Triumph of the Weeds


Moving to Greener Pastures
July 17, 2009, 1:08 am
Filed under: community, food, shopping, transportation, travel, walmart

I’ve moved. Yayness! I’m now living near the Cumberland Gap. I am also going to be starting school in a couple of weeks. I will try to keep posting regularly, but if a long span of time goes by without an update, then you’ll know why.

Time past, whenever I moved, I simply took stock of the chain stores in the new location. Despite their many drawbacks, box stores have the advantage of comfort and familiarity for people, like myself, who move often and/or have RoadTripping in their blood. I know that wherever I am, I can walk into a Walmart anywhere and know that I will can get exactly what I need and that it will be solid quality for a low price. I’ve got the inventory memorized, and the stores only have two layouts which are mirror images of each other, so it’s also easy to get in, get out, and get on with my life without even thinking about it.

But mindfulness is the name of the game now, which means that moving entails not only physically transferring all my possessions from one place to another, but also reassessing how to acquire all the goods and services I need in the most sustainable manner possible. I’m now living in a small rural town as opposed to living right in the city, which requires quite a significant adjustment in this regard. Aside from Walmart, the town has a Kroger and a Food City, a handful of fast food and casual dining, a smallish mall, a Good Will, and a handful of smaller stores. Like many small rural towns, the downtown is a bit shabby and most local businesses are struggling, though there is supposed to be a nice coffee shop that is a popular hang out. I’m going to be good and check out the local businesses to see what they are like, but I suspect that they won’t carry most of the goods that I use on a regular basis. One promising thing is a farmer’s market downtown that I have yet to check out.

This sounds a little limiting the way I’ve written it, but frankly, I’ve never been a fan of cities or suburbs, and I’m far happier living in the middle of nowhere, like I am now, than be within a stone’s throw of all the shopping I need. It just requires a bit of planning and strategizing, like scheduling long distance shopping trips, mail ordering, and doing without. What I’m hoping to do is make a once a month trip into the city to visit the food coop and Earth Fare and any other shopping that I need, visiting the farmer’s market on a regular basis when it’s open, and shopping at Kroger and Walmart as sparingly as I can. It’s possible that I’ll be able to network at the farmer’s market and find some more local food sources. I’m particularly hoping that I can find milk locally, since I really liked being able to buy local milk from pastured cows when I lived in Raleigh. It’s pretty much the only thing that I won’t be able to get from the food coop, since milk only lasts a couple weeks at most.

There are other advantages of living here too. One is that the town is very amenable to walking and biking, much more so than Raleigh. I may even be able bike commute to school (which is in the next town over). So I’m hoping to limit the driving to these once a month trips into the city and any other necessary long distance trips. That will be a great relief for me, because as much as I love RoadTripping, being forced to drive to get around anywhere in town has always really bugged me. I’m also planning on move to a much more rural location eventually, so living here will be a good way to transition.

As I’ve been packing and unpacking, I’ve found myself pondering about how people moved in the olden days, before our infrastructure supported such a mobile lifestyle and people’s wealth was much more tied to place and community. I guess that the only people who moved frequently were the very rich, who could bring enough material wealth with them to survive comfortably until they could establish themselves in a new place and build new social ties, and the very poor, who having nothing left to lose, either hit the road and survived any way they could…or they didn’t. As much as I love the mobility of contemporary society, I can’t help but be troubled by how it contributes to the eroding of community and the ties between human beings and their environment, when there’s the expectation that almost anyone can up and move to a new location if needed or wanted because of a job or anything else, but wherever one goes, it’s exactly the same, comforting and familiar. Migration patterns end up being based more on economics than on the ability of the land to sustain population.

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My Trusty Steed
May 2, 2009, 7:46 pm
Filed under: transportation

I bought a bike! Let me tell you that I am such a wimp that the first time I went for a ride, my legs totally gave out after wards. Anyway, practice, as they say, is key. Riding with the cars really freaks me out, too, and the Piedmont topography is also a little challenging. So far, I’ve biked to the Farmer’s Market and back a couple of times. I’ve got a running calculation of bike expenses and money and gas saved and I will do a periodic update on the balance. I will also post updates of my progress in shifting from car to bike as my primary mode of transit.

Here is a picture of my baby. I need to give it a name, but haven’t thought of a good one yet. Any suggestions?
Photobucket



Personal Audit II

Here is my personal audit for the past year. I’m going to go into detail about each of these categories in future posts, so I’ll be brief for now.

Health and Hygiene
I switched from disposable to non-disposable options for several health and hygiene items (kleenex–>handkerchiefs, acne pads–>muslin facial cloths and soap, q-tips–>ear syringe (with hydrogen peroxide, water, and rubbing alcohol), tampons and pads–>diva cup). Of the disposables I couldn’t get rid of, I switched to multipurpose products when I could, like Doctor Bronner’s soap which replaces body soap, hand soap, face soap, shampoo, toothpaste, as well as several household cleaning products (more on that later) and vaseline to replace blistex, neosporin, hydrocortisone cream, and rash cream. I started using crystal deodorant which reportedly lasts far far longer than the regular kind; it also doesn’t contain the aluminum chlorohydrates that regular deodorants do. I started using a neti pot, which has done wonders for keeping my nose clear; it’s also supposed to reduce the incidence of colds, but I haven’t been using it long enough to see if that’s true. Other items I may not have replaced yet, but I’ve done some research on them and am contemplating what to do about them.

Hair Dying
I’ve streamed lined this process, replacing the disposable gloves with reusable rubber gloves, wrapping my head only with tin foil (which I later washed and reused) and the t-shirt, and leaving out the plastic bags. I’m also going to skip the paper neckbands.

Medications
Not much change here, except since I started using the neti pot, I’ve needed my cold supplies (dayquil, coldeeze, airborne, and visine) an awful lot less. Despite the reports of birth control hormones polluting the water, I’m not willing to give up the nuvaring yet. I’ve also done some some preliminary research about herbal remedies and alternative medicine.

Cleaning Supplies
Huge strides were made in this area this year. I’ve started using Clean House, Clean Planet as a guide, so I’ve replaced my old cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda, Dr. Bronner’s, club soda, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, essential oils, and salt. I’ve started using recycled, unbleached toilet paper and paper towels; I’ve also reduced the number of paper towels I use by opting for washable rags when I can, and using salad tongs and a scrubbie brush for cleaning up pet messes instead. I’ve reduced the amount of toilet paper I use by using cloth wipes for #1. I also switched from disposable dusters to dusting gloves and from disposable lint brush to a reusable one. I still need to find an alternative to disposable mop pads (perhaps a mop pad that can be laundered and reused) and laundry stain stick (maybe hydrogen peroxide, if I can find a safe container to keep in my purse).

Cat Supplies
I changed my cat from Purina to Newman’s Own Organic brand. I figured that if I was changing my own eating habits, it was only right that I do the same for my cat. When I run out of processed cat treats, I’m going to start using canned salmon instead. Pine litter was already a good choice, so no changes needed there. Cat toothpaste I probably won’t change, because the experts are pretty adamant about no substitutes being made. I’ve looked into non-toxic anti-chew sprays, but I haven’t made one yet.

Office Supplies
This area wasn’t a high priority this year, because nothing I had needed replacing. I intend to start buying recycled paper products when the supplies I have run out. I also need to make a better effort conserving paper. I’ve read that’s it’s possible to refill printer cartridges, but I’ve also read that that can be really messy and not very effective, so I’m just going to continue recycling the used ones for now. Rubbing alcohol and a lint free cloth is supposed to be OK for cleaning computer screens but I haven’t tried it myself. I plan to buy a Giottos AA1900 Large Rocket Blaster to replace the canned air I’ve been using once it runs out. I’m not sure what to do about pens/pencils, tape of all sorts, staples, labels, and paste. I also need to figure out how to stop loosing so many pens, cause otherwise buying “green” ones won’t make a bit of difference.

Misc Kitchen/Household Supplies
I switched from regular light bulbs to CFLs, as has everyone else by now. I plan to get usb rechargeable batteries when I run out of the batteries I have. In the kitchen, I stopped using paper napkins, opting to use a handkerchief instead. I’ve continued to reuse plastic baggies as much as I can. There are some reusable options that I have yet to explore, though, and I’ve heard that there are waxed paper baggies to replace the plastic ones should they run out. I’ve opted to replace saran wrap with tin foil when I can and have looked into alternatives like corn husks (or other leaves) for wrapping food. I’ve reused tin foil as much as I can, and bought a silicone baking sheet to cut down even more.

Utility Use
I’ve gained a much greater awareness of my utility use over the past year. I’ve started to air dry my laundry, unplug my electronics when I’m not using them, and take military showers. I also developed a very rudimentary grey water system, catching shower and sink water in order to flush the toilet. When I was living in my own apartment, I didn’t use heat or ac unless I absolutely couldn’t stand it and let the toilet “mellow.” Since I’ve moved into a town house with 2 other girls, I have less control over the utility use, so I can’t do those things, but I’ve been doing the best I can. Since the water is metered in the townhouse, it’s been cost effective enough for me to buy a low flow showerhead. I’ve also covered the windows in my room this winter, but I don’t know how much that’s going to cut down on the gas usage.

Clothes
This area was not a high priority for me this year, mostly because I haven’t had to replace any of my clothes. I’ve looked into more sustainable clothing options and it looks like they are very expensive and difficult to find. There are also so many factors involved in the production of clothes that it’s a real challenge to determine whether clothing is completely sustainably made. For now, I’m trying to make the clothes I have last as long as I can, and plan to buy clothes second hand when things need replacing. I also intend to learn how to mend clothes as well as make socks and sweaters and such by hand.

Travel and Transportation
The gas crisis meant that I drove less this year than I normally do. I didn’t take any RoadTrips, worked from home when I could and basically didn’t drive unless I absolutely had to. I plan to buy a bike as soon as I can afford it. I’d like to use public transit and Amtrak more, but they usually are incredibly inconvenient or wouldn’t take me where I want to go.

Habitation
I moved from one suburb to another this year (and I will be moving again in the fall) and I’m still renting, so nothing much changed in this regard.

Waste Production
By switching to reusables and buying fewer packaged foods, I’ve significantly reduced the amount of wasted I’ve produced. I also got more savvy about repurposing my trash items before throwing them out. I started composting, so most of my food scraps, paper, vacuum dust etc were also eliminated from my garbage.

Food
I made vast improvements in this realm, switching from packaged foods and fast food/take out to home cooked foods. I started switching to local and organic rather than conventional foods and started eating more whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. I also vastly reduced the amount of meat I ate, though that was mostly because of economics. In the next year, I intend to start integrate eating pasture raised meat back into my diet though I will probably continue to consume less meat as I have in the past. I’ve started experimenting in making basics from scratch like yogurt and bread.

Health
I lost about 50 pounds this year and my BMI is now down to 32. I’m technically still obese though. I haven’t had another doctors appointment yet, so I don’t now if any of my other stats have changed.

Shopping
Since changing the type of products that I use, I’ve found that 90% of the inventory of most stores hold nothing of interest to me anymore. Also, I have to shop less for household goods now that I’ve switched to reusables. I’ve been shopping most at the farmer’s market, Whole Foods, natural health food stores, REI, and the thrift stores.

Community
I’ve moved from Greenville to Raleigh. Even though this is also temporary, I’ve made attempts to become more involved in the community by attending events at REI, Whole Foods, and the library. I’m also getting to know and hang out with my roommates a bit.



Personal Audit I

Here is a breakdown of my personal habits and commonly used items at the start of the year, before I decided to change. This is just to see where I was starting this journey from and to later use as a frame of reference to see how far I’ve come.

*Health and Hygiene
-Deodorant
-Acne pads
-Blistex
-Toothbrush
-Toothpaste
-Floss
-Mouthwash strips
-Body soap
-Shampoo
-Diaper rash cream
-Hydrocortisone
-Neosporin
-Liquid Bandage
-Sunscreen
-Bug spray
-Kleenex
-Foot lotion
-Tampons and pads
-Q-tips
-Vaseline
-Rubbing alcohol
-Hydrogen peroxide
-Handiwipes
-Toothwipes

*Hair Dying Supplies:
-Henna
-Disposable gloves
-Paper neckband

*Medications:
-Visine
-Dayquil
-Coldeeze
-Airborne
-Multivitamin
-Naproxen
-Nuvaring

Cleaning Supplies:
-Disposable floor mops pads
-Febreeze
-Plug in air freshener
-Spray air freshener
-Laundry stain stick
-Laundry spot cleaner
-Laundry detergent
-Disposable Lint brush
-Dish washer detergent
-Paper towels
-Toilet paper
-Toilet cleaner
-All purpose cleaner
-Windex
-Disposable dusters

Cat Supplies
-Anti chew spray
-Cat toothpaste
-Cat litter
-Cat food
-Cat treats

Office Supplies
-Canned Air
-Cleaning Wipes for computer
-Printer ink
-Staples
-Paper Clips
-Thumb tacks
-Pens/pencils
-Envelopes
-Paper
-Paste
-Labels
-Scotch tape
-Duct tape
-Packing tape

Misc Household Supplies
-Light bulbs
-Headphones
-Batteries

Kitchen Supplies
-Napkins
-Plastic baggies
-Saran wrap
-Tin foil

Utility Use
-Water: my water’s not metered, so I’m not sure exactly how much water I’ve used in the past, but according to the USGS, the average American uses 80-100 gal/day.
-Electricity: According to my utility bill, I averaged using 9 kwhr/day.

Note: I don’t have a washer and dryer so I use a laundry mat (1 load/week), so my utility bill and water use don’t reflect that.

Clothes
I’m most comfortable in t-shirts and jeans, so that’s usually what I ended up wearing day in and day out, except when circumstances dictate otherwise. Most of my clothes come from Walmart; my fancier clothes I bought in places like Lane Bryant or department stores. Shoes-wise, I’ve got sneakers, Crocs (Birkenstock before), flats and heels. And a pair of combat boots.

Travel and Transportation
I’ve got a Toyota Corolla, which has about the best mileage around for a regular car. On average, I drive around 10-20 miles per day to get to work/school and I get about 25 miles/gal in town, 37 miles/gal on the interstates. I’m an avid traveler, both by car and by plane (though that’s been curtailed a lot due to the post 9/11 restrictions). I’d say that I use approximately 1 gal a day to account for the occasional longer trip.

Habitation
Growing up, my family lived in various houses in various suburbs. In high school and college, I lived in the dorms, and since graduating, I’ve lived in apartments, also in the suburbs. My ability to make changes to my apartment is naturally very limited and my choice of a new apartment tends to be dictated by location and price, not sustainable building or maintenance practices.

Waste Production
I’ve done the basic reduce, reuse, recycle thing since it became in vogue in the early 90s. I’ve also practiced re-purposing, though not as much as my mother, grandmother, or great grandmother. Like everyone else in my family, I suffer from a tendency to be a pack rat, acquiring things (particularly freebies) I turn out not to need and which later need to be disposed of.

Again, I didn’t calculate the amount of trash that I was producing, but according to the Clean Air Council, the average American produces
4.39 pounds of trash/day.

Food

I hate to cook, so I’ve relied on packaged foods, easy mixes, fast food, and take out as much as possible. I’ve also usually opted for low fat and low calorie versions. I’m a regular old omnivore; I tried on numerous occasions to give up meat, but discovered that I loved it too much to do so. On the brighter side, I think I’ve probably consumed slightly less soda and junk food and slightly more fruits and vegetables than the average American, though that’s not saying much.

Health
(As of January of this year) I’ve got a BMI of 40, which falls into the obese (cut off is 30), though fortunately, I’ve never looked like I weighed as much as I do. I’ve never had any major health problems, though my blood pressure and blood glucose level are borderline.

Shopping
I hate shopping with a passion, but when I do, I usually go to Walmart as a default. In general, I’ve tended to prefer big name stores to smaller ones, and aside from the big purchase items, primarily used price and then quality to guide purchasing decisions.

Community
I have moved around a fair amount in my life and I anticipating making several more moves before settling down (maybe), and for this reason, I’ve tended not to feel a real connection with the communities that I’m a part of (with the exception of high school and college, which are by nature transient). As a result, I’ve been shamefully uninformed about local politics and the communities I’ve lived in in general.