writing goals for 2017

I’ve never been a big one for resolutions¹, but this year I find myself full of resolve. I have a number of goals: personal, professional and political. Among my personal goals are  revamping this space, and getting back to posting regularly every month. I don’t think I can swing daily posting, but I should be able to manage once or twice a week. I would also like to get back to writing, for fun and personal growth. To that end, I have signed on to a rather daunting project: I will be writing and sharing a new essay every week for the year. I’ve nearly run out of week this week, but I plan to post my first essay tomorrow.

The damaged “2017” of an ice sculpture in Boston, from New Year’s Day. A number of artists produce and display ice sculptures around Boston on New Year’s Eve. This year, the next day was quite warm, and the ice sculptures were a little worse for wear. But still cool. (No pun intended.) In any case, I thought it fitting to post this damaged, day-late view of the new year, since I am so often running late and a little bit rough around the edges. 

¹ At least not one for posting resolutions before I have achieved them. But I am still rather amused by my retrospective resolutions of 2006, posted in my 2nd month of blogging.

finding a way to volunteer with my hands full

A little over a year ago, Jen and Mad celebrated their first anniversary of social justice marriage, and a year of encouraging online activism in a little corner of the blogosphere with the Just Posts. As part of that celebration, they asked for Just Post participants to consider giving a gift: to take our activism beyond the online world, and to commit to volunteerism. In the real world. I scribbled a hasty I-owe-you of a post, promising to them (and to myself) that I would write more about my past volunteer work, and to find a way to do more volunteer work.

I’m ashamed to say that I have made no substantial progress in that area since that post. My main excuse has been overload. At the time I was teaching a class, trying to plow forward with my research job and degree-related projects, and suffering from first trimester morning sickness. Since then, I was busier than ever getting ready for conferences, traveling, and trying to move forward with my degree before my impending due date. Then I was busy with parenting a newborn and a toddler, while still trying to keep a foot in my research job.

I really want to do volunteer work, but I haven’t found the time or energy.

Theo will soon start daycare, and I will then need to work harder at making up hours I owe from my not-quite-maternity-leave stretch. With two children in daycare, the costs of childcare and occasional commuting to my job will probably just about equal my net income from my graduate stipend. John is super busy with his work, and already putting in long hours at parenting as it is. We can’t reasonably take time away from his work time or mine for me to have a few child-free hours to put into volunteering.

But I have an idea.

My hope is that I can find meaningful volunteer work where I can bring along Phoebe and Theo. I would like them to grow up with the acceptance of service as being a normal part of life, and including them seems a good way to further that goal.

So, my plan is to start investigating ways that I can volunteer with a baby and toddler in tow. I am very much open to suggestions, and would love to hear from any who have experience doing such things. Jen has inspired me on many occasions with her mentions of bringing her daughter M along with her to work in homeless shelters. Holly wrote about the doors opened for her in her research on public health by bringing along her small children.

My past volunteer work with resettled refugees was very important to me. I signed on as an ESL tutor, with goals of gaining experience that might be applicable to my studies and career. What I found, though, was that I was often able to help in more ways that just helping with language: I helped negotiate bureaucracy, helped interpret bills and other notices that came in the mail, and answered questions about life in the US.

It has occurred to me that many refugee (and other immigrant) families also have small children. I love the idea of getting together with such a family to help with their English or otherwise provide insight into US culture, and having Phoebe and Theo along with me to play with and get to know young kids from another culture. I’m hoping to find an organization that will be amenable to such an arrangement.

My next step is to start contacting some groups. I’ve identified two or three that I’ll try, and I plan to send some emails. I’ll try to have an update of my progress next month.

this list goes up to 11

action_125x125.jpgToday has been declared Blog Action Day, an event in which bloggers around the world can participate in writing about a common cause on a common day. This is the inaugural year of the event, and the cause that has been chosen is to tackle issues relating to the environment. I feel strongly about the environment. It must be stopped! Down with the environment!

No, wait. I’m all for the environment. I was confused. I must have been thinking about uncomfortable shoes. Can’t stand ’em. Or overcooked pasta. Yick. That just shouldn’t even be legal.

Where was I? Oh, right. The environment. I should write about how we, as a society, can make progress in protecting the environment. But I’m afraid I don’t have time for that. I have a work deadline looming, and I shouldn’t be blogging at all. So I must be quick, quick. Like a bunny. In a threatened ecosystem. So I give you a list.

Here is list of things that I should be able to manage to improve my own impact on the environment, improve my knowledge of the issues, and to help generally support environmental causes. What’s more, I will set myself a timeline to accomplish these things. I plan to do these things by the end of the year. There are 11 full weeks of 2007 left, so 11 seemed like a good number to aim for.

11 planet-friendly resolutions for (the rest of) 2007

  1. cancel 10 catalogs or other junk mail items
  2. explore additional local food options, such as for dairy and eggs
  3. block drafts in windows in doors to reduce heat loss
  4. give holiday gifts that minimize shipping and packaging
  5. watch Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (I’m sorry to say I haven’t yet seen it)
  6. write at least one letter (or email) to a company or politician about some action
  7. Change our electricity options to include use of renewable resources
  8. Give support to an environmental action group (whether with money or by way of petitions)
  9. line-dry 1 load of laundry a week
  10. reduce my usage of disposable products (I may try keeping a cloth handkerchief in my pocket instead of a tissue. At least if I leave it in my pocket when I wash my pants, it won’t dissolve and decorate the rest of the load.)
  11. Cook my pasta al dente. This will both fight the evils overcooked pasta and reduce the time I have my stove on. (Okay, you caught me. I ran out of time, and don’t have a good 11th item in mind. But if I manage all 10 of the above items, I think I can feel like I’ve made some personal progress.)

putting my money where my mouth is

Yick. That sounds gross. I will not actually be eating money, or putting any in my mouth. But I will be eating lots and lots of other green stuff.

I’ve taken the produce plunge and signed up for a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) share. This means that I’ve paid a subscription¹ price to get regular assortments of freshly harvested vegetables from a local farm. In doing so, we’re not only going to be getting lots of really good, seriously fresh vegetables, we’re supporting a local organic farmer in her efforts to farm sustainably.

I’d been planning to try to buy more local produce this year, and was thinking of making trips to some local farmstands rather than forking over my usual baskets of money to Whole Foods. However, when I came across a post at Can we kick the bar here? about CSAs a few weeks ago, I realized that this could be something for me. I followed the link to look for CSA opportunities near me.²

I’d heard of CSAs before (though hadn’t retained the name of them) from my sister, who knows a thing or two about vegetables (especially about cooking them). A friend of hers had signed on to a CSA a few years ago, and started a blog to chronicle her vegetable adventures: Vegetablog. But somehow, it didn’t sink in as something I wanted do until I read that other post.

So, tomorrow, we start. We’ll head out to the farm and collect our veggies. Then will come the trickier part.

I realize that I’m in for a big challenge. For me, for the past few years, cooking has usually involved throwing some brown rice in the rice cooker. That’s when I’m getting more complicated than a bowl of cereal. I’ve gotten a bit better with making food for Phoebe, and have regularly steamed up vegetables for her. But this endeavor will be big. Big. I do have a plan, though. I’m hoping to have friends over for dinner at least every couple of weeks to help us eat our vegetables. And what we can’t finish off, I’ll hopefully be able to pawn off on my guests. Every dinner guest can take home a head of lettuce or a parsnip as a parting gift.³


¹ Oops, almost typed prescription. “I’m sorry, those vegetable are not sold over the counter.”

² I’d also like to share that I came across that post by way of reading the last round up of Just Posts. So I’d like to offer this up as evidence that writing about issues that matter to you can make a difference.

³ So, if you are a local friend, you’ll be hearing from me soon about getting over here to get your veggies on. If you are a long-distance friend, and planning on travelling to New England in the next few months, you also get an invitation.

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last-minute Earth Day gift ideas

Here it is, already Earth Day, and you’ve forgotten to pick out a gift for the planet. What could the Earth want that it doesn’t have already? Before you rush out to buy it a commemorative figurine, remember that there are lot of things you can do for the Earth without even leaving the house. (Or at least without making a special trip.) earth.jpg

When making your Earth Day gift-giving plans, remember “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We all know that slogan, but I think many of us associate it most strongly with “recycle.” But reduce and reuse can have the biggest impact.

During the past 35 years, the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.4 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place.

So think about some of these gift ideas:

  1. Screw in a lightbulb. The Earth loves lightbulb jokes, like:

    Q: How many flies does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    A: Two, but how do you get them in there?

    Actually, what I’m saying is change your lightbulbs. Replace your incandescents with compact fluorescent bulbs. EnergyStar.gov says:

    If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.

  2. B.Y.O.B. Party at Earth’s place! (The Earth loves a party.) But the Earth thinks you should bring your own bag next time you go shopping. The Earth would love it if you’d stop getting so many plastic bags. They add up. Reuse some old bags, or bring string, or other fashionable fabric bags.
  3. Have you thought about sending the Earth a greeting card? The Earth says please don’t bother. The Earth gets too much mail anyhow. And the Earth thinks you get too much crap in your mailbox. Consider opting out of all those damn credit card offers, either online or by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT. You can get off mailing lists for lots of places by filling out a form from DMA. For catalogs from businesses “with whom you have had a relationship,” you can call those directly. This site has more hints about reducing your junk mail.

Plus there are lots of other little waste-reducing gifts you can choose for Earth. Like avoiding disposable paper products, or using fewer of them. Opting not to print out papers, or to reprint on the backs of old documents. Or even just turning off the lights. And what’s really nice is that the Earth doesn’t mind if you’re late with the gift, or you can’t give that much. The Earth appreciates even the little gestures. The Earth is swell that way.

picturing some numbers

Want to see some really amazing photos? Check out this link, sent to me by a friend.

Here are a couple of numbers learned from this site:

  • 60,000 (The number of plastic shopping bags used in the U.S. every 5 seconds)
  • 1,140,000 (The number of brown paper grocery bags used in the U.S. every hour)

The numbers are staggering, but abstract.

Photographer Chris Jordan has taken numbers like these, and created large-scale works of art that really show the numbers. To give us the sense of the scale of 60,000 plastic bags.

You really need to see the photos to get a sense of them. So, come on. Click on the link

calling it off

Dear Dell,

This may be difficult for you to take, but I need to convince you that there is nothing between us. There will never be anything between us. I am in a deep, serious long-term relationship with another. I have never been interested in you, not even as a friend. I know that sounds harsh. But I need you understand that this must stop. You need to stop sending me pictures of yourself, and other details about you. It’s creeping me out.

I never even open what you send me, just toss it right in the recycling bag. Over and over again. But recently I realized that I’m just ignoring the problem. The real problem is you. You need to leave me alone.

So I made that call. I thought it would be simple, straightforward, if a little awkward. I’ve had to end other relationships like this not too long ago. And those others took things in stride, agreed right away to stop sending me things, even though it made them sad. But you. I had trouble even reaching a live human body. I got tossed around voice menus. In desperation, I had to pretend to want something from you that I really didn’t want. A fiction to try to get through to you. I felt dirty, teasing you like that. I selected the menu options for “purchase a desktop computer,” just so I could speak to a live person. “I’d like to get off your mailing list,” I said.

What followed was more run-around. The person I spoke to said I could make this request on your website, but she could still help. She tried to find the page. She put me on hold. She passed me off. I held some more, and was eventually disconnected. Meanwhile, I went to your website. Hunted for this page that the voice on the phone alluded to, but couldn’t find. There were links leading nowhere, and everywhere, more creepy pictures of you. Finally, I found the form I needed, deeply, deeply hidden, only revealed through keyword searches. You really have made it hard for people to break things off with you. But I’m strong, persistent. I’m tired of you and your kind harassing people who want nothing to do with you, and creating so much waste.

So I am writing you now to gloat over my victory, to make sure that you understand that you must leave me alone now. You can keep your damn catalog.



p.s. To spite you, I will share with the world at large how to be removed from the Dell mailing list: here is the form.

p.p.s. You should know that LL Bean and Crate & Barrel took things much better than you, and let me call their customer service number and talk to someone. Who then removed me from the mailing list, no questions asked. It took maybe a minute for each. And those were folks I’d actually had brief flings with, catalogs we’d once ordered from.

p.p.p.s. You’re not the only offender, and I realize that. I’m working on finding ways to get you all to stop.

p.p.p.p.s Here’s a paper on this topic that might be of interest: in pdf or the html version. I heartily recommend the pdf, as it has some useful diagrams that don’t come through in the html version.

paper or plastic?

When I lived in France for a couple of years when I was growing up, people generally never got bags with purchases. Sometimes you even had to pay extra to get a bag at the grocery store. People would instead bring their own baskets or bags. Oftentimes, string bags. These really cool, very expandable bags made of a string mesh. They could fit tons of groceries. Well, if not tons, a lot more weight than you’d expect. And certainly a lot more weight than the flimsy plastic grocery bags.

When I saw string bags available for sale at a large health-food oriented grocery store in a nearby town, I was very excited. I bought some.

I was quite pleased with myself, and my new motivation to conserve and reduce waste. Whenever we’d go shopping at that granola store, when we’d get to the checkout counter and they’d ask the big question, “paper or plastic?”, I’d cheerfully answer, “string!” They always took it in stride. Lots of customers were starting to bring their own bags. Not the majority, but I’d look around and see a goodly number of others. After all, this was a store that really marketed environmentalism. They even gave a discount for bringing bags.

But for some reason, going to the closer-to-home (and cheaper) white-bread supermarket felt like going to a different world. Believe it or not, I had to work myself up to bringing out my bags.

I’m a funny bundle of insecurities. One thing about me is that I don’t like to stand out. I like to blend into the crowd. It feels safer. I was never popular through highschool, and was decidedly unpopular in junior high school. I was quiet, shy. Different. I moved around a lot growing up. That was part of what made me different. I was an outsider. And I was also a smart kid. Worse, a smart girl. Social death.

I learned to fade into the background whenever I could. Because in my experience, attention from my peers was usually negative attention. I got picked on. Teased. Ostracized. Occasionally even threatened.

So when I’d go to the white-bread supermarket in this nearby rural Massachusetts town, I’d often feel like I was back in high school. Showing up from out of town in a new school. Seeing what all the other kids were doing. Trying to stay out of their way. Trying not to get noticed. And nobody, I mean nobody, was bringing bags. People were into their disposable bags. “Pack them light,” they’d say. “I don’t want them breaking.” This was the norm.

My first step was to start letting the bagger know I didn’t need many bags. They could leave the big items out of the bags.

“Don’t you want the big bottles in bags? I could double bag them.”

“No thanks,” I’d say. And I’d cringe when they’d still give me a bag for a single loaf of bread or a bottle of shampoo (“to keep it separate”), a dozen bags for a fairly moderate purchase. I’d feel disappointed with myself, unpacking the groceries, and adding the latest wads of bags to the ever-growing stash of plastic bags to reuse.

So I made the leap. One day, I brought out the bags at my white-bread supermarket. And when the bagger asked “paper or plastic,” I explained that I didn’t need either. I had my own bags. I mean, I really had to explain. A pioneer.

It’s been a few years now that I’ve been bringing out the string at my local supermarket. And it’s gotten easier. Some of the cashiers and baggers occasionally don’t even seem surprised when I bring them out. I’d like to think that someone else out there also brings their own bags. Maybe. I’ve actually never seen anyone else.

The funny thing is, I feel like using the string bags does a lot more good than the plastic or paper it saves. It’s been part of finding my voice. I’m making a choice to reduce waste that people can see, that others can notice. And they do notice. The cashiers, the baggers, and the sometimes even the other customers.

And what’s really made me think lately is that this step I’ve made has made it easier for me to take other steps in reducing waste. I notice more when I make wasteful consumer choices. I notice more when I buy products with excess packaging. And I start changing my buying habits.

Then I’ve noticed other ways that I have been allowing wastefulness to happen in my life, in our house. The piles of junk mail. Those catalogs I never look at that usually go right into the recyclables bag. I made the step to call some of the catalog companies, and have them take me off their mailing list. It was liberating. I use fewer household disposables. I’m not perfect, by any means. But I’ve reduced. And each reduction has been a little bit easier.

Taking this one tiny little step has made me think.

And this thinking has me thinking. That in the fight for making change in the world, we can focus on the small things as well as the big. The small battles are worth fighting, too. Those small actions can create ripples of change.