Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A thought on packaging...

Yesterday I decided to think about what I am throwing away. I always save anything I need to get rid of if it is in usable condition, and I have a yard sale and donate the rest. Thanks to mom, this is not a problem. Sometimes, where clothes are concerned, I try to remake them into new clothes or purses, or cut them up and use the fabric for other purposes, ever since I read stories about how our old clothes get shipped to poor countries who throw them away anyhow because they hinder their ability to have a clothing industry of their own. So unless I know it is going directly onto the floor of a local thrift store, I tend to reuse as much clothing as possible. Add to that the fact that I run a no-waste sewing operation by using scraps to stuff stuffed animals instead of buying fiberfill, and it's looking pretty good.

I recycle as much as I can, but I know I could do more research on exactly what my local recycling program takes besides the standard paper, plastic, glass, metal, etc. Also, though I started a compost bin last spring for the garden, it quickly filled up and now I find myself throwing away biodegradable waste. While it is by far the least worrisome thing to put into a landfill, but it could still be put to better use. I recently read up on the green waste program in my area, and I found that San Jose and San Francisco have an amazing program to turn food and yard waste into methane and other gases that will be captured and used to power the city. My apartment building does not have a green waste bin, but I am going to ask my landlord to get one for us.

My roommate and I re-use all the plastic containers we get that come with resealable lids as tupperware, which means we don't buy new tupperware and we use way less cling wrap and tin foil because the containers are usually good for small things. And we have done away with plastic baggies entirely, switching instead to unbleached waxed paper baggies which biodegrade quickly. And when I buy milk and yogurt, I buy the ones in glass containers that we return to the store for a deposit because they are simply sterilized and reused which uses much less energy that melting down old glass to make it new again.
We save all our junk mail and waste paper to be made into new paper, but truth be told our little bin is overflowing and we are due for a paper-making night. We also buy products from the Seventh Generation brand including dish soap, laundry detergent, recycled toilet paper and paper towels, and most recently biodegradable plastic trash bags.

So, it seems like I am doing as much as I can to reduce what I throw away, but indeed there is still more. Recently I have been very intrigued by the new eco-trend of a packaging-free lifestyle. There is a new grocery store in the UK called Unpackaged, where, you guessed it, nothing comes packaged and you bring your own reusable containers to carry food home with you. Now, I shop at Whole Foods and the local farmer's markets, and even though I bring reusable tote bags, I still end up coming home with plastic produce bags, thin plastic containers that we usually do not end up keeping because they are not microwave-safe, and a plethora of extra plastic and Styrofoam hidden inside cardboard boxes. I buy grains in bulk, which does reduce the cost because of reduced packaging, but I still have to fill a plastic bag to get the stuff to the checkout (and it is not a compostable plastic bag either).

This frustrates me to no end, and even though I re-use as much of these plastic bits as I can, I know that some of them may end up going into landfills, and I really don't want that to happen, so I have devised a plan. Last night I spent my time cutting out pieces to sew reusable shopping bags from organic cottons and lovely prints. Now, I know you can get bags for free or about a dollar from most major retailers today, but I find that I really do not like the design of those strange square-with-long-handles bags made out of some kind of creepy synthetic material. I had some of them for a while and I found I did not like using them. Then one day I got a free tote bag made of sturdy canvas in nice colors with short, comfortable handles and bang, there it was, I was using it all the time to carry all my groceries. Since then I have acquired a few other lovely reusable bags, and I find that the prettier they are the more likely I am to remember and enjoy using them. I find even if I bring the 3 bags I have, I usually end up taking home another paper bag or two, so I am sewing a couple more bags for myself.

Here is a fantastic list of free patterns for sewing, knitting, and crocheting your own reusable grocery bags, and I am sure that there are hundreds more out there on the net, so choose the one you like the best and go for it! Making your own bags makes you want to use them as often as possible to show off your handywork and be able to respond to compliments on your cute eco-friendly bag with, "Thanks, I made it!"

To add to these tote bags, I am going to sew some longish organic cotton drawstring bags which I will bring to the store and use to buy my bulk grains and such. They will not weigh too much more than the plastic ones provided, and they will be easily washable and reusable for a lifetime. Plus I will add cute prints at the top to encase the drawstings so they are lovely to use. I also plan to crochet from organic cotton some smaller-size mesh produce bags to use in lieu of the plastic ones. So there's the grand plan to phase out my dependence on plastic packaging altogether. Wish me luck!


Please click on the picture for an eye-opening larger view.

This is a very, very large subject. The way we live in America today dictates that unless we reduce consumption of pretty much everything, we will use up the earth's resources in no time. So much is wrong with the excess we bring into our lives, and last night for some reason I just felt so sick and tired of all of it. Someone has lit the proverbial fire under my ass and I just cannot abide by it anymore. There are so many different little things we can do to reduce all the negative outputs of our homes. Trash, biodegradable waste, water usage and waste, carbon emissions, electricity usage, fossil fuel, everything. We not only use so much but waste so much as well, which is just adding insult to injury. I really feel the need to reduce everything I use, and eliminate everything I waste.

I remember feeling this way for the first time in my first year of college...
When I was living with my parents my mom always taught me good habits when it came to conserving water and energy... "Turn off the light when you leave the room! You're wasting electricity!"... "Don't take so long in the shower, you're wasting water!"... The usual mom stuff. She was not afraid to give me crap about it and I believe that's why it stuck. When I was growing up we did not have a lot of money, so I think that she was doing it more for financial reasons than environmental, but it helped all the same. But along with conserving utilities, my mom was always trying to find ways to help people who had less than we did. When we moved to our small town there were no school-based coat drives, canned food drives, or anything of that sort. My mom single-handedly started programs like these at all the schools in our area, and the programs remain today, almost two decades later. When I was little I remember her taking me with her as she bought lunch for the homeless man who was living under an overpass near our house. She taught me the values that I carry with me to this day - she taught me how lucky we were to have what we had, because so many people had so much less, and that to waste what we had is one one of the worst things we can do. We always donated our old stuff to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army, knowing that it would go to people who could still use it. That was one of the biggest things she ingrained in me.

So back to college... On the last day of school, when everyone was moving out of the dorms, I was taking my boxes of stuff to my car and I walked past the dumpster. I noticed that there were people throwing away so much perfectly usable stuff - dishes, clothes, even furniture. There was a group of guys who were throwing out a storage cabinet, one that would have cost 60-100 dollars new, taken wood, glue, chemicals, and energy to produce, and they tossed it off a balcony, smashing it on the ground and leaving it there. I just remember thinking, What is wrong with these people? I felt so sad and angry that there were people who didn't think, didn't even care about what they were throwing away, and I just wanted to grab them and shake some sense into them, but I knew they probably wouldn't listen.

So I got boxes, pulled everything usable out of the dumpster, packed the boxes and furniture into my car and drove it to the local donation drop-off. I felt so good about what I did, instead of ignoring it or joining in it like everyone else, and I think that's where my whole realization of the problems my generation faces began. We're all turning into a bunch of frat boys throwing good furniture off a balcony, and we need to stop a sec and think, really think, about what we are throwing away.

I want to explore my options when it comes to reducing what I use and waste. From a purely self-centered point of view, it will save me quite a bit of money in the long and even in the short term. And since I hate hauling big heavy bags of trash and recyclables down the stairs it will reduce the frequency of those events and make me a happy clam. So why not do it, a little bit at a time, and gain money and free time from it while helping to reduce what goes into the local dump? I have some ideas brewing and will post them as I go, and I'd really like to hear what other people are doing too, if there is anyone reading this thing yet!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Loving you...

It's true. I learned this a long, long time ago, and I try to remember it every day. But I find there are days when I only really like who I am, but not quite love. And that just plain sucks. There is no reason why I or anyone else should not love the people we are every second of every day. No two of us are alike, we all have unique thoughts, talents, and inner and outer beauty. Today, even though I feel like crap and I am lonely, I still love who I am. (Edit: I am feeling better and loved today.)

Everyone has things about themselves that they would like to change, the underlying cause of these changes, in my mind, is an effort to feel better about who we are; to love ourselves more. Some people battle with weight, some with fears, some with bad habits, and that is a good thing, I think. If we were always perfectly content with who we are then we would miss out on a lot of golden opportunities to learn and grow as people.

Some things I am committed to doing in order to love the person I am more include losing weight (not too much, just enough), finishing what I start, and helping strangers more often (good deeds in general). I get an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and the need to pat myself on the back whenever I help a stranger in need. I get a natural high every time I stop to help someone push a stalled car to a safe place. Recently, I have been thinking about how to help out the homeless people I see on my way to work every day.

I have mixed feelings about giving money to people on the street because it seems like you could be helping or you could just be furnishing their drug addiction or whatnot. So as a rule I never give money to someone who is smoking a cigarette, because I know right where that money will go. All in all I do not have a ton of money myself, but I still feel the need to help out my fellow man, so here is what I have come up with: instead of giving them my spare change, I am going to buy fruit with it and offer it to them. Sure, a dollar can get you a crappy cheeseburger, or you can buy like 4-5 bananas or apples or oranges with the same money. And if I do not happen to run into someone on my way to work, then I have a healthy breakfast for myself all the same.

What kinds of things do you want to do to show love more often? Any ideas?

Good deeds this week:
* On Tuesday I got on the most crowded bus ever, which was driven by a very snarky man who made me laugh when we got to talking about how rude everyone always is on the bus. When I got off at my stop I told him You have a hard job but you do it really well, thanks for driving me to work today.
* I let my boyfriend do his own thing this week without complaining one bit. I do not want to end up being some nagging housewife.
* I listened to a wonderful violinist in the subway station and gave her all the change I had. Seemed like no one else had paid attention to her all day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And Another...

Just had to share a sweet little news story about a homeless man here in San Francisco who lost his cat and has been successfully reunited with her. He loves her a lot, and it is great that the man who accidentally mistook her for a cat in distress made the right decision to give her back. Way to go, dude! Read the article here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Now That's Love.

I just read an article that has single-handedly renewed my hope in mankind for the time being.

It is the story of a man who lives in Australia, and is the last member of his aboriginal tribe. He is in his late thirties and as yet has no children. The tribal lands are now his alone, and he can do what he pleases with them. He grew up surrounded by the history of his peoples, found in burial sites and other sacred places that he explored with his grandparents. His tribal homelands mean a lot to him, and he knows they are instrumental to preserving his culture. But they also happen to sit atop one of the largest uranium deposits on the continent, and he has been offered, at times, around 5 billion dollars for the land. But according to him, it is not for sale. He plans to incorporate the lands into a nearby national park where they will be protected for generations to come. The history he wants to share with his children means more to him than any amount of money a strip-mining company could offer him. Read the full article here.

My God.

I would like to say thank-you to this man, wherever he is, for being a good person and loving pretty much everyone else on earth, and the earth itself, more than he loves himself. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to turn down so much money, I doubt I would be a strong enough person to stick to my guns and love a place so deeply. I hope I would. I want to love like this man does, a love that will outlast time, a love that is bigger than any one person.

Someday, I will love like that.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Since this upcoming weekend is Valentines Day, I thought I should start at the top of the list with one of the seemingly easiest steps: Love.

But love is so much more complicated than we all want to acknowledge. I feel like I am in pretty good shape when it comes to expressing love, but not all people have it so easy. When I was growing up my parents had no trouble saying I love you, and likewise I have no trouble with it today. A lot of people have very confining views of what the word love really means; some people only like to use it in a romantic sense, but I have no objection to the more arbitrary use of it as a word to express things that make one really really happy (as in, I love cupcakes).

And one thing I think a lot of people forget is that it is okay to tell friends that you love them. My best girlie friend, whom I have known since 1st grade, is someone who has been like a sister to me and we end every e-mail and phone conversation with an I love you, and we really mean it. Likewise, I have a co-worker who is one of the nicest guys around but we have only known each other about a year, and when he leaves work he always tells us he loves us and we love him right back.

I think today a lot of people are afraid of the word, like it is some kind of binding contract. But love comes and goes, and has so many different levels. I want to spend this week pondering love, and what it means to me, and how to give more of it and hopefully gain more as well. One thing I know I have to do that I am kind of dreading is write a letter to the parents of my ex-boyfriend. He passed away a couple months ago, and though we had gone out for more than four years, I stopped speaking to him when we broke up.

It was messy and emotional, and I have not heard much from his family since. But at one point they were like my family too, and I love them all very much. I cannot remember actually telling them this, and that makes me sad. So writing a letter and sending some of the old pictures of their late son is on the top of my to-do list. I also want to write some letters I know I will enjoy this week, something cute to my old friends and family just to let them know I love them.

Well, that connects to a couple other things on the list, namely Express and Mail. One of those may be good for next week, unless I can find time to get the garden going, then I will get into that. But as far as the rest of this week goes, I need to think about how to spread more love, and make people happier... More to come.

Where I stand this week:
Carbon footprint: 8.1 or... If everyone lived like me it would take 3.8 Earths to provide enough resources.
Weight: 185 Lbs.
Mood: Slightly annoyed, but happy.
Money (approx.): $1,300.00 in checking, $1,600.00 in savings, $3,000.00 in high-interest credit card debt, $7,000.00 in collection-agent-status debt, and $7,000.00 in student debt.