Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reclaiming Regifting

Photo by Claudia~Assad on Flickr using Creative Commons.

This post somehow got "stuck" and was never posted in time. I found it today and am giving it life. Hope you enjoy.

Welp, it's that time of year. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Green Tuesday have come and gone, and there are...12 days... left of shopping, if you celebrate that particular winter holiday. (Why some of our most sacred holidays - and not just the one you might be thinking of - have become consumer hey-days is beyond me, but that's another blog entirely.)

I love shopping as much as the next girl, but often there are a few things that get in my way. The first is financial. (See my previous blog on why going green can help save $green$.) The second is usually green guilt. Yet I have an idea for saving on both - it's not a new one, but I'm bringing it back to life.

I am reclaiming regifting. Yes, you heard me. Regifting. Still considered strictly taboo by most people I know, regifting has gotten a bad rap. (See Seinfeld episode The Label Maker, 1995.) But with simple consideration (and plenty of written "rule books" out there), one can manage to regift successfully.

I know - you're still skeptical, but let's see if we can't remove some of the stigma. First, regifting is really no more than giving a friend or relative something you no longer want or need, but think they might. It's high-level reusing/recycling. It can fall into the category of hand-me-downs, Freecycling, "dumpster diving", curb shopping, and even Freeganism, but it doesn't have to (not that I discourage any of those practices - in fact, I highly encourage them).

Second, regifting conserves environmental resources (used in manufacturing, packaging, and shipping new products) and your personal resources (money).

Still need more convincing? Our ancestors used to pass down precious family items, called heirlooms (not that anyone even knows what that means anymore), from one family member to the next. They were usually items of high quality and sentimental value, made to last and used by many generations. Guess what? Heirlooms are regifts. Ever heard of inheriting? That's just a fancy word for regifting.

My grandmother's friend had a fantastic idea about regifting, too, which so inspired me. She realized that she was getting up in her years, so even though she was not particularly ill she began preparations for the handling of her belongings after she passed. Anytime someone complimented an item in her house or wardrobe, etc., she would put their name on a piece of paper and place it under/on/in the item (or a list, where physical storage of the name would not be practical). This way she felt sure she could pass on her belongings to people who would appreciate them most.

There are countless traditional stories of heroes/heroines who have sacrificed their most prized possessions for something special for a loved one - or even a stranger. It is not a new concept, and I feel it should not be discounted as a meaningful means for giving, especially in times of economic and/or environmental crisis (both of which we presently live in).

Regifting, then, for my purposes, means giving someone a gift of something that has been yours - whether for years or a minute. Perhaps it was a gift to you and you never liked or used it, or maybe it's something you purchased for yourself and prized for a decade. It may or may not be used, and it may or may not have originally been a gift. The only requirement is that it is not newly purchased. In any event, the most important aspect of regifting is the intention; regifting only really works when you are giving someone a gift that is meaningful to both you and to the recipient. (But let's be honest - that's true of most gifts.)

Having said that, there are a few "rules of engagement" when it comes to regifting. There are plenty of web sites offering opinions on the matter, but below I will list those I feel are most important (in no particular order). These are guidelines, and are meant to be broken when/if the appropriate time comes. If your family is more open-minded about regifting, feel free to break 'em all.

Loose Rules for Regifting (see above disclaimer about "rules")
  • NEVER regift to the original gift-giver. At that point you might as well have returned it to her the second she gave it to you and said "no thanks". One way to remember who gave you the item, if you think you'll forget, is to note the giver's name on a slip of paper in the box as soon as you receive the item.
  • NEVER regift to a person the original gift-giver is likely to come in contact with, as this is still often viewed as rude and can create hurt feelings for both the new recipient and the original gift-giver. This means that unless your family is open to regifting, it's probably not a good idea to regift those reindeer slippers your mother gave you to Aunt Ida or Cousin Larry, as they might show up wearing them on Christmas, and boy, will that be a fun dinner sitting across from Mother.
  • Know your recipient. This is always a good idea, but especially with regifting. If it is obvious that your gift is a regift, be sure that the recipient is either unaware of it, or is open to the idea of regifting and will not be offended. Then make sure that your gift is special to the recipient (see below).
  • Be sure your gift is appropriate for the recipient. The best policy about regifting is to only regift when you are moved to do so. In other words, don't just give any random person something that you have lying around, but if you remember someone saying they wanted a recycled glass vase and you received two, one of which you don't need/use, then it's a pretty good regift and will likely be well-received.
  • Choose regift items that are durable and in good to new condition. Regifting can be budget-friendly, but if you give your sister a sudoku puzzle book in which you've solved 50% of the puzzles in pen, your gift will only seem cheap. Instead try clothing, accessories, furniture, games, or housewares that are almost good as new, or that have many "miles" left in them. Alternately, have something refurbished to the specifications/needs of a friend - then it will be a more personalized regift.
  • Opinions vary on whether or not the regifter should inform the recipient that the item is a regift. It can be a sensitive subject, so trust your gut. If your friend is a card-carrying vegan who hasn't purchased anything new in a year and proudly tells everyone about it, then you will likely impress her with a regift. If, on the other hand, your mother-in-law only buys brand name items, you might want to spare her that particular detail and just let her know you were thinking of her when you "found" this item. (Hey, it's true!)
  • Perhaps the single most important aspect of regifting is to slowly break in your family and friends. Let them know in advance that you love regifts, and that you'd love to give them, if they're open to them. Share with them the reasons regifting is important to you (hint: see the fourth and fifth paragraphs of this blog entry), and invite discussion.
  • As an addendum to the last rule, be open to receiving regifts yourself, and make it known to your loved ones. Just as recycling doesn't make much of a difference if we don't also purchase recycled goods, regifting doesn't work as well if you do not also invite others to regift to you.
Of course, for whatever gifts you may plan to give this year, I suggest wrapping them in:
  • reused or recycled wrapping paper
  • wrapping paper or gift bags salvaged from previous holidays
  • pre-wrapped boxes that can be reused over and over again (shirt/clothing boxes work nicely for this - wrap the top and bottom halves separately, or just the top half of the box)
  • newspaper or magazines
  • brown paper bags that you decorated yourself
  • reused gift boxes filled with shredded paper from your office (or shredded wrapping paper that didn't make the cut as reusable)
  • reusable fabric, perhaps tied fancifully
  • a pillowcase
  • blankets from the living room
  • another gift (a basket, a scarf, a sweatshirt, etc.)
  • other reusable, sustainable methods
(Or check out this cool blooming wrapping paper that you can later plant in the garden - it somehow grows flowers!)

Have a wonderful holiday season!

(Note: In the interest of honesty, I confess that I will be purchasing some new items as gifts this year as well as regifting.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Save $Green$ by Going Green

Photo by MShades on Flickr using Creative Commons.
If you don't get it, try this.

In part because we're so often greenwashed into believing that the most ecologically friendly alternatives come from our friendly chain big-box store, many still believe that the greenest choices also require lots of $green$. In some instances (say, installing solar panels in your home) this may be true, but by far most of the options with the greatest opportunity for conserving our natural resources also do a fair job of preserving your personal financial resources.

Green Options for the Budget-Conscious:
  • Conserve water. Using less water means your water bills will decrease.
  • Reduce energy usage (for heating and air-conditioning) - ditto.
  • Purchase whole foods (not necessarily at Whole Foods) instead of their pre-packaged, processed cousins - generally this reduces grocery expenditures. Buy in bulk when possible, but not a) if you can't possibly consume it all, b) if your preferred store's idea of "bulk" is packing up a handful of the average-sized containers in more plastic, or c) if the bulk items are pre-packaged and processed. Rice, pasta, flour, grains, tea, spices, and other staples are examples of whole food staples often available in bulk.
  • Cook meals at home (and eat them there or pack them for lunch) instead of eating at restaurants or getting to-go meals, and you'll save exponentially.
  • Sell your car in favor of using public transportation (or biking to your destination) and you will undoubtedly reduce your monthly car-related expenses - no payment to worry about, no maintenance or repairs, no gas, no license renewal fees or speeding tickets...
  • Reduce your mileage (if you can't feasibly sell the car) or car-pool to save on $green$.
  • Reuse whatever you can. Would you rather splurge on that something special, or pay The Man every time you purchase another single-use item? I'm not necessarily talking about toilet paper here people (though there are certainly options for saving on that, as well), but glass sauce jars, old clothing items, and all sorts of other household items need not gather dust in your attic or contribute to landfill waste. By reusing every piece of paper that comes into your home, for example, you can ensure you'll never have to spend hard-earned ca$h for notepads. Learn to think first about what you already have when considering a new purchase - do you have something that could serve a similar purpose, perhaps if re-invented? Creativity counts.
  • Repair, rather than replace. While I've not been as ambitious as Fake Plastic Fish in my endeavors to repair broken, but otherwise perfectly useful, items, her example proves that in many cases even electrical items can be resuscitated. Learning to darn socks, sew buttons, remove stains, let out hems, and patch holes will extend the life of your wardrobe - just think of all the possibilities in home repair and car repair!
  • Borrow. At least where I live, library cards are free - that is, until I miss my due date and incur late fees. Fortunately the wonders of the internet and online renewals have virtually eliminated late fees, and I tend view the occasional late fee as my incredibly cheap membership dues for such an awesome service. Bonus - many libraries will allow you to reserve materials online, for convenient pick up at your local branch when the book/CD/cassette/magazine/VHS/DVD/videogame has arrived.
  • Swap. Clothing swaps are becoming en vogue with green fashionistas across the globe, but swaps aren't just for girls (or for clothes, for that matter). Host a book swap or a soup swap, or a swap for any old thing you find you're tired of. Go "shopping" in the comfort of your own home - or your friend's closet.
  • Buy used. What is it about Americans and our phobia of used goods? We've even coined a new term (which means pretty much the same thing): "pre-owned". In many other cultures, "antiques", "relics", and "heirlooms" are prized. In fact, when inspected properly (which I sense is our major concern), used items may out-perform their newer counterparts. New solid wood furniture is nearly impossible to come by these days, but most antique and vintage items are constructed precisely that way. Used cars have already done a significant amount of their off-gassing, too - a bonus for your health. Oh yeah, and used goods tend to be less expensive.
  • Barter. Services are sometimes tough to price, especially when in trade for other services or even goods, but if you have a skill to offer, try offering to trade it for an item you need. Because this tactic works best with artisan items or used items, you're likely to not only save a pretty penny, but also a few trees (or endangered species, or humans...whatever your environmental cause du jour happens to be). But of course you were already planning to buy used... ;)
  • Pay it Forward. This concept, from the book and the movie, defers payment to a later time and a future person, in the form of a good deed, of sorts. Applied to a green lifestyle, the good you do today can multiply its effect well into the future. Planting a tree or garden, volunteering, and teaching a child about the importance of respecting our Earth are all ways in which you can manage to invest nothing more than time and energy and yet manifest powerful change.
  • Give Consumable Gifts. Not only are consumable gifts (food items or experience gifts like theatre tickets, dance lessons, or a canoe trip) often budget-friendly, but they leave very little footprint. Don't forget to wrap them in the pages of your Free Times magazine (or local free paper - one you've already read or is outdated, of course), paper you salvaged from a received gift, or not at all.
  • Install CFLs. I know, I know - if you hear one more suggestion to buy CFLs you're going to puke. But seriously, CFLs are one of many eco-options which will save you in the long run. Though sometimes the start-up cost may be greater than that of a conventional item of the same type, the long-term savings is significant.
  • Research Options. Clever marketers have come to learn that many of us can be made into impulse-buyers. Clever budgeters (and greenies) know that the most efficient (financially and ecologically) options generally require some forethought and a bit of comparison shopping. Questions to ask yourself if caught in the act: Do I already own something that can fulfill this purpose? Is there somewhere I can get this item for free (and used)? What do I really think this item can do for me? What do I really hope this item can do for me? Are these two things realistically related?
  • Simplify. The number one way to save the planet and your pocketbook at the same time is to reduce your needs, and yet this is also the most difficult change for many to make. Living in a culture of increased consumption makes this tricky - but by no means impossible. If you are living on a fixed income or starving artist's wage you likely have a higher incentive to take this step, but I believe we can all find ways to simplify our lives - and thereby to instigate swifter and more powerful change. Take a good look at your lifestyle - what can you eliminate? What can you reduce? Do you really need 5 different lotions (one for body, one for hands, one for feet, one for face, and one just because?)? Is your desire for a commodity one of necessity, or of sheer desire? What do you hope this thing can really do for you? These questions aren't meant to judge or to chastise, but to provoke deeper investigations into what is necessary and what is extraneous.
This is by no means a complete list, but a an ever-expanding body of collective knowledge that I hope not only to bring to you, but also to share with you in its creation. What are your experiences with going green on a budget? Do you have any favorite low-cost green tips?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Do-Over Fashion

I never tire of creative re-invention. Call it:

  • Reusing
  • Rebirthing
  • Reclaiming
  • Rehoming
  • Regifting
  • Repurposing
  • Reincarnating
  • Recycling
  • Upcycling

I say it's nothing short of alchemy, in my book, miraculously transforming something unwanted (or intended for single/limited use) into a newly useful form.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

Brown Dress

Recycling Project

Wardrobe Refashion

Craftster Challenge: Super Ugly to Super Awesome

Neauveau (sweater recycling)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Top Green Newbie Mistakes - AKA Longest Post Ever

Adorable little green turtle photo by Lazy_Lightning on Flickr using Creative Commons

So you're a just a baby in this business of environmental love, you say? Before you get overzealous, here are a few tips on how to avoid the Top Green Newbie Mistakes (boy, that sounds rather redundant, but I trust you'll get it).

Green Newbie Mistake #1: Purging the Non-Green
Solution: Step Away From the Trash Can

Congratulations on waking up to smell the organic roses, but before you go tossing out everything you own that doesn't qualify as energy-conserving or organic, let's think about this for a minute.

A common mistake of recent green converts is to do exactly the above - to dispose of anything that doesn't jibe with their new, ethical and earth-friendly lifestyle. I understand the reasons for wanting to purge all that is non-green, but the problem with doing so is that it counteracts the most basic tenet of green living: reduce, reuse, recycle. (Come on, I know you've heard that one before!)

The stuff you throw away will end up in landfills or waterways way before their time (even worse than if you'd waited until they were no longer of use). Instead, use your current possessions and products to their fullest capacity and through their (probably already stunted) lifespan, or find them a new home (try Freecycle or craigslist if you're at a loss).

Green Newbie Mistake #2: Purchasing All New Green
Solution: Put Down the Credit Card

This mistake usually goes hand-in-hand with Green Newbie Mistake #1. Newbies are often overwhelmed by all the possibilities and supposed requirements for "going green", and the ones that often seem the simplest include purchases. What could be easier than going to your local big-box store and buying a few green items? It's like instant-green! Well, not exactly. This leads to a temporary green-buy high: you instantly feel as if you've saved the world with your purchase of one "green" hand soap, but I can assure you that you have not.

The truth of the matter is that the greenest choices are lifestyle changes and not products, and that consuming less does more for the state of the environment than consuming the same amount, but of different types of products. Look into FREE and fairly easy ways you can green your life before investing any of the other kind of $green$.

Having said that, our buying power does affect the market, but if you must own a green product to believe you've kick-started your new life, don't run out and buy the first new product just because you heard it was green, because it says it's "green" or because it's packaged in a pretty green-colored carton. (Are you getting sick of green yet?) A better way to introduce more eco-friendly products into your life is to do so one product at a time, and only as you run out of its predecessor.

First, take the time to research better products before you need them. Learn everything you can about the company and its practices, and be sure they fit your requirements for being "green". [Note: "green" these days often includes items that fall into one or more of the following categories - fair trade, energy-efficient, biodegradable, containing no ingredients known to be harmful to the environment, containing no ingredients known to be harmful to humans, not tested on animals, vegan (containing no animal products or by-products), sustainable (from resources that can be ecologically sustained), sustainable and renewable raw materials and energy sources, etc.] In other words, be a conscious consumer. Then, after you have determined that there are no better alternatives for a product, purchase the new one when it's time to replace the old one. (I've had a bottle of non-green shampoo for over a year now, and I plan to use it until it's gone.)

Green Newbie Mistake #2b: The Start-Up Cost Clause

As with any new endeavor, going green can have a few initial start-up costs. None of these is essential, and as I explained in #2, the greenest choices are free. But if you don't already have them, and can't borrow, barter, or purchase them used, there are a few products which may be helpful in your transition. If you must, you can get your shopping fix by investing in these green items (where applicable, and only if you will get good use out of them, of course):
  • Drying rack or clothesline and clothespins - Choose items made of wood, not plastic (which is a petroleum byproduct). Hopefully it's organic, sustainable wood without any chemical fillers or sealers, but most likely it's not. It's still an eco-friendlier option than its electrical cousin, the clothes dryer.
  • Cloth dish rags and napkins - When you've used up the last of your disposable paper towels and paper napkins, these will come in handy. (pun intended ;) )
  • Cloth handkerchiefs and washcloths - What's old is new again! Believe it or not, but there was life before disposable beauty products. Handkerchiefs can double as impromptu coin purses (with all ends tied up), head wraps, scarves, napkins, and towels. Washcloths eliminate the need for plastic shower poufs, q-tips, facial cotton rounds or cotton balls, and exfoliator creams (use a gentle circular motion with the washcloth to achieve the same results).
  • Alternative menstrual products - Ok, so this is only a tip for about one-half of the population. Once you (or your female sweetie) buy a menstrual cup and reusable pads, it'll be a long time (if ever!) before you have to purchase replacements. Now that's an investment!
  • An energy monitor - Even if you haven't figured out where you can (or want to) cut back on your energy consumption, this handy little gadget will help. There are many options, so be sure to shop around before buying to avoid buyer's remorse.
  • A hand-crank radio and flashlight (available at the NPR shop) - These items are a great investment especially in cases of power failures/outages , but any hand-crank or totally off-the-grid appliance is a good buy if a) you will use it frequently, and b) you don't already own its electrical cousin. (If you do, consider "hacking" the cousin or trading/freecycling/donating it.)
  • One good vegetarian cookbook - Before you roll your eyes and close your browser, hear me out. I'm not asking you to go vegetarian - in fact, there appear to be conflicting opinions on whether or not a vegetarian (or more strict vegan) diet is better or worse for the global environment. However, it seems to be universally accepted that Westerners tend to eat more meat than we need, not only for the environment's sake, but also for our own health. A nice, thick vegetarian cookbook will offer you options you may not have known existed, and even if you don't decide to go vegetarian 100% of the time (or even one day a week, like Vegetarian Wednesday), you'll learn tricks for incorporating more vegetables into your daily menus.
  • Solar charger for your peripherals (as in cameras, cell phones, etc.) - Just as with hand-crank items, solar chargers use free and sustainable energy and are great in an electrical pinch as well.
  • One or two reusable shopping bags - You probably own one already - a summer tote you've stored away for the winter months or an old book-bag the kids have outgrown. Newbies often run out and purchase a "green" shopping bag, complete with the obligatory "Look, I'm GREEN!" propaganda printed in a conspicuous place. Pssst! I'll tell you a secret: You've been greenwashed! Any, I repeat, ANY old bag will do, including an old plastic grocery bag. Make your own out of an old t-shirt or weave one out of plastic bags you accumulated before you saw the light. If you really don't own anything you could fashion into a shopping bag (and I highly doubt that you don't), then you can claim the Start-Up Cost Clause.
  • Durable foodware - At minimum, invest in a reusable water bottle (see below for recommendations). At most, you'll need:
  • A reusable bottle - try Sigg, Kleen Kanteen, or EnviroProducts (the two latter have no plastic liners)
  • One reusable glass/ceramic bottle or mug for work
  • One reusable coffee sleeve (if you need it - you might not, if your reusable mug is insulated well) - either reuse one of the cardboard ones or make your own
  • One travel lunch bag/box
  • A few glass food storage containers (try Anchor Hocking or Pyrex)
  • Reusable utensils (flatware from home or for a compact version try the Coleman - available at Target for $7.99)
  • Cloth napkins - 5-8, depending on your lifestyle, number of household inhabitants, and messiness level
  • Ceramic or reusable (and sustainable) wood chopsticks, if you use them
  • A bike or bus pass - A bike is not a purchase to take lightly. Do your research and find a bike that you know you will use, then outfit it to suit your needs. If you don't think you're a bike person, car-pooling or using your public transit system (Clevelander's click here) is a better option. Google also offers a service, Google Transit, which will assist you in planning your commute, but only if you live in one of the very few participating cities. (boo!)
  • Compost bin - This can be as big or small a project or purchase as you'd like to make it. Build a large compost pile in your back yard, a smaller one on your balcony (like Green As a Thistle), or set a small jug on your counter top (I think this is called a compost "pig").

Green Newbie Mistake #3: Giving in to Greenwashing
Solution: Do Your Homework

Piggy-backing on #2, don't be fooled by green imposters. It's a challenging and conscious effort for large, established, (especially chain) businesses to make green changes on a grand scale, and those changes simply cannot happen overnight. Smaller, newer, more local companies have a somewhat easier time - it's easier to start something from the ground-up than to try to change old habits. But bigger businesses want to get in on the eco-action, too, so they start in whatever ways they can. Sometimes these efforts are genuine in that they create significant directional change for the company (i.e. car manufacturers working toward establishing entire lines of hybrid, fuel cell, and alternative fuel cars). On the other hand, sometimes the changes are only superficial and intended to tap into the ever-growing market for green products and services (e.g. labeling layers of plastic packaging with "Please recycle me" reminders, while making no effort to actually change the amount or types of packaging). Doing your homework can help you to weed out the sincere from the superficial, or at least put you in contact with others who are looking for the same answers. When in doubt - contact the company directly, and ask direct questions.

Green Newbie Mistake #4: Greenwashing Yourself
Solution: Keep it Real

Reinventing yourself is exciting, as is the prospect of having an impact on the current and future states of your planet, but don't let it go to your head. A healthy amount of enthusiasm is necessary in order to make some of the bigger green changes, but walking the walk is a better advertisement for the things you believe in.

Check that you're not only taking on the most superficial, convenient, and easy of green changes, either to alleviate your own green guilt, to impress your friends, or because it's the trendy thing to do. Recycling because everyone else is doing it wouldn't be the worst form of peer-pressure or copy-catting, but recognize that you have the power to make an even greater difference/impact.

Green Newbie Mistake #5: All or Nothing Attitude
Solution: Keep Perspective

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the green lifestyle options, recommendations, and warnings (usually about not following a certain recommendation). Going green isn't an all-or-nothing event - it's a conscious choice and a work in progress. If you take on a change that you don't fully understand or accept, you're less likely to stick to it in the long run. You're not an awful person if you don't keep vermiculture composting worms under your sink. ;) Make conscious choices - be aware of the impact of your choices - but don't beat yourself up about them afterward. I realize that some greenies believe that the world as we know it will soon come to an end (and I neither affirm nor refute their statements), but I believe that all life on this planet, and the planet itself, is resilient. Where there has been famine, humans (and animal and plant-life) have survived. The same is true of droughts, wars, and plagues. Yes, some people (and plants and animals) will die as our planet shifts in its nature, but guess what? We are all - plant, animal, and human - going to die someday. That's just part of life and nature, and it's nothing to live in fear of.

Death is a fact of life, as change is the only constant. I say this neither to scare, nor to offer an excuse for those who do not choose to make any changes at all. Instead, I offer this obvious fact as a reminder that we can only do the best we can at creating the life and universe that we would like to live in while offering up/out/around/through/into/under/below/about our hopes and dreams. There are larger forces at work here - it's okay if you accidentally throw away that recyclable glass jar. Just do your best to be conscious about it the next time, and accept that every action has a reaction.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Product Review: Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap

Photo by Kevin on Flickr using Creative Commons.

Part II (of Some Answers and a Few Questions)

Dr. Bronner's update:

In a previous post I mentioned that one day I hoped to use Dr. Bronner's soap for everything. I am in love with the simplicity of the product, with organic, sustainable (in recycled packaging and available in bulk), fair trade and humane practices and with claims of being useful for so many different things. What could be simpler than purchasing one soap to use for all household and personal hygeine needs?

As I do with any new-to-me product, however, I purchased a smaller amount than if I were purchasing of a product which had become my new favorite when I bought it last fall. I opted for the lavender liquid soap in the 32 ounce bottle, noting that later I can purchase the gallon jugs directly from their site, or fill my current bottle at Wild Oats (assuming they still carry it; To-date I have not seen it in any other bulk sections of my favorite natural foods stores.) I introduced it to the beau, who was skeptical of it's all-oneness, spiritually and functionally, by using it to fill one of our existing hand soap dispensers, whose contents were previously used up.

Aside from the occasional clog - which I have experienced with every liquid soap I've ever tried - I was a convert. I love the smell of the lavender, and the near-colorless liquid foamed perfectly, even without SLS. My hands felt clean, but never dry after using the Dr. Bronner's.

And then one day the beau says to me that Dr. Bronner's stained his shirt. I was all, "no way! It says right here that you can use it as a laundry detergent", but he assures me to this day that the shirt in question had to be cut up into rags. My personal experience on the few occasions that a clogged spout shot soap onto my sleeve are that it came out without any problem. I did rinse the soap "stain" immediately with water, but then I let the shirt dry until it was time to do laundry and it came out without difficulty.

I suspected that perhaps the oils in the soap might have caused the stain on Beau's shirt, so I contacted Dr. Bronner's via email to see if they had any awareness of their soap staining clothes or any suggestions about removal if a stain does occur. Sadly, the happy people at Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap company never replied. (Not very One-like of them, but then maybe their email server was down or something.) My thought is that as with other oils, had the shirt been treated sooner (by rinsing with cold water and/or absorbing with baking soda before washing) it would not have stained.

Recently I had also been looking for an alternative to my toothpaste. I was using Tom's of Maine, my favorite toothpaste, until I found out they were purchased by Colgate and contained SLS. Then after researching a few brands I picked Dr. Ken's, but I was unimpressed and looking for a solution which would greatly reduce the packaging involved as well. I looked into using baking soda and water, or making my own toothpaste, but it turns out that baking soda is too abrasive for my sensitive teeth. It seemed silly for me to purchase glycerin and other raw products which I did not presently have further use for.

I decided to try using my lavender liquid soap to brush my teeth as well. While it wasn't my flavor of choice, I have enjoyed lavender-infused desserts and teas in the past, so I figured it could be tolerable. I've been using the soap to brush my teeth for over a week now and have discovered what is definitely THE cleanest mouth feeling I've ever had. The dentist's office? Doesn't compare. And this isn't that gritty/crunchy feeling that the dentist's toothpaste has, either - you know what I'm talking about. The only problem is that after brushing with the teeniest semi-drop of the lavender liquid soap I found that the taste undesirable, and it left my tongue with a sort of unpleasant near-burning tingle. I rinsed with my remaining Tom's of Maine mouthwash and discovered I've never felt so minty fresh. Those gum commercials really know what they're talking about, but they're advertising the wrong products.

And then, divine intervention (or something like it): in the store the other day I found a trial/travel size of Dr. Bronner's peppermint liquid soap (2 oz.), and have been using it to brush my teeth ever since.

Exciting News and Preference Poll

I promised I would share some surprises with you and true to my word you'll find one (of many to come!) in this post.

I have been dissatisfied with the limited options offered by Blogger and was searching for alternatives around the time of posting the Pomegranate Meditation last fall when I came upon WordPress. After testing out some of their options I found that I really liked some of the additional features, but I found that a) it didn't seem as user-friendly, and b) WordPress limits the number of users who can view the blog unless I purchase a package (using the free version to-date).

I have been warned against using WordPress (or really any other) by a friend, and have not found that traffic on this site (yet!!!) warrants the purchase of additional options - memory or otherwise.

BUT! Here is your chance to voice your opinion. Check out the new site - its colors and new features (including the addition of new pages) - and then post in the comments section or send me an email with your preference. Other suggestions are also welcome. :)
  • Which site is more easily navigable?
  • More visually appealing?
To make it as fair a game as possible, I'll be linking to this site on the other as well, and at the end of March (or when I've reached my max users on WordPress) I'll assess the traffic patterns and post the results.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Some Answers and a Few Questions - Part I

It's about time! Well, better late then never, I always say... Anyway, stay tuned because I have lots of surprises in store.

Part I: Long Time, No Blog

I know there's no excuse for my delinquency, and I had promised myself I would never make this a blog about my personal life, but I'll share with you a little story about why I've been silent for so long, especially since it provides context for the rest of the post:
"Once upon a time, a GreenYogini and her beau moved during the week between Christmas and New Year's. Talk about a busy holiday season! Needless to say, the two were consumed with packing and sorting and apartment-hunting between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the months since the move they had been doing their best to "green" their new home, and GreenYogini discovered some obstacles to her plan for saving the world for future generations. " To be continued...

The first of my obstacles - and this is the answer to a question I posed in a previous post - is that it turns out that washing dishes in a dishwasher is actually more energy/resource conservative than washing them all by hand. References here, and here, and more recently here. (Yes, the first one is from 2005 - I'm a little behind the times, apparently. ;) But hey, these guys just reported it the other day, though I'd discovered the answer back in November.)

Unfortunately, New Apartment did not come with a dishwasher, and the beau and I do not intend to purchase a full-size dishwasher which a) would not fit in our allotted kitchen space, b) does not fit our budget (which, of course, is why we're renting), and c) we would most likely not need when we moved into another apartment or house. (Oh, and that's another reason why I've slacked in posting - all the extra hours of dish washing! Guess I can't complain - Crunchy seems to manage wearing the hats of SuperMom, SuperWife, SuperBloggerina, AND SuperCrunchy all at once. :) )

Where was I? Ah yes - dish washing. So, although I had just confirmed with my sources that dish washing by machine was the eco-friendlier option, I had to come to terms with the environmental impact of my new digs and figure out a way to reduce my water consumption while getting my plates squeaky-clean. My decision was that I would not fill the sink with water, and instead would rinse dishes briefly before turning off the water to scrub, then quickly rinse them of their suds. If anyone has a better idea, I'm all ears.

First-and-a-half, New Apartment does not have a microwave. I'm actually not missing it much, though I received a microwaveable warming bear for Christmas which now cannot fulfill his purpose in life - to keep me warm while snuggling him. :( (sniff!) On the other hand, I get the impression that we're reducing energy consumption by not using a microwave. We use the stove top or oven to reheat everything, and again, I'd be open to ideas or observations about which is the reheating method with the least impact. It seems obvious that in order to conserve food, leftovers are a necessary evil (and one which I am generally happy to oblige) - but aside from cold leftovers (nothing worse, in my opinion), it seems the trade-off is the requirement of reheating.

Second, the New Apartment is C-O-L-D, and drafty to boot. We'd been keeping the previous apartment at 65 day and night, but this one feels colder at the same temperature. I had already been accustomed to keeping my sweaters and slippers on while at home, using a ton of blankets while in bed or on the couch, drinking warm tea or cocoa, sleeping with a hat and socks (yes, in bed), and using a hot water bottle (more in a bit), so some of this was expected and bearable. However, because our first heating bill was inexplicably high, we turned our already relatively cold (if you're a freeze baby like I am) thermostat down a further 3 degrees to 62 day and night. The beau decided to program it to go up to 67 for about an hour and a half in the evenings while we're home, and then it drops back down. I'm presently working on sewing curtains for the remaining bare windows in hopes that it will further decrease the energy leaks.

Regarding the hot water bottle, I had thought about it for a while and believed it to be an excellent alternative to turning into a popsicle every night. A space heater or heating pad/electric blanket were out of the question (though I swear my electric blanket was the only reason I survived some winters in the past) because of the requirement for electricity all night long (and aren't electric blankets deemed unsafe by anyway? fire hazard and dangerous electro-magnetic rays or something?). A hot water bottle seemed the perfect solution, and a sort of tried-and-true, off-the-grid, nostalgia-inducing remedy. I made sure to find a 100% rubber one instead of plastic (though I had to stop at no fewer than three drugstores to find one), then promptly tried it the night I brought it home. I was even entertaining thoughts of sewing it a recycled sweater cozy. It wasn't until I read the instructions in the box that I realized I couldn't heat its water on the stove - the instructions indicated that the water should come directly from the tap and that water any hotter would degrade the structure of the bottle. So, ok...water from the tap? Fine. But now I'm not sure what to do with the used water, and I feel guilty filling it up with new water every time. I imagine that "rubberized" water isn't safe for cooking, hand washing clothes or dish washing, and our toilet is already low-flow (another point for New Apartment!). Suggestions?

Additionally, I have installed finger caulk (resulting in bruised fingers) on all the windows and I sewed up some draft "snakes", but it's too soon to tell if it will help at all with the energy bill, and therefore overall energy consumption. We've also discussed possibilities for improving insulation with our landlord, who is open to ideas and excellent about responding to our requests/suggestions. (This is SO important, and a huge bonus for us.) I'm threatening to hang medieval tapestries on all the walls...

I purchased two new sets of long/thermal underwear, which I have since realized require hand washing after only a few uses. They help keep me warm and therefore I'm less likely to run a space heater or crank the heat, so overall I think the purchase was pro-green.

We've replaced our bulbs with CFL's where possible, figured out our ridiculously complex (even for us) curbside recycling program (+ that we actually have curbside, but - that it's so strict and doesn't accept certain things...like plastic bottle caps and plastic food containers), put up curtains wherever our existing ones were the appropriate length (to reduce drafts), have our main lamps on timers, and filled our drafty built-ins with as much stuff as they could hold - for a bit of insulation. We've also taken advantage of the local farmer's markets which we didn't readily have access to before.

The third and perhaps most haunting of all my eco-havoc-wreaking is the increased impact of my commute. Instead of traveling at 35 mph about 15 min. to work one-way, I now am commuting about 30 min. at mostly 60-65 mph. I realize that the average commute, at least in the Greater Cleveland area, is about 30 minutes, but I was hoping to do better than average. This is a sad concession, but I've resolved to take extra care in planning my trips and in ensuring that my car is up-to-date in her maintenance schedule. (Yep, she's a she.)

The decision we made to move was not an easy one, but in the end we determined what things were most important for us and took a leap of faith. I view this as an experiment in finding greener options under less-than-ideal circumstances and look forward to discovering new ways to further reduce our impact.

Look for an upcoming post with some product reviews and additional answers in Part II!