Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cool things I've been reading

From a cool article on the renovation of an old farmhouse using as much 19th century technology and know-how as possible:

Architect Marina Huissoon tells the Star that people used to only heat the rooms they were occupying rather than the modern wasteful habit of heating the whole house. "We looked at the way the original settlers lived and tried to bring those concepts forward. "

Huissoon notes that earlier generations had little choice about practicing conservation ethics. "It's a very old-fashioned notion, taking care of what we have – we've gotten out of that practice in the last few decades. It's time to get back to that approach to living."
The Star.com

From Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food"

"*Glucose is a sugar molecule that is the body's main source of energy; most carbohydrates are broken down to glucose during digestion. Fructose is a different form of sugar, commonly found in fruit. Sucrose, or table sugar, is a disaccharide consisting of a molecule of glucose joined to a molecule of fructose....

*Fructose is metabolized differently from glucose; the body doesn't respond to it by producing insulin to convey it into cells to be used as energy. Rather, it is metabolized in the liver, which turns it first into glucose and then, if there is no call for glucose, into triglycerides--fat..."

When technological advances allowed for the mass production of white flour (removing the bran as well as the germ) white rice, and corn flour, which were far more popular, more long lasting, and less nutrient rich than their brown counterparts, devastating epidemics of pellagra and beriberi soon followed (caused by a vitamin B deficiency) Nowadays we try to add back in some of the things taken out that have proven necessary--fiber, bran, folic acid, vitamin #, phytic acid, iron, zinc, mangnesium, manganese...but with thousands of micronutrients in every natural food source how can we possibly believe we can add back in all the "needed" things?

Why try to remake a carrot? Why try to process foods until they are unrecognizable and then try to add back in the chemicals and ingredients you've destroyed? It is impossible. But no one got rich selling carrots, they got rich selling Vitamin Fortified Fruit flavored water.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

My money= My ballot, continued...

So where was I? Right...I was feeling guilt over my consumerism, my consumption, my needless purchasing of things that I thought little to nothing of and of which I had never even stopped to consider all the "real" costs.

In my last post I mentioned all the time I've spent NOT shopping. Although I was surprised at how much time that actually was I have since found out that I am far FAR below average. The average American apparently spends 6 hours a week shopping. I assume this is mostly browsing time, as I think we'd be even more insanely in debt on average if we actually purchased for each occurrence of shopping that totaled that 6 hours. I'm not sure that includes time spent doing online shopping. (I'll double check Big Green Purse where I read this statistic). Anyhow... I found myself with more time on my hands.

For anyone who doesn't know I work in a furniture store and have been there almost 5 years. Over the course of this time I have brought home box upon box of discontinued fabric swatches (about 13"x16" pieces of upholstery fabric used for custom ordering.) I could never bear to throw out this fabric and always figured I'd either use it myself, donate it to an artist or art group or I'd sell it on Ebay after leaving the job. With some extra time on my hands I started organizing these fabrics a bit and made a couple of simple bags. My simple bags were lovely. Beautiful fabrics made the bags gorgeous with little effort on my part, but I have a degree in art so that wasn't enough for me. I started making more complicated bags, using different combinations of solids and prints with contrasting lining. I started making them reversible bags...way cool. But I didn't get far before I realized that handles and closures would be a problem. I didn't have any supplies on hand for handles and most of the fabrics I used were far too bulky to make a nice handle out of. I went to the craft store and looked at handles. $7-$10 for a mass produced handle? for a unique bag made for free, and out of repurposed fabric? It seemed to me like a lot of money and waste, especially since I had no real intention to go into business selling them. And so I looked for alternatives for making handles. I went thrift store shopping, I thought perhaps I could scavenge some handles from other bags or perhaps find some other alternatives.

Most of my thrift store shopping in the past few years has been for one type of item--nice wool sweaters that have some problem or are just ugly, but can be unraveled, wound into a ball, and used again as a cheap, eco-friendly knitting yarn. So when I went shopping for handles I already had a good idea where my favorite thrift stores would be and where I might find good supplies. But when I went I was disappointed. Most of the handles on purses were either already worn, or attached to purses that were far too nice to be scavenged. I came home with nothing (except more sweaters).

So while I was still trying to figure out my handle dilemma a friend told me about her favorite thrift store. I went and was amazed. I found a lovely selection of beautiful, stylish clothing sorted neatly and priced cheaply. I came home with a new winter coat and about 7 shirts, blouses and sweaters, most of which were work appropriate and half of which were brand name items (Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole, Anne Taylor, etc.)I spent around $16.

I've been stingy my whole life. I admit it. I kept quarters my parents gave my brother and I for arcade games and said I was going to put mine in the bank rather than waste it on two minutes of forgettable fun. I ration things; once a box of pop is half empty I start slowing my consumption so it will last longer. I like getting a good bargain; if you compliment some jewelry or piece of clothing I'm likely to smile and tell you how little I paid for it. So it shouldn't really be a shocker that I like thrift stores and that I've shopped at them my whole life and continue to do so even though I can afford not to now. But then again, how does one define what they "can afford"? I may not have to count every penny and worry if my limit has been exceeded if I splurge on some clothes here and there, but student loans and credit card debt still eerily lurk in the background reminding me that whatever I spend is keeping me from being able to pay off debt and start my savings. I occasionally remind my ever-broke coworker that with her complete lack-of-debt she is far richer than I am.

So I find myself in thrift store bliss... Lovely, right? Buying pre-used clothes and other items guilt free? Ah, but there's a catch...my closet is already full and I already have way too much stuff...and did I mention my roommate is moving out and I'm faced with the possibility of either having to move all of stuff (a very hefty task) or finding a new roommate willing to live with all of my belongings?

So I stare into my closet and try to see space, try to see how perhaps I might find more room in the crowded and already overstuffed area...And I fail. I imagine giving away all of the clothes I hardly wear and all of the items around my room and around my house that I don't really NEED and I feel elated, freedom sweeping over me. I imagine how I could pick-up and move to another city, just one suitcase full of belongings to my name...ah, sweet bliss it would be to be relieved of the burden of my belongings.

Then I crash. The reality of my belonging to my belongings pull me down. I OWN this stuff. I am responsible for it--like a puppy: I have accepted ownership and agreed to take care of it for the rest of its days. If I give up on the old worn jeans and the slightly outdated dresses and the acrylic paints and the bottles of household cleaners and the old computer towers and the folding chairs and the hair products and all the other countless things crowding my house I will have to choose their fate--do they end up in a landfill or is there someone I can trust to put them to use? I've seen the dumpsters at the Salvation Army, I know that a large number of items are unsold and dumped, I can find no redemption there.

....big long pause...

...So now what?...Well, I'm not sure. I'm buying a bike and am trying to cut down on my driving. I'm trying to think of ways to re-purpose all my old clothes (rugs? quilts? sculptures?). I've found the recycling drop-off point where I can recycle all plastics #1-7 except 6. I've kept up with the composting. I'm sure I'll find new stumbling points as I go though, new obstacles to trying to live my green and footprint free life.

...I'm sure there will be more to come but most of this bit has been sitting waiting to be published for far too long, keeping me from posting anything more frivolous or not on-topic (and I like frivolous and love off-topic)

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Money, the root of evil or the biggest ballot you can cast?

So all my piracy has left me with a large gap in my life...no, it's not the lack of human contact, that was there already. The large gap was/is the time I'm spending NOT shopping.

Now you are probably thinking horrid thoughts about how much I must have BEEN shopping in order to now have so much time filled with non-shopping. All perfectly deserved, but even so, I was never as high an offender as most. I may have to rewind a bit to explain.

I don't know where I should start, with my overcrowded closet and the moment that I felt my heart soar as I contemplated what it would be like to just get rid of it ALL, or with the visit to the thrift store that made me realize I could NEVER buy a "new" outfit again and be completely and sufficiently clothed for the rest of my life by way of other people's cast-offs, or with the website The Story of Stuff that made me re-evaluate my contribution to environmental harm not just in terms of what I brought home, but by the effects and environmental expenditures production and transportation put into those items, or should I start with my first knitted shopping bag?

I knit my first shopping bag about a year ago. It was cotton and pretty and stretched really big to fit groceries in it. But I needed more bags for the amount of groceries I was buying. So I started bringing my knit bag inside of a tote bag...and then another bag, and then I got a thermal bag...and now I probably have about 7 or 8 "grocery bags". Baby steps. I loved not taking bags while I was at the store, and even more I loved not having huge bags of bags growing each week in my recycling pile.

Then I started doing "Eat to Live" during the summer. The diet is largely vegetarian/vegan and the staple foods are lots and lots of veggies and fruits. So as I began doing this diet I began visiting the grocery store once or twice a week instead of once or twice a month. But instead of increasing my garbage I was actually reducing it. I started a compost bin and would go out every week or two to bury the compost in the garden. I put all the plastic containers, tin cans, and cardboard boxes in with my recycling and reused the thin produce bags whenever I could. Very little excess packaging remained. My trash bin filled up once a month rather than once a week. It was inspiring. I started looking at what I was still throwing away and despising it. I began looking at styrofoam trays and plastic bags that had to be thrown out from the corner of my eye--they were personally offensive, they were making me look bad by creating an environmental footprint where I wanted there to be none.

I began noticing that when I went out to eat and was given plastic utensils, Styrofoam cups, plastic containers for salad dressing, cheese, sauce, etc. it was usually without my permission and forcing me into creating a footprint from one meal that might equal a normal week from my at home eating, or a month from people in other countries.

Then I watched The Story of Stuff. And honestly it made me snap out of a delusion I was in. I felt I was doing well. I thought "well look here, I'm conscientious, I reduce, I reuse, I recycle, I don't buy animal products as much, I'm shopping at places that are supporting local and organic farming. I'm way ahead of everyone I know, so surely that's enough, right?"


Let me tell you a side story: When I was in Africa I stayed a number of places with a number of people and usually when first arriving offered some money or food to help facilitate my stay. I was never asked for this, but offered anyways. It was only after I had been in Malawi for 5 months or so that someone asked me how much I had given and I had said "as much as they would take". I was then told that I was supposed to have INSISTED on giving them more, and that most likely the people I stayed with in villages suffered hardship in trying to feed me for the amount of time I had stayed. My heart hurt. I was crushed. People already poor and already burdened suffered without telling me. How could I possibly make up for this? It was truly impossible.

It was a similar feeling, of being crushed by the notion that I was a burden, that I AM a burden, when I watched The Story of Stuff. It was all there. I was buying things...lots of things, here and there, random things, little things, cheap things, unimportant things...and those things were having social and environmental tolls that I could not see or possibly calculate. Every little piece of junk I had ever bought had some price that I had NOT paid. A price not necessarily in dollars, but in fuels burned, natural materials squandered, labor exploited, toxins released into the air and the water, and that those items still had within them more toxins and more material for the landfill unless I could keep them in use. And I have a house FULL of this stuff


...continued later

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So Much... Too Much... and I'm a pirate.

I've had so much to say and have been thinking about blogging for several weeks about several different subjects but have seemed too busy to do so,and now (as I wait for the work day to be over so that I can begin packing for vacation) I find myself wanting to fill the time and wanting to "be busy".

But as I said, it's several different subjects, so I may not write on them all, I may defer posting some until I've had time to tweak them, and I may split this into several posts; so I apologize in advance for what may be a jumbled post and for the current run-on sentence.

To begin...I've been noticing lately that I am in fact, fairly happy at work. This is sometimes an odd realization considering how little I like my co-worker, how often I have to deal with lunatics and high-maintenance personalities, and how long I've been unhappy at work, but nonetheless it's true. It might just be that I'm happy because I've been busy in general, and that leads to being active and challenged, and that leads to me being happy--at work, at home, wherever. But I'm not sure. I certainly have felt somewhat dissatisfied with my interactions with dancers and Baha'is and with my social network in general, but with the exception of the occasional moments of dissatisfaction I've been happy in most all places.

And how did I get so "busy in general"? I took up piracy. (Is the government listening? I hope not.)

Yup, Piracy has made me a happier person. I've had my justifications for it-->I'm getting material I could easily get at the library, I'm watching television shows that were put out there for "free" viewing the first time, I never would have paid money for the things I'm pirating therefore I'm not depriving anyone of money they might otherwise have had, and I'm not contributing to wasteful and toxic production of cds, dvds, and books.

So far I've re-read (as most of them I checked out of the library either as books or audiobooks before) 7.5/10 of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. I've listened to the BBC recording of a Douglas Adams book and read another by way of a thrift-store-purchased tree-made-information-storage-depository as a follow-up. I've listened to another 3 audiobooks I can't recall the titles of at the moment, I've watched the entire 3 seasons of Battlestar Galactica, all the episodes of Trigun, and started in on The West Wing, I watched parts of several other TV shows, some of my favorite cheesy 80s movies, and a handful of newer films. I got a kick out of how watching 3 French movies in a row made me start thinking in French again and then how watching The West Wing made me renew my desire to get a law degree. (Reading all the Anne Rice however did not make me want to become a vampire, although it did make me appreciate the in depth study into the struggle between the relationships of right&wrong vs. good&evil.)

Piracy? Check.

Next topic: Environmentalism/ Sustainability & Consumerism

Too big a topic to not have it's own entry.

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