Sunday, December 28, 2008


It may just be my seasonal depression talking, but New Year's resolutions make me feel like a cold, lame, wet duck. Why do I make them every year when the cynic that I am knows they will be forgotten by month's end? Probably because that which holds my cynical heart together is optimist's thread.
Here is the year's end--my twenty-eighth New Year--and only now am I giving enough thought to my bleak resolution history to realize that what I lack is not attainable resolutions, but success in equipping my self with the tools to make good ideas into habits. (I really should have read more Steven Covey.)
So, after eating my way through much of the last forty days, I revisited an article on the curses of my favorite tooth's treat: sugar. It's a good, short, top-ten-ways kind of piece that many friends have borrowed and copied so I've found it here, online, for your sad pleasure. Hearing the long list of reasons (which I already know but choose to ignore) why I should limit (or cut entirely) my refined sugar intake makes me sad and ever so guilty. Ignorance is bliss, isn't it? Damn it. I know the answer.
The article helped turn my gloom into motivation, as the part about how to break cravings and avoid unnecessary sugars is much longer than the refined-sugar-is-killing-you part. Combining list numbers '5. Add protein and fiber' and '6. Spice it up' I made up a super quick, no bake, low sugar, energy bar thing, but let's call it the Keep Me Off the Smack Bar. Apparently, "craving sugar...can be a sign that your body needs more protein," and cooking with cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves may help regulate blood sugar. (I recognize all of the "can be" and "may" in these statements and accept the placebo affect will at least be of some assistance in my quest to break the addiction.)

Keep Me Off the Smack Bar
(Truthfully I just made this up today so feel free to adulterate the quantities and ingredients to suit your self.)

Pile on a cutting board and coarsely chop:
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
a couple walnut pieces

Put into a bowl and combine with:
2 tbsp flax seeds
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
(shredded coconut would be super good, but I forgot)

1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp honey (yeah, I know, sugar)

Mix it all up then get a couple pieces of wax paper. Scoop about a 1/2 cup's worth onto each paper and mold it into bars, using the paper to press it. After that I sprinkled them with black sesame seeds. I put them in the refrigerator to stiffen them up. They are really filling, thanks to all that fat and protein from the nuts and germ. I'm still working on my first one and my sweet craving is satisfied.

wrapped up in the wax paper

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

shifting signifiers: solutions without spending (though a little late, now that my Christmas shopping is done)

Eighteen days after "Buy Nothing Day" and seventeen days through the season of spending that makes people hate Christmas, I finally bottomed out today on gift-giving excitement, confidence, and money. When I named this blog, the "poor" part was because I had initially thought of my approach toward household management as based upon my very limited budget, but that isn't entirely true. What may be more difficult for me to admit than being 'limited' in the budget category is that I am actually quite frugal (though I am 100% sure my partner would disagree now that we've just had the "I'm out of money early" discussion). The budget part is a fluid, ever-changing condition, but the frugality is probably permanent. Even when the budget was not so limited I always searched for a bargain, from shoes to food to housing. It's not just that I was raised that way, but I like it.
Publicly, I feel a sense of discomfiture in being what I'd like to call a "frugalite". It may be my generation and all the credit that was (until of late) thrown at us with reckless abandon (why they hell wouldn't you buy what you can "afford"?). But as Americans I believe we have--by and large--lost the ability to solve problems without spending money. We seem to assume that making positive changes necessarily means difficulty, discomfort and more money. Strangely enough, it usually doesn't, and even more strangely, when many decide to make a change they make the most expensive one.
From an environmental standpoint, this can mean buying yourself a Prius or a flex-fuel car, purchasing carbon-offsets, or--for hell's sake--a plastic bag drying rack. There is surprisingly little encouragement in this time of 'green living' being so hip, to focus our efforts on reducing our consumption rather than just consuming 'better'. So, for example, instead of boosting our economy with a new car loan for that friendly hybrid, we could further consider taking part in a local ride-share program or investing in a public transport pass. Instead of buying carbon-offsets, figure out what your actual carbon footprint is and start by making simple choices to cut away at the excess.
The age of disposability in which we live has made it cheaper (question, though, in what sense of the word) to buy a new cell phone, computer or car than fix the one we own when problems arise. I realize that things break down and eventually do need replacing, but as consumers we are urged and encouraged to dispose of and replace, without consideration of repair. Unlike the distant production lines where most of our products now come from, local small businesses support much of our repair needs. When the car, computer or t.v. does die, find the best means of disposal--be it donation or recycling.
It's kind of a fun, un-cool place to live, turning old doors into needed desks, soup cans into kid's art containers, wasted fruit into leather, garbage to compost. I'm by no means the Queen of Recycling. In fact, I'd rather be the Queen of Reusing. But the fun is in realizing that the solution to a need may not be connected by your bank account.
p.s. Please don't take this post to mean that I think one shouldn't donate to charities.

Check out Adbusters Buy Nothing Day campaign:

"Suddenly, we ran out of money and, to avoid collapse, we quickly pumped liquidity back into the system. But behind our financial crisis a much more ominous crisis looms: we are running out of nature… fish, forests, fresh water, minerals, soil. What are we going to do when supplies of these vital resources run low?

There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.

It will take a massive mindshift. You can start the ball rolling by buying nothing on November 28th. Then celebrate Christmas differently this year, and make a New Year’s resolution to change your lifestyle in 2009."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic, I want to be plastic." -Andy Warhol

Most of us are aware of the mind boggling numbers of plastic bags that are consumed each year (in the ballpark of 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags, worldwide) and there has been great focus recently on not just recycling, but re-using. After all, recycling is still waste. That is to say, without eliminating the need for something (in this case, choosing reusable, cloth bags for all shopping instead of coming up with more uses for the plastic ones) one continues the production-consumption cycle. For the sake of sanity, let's assume the reusable cloth bag discussion is a done deal. So, beyond cleaning up after your dog and more grocery shopping, what more reuse can you get from that lovely pile of polymers at home?
Real Simple mag has a listing of great uses that I recommend checking out, some of which include plastic bags as knee pads for cleaning or gardening, over-the-hand for handling raw meats, and making parachutes for action figures.
For the crafty ones who might like to fashion their own bag-dress, check out Plastic bag crafts post on the blog.
Resealable bags can be washed and reused (if you can get your family to bring them home). They even sell a handy dandy bag drying rack:
But my cheap-self constructed the poor-girl version (which is pretty sad since the gizmo runs about $15) made of a mug filled with rice or beans and a dozen chop sticks:
I reuse most tortilla bags, bread and deli bags for all our weekly lunch packing. Plastics are one of the most sturdy man-made materials, which makes it a shame to not consider alternative uses for more than just bags.
When cleaned and stored properly, your plastic (or glass) peanut butter bottle has a lifetime of uses. Mine live in the pantry and garage, storing bulk foods and loose nails and screws.
I found a post on for alternative uses for laundry detergent bottles, but they were a little too much for even me. My favorite use, locally, is to take the old bottle on down to Earth Goods General Store and re-fill it.
For information on the safety of specific plastics, reuse, and storage, I suggest checking, then backchecking it with The Environmental Working Group (search: 'plastic safety') who, independently, researches claims of safety made by the FDA, EPA, and other regulatory agencies. Get the facts and make the best decision for you.
here is a list of some other websites with extensive lists for plastic bag uses:
Rustic Girls have some chic ideas
61 uses for Wal-Mart bags

Friday, November 28, 2008

shifting signifiers.

In my memory, the signifier came into itself when I was a teen and sitting in the passenger's seat of a boys car.
It is late, or curfew, and the night is ending--almost. If he let the car idle I knew that meant a quick "Bye!" and it's my signal to jump out and head to my front door. But, if he kills the engine, that's a clear sign to stay clear of the door handle because, well, we could be there awhile.
Though I haven't been in the passenger's seat of teen dating in a very long time, the signifier of an engine turning off is no less relevant today. Dropping a friend off after girl's night and killing the engine just to finish the thirty seconds of conversation that remain might make her feel a little strange and curious, as though I'm trying to extend the night beyond conversations end.
Here is where I want a change.
As I hope you already know, ten seconds of idling consumes more gasoline than turning off and starting your engine does. With this fact, killing the engine to avoid idling over ten seconds becomes beneficial in two ways. One, you are conserving gasoline and two, curbing unnecessary emissions.
How many moments of unnecessary idling do I go through in a week? This thought sprang on me recently and I have seen the answer clearly, since. Many.
Dropping off/picking up my dry cleaning, drive through coffee, stopping to drop something off at a friend's house, the occasions are often. Sitting at stop lights is the most obvious offender, as pedestrian crossing meters count the seconds down in my peripheral.
The potential down side of getting a new starter in my car slightly sooner than later is nothing as I look over the blanket of pollution covering my beautiful city and filling my child's lungs. Let's quit calling it 'haze' and 'smog' and call it what it is: toxic pollution, and the number one contributor in the Salt Lake Valley is OUR CARS.
So, the next time your dropping a friend off after a night out, consider turning the key while you wrap up the conversation. At worst, you might accidentally get some action.
Check out Idle Free Utah for more info.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My buddy English sent me a great article examining the Ad Council's "Keep America Beautiful" campaign as it shifted American's focus away from the question of whether disposable packaging should exist, to simply how to 'properly' dispose of it, thus ushering in the age of disposable everything.
here's the gist:

"The packaging industry justifies disposables as a response to consumer
demand: buyers wanted convenience; packagers simply provided it. But
that’s not exactly true. Consumers had to be trained to be wasteful.
Part of this re-education involved forestalling any debate over the
wisdom of creating disposables in the first place, replacing it with an
emphasis on “proper” disposal. Keep America Beautiful led this
refocusing on the symptoms rather than the system....At the same time,
the container industry lobbied hard behind the scenes. In 1957, with
little fanfare, Vermont’s senate caved to the pressure and declined to
renew its reusable bottle law. In 1960, the year Keep America Beautiful
teamed up with the Ad Council, disposables delivered just 3 percent of
the soft-drink market. By 1966, it was 12 percent, and growing fast. As
was the Ad Council. By then it was the world’s biggest advertiser."

Friday, November 14, 2008

not-so-doomed fate of dated electronics

A recent article in Newsweek, titled "Don't Toss Out That Old Gadget", had some cool info on the state of consumption/waste regarding small-electronics recycling.
  • Old electronics can't be tossed out with watermelon rinds because they contain toxic elements, and most of them needn't be tossed anyway because they aren't waste.
  • Batteries will leak nickel and cadmium--carcinogens for humans--if left to fester in a landfill...computers, TVs and cell phones add further doses of mercury, beryllium, lead and arsenic, among other toxins.
  • Nevertheless, the United States sends between 300 million and 400 million electronics to the dump every year.
  • What if the waste problem could be solved with a design innovation? Advocates propose a cradle-to-cradle model for manufacturing. This means that with the right design, a manufactured good can be broken down into a number of universal, toxin-free components, which can back in to the production cycle in a closed loop. For example, a cradle-to-cradle computer might consist of just one or two types of plastics, easily taken apart and put back into streams of production. Nothing's thrown out because nothing's waste.
  • Even without the dramatic redesign called for, up to 80 percent of a cell phone is already recyclable.
  • What's really wonderful is that more and more the waste question is being addressed by the manufacturers themselves. Nokia and Dell lead the way. Dell picks up the shipping and recycling fees for its own products. (See HERE!)
  • One cradle-to-cradle certification was given to the United States Postal Service for offering special envelopes that let you send old Palm Pilots, BlackBerrys, digital cameras and the like free of charge to the Clover Technologies Group, an electronics-recycling company that has a "zero waste to landfill" policy.

Did you know – the BBC recently reported the following:

  1. teenagers get new a cell phone every 11 mos.
  2. adults get a new cell phone every 18 mos.
  3. average life of computer has fallen from 4-6 years in 1997 to 2 years in 2005
HOW UTAHNS CAN RECYCLE ELECTRONICS, From the Recycling Coalition of Utah:

Recently, the state of Utah has contracted with a reputable e-waste recycler GRX, to manage e-waste under state contract. Feel free to contact GRX at 1-866-GRX-4920 (1-866-479-4920 to arrange a pickup or get more information. This service is open to the private sector as well.

If you have suggestions or information on what others are doing to strengthen e-waste recycling in Utah, we want to hear about it. Please e-mail us at

Other businesses that can help with Electronic Recycling:

Executive Recycling


Stone Castle Recycling

cheap, green cleaning

Sometimes all we need is that little link to ease us into something we've meant to do, but haven't made the time for. My cleaning cupboard is one of those areas. After some internet and book searching, here are few suggestions for creating your own cleaning agents that really work.
Check out Clean and Green for many more ideas for everything from oven cleaning to toilet scrub and non-abrasive soft scrubbers.

Air Fresheners:
  • Add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil to the inside of the cardboard toilet tissue roll. With each turn, fragrance is released into the room.
  • Combine 2 tbsp. baking soda with 2 cups hot water, and stir until dissolved. Add fresh lemon juice or any essential oils. Store in a spray bottle and mist into the air to freshen it.
  • Charcoal placed in a bowl rids rooms--or refrigerators--of odors. Also, 2-3 slices of white bread absorbs refrigerator odors. Remove either and throw away after a few days.
  • Drop some essential oil on a clean cloth and swab wooden surfaces: kitchen tables, coffee tables, doors, cabinets, etc. (thank you fresh-smelling-home-owner, Riley)
All-Purpose Cleaners
  • Vinegar and Salt. Mix together for a good surface cleaner.
  • Baking Soda. Dissolve 4 tablespoons baking soda in 1 quart warm water for a general cleaner.
  • Baking soda on a damp sponge. Baking soda cleans and deodorizes all kitchen and bathroom surfaces. That same grit in your baking soda tooth paste works wonders for kitchen and bathroom sinks.
  • For a general, all-purpose cleaner, try a paste made from baking soda and water or mix salt and water with a little vinegar.
  • 2 tablespoons borax, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 cups hot water. Combine the borax and lemon juice with the water in a spray bottle. Use as you would any commercial all-purpose cleaner.
  • Borax has long been recognized for its disinfectant and deodorizing properties. Mix 1/2 cup Borax into 1 gallon hot water or undiluted vinegar and clean with this solution.
Glass Cleaners:
  • No-Streak Glass Cleaner: 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 quart warm water
    Mix the ingredients and apply with a sponge or pour into spray bottle and spray on. Wipe dry with crumpled newspaper, buff to a shine. (Use crumpled newspaper instead of paper towels for lint-free results.
  • Use undiluted vinegar in a spray bottle or
  • Equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle or
  • 1/2 lemon juice and 2 cups water in a spray bottle or
  • 1/2 cup vinegar or lemon juice, 2 cups water, 1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil based soap (such as Murphy's Oil Soap)
Some great tips from Clean and Green site:
  • To save time and money, make your cleaners in advance and buy the ingredients in bulk for cost savings and to avoid excess packaging..
  • Make large batches of the recipes and store them in reusable airtight plastic containers and spray bottles. Using a pretty spray bottle or container makes cleaning days more fun and pleasant.
  • Label all of your ingredients and keep them out of reach of children. While most of these all natural cleaners are not poisonous, some can be harmful or even fatal if swallowed by children or pets. See specific safety precautions at the bottom of this page.
  • Add your favorite essential oils or herbs to any of these formulas for fragrance