Archive for the 'how to' Category

Green Makes My Life Complicated: Disinfecting Dishes

I run into a bunch of situations where wanting to do the environmental thing makes my life ridiculous for a while.  This week is a good example:  while at home celebrating my brother’s wedding, I found my set of family china and repacked it to bring it back with me, since I mysteriously lost 80% of my dinnerware in two shared kitchens over the last year.  So far so good.

But these dishes have been in my folk’s basement in the wilderness for decades, give or take.  Mice have lived amoung them, and used the wrappings as latrines.  Yes, ew.  So,  I have 150 pieces of pretty china that I must assume has the black death all over it.  And the Seventh Generation dish soap isn’t the “DEATH TO GERMS” kind, it’s a lavender scented regular degreasing kind.  It’s great, I love it.  But I want the stuff on those plates dead, and then I need to scrub the countertops they’ve been sitting on with something similarly deadly.

But I haven’t found an environmentally friendly cleaner that also promises to rid me of this plauge.  All the no-phosphate, biodegradable green stuff is gentle on living beings of all sizes, it seems. And today at Whole Foods a helpful clerk told me an all-purpose natural cleaner would kill germs (it didn’t say that anywhere on the bottle) and then I could wash them regularly.  I don’t believe it.

So, I have a couple options.  I could a) boil the dishes (I’d need gloves and tongs and a big pot), which is the most environmentally sound way I think this could happen, but isn’t really hot water bad for china?  Also I have to do this to about 100 pieces, and drying space gets complicated, b) get some antibacterial soap and suds away, lakes and streams be damned, or c) scrub them with the soap I have and hope my fears of bacteria are unfounded.  They have a gold rim and I have no idea how old/classy they are, so dishwashing for the heated water and strong jets isn’t a good idea (though I’m testing a tea cup now to see- grandma had a ridiculous number of teacups).

Votes or suggestions?

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?

Sign Your AC Is On Too High

Pizza Hut AC Sign

I saw this sign on the door of a Pizza Hut in West Virginia, a few weeks ago.  Apparently they only have two A/C settings: “Off” and “Bring Your Jacket”.  Fortunately, many of the rest of us have non-binary air conditioning, and can choose a more comfortable indoor temperature.

What with the heat in DC right now, there are plenty of thing you can do to feel cooler, without setting your A/C on “igloo”.  Drink icy things.  Wear a skirt.  If you’re not man enough to wear a skirt, try shorts.  Take cool showers.  If you must go outside and have a choice on attire, wear gym clothes- they’re more comfortable to sweat in anyway.  Keep your curtains and blinds drawn during the day, to insulate you from the outdoor heat, and prevent sunlight from sneaking in to warm up your interior.  Stay near a fan- moving air will cool you down, and assist your central A/C in moving cool air to the entire house.

More energy saving tips courtesy of the California Energy Commission.  They recommend keeping the AC at 78 degrees or higher, depending on how you can handle it.  Every degree you can raise your thermostat saves you about 1-3% of your energy bill, in the summer.  And right about now, 78 is a cool breeze, compared to the armpit that awaits you outside of your front door.

Right, That Laptop

Let me help you up off that cliff. Where were we? I bought a laptop. I thought it would be difficult to balance my not-so-demanding computing needs and my wish to shop earth-consciously. It turned out to be pretty simple. The steps:

1) Set a target price. I didn’t want to spend more than $750, based on some tooling around a couple of online retailers and my personal financial goals.

2) Asked the Gentleman Friend for recommendations on brands, and tech websites. He’s quite into this sort of thing, so it was tough reminding him that I need a lot less machine than he does. A lot like trying to buy bike gear from an Intense Biking Person, when really you just need a Huffy.

3) Waded into the Green-Tech rankings. I checked EPEAT first. This was a bit of a mistake, since EPEAT rates individual machines. Greenpeace rates manufacturers overall, so i should have started with them. The model I ended up with is actually not rated at the EPEAT site yet, but the manufacturer has gotten silver and a few gold ratings for all of their rated products. The EPEAT Criteria are here. Models are rated on how well the company reports materials used and avoids some hazardous chemicals, among other things. Manufacturers have to mreet 23 basic criteria to get Bronze, all the basics and 50% of the 28 optional criteia. Gold laptops need 75% of the optional criteria as well as the basics. Toshiba, Dell, HP, and Lenovo all make has Gold-rated laptops. My price limit eliminated a good deal of the gold models. Not that they’re expensive, it’s just, $750 is not very much to pay for a laptop.

I checked Greenpeace next. Apparently, they do much more than harass whaling vessels. Their rankings deal with chemicals, reporting on materials, and takeback recycling options that companies offer. Toshiba gets top rankings, along with Samsung. Dell, Lenovo, Nokia and Sony come in “second”. Greenpeace found room for everyone to improve, though, of course.

Given how many different machines EPEAT needs to review to get their rankings to be really useful, I think Greenpeace might have the better idea ranking by manufacturer’s overall practices. So I decided to decide by that. Toshiba, Dell, and Lenovo seemed to rise to the top of the rankings where I was looking. Toshiba and Dell turned out to be a bit much for my budget. Plus, I’m no tech snob, but I’m a tech snob about Dells. They’ve got Linux models now, and they are doing good work with ecoing-up the ante, but I’m a tech snob about Dells.

4) I decided. I found out the good things about Lenovo just in time. After some research at newegg, I had picked an Acer and a Lenovo. Seduced by the 17 inch screen, I almost opted for the Acer- until I saw the Greenpeace rankings. Ah-ha! Thank you Greenpeace, for quantifying my principles for me. I opted for the 15 inch Lenovo. It was no longer for sale. What? I had to look around again, but I found a less-expensive, and less fast (2GB vs 3GB RAM) Lenovo Y510 at MicroCenter, which is a less-ubiquitous kind of Best Buy, as far as I can tell. And I pick up my new little $620 friend tomorrow morning, since he was in stock.

I’m excited, but I’ve also decided to switch to Linux myself this time around. So I’m anticipating a few glitches before I get the hang of Ubuntu. I’ll keep my old computer around for a few days while the helpful GF gets me through that. Which is really just a way of saying that you’ll have to find out how I’m eco-disposing of my old rig in a couple of days! Back over the cliff, now. Hang tight.

A Finished Project, Almost: Kanzashi Lite

For an event tonight, the organizers requested we bring the flowers- made ones, by hand, please. I sewed mine, and it’s all recycled- made of fabric scraps from various projects, and some beads from a broken necklace. I modified a template for kanzashi, which are Japanese folded fabric or paper flowers worn mostly by Geishas. Here’s the chain of inspiration: I first saw the fabric version on etsy, then found a website with plenty of links to different tutorials for both paper and fabric versions. I adapted the instructions at this site, since I was using a flimsier fabric for the petals. And, voila:

flower petals

I had a petal base. Basically, I cut triangles of fabric, and folded them twice (so you have two folds at the top, and two loose ends and one fold at the bottom), then sewed a couple of times through the four layers at the bottom of the petal. I stitched each new folded triangle to the same thread, until I had a long chain that, when I held it in a loop, formed a solid flower circle with no obvious blank spaces yearning for its own petal. I then sewed through the circle at the bases once more, to space them a little more neatly.

You flower budcan see the “hole” in the middle, where all the petals meet, and it looks a bit uneven. Iflower stem needed a bud, which I made by stuffing a little square of fabric with some leftovers, and sewing on the beads. I also made a stem by rolling a bit of rectangular cloth and sewing up the sides in a spiral- when it was long enough, I trimmed the top to make a neat circle. By poking the bud through the middle of the hole from the top, and whip stitched the sides of the petal to the top folds of the petals. This allowed me to flatten out the bud over the entirety of the messy middle, and to hold the petals evenly in place around the bud. I then stitched together the mess at the bottom of the flower center- all of the folded bases together with the bud base poking through- then whip stitched the stem over all those to the single fold at the bottom of each petal, to space the bottoms of the petals neatly. The results:

kanzashi flower

As you can see, I added a few more beads and a little stitching to the bud, and leaves (folded the same way as the petals and sewn to the stem).

If I get a chance, I’d like to try and add some thin wire to the beads, so they poke up perkily- I’m going to dig out some twisty ties after this and see how that works. And the bud looks unfinished, since I’m no good at embroidery (yet). I’d like to finish it with some cool contrasting beads, and I haven’t got any of those. But otherwise, I’m quite happy with it.

I found other instructions for fabric flowers here, through a post at Crafting for a Green World, and they look pretty cool, too. I went with the kanzashi for this project because I liked the more defined petals, and thought they’d look good in larger sizes.

So, one handmade thing finished! I should have a few more over the weekend for you. If you have any questions about my methods, feel free to ask, of course.

Fast Flip-Flop How-To

Actually they’re not flip-flops, really, they’re nuno-zories. At her blog, Ecosamurai has translated the instructions and posted some in-process pictures of her new-no zories. (Har har! Forgive me.) They’re adorable and so practical! Having just spent way longer than I meant to in a shoe store, I do feel the need to sit down and contemplate life and consumer choices while weaving my own from all those free teeshirts that I no longer have space for. Plus, making a pair of these will isolate you from dirty floors- you’ll never sweep again, or suffer while waiting for someone else to do it first.

Thanks for the post, ecosamurai!

I’m adding it to my list of handmade things to do. And in a couple of days, I promise pictures of what I’ve done so far.

Four Bucks for Cashmere?

At the 4 dollar sweaterSalvation Army, yes. I found this sweater there this afternoon while I was dropping off a load of unnecessary apartment stuff, and had to share. So classy and soft, and if the price and quality won’t convince you to browse your local second hand shop, nothing will. Finding something at a thrift store is way more exciting than finding something at a normal retailer- the element of surprise, the thrill of the chase, etc. Less chance of getting a winner, true- I saw plenty of ugly sweaters made with gorgeous yarn, so maybe next time I’ll try out this advice on recycling sweaters I found through another blog (which I’ll link soon, they’re nifty).

After that ecofriendly success, I balanced my day by getting caught in a rainstorm on my walk home from work, while carrying my bag of groceries. Fortunately it was the perfect warm evening and light rain, and I only stepped in the big puddle and soaked my socks a few hundred yards from my door. But it was a good reminder that practical hippies should carry umbrellas.

One Week to Valentin- whaaat?!

I can already feel the swell of righteous anger- I know, I know. Valentine’s Day is a dreadful prospect for everyone involved. You’re either under pressure to come up with something really special- flowers! roses! diamonds! dinner reservations! all of the above!- for your snuggly-pumpkin, or scared and wondering if your snookie-poo is coming to come through with something really special for you, or if you haven’t got a cuddle-woogums then, well, you’re cranky. About this time of year, I start hearing the anti-establishment rants from males of my aquaintance- Valentine’s Day is created by advertisers to convince women that we have to buy them things and then they get mad at us when we don’t and everything’s pink and those candy hearts are gross and I hate it and etc.

They’re right, except for the candy hearts thing. Apparently the greeting card industry has an award named for the lady who invented the Valentine’s day card. And now they’re capitalizing on haters by selling Anti-Valentine’s day cards! Genius!

Plus, all this shiny red waste. Big packages for little waxy chocolates, plastic wrap, cheaply-made toys, forests of obnoxious cards, tons and tons of dying flowers shipped all over at exorbitant prices…and all the hippies crying green ecotears. Why are we making love so unsustainable?

Some go so far as to declare their non-participation in this non-event: I will not bow to the follies of popular culture, I above the red and pink pressures. Works perfectly if you’re single, but you try explaining to your wimbly-bipple that you’re not going to be extra-sweet to him/her/it for one little day just because somebody had the gall to suggest that you do so. (Here’s a helpful tip: this will always go poorly for you. If it doesn’t go poorly for you, dump him/her/it and look for someone with a backbone.)

Me, I like Valentine’s Day. I’m looking forward to it. I think you’d like Valentine’s Day, too, if we made a few rules for it. Here’s my proposal:

1 ) No gross, over-processed red and pink-wrapped chocolates/candies. “Gift Food” is not a gift, nor is it food. Try making something actually tasty.

2 ) No stuffed animals (ok, unless it’s your best friend from forever and you compete to see who can come up with the most ridiculous one even though she always wins, even the year you found the purple snake with heart spots, because of that one vibrating pink lion…).

3 ) No store-bought cards. “I Love You” doesn’t count if it was written by a committee, mass produced, and purchased. (Try making a pop-up card. Fun, and demonstrative, and just think of all the things you can…never mind.)

4 ) Both halves of the couple must plan nice things for their hunnie-muffins.

5 ) If you do buy jewelry, don’t symbolize your love with a product of bloodshed, underpaid sweat, and intestinal delivery. Go vintage, or fair-trade, or lab-grown, or recycled, or at least certified. And similarly with flowers- why are you killing so many pretty things to tell her she’s pretty? Get her a live plant if you can (let her kill it). But really,

6 ) You don’t need to spend money at all. This is about love, and celebrating strong relationships, and taking the time to appreciate having your puddle-widgkins. So do that in a way that’s just for the two of you, and not for Hallmark/Godiva/DeBeer’s, also. Two’s company, three’s just wrong.

7 ) Call your parents and grandparents.

8 ) If you haven’t found your ookle-dumpling yet, see 7). Then don’t take it so personally (statistically you’ll find your mumbly-cupcake someday, and it’s not like angst makes you more attractive, unless you’re one of those people), take a deep breath, and go hang out with cool people and do fun things.

What do you think? A dash of anti-consumerism, a pinch of anti-advertisements, and a shot of self-confidence makes Valentine’s more sustainable, and maybe even bearable.

The Composter Is In

UPS finally allowed me to have my package today, so ta-daa!
composter in box

She’s a NatureMill Plus, and she’s surprisingly soft and light.composter mixer The deal is, I put stuff in the top, along with sawdust (or other “browns” like all-purpose flour), baking soda, and dirt, then I plug it in. In two weeks, all that undergoes a messy metamorphosis into very strong dirt. There’s a picture of it open- it’s got a heating element and a mixing bar, then I push a button and it dumps itself into a tray to “cure”.

Now, I am aware this is not “real” composting. I am aware that I should build a container and put it in the sun and dump in some worms, then watch it lovingly and take its pH level and turn it and drain it and coddle it and all that rot. (Hah!). My parents taught me how to for-real compost, though since we lived in the woods it was actually more like “put this in that pile and let nature occur”. In this apartment though, and my next apartment, I have no woods or even yard, and very little sun, and no place to experiment. Plus, let’s see how the new housemates handle rabid guerrilla recycling before I spring worms on them.

What’s in it for you? Why, you’ll receive fresh pictures of my first few batches, of course, plus I’m now taking applications for loads of uber-dirt, to be delivered every two weeks or thereabouts.

I need to go dig up two cups of regular lame dirt to get this baby going- but then, I can eat a banana, cut the peel into 4in-pieces, and watch the magic happen.

Gratuitous accessories shot:

naturemill accessories

The Halloween Try

Halloween RecyclingI hope that the success of my Halloween party will be measured by the heft of the recycling bin afterwards. It was both more and less difficult than I expected to make the shindig ecofriendly. Fortunately it was a simple affair- a few snacks, drinks, and a nod at the reason for the season (refined sugar and the color orange). First, the decoration: I used some heftier paper streamers that made it through last year’s party and a string of paper pumpkins from a late seasonal gift that also escaped said melee. Inexplicably, these were in a box under my bed, along with the leftover orange plastic ware and napkins and a few red ribbons- it looks like Christmas will benefit from my packing tendencies, also. I found a few other decorations on clearance, but I didn’t purchase anything that wasn’t useful in itself and that I didn’t like enough to use regularly. Orange and black aren’t my color scheme of choice, but I found non-garish dark orange placemats and a few sparkly black bowls whose Halloweenic nature will be completely hidden when dispersed among the contents of my apartment. None of the snacks required silverware, and only a few napkins were needed in anticipation of party fouls. All the decorations were packed up afterwards for next year.

Comestibles were almost as simple to green. I stuck with mostly canned beer, since aluminum cans tend to contain a good amount of recycled material and can be fully recycled themselves. The available glass bottles had their caps collected for my jewelry-inclined friend to experiment with as threatened. Solo cups remaining from the last party (and cleaned!) were put out for the other available liquids. Soft drinks were purchased in 2L quantities, since those are shared and come with less packaging than canned sodas, though their tops are not recyclable. In the aftermath, the surviving cups were collected and washed for the next bash. Grist has advice on whether to go reusable and wash after parties, or use paper products and dump, and this was the toughest decision due to the complex calculations of life cycle analysis and comparison of different resources depleted. We’re not in a drought, so I used a little bit of water washing the cups by hand. There are biodegradable partyware lines, but “not having to buy new stuff” trumped exploring for those items. I didn’t serve food, just organic chips, organic salsa, and candy, and picked candy for it’s addition to the color scheme and lack of bulky, redundant packaging (MnMs, candy corn). In the latter, I was partially thwarted by my thoughtful and well-meaning gentleman friend, who showed up with a bag of doubly-wrapped candies for me. No worries, though, those are best for party favors. Stuffing handfuls of MnMs in your guests’ pockets as they leave is not quite the same as a contained box of Nerds, despite being much more entertaining (for you).

The final touch was the aggressive recycling box, which, after it has been emptied, will be available for me to bring to any parties that I may, in the future, be invited to. All in all, we ended up only tossing out the sales tags on the bowls and place mats, a few napkins and paper towels used for spills, packaging for some of the candy and chips, and a tangle of toilet paper turned upon an uncostumed guest- I run a strict costume party, and he knew the chance he took.


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