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

 

bigger in texas: houston

We descended on Houston for the annual Houston Marathon: in a whirlwind weekend I spectated the running of 26.2 miles and got a glimpse of all the city has to offer.

The beauty of travel & visiting friends is that it affords and opportunity to focus on people, moments & food, not things, while also contributing to a local economy. Not buying new things isn’t an attempt to completely remove myself from the exchange of goods and services, but to reevaluate what goods and services are truly necessary, build up communities, and acquire fewer material things.

what we saw
With effectively only one full day to see Houston, we did our best to make the most of it. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Houston Marathon: An annual event not for the faint of heart (literally), this race draws thousands of runners ranging in ability from novice to world-class elites.
  • Water Wall (Pictured): The Water Wall is an Uptown Houston landmark and public park near the Galleria shopping mall. This massive urban waterfall is dizzying to look at, but quite impressive.
  • San Jacinto Battle Monument: As someone who had never visited Texas before, I think this stop highlighted the fervor of Texas pride. The monument commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto – critical in winning Texas’ independence from Mexico – but, according to to monument, also altered the course of world history. In true “everything is bigger in Texas” spirit, this monument stands 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument.

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what we did
While there’s an endless supply of things to look & soak in here, it was also good to actively engage with what Houston has to offer during our visit.

  • Played Games at Agora (Pictured): If you need a dose of hipster coffee shop, drop in here to get your fix. We spent part of an evening playing board games we brought along amid an incredibly diverse (and caffeinated) crowd. Agora serves both coffee & alcoholic beverages, making it a worthy stop by day or by night.
  • Ran at Hermann Park: Hermann Park is home to nearly 450 acres of trails, green space and gardens, as well as a little train if you need to entertain a kid (your inner-child totally counts) or get off your feet for a bit. Outdoor concerts and performances are held at a covered amphitheater on the premises. Just across the street from the park is Rice University & its gorgeous tree-lined streets – also worth a visit.

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what we ate
The diversity of Houston inevitably means the presence of a multitude of delicious, authentic international cuisines. One could likely visit this city for the food alone, but in our short visit managed to hit up a few different eateries.

  • Guru Burgers & Crepes: An unlikely, but tasty combination. Admittedly, there were no burger-crepes or crepe-burgers, but the menu catered to vegetarians & omnivores alike. Guru places an emphasis on local ingredients where possible, which gets a thumbs up from me, as did my salad & house-made quinoa bean burger. The brussels sprouts were also tasty.
  • Amy’s Ice Creams: A stop for local ice cream is a necessity on any trip, in my opinion. Full disclosure: full from dinner, I only had a taste, but it was delicious. We watched one of the employees carefully craft a monster banana split, which was a tempting purchase, but we opted for one of their 350+ other flavors on rotation. Originally from Austin, there’s a San Antonio location in addition to Houston.
  • Kolache Factory: Picture, if you will, a bagel shop, but instead of bagels, the behind-the-counter shelves are stocked with filling-stuffed rolls. Kolache Factory is, admittedly, a chain in select markets, but a great (inexpensive) stop for a quick breakfast or lunch. I’d never actually had a kolache before, and boy was I missing out. They also can ship kolaches to you! Dangerous…
  • Addis Ababa (Pictured): The culinary highlight of the trip, by far. Thought it might fit the description of a “hole in the wall” establishment, this Ethiopian restaurant impressed. Food is served communally and eaten with the hands using injera (spongy bread) as the utensil. Not only does it taste great, but is conducive to conversation as we shared our opinions on our favorite dishes. We happened to be the only customers at the time we went, and spent some time speaking with the owner, a refugee from Ethiopia who is in year four of owning & operating the establishment.

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Are you from Houston, or have you visited before? What are some of your favorite sights & stops?

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