probably every three to four months (and a good bit of that use is by visitors). I was amazed then, to see that we went through almost one roll of paper towels every day. I still am not sure why...

The remaining bulk of the paper in the trash took the form of disposable bowls and plates. I still feel some guilt over this one, but to make a long story short, it kind of came down to me either volunteering to wash all the dishes for the whole trip, or agreeing to the disposable paper products. I would have gladly washed some of the community dishes, but I also didn't want to be solely responsible for the task.

Anyway, I'm writing this because I'm curious - how do you handle group situations like this where others may have different priorities than you? I was reminded how easy it is to control what goes into and out of my home, where only two of us live, but it's a lot more difficult to keep tabs on this sort of thing when the household population quintuples!

There's also an element of not wanting to be perceived as the crazy one in the group. I don't want to be seen as condescending or judgemental or an eco-nut job - especially since the people we spent the weekend are the friends I married into - my friends-in-law, if you will - they aren't people I've known since high school or kindegarten and can just say anything around.

What would you have done? Signed up for dishwashing duty? Agreed to the paper? Lectured everyone on the evils of everything disposable? Thrown a tantrum? Suffered silently? Feel guilty until the next vacation, at which time you volunteer to wash all dishes?

Saturday, May 24, 2008


away for the weekend, so just a mini-thought to share... I got a call today from the phone book company, attempting to make sure I'd received the 20 pound pile of paper I'd had to haul to the recycling cart. yeah, I got it, but I threw it immediately for recycling. Cause, like, we live in Silicon Valley, so we look stuff up on the internet, duh? Actually, what I said was, "I did receive it, but I don't really want it. Can I unsubscribe anywhere?" The nice gentleman informed me that the information on how to do so was located on page 2 of the book that the recycling collector picked up a few weeks ago. Oops.

Friday, May 23, 2008

the following is presented without commercial interruption

I read this post by Theresa at Pondering the Myriad Things yesterday, and I think it’s time I follow suit.

I believe in freedom of speech, so I don't like the idea of deleting comments, and will only do so very selectively, if ever, with the following short and simple caveats:

If you’ve commented here before, and you want to recommend a website or product because it’s relevant to the post and you use it or have tried it yourself and/or feel that other readers could truly potentially benefit from the information, by all means, please share.
If it’s your first time commenting, please don’t post a link to a commercial website. If you feel you have a case that justifies an exception, just email me. The sidebar has a place where you can do that.

I think this is a pretty fair policy. I don’t make any money off the blog, I do it because I enjoy it and it keeps me accountable to myself, and gives me a way to share ideas with others. At the same time, if I’m not making cash from my work, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that others won’t either. Especially since a big part of what I’m working toward in my life is finding ways to consume less, not more.

That’s all. Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the bad news first...

The world of water
Originally uploaded by Snap®
So I opened my mail today, and I found a water bill. I only get billed every other month, so I'd been anxiously awaiting this to see how much my bill went down this billing cycle.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw that we had used 2 CCFs more, and owed $5 more than the last bill! So the last bill, we used 3,740 gallons of water over a 61 day period, and this bill, we used 5,236 gallons over a 58 day period. What the heck. I give up.

Then I remembered something important...the last bill ran from 1/16 - 3/17. We actually were only at home for 26 of those days, and out of the country the rest. Let's redo some math...

OK, what this means is that our household was previously using 72 gallons of water per person, per day. I had previously forgotten to calculate our days away when figuring our daily water consumption, and therefore had mistakenly figured that we used 31 gallons per person per day. Oops.

So the bad news is that I wasn’t starting from as good a point as I thought, but the good news is that I didn’t somehow manage to increase my water consumption while trying to reduce it. That would have been a real motivation killer.

This month, our household used 45 gallons of water per person per day. I’ve proven that I’m not great with numbers, but I think that’s just shy of a 40% reduction for the two month period. Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

I’m still well above the 10 gallons of water per person per day considered sustainable according the riot4austerity calculator, but I’ll take an improvement like this for now. I’m the kind of person who likes measurable results, which is why I’m going through this perhaps slightly tedious exercise of calculating this sort of information.

So my lessons for the day are: 1. stop and do the math before panicking, and 2. It actually does make a difference to turn the shower off while soaping up, running the dishwasher one day less a week does matter, and it is worthwhile to turn off the extra rinse cycle on the washing machine!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It's the little things

The Press : 046
Originally uploaded by memekode
First, I hate the new look of my blog. I liked the old one, and for some reason it went all funky and I had to change it. I feel less happy than I used to every time I look at it. I've seen other people use this same template, and it looks good there, but I don't like it here. Maybe I'll change it again. It bothers me because I am one of those people who chooses a book by its cover. OK, I'm done whining.

I was reminded the other day by this post that sometimes we are so busy making so many little changes in our lives that we sort of lose track of some of them. Today I was reminded of one such change I had made about six weeks ago.

I had a dress in my closet, tags still on, and luckily I still had the receipt. I really didn't need that dress for anything special, and was less in love with it than I was when I bought it eight months ago. Actually I was never really in love with it; it was kind of hideous, but it reminded me of Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, so I bought it, thinking maybe it would make me that cool. Thankfully I came to my senses before I wore that thing out into public. If I ever decide to run for political office, photos of me wearing something like that would kill my campaign before it ever got off the ground. There are so many good reasons to buy less, and the fact that I frequently make purchasing decisions like this is a big one.

Anyway, I digress. I returned the garment for store credit. I'd bought it at Ross, and they sell home stuff too. I found a few glass food storage jars for $3 each, but the best thing I found was a coffee was under $10, and small enough to make coffee one cup at a time. This is perfect, since I'm the only one in the house who drinks coffee. I'd always thought what a waste it was to haul out that big machine to make one beverage. The new press is basically just like making a cup of tea. Boil the water, pour over grounds, press, and pour!

If I'm ambitious, I blanch some veggies or something while I'm heating the water anyway, but most mornings, that's not the case. But I like that the only energy that goes into it is heating the water, and I like the simplicity of it. My coffee has never tasted all that great, and maybe it's only a placebo effect, but I think this has a better taste to it than it did with the machine. And my new little press certainly looks cooler than that dress.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


We live in a condo, squished in amongst lots of other condos. One of the features we have is a community pool, open for about six months of the year. Until this weekend, I'd only made it there once. I was away most of last summer, so I never really got around to it. Recently I'd thought about it again, and the new environmentally conscious side of my brain pooh poohed the pool - full of nasty chemicals, wasting water, so on and so forth.

Then I thought about it again. We've lived here for over a year now, and the guy across the street just introduced himself for the seventh time. My husband just met the neighbor next door last week. We don't know anybody who lives around here! If I needed a cup of sugar, I'd get in the car and drive to the store, or do without it, before I'd ask any of my neighbors, for the simple reason that for the large majority, I don't even know their names.

I also thought about the environmental impact of the pool a bit more. It does get really hot around here in the summer, and I suppose it's better that a community of people share a pool rather than each of them having their own or driving somewhere every time they want to swim. Plus, whether I use it or not, it's there. I also have to give our HOA credit for deciding last year to pull out the fountain at the entrance to our community and replace it with some nice, at least semi-native landscaping (it's more native than a fountain, that's for sure).

So I packed my book and my towel and headed up to the pool. Actually, I packed my ipod too, but I didn't end up needing it. Although I wouldn't say I made any lifelong friends by hanging out in the sun and water for an hour and a half, I did get the chance to chat with people who live all around me, and learn a little something about a few of them.

It's weird, because I talk a lot and am very outgoing when I know at least one or two people in a group - but if I don't have that minimum safety blanket, I am pretty shy. I am sure that people will look at me funny and wonder why I am talking to them if I just strike up a conversation. Last weekend at the pool though, as is usually the case once I actually start talking with somebody, I found that they were all pretty nice, and I could find something in common with all of them.

It was nice to see the little kids having so much fun being outside, not watching tv or playing video games. I'll admit I could have done without the pack of scary pre-teenagers - they were making me blush with some of the things coming out of their mouths - but what was even nice about that was that a dad showed up with his daughter and was playing some games with her, and all the other kids flocked to him like rats following the Pied Piper. I guess they just wanted somebody to pay attention to them.

I've been to the park nearby my house a few times, but this was different. I think maybe it's because everybody hanging out at the pool knows for sure that these are their neighbors, so there's almost an implied introduction that's already been made, so it's not as scary to strike up a chat with a stranger.

It would be really easy to continue hiding in my condo - nothing would ever force me to come out and talk to anybody else ever if I didn't want to. That's not the kind of community I want for myself. I'd like to know a neighbor or two well enough to invite them over for a drink or a game night if we're having a lazy weekend, rather than staying home watching tv because my closest friend is a twenty minute drive away. I think I'll opt for knowing something about the people who live around me though - and if I ever need to borrow a cup of sugar, I'll have a door or two to knock on.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Eating local on a global scale

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot lately about buying locally grown food, and making a conscious effort to eat more of it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy it’s been to adapt some of my “tried and true” recipes to the ingredients coming into the house via our CSA box rather than going to the store to purchase the produce Betty Crocker deems necessary.

The quality of the food arriving each week is unparalleled in my culinary experience. The potatoes we ate for dinner yesterday were unbelievable. Picked about twenty-four hours earlier, they were so creamy and delicious that it actually led to a bit of inter-plate thievery when I got up for a glass of water.

This is not to say that I haven’t supplemented our farm share with non-local produce as I get used to this new way of feeding my household, but I’ve noticed how vastly inferior these items are in comparison, and they really are supplemental items more than the staple of my meals these days.

The quality of the food notwithstanding, I originally began making this switch for mainly environmental reasons. I wanted to support local small businesses that operated using sustainable methods. I wanted to decrease my carbon footprint by eating foods that had traveled fewer miles, therefore requiring less fossil fuel to reach my table.

These reasons are why I was totally irritated, but unfortunately not at all surprised, to read this editorial in the Washington Post. What was most upsetting to me were the following facts:

U.S. donations of food must be purchased from U.S. suppliers
U.S. donations of food must be shipped in U.S. ships
The U.S. spends 65% of its food donation budget on transportation & overhead

This is probably old news to everybody else, as the editorial is about two months old, but I’m really irritated. What this means, as far as I can tell, is that our already scant foreign aid is further eroded by these policies designed as much to continue the growth of our own economy as they are to feed the truly hungry around the world.

I visited a Habitat for Humanity project in Zimbabwe about ten years ago. They were building homes that resembled other homes in the area. They weren’t putting up pre-fab homes shipped in from the U.S., because that would make no sense. It would be a waste of valuable limited resources, and the aid would be ill-suited to the target population. In the same way, shipping food halfway across the world is a terribly wasteful way to use the embarrassingly small number of food donation dollars we have allocated.

I believe in the value of a strong domestic economy. I believe just as strongly in the right of every person on this planet to be well nourished – and I believe that we currently have the resources to accomplish this. What we lack is the willingness, as a nation, to “sacrifice” a bit of our current lifestyle or standard of living.

If we claim to give aid, we should give aid. There should be no questions of “what am I going to get out of this?” when we are supposedly being charitable. As an episode of Friends once pointed out, there is perhaps no truly selfless act, but we could aim for a bit of selflessness – even if that means giving our dollars to a farmer a little closer to the destination of the aid. My guess is that it’s not the small family owned farms in this country that benefit from our current protectionist policies anyhow.

It also seems that if we did purchase our food donations abroad, we could be doubling the power of our donating dollars. We’d be providing more much needed nutrition, but we’d also be supporting potentially struggling economies in these regions by supporting their farms.

Maybe I’m missing something…maybe there’s a good reason for doing things this way. The growing cynic in me seriously doubts it though. I think it’s just another way for us to continue doing business as usual, letting the rich get richer, with no substantial effort at changing the status quo, while patting ourselves on the back for a job well done.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Didn't really think this one through...

23 March
Originally uploaded by carolyn.will
So I've grown stuff before, like tomatoes, and lemons - the kind of stuff that grows on a tree or a plant, right out in the open where you can see it. I know what a tomato or a lemon should look like when I eat it.

I am growing several things this year that I haven't tried before, including beets, radishes, garlic, and potatoes. What do all these things have in common? Well, the part that we eat from these plants is hiding under the ground.

Is it odd that it never occurred to me before that I'd have no way of observing the progress of these roots? I've looked online for instructions. They all tell me to harvest before they get too big or reach a certain size. Hmm. Except I can't actually see what size they have reached. Do I just dig them up and sacrifice the little guys if they aren't ready to eat yet? Can I replant them if they're too small?

I only have a small container of each of these things, so I don’t want to pull too many out trying to figure out if they’re edible yet. For example, I have exactly two garlic plants at this point. It looks kind of big, but I’ve never seen what garlic looks like except for in the white bulb form I buy at the store.

The websites I’ve found all emphasize how critical the correct harvest time is, explaining that radishes, for example, will be hollow and cracked inside, not to mention super spicy, if I wait too long to harvest them. I know if I wait for them to flower, it’s too late...

So, how do you know when to harvest root vegetables? Any tips or hints are appreciated!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days

Originally uploaded by jpockele
This is the title of a book by Stephen Manes that I read probably close to twenty years ago at this point. It's a children's book, and the story is about a kid who finds a book claiming it can tell him how to be a perfect person in three days. (SPOILER ALERT!) In the end, the boy discovers that to be a perfect person, he would basically have to do nothing but sit around and sip weak tea - and although it may allow him to be "perfect", it wouldn't make him a very interesting person or allow him to lead a very fulfilling life.

I remember liking this book because it was wonderful to realize that perhaps perfection isn't such a wonderful goal to have. I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. I was feeling guilty about neglecting my posts, traveling, a few recent purchases, driving too much…the list could go on.

I have also been thinking about perfection in the context of blogging…it’s easy and fun to write about all my experiments that turn out well, and pretend that I’m getting closer to perfection every day. I have a whole list of experiments that haven’t turned out so well though. Like the tortillas I made that were so hard, when I tried to roll them they cracked in half. Or the cream soda that, unlike my ginger ale, was not only not delicious, but looked and tasted like the pond water I used to collect in school to see what organisms we could see under the microscope. Or the loaf of bread that was so dense, I considered using it as a doorstop. The list goes on, but hopefully you get the point and I don’t have to own up to all my flopped projects.

The point of all of this is that, as I’ve reminded myself before, the goal is not perfection. The goal, for me, anyway, is improvement. I want to be living a better life, not a perfect life – which is good, since I don’t ever plan on doing nothing but sitting around sipping weak tea.

Speaking of tea, it’s been really hot here. I wanted some iced tea the other day. I pulled out the container of instant iced tea mix in my cupboard, noticed the plastic lid, foil lining on the inside of the can, thought about how and if this could be recycled, turned to the ingredient label, which listed sugar, citric acid, instant tea, caramel color, natural lemon flavor and red 40, and put it back on the shelf. It didn’t seem so appealing suddenly.

If I was perfect, I probably would have decided to have a glass of water. But I really wanted the iced tea. So I pulled out a couple of mason jars, filled them with water, floated three tea bags in each (one per cup of water) screwed the lids on, and set it on my balcony for a little over an hour. I let it cool down a bit, poured it over a glass full of ice, and added some honey and lemon slices. It was really easy, not to mention cheaper than the lesser quality stuff for sale in the stores.

I may not be perfect, but the tea was.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hooking again

It was great this past week to spend some time reconnecting with things that have been pushed aside for various reasons.

I'd been meaning to learn to knit for a while now, and my sister gave me an early birthday present which included a knitting lesson and some supplies to get me started. I can't believe I'm making things out of wool, because it was over 100 degrees here yesterday, and today looks to be more of the same. But I'm hoping I can start making some of those things that I previously would have first project is going to be some cloths for washing the dishes with. All those little mistakes that I'm making won't really matter when I'm just using the final product to clean gunk off my pans.

My sister also gave me a sewing machine that had belonged to my grandmother. I'm very excited about this, especially since I need one to finish up a project that I've been working on for some time now...a hooked rug. It's a traditional wool hooked rug (when I first heard about this art, I was thinking of those little latch hook kits that you make a fuzzy Garfield wall hanging out of, but that's not it at all...see here for some examples).

About three years ago, I learned how to make the rugs from a woman who is very talented, and willing to share her knowledge - a rare combination. She shops at thrift stores for much of her wool...old pants, skirts, etc. are cut up and dyed, then further cut into wool strips which are then hooked into a burlap or linen backing. The hooked rug is the ultimate thrifty re-users art form in many ways. The rugs were originally made in the north east using old burlap sacks for the backing, and wool strips that were salvaged from all sorts of places. What is cool is that you can still stay true to much of the original frugal nature of how these rugs were made. Plus, it's fun to tell people you're a hooker and watch their reactions.

Life had gotten busy, and I hadn't worked on any of my projects for close to a year, but I'm going to be starting some new projects soon. I haven't done a lot of the background work before, such as sourcing my own materials or dying the wool, but I'm looking forward to learning and experimenting.

I can't lie, I was motivated to get back to work when I was told how much I could sell the finished rugs for. I've been working on my current project for some time now, and never really thought of it as an item of value to anybody but me - apparently this is not the case!

Hand hooked rugs also make wonderful gifts, so I'm thinking I'll be able to make some progress on the making all my own gifts front this way as well.

That's the update from here...I'm off to GoodWill to see if I can find some wool clothes to cut up!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

a little nervous...

I've been gone for a week, and tomorrow I'm heading home. I'm nervous because I hate flying. I'm a control freak. But aside from that, I'm nervous to see whether my worms and plants are still alive, whether the trash and recycling were brought out to the curb, and whether my house is a total mess.

It's been a great week...I've connected and reconnected with a lot of people...high school friends, college friends, all sorts of other friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. It's hard living away from everybody I know, so it's been really good to remind myself about what I value at the end of the day.

It's also been really nice in some ways to just be soooo busy catching up with people that I haven't even had time to think about blogging. It's been good to step back and reflect, ruminate, ponder, and just think about the changes I've made, the ones that I should have, but haven't yet made, and the ones I will make. It's also been a good reminder for me about how not really working all that much has actually been pretty valuable for me in a lot of ways. More on all of this in the coming days.

Now I'm heading back home though, so you'll be hearing from me more regularly again. And hopefully I'll figure out the mess with the technical stuff. Ugh.

Friday, May 9, 2008

experiencing technical difficulties

I'm away from home with not much time to mess around with computer problems for the next few days...and all my "stuff" here seems to have been links, sidebar stuff, etc.

I'll try to figure it out over the next few days, but till then, as Depeche Mode says, "Enjoy the Silence."

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's like riding a bike...

I really hate when I find myself having to make decisions and choices based solely on the fact that I'm female. I'd been trying to ride my bike more since I don't live within walking distance of too many places. A couple weeks ago, I was out for a bike ride...I actually wasn't alone, but we'd wound up on separate sides of the streets because I'm kind of pokey.

Anyway, he stopped to mess with his brakes or something, and it was getting dark, so I decided to stop and wait too. While I was waiting, a group of five really big guys came walking down the sidewalk. I didn't think too much of it. Until they stopped. And decided to "chat" - "how you doing?" "where are you going?" "that's a nice bike" "why are you waiting here?" Then I noticed they were all drinking. And blocking the path. One of them decided it was appropriate for him to rub my back.

That was when I got really pissed. And nervous. And pissed because I felt nervous. Then I rode away, figuring my guy on the other side of the street, oblivious to all of this, would catch up. And that's pretty much the end of the story.

I wish I had smacked the guy who touched me. I wish I had said some bad words to them. But I felt too scared.

I actually live in one of the safest big cities in the whole country. That proverbial bad apple though, is the one I was thinking about when I restrained myself.

Because of those jerks I now have avoided riding my bike on several occasions because I wasn't sure I'd make it home before dark.

I did a woman's studies minor in college, and this was one issue that I could never really resolve satisfactorily. There will always be a physical power imbalance between men and women. Getting paid less and tolerating borderline inappropriate comments from co-workers is one thing, but things like being afraid of some idiot morons and making transportation decisions based on these idiots ticks me off because there’s nothing I can do about it.

I guess I could buy mace, but that’s not my style.

I could pretend these issues don’t exist, but I really don’t think that’s a prudent idea.

Anyway, I know this is only vaguely on topic, but it’s been bothering me since it happened. I’d like to say I feel better having written about it, but I don’t.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

more thoughts about groceries...

Aside from the fact that it’s very alarming how much decent food costs these days, it’s one of the few line items on my monthly budget that I have any control over. Our mortgage payment is not going down anytime soon, car insurance costs what it costs, and although I’m cutting my electricity and water usage as much as I can, the monetary savings are a nice side effect – but those changes were primarily motivated by environmental concerns, not by any expectation that they’d fund my retirement account any time soon.

I mentioned yesterday how I bring a list to the store with me, with alternate meals ready in case any of the ingredients needed for my “first choice” meals are ridiculously expensive.

I’ve also taken the idea of mix and match out of the closet and into the kitchen. I don’t waste much food, but I would be lying if I said I never pull out a container of something and find it all covered with fuzzy green mold. So I’ve started doing mix and match meals. All this means is that I try to make sure that I can use ingredients that I’m purchasing (or making) for more than one meal. For example, if I have quesadillas one night, and serve sour cream with them, I’ll make potato torte or potato pancakes later in the week to use up the sour cream before it turns into a penicillin factory.

I’ve also started putting more thought into cooking. I’m not a super instinctive cook, but I do have a tendency to be lazy about it – I follow the recipe exactly rather than thinking about why it’s calling for each ingredient. I’ve been trying to break this habit. For example, a lot of soups call for veggies that are not all mandatory, when I think about it. Ok, for potato leek soup, you don’t want to skip the potatoes, but if you’re making a veggie soup featuring kale and chard, why not throw in the beet greens that you haven’t figured out how to use? Leave the carrots out if you don't have them. If I have all the ingredients on hand except one or two that are non-vital, I can skip a trip to the store…because too often, even with a list in hand, a trip to the store means I grab more than what I really need.

I’ve also been trying to find ways to use the bits I would have previously discarded as “scraps.” Those beet greens I mentioned above? I didn’t even know they were edible until recently. Hey, I paid for them, so why not use them? Heather suggests saving water from steaming veggies to freeze and use as soup stock…where I live, we pay for water, and I paid for the vitamins and minerals that leeched into the water…and more importantly, it saves me from having to buy a soup base next time I need one. When making butter, instead of pouring that milky stuff down the drain, I set it aside. I can use it in bread or pastry crusts.

Speaking of crusts, I made one today for a pot pie…I also threw an extra one in the freezer. It was just as easy to make a second one while I had the stuff out, and it’ll save me time on a busy day in the future. It’ll also save me from caving to the temptation of take out if I know I have an alternative that’s just as easy, and free.

Ironically, my effort to save on my food budget has necessitated a few purchases recently. I got a used canning and regular funnel on ebay. I’ve made the ginger ale a few times more, but I’m embarrassed to admit I was using a funnel I made myself from a yogurt lid and a stapler. That part would be fine, if it worked, but it doesn’t really. I’m not that handy. It kind of just makes a mess. Since I get bored drinking just water, and I think making the ginger ale myself is a good compromise versus buying sodas and juices, I figured a small investment was worthwhile in the long term rather than risking getting fed up with the messes I was making and giving up on the whole project altogether.

Finally, in line with Blue Collar Crunch’s challenge this month, I’ve realized one area that I need to be more present when I’m shopping…I get super irritated when somebody drives while talking on the phone because they’re usually swerving or sitting at a green light until it turns red. I realized today that the same effects happen whatever you’re doing while talking on the phone - including shopping. While on one level I appreciate the fact that my sub-conscious grabbed a pint of Rum Raisin Haagen Das and put it in my grocery cart while I was engrossed in my phone call, that’s not really being mindful.

And now I feel hungry…

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Leeks, leeks, more leeks...

Originally uploaded by adactio
Something a bit unexpected has come up in the challenge to eat more local food. I had realized I'd have less of some things I normally eat, such as pears, red peppers, or bok choy, and I was okay with that.

What I hadn't quite counted on was just how much of some other things I'd be eating. Our CSA box is meant to provide a family of 2 - 4 with veggies (with some occasional fruit) for a week. We're only two, and I will say we have a hard time eating all this produce every week.

Salad greens and spinach there have been plenty of, but that's an easy one. I just make salads. Other things like chard and strawberries I've only received once and it was easy to use them up.

Three items in particular though, I've received lots of: radishes, leeks, and asparagus.

I've made a big batch of potato leek soup. I've pickled some asparagus - it's supposed to be great in bloody marys. The radishes are good chopped and put on bread with butter.

The problem is, I still have lots of all these veggies left...and I need to use them up. So I'm asking for your input...anybody willing to share a great recipe using leeks, asparagus, or radishes as the main ingredient?

Post it in the comment and I'll give it a try in the next few days. Thanks in advance for sharing!

Friday, May 2, 2008

If I only had a brain...

koi fish
Originally uploaded by Swami Stream

Do you ever distinctly remember reading something about something but can't recall ANY of the details? This happens to me each and every time I'm at the fish counter in the store. I know I read something about tilapia, but was it that it was being overfished? No it was that it had high mercury levels. No, low mercury levels. Is wild better than farm raised? I stand there every time, trying to remember, but details about different fish species just isn't something my brain chooses to hold onto.

I found this great little "shopper's card" at The Green Guide, a site by National Geographic. I have a few issues with some of their suggestions...for example, they did a large segment on paper products in the home, and I couldn't see a single suggestion for handkerchiefs, just a detailed analysis about recycled paper products. I'm not perfect either though, and overall, they have some good info.

I'm going to shrink it down to a size that I can fold and fit in my wallet. The shopper's guide is nice because it indicates whether it is a "no" or "sometimes" fish for reasons of overfishing or mercury. I like knowing the reasons behind things.

It does make me wonder though...if the FDA doesn't allow dairy farmers to claim that hormone free milk is healthy for us, why do they allow us to buy poisonous fish?

I figure maybe if I feel more confident about which fish I can buy without feeling too guilty, I'll eat more of it - it's supposed to be good for the brain, after all, and maybe it'll help improve my memory so eventually I don't need to carry the shopper's card anymore!

I was disapointed that orange roughie was on the "no no" list because of high mercury content, since it's one of my favorites, but as many wise people over the years have said, it's not the only fish in the sea.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Would you rather...

Eliminate hunger and disease, or be able to bring lasting world peace? OK, this is just a mental exercise, but it hopefully makes you think (and the rules of the game say you're not allowed to say "both"). I had a page-a-day calendar like this one year, and I find myself going through “would you rather” scenarios almost daily lately.

Would I rather…drive to the store and buy canning supplies to can the three bunches of asparagus about to rot in my fridge, or save the car trip, not spend any money or purchase anything, and toss the veggies?

Would I rather…buy a can of spray paint to re-finish the pink wooden chest I got for free, and use it as a tv stand, or buy environmentally friendly paint, convince myself that I’d do the additional work of sanding before painting, but run the likely risk that I’d never get around to actually doing the project and end up purchasing a new piece of furniture?

Would I rather…buy the organic bananas at Whole Foods that have plastic wrapped around the top, or the conventional bananas with no extra wrapping?

Would I rather…get my milk in a plastic bottle at the store that I can walk to, or drive to the store that is too far away to walk to, but has milk in reusable glass bottles?

The point is that this stuff isn’t always easy, and the right choice isn’t always a no-brainer. Sure, there are some things that are obvious…would I rather get junk mail that I can recycle or get none? Obviously, I’d rather get none. Most choices, however, once we’ve figured out the easy stuff, are not so clear, and require a careful analysis of what we think might be best for the planet, our wallets, and our lifestyles.

I hate throwing away food, so I bought the canning supplies. The packaging was minimal and recyclable, and I’ll be able to get many uses out of each of the jars. I also bought the spray paint. Probably not a great choice, but I hate painting projects and knew I would never actually get around to using the eco-friendly paint, so I made the choice that worked for me. Sometimes we’ll find a third option, like with the bananas…I did without, and bought pears and apples instead. The milk is a draw for me: if it’s the only thing I need, I walk, but if I’m out doing errands anyway, I’ll go to the store with the glass bottles.

I know these aren’t probably all the right choices, from a strict waste or carbon analysis, but just like my decision to go flexitarian, they’re choices that I can work into my lifestyle without making me feel so overwhelmed that I throw up my hands and say “forget all this” – because for me, the wrong choice is the one that I can’t maintain.