Archive for August, 2008

You Know Who You Are

For the person who found my blog with the search term “can you eat tomatoes eaten by squirrels”, here is my answer:

1) Yes, technically it is possible.

2) Ew.

Quack Nostrums

I actually managed to catch a few of the DNC convention speeches this evening, since my class let out early.  I  enjoyed Harry Reid’s accurate summary of the dangers of our oil-based economy, and a scathing indictment of the politicians who’ve encouraged that dependence.  Special love is reserved for McCain’s offshore drilling proposals: Reid dubs it snakeoil, purveyed by kindly old Doc McCain as a magic elixir to cure what ails.

Hee hee. Though really, it’s only funny until you realize that kindly old Doc McCain is seriously proposing this as a solution to our energy crisis, and his party is actually rabidly behind him on it.

In conclusion,

The simple fact is that the promise of more oil isn’t part of the solution; it’s part of the problem. At best, this is an 18th-century answer to a 21st-century crisis; at worst, it’s pure baloney.

Transcript from Politico is here, and your video:

PS. Yes, he used the phrase quack nostrums!  Good phrase, Harry!

Not That You Asked

But in case you were dying to know what the most eco-friendly application plug-ins for facebook were, Huffpost has got you covered.

Green Design in my Basement: Part 3

Part the last, mostly dealing with my decision to invest in a minifridge.

Minifridges are great.  They combine fridges, which make wonderful things wonderfully cool, with tiny-and-cuteness.  But:  1) There’s already a fridge upstairs, and 2) I bought it from Walmart.

Now, the fridge upstairs is usually full, and I can barely squeeze in OJ, milk, and a tupperware container or two.  With a fridge in my basement, my food is easier to access, they have more space upstairs, and I have plenty of room to keep beer and leftovers for lunches.  Upstairs, space is not guaranteed.  So, while the fridge was not necessary for survival, it solved lots of potential problems for everybody in the house.

Now, as to Walmart:  Since I decided on getting the fridge, it needed to be efficient.  I did some research on small Energy Star fridges.  Haier makes a 4ft^3 one with a tiny freezer, and it uses 270kwh a year.  That was about as low as I found on the EnergyStar site- Samsung and Sub-Zero also have a few models with very low energy usage.  Most minifridges with EnergyStar ratings use above 300kwh a year.  When I was trying to figure out where to buy it, however, Walmart came back as the area store that actually stocked Energy-Star minifridges, and they had the Haier model available online with free site-to-store shipping.  Go figure.

This maybe should not be a surprise, though.  Walmart has been making impressive efforts to add ecofriendliness to their entire process- pushing organics and CFLs on their customers, installing solar panels on their stores, bullying their suppliers into more environmentally friendly packaging, and so on.  Since they’re the hugest retail chain ever, this is having a massive impact on the supply and purchase of green goods around the country.  I’m all for supporting companies who are actually making big, helpful environmental changes, and I like to communicate my support by buying green products I need from them.

But.  But! Of course, these green initiatives are not without their mistakes.  Plus, Walmart is intensely skeezy to their workers.  I’ve read the Ehrenreich book, I keep up with their latest anti-union antics, and they’re still mostly selling cheap junk from China.  Also, their teen fashion section is terrifying.  I get all the very good reasons to not support them, or the way they run their business.

Here’s the conundrum.  Few places sell the eco-friendly things that I want.  But finally, a nearby store with the minifridge that only uses $24 of electricity a year!  Why does it have to be Walmart that’s providing the stuff I want?

So, there.  I’ve given you the various impulses surrounding my decision, I’ve told you how it worked out (I bought it, and it’s awesome, and having it’s made lunches much easier).  Under the same set of circumstances, I bet a lot of environmentally concerned types would have done the same thing- and many wouldn’t have gotten the fridge at all.  Some people might have searched further afield for it, or settled for a different model.

It’s hard to know the right thing to do when faced with these questions.  The answer lies somewhere between primitivism and consumer excess, and just where depends on what your particular priorities are.  Waste less water?  Buy only reusables?  Make it yourself? Buy nothing?  Recycling fiend?  Some combination of the above?  I think the act of carefully weighing the different impacts of your decisions is about 60% of the way to making a good one.  Which, I hope, is why I spend so much time agonizing over some of mine.

How To Start Biking To Work

This isn’t going to work for everybody, but if you live within biking distance (and in the vein of Stephen Wright, anywhere’s biking distance, if you’ve got the time) and have a place to de-sweat at or near your work, you can bike to work.  Here’s what you need to get started.

1) A good map of bike-friendly routes in the area.  Alexandria’s is here.  The rest of the Greater DC region can be found here.  If you don’t have a safe bike trail or wide streets or a dedicated bike lane, you can substitute nerves of steel and ride on regular streets.

2) Know your traffic safety laws for bikes.  Here are Virginia’s.

3) Get a few pieces of gear.  You need, minimum, a bike, a lock, and a helmet.  Check out used bike shops and Craigslist.

For safety reasons, you’ll also want to have reflectors, a headlight (white LED light), a blinking taillight (red LEDs), a tire pressure gauge and tire pump, and a basic set of tools for changing tires (patches, those wedge doohickies you pull off the tire and tube with).  This stuff can generally be found at a big box place, but you’ll get good (if rabid) advice from a local bike shop.  Things will be more expensive there, of course, so weigh your wallet vs. the benefits of supporting local shops.

Second-tier useful bike stuff: a car bike rack, in case you need to be picked up sometime.  A basket or under-seat baggie or panniers for carrying your bags around.  A padded seat cover, self-explanatory after a bumpy ride.

4) FInd a helpful cyclist.  Maybe someone at your work rides in, or one of your friends is handy with bikes.  Talk to them, get their advice, and maybe even take them gear shopping with you.

Not sure if you know a cyclist?  Do you know anyone with really well-developed thighs?  Do you know anyone who’s oddly comfortable with spandex?  How about helmet hair?  Look for clues like these.

It’s a pretty simple program, and it works for me. Any other tips, cyclists?

Green Design, In My Basement: Part 2

Back to eco-lovely ways I decorated my place:

The New Stuff:  New room, new configuration, so I went shopping on Craigslist.

I had my eye on a large open bookcase from Ikea for a room divider, and it turns out Craiglist is an already-asembled-Ikea outlet.  Type in any of their odd product names and there are probably four or five people in the area selling one.  This works with Crate and Barrel and whatever other brands you might be looking for, also.  I got my gigantor bookcase/room divider, delivered, for less than the cost of picking up the flat pack down in Woodbridge.  Then I sold an old chair, and bought a rug. I also bought a microwave from my officemate, who was about to list it on Craigslist.

If you haven’t used the site before, take a look around.  You can search all kinds of wants- cars, furniture, clothing, jobs, apartments, dates- and list anything you have to offer, for free.  Put up pictures of your stuff and everything.  It can be frustrating, since some listings are gone sooner than you’d think, and some sellers and buyers are flighty- but ask for cash and meet in public places or take a friend to exchange items, and you’ll save yourself a good deal of trouble, plus get cheap nice stuff.

I have two rugs I’d like to put up for sale, but they both smell like dog right now, so I’m trying to fix that to raise their asking price (from $0 to anything.  Old dog smell is awful, and I would not wish it on any but my worst enemies, or maybe Stephen Johnson, head EPA obstructer).

I love shopping second-hand: thrill of the chase, thinking of ways to refashion old things to make them awesome, finding bits I never expected.  If this does not sound thrilling to you, get thee to a brand-specific search.  Or, at the least, sell the stuff you’re replacing, and keep it out of a dump.  People like me want it.

Last Installment: Big Decisions, Little Fridge

Finally, A Farmer’s Market for Lazeabeds

There are a couple of great farmer’s markets in Alexandria, but nothing for those of us who hate greeting the day until it’s having a midlife crisis.  I slept through the Old Town Farmer’s Market (City Hall Plaza, 5-10:30am Saturdays) for a few months, and now I’ve moved I’ve been sleeping through the Del Ray Farmer’s Market (Oxford and Mt. Vernon, 8am-12 Saturdays).  As of last Wednesday, though, I have no more excuse to not get my fresh, local veggies.

The Upper King Street Farmer’s Market just opened up, Wednesdays 2-7pm at 1806 King St, which is right near that big metal hat sculpture in front of King St. Metro.  It’s open every Wednesday through October 29th, which is great, because that means Halloween is on a Friday this year.

Green Design, In My Basement: Part 1

Moving is a gigantic hassle, but I really enjoy rearranging all my stuff.  I did a mostly good job keeping my last move as recycled and eco-friendly as possible (minus the trips back and forth with a pick-up truck, but that is the whole point of moving, I guess).  Here’s a tour of my new place, with green features:

The walls: My ceiling is low, and the lights are fluorescent, so I painted the walls to make the space more liveable.  Sherwin Williams has a store nearby, and their zero-VOC paint comes in a nice big range of colors. They have a really neat web tool where you can “paint” rooms in colors you like, trim and all, to test the combo- worth at least a half hour of play time. Plus, with a 20% discount that week, it was a good deal.  Typically their gallon cans of flat paint are $35, and there’s a 15% discount for signing up to be a “preferred customer”, which I understood to mean they send you coupons sometimes.  But the 20% was better, and so I got a can each of Osage Orange and Dill Green.

“VOC” is shorthand for volatile organic compound, which is a substance typically used by paint companies to dissolve pigments in their mixes.  VOCs are way toxic though– they’re the smell of paint drying, and why you should paint only in well-ventilated areas.  Inhale too much and you can get all sorts of damage to your central nervous system.  So, while zero VOC paint is a few bucks more expensive, and doesn’t come in the deepest colors offered (since other solvents can’t dissolve as much pigment as VOCs), it’s the way to go if you want to minimize indoor air pollution. It’s safe to paint during the day and sleep in the room that night, with this stuff. Even Sherwin Williams isn’t a chemical free, totally earth-friendly paint, though. I used it because I’m in a moldy basement, and the biocide aspect of the paint is appealing.  Plus, the store is close-by.  Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company sells a milk-based paint in a large range of colors, and it’s available at Woodcraft, down in Springfield.  It comes in a powder, you add water and mix it up, and it’s a lot harder to match colors across batches that way.  But still, it loves the planet, and is a safer alternative to chemical paints.

The curtains: I folded an old window hanging that had gotten sun-damaged, and hung it on extra picture wire behind a reed blind from Ikea (purchased 6 moves ago, languishing since that apartment).  I sewed a curtain for another window out of a fabric remnant and an ill-fitting thrifted skirt.  I could have donated it again, but it would have looked pretty bad on anyone, so I put it out of our misery.  It looks great as my curtain.

Another curtain was created from hanging all my scarves over a rod, and securing them with extra hair clips.  Inexpensive, keeps the scarves from getting obscured on the coat hooks, and looks pretty fantastic, what with all the color and texture.  It was the GF’s idea to do it- one of a couple great ideas he had for my room.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised about those, he’d done a great job setting up his own apartment.  Curtain rods were made possible by the donation of five long bamboo stalks from GF’s mother, because she has awesome ideas about moving-in gifts.  So far, we’ve cut curtain rods for the window, closet, and a strange recess in one corner that exposes the mechanical equipment.  I’ve got about 40 ft left, if anybody needs any.

The welcome mat: I now have an outside door, so I found a 100% recycled rubber doormat at Target.  Small victory in a Big Box.

Next time: Craigslist Shopping and New Appliance Guilt!

Enough Castigation, On to Vegetable Pics

My tomatoes are gone, but my red pepper was ready a few days ago.  It had a weird gouge in the side, but we washed it up, and it tasted good with a (store-bought arrrrgh) tomato, olive oil, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Meanwhile, my carrots have nice bushy tops, but apparently their tops are way larger than the carrot bit.  Happy to report they taste like carrot, though they are only half-bite sized right now.

Here is my “still life with tiny carrot”.

Guess they need a few more weeks.

Progress: All Washed Up

So this month I was supposed to be reducing my water usage and refining my relationship with what I wash down the drain, aaaaand.  Well.  I’m taking shorter showers now!  But I started biking in to work, so now I take two showers a day.  I am switching to biodegradable soaps and shampoos, but that I was already doing anyway.  My friend made a rain barrel!  But I haven’t changed the way I water my plants or wash dishes.

I’d say my progress this month ranked about as low as February, when I failed utterly at composting.  But in February, I had tried, and failed.  I didn’t try very hard this month.  For instance, these are the things I should have tried:  I could collect pre-shower water to douse my plants.  I could brush my teeth from a cup of water, instead of letting the tap run (works while camping in Wisconsin.  I could do Navy showers- getting wet, soaping up with the water off, then rinsing.  While I can’t in good conscience shower less while I’m getting this much exercise morning and evening, that would at least minimize the extra-shower harm.  I could also find a low-flow showerhead.  May I mention that I hate that idea?  But I should try it.

Ok, I didn’t take my challenge seriously enough this month.  No excuses, really, but some pretty exciting other stuff did happen the past few weeks.  Which might explain why I’m recapping July in mid-August.

Anyhow, I’m fixing this lack of focus this month.  For the remainder of August, I’m regrouping.  I’m slipping on my vegetarian pledge, I haven’t harvested my successful compost, my garden is being ravished by displaced woodland creatures, I have a huge pile of sewing and mending to do, and I still haven’t checked to make sure the Eco-City Alexandria thing got through City Council a couple months ago.  So, for the remainder, I’ll work on getting back into those monthly grooves.

I’m already revisiting biking quite successfully, that is one area I can feel good about.  I actually look forward to my ride to and especially from work, which is not something I was expecting.  I rode with traffic on busy streets for a bit today, and I’m pretty sure I obeyed signals and followed road rules well.  Washington Area Bicyclist Association has a handy table of cycling ordinances for MD, VA, and DC.  Note that In Alexandria, cycling on sidewalks isn’t allowed, which means I need to rethink my morning detours.

I’m getting distracted from this endeavor, so a month of catching up with myself is needed.


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