Triumph of the Weeds

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?


Garden Update- April 2009
May 2, 2009, 7:27 pm
Filed under: food, garden

Yes, it’s May already, I know. But I took these pictures at the beginning of April and the time got away from me. Everything seems to be doing rather well, but I’m still holding my breath. Also, I discovered this platform of sorts below the porch, so I moved my plants there because it seemed like that’s what all my neighbors were doing.

Lemon Thyme- there’s been some nice growth already. I’m expecting it to start growing gangbusters once now that spring is here.

Greek Oregano- again, there’s been some good growth. Anticipating a lot more in the coming months.

Garlic. I planted 4 cloves and three sprouted. Not bad. I then transplanted them to this larger container.

Chandler Strawberries. Got these at the Farmer’s Market. There’s actually three plants in here, but I only have a limited amount of pots (which I got from Craigslist and other assorted places), so I’m keeping them together for now. I’m tentatively planning on separating them next year to let them grow some more. That strawberry you see ripened the day or so after I bought the plants. Tasty.

Tomato. My roommate got me this for my birthday. She works in a greenhouse and is apparently sick to death of tomato plant so she thought of me when there were plants not being used anymore. She has no idea what variety it is. Possibly a Money Maker? If anyone has an idea, please leave a comment. Also, I’m going to have to figure out the best way to handle tomatoes if/when they do ripen, since I don’t like raw tomatoes, only cooked or in sauce.

Tiny Choices
February 18, 2009, 10:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Tiny Choices, as the name implies, is a green blog that focuses on the little things anyone can do that add up to big changes. It’s a philosophy that I also share. Recently, I filled out their survey. Here are my responses:

Vital statistics (name, age, location, link to website/blog)?
Liz; 28; Raleigh, NC;

How do you reside (apartment or house, roommates)?
I’m renting a townhouse with 2 roommates.

Are your housing decisions dictated by choice or necessity? Please explain.
By necessity. I’m in transition between grad school and med school and this was the best temporary accommodations I could find on craigslist.

How do you travel (transit, car, etc)? Are your travel decisions dictated by choice or necessity? Please explain.
Mostly by car, though I’m planning on getting a bike soon. This is by necessity. Raleigh does have public transit but it’s not set up to make it easy to get to any of the places I need to go.

Tell us about a Tiny Choice you’ve made in your life.
Using reusable bags rather than the plastic ones was one of the first things I did. It did take a while to remember to take them into the store with me, but after that, it’s one of the easiest things you can do. And I’m so happy not to have the mounting pile of plastic bags taking over my closet anymore!

What is the one environmental dilemma you personally struggle the most with?
I love the freedom and independence of having a car, which I’m loathe to give up despite the emissions that driving causes.

What is one Tiny Choice you can make in that direction?
Getting a bike will really help cut down my driving around town. I’ve also contemplated using Amtrak for long distance traveling when possible.

What is the one environmental Tiny Choice you make that people question (in either a positive educational or a negative hassle way) you the most about?
I’ve started using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper (just for #1 at the moment). I haven’t told anyone in real life about this, but I imagine that a lot of people I know would feel uneasy about that.

What is the one environmental Tiny Choice you would like every single person to adopt?
I’d like everyone to start thinking more about their resource use and to consider in each instance whether the end result is really worth the resources expended. I think that all other changes result from becoming more conscious of one’s actions.

Do you feel like you make sacrifices for environmentalism? Please explain.
I make a few sacrifices. I kind of miss taking long showers and that hot out of the dryer feel that my clothes used to get, but these are minor. Major sacrifices can be effective in the short term, but I’m trying to do is create a more sustainable lifestyle and that’s not going to work if I feel deprived. It’s the destructive practices that one has no particular attachment to but does anyway because of cultural inertia that should be the focus of one’s efforts.

Are you generally: optimistic, pessimistic, neutral about environmentalism and the future?
I’m ambivalent. I sometimes feel like things are so overwhelming, but I choose to have hope because to fall into despair will only compound our problems.

New Year’s Day Slow Food Event
January 21, 2009, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

On New Year’s Day, I went to a dinner at the Triangle Slow Food chapter. There was the traditional hoppin’ john and collard greens, as well as cornbread, regular bread, and piccalli (a kind of relish), and sweet potato pie and it was all very good. Oh, and the family sitting next to me brought a country ham and they gave me a sample. It was interesting; it kind of had the consistency of lox sort of.

I now know that I like collard greens, though I think that of the greens I’ve tasted so far, my favorite is kale.

The Slow Food movement is meant to be the antithesis of fast food. It was started in Italy in the 80s, by chef Carlo Petrini who protested the opening of the Mickey D’s by the Spanish Steps in Rome but then decided that rather than getting mad he should get even. The movement has since spread to many countries around the world, including the US. The movement is concerned with promoting organic, local, sustainable foods as well as the pleasures of meals and eating, etc.

I’ve been curious to know more about the movement, especially since, even after reading what I could find on the net, it wasn’t clear to me exactly what the Slow Food actually does, aside from the chapters periodically putting on dinners. The one interesting thing that I did glean was Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, which is a program that identifies and promotes traditional and heritage foods and dishes that are in danger of extinction, as it were.

Well, at the dinner I attended, I discovered that the reason it doesn’t seem like Slow Food does much, at least in the US, is because the US Slow Food movement doesn’t really have much direction at present. Whereas in other countries, there are long established food traditions, the US is much newer and has developed concurrently with the industrialization of food. In other countries, the American diet is what Slow Food members are trying to protect their own foods against. The American Slow Food has the challenge of trying to tease apart what is worthy of protecting and promoting and what is not. The speakers did say that American Slow Food is going to be more politically and socially active in the future, though, and work for food justice, so that sounds promising.

Though the speakers didn’t mention it, I hope and assume that this focus on food justice involves expanding the demographics of the movement. The one thing that struck me about this dinner was how nearly everyone in attendance was white and (I think) upper middle class. And the few who weren’t white appeared to have a white spouse. There were no black folk in attendance at all. In other words, the attendance at the event did not reflect the demographics of the Triangle area. And this is just one event at one chapter, but I found it really troubling, particularly since hoppin’ john was a dish that originally came from Africa and the speakers specifically mentioned that the version of the hoppin’ john that we had was closer to the original dish than the version that is commonly eaten today. It really made me wonder exactly whose food traditions we were trying to preserve and whether this was an example of cultural appropriation and whether anyone else there registered the cognitive dissonance. I also think I understand why these food movements come across as elitist, if people just like me are the only people involved. If the American Slow Food Movement gets serious, I think it’s going to have to actively reach out all walks of life and also address the darker parts of American history while exploring American food heritage. For instance, Native American food traditions are probably in most need of preserving and they are most in need because of the extensive damage that White Americans inflicted upon them, particularly by trying to break down Native American cultures and impose the dominant culture in their places. And yet, a lot of Native American food traditions have also been incorporated into the dominant culture and are considered quintessentially American today (much like with the hoppin’ john originally from Africa). I’d really like to see American Slow Food address the full scope of food traditions in the US and the histories behind them.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Gardening Wishlist
January 5, 2009, 2:46 am
Filed under: garden

My gardening endeavors at the moment are limited by a lack of education on my part as well as a lack of initial capital, i.e. tools, soil, containers, and seeds/plants. I also anticipate having to move 3-4 times in the next 10 years, so the gardening paraphernalia that I accumulate needs to be worth the effort expended moving it from place to place.

I’m currently living in North Carolina (in the Piedmont), and anticipate moving to Eastern Tennessee, and then to Wyoming. Obviously location will have some influence over what I can grow. Here are some musings about what I’d like to include in my garden, everything else being equal.

*Herbs: I have thyme and oregano, and should get basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, and dill from my mom’s garden. I think I also want to get bay leaf and rosemary. I may want to get others, but that will depend on which herbs I most commonly cook with, and I haven’t figured that out yet.

*Plants: peas, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrot, parsnip, other root vegetables, onions, garlic, ginger, bell peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, kale, eggplant, mushrooms, artichokes, asparagus

*fruit: raspberries, black berries, strawberries, peaches, mangoes, oranges, limes, lemons

*flowers: lilacs
In general, I’m not that interested in a flower garden. While flowers are pretty, I’d much rather grow things that are both pretty and useful, like fruit and vegetable plants. But I have a particular fondness for the scent of fresh lilac.

My Garden
January 4, 2009, 11:09 pm
Filed under: garden

My gardening knowledge is close to nil. While my mom had a garden when I was growing up, I never paid much attention to it, aside from the chores that she assigned me. Furthermore, my track record with plants is not too good; I killed an aloe plant that my mom gave me in high school (it ended up freezing during the winter when I placed it too close to the winder) and when I tried again with another aloe plant this past year, it’s health started failing and I ended up leaving it behind when I moved. I’ve since learned that you’re supposed to cut down the roots, not just change the soil, when you repot the plants, so if I had done that, the plant probably would have been OK.

Undaunted, I’ve decided that I’m going to try again. I’m going to leave aloe alone for the time being. Herbs are supposed to be one of the best investments you can make for a kitchen garden, so I decided to start with those. I talked with my mom, and she agreed to give me cuttings of her herbs the next time I visit her. I got a couple herbs from the farmer’s market that she doesn’t have. When I go to visit, she’ll take cuttings from these for her garden.

Lemon Thyme

Greek Oregano

Here’s to not killing these plants. *Crosses fingers*

Also, after I read something on the net about how easy it was to grow garlic, I decided to give it a try. Of course, garlic is supposed to be planted in October but the winters are mild here in North Carolina, so based on what I’ve read, it may or may not work. I just used cloves from the garlic I got from the grocery store.

Garlic- I don’t know what kind.

Obviously, it doesn’t look like anything right now. I think it’s supposed to start sprouting in the spring, so I’ll know then if it worked or not. Also, if they do sprout, I’ll have to transplant to a larger container. I used this little basket because it’s all I had at the moment.

I will be using this blog to track the progress of my gardening endeavors in the future.