Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Green Clean

It's Spring Cleaning Time! Not only because it's my Spring Break at present, but also because during the thesis writing (It's DONE!) my house turned into a sty. I mean, really... it was a total yuck fest. Last spring I used some Method cleaner, but there was also some serious bleach involved. I used disposable cleaning wipes, swiffer carpet sweeper pads, disposable mopping pads and a ton of paper towels. This year, no thanks.

Here's what I've done:

~Cleaned out the now plugged-in fridge with vinegar, baking soda and Borax combined in an old Method spray bottle.
~Stopped my sink drain with a jar lid and 'bleached' it with white vinegar made into a paste with baking soda. Then scrubbed it with water mixed with lavender oil. To make every smell fresh, I stuck half a lemon in the garbage disposal and turned it on.
~Scrubbed the wood floors with a combo of vinegar and water. All I have to accomplish this is a swiffer wet. How wasteful! But since I already have it, I think it's more wasteful not to use it. I did, however, stick the swiffer wet in my washing machine with a load of rags so I could use it again on the bathroom floor.
~Peeled up my FLOR carpet squares and scrubbed them by hand in the sink with regular dish soap and warm water. I used a toothbrush on stains.
~Used the borax/vinegar/baking soda/water cleaner in the bathroon too for the floor, toilet, and sink.
~Took all the area rugs outside and beat them the old fashioned way (well ok, with a broom. I don't have one of those rug beater thingies.)
~Went through my clothes and things, setting aside what I no longer need/what doesn't fit. I'll try to pawn things off on friends next week, and what they don't want will go to Goodwill.
~Brought my 5 zillion magazines to the office at school so other people can read them too.
~Cleaned the grimmy window sills (which have been bombarded with snow and grossness all Winter since there is no storm window) with Method grapefruit cleaner.
~Boiled water and poured it all over my stove. Let it sit a bit, and them scrubbed all the cast iron bits in the sink to get the grease off. Finished up with method grapefruit surface cleaner.
~Left all the windows open to get rid of the rather vinegary smell.
~Used Method shower cleaner on the shower. It was never very dirty anyway, but I'd like it to sparkle a little more. Ideas?

Hooray for not spending any money on cleaning because I already had the stuff! Hooray for not buying those Clorox surface cleaning wipes or paper towels or bleach pens or Swiffer sheets or Comet toilet cleaner! Normally after cleaning the house my bathroom garbage can is entirely filled with used towels and cleaning pads. No more! I keep cleaning rags seperate from the kitchen ones and when one gets too dirty, it gets dropped into the jar of vinegar to soak. Once I'm all done for the day, i send them all through the Wonder Wash and voila! Good as new. Rags only get disgusting if you let them lay about for weeks without cleaning them.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Don't Print - Save $ and a tree

The thesis has been in control this past week. But NO MORE! I e-mailed that sucker 5 minutes ago and am free forever. Well ok, for a week until I need to do corrections. Still - it's something.

It is 112 pages at present. That's a pretty hefty document and old me would have printed it out 5 or 6 times to mark it all up and make corrections. I work better in hard copies. However, new me sucked it up and made edits on the screen. My advisor will be making corrections onscreen too, so hopefully the only actual copy I'll have to print will be the final version for binding.

How much money is this saving me? Well, I've burned through my allotted number of prints at school. Now they're 10 cents each. That's 11.20$ just for one draft alone, and I tend to print a lot of them.

I will try for the remainder of the semester to read articles for class onscreen as well. I can't guarantee this, because at some point my eyes may start to bleed. Still, if you figure I'll not be printing 200 pages each week for the rest of the semester, that's 1000 pages. That's 1/90th of an average-sized tree and less money spent on the stacks of articles swiftly taking over my apartment. Articles i'll probably never read again, I might add.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two Confessions and Some Bragging

1) The fridge has been plugged back in as of last evening. I started to worry about my Swiss Chard and life is too short to worry about the health of one's vegetables. In my mind, wasting food I've already purchased is worse than using electricity for assuring it isn't wasted. So there you have it.

2) It is time to disclose the daily water war that goes on in my building: It's a house that's been converted into 5 apartments, so the shower situation is a little... precarious. If I don't get in by 8am, the undergrads wake their sorry asses up en mass after 9 and bombard the shower till there's no hot water left. At that point it's hit or miss: If someone needs to wash a mug I'm blasted with frigid water, but if no one uses their sink while I'm in the shower, all is well. Now I don't know how or why the water heater acts this way, but it has a hierarchy system. If you turn up the hot water, it assumes you're the priority and gives you the warm water rather than giving it to the other twit. Sweet victory is yours for 30 seconds until the aforementioned twit ups their water use too and you're left in the cold again. This can go back and forth for minutes until the last person who ups the hot water before the knob is turned all the way wins and gets all the hot water. If you're dealing with an experienced opponent however, the water war doesn't end there, oh no. It continues because when the other person turns the water off completely, the winner gets scalded. Then they turn the water on full blast, and the person freezes.

You see where I'm going with this... it's childish and wasteful and it can last for 30 minutes if both parties are determined to make the other suffer. Sometimes I indulge. I feel I'm owed a nice warm shower since I've been up since 5 working and they went to bed around 5, boozing. And winning can be sooooo satisfying.

Ok, now is the time for the bragging:

I did NOT engage my opponent in the water war this morning! I shivered and washed the soap off and hopped out of the shower lickety split. Euphoria (or maybe it was just hypothermia) washed over me as I lept across the apartment to find a clean towel. My concern for the enviroment had won over my vindictive nature! (If you know me, you'll know this is a significant moment in my fiesty history.)

Furthering the bragging vein, I still haven't bought ANYTHING! It's been a month! I was feeling the burn last night while gazing at gorgeous spring dresses, but it's less than the pain I usually feel around this time of year. Wahooey!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

In Which I Discuss Baking Soda... Yet Again.

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks, and then commenter Dani brought it up too: Where does all this Baking Soda I'm swiftly becoming obsessed with come from? Is it natural? How is it produced? Transported? Etc. These are good questions, and not ones that are easy to find the answers to. Production and consumption cycles have grown so complex that sometimes we think we're making the green choice and it turns out not to be so. I'm still backing Baking soda though, and here's why:

Baking Soda is Soduim Bicarbonite (NaCO3) and it does exist in nature. People used to mine for it (or actually the soda ash, aka ore trona, which is quite plentiful in the US.) Now we create a more purified version by fusing stuff (Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Ammonia and Carbon Dioxide) in a lab. Yes, the process does emit CO2 into the air, but apparently no more than any other factory-produced good (which is practically everything.) Baking Soda can also be made by another method because 'trona' is plentiful here. In the other common method, one dissolves the trona in water and injects it with CO2. Natural Gas is used in the process, as is a small amount of ammonia, but far less of either is used in bicarb production than in the production of say, bleach or drano or ammonia itself. The majority of the Baking Soda for the whole world is produced in this country, so at least it doesn't have to travel too far! In other parts of the world it's made with limestone and brine.

Church and Dwight is the father company of Arm & Hammer, which is the brand I'm using because it's what I have right now. I've always hated Church and Dwight as a company, but this is because the ad agency I used to work for dealt with them constantly. They were stingy and stodgy, an old-school company weary of any innovation and slow to pay their bills. Then again, baking soda hasn’t changed much over the years so maybe they’re right not to budge. And I shouldn't let my interpersonal conflicts with their employees color this post too much!

In a 1993 business report, I found out a bunch of cool stuff about the company. It started including wildlife picture cards in boxes of Baking Soda in 1888 to raise awareness about endangered species. How cool! In 1908 Church & Dwight began using recycled paper in their boxes! Who knew anyone recycled back then? In 1990 they hired an executive to define their environmental policy – something other companies swiftly copied to get in onboard the trend train. Apparently, C&D focuses on ‘beginning of the pipe’ pollution prevention, rather than ‘end of the pipe’ pollution clean-up, which is music to my ears. However, the rest of the business report reads more like a PR document than a concrete explanation of how the company functions in a green way. This makes sense. Green means money, after all. C&D donates quite a bit of cash to environmental education and stewardship. They also focus the report on how Sodium Bicarbonate could be used by other businesses to lessen their environmental impact since it is a cleaning agent without any toxins, and one that actually helps our municipal water supply when it’s poured down the drain (the how was lost on me in the technical prose.) The process of production itself was not addressed, although they do highlight the safety of their workers as top priority. This omission could be due to the fact that the report I read was from 15 years ago – not as much emphasis was placed on carbon footprints back then, so companies weren’t expected to reveal theirs. See the full report here . The C&D website itself talks about products and tips for using them, but doesn't include any other company info so this is all I got.

For those who do not like supporting large companies, there are small natural food companies that make Baking Soda too, although it seems they're more expensive.

In Short: the production of Baking Soda isn't carbon neutral, but it has a much smaller production footprint than other cleaning products I researched. Perhaps more importantly though, it comes in a box and it's nontoxic. Throughout its entire product lifecycle, it's the best option I've found thus far.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Killing the Fridge

I've been notably absent the past few days. Thesis-writing is taking over.

Taking a writing break to report on the latest phase of the project: Killing the Fridge.

Average household fridges use a little over 1000 Kilowatts of energy per year, which costs about 90$ . The fridge sucks the most energy in your home according to the US Department of Energy (assuming you don't have something ridiculous like a spa pump in the backyard.) I know 90 bucks isn't a ton, but it's better than nothing. And over the course of a lifetime, it adds up.

The door to my kitchen is remarkably narrow so my fridge is tiny anyway; anything larger wouldn't fit in the room. Still, it's a huge electricity waster. The temperature gauge is shot, so if I don't open the door for a few days everything freezes because it gets too cold inside. I've been doing without a freezer for more than a year since every time I defrost the thing it's filled with hard ice again within a day. While taking a hatchet to the ice block can be good for stress on occasion, it's just not worth it on a regular basis. The insulation around the door is practically disintegrating from age, so I'm sure the cold air seeps out (unfortunately, not quick enough to not freeze anything kept on the top shelf.) It's age is also a problem because refrigerators get more efficient each year and mine is at least 20 years old.

When you think about it, I don't eat much that needs refrigeration anyway: Butter for baking, but that lasts a few weeks at room temperature. So do eggs (those, I've started buying a few at a time from a house down the street that has chickens in the backyard.) I need milk for making cheese, but I boil that. I'll just have to buy dairy the same day I'm planning on getting crafty. What do I get from cold veggies anyway? I just cook them later to warm them back up. I'm a little concerned about lettuce wilting and the like, but i'll try to keep it in water to delay the process. When I make yogurt, I'm worried about that spoiling. Still, I can always deposit stuff in the fridge in my office. It's working constantly whether I put crap in there or not. The biggest anticipated problem is that I get two weeks worth of produce at one time in my delivery and I might not be able to eat it all before it goes bad.

Still, if the experiment doesn't work I can always plug the sucker back in later in the week. Tonight i'll be baking something with the last of my heavy cream and pulling the plug.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Shampoo Update

Well, the deed is done. It looks normal. Smells normal. Will I soon be liberated from frizzy, chemical-filled hair? I hope so!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Not Shampooing?

I have crap hair. It's long, coarse, tangly, not straight or curly but a big wavy mess. When I go to the hair salon however, everyone just goes on and on about how great it is. They make it look perfect by gunking it with 16 pounds of chemical crud (all available for purchase) and blasting it with hot air until it cowers in submission. When I do my own hair, this is not the case. I don't have any of the tools or any of the gunk. Inevitably it looks amazing when I'm planning on sitting at home munching on cheetos, and when I need it to be stellar it insists on looking like doo doo.

The reason I'm telling you this is to get the point across that I DON'T CARE ABOUT MY HAIR. Sure, it's better than being bald, but in the grand scheme of things I'm willing to let my (lack of) hair care go pretty early in this whole green-my-life experiment.

Shampoo has a chemical (Soduim Lauryl Sulfate) that's designed to look foamy. That's all it's supposed to do, because people like foam. Well, it's linked to cancer and it's way too harsh for hair anyway, so the natural oils that protect our hair are washed down the drain and our body goes into overdrive to produce more. Enter oily hair after 1.5 days without shampoo. Unacceptable.

Shampoo is out! I've returned my very expensive Paul MItchel Shampoo and Conditioner to the store because I'm convinced it actually makes my hair dirtier and at present am using up the last of my travel-sized Mario Badescu natural shampoo and conditioner. There are those who insist that I should stop cleaning my hair all together and, after a few weeks of yuck, it'll look the best it's ever looked and start to clean itself. While I don't think these people are lying in an attempt to make everyone smell/look horrible, I'm not brave enough for this yet. I need to gradually work up to something like never cleaning my scalp again. Instead, my new baking soda and vinegar obsession is being tested on the bod itself, and tomorrow AM I'm trying the following shampoo method, courtesy of Nature Moms (not that I am one)...

Dissolve 1 Tbsp of baking soda in enough water to make a paste. Apply to roots only and let it chill for a minute or two. Then massage your scalp with your fingers to loosen the gunk. Rinse the bakind soda out and pour a mixture of 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar and water over the ends of your hair. Let it sit a minute and then rinse.

Hopefully it works! I think I'll miss the yummy smelling stuff, though. I'll just have to get really really good smelling, natural body soap bars and inhale those instead.

If this experiment works, I won't have to buy 29$ worth of Shampoo and Conditioner each month, which rocks. I may have to start carting in 4-ton boxes of baking soda, though.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Week's Worth of Food Stuffs

Thought I'd write out my average week of food consumption. The first three days are actually from this week, the last few are just average days. As you can see, I do not eat make the green-EST choices, but I'm doing better than I ever have previously. Seemed more fun than writing my thesis...


~Organic/Local/Windpowered/NO-Waste AMAZING Brunch at The Kitchen: Toffee Pecan French Toast and Locally made Bahkti Soy Chai. Even the table water at the Kitchen is from a local spring
~Apple with Almond Butter
~Pasta (I made it from scratch, which is really easy for one person but a lot harder once you up the quantity) with ricotta cheese (also made by me earlier in the week) and broccoli (I get organic produce delivery)
~Marshmallows dipped in hot chocolate (they were allegedly 'handcrafted by a spanish confectioner', which means they travelled a long way before they were gifted to me for Christmas)


~Asiago bagel with veggie cream cheese (on Mondays the head of our department brings free bagels in from Einsteins)
~Spinach and Artichoke Dip I made with fresh veggies, some cheese, and Veganaise. Sprouted Grain Tortilla Chips (I just crisped them in the oven) and carrot sticks for dipping
~Stir-Fry (Broccoli, Mushrooms, Yellow Peppers, Tomatoes, carrots, and Garlic) over brown rice with Bragg's (like soy sauce but yummier and way better for you. Plus the glass bottle makes an awesome spray bottle for cleaning when you're done)


~Homemade Wheat Bread with PB & Jam
~Pinto Bean Dip (dried beans slow cooked till smushy w/garlic, lemon juice, parsley from a friend's garden and cumin) with carrots to dip
~Weird chocolate-y beet cupcakes (I realize this sounds gross, but it's mega-yum. I'll post the recipe later once I get it just right)
~Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Mash
~Quorn-brand faux chicken breast chopped up over greens (it's made from fungus, not soy and even though it's frozen, there's no plastic in the packaging. Also: it's really really tasty.)


~Valencia Oranges & Skim Chai (in my own jar)
~Homemade Saag Paneer over rice (or, my bastardized version, at least)
~Curried Lentils
~Steamed Broccoli & Cabbage
~Chocolate Beet Cupcakes
~Pilfered snacks from the house where I babysit (most likely vanilla soy milk, pears, and natural cheese puffs)
~Baked Tofu with Thai Peanut Sauce and rice
~Local Boulder Beer at Pub Quiz Night


~PG Tips Tea
~Homemade Bread with PB & J
~Oranges, Kiwi, and Mango Fruit Salad (these come in the produce delivery)
~Leftover Stir Fry from Monday
~Beet & Buttermilk Cheese Salad (I made the cheese) with Balsalmic Dressing
~Potato Leek Soup (I bought this and added some chunks of potato to it)
~More Chocolate Beet Cupcakes


~Lemon Loaf Cake & Tea
~Huge salad with carrots, fake chicken, tomatoes, and Amy's Organic Ranch
~Leftover bean dip spooned into lettuce leaves
~Leftover Saag Paneer
~Happy Hour at Jills with the department (veggie nachos, margharita pizza and a vodka tonic)
~Falafel-stuffed yellow peppers


~Irish slow-cook oatmeal with rasp jam and apples
~Tea and lemon cake
~Steamed Broccoli
~Store bought wheat pasta with romano cheese and artichokes
~Arugula with Balsalmic Vinagrette
~Bahkti Chai at a coffee shop

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Composting Saga

So I really really really want to compost! {Sidebar: It's interesting how my desires have moved from "I need a better haircut and a new Diane Von Furstenberg Dress" to "I need a bucket of worms deposited in my kitchen" in the last few weeks} Our burgeoning landfills are handled horribly, so that even the organic garbage we toss in there doesn't break down as it should because air doesn't get to it. I also want the composted castings stuff for my container garden experiments which should commence in a few weeks! However, I don't want to spend the money on it.

I'm worried I will kill the worms by way of neglect if I do vermicomposting. Using drums for composting outdoors might work out better for me, but they're like 200 dollars each! And there's always the possibility that the undergrads who live in the apartments below will dispose of an old keg in there/use it as a toilet/etc. I suppose I could construct a bin myself from wood, but it'd be stinky and the raccoons might get to it.

So presently, I'm just not composting and feel crap about it. Most of my garbage could be composted because I eat so many fruits and veggies and I'm not buying anything but food since I started this project!

I investigated Boulder's waste management situation and found that we have a composting drop-off location in town. Since I don't have a car however, it's a little far for me to haul my compostables. I have a friend whose apartment complex has a composting bin, and I suppose I could carry my veggie scraps there... but frankly that seems like a lot of work.

So I decided to buy some red wrigler worms and get to business using any cast-off plastic bin my friends would give me. Enter Craigslist - where I found someone in Nederland (the incredibly crunchy town up the mountain) who is willing to give me enough worms to get started for free! HOW COOL IS THAT? Now all I need is a ride up there to get them and someone's old plastic storage container to get started. I'll keep you posted on how this works!

Oh god, starting to panic about actually having to touch worms......

More Deaths? No Thanks!

This morning I was reading an article in the economist about the link between pollution and premature death. According to people qualified to make such claims, a delayed response to global warming (which is advocated by corporations who want to make money from fossil fuels as long as possible and then sweep in with a 25th hour solution to make even more money) would be VERY costly in terms of human loss of life. If we continue to consume at our current rate, by 2030 the ozone pollution alone will result in four times more deaths! YOW!

[via The Economist]

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I feel morally compelled to admit that last night I bought a takeout sandwich. Didn't even think about it until this morning. The sandwich was wrapped in paper, but at least it's paper and not plastic I'm throwing out! And at least it was purchased from a local business.

Still, I need to be more cognizant!

DIY Tooth Powder

More investigating of the toothpaste situation has led to the following recipe. The Myrr powder and peppermint oil I found at the natural drug store (it's Boulder. We have more of those than the regular kind.) I've whipped up a batch and stashed it in a little glass jar with a lid. Then, I just wet my toothbrush and dunk it in the powder. I know peppermint doesn't really make my mouth cleaner and it's only in my head, but I don't care. I bet if I stuck a vanilla bean in there it'd be just as delicious as my old Crest brand...

Tooth Powder:

Three Parts Baking Soda (whitens teeth)
One part Salt (polishes teeth)
A few drops of Peppermint Oil (tastes yummy)
Myrr Powder (kills germies)

Price = 10.48$ for a lb of Myrr powder (this will be enough for years of tooth brushing! Hope it doesn't go bad), 3.55$ for 1 oz of peppermint oil (again, enough for more than a year)

Old Crest Price = 3.74$ per tube x 6 tubes a year = 22.44$

Hooray! My version is much cheaper and doesn't fill the landfills with all that plastic!

Friday, March 7, 2008


Reading this has gotten me into a tizzy! The New York Times reviews a book called Gusher of Lies in which Robert Bryce completely discounts our need for energy independence and pokes holes in all the potential energy solutions people are working on. We'll be dependent on oil for the next 30-50 years, he says, and who cares anyway? Ethanol and Wind Power are too expensive and so they don't offer real solutions. And I partially agree with this: Ethanol gives us less energy than gasoline, wastes a TON of water, takes up quite a bit of agricultural land, and emits more pollutants in the air. Solar power's too unpredictable since we can't store it.

Ok, but isn't he missing the point entirely? The fact remains that we'll be out of fossil fuels soon. Who cares? I'd say everyone will at that point if we haven't come up with solutions. We need to develop these energy technologies and transform the way our society is structured. Admittedly, electric cars and bio-diesel aren't enough! But abandoning them altogether is ridiculous. We need to work to find ways of storing solar power or electricity (which Bryce does advocate, I believe.) We need to build communities where cars are not a necessity. We need to transform our economy into one that doesn't depend on robot-like consumption of goods designed to be discarded. We need to make wind power cheaper and better.

Who cares? Robert Bryce will care when we've run out of places to put our waste and start storing it in his backyard. He'll care when the price of oil (which he claims is the same as it's always been in real dollars) skyrockets because of scarcity and only the extremely wealthy can afford to get anywhere or do anything. He'll care when our oil dependence starts dictating foreign policy and folks start dying. Oh wait... that's already happened.

Has anyone read the whole book? I've read only an excerpt and reviews because my thesis is the be all and end all at present. It's going on the list, though.


if you haven't already! I was feeling a little sorry for myself this evening, sitting at home writing my thesis and wondering what I'm going to wear for a birthday party tomorrow since I can't buy anything new. Then I watched Annie Leonard's 20-minute flash video, The Story of Stuff. Hadn't seen it in a while and it re-invigorated me [Thanks Ginna for suggesting I rewatch!]. It's just so insulting the way companies treat us: we're consumers - nothing more. I dove into my closet and found three dresses I've literally never worn since I've purchased them. There are two tops in there I've never donned either, all cute and all suitable for a night out. What is WRONG with me? I have plenty to wear!

Watch for a reality check here

Chai to go

This morning I needed a little pick-me-up after too vigorous of a Thursday night out. I headed over to the coffee shop on the corner and ordered an iced soy chai. I was certain to use my own water bottle, which gets a thumbs up. However, what I really wanted was hot chai and I was too freaked out by the warm-liquids-in-plastic factor to get it. I use a 'safe' plastic water bottle (meaning one that doesn't have PS, PVC, or Polycarbonate), but I'm still wary. I also have my glass jar I cart around with me, but with hot stuff I nearly scald myself when I try to touch it. So, here's the plan I devised today:

I have a ton of socks with holes in the toe. Since I haven't a clue how to darn them, they end up in the garbage ordinarily. Instead, the new resourceful me can cut off the tube part of the sock and use it as a cozy for my glass jar. It'll work the same way those cardboard ones do at Starbucks but without the extra waste! I'm really quite proud of myself for this brilliant plan, although I'm sure hundreds of others have figured out the trick first.

The best part about bringing your own jar? You get money off your coffee (or in my case tea)! This is true at Starbucks and Celestial Seasonings and well as some of the smaller coffee shops around Boulder. Hooray for the green choice saving some dough! Admittedly it's only a few cents, but it's something.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Libraries? How Novel!

As a grad student, I spend a great deal of time in the library. I owe CU's Librarian my firstborn child in overdue book fees (ok ok, only 128$ according to the bill I got today.) Something I never do, however, is check out a book for pleasure from the library. If I want to read for fun instead of for school I buy books on Amazon. Not sure why I make this distinction. Maybe when reading a book cover to cover rather than quickly skimming for facts I care about newness, shininess, and cleanliness?

But no more! The no more crap rule applies to books too. I love books, so this one will be tough. But like clothes, even though I truly enjoy and value them, partially my purchase of books is just to have another status symbol. Everyone does this, right? You want people to see the "right" books at your house when they come over for dinner so they think you're deep and brilliant. Ewwwwww. We humans can be so lame! If we really are what we own as a bunch of pessimistic 20th century theorists say, my worth is dwindling significantly. I prefer my Nana's logic: You can't take it with you (when you die, that is.)

Today I returned a number of overdue academic works and checked out a Dashiel Hammett novel. It has writing in the margin which i find really annoying, but it isn't another 13 dollars down the tube for something I'll probably read one time.

PS: The irony of talking about saving money while I have accrued 128 dollars in avoidable late fees is not lost on me. I'm trying to get better...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Energy (IN)efficient Homes

Fair Warning: This one is a tome!

The way we build homes now is incredibly inefficient in comparison with even 100 years ago. For the greater thesis project on neighborhood design, I'm reading this amazing book called Vernacular Architecture by Henri Glassie. It explores the connection between the way humans organize their lives and the way their houses are built. So in Ireland 50 years ago for example, homes had thatched roofs. You would ask your neighborhood thatcher to come and take care of business for you. This was something that had to be repaired often and different members of the community were responsible for different portions of the home creation. Homes were as 'green' as you could get since the materials used to make them were local. They were also energy efficient since they were built to jive with their surroundings.

Now of course, homes aren't built for a specific person's needs. They're designed detached from people altogether. Profit is the number one goal. Materials are shipped in from all over the world and shoddy construction seems the norm. Developers won't even take the time to situate the home on the lot in the best way or have windows facing the proper direction! According to the government's energy-saving website, as much as 30 percent of the energy our homes use is wasted through drafts and lack of insulation.

I have thatched roof cottage envy! I've expressed before my displeasure at how disconnected I am from my stuff. The same rings true for my home. I want to be able to build my dwelling, assure it meets my needs and it holds true to my environmental principles, but I can't. I don't know how and I don't have any friends who know how either. This is a lifegoal of mine, but I haven't the time or the money at present.

What I can do is make simple modifications to my house to up the efficiency a bit. I have the draftiest house in the world. It's essentially a glorified studio, but has 5 windows! This is great for light and I don't have to use lamps until after 6 pm, but my little radiator has to work constantly to keep the place warm. If I turn it off, the house is an icebox within the hour! In my bathroom, there's a vent that is basically a hole in the wall. There's plastic flap over it, but it doesn't close all the way. Great for summer; horrible in Winter. Condensation freezes there some mornings! On three sides of my home, the walls are cinder block covered in wallboard with NO insulation at all. If I'm ever too hot, all I need to do is touch them and I'm freezing again.

I managed the following yesterday:

1) I taped the stupid bathroom flap shut with packing tape. Much toastier environment to dry off after a shower! I notice a difference already.
2) Armed with cardboard cutouts and white duct tape (to match my white walls and window) I pasted the cardboard where my window unit AC is to stop the draft a bit. The AC unit does have those stupid accordian flap thingies, but it's really thin plastic between me and the outdoors. Not enough.
3) I took down my silly gauze curtain from the window in my bed area and hung a blanket up instead to try and trap some warm air on this side. It looks hideous but i'll work on making a better curtain later.
4) In the kitchen, I duct taped my two windows at the seams. It's perhaps a little too Anthrax-scare for comfort, but I won't be opening them for another month at least since they lead into the courtyard where the undergrads who inhabit the other apartments in my house have beer pong matches nightly. It's too loud to warrant the windows' use until summer heat demands it. I realize they make weatherstripping for this sort of thing, but I'm too cheap to buy it.
5) There's a place under my front door where air gets in. I've taken a long, skinny strip of cardboard, covered it with the white duct tape so it's camoflaged, and taped a little flap to the bottom of my door so that there's less of a hole.

This was all Free, since I already had the stuff. Hopefully it will cut down a bit on the amount of fuel used to heat my home!

[Image via A Picassa Album ]

Junk Mail is ruining my resolve!

In the last few days, I've received catalogs from Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Free People, Victoria's Secret and J Crew. It makes it difficult to not want to purchase fun new spring clothes when I see how adorable they are! Catalogs are also hideously wasteful since even if the catalogs are printed on recycled paper, most are not recyclable. I've made the decision to stop my junk mail!

Green Dimes will do it for me, but it costs 20 dollars! No thanks. Instead, here's a DIY checklist:

1) Contact the Direct Marketing Association . You can either remove your name from their list altogether, or pick and choose which businesses you don't want to hear from.
2) Call the 1-800 Number on the back of catalogs you no longer wish to receive and ask to be removed from the mailing list.
3) Go to Catalog Choice and for free, opt out of the catalogs you don't want to receive anymore.
4) To stop all those credit card come-ons (which, as an indebted young person, make up the majority of my mail) go to Opt Out Prescreen and take your name off that list. If you ever want a new card, you can apply the old-fashioned way.

Two Baking Soda Experiments From This Morning

Experiment #1:
I have long hair and it clogs the shower drain sometimes. Like right now. But instead of dragging my butt to target, spending my hard-earned cash on toxic chemicals, probably buying a bunch of other crud as well that I have no need for, and coming back to pollute the water supply, I tried a different way. I dumped baking soda down the drain, poured some vinegar in there too, watched it sizzle, and then dumped hot water down after 15 minutes or so.

Yeah yeah yeah, you say. So did it work?

Well, not really. The amount of water that stockpiles when I shower has lessened... but it's still clogged. Me thinks this is a multiple tries sort of thing. And then, instead of letting it get bad again maybe i'll do it once every two weeks or so.

Experiment #2:
I ran out of my girly vanilla mint Crest toothpaste this morning. Yes, I could slice open the tube and get the last remnants and I will tomorrow, but I was on a baking soda kick. I used baking soda and water to brush my teeth. This works really well. Teeth feel and look clean. I miss the minty-fresh taste my mouth gets with the chemically version, though. Maybe i'll get over this. Or maybe there's a way to infuse the toothpaste with mint leaves? I know Toms of Maine has a minty version, but I'm still saddened by the amount of packaging involved, so i'll keep trying to make my own and keep you abreast of the mouth-cleansing developments.

The Consequences in Cash?: A big bottle of organic white vinegar costs me less than 1.89$, and a big box of baking soda is also less than 2 bucks. Drano would set me back 5 bucks, and new toothpaste is 3.25$ (my fun kind, anyway.) Total Savings = 4.25$-ish

I think I'll buy myself an organic soy latte!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Need another excuse to stop buying crap? you'll get thinner

...or at least that's what Peter Walsh claims in his "Does this Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?" Book

Does this sound familiar:

“All of us deal constantly with the urge to consume more,'’ he writes. “We spend too much, we buy too much, and we eat too much. In the same way we surround ourselves with so much clutter, we overwhelm our bodies with caloric clutter consisting mainly of sugar and fat.” - via Tara Parker-Hope's NYT Health Blog

One thing I strongly disagree with is his insistance that you trash the clutter. Why not give it away? Why not repurpose? Still, the gist of the argument is that less stuff makes you happier and thinner, and I am down with that. Also: richer, I might add.

PET PEEVE: Paying for "Safer" Water

If another person tells me to stop drinking from the water fountain because it’s dirty I think I’m going to beat them to death with their Aquafina bottles! YES I KNOW IT’S DIRTY! But until middle class citizens insist it be clean – and do so by using the tap – it won’t be! Unless you’ve been living in a cave you’ve heard about how evil bottled water is, but since I still see it EVERYWHERE I feel ok about posting this. What's that advertising adage about repetition, repetition, repetition?...

The water in Boulder tastes great, as did it in NYC. Bottled water isn’t just environmentally irresponsible; it’s less safe and WAY more expensive.

Facts that get under my skin:

1) The HEATH MYTH: A ton of the bottled water out there is just taken from municipal water supplies and then filtered. Even the spring water is clearly affected by our global pollution – no ecosystem goes untouched by human irresponsibility!
2) THE TOXINS: The plastics used in water bottles are made to be disposable – meaning that the chemicals leech into the water. This gets worse if we try to do the right thing by reusing the bottles or if they’re exposed to the sun (in say, the back of a hot car.)
3) THE TRAVEL: Shipping water is RIDICULOUS in places that have their own water supply! Why would we allow the extra production and transportation costs? Take the trendy Fiji Water, for example. Yes, that sticker on the bottle is pretty, but FIJI?? REALLY? Do you know how far away Fiji is? In fact, it’s far away locale is one of the marketing ploys the company uses, as though ANYWHERE on this planet has escaped pollution and degradation at human hands. For those who argue that Fiji Water is helping an impoverished economy, don’t fool yourself. Yes, all things considered they are a fairly responsible company (now) and make attempts to give back to their workforce, but this is largely in response to the P.R. problem they encountered a while back when it was pointed out that half of the citizens of Fiji didn’t have reliable drinking water. Fiji Water claims to be Carbon Neutral in 2008. Not buying it. You can’t negate the greenhouse gases emitted during production and transportation by buying carbon credits!
4) The GREENWASHING: Just because Evian spring water comes from nature originally (like all water...) doesn’t mean it’s Green, as their advertisements of naked women flailing about in snowdrifts would have you imagine. NO bottled water is the green choice!
5) The WASTE: For those who recycle their water bottles, that’s fabulous. But not enough. Companies are trying to cut down on the amount of plastic used in the bottles. Still not enough. Over 30 MILLION plastic water bottles end up in the landfill EVERY DAY!
6) The COST: Turning on the tap costs pennies. Drinking from a fountain is free (for you anyway.) If the additives in tap water freak you out, get a filter! Still cheaper then the 5-10 cents per ounce depending on brand you pay for the bottled variety. Even buying a metal water bottle (the SIGG bottles are mega-cute but pricey – around 20 bucks) pays for itself in a few weeks if you were a tried and true bottled water addict before.

Sign the Take Back the Tap Pledge !

Monday, March 3, 2008

Not Buying Crap ROCKS!

3 days into my no-crap rule my Powerbook power cord decided to start sparking and lighting my blankets on fire. Buying a new one would be only a last resort so I scowered my office asking everyone I met if they had any electrical tape with which I could patch the sucker.

They didn’t but what I got was even better: An old power cord from one of the former faculty’s laptops! The administrative assistant just had it laying around her office waiting to be tossed in the rubbish bin! Money Saved = 49.95$ at the lowest estimate Take that Steve Jobs. Huzzah!

Also, after lamenting my lack of a slowcooker in a post a few days ago, one came up for grabs on Freecycle ! One person’s trash is another’s treasure and all that.

The Mini Co-op Idea

I'm getting obsessed with making cheese. Obsessed might not even be a strong enough word. I'm currently hashing a plan to acquire free weights and build my own cheese press to speed the aging process! But I'm making too much for me to eat on my lonesome before it goes bad.

So here's my new and brilliant idea: starting an informal mini co-op with my friends here in Boulder. I know one couple who is trying to brew beer at their house and has a kick-ass herb garden. I have another friend who had perfected the No-Knead Bread Recipe that's been taking the food blog world by storm. Yet another friend gets milk delivered from the local Longmont Dairy (which I'd love to do, but I don't drink enough to justify the delivery charge.) SO: friend three gives me the milk, I make the cheese and distrubite to friends 1, 2, and 3. Friends 1 and 2 pay me in beer, herbs and bread. How perfect is that?

We've also been doing some informal recipe exchange stuff that I'm really liking. I'm planning on teaching my friend from India how to make Italian food and in return she will de-mystify Saag for me. Woohoo!

My overall point here is that in days of yore, people shared knowledge and expertise. One was great at pie, another at roofing. Put the two together and you have a house and dessert to boot! I like the idea of having a reciprocal relationship between neighbors and friends: it causes less waste, is essentially "free" and creates more community. Everyone's good at something! -Even if it's not food related.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Freegan for all!

I was scanning Jezebel the other day for Oscar fashion pics and came across a post about Oprah's interview with Freegans ("Free + Vegan" or anti-capitalists who live an alternative lifestyle where they do not participate in our traditional economy) while wearing 700$ Christian Louboutin pumps.

Fashion decisions aside, I was intrigued. While perhaps a bit extreme (they take food from dumpsters, trainhop and hitchhike for transportation and advocate squatting rather than paying rent) I can certainly get behind some of the stuff they have to say!

Going far beyong my pledge to stop compiling crap, they reject our economic system all together. Instead, they work together to subvert the system, using to grab stuff they need, sharing with others, and reclaiming waste. Again, I'm not hardcore enough for this, but it's pretty inspiring! Anyone who is self-sufficient amazes me. I feel like just another cog in the wheel of capitalism now...

Check it out at

Beans Beans, They're Good for Your Heart....

I'm having an lentils conundrum this morning. On my last trip to the grocery, I purchased bulk lentils rather than canned. I was doing a good thing, I reasoned, since the bulk lentils didn't require any packaging, (yes, I put them in those little plastic bags to be weighed, but I'm reusing the bag and the twisty each time I go to the store) and cost WAY less money per pound.

As I simmer the suckers on my stove for an hour, however, I'm not so sure. Canned lentils are soft already, they don't need to be soaked and boiled. Does this mean that someone already did it in production? Or is it because they were packaged while they were still soft? Are lentils ever soft to begin with? Where to they come from, even? I haven't a clue.

It strikes me I don't know ANYTHING about the foods I consume daily. I legitimately don't know which is the greener choice: Dried beans or canned. How far did they have to travel to get in my tummy? Does the aluminum trump the plastic bag in the ever-constant waste war?

I plan on growing some of my own beans starting this spring, but it's early March! I have to eat something until then! I don't eat meat, and think legumes are important to my nutrition. I just wish I knew what type was most environmentally responsible...

After considerable (ok, half-assed) internet research via the awesome Squakfox and some GreenOptions Blogs , i have the following info to share:

~if you're going to do the dried bean/legume thing you should definitely soak them first! It cuts down on the cooking time (and therefore energy expended) as well as making them cook more evenly and be more digestable.
~dried beans require less energy expenditure in production and packaging, as well as recycling! Woohoo!
~ They are MUCH cheaper, as we've gone over already
~Some bean cans are lined with a plastic polymer called BPA.... which freaks me out! Plus there has to be SOME sort of preservative in there, even when you buy organic canned veggies.
~ When you cook the suckers, use an energy-efficient slow cooker to lessen the impact (I don't have one of these... but will investigate further to see if it will make my possible purchase list.)

Ok, phew! I don't feel so guilty now.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Food Politics

As a graduate student I'm currently doing work with neighborhoods, green design, and how greenwashing (the phenomenon whereby old stuff is being remarketed as 'green' to sell sell sell to the fad) is becoming more an more prevalent in the housing market. However, just as interesting and maybe even more fruitful for an academic is the political situation of food at present!

If you map out the state of food research and nutritional advice over the last 30 years, the contradictions and shifts are startling. Fat = bad, Fat = good. Protein = bad, Protein = good. But as Michael Pollan and Frances Moore Lappe tell us, the really bizarre thing is the scientizing of food: the giving over of the power to make food choices to the 'experts' (most of whom are funded by interested parties.)

Last night while walking to dinner with some girlfriends, the conversation fell to how one woman could drop 5 pounds fast in order to slide into a dress she loved. Little tidbits of wisdom were thrown out from all sides: "Eat only protein and fiber for three days!" was one offering. At my balk, the friend qualified earnestly that this was told to her by a nutritionist, so it had to be good! Another suggestion was, "You can do the juicing diet and just turn all your food into pulp!"

I thought about protesting, but largely remained quiet for fear of insulting my friends. Still: this REALLY disturbed me! As a nation, we're enormous. Obesity certainly is an issue, and food choices matter. However, when did it become an OBSSESSION? When we stop taking pleasure in food ritual and become consumed with calorie counting and nutrition information it doesn't seem to get us anywhere good. At least it doesn't get me anywhere good, and I've been just as guilty of this as anyone else in the past.

And so I offer up my food choices and my food politic, mostly a combination of things I've read and common sense:

1) SLOW DOWN! Enjoy mealtimes - breaking bread together is culturally significant almost everywhere else in the world. Here, mealtime seems a chore, a time-suckage that needs to be sped up. Enter Campbell's Soup-In-Hand and Nutrition Bars and Fast Food. I eat way too fast, scarfing my food as though it'll be taken from me if I don't consume it quickly. However, I have tried to make a concentrated effort to take it slow. Even when it's just a quick lunch by myself in the apartment before a class.

2) NO (OR LESS) MEAT! I am a vegetarian for a few reasons. First, I am unwilling to support the industry that, according to the Lancet study, contributes more to global warming than car use! However, I am not against the consumption of meat by humans, so long as it's local and humane. For me, it's just easier to go all the way. Plus, I really don't like the taste of meat in the first place and can't get over the yuck factor. Vegetarians and Flexitarians (nearly veg) are far less likely to develop all these western diseases than are our meat-consuming counterparts. Staying low on the food chain is cheaper, healthier, yummier and greener. It just seems like a no-brainer.

3) WHOLE THINGS. Michael Pollan's rule is: don't eat foods your great grandmother wouldn't recognize or that have more than 5 ingredients. I take issue with the more than 5 ingredients thing because I love combining veggies and spices and grains in new ways. However, I eat a ton of veggies, and try to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. Many of the "processed" things people get from the store I just make by hand: bread, yogurt, cheese, pasta, sauces. It does take time, but what exactly are we doing with all that time we've 'saved' by eating at Burger King? Sitting in traffic?

4) TRY NEW THINGS: I receive organic produce delivery every two weeks. I realize the the delivery thing is problematic, but I offer this in answer: During Spring, Summer and Fall, all the produce is local. In the Winter it isn't, but since it's taken from the distributor directly to me, it does travel a bit less than if I'd just purchased it in the grocery store (which I would.) It also makes me try new things, since they bring me what they have that week, I can't eat the same broccoli 6 nights in a row. The variety has been amazing! It staves off boredom, and all these fruits and veggies I thought I hated (mangos, yams, beet greens, etc), I really love. Just turns out organic food tastes a lot better than the conventional variety I turned my nose up at as a kid.

5) STOP WORRYING: The thinnest people I know are the ones who eat what they enjoy and don't have a cow about it. I have NO science to back this up whatsoever, but I think stressing over food and weight actually makes you more of a fatass. If we eat what we love, the REAL version of it (butter from a cow, not a processing plant for instance) we won't eat as much other crud to fill the void. We'll get along with less and feel better and look better. Just a hunch, but it's working for me. [3-4-08 UPDATE--> Now I DO have science to back this up. Check out what the NYT says about worrying and health.]


Last night I went out to celebrate the completion of a thesis chapter. We dined at a bar/restaurant that uses a ton of local products, and I drank a local organic beer. For those in the party who eat meat, all of the beef is from 2 miles down the road. I was happy in my dining choices until I got home and realized that, since I hadn't been able to finish my black bean and mushroom rueben, the server gave me an aluminum and plastic takeout container in which to take it home.


And so Project Rule #2 struck me quite hard:

I WILL NOT USE DISPOSABLE FOOD CONTAINERS ANYMORE. This means no takeout, no delivery, no lattes that aren't in real mugs, and no leftovers transported in any containers but my own. I started carrying a glass mason jar around for my tea and water yesterday like No Impact Man but this isn't enough. I need to plan ahead when going out and bring my own "tupperware" (I use pickle jars.) I need to have the foresight to plan what I'll be eating for lunch so time and desperation doesn't send me to the student union for a substandard and very packaged meal.