Thursday, July 31, 2008

Digging through the trash

I was out exploring with my Dad today, and he took me to one of his favorite spots: an old trash dump! He's quite the treasure hunter!

It was amazing looking at what had been chucked. We weren't sure about the exact age of the site, but we're guessing it was not used after the 1950s, and we really have no idea when it started being used.

The most common items there were bottles, in every shape, size, and color. There were also a lot of pieces of broken dishes, a lot of shoe parts, many rusting out metal pots, buckets, cans, and even an old Model T Ford chassis, with the license plate still attached. Things were still recognizable, but were definitely well on their way to decay and decomposition. Nothing was bagged up. I guess garbage bags weren't invented back then.

I was thinking about all the plastic in our lives, and what one of our trash dumps might look like in a hundred years. I fear that it won't be evident whether our trash was left a year earlier or a century earlier. I worry that nothing in our landfills will be slowly returning back into the earth, but will be sitting there perfectly preserved as if in an Egyptian tomb.

It reminded me all over again just why it's so important to be cognizant of what materials the products I buy are made from. Sure it's great if I can recycle a plastic milk bottle when I'm done with it, but if a glass version is available, wouldn't I rather have that? Serving utensils in my kitchen will eventually break. When this happens, don't I want to worry about how to dispose of a piece of wood rather than plastic, even if that plastic has another use before it's finally thrown away? I know I'm not the first one to think about this issue, but sometimes we need our own experiences to make things hit home for us. Looking at a pile of somebody's relatively sustainable garbage made me realize that although I've cut my trash output drastically, what trash I do create isn't going anywhere anytime soon. That's not the kind of legacy I'm hoping to leave.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

um, seriously?

OK, I was flying today, and I never leave an airport without being irritated about something.

You know that rule they have at the airport now about no liquids over 3 ounces can be carried past the security checkpoint? Things like plastic water bottles are strictly verboten past the metal detectors these days. Well, if you've been in airport recently, you've observed the tossing of countless contraband bottles. Straight into the TRASH CAN.

Can somebody get the TSA a couple recycling bins? Please? I mean, they have these giant garbage bins there anyway for people to toss the bottles into. Couldn't they make it a recycling bin as easily as a trash bin?

Or is recycling some kind of a security threat now too?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trim your waste (and your waist)

I'm off today for a whirlwind tour - I have three weddings to attend in the next three weeks, for two great friends as well as my brother. It should be a lot of fun with a lot of opportunities to catch up with friends and family I haven't seen in a long time. I hope to be able to post over the next three weeks, but at best, it will be sporadic.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a quick tip. When eating in restuarants lately with the picky eater, we've noticed that we often don't need to both order our own entree. We'll start with an appetizer to share, then move on to one entree, and then if we're still hungry, we'll order something else. Sure, it takes a bit longer, but the point of going out to a restuarant with somebody else is often to spend quality time anyway, right?

This method reduces our waste and saves us money, in addition to giving us a little extra time to linger and chat - I can't complain about any of that.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Can't get enough APLS?

If, like me, you've been loving all the activity of the APLS lately, you're going to love this! For those of you who are just arriving to the party, APLS stands for Affluent People Living Sustainably. There's been lots of good bloggy discussions on the subject, and we've even got a facebook group going with lots of great conversation and interactions. But the fun doesn't stop there!

Green Bean, Arduous, and I have teamed up to create the APLS Blog - a home base of sorts for a monthly blog carnival on issues surrounding being an affluent person and living sustainably (and if you're cringing at the use of the word affluent, or thinking it doesn't apply to you, I really encourage you to check out the global rich list, as well as some of the assorted blog discussions or the facebook group).

This blog is designed for anybody who is trying to live more sustainably. If you're trying, you qualify! You don't have to own a composting toilet, or power your home with solar panels to be an APLS (although if you do, that's awesome too!). You don't even have to have a green blog - or any blog at all. We want anyone and everyone who is interested to come and join us.

I'll be hosting the first carnival on August 15th, and am really excited to see what you all come up with. As we've all been learning, APLS are better together, and this is just one more way for us to share our knowledge, our questions, our inspirations, our concerns, and our hopes.

We also are hoping to eventually use this blog to organize some regionally based community building opportunities. There's been a lot of interest expressed in this area, and we think it's pretty exciting too - if you'd like to be involved in getting APLS organized in your area, send us an email. We'll definitely need your participation to make this work!

Hope to see you at the APLS blog!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

pat yourself on the back day

Various bloggers, myself included, have recognized our green "failures" from time to time - we forget to bring our reusable bags into the store, we make an unplanned stop for coffee with friends and don't have our reusable mugs along, or we indulge in a can of soda even though we've sworn it off. Acknowledging these little lapses is an important thing to do so that we can move forward past them. We recognize that overall, our efforts and successes are more important than our slip-ups in the end, and we move on.

Today, though, I'm declaring an official "pat yourself on the back day" - a day to acknowledge one thing that you're proud of yourself for doing this week, or month, and to give yourself credit for it. As important as it is to acknowledge the little mistakes we make, I think it's equally crucial to reflect on the things we're doing right.

My pat on the back is for something pretty simple really. My book club meets at the biggest Whole Foods I've ever been in. They have two cafe / bistro areas in there. The first serves ice cream, pastries, coffee and such, and the second serves sandwiches, fries, wine, and more entree like items. I've figured that if I enter the building at the end near the ice cream, I can enjoy one scoop by the time I get to the bistro at the other end where we meet, just in time to enjoy a glass of wine over our book discussion. Mindful eating? Not really. Discretionary eating? Absolutely. But I really love their cardamom ice cream, and I haven't found anywhere else to get it, so I'm probably going to continue this little habit.

On the other hand, I remembered to bring along the (washed) disposable plastic cup they'd served it in last time, and when I ordered, I handed it back to the girl, who looked shocked for a second, then thanked me for bringing it, and filled it up for me.

It's a little thing, but I was very proud of myself, for some reason, of having remembered to bring that little cup along.

So let's hear from you - what's one thing you'd like to pat yourself on the back for? It can be a little thing or a big thing, but leave a comment and tell us what it is, and give yourself some credit!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

well that was easy!

I've given up microwave popcorn. Since I'm the one who does the shopping in this house, we've both given up microwave popcorn. It hasn't been a very popular decision around here, and it means I've spent more time than I'd like shaking a heavy pot with oil and popcorn seeds over a hot burner.

So today, I tried a little experiment. I reused a small brown paper bag (we get lots of these in our CSA share holding tomatoes, squash, and such) and placed about a quarter cup of plain old yellow popcorn kernels into it, and folded the top shut. I read online that one staple would be ok in the microwave, which I believe, since my tea bags have small staples that don't do any damage, but we actually have a cool staple-less stapler that I used just to be on the safe side.

I put it in for a little over 2 minutes, and voila! freshly popped popcorn, ready to be seasoned however I wish.

It's definitely a good way to save some money, and it absolutely cuts down on waste. Plus I've heard some concerns lately about commercially produced microwave popcorn, and this way I can be sure there are no nasty chemicals in there.

I'm glad I figured this's way too hot to be shaking that pot over a hot stove today!

Monday, July 21, 2008

any volunteers?

The 30-Day No Trash Challenge is looking for its next challengee. It's a pretty cool way to examine your habits, especially if you're just getting into raising your awareness about your impact on the environment.

They say it better than I could, so from their website:

Various authors embark on a 30-day challenge to be trash-free and blog about it along the way. You can be next!
In the end, it's not just about a 30-day challenge. That's just the beginning. It's about learning how to be mindful of the waste you create on a day to day basis and using the 30 days to pick up new habits, incorporating those changes into your daily life & hopefully making an impact in the long run. How It Started: One day, on a whim, Miss Dayva decided it would be interesting to challenge herself to go sans trash for a month. And so her quest to be trash-free began. Anything that cannot be composted, recycled or reused in a meaningful way, is considered trash that would end up in a landfill and that's what she wanted to avoid. She has since completed her challenge and has now passed the buck. Ashley is the latest 30-day No Trash Challenge participant but we hope there will be more to come.

So if you think you're up for it, check out the blog, drop Ashley a note and give it a try!

don't hate me because I'm basil-ful

I've fallen in love, all over again. Basil is my new passion.

It started off innocently enough, with a simple pasta dish featuring goat cheese, grape tomatoes, zuchinni, and basil. Things started to heat up when I whipped up this lovely salad starring nectarines and basil.

This week, with the delivery of my CSA box, the fates seemed to be begging us not to let our love die, when I received another enormous bunch of the sweet smelling stuff. Tomato sandwiches, featuring just-picked tomatoes, local sourdough, a drizzle of olive oil, thick slices of mozzarella, and of course, basil, have been the featured item on the lunch menu for the past several days. The logical progression of our relationship led to some delectable bruschetta, featuring the same ingredients as the sandwiches, minus the mozarella, with a healthy dollop of garlic in its place.

I was on a roll at this point, and found so many recipes online for pesto that I couldn't help whipping up a batch to throw in the freezer.

I had some slightly sour blackberries from last week's farmer's market sitting in the fridge, and decided to introduce them to my new love...and with a little inspiration, was soon enjoying a delicious blackberry basil sorbet.

It's been a whirlwind few days, and I've enjoyed every moment that I've been blessed to spend with my basil. There's still a healthy sized bunch sitting in a vase of water, making my kitchen smell heavenly. Like all good food things, however, I know the season of the basil won't last forever. But until the season is officially passed, I plan to enjoy every minute we have together. And when we must say goodbye, I'll probably shed a tear or two, but I know that fate wants us to be together, and I am sure our paths will cross again around this time next year.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

the (almost) zero waste watermelon

Watermelon is in season here, and it's one of my favorites. Next time you enjoy one, though, don't throw the rind away...use it to make preserves! They're delicious (probably because of all the sugar), it's one more way to cut down on food waste, and it wasn't too much work at all.

The recipe is here - the only advice I would give is that although the finished product is quite soft, the rinds were still rather crispy for me until I let it cool and sit for a while. Then, however, they were wonderful and delicious. And now the first batch is gone. Guess I'll just have to eat more watermelon.


Friday, July 18, 2008

today was a good day

Do you ever have one of those days where everything just kind of works out really nicely? I know we've all had the other kind, where nothing works out, but I think it's important to stop and appreciate the days we do have where everything just flows.

I had some errands to run this morning, one of which included mailing a rather bulky, though not heavy box. I had some other errands to run afterwords that made walking out of the question, and I was a little nervous to try to balance this box and ride the bike, but I figured I'd give it a shot. So I did, and was so glad I didn't break down and drive, because it turns out I was able to finish all my errands in the strip mall where the post office is. So I decided to take advantage of the sudden free time and the fact that I was already out with the bike and go exploring.

There's a very cute neighborhood about 3.5 miles away from us with an adorable Main Street feel to it, and I've been meaning to go spend some time down there for about a year now. So I hopped on the bike and started pedaling. I didn't get lost, and I managed to avoid the expressway (a scary mistake I'd made once before!). I arrived at my destination a little sweaty but otherwise doing fine.

I immediately found an adorable little thrift store I'd never seen before. I popped in to see if ther was anything I needed. I found two wonderful books. The first, published in 1974, is titled "English Crewell Designs". I didn't really even know exactly what crewell was (it's a type of embroidery) until I opened the book, but I'd picked it up because the picture on the cover was so cool looking. I'm going to use this book for inspiration and guidance when I start designing my own patterns for hooked rugs. The other book I got is called "Homemade Bread" and is even older than the first, having been published in 1967 - but still in great condition. I was thinking I should buy it when I read on the inside flap "For everyone who is tired of 'instant living'", but I was convinced when I flipped open to a random page and found myself looking at a picture of the same Easter Egg Bread my mom used to make when I was little! There are a ton of other recipes in here, and I'm psyched that the book was written before bread machines were even invented! In total, I spent $1.62 on these two books!

I puttered around a while longer, popping into an independently owned bookstore that I try to support, having a snack at a small, locally owned deli, and finally hopping back on the bike and heading back home. When I was just over a mile from home, I noticed a sign I hadn't seen before, reading "India Mart" and I decided to investigate. Apparently they've just opened within the past month, and the woman working there was super nice! She was obviously very proud of her shop and took me on a tour of the small aisles, explaining all the items they planned on stocking in the future. They had a good assortment of all the basics needed for Indian cooking. She told me she wanted this to be a community shop and to please ask her if there were things we wanted her to stock that we didn't see and she'd order them for us. I bought a few things that I didn't necessarily need but knew we'd use eventually and went on my way, feeling like I'd made a new friend. I'll definitely be shopping there again!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better today, I arrived home, and in my mailbox was sitting the copy of "New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant" that I'd been waiting for several months to pop up on paperback swap (if you haven't checked it out yet, I can't recommend it highly enough!).

Now I'm off to make some sorbet and continue enjoying this wonderful day. By the way, don't forget to check out the APLS group on facebook if you haven't yet. There are some really wonderfully interesting discussions happening there, and we'd love to have you chime in!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

a blanket, some music, a bottle of wine...

...and you've got yourself a great evening in the park! Where I live, there are TONS of free events in the summer time. Jazz on the Plazz, Concerts in the Park, Music in the Park, it's hard to keep them all straight! If I wanted to, I could attend at least two nights of free music every week (and yes, a lot of the parks around here let you bring wine, as long as you're responsible, whatever that means)!

I've always enjoyed these events, and have been attending them since we moved here over a year ago. It's a great way to spend time with friends without spending money, and also to get outdoors and enjoy the summer. I love sneaking peeks at what's inside other people's picnic baskets, and chatting with friends, running into people we weren't expecting to see, meeting new friends, watching kids running around and playing. Oh yeah, and listening to the music, too. Sure beats sitting home watching TV! (Besides, we have one of those recorder things, so when the concerts happen to fall on the same night as "So You Think You Can Dance" I'm not forced to make those hard choices. Now you know my guilty TV love).

This year, I've noticed a much, much larger crowd at these events each week than ever before. So many people that blankets literally overlap each other, leaving no space for people to pass in between. Is it the economy? Are people trying to find cheap entertainment? Or have the masses started realizing that the best things in life really are free?

What's great is that it's totally not focused on spending money. Sure, people bring food and drinks that they've bought, but we were all going to eat dinner anyway. A lot of people bring food that was obviously cooked at home, and even among those eating take-out, there's not a lot of chain restaurant food to be found in the areas around the parks. Where the jazz concert is, they don't even allow vendors into the park.

And I even get a chance to do my small bit of leading by example too. I make sure to bring my cloth napkins and my sigg, as well as non-disposable cups, silverware, etc. And this is California, after all, so of course they have giant recycling bins to collect the wine bottles and keep them out of the landfill.

Sure, I could meet my friends for a movie, and we could spend $50 in the process, but in the end, we wouldn't have actually spent much time together. And when I look back a year, or two, or ten from now, I know the concerts in the park will be much more memorable.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

the silence is deafening

Just an update on the situation with Coca Cola in India - after receiving a form letter response to my letter to them, I wrote back, as I didn't find their answers satisfactorily addressed my concerns.

It's been almost two weeks now, and they haven't responded. Either a real person is taking the time to write an actual well thought out response and actually address the issue, or they're ignoring me.

I have a guess which it is, but I certainly will be sure to post about it if I do receive a response.

The good news is, I think I'm over my love affair with Diet Coke once and for all as a result of this!

Come hang out with the APLS

Carrying on with the theme that building communities of all sorts is an important part of living a more sustainable lifestyle, Green Bean today introduced the apple bushel. APLS was an acronym created a few months ago over on Arduous' blog to describe those of us who live an (at least relatively) affluent lifestyle and strive for sustainability (APLS = Affluent People Living Sustainably). Hence, the apple bushel is a place for us to introduce ourselves and to meet some new APLS.

As a continuation of the community building efforts, we've created an APLS group on facebook. It's an open group, so anybody can join. Come check it out! (And if you're not on facebook yet, it's probably time you got an account!)

EDIT to apologize for messing up green bean's's not the apple bushel, it's the bushel basket. I knew it sounded wrong as I was writing it and now that I've had a nap, my head is much clearer. Sorry bout that!

Monday, July 14, 2008

rock the vote

I've been fairly busy lately, in part because I've been participating in a few events for the Obama campaign (despite the controversy of the recent vote on FISA). I'm not trying to sway anybody to vote one way or the other, but rather to explain how being involved in a campaign has been a very positive experience for me.

Most of what I've been doing thus far has been registering voters. This isn't strictly campaigning, because we register anybody during these events, regardless of what their political leanings are. We usually have a little table of some sort set up, with the voter registration cards, and some buttons and bumper stickers for sale. This is done at places like free outdoor concerts in the park and at the farmers market. People stop by and chat while they browse and fill out voter registration cards. I've spoken to people of all different ages, and races, political afiliations, and nationalities.

Perhaps one of my favorite conversations I've had while registering voters was with a five year old girl. She seemed pretty bright, and asked me about what I was doing. I explained the presidency and elections to her as best I could, and told her the names of the two candidates. I showed her a picture of Obama and had to apologize to her when she asked me to show her a picture of McCain. I could tell she was still confused about something though, and, making a sweeping gesture that encompassed the whole table I was sitting at, she asked, "But why are you doing all of this?"

What a fair question, I thought. I explained that we really liked one person more than the other to be our next president, and that we just wanted to tell other people that and answer any questions they might have. But that's not really a reason, I thought. Why was I doing all of this?

What inspires me to be involved now, at this moment, is that for the first time, I feel like I really care about an election in a positive way. In the past, I've only really wanted certain individuals to not be elected (and yes, I am referring most specifically to Bush here, especially since I'm too young to have done any presidential voting before him), and have never felt passionately that I cared whether any particular person take office. This time, it's different. I really want this man to be my next president.

I'm sick of not caring, and sick of expecting the worst from our "leaders". I'm sick of being cynical and waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm sick of the apathy, and of expecting to be disappointed. I'm sick of the intolerance, and the institutional condoning of intolerance. This is not what I expect from my political system or from my country. It's not what I was taught to expect growing up. I realize that utopia is not just over the horizon waiting for us to elect the right leader, but I also realize that as a nation, we have a lot more potential than an outsider might think to look at us right now.

All this thinking about why I care now about the presidential elections in a way I never had before reminded me of a post by arduous, in which she stated "We can't resign ourselves to doom AND also believe in a brighter tomorrow" - I guess I'm not ready to resign myself to doom. Sure, this country is a big old mess in a lot of ways. I'm not so naive to believe that it's even just one big old mess. We've got lots of messes (Iraq, social security, health care, and of course, the environment, for starters). I don't feel a sense of doom about any of these things. I realized that what I've always felt in the past was a sense of fatigue with the status quo.

I don't believe in magic "president fairies" that wave a wand and make everything alright. I actually am one of those cynical people who believe that a person's electability as president automatically makes him or her a less than ideal person for the job. I also, however, recognize the reality of the world in which I live, and realize that the system we have in place now is what we have to work with. I do believe also that change is possible. I know it's what I want, and I know it's what a lot of other Americans want too. Whatever candidate you support, and in whatever election, be it local, state, or federal, I believe that we need to start becoming more involved in our political processes. By doing so, we are actively helping to shape our future rather than passively waiting for it to happen to us.

That, my little friend from the park, is why I am doing all of this.

(And no more politics for a while, I promise!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

please try not to lick the plate

I was at a local farmer's market today to do some voter registration, and couldn't help picking up a few items. I had this thing about basil paired with either nectarines or blackberries stuck in my head. So I picked up a big bunch of fresh, local, organic basil and brought it home.

I wish I could take credit for the rest of the inspiration, but I must give credit where it is due. The name alone was enough for me to fall in love: nectarine and basil salad with goat cheese. I was lucky to have a goat cheese on hand already (although not the specific one mentioned in the original post, but it was local), and I didn't even know what Prosecco was, so I asked my friend wikipedia and decided I could make do with about a quarter teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar, which I did have on hand. The total prep time was under five minutes, and the only non-local ingredient was the balsamic vinegar.

This isn't one of those salads that you eat when you're really hungry. It's one of those salads that you make because you want to enjoy the flavors of the season. It's also one of those salads you can make if your spouse's boss is coming for dinner and you want to serve something local, yet pretty and fancy and impressive.

I'm not sure I've ever felt so happy eating local before. It was heavenly.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

check it out...

There's a cool site for all of you who enjoy reading the green's Alltop - it's like one big giant aggregator of a whole bunch of different green sites (and actually, they have lots of other topics too!).

You'll probably see some of your old favorites there, and you may even stumble upon a new gem or two.

Another great website to check out is WalkScore - it'll give you a score on how "walkable" your current or potential neighborhood is - just enter the address and it'll give you a map with results of all the different things that are within walking distance. It's a great tool to scope out a new neighborhood if you're considering a move in the near future, and it's also a neat way to find some hidden gems if, like me, you're still relatively new to the area you live in. One more way to help reduce car use and energy consumption!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nordstrom, I'm voting you off the island

Nordstrom is a place that I'm officially declaring I won't shop at. OK, it's true that I can't really afford to shop there anyway (seriously...a Juicy Couture Baby 2 piece fleece set, on sale for $64.90, back up to $98 after the sale!?!?!?!? And girls jeans on sale for $86.90, back to $130 post sale!? Obviously somebody is buying this stuff, but man. I guess I'm cheaper than I thought!)

So anyway, I got this catalog because it was addressed to the woman who lived here 2 or 3 owners back. So I went on to catalog choice to opt out. Guess what? Nordstrom doesn't choose to participate in that program. So I called them and asked them to stop sending them, but it really irritates me that I had to take the time out of my day to do that - and then, of course, to complain about it here!

The irony is they are definitely trying to greenwash their customers, by putting a note on the back cover of the catalog stating how their catalog is 30% recycled content and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, but if they really wanted to help people be more eco-friendly, they'd make it easy for people to not get the catalog in the first place.

This is my first experience with a merchant not participating in catalog choice. For those of you who haven't found this little gem yet, go check it out. For those of you who are already using it to manage which catalogs you receive, have any other merchants refused your requests? How successful do you feel it's been in cutting down unwanted catalogs in your mailbox?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Potty Training

I'm in the process of potty training right now. No, I don't have any kids. I do, however, have a cat. For the record, I'm not one of those people who thinks of my pets as a substitute for children, and I don't dress him up in little outfits. Although he is pretty cute.

But yes, we are potty training the cat. Why, you ask? Well, many reasons, but basically, in the long run, if this works out, it will save me time and money, reduce waste, and is healthier for the cat. How? Well, let's take a look at cat litter. It requires that I clean a litter box every day or two. That takes time that I'd rather spend, anything else, really. Cat litter also costs money. It's not crazy expensive, but money is money, and I like to save it where I can. Of course, when I clean out the box, the used litter has to be disposed of (read: sent to the landfill), so cutting out the litter box will cut out this waste, and the waste of the packaging for the litter. Not to mention that cat litter is really heavy, so I'm cutting out all the energy of transporting it from wherever it is made to my home. Plus, another big consideration is that the method for extracting the clay used to make cat litter is strip mining. Not cool. Finally, there are reasons to think that the fine dust particles in cat litter is harmful to your cat, and possibly even you.

So yep, I'm potty training the cat. Well, I'm trying anyway. I'll save you the long drawn out details of how it all works, but somebody got me this wonderful little system as a's actually a pretty simple solution, wouldn't you agree?

If nothing else, I figure this is good practice for if we ever have kids.

Edit: One reader was right to point out that there is some concern that cat feces (specifically, the germ named Toxoplasma gondii, the same thing they warn pregnant women about when dealing with cat litter boxes) may be responsible for killing sea otters here in California. She is absolutely right, this is a concern, although at least one source mentions that things like a colony of 40 - 50 feral cats in Monterey and storm drain runoff contaminated by cats who do their business outdoors, are at least of equal concern at this point as household sewage. That's not really a good answer though - as long as we don't really know where the problem is stemming from, we can't just cross our fingers and hope it's not something we're doing. I checked the American Veterinary Medical Association website, and I'm no scientist, but I think this system will be safe for my cat, since he never goes outside, and he eats only packaged food. Here is what the AVMA has to say:

The most common way that cats become infected with T. gondii is from eating infected mice, birds, and other small animals.
For indoor cats, the most likely source is uncooked meat scraps. When a cat eats meat or other tissues from infected animals, it becomes infected with T. gondii and can excrete millions of oocysts in its feces each day. This release of oocysts can continue for more than two weeks. After the initial infection and shedding period, most cats will not pass oocysts in their feces again, even if re-infected.
Basically, I can't be 100% positive that my cat is not still excreting these cysts (this really sounds so gross; there's a good reason I'm not a doctor), but I can be fairly certain that he's "clean". If I had an outdoor cat, or lived in an old house where my cat was constantly killing mice, I would not find the risk acceptable. I think in this case, however, the small risk is outweighed by the benefits of another 8 - 15 years worth of environmental impact that would be caused by keeping him on the litter. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sea Salt Scrub (in under 5 minutes, for under $5)

I've been wanting to write about some homemade health and beauty products for a while now, but the thing is, I like to actually try stuff before I write about it. And the problem is, I'm a bit of a hoarder. And, well, ok, I'll confess: when we moved to California (over a year ago), we were moving from a state with no sales tax. And what's more, we had a moving company, all paid for, to move whatever stuff we had. So, I headed over to Costco and stocked up. Like a crazy lady. I must have bought at least 100 rolls of toilet paper. Enough dishwasher tablets to stock a busy restaurant. So much lotion that the woman at the checkout probably thought I was filming another Silence of the Lambs movie.

Point is, I haven't needed a lot of cosmetic products since we've moved (and there's a lot that I still don't need - I predict that at current rates of consumption, I'll have celebrated my first and possibly second wedding anniversary before I need to buy more deoderant).

Finally, though, yesterday, I found a need for a product I didn't have stashed away! We were all out of exfoliating scrubs of any kind. I saw my chance and jumped on it, whipping up this batch of sea salt scrub super quickly - and cheaply.

Here are the directions:

Take 1 Cup of sea salt, and mix with 1/2 Cup of grapeseed oil (heads up on this one, I thought it came in a green bottle - nope, the oil itself is green! Which is a little odd, but now you know what to expect). Add 5 drops or so of essential oil (I used lemongrass). Mix it all together really well.

To use, just rub into skin, and rinse off (don't use on open cuts - that'll really hurt). It exfoliates and moisturizes! Also, I haven't tried it with this particular scrub, but I was at a spa with a friend recently and they used a salt scrub to clean her rings and make them all shiny and new looking.

And the best part is, I know there are no little plastic particles hiding out in there waiting to make their way down my drain and into the oceans. The packaging is reduced, because I'm buying stuff I'd either buy anyway, like the salt, or buying in larger quantities than if I purchased a scrub from a salon (to make 5 or 6 batches of this, I'll have one salt container and one grapeseed oil bottle to recycle, rather than 5 or 6 scrub bottles to recycle). The final cool thing is that the ingredients cost me about $22 - but I have enough left over to make a few more batches of this stuff, and the essential oil, which was the most expensive at $10.50, will last for many many batches. Plus I can use the grapeseed oil and the salt for cooking as well. I'm certain this is cheaper than buying a salt scrub at a spa, and I'm also certain it works just as well. Even if it is the color of pistachio icecream.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

From zero to hero

A lot of what I've learned lately has focused on failing. Failing at things is fine; it teaches us what not to do, so that when we try again, our results are even better than we may have initially expected. Or at least what we wanted the first time around. The only big problem with failing is that it often creates waste - and food waste at that, which is my personal least favorite type of waste.

I, like everyone out there, have experienced my share of failures. I've made tortillas so brittle they'd crack if you dropped them. Loaves of bread that can prop a door open. Last weekend I bought strawberries at the farmer's market, and got sidetracked when I got home - and didn't remember the berries until two days later, when I found that a huge bunch of them had already started to mold (despite my best efforts, yes, my house is often so messy that I can overlook a flat of strawberries for two days. Sad, but true).

Two weekends ago, my picky eater brought home a big bag full of plums - somebody on his cricket team had a tree in their yard and decided to share. Only problem was, there were too many plums for us to eat before they became worm food. No problem though; I knew what to do with these - make jam! We green bloggers are jam making experts.

I, however, am also supremely lazy. So I found a recipe for no chopping, no peeling, plum jam.

I followed the directions. Well, mostly, anyway. I didn't have a thermometer, but I cook enough, so I was sure I could tell when everything was ready.

Problem was, even after adding all the sugar I had in the house (literally) and boiling for a really long time, it never turned into jam. It was just a sort of sour, plum sauce.

Sour like rhubarb.

Wait a second...

Rhubard. I love rhubarb!

This stuff was runny though, so I needed to get creative.

I found this recipe for rhubarb cake. Instead of the rhubarb, I substituted half a pint (or so...I'm not exact when it comes to cooking, as you may have noticed....) of the plum sauce for the fruit, and baked this puppy up (minus the orange zest). Picky eater gave it the veto, but in my own mind, I went from zero to hero in sixty seconds flat...this was a winner for me!

The point is, we all fail sometimes. The challenge is not to beat ourselves up over how we fail, but to ask ourselves how we can turn these failures into something succesful. We all try to reuse other things in our lives, why not reuse our food flops to make something useful? Like that delicious cake. I'm going to go have another piece right now...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday Monday...

I figured you might need a good laugh since the end of a long weekend can be a bit depressing, so I highly recommend that you check out the Farmer Love posts at Food on Food. It is some of the funniest writing I've come across yet.

Another one of my random frugality tips for those of you who don't always make your own butter: save the wrappers for greasing baking sheets. I fold them in half and seal them inside a ziploc bag, stored in the refrigerator until it's time to bake. Simply let sit at room temperature for a few minutes, and wipe across the baking sheet. It's something that would be thrown away otherwise, and it helps me avoid some of those mystery ingredients in those spray on it eliminates the waste of the spray cans.

Finally, as promised, a photo of my current project:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What would you choose?

There was an interesting post the other day by Sharon Astyk entitled "Is Electricity Really the Lifeblood of Civilization?" She, like me, ultimately concludes that it isn't as essential as many of us might believe. Of course, right now, it's all theoretical, but there was much discussion about what our world might be like if we don't find a solid alternative energy source. In the course of this discussion, one commenter suggested giving up one appliance in each room.

I probably won't actually do this - mainly because I don't live by myself, and I think it'd be hard work to convince the other occupant of the house to give up any of his toys. I thought it would be a good self-reflection exercise, however, to come up with a list. Below, I go through each room and list what I'd be willing to give up, and which I couldn't bear to part with.

Living room: I could give up the tv and dvd. I'd have a pretty hard time giving up the "stereo" - which for me is my ipod attached to a portable speaker.

Kitchen: I actually think I could give up the refrigerator. A lot of what I keep in there is leftovers, which I only make because I know I can store them. Milk and cheeses would be tough, but I could put these in a cooler along with veggies that need cooling. Most of the condiments I have in there I have only because, again, the refrigerator is there, so why not store them? The freezer would be very tough for me to give up. I store a lot of veggies in there, as well as an assortment of beans and frozen soups and breads.

Bathroom: I've already given up all my electrical appliances in the bathroom. I freecycled my curling iron, and the hairdryer is on a top shelf in the closet for emergencies, but hasn't been used in over a year. That leaves nothing that I couldn't live without.

Laundry room: I'm already using the dryer an average of about once every six months. The washing machine, I'd have a pretty hard time parting with.

Bedroom: the only electric appliance is our alarm clock, which as Sharon's commenter mentioned, could easily be replaced by a wind up version.

Office: I could easily give up most of the stuff in this room, but most of it isn't mine. It's a lot of various games and other small electronics. The one thing that I use that I could maybe part with is the printer. I don't use it much as is, but if I had to bike the three and a half miles to Kinkos every time I wanted to print something, I'd probably make sure only to print really essential things. The one I couldn't part with? That's a no-brainer...the laptop!

What are your must-haves? What could you do without? What are you already doing without?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I'm either a genius...

or the last one to the party. Either way, I wanted to share this little gem I stumbled on today:

If you are out of fresh fruit, you can mix jam with yogurt - and it's delicious!

I didn't have time to defrost any berries this morning, and I'd eaten all the fresh fruit that we had in the house, so I dropped a teaspoon or two of black cherry jam into a cup or so of plain yogurt, added my sunflower and flax seeds, and it was wonderful. Sort of like that stuff you buy in the store that advertises "fruit on the bottom" - except I know exactly what the ingredients were when I enjoyed this. And with a lot less waste. And it's a lot cheaper. I'm guessing kids would really like this, especially if they find regular plain yogurt with fruit mixed in not sweet enough.

In some ways it was better than using fresh fruit because everything was a more similar consistency. And there was no washing or chopping to do. I love figuring new stuff out!

I'm off to enjoy the rest of this long weekend - I hope you all do too!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Here's what I think about that.

Below is the letter that I sent to Coca Cola today regarding the response they've e-mailed me. For any of you particularly interested in labor issues, you may also want to check out this site.

Also, as Organic Needle reminds us, the Coca Cola company owns countless brands. See a really big list of brands owned by Coca Cola here.

To Whom It May Concern:

I received your response to my inquiry regarding the village of Plachimada in India.

Your response was much what I expected, explaining how you hadn’t actually violated any laws. I understand that the court decided you have the right to use local aquifers, but that does not absolve you from your responsibility to do the right thing – and draining a community’s water resources to the point where they can no longer sustain themselves is not the right thing, regardless of what the court says.

Your argument that the water tables would not be adversely affected in conditions of normal rainfall is empty, as you yourself point out that the last few years have not been ones in which normal rainfall has occurred. Apparently your strategy in this case is to carry on as usual despite the fact that the conditions you’ve established to avoid negative environmental impacts have not been met?

I understand that a court ruling in your favor means you may never be held legally accountable for your actions, but I am not bound to judge in accordance with legal rulings, and I am holding you accountable for the damage you’ve done to the community of Plachimada.

Your contention that your biosolids are not hazardous is not comforting. Why were they distributed to farmers in the first place? Because it was the cheapest, easiest way for you to unload your waste? Do you honestly assert that the high levels of cadmium in these solids are not dangerous? If so, you’ve lost all credibility with me. I highly doubt that you’d spread this sludge in your own backyard and allow your children to play in it.

Your product quality information, although interesting, was not the focus of my concerns about your activities in Plachimada.

To reiterate the point of my original letter, which I do not feel has been addressed at all by your response, I would like to know what are you doing to clean up the mess you have made? Although I’m glad that you’ve figured out that in normal rainfall years, you wouldn’t be draining the water tables, and you’ve stopped dumping biosolids on people’s farms, I don’t see anywhere that you’ve addressed the fact that you’ve stressed community water resources in low rainfall years – what are you doing to remedy this? What are you doing to clean up the cadmium in the soil that you are responsible for?

You stated that you do "business around the world honestly, ethically, in compliance with applicable law, and with respect for the basic principles of human decency and justice." Excuse me for saying so, but I disagree. I'd say the only one of these you've got done perfectly is the compliance with applicable law, with some sort of misguided assumption that the rest will follow. Unfortunately, compliance with written law is not a guarantee of honesty, ethical behavior, and certainly carries no assurances regarding basic principles of human decency or justice - that is up to you, and in this regard, you are failing.

Corporate responsibility does not mean telling the world that you are doing the right thing, it means actually doing the right thing. Thus far, I see a serious lack of responsibility on your part.

Thank you for your additional time, and I await a response.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

and the answer is...

Below is the response I received from Coca Cola. I'm working on a reply, which I'll post when I've got it done.

Thank you for your email to The Coca-Cola Company, Melissa. We take your concerns very seriously, and are glad you took the time to contact us. We want to assure you that the Coca-Cola system does business around the world honestly, ethically, in compliance with applicable law, and with respect for the basic principles of human decency and justice.
In connection with our operation in India, concerns have been raised about the amount of groundwater used to produce Coca-Cola beverages, solid waste disposal, and product quality. I want to assure you that we have one set of environmental standards that we follow throughout the world, including India.
Groundwater: An independent study commissioned by the High Court of Kerala found that under normal rainfall conditions, the Coca-Cola bottling facility would not adversely affect ground water levels. The High Court determined that the primary cause of the water shortage in the local Kerala area was reduced rainfall for several years and ruled that the Coca-Cola plant has the right to use water from the local aquifer. Additional steps have been taken throughout our operations in India for rainwater recovery systems and water efficiency gains in the production process.
Solid Waste Disposal: The Coca-Cola Environment & Water Resources Department has reinforced standards with our plant managers in India in connection with the generation, composition and management of biosolids, which are the organic and inorganic materials that remain after the wastewater treatment process. Even though our biosolids are not hazardous, since 2003 we no longer distribute biosolids for agricultural purposes to any area farmers. We also are furthering our work with industry associations and the Indian government to encourage the development of additional solid waste disposal sites and clear government policies regarding disposal.
Product Quality: Pesticides are widely used in agriculture in India, and if misused, have the potential to contaminate water sources and agricultural products. However, we constantly monitor our ingredients and products for quality control and continue to strengthen our processes and procedures to ensure that involuntary contamination by pesticide residues is reduced to a level well within safety limits. Water used in our products is passed through a multi-barrier water treatment system which includes an activated granular carbon filtration and purification process designed to ensure every drop is safe for use in our beverages. We test for traces of pesticide residues in water to the level of parts per billion, which is equivalent to one drop in a billion drops. Other ingredients used in our soft drinks are also safe and meet applicable regulations.
In closing, let us assure you that we are committed to ensuring the quality of our products, adhering to rigorous environmental standards, and responding decisively when our exacting standards are not being met.
Again, thank you for the time to contact us. If you have further questions, please visit
LesleyIndustry and Consumer Affairs
The Coca-Cola Company