Archive for the 'shopping' Category

Items of Note: Life, Choices, Life Choices

Remember how Planet Earth was/still is completely amazing?  Discovery/BBC (the same people who did Planet Earth) is doing another series in the same vein, with incredible nature footage, impressive feats of film-making, ants catching a fungus that explodes their heads (or at least I hope- That’s my favorite episode, hands-down.  That and the shark that eats the seal in mid-air).  It’s Life, and you can watch clips and an explanation here (after a commercial). Oprah is narrating, and it’s a pleasure to hear her calm voiceover as this Komodo dragon tries to eat a water buffalo.

If that clip didn’t make you hungry enough to stop reading and go get a snack, check out this article from the NYT’s Green Inc column.  It summarizes a study of the behavior of consumers who are given green shopping choices, and who buy environmentally-friendly things.  The gist is, viewing ecofriendly shopping options makes us more altruistic.  But actually buying green stuff makes us smug, thieving jerks:

“People do not make decisions in a vacuum,” the researchers concluded, adding that “while mere exposure to green products can have a positive societal effect by inducing pro-social and ethical acts, purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors.”

The experimenters attribute this to a “single-action bias”, which leads people facing big problems to rationalize making one small responsive action as ‘enough’ to then consider those problems solved.  I’m not sure how that progresses to petty theft (read the article) but perhaps green consumers feel they deserve a little extra for their troubles?  I recognize myself in the single action bias description, for sure. I’ll check for the other part later this week (I need to stock up on recycled TP- will it cause me to cut off an old lady in the parking lot?  Stay tuned!)

Third noted item is also scholarly. I’ve got all the responses I want from graduate programs, and I’m deciding between the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I welcome opinions to flavor my other research.

Pregaming for the Holidays: Making a List

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!  Mine was very relaxing.  I overheard my younger cousins discussing who was better at recycling and had hope for the world.  And nobody murdered me when I kept wondering aloud how many of the items we saw in our annual Reading Of The Seasonal Catalogs were made with child and/or slave labor.  This leads obliquely to my point:  Do you know who made what you want for Christmas?

While you’re looking for local/organic/fair trade/sustainiwhatever stuff for other people, take a look at your own wish list.  Are you asking for stuff that reflects your values?  Do you really want this stuff, or will it just get shoved in a drawer by February?  Instead of stuff, could people give you gifts of time- help with a project, dinner out, concert tickets? Are you dropping hints that you’d prefer handmade jewelry from a skilled local artisan/fair trade doodads/organic clothing to substitutes from a big box store?  Are these hints loud enough?

My immediate family has a highly effective system of a) asking each other what we want and b) including direct links in the reply emails, so there’s no hinting about it.  I’m trying to make sustainable choices.  A magazine I want comes in an online version- less expensive and less environmental impact.  I’m linking to books I want from BetterWorldBooks instead of Amazon this year, too- they fund literacy and have free shipping (and can typically beat Amazon’s prices, which they include on each page).  Found a few pretty things I want at etsy, of course.

But it’s not all so easy to make green choices when ‘wanting’ is involved.  I’m having a moral dilemma about the Slanket this year.  I would really like a thick blanket with sleeves. That would make me very happy.  But all I know is that while the Slanket started out being made in Maine as a family business, it’s now manufactured in China.  The business is still run in Maine, but I don’t really know much else about the process.  except they do donate a portion of the profits to charities, according to the website.  It’s all polyester fleece material.  So does it meet my supposedly high standards for gettin’ stuff?

Well.  Consider the alternatives.  The smaller, cheaper Snuggie (can’t find any info at all on how they’re made, and the low price point makes me pretty sure it’s not with unionized labor) is a definite no.  I could make one in an organic fabric- I have a sewing machine and I think I get the concept of sleeves.  But this does not reward the brilliant inventor of a sleeved blanket.  I could send Slanket $5 and make my own.  This convoluted option probably gets most of my principles in, but.  Seriously?  Dah.  Oh!  Slanket could make one in an organic fabric!  And tell us how their Chinese factory operates!  I’ll write them a letter to that effect, but it does not solve my immediate problem.

Anyway.  I will continue having this dilemma until Christmas, at which point I will or will not receive a Slanket.  And if I do, I’m betting living in it for a week will numb the environmental unease.  If I don’t get one, problem solved.

A Christmas Nightmare/Miracle

So I was in Target tonight- Friday nights are pretty bumpin’ these days as you see- and they’ve got the Christmas stuff out already.  It’s not even hidden behind the Halloween stuff.  I see no Thanksgiving stuff?  That’s weird, I guess I wasn’t looking.  Anyway I was going to be horrified about rampant consumerism eroding the true meaning of our cherished traditions but then I started looking for adorable penguin cards and forgot about being outraged (only had trees and doves on the recycled content ones, bah).

But!  They had out the LEDs!  I got some a couple years ago, but every other time I’ve tried to find them at Christmas they’ve already been sold out.  So I stocked up, and now I’ll tell you about it so you can beat the rush.  It’s cool, go ahead, I got the ones I want.

Of note:  Philips and some other companies have a whole bunch of different LED bulb types and colors for about $14.  Nets and Icicles and strands and ropes and stars and everything.  There is an off-brand version now, same amount of lights for only $7-cheapest I’ve ever seen them, plus they’ve got the UL and EnergyStar ratings.  All the brands of LEDs now have white lights in both the bluish color I don’t personally like and a new ‘warm white’ option.  I snagged 4 boxes.  My tree is gonna be so amazing.  Oh and I found a strand of solar LEDs to put on my balcony with the other solar lights.  Those were $15, but that’s a small price to pay to spread Christmas cheer to my parking lot.

Anyhoo, Target, has LEDs, get them while the getting’s good.  Is it seriously still September?  Really, Target? September?  Ah whatever worked for me.

Green Makes My Life Complicated: Pants Edition

I’ve discussed finding pants on this blog before, but I feel it needs to be addressed again in light of my recent failures at clothing myself adequately.

I took a Wardrobe Refashion pledge at some point (actually my six months is probably up by now, but I’m still doing it) wherein I don’t buy new everyday clothing, but instead buy second-hand or make my own clothing.  And since I remain a sewing machine failure, I’ve been getting everything at the SA.  And I’ve been doing pretty well finding stuff I like, for everything but pantsing applications.

The usual sizing issues in woman’s clothing apply at the Salvation Army, but they are multiplied fifty-fold by the random selection at the store, and the fact that my typical size range is pretty typical, so the pickings are slim (literally) toward the end of the day.  What it comes down to is, for the last six months, the only pair of jeans I had was over a size too large for me in all directions.  Would have fit great with a second pair of pants underneath, but not so much alone.  Especially since I don’t have a belt.

Yeah, I fail pretty hard at clothing sometimes.

Point is, I looked for jeans at the SA three times with no success.  Absolutely nothing in my size, nothing that came anywhere close to fitting.  But last week, I hit the jackpot.  Or rather, I found one pair of jeans that fits (rather nicely, thanks!).  And then the top button fell off when I was trying them on.

I sewed on another one- can’t pass up mostly-decent denim- but what this boils down to, is applying green scruples to my pants-buying only frustrates me,  wastes time, and makes my everyday existance awkward and droopy.  To the point where I might need to consider going to real stores for jeans.  *gasp*.

Review: Practical Recycled Calendars

I get a wall calendar and an appointment book every year in one of those green-light, year-by-year-receding-before-us kind of dreams of organization.  I had a pretty date book I got from a seller at etsy for assignments last semester, but it only had date pages and was consequently driving me crazy flipping back and forth trying to remember what was going on.

I am picky about my calendars, since it’s hard enough for me to remember to use them in the first place, and if I don’t like them, they’re just going to get “lost” on a shelf for 11 months.  I require tabs, month pages, and daily spaces from my calendars, and they must be in either sober and dignified or totally awesome patterns.  Plus, now I try to buy sustainable, so…I figured etsy was as good as I was going to get for a while.

But! When I was at Staples near Bailey’s Crossroads, I found a display of At-A-Glance weekly and Monthly calendars, in a new recycled version.  They’re 100% post consumer recycled paper, and the cover and binding have 50% and 90% recycled material, and the ink is vegetable-based.  I got the weekly/monthy appointment book for me, and the monthly for the Gentleman Friend (understandably, he was thrilled, with the smallest “th” possible), but they’ve got other recycled configurations, too. 

Then! My wall calendar was from Barnes and Noble in Potomac Yard this year.  They have an in-house printing company called Silver Lining, which is a member of the Green Press Initiative, and they print on recycled paper using soy ink.  There were a few displays of different calendars from Silver Lining before the New Year, when I got mine, but now you’ve got to search their website for “Silver Lining” to see what’s still in stock.  They are on sale.

Um.  This all assumes that you still need or want a calendar this far into 2009.  Or prep for 2010?  Either way, here’s to procrastination and post-New Year’s sales!

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.

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

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!

Target’s Organic Experiment: Oof

That collection of awkward but eco-friendly clothing has now hit the sale racks at Target, so here’s your last chance.  The Target at Potomac Yard didn’t seem to have much of the collection to begin with, but there’s a significant amount on store clearance left.  Unfortunately, none of those blue tiger tee shirts.  Those were a little neat.

But I did find a couple of boy’s bad hippie pun organic cotton tee shirts- and since little boy large is just about my size, I am the proud owner of a “Wind Power Blows Me Away” shirt.  Because, you see, it does.

Target’s Eco-Friendly selections, while still sparse, are cataloged on their site all in one section.  Note the disparity between men’s and women’s clothing offerings- dudes totally get tons of tee shirts and button downs, ladies get…a “sleep shirt”?  Guess they had the animals prints from Rogan for a month, so no complaining.  I can’t find my new awesome wind shirt listed on the site, but it’s at Potomac Yard.  There’s one on corn ethanol, too (“Ethanol is Corny”, aarrgh), but I can’t get behind that.  Ethanol and that pun, that is.

Hm, maybe I could get the ethanol shirt anyway and wear it with my mustard and pumpkin skirt, to create the most annoying eco-friendly outfit in the history of fashion?

Window Shopping

My laptop has been sitting around, naked and unprotected from the dangers of her surroundings.  Alone most of the day, completely exposed to the ravages of…well, wayward photons.  I guess.   You see, I’m trying to rationalize my desire to buy an awesome laptop case.  I do need one.  One day, I’d like to be able to leave the house with her.

I’m hoping that my need to protect my investment justifies the amount of time I spent looking for laptop cases today.  Recycled material, fair trade, sustainable fibers, and proper laptop padding are apparently all quite compatible.  I have at least four favorites.  There’s a vertical bag made from recycled mosquito netting at Peaceful Valley, in green and red.  It’s big enough for a 15.4 laptop, but it doesn’t say how the laptop pocket is padded.  But hey, if it’s not padded, maybe I could put it in this slim red leather case with fake purple fur lining from bronwenhandcrafted, at etsy.  Man, with that wrapping, I could stick her in anything and she’d be safe! Or at least fabulous.

But if it’s not a red leather and purple fur day, I could use this inexpensive, recycled plastic bag from Verdant Computing.  It comes in black, sky blue and orangish, and it looks way useful and unassuming.  Like, if useful and unassuming is your thing.  And one I keep going back to is this reclaimed plastic case that’s made from fused waste materials in India, and fairly traded.  The company that makes them, Conserve, has some really gorgeous bags, but the laptop cases come in less exciting color combinations right now.

As much as I liked them all, I don’t like any of them enough to commit right now.  And I’m hoping that, after this weekend, it won’t matter.  I have the sewing machine all set up, and some extra strong canvas and soft fleece, so I could make my own, and that’d be pretty awesome!  Or I could knit a case for it with some of my yarn stash.  Or maybe I should stop looking through etsy and getting ideas about what can be done with my extra fabric and yarn.  But I’m envisioning a canvas case with two shoulder straps and a carrying handle, a medium-sized top flap, an internal divider…

I need a case for real though, so if inspiration hasn’t made my hands swift and seams tight this weekend, I need to buckle down and pick something.  I’m leaning to the mosquito net thing right now.

Hippie Hamlet sums it up:  To buy, or DIY?


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