week 15: an easter exchange

This week, the “journey of no new things” brought me to back porch in the company of near-strangers, eating potato salad and watching a three year old enjoy the thrill of egg hunting.

The story involves a run, a loaf pan, and a phone conversation with a someone I’ve never met in Colorado, so let me back up a bit:

My roommate, Hannah, will be “shipping up to Boston” come August. As a result, I’m slowly scouting out yard & estate sales to prepare to replace some of the household items she’ll be taking with her when she goes. So, on Saturday, when James and I set out on a morning run and passed a yard sale, we made a pit stop to see what we could find.

Sure enough, there were a few items that caught my attention, namely a mandolin slicer, a loaf pan, and a cutting board. We set the items aside, promising to return after we’d finished running and could both pay for the items and carry them home. Upon our return, we got to talking with the couple selling their wares and left with a bargain: $5 for the lot with an ice cream-maker ball tossed in – and an invitation to Easter lunch the following day.

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weeks 06-08: time marches on

It’s hard to believe it’s essentially been a month since I last did a proper weekly update. In some ways, I see that little changes from week to week, but over a number of weeks there’s a bit more to say. I tend to try and write my weekly updates on weekends, but these last few have been so busy between work, school, and other obligations that I’d be midway through the next week before getting to it, and then would skip altogether.

But that’s okay.

As much as I’d like to try and stick to a routine of writing updates, it’s not imperative that I do so. So I’ll keep up where I can, after all, it is nice to be able to reflect on the week and extract a theme or defining feeling of the past seven days. Seeing that it’s been three weeks, however, means that such a uniform feeling is harder to come by so I’ll just hit the highlights.

Not to dwell on the weather, but wow. Raleigh had 3 days above 80 degrees in February for the first time in history. (This comic sums up my feelings about that quite well). It also means that I’m even further behind in starting veggie garden seeds than I ought to be, and will get those planted this weekend: for real this time. I’ve got seeds and some egg cartons, so I’ll tuck the seeds in and anxiously await the day the little green sprouts poke through the soil.

Despite my guilty & hesitant enjoyment of the weather, I can say that it’s been a great help in the biking department. In summary: biking in an urban area equipped with bike lanes is fantastic. So much more convenient that driving and parking. Saturday I was coming back from prepping some stuff at church and stopped in to visit Anne at work at Runologie, and then, a little bit further down the road, saw a new bakery opened up so circled back and bought the greatest croissant T’ve ever tasted. Thank you, bike, for facilitating these two happy, ordinary things.

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I have to say, a point of pride amid this busyness is that I have yet to cave in to any major consumerist conveniences. (Not trying to bash conveniences or those who utilize them, simply something that currently would be a break from my personal objective here). To summarize:

Plus:

  • Proud moment at Whole Foods this week when everything I bought was new-container free! I returned my milk bottles and swapped for full containers, and my other purchases came from the bulk bin. Happy about the containers, and happy about the contents being simple (beans & peanuts)
  • Working on trying my hand at making other food staples. This week it was hummus and peanut butter, both of which are incredibly easy. I’ve made hummus on numerous prior occasions, but this was the first attempt and peanut butter and it was way quicker than I’d expected. I’ll post about that soon.
  • Thanks to the weather I’m biking more and really enjoying it. Maybe the next step is to purchase a Bicycle Benefits sticker for my helmet. Free Videri Chocolate? I’m in.
  • Thought I was going to need to find a new (to me) shirt for an event last weekend, but a shortage of time helped me realize that what I had would suffice. “It will suffice” seems to be a good phrase to have on hand. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and there’s usually some solution on hand that will do in a pinch.

Delta:

  • Due to lack of a thermometer, I haven’t made any more yogurt lately. Not quite confident enough to heat it based on time, but I’ll find one soon.
  • Still trying to work on breaking the disposable item habits (ie. bags, plates & cups). I’m usually pretty good about the bags & have gotten better at carrying my water bottle, but it’s a simple thing that I’m finding to be a not-so-simple change.
  • Also, trying not to associate guilt with each disposable usage or usage of convenience. Guilt: not the best thing, but also a motivating factor in remembering for next time. If I’m being completely honest, some kind of feeling that triggers “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t be doing/using this” isn’t entirely bad.

Now that wasn’t too hard… I imagine March won’t be much less busy but here’s to finding a few minutes each week to sit down and compile that week’s happenings. Hard to believe we’re already entering month three of 2017!

 

week 05: better late than never

It’s already Wednesday, meaning I’m a bit late getting around to writing this update and struggling to remember what exactly happened this past week. In light of the fact I’m also getting over a mystery stomach bug and trying not to inhale a can of ginger ale as I sit here (easier said than done when all you’ve eaten in the last day is a bunch of crackers and some peanut butter… and the ginger ale tastes so good), maybe I’ll just leave you with a few photos of things that made this past week a good one.

An event put on by the Science Policy Advocacy Group at UNC to discuss how elections influence science & environmental policy. While there were plenty of things to not be excited about, it was encouraging to see the turnout & know that this is not an isolated group. As one of the panelists said “I imagine this room is replicated at universities across the country”. I’m sure he’s right.

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A Thursday mentoring meeting in which we ditched the school building and opted to do some painting instead. Trying not to spill blue paint everywhere seems to build relationships a bit better than multiplication tables, as important as they may be.

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Bread that didn’t turn out quite as planned, thanks to some less-than-fresh yeast, but still filled our apartment with warm, welcome winter aromas. Even if it’s actually close to 60 degrees outside.

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Plus:

  • Found some nice, large glass jars at a yard sale on Sunday – perfect for storing grains & other bulk-aisle items. They have a plastic seal, so still working on getting rid of the lingering smells of peppermint and Smarties.
  • Visited Yellow Dog Bread Co. on First Friday and spoke with a rep from Compost Now, a compost collection service here in the Triangle area. Came away with a couple cookies (yum) and some flower seeds (yay).
  • I’m a little shy when it comes to sharing things I write, but decided to go for it & shared one of my latest posts on social media. It may seem like a little thing, especially in an age of digital communication, but one that took a little bit of working up to. For those who read it & responded, thanks for your kind words!

Delta:

  • The weather here has been unreal for February, but I’m still doing a poor job of actually biking places. I had an elaborate plan to bike to school, a meeting, and then to the city council meeting yesterday, but my gastrointestinal system had other plans so that got nixed.
  • Still working on navigating the farmers market and then “how do I decide what booth to buy from”question, as well as remembering to volunteer the fact I have my own bag as to not continue acquiring plastic ones.

But, that should do it for this week. If nothing else, I can check the box for “I wrote something for this week” and can be a bit more thorough next time.

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

week 04: actions speak

In short, it was an exhausting week… the political landscape has been nothing short of distracting, and contemplating the effects of certain actions is a true exercise in empathy. I personally fall into the category of people that wish to stay informed, but also maintain my sanity. News story after news story leaves me feeling a bit helpless. The rhetoric is brazen, it is harmful, and it is loud.

But we must remember that actions speak louder.

This weekend I was driving home, listening to an NPR interview with a relative of the family sent back to Syria upon arrival in Philadelphia. Over the course of the interview I shed a few tears; it’s gut-wrenching to hear the story, to hear what this family had invested to make this move, to hear about their anticipation of reuniting with family in the US – only to hear about how it was snatched away at the last moment possible.

However, there was a small, encouraging moment amid this. Upon being asked how the family was doing, the relative explained that, while they first felt helpless, knowledge of the uproar and protests & that the American people stand with them has produced a glimmer of hope.

I was also uplifted by efforts here in our community to reach out when called upon. Our local bulk-produce distributor, The Produce Project, posted on their Facebook page that a friend had been hosting a Syrian refugee family, and they were in need of car seats and some other supplies for the children. Within 30 minutes, an outpouring of support produced the 2 car seats, $250, and numerous offers of other supplies if or when they are needed.

Our actions mean something. If only making a difference for one moment, or for one family, I think it’s worth it. To those of you out there that are writing letters & postcards, making phone calls, painting signs, organizing & attending protests, and having conversations with or helping your neighbors: those actions matter. They may not be high profile or part of a clear, direct cause and effect, but they absolutely have impact. Remember that.

Also this week, James and I met up for lunch to partake in Triangle Restaurant Week, in which restaurants in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) area participate in a “celebration of culinary excellence”. Afterwards, he presented me with part of a promised birthday IOU that I never really followed up on: an instant film camera.

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While I was thrilled by the gift, I was even more appreciative of the effort put into it. He knows how important it is to me to be conscious of what I consume, and he went the extra mile to find a pre-owned camera via Amazon & film via Craiglist – the seller had bought the wrong size and was looking to unload the package. Even the wrapping paper was saved from a gift given to him & repurposed for this occasion. I think he felt a little strange giving a used gift, but I applaud him for fighting that discomfort and doing it anyways. To say it meant a lot is an understatement and, once again, those actions spoke volumes.

But I digress. This week also had a few things to mention pertaining to consumption habits:

Plus:

  • Got to take advantage of a DIY cleaning & beauty products workshop at the Well Fed Community Garden. It was fun to take a couple hours away from the hectic-ness of everything and make something while sitting in a room filled with like-minded people. We came away with recipes for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, lotion, and body wash.
  • Made pasta by hand using the pasta press I acquired a few weeks back. I was pleased to find it wasn’t nearly as time consuming as I’d anticipated, and it was pretty successful for a first attempt. There are some things I’d tweak in the future, but all in all an enjoyable, tasty experience.

Delta:

  • If you’ve been reading these last few weeks, you’ll recognize that it’s not truly a weekly update without some mention of yogurt. This week I successfully made yogurt for the second time, but decided to store it in a container that I previously used to hold salsa. The lid was apparently still a little onion-y, so my first few servings of yogurt had some, uh, extra flavor…

I hope you all are doing well. Here’s to lifting our voices a little louder, or perhaps finding them for the first time. Keep it up.

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

week 03: come together

I must say, this week was incredible.

At the onset, driving through Houston, I felt small and insignificant. The city sprawl was a reminder of the immense number of people living there, still only a minute fraction of those that populate the globe. Glances out the window fed the little voice in the back of my mind suggesting that my ideas & efforts do not matter and will not amount to anything. A drive down stretches of highway lined with oil refineries was a reminder of where the resources I use originate, and of the communities located in the surrounding areas that indirectly experience the effects of my decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting Houston, but time spent taking in this new, foreign place did lead to a few moments of near paralyzing examination.

However, I concluded the week as one of millions standing united as part of the series of Women’s March on Washington events worldwide. Though one of many, my presence among such crowds did not generate a feeling of insignificance, but instead one of empowerment. If so many people of different backgrounds & beliefs could come together to recognize similarities and cultivate empathy, perhaps more than I imagined is possible. Every single person who participated was present as the result of individual initiative or action (save some small children, I suppose), meaning that the power of millions is provided through the culmination of countless single efforts. And that sure is something.

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I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many engaged women & men, and I value the conversations had before, during, and after. I left feeling further motivated to continue to critically evaluate my habits and make small changes in my own life that could, directly or indirectly, lift up others. If those who came out recognize this convergence as a beginning, then I feel we can approach the next season with a little more confidence and optimism.

On the consumerism front, here’s what all went down:

Plus:

  • I finally made yogurt & was blown away by the results. More to come on this, but I’ll say here that it tasted great & was incredibly easy. While making yogurt takes a fair amount of time, very little is active time – the rest is heating, cooling, and straining. I ended up borrowing a thermometer from a friend, which I should have done in the first place. So yes, after all that trouble, mine didn’t work. Sigh. Moving forward, I hope to make this part of my routine.
  • Let’s hear it for carpools! Five of us piled in to Hannah’s sedan to make the drive up to the Women’s March in DC. Though planning was a little hectic, things fell into place at the last minute and the drives included some great company & conversation. With all the driving I’ve put in this last month, I rested easier knowing that together we saved on gas & simultaneously provided an opportunity for a few friends to get to experience history.

Delta:

  • When it comes to single-use items, like take-out boxes and packaging, travel is tainted. Same with lunch workshops & community meals. Perhaps I am becoming more sensitive to the amount of packaging I encounter on a regular basis, but on-the-go meals and snacks that are part of being on the road sure generate a lot of unnecessary waste. Moving forward, it could be wise to carry a collapsible cup or plate when possible for certain occasions. Not trying to go overboard here, but if I continue to find myself tossing out plates & cups all the time (well, not “all the time” but too often, in my opinion) it would be well worth the funny looks.
  • This week has been bookended by travel, and January has involved more time out of Raleigh than probably any other month in the last year. I’m ready to settle into a routine and spend some time checking out local shops & trying out some new recipes in my (likely evaporating) free time.

Did any of you encounter something especially motivating this week?

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

week 02: houston, we have a lesson

Last week when I sat down to write my first weekly update, I was nestled into my couch in Raleigh amid pretty bitter winter weather. This time, I’m coming to you from Dulles International Airport in Virginia en route to Houston – after a few days of 70°F weather back home.

This week, amazingly, involved next to no purchases. Hannah and I picked up our weekly produce box, I bought fuel for the drive up to my parents in DC to catch this flight, and I stopped in for a pint of cherry tomatoes for my mom from Wegmans to add to a salad.

However, the yogurt saga continues. As you may recall, last week I began gathering supplies to make my own yogurt, including a (used) instant-read food thermometer. The thing arrived this week, however, the battery inside was dead and corroded. Naturally, it was a unique button battery only available online or at Batteries Plus, so I needed to order another one. Only after getting the new battery will I find out if the corrosion has rendered the thermometer unusable. This brings me to the matter of buying used: functionality.

I inherently harbor the notion that “used” equals “better”, that an item that is available for resale is well-built, well-loved, and predates the era of planned obsolescence. I suppose that, while young, I subscribe to the idea that “they don’t make things like they used to” and therefore prefer certain used items over new equivalents. Perhaps you’ve heard stories of changes in the composition of Pyrex cookware, rendering it more temperature sensitive, or the substitution of plastic mechanical parts for those that once were metal.

However, this position can get me into trouble sometimes, as with this thermometer. The fact of the matter is, used means, well, used; there’s no guarantee of whether or not an item will work as intended or work at all. While I may like to think they will, that’s simply not always the case. Also, take a used car for example: at some point, maintenance costs begin to outstrip the benefits of having an older vehicle. After getting the batteries, I’ll likely have spent the same amount I would have on a newer, nicer thermometer and, while I don’t regret that (recall, I’m trying hard to not buy new things for a variety of reasons), it’s a reminder of the perhaps overly optimistic view I take on used goods. The point here is – buy used when you can, but try to avoid the purchase of used good sight-unseen.

So in summary for this week:

Plus:

  • Very few purchases were made this week!
  • I have still managed to largely avoid the grocery store. My farmers’ market purchases have tided me over through this week, and the overabundance of arugula I picked up has encouraged me to make salads more consistently.
  • It’s almost time to start planning my summer garden, so I’ve been thinking about what seeds to start & when. It’s a welcome sunny, warm thought for cold, damp days.

Delta:

  • I’ll feel pretty silly if this thermometer doesn’t work and I have to buy another one. It’s also a race against time with the milk I bought, currently sitting in the fridge. The yogurt saga has taught me a lesson similar to the one that my mom gives when it comes to baking: get all your ingredients out before you begin to make sure you’re prepared. This thermometer is the equivalent of a middle school baking adventure in which, halfway through making brownies, a friend and I realized we only had olive oil, rendering the final product a bit.. olivey. But a lesson is a lesson – note taken.
  • Part of my decision to pare down my purchases is environmentally motivated. Which brings me to the sticking point of air travel. As highlighted in this New York Times piece, the average American generates 19 tons of carbon dioxide per person, and a flight from NYC to San Francisco could produce 2-3 tons per person. And I’m flying from DC to Atlanta to Houston and back this weekend. Ouch. As someone who studies life-cycle assessment, I’m aware that all the figures about what diet or habits are better for the environment can vary widely based on how you slice & dice the calculation, but it stings a little to think that perhaps one weekend could cancel out a number of the other actions I consciously undertake. More on this at another time, though.

For a week with few purchases, the delta list is more substantial than I anticipated, but I’m glad to see that there are things to reflect on regardless of how much I may or may not be consuming.

Have any of you learned something new this week?

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

week 01: can i blame barbara?

January is now well underway. As I write, it’s a chilling 12 degrees outside and everything is coated in a substantial layer of ice. Serious winter weather in Raleigh is a big-to-do as it’s not a common enough occurrence to warrant undertaking the same preparation as cities in the Northeast, but I frankly find it much more dangerous as any snow is usually bookended by an onslaught of freezing rain & ice.

In any case, I’m generally pleased with how this first week has gone. I’ve managed to not buy anything new, but have acquired some new (to me) items that, on some level, seemed a little ridiculous: a pasta press & kitchen thermometer.

I’ve began the year under the spell of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I wrote about last week. So much of the book resonated with some of my “do it yourself” spirit, which informed a couple of my purchases.

I had some thank you notes to send out & needed stamps, but the post office was closed for lunch when I arrived. I killed some time wandering through the nearby shopping center and found myself in the thrift shop looking for some cloth napkins to supplant my use of paper ones, but instead came away with a $10 Atlas pasta press. Did I need a pasta press? No. Was I imagining a bustling kitchen of friends on a chilly evening cranking out pasta and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor? Yes. So I made a deal with myself that I’d work to make that image a reality and bought the thing, with a small twinge of regret.

I’ve also been inspired to make my own yogurt – apparently it’s relatively easy.  I can get milk in returnable glass bottles at the grocery supplied by a local dairy (their ice cream is excellent), cutting down on waste. This, however, requires a thermometer to ensure the milk heats enough to thicken properly, and I found one on the used section of Amazon after scouring craigslist and some other forums. It was due in this weekend, but the weather has postponed the delivery. I also need some kind of straining material, but instead of buying cheesecloth or a nut bag, I will try an old t-shirt or a tea towel first. There’s one purchase averted (for now)!  I’ll let y’all know how the yogurt making adventure goes.

In both cases, these items were certainly not necessities. However, they are both a means to an ends, reusable, and purchased with a purpose and intent to use. The goal of this project is not to facilitate a sense of guilt when purchasing certain things (or things at all) so I can’t let that feeling become a shadow over every transaction I make.

Here are a few more thoughts from the week:

Plus

  • Visited the farmers market and spent a while speaking with Suzanne, the matron of a meat farm in the area who was running the market-front for a small cooperative selling meat, milk, eggs, and some of the best goat cheese I’ve ever tasted.
  • All but one of the food items I purchased this week came from the farmers market, our produce box, or the bulk section of the grocery store
  • I largely avoided using paper towels
  • Didn’t run out to the grocery store immediately after getting back to Raleigh and instead worked with what I had. I surprised and impressed myself with a tasty sweet potato sage pasta.

Delta

  • Probably should have sprung for the Chobani single size yogurt cup I bought as a starter for my homemade yogurt attempt (forthcoming) after learning about the company’s efforts to help with refugee resettlement.
  • Felt that the pasta press was a frivolous purchase, but do intend to use it and know that it’s an item from which other experiences and memories may come (wow, that sounds cheesy). Plus, it was an incredible find.

Hope your 2017 is off to a good start! If you have any New Year’s resolutions (consumption related or otherwise) I’d love to hear them.

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis