Month: August 2015

Earth Overshoot Day

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Have you heard of the concept Earth Overshoot Day? Basically, it’s the day when we have used up nature’s budget for the entire year. This year we managed to spend what the Earth can support in a year on August 13th.  The last time humanity’s use of resources balanced with what the Earth could support was in the 1970s. Each year we have gotten a few days farther away from sustainability. This fact was very sobering, and I also realized that most of the young people in the Western world do not know what it was like to live at a time when things were more in balance. I was born in 1969 and I feel like the formative experiences of growing up without what the current world feels is “normal” really helps me find this rationing experiment kinda sorta … not a big deal!

Let me reminisce a little about how things were in the 1970s for my family…

  • We ate at home, except on Easter (sometimes. Occasionally we ate that meal at home too). All holidays and birthdays were at our home, or family and friends’ homes. Socializing was visits to other people’s homes or people came over to our house. Fast food was not an option either — I had my first McDonald’s when I was 16 years old! I will not be embarrassed to say that I lived at home for most of college, and my grandmother still packed my lunch every day (!) (But I also started college when I was 16 so I was just a baby still 😉
  • Cooking from scratch was also an everyday occurrence. I remember once my grandmother and I went to visit her sister as I was getting older (I must have been around 10) and she saw her using instant mashed potatoes. She said, “Rosie! How could you possibly be that lazy!” and they got in a huge fight. They didn’t speak for two weeks. This left a HUGE impression on me, and I never used them. I recently had a bread recipe that called for them, and I was afraid to buy them! (I’ve since learned that you can use potato flour so I need not feel my grandmother’s wrath from the Great Beyond).
  • We shopped for food in our neighborhood. There was the Italian bakery for bread, and the Jewish bakery for bagels, and the grocery store for food, and the deli for deli, the butcher for meat, etc.
  • We shopped for my clothing 1 time a year — the late summer for “back to school.” I also received gifts of clothing for Christmas and my birthday. Shops were local, and I never entered a mall until I was a teenager (and didn’t like them when I finally did. Bleah!)!
  • My clothes got mended, and when they were no longer acceptable to be worn in public, they became dusting rags. Shoes were shined, and when they couldn’t be salvaged for every day, they became slippers or hanging around shoes.
  • We were walkers and public transportation takers. I and my grandmother (and all of her sisters) never learned to drive. I remember my grandmother getting me a kiddie pool on our main shopping street (7th Street) and carrying it on her back home to 10th Street! I think she even managed to somehow hold my hand.
  • DIY! My grandfather was a carpenter, and all of his friends were tradesmen. If something broke in the house, my grandfather either made a repair or helped his friend make a repair. It went both ways — my grandfather, when not at work, was constantly hanging doors, installing kitchen cabinets, and making radiator covers for friends and family!

Doesn’t all this sound extremely familiar as things people are encouraged to do to green up their lives now in 2015? I’m so glad that these are second nature for me. It now makes sense that even when my husband and I moved from the city (he is almost two years older than me and grew up 3 blocks away from me, so we share much of the same cultural upbringing), we chose a walkable town that has a great public transit system and loads of little stores to get our provisions from.

Thank you Grandmom and Grandpop!

This is not to say it was all good. Being so involved in our surrounding area made my grandparents less tolerant of diverse people.  They were not cultured, educated, or traveled. We didn’t go to museums or performances. Thankfully I transferred to the “smart kid” school outside my neighborhood in 5th grade and I was able to start getting those experiences. It didn’t always make for peace in our household (what do you mean you want to have your (Not Italian) friend sleep over?! What do you mean you want to major in Art — you won’t get a job! OK you can do English – you can get a job with that!), but it made me into the person I am today. There’s a reason I love the word liminal.

image: from footprintnetwork.org — check out the whole site. Scary but necessary to know about.

Incentivizing

It’s an ugly, jargon-y word, I know — but it’s exactly the word for my purpose. I want to incentivize making over buying in my rationing experiment. I’ve mentioned before that the yarn for a sweater is a massive coupon eater, and I’ve noticed purchasing fabric is almost just as many coupons as buying a finished garment. My goal is of course to mind my coupons, but I also want clothing infused with creativity, stories, time, energy, careful thought — and the way I know how to do that is to make.

Here is my attempt at a rationing scheme based on the system I was using, but the coupons for things I make are halved then rounded up to a whole number if necessary. For example, a purchased sweater is 5 coupons, so a hand knit sweater is 3 coupons (5 halved = 2.5, which gets rounded up to 3). Remember, the yarn I bought for my last sweater cost 18 (!) coupons — a disincentive if I ever saw one.

I made a little chart for posterity:

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I had to make a handmade scribbly looking thing after using the word incentivize, you know! I switched Make and Buy by accident — ooops. I blame Sharpie fumes. It’s ok. I’m not wasting paper to do it again. 🙂

Second tweaking of the rationing plan this year, but I do want to make it my own, and sustainable. Yes, I plan to keep this up for yet another year!

That being said, I realized that I didn’t yet record my coupons for the most recent top I sewed.

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Since it was made, it costs 3 coupons.

I’m not going to go back and change the coupons for anything recorded in the past. I will take one for the team with my 18 coupon sweater yarn purchase (still smarting from that one)!

COUPONS REMAINING:

Clothing: 12 out of 66
Soap: 7 out of 12
Tea: 25 out of 30

Try, Try Again

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I have this … hair paste, for a lack of a better way to describe, that works fantastically. I have no intention of buying it ever again.

It smooths down those little frizzies that are inevitable when you have a nest such as mine, and keeps them down. I’ve been nursing my container over the last 3 (!) years because

a) The jar is plastic,

b) despite it’s “natural” label, has a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients and,

c) I found out that the company tests on animals.

I’m actually pretty mad at my three years ago self that I bought the darn jar, mindlessly being seduced by that word natural. But I know better now, right?

Anyway, I’ve been trying different things since then to use for this purpose, all with varying degrees of success. I tried many different oils — even the “dry” oils read a little too greasy. The body butter I make was better, and the body butter I made last with beeswax was even better than that, but still wasn’t heavy enough — I had less, but shiny frizz 🙂

About a month ago I was making neat my bathroom drawers and came upon my jar of shea butter. I opened it to check on how much I had left (it’s a key component in my body butter) and a lightbulb went off — Hey, this is such a similar consistency to the hair paste I love and hate! I tried it, and wow. It’s perfect. It has the heft I was after and is not greasy at all.

It did smell a little too  — shea buttery — for my taste. It’s not exactly a bad smell, and disappears in a moment. Nutty tar? But since I had some essential oils handy I put a few drops of lavender and rosemary in the glass jar. They are both good for hair and smell lovely together.

This little story is not to tell you about how you should put pure shea butter on your hair (unless you have an insane nest like me — then I highly recommend it!). Rather, it’s a tale about how you should try, try again, until you hit upon the right thing. We don’t need to support companies that try to obfuscate their chemicals and shenanigans with green plastic containers and the word natural. We also do not need to be a frizzy hot mess! There are principled solutions out there if we keep looking.

Hooray for a happy ending!

The True Cost

Have you seen the documentary film The True Cost yet?

I highly recommend it.

It’s about the impact of fast fashion on the world, but in larger terms, it’s about something even more eternal — human greed. Because of the industrial revolution and the “advances” which happened since, we can take our very worst traits and speed them up, disseminate them widely, and cause serious damage to people and the earth. It’s not just the big companies, but the average person. Watch the footage of people filming their “shopping hauls” for YouTube and I’m sure you will be as revolted as I.

This is not a feel good movie. I actually was on the verge of a panic attack whilst watching — my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. I cried. You can’t see death, sickness, extreme poverty, broken families, polluted rivers, and shocking waste and remain unmoved (I hope).  Which is why I want you to watch it if you haven’t. No amount of describing the film or my reaction will make an impact like watching the film will. I’ve read books about fast fashion and they have upset me greatly, but I wasn’t prepared for how much greater an impact SEEING was to have on me.

It’s also not a perfect movie. It’s a tangled, centuries in the making problem (it could be argued poor people have always been making stuff for rich people), and of course a 90 minute documentary isn’t going to tease out the complexities. But see it, and do that yourself 🙂 I also don’t think that the free trade companies come off as being sinless, either. They still seem like corporations which are guilty of jetting around the world burning too much fossil fuel, putting too much needless stuff into our world so they can make a profit.

It has only strengthened my resolve to not purchase new, make as much as I can, and wear what I have to patched and patched again rags. I spent Sunday sewing. Talk about slow fashion! It took me 6 hours to make a top, carefully cut, slowly, slowly pinned so the sleeves were set smoothly and the collar laid flat, lovingly french seamed, pressed, and pressed again.

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This feels right. How can something purchased new for $10 ever feel right when you have experienced first hand how much fabric costs, how much work it takes to make something? After you see this film you will know how that $10 top got here, and I hope it will forever change you.