Wednesday, January 31, 2007

PeaceBang's Beauty Tips For Ministers

Do you need cheering up?

I do.

It isn't just Molly. It's the end of January and it's cold and I am behind on work deadlines and I'm obsessed with a blog (huge time-suck) that very few people read.

But then Steph at Surviving the Workday pointed me to PeaceBang's Beauty Tips For Ministers.

I am not a minister. I don't even go to church. But I think I want to go to Peacebang's church. I especially enjoyed her recent post on Ugly Americans.

In Memory of Molly Ivins

I just heard that Molly Ivins passed away today. Another victim of breast cancer.

I have been a fan ever since I heard her speak at Smith College in the 1990s. She was a funny, well-read proponent of liberalism, and she delivered her barbed messages with wonderful Texan flair. She was a tough voice for the minority. I felt that she was a voice for people like me.

In one of her last columns, she wrote,

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

You done good, Molly.


Can you see my pictures? Like the one below of my cool sister-in-law?

Because I can see them all no problem--but I just looked at the blog at a work computer, and the pictures don't seem to load. :(

A Tribute to a SAHM

Could we please all applaud Stay-At-Home Moms--those hardworking women who are raising the next generation of our species to be smart and loving and engaged in things that matter?

I am not a SAHM (though I have been a SAHM wanna-be), but I am especially impressed by my kick-ass sister-in-law, who, while providing extraordinary mothering to my four (count 'em--FOUR) nephews, also SKY DIVES.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Salt of the Earth

A reader has asked about salt:

. . . purchased Black Hawaiian Sea Salt from Trader Joe's and after examination, I discovered that it is white salt that is covered in charcoal. And yes, charcoal is listed as one of the ingredients. Wtf is that about?

Let’s back up a mo and consider different forms of salt.

There are three kinds of salt in my kitchen: table salt, kosher salt and sea salt.

Table Salt
Table salt is highly refined in order to improve its storage and handling characteristics. The refining process involves a brine solution that is treated with chemicals that precipitate most “impurities” (largely magnesium and calcium salts, considered by some food activists to be highly valuable for health).

According to Wikipedia,

Anticaking agents(and potassium iodide for iodised salt) are generally added at this point. These agents are hygroscopic chemicals which absorb humidity, keeping the salt crystals from sticking together. Some anticaking agents used are . . . sodium alumino-silicate, and alumino-calcium. Concerns have been raised regarding the possible toxic effects of aluminium in the latter two compounds, however both the European Union and the United States Food and Drug Administration(FDA) permit their use in regulated quantities.

If “fortified” with inorganic iodine (usually potassium iodide), the added iodine compound needs to be stabilized, so a sugar is added to stabilize it—which then discolors it, so the salt needs to be bleached.

So much for what we thought of as a “pure” product.

Kosher Salt
Again according to Wikipedia,

Kosher salt, unlike common table salt, typically contains no additives (for example, iodine, although kosher salt produced by Morton contains sodium ferrocyanide as a free-flow agent . . . Kosher salt gets its name, not because it follows the guidelines for kosher foods as written in the Torah(nearly all salt is kosher, including ordinary table salt), but rather because of its use in making meats kosher, by helping to extract the blood from the meat.

Sea Salt
Food activist Sally Fallonadvises her readers to avoid the two processed salts described above in favor of sun-dried sea salt, which contains organic material (trace minerals, etc.) without the stabilizers, anti-caking agents, chemical additives or bleaches.

Most sea salt, however, is still somewhat industrially refined. You have to search hard for salt that is actually sun dried, and the price goes up with the quality.

Fleur de sel ("Flower of salt" in French) is the Beluga caviar of salt. It is hand-harvested by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. It is usually fairly expensive and, like wine, has terroir—a site-specific flavor. I got some in Slovenia last summer and use it sparingly on special things.

And now back to the original question:

One kind of sea salt is Hawaiian black sea salt, which is sea salt is combined with activated charcoal.

According to one vendor of this salt, the charcoal “compliments the natural salt flavor and adds numerous health benefits to the salt.”

What health benefits? Well, according to the National Library of Medicine, "Activated charcoal is used in the emergency treatment of certain kinds of poisoning. It helps prevent the poison from being absorbed from the stomach into the body.”

Some believe that activated charcoal is also effective in relieving diarrhea and intestinal gas—although this is not accepted widely in traditional medicine.

One vendor of an activated charcoal supplement has this somewhat tentative health information (emphasis mine):

Some research has shown that activated charcoal may help in the reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and the increase of HDL (good) cholesterol, although this has not been entirely proven.

Activated charcoal may also possibly lower the absorption of certain fatty acids and fatty alcohols, and positively affect lipid levels.

Research has been conducted about the effect activated has on alleviating digestive complaints such as intestinal gas and diarrhea, and again, this process is not entirely understood by researchers.

Activated charcoal has also been shown to possibly alleviate the symptoms associated with cholestasis of pregnancy, uremic pruritis associated with uremia, and congenital erythropoietic porphyria (Gunther’s disease).

Activated charcoal is commonly used to prevent overdose of certain drugs and medications, though charcoal has no adsorption effect on inorganic poisons.

More on Salt
One of my all-time favorite reads is Salt: A World History. Everything you wanted to know about salt and history. And it is interesting. Really.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Surfeit of wine bottles

What to do?

We drink wine with dinner every night (for our health, dontcha know), which means that we need to dispose of around three bottles every week.

I live in a county that recycles cardboard and plastic—but not glass. (Very weird, I know, but that’s New Mexico.)

Last summer’s unrealized ambition was to build a wall or garden feature out of concrete and old wine bottles. Cool, no?

However, I am no engineer, and I could not find any instructions (in print or online) on how to do this. Does one fill the bottles with sand first? How does one make the wall structurally sound? How high can one build? (Does anybody out there know how to do this?)

Hunting online for what to do with old wine bottles brought suggestions that were, frankly, unappealing:

  • Place them around the house for decoration. (Tasteful, no?)
  • Fill them with vinegar or other liquid. (Que???)

Clearly, these people do not know how many wine bottles I have.

My other brilliant idea was to make beach glass (aka sea glass) out of smashed up bottles. This can be used for sustainable crafting, landscaping, etc. I could give some to the local arts class, to a local jewelry-making class, etc. (!!!)

I went online and found clear, easy instructions , as well as a source for needed equipment.

I put a tumbler on my Christmas list. Et voila! I am now a proud owner of the necessary apparatus.

Only after I received the gift did it occur to me that I was going to need to use electricity to tumble the glass—thereby using resources in an attempt to save resources. Huh.

The tumbler, it turns out, uses 36 watts; but it has to run for DAYS to get the glass polished and smooth.

I am not sure what this means in terms of energy use: is this a sensible endeavor—or am I better off just burying the bottles and waiting for time to do her thing?

At the moment, I am tumbling the smashed bits of a cava bottle and a Grand Marnier bottle (both remnants of last weekend's birthday).

I'll post a picture of the final product if/when it happens. I don't know if this will take DAYS or WEEKS, but I do know that I have a hell of a lot of wine bottles that I don't know what to do with.

Your comments humbly invited!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Birthday food

Today is my life partner’s birthday, and for us, celebration means food and drink.

  • Tea in bed
  • Mimosas: 1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice in a champagne flute; then fill to the rim with champagne or cava*
  • For him, oatmeal with milk and sugar (his unwavering breakfast, no matter what); for me (the wanna-be low-carber), two poached eggs on a bed of sautéed spinach, onion and garlic, seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon
  • For him, a soft-boiled egg (in an egg cup) with toast
  • Bananas Foster
  • Café Caen (from American Bar: The Artistry of Mixing Drinks): brandy, Grand Marnier, hot coffee, whipped cream, sugar

After that breakfast (and at Birthday-Boy's request), we didn’t prepare a lunch (although I ate some leftover moussaka straight from the fridge).

  • Aperitif: cava (leftover from breakfast!)
  • Green salad lightly dressed with vinaigrette
  • Roast chicken with roast potatoes, roasted carrots, roasted parsnips and creamed leeks
  • Robert Mondavi 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)
  • Apple, prune and brandy crisp, topped with leftover whipped cream from morning Café Caen
  • Tea

A Great Day.

*Cava is the Spanish version of French champagne, and it is far less expensive than its French counterpart. You can get a highly rated bottle of cava from for under $10. We buy it by the case!

Why Craft is Worldchanging

This morning Living on Earth (LOE) reviewed Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century (described as the Whole Earth Catalog for the 21st century) and talked about Worldchanging's founder, Alex Steffan, and his philosophy:

"Don't just live sensibly," he says, "Live well."

According to LOE, Steffan's
vision of the future isn't granola and porridge. It's what he calls "bright green": Creating and buying products and systems that are smart, sexy, sleek, and sustainable. . . .

Steffan says that "things are bad. Problems are huge. But despair is a trap. None of the problems we face are insurmountable. The biggest barrier to a bright green future may be entirely in our heads--we simply can't imagine it."
The LOE interview led me to the Worldchanging website--the precursor to the book--and I was immediately taken with the Jan. 26 post about Why Craft is Worldchanging . My favorite part is this:

Craft is radical. In this age of corporate-driven mass-production, the act of an individual making a useful thing is radical. The act of buying a useful thing made by an individual is radical. It is akin to living off the grid: trading outside the big box.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Fact or fiction: you go into your bathroom, and AGHHH! Treading water in your toilet is a living, breathing rat.

I was telling my friend Anne that I had just read about sewer rats (aka commode rats)—the kind that apparently turn up in people’s toilets. She was repulsed. And we both were disbelieving.

Could this really happen?

But there it is, in the section on “clog busting” in Ellen Sandbeck’s Organic Housekeeping.

According to Sandbeck, these critters are attracted by the trail of food particles left by garbage disposal use. The rat takes a wrong turn--and there it is, smiling up at you from the porcelain throne.

Apparently, Washington State is not stranger to these guys. The King County web site has some very explicit advice:

  • Keep your kitchen sink rinsed clean and use garbage disposals as little as possible.*
  • Rinse out your kitchen sink once or twice a month.
  • Use 1 cup of bleach (an alternative to using bleach, 1 cup of baking soda followed by 1 cup of vinegar) and rinse with boiling water.
  • Never throw grease down the drain.
  • Keep your toilet lid down when not in use.
  • If you find a rat in your toilet, flush it! (hint: squirt a little dishwashing liquid under the lid into the bowl, wait a couple of minutes then flush)

*In fact, why not compost instead?

Re flushing the rat: Sandbeck says not to worry about it-—these guys can tread water for three days. (!)

She also cites a recommendation to flush at least five times, and, if the critter is still there, call Animal Control.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Compostable Clothes Hangers

So I was at Wal-Mart today.

(I know. Bad. But my town is one of those towns with very limited food options--it's either Wal-Mart or the discount store that smells like old meat and sells dented cans that fell off delivery trucks. Or a 120-mile round trip to better options.)

So I was at Wal-Mart today, and I see these clothes hangers that are made of corn.

Yep. Corn.

And the label says that you can compost them.

Googling for more information, I find Wal-Mart's Sustainable Product Success Stories page, and, sure enough, there are the corn clothes hangers at the top of the page.

Now, I am not a lover of all things Wal-Mart. However, like it or not, I am a Wal-Mart customer.

In a quest to learn more about Wal-Mart (in a feeble attempt to assuage my guilt), I have downloaded the unabridged audio version of The Wal-Mart Effect,which is a fairly balanced account of the corporation.

There's a lot of bad that Wal-Mart does, but what surprised me was the good. I learned, for example, how Wal-Mart, through its huge buying power, made that stupid cardboard packaging on deodorant go away.

Remember when all deodorant and anti-perspirant came in boxes, which you immediately threw away?

Wal-Mart didn't like it either, since it added to the cost of the product and took up more shelf space. So in the 1990s they asked their suppliers to ditch the boxes--and thereby saved tons of trees.

The right decision for the wrong reason?

Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting

My invaluable blog mentor Stephanie has sent me this link.

Click on it. The pictures are fabulous. While I don't agree with the "Craft Kills" sentiment, I DO like the lace table cloth with 3-D skull border (photo by pt of Make).

There is also a giant American flag knit on giant knitting needles held by huge construction cranes (see bottom of Make page)--not, I think, part of the MAD exhibit, but in the same spirit.

The MAD (Museum of Arts and Design) site describes the exhibit and has more great pictures:

Featuring 27 artists from seven countries, this exhibition will exhibit work that ranges from Althea Merback's microknit garments (1:144 scale) to large-scale, site-specific installations.

The exhibit runs from January 25 - June 17, 2007.

Unfortunately, according to MapQuest, I live 1965.44 miles from the museum. It would only take 30 hours, 27 minutes to drive straight through, but, you know, I have knitting to get on with....

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It's a Keeper

Another reader request!

But first, a caveat: if you are male and a bit squeamish about "female health issues," you may wish to stop reading here. The following text concerns menstruation.

The object pictured is a life changer. It saves you money. It saves trees. It is healthier. And it is WAY more convenient than disposable alternatives (no hunting around for a suitable receptacle).

It's the Keeper.

The Keeper is made from natural gum rubber and has a life expectancy of 10 years. It is a reusable catchment device for menstruating women.

Here are some Keeper fun facts (via no, I am not getting any remuneration for this "plug":

  • Although most women think pads and tampons have been sterilized, they have not. In fact, no feminine hygiene product has been sterilized. Also, the FDA does not require that the ingredients in tampons and pads be listed anywhere in or on the package.
  • Over 12 BILLION pads and tampons are USED ONCE and disposed of annually, adding to environmental pollution. An average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of tampons, pads and applicators in her lifetime. The great majority of these end up in landfills, or as something the sewage treatment plants must deal with. Plastic tampon applicators from sewage outfalls are one of the most common forms of trash on beaches. A March-April 2001 E Magazine article states that, according to the Center for Marine Conservation, over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along U.S. coastal areas between 1998 and 1999.
  • Plastic tampon applicators may not biodegrade for several hundred years.
  • Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York points out that there has been far more testing on the possible health effects of chlorine-bleached coffee filters than on chlorine-bleached tampons and related products.

It's facts like those that prompted me to change from disposables.

And then there's the price advantage: the Keeper costs $35 + $2 (includes international shipping). Over 10 years, that's 29 cents per month. Compare with other products at $4.00 per month (and that's cheap, right?): $4.00 X 120 months = $480.

While I use the latex Keeper, there are two other highly successful alternatives on the market which are made of silicon (latex-free for those with latex allergies): the Moon cup and the Diva cup.

My favorite condiment


When I lived in Japan, I learned this fun fact: when Westerners first came to Japan, they were called "butter-stinkers" because to a Japanese person who had not eaten much (any?) dairy, these people smelled bad.

That said, my Japanese friends were mighty fond of a good French pastry soaked in butter. We used to go to a big, crowded French cafe on Omotesando for croissants and coffee. Sigh. I now live 60 miles from a good croissant.

As I developed into a greater food snob, I came to understand that not all butter is created equal.

My best education on butter was an article by Jeffrey Steingarten originally published in Vogue (July 2002) and later published in Best Food Writing 2003. I learned about how to make good, homemade butter, explored the chemistry behind rancidity, discovered the difference between cultured and uncultured butters and was told who makes the best artisan butters.

Sally Fallon is a great fan of butter and reminds us that it is an important (and natural) vehicle for fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids, lecithin and trace minerals.

As a result, I now upgrade my butter when I can (for both taste and health), and I buy unsalted butter for an unadulterated taste. (A pat of salted butter contains about 41mg of salt, whereas a pat of sweet butter contains less than 1 mg.)

And I discover that I am not alone in my love affair with butter. Cook Sister! describes a butter and salt tasting, and Accidental Hedonist answers all kinds of questions about the fat divine.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fantasizing about chickens

It's 3:41 am, and I am having a little bout of insomnia.

And when this happens, my thoughts sometimes turn to chickens.

I want to go just a little bit further on that road to sustainability.

And I want really fresh eggs.

I know absolutely nothing about raising chickens, but my early-morning surfing has shown me that Amazon features at least six lists written by chicken owners and enthusiasts:

And I haven't even started on Google.

Blogging for Choice

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

I missed it. It was yesterday.

Since I've been blogging for only two weeks and two days, I had no idea that there was such a thing. Once again, I learn from my all-wise, in-the-know friend Stephanie.

On the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, there was great celebration and information dissemination.

So much good stuff was written yesterday that it would be gratuitous for me to add my belated attempt--and impossible to top some of the amazing prose I've just read.

Be that as it may, I'll say now that I am pro-choice. Why? Feministe has expressed why better than I ever could.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Skinny on Pots

I’ve had a reader request (my first!) to talk about cookware: if buying or replacing, what kind should you choose?

As I see it, the main choices for cookware are

  • Teflon/Non-stick
  • Stainless steel
  • Copper
  • Cast iron
  • Glass
  • Aluminum

I consulted three sources for information on each. My sources were Sally Fallon, Cheryl Mendelson, and Ellen Sandbeck .

Teflon and Non-stick
Non-stick cookware is lightweight, non-reactive, often inexpensive and. . . non-stick.

While cheap and convenient, both Sandbeck and Mendelson mention problems with fumes at high temperatures; in fact, Sandbeck notes that “Fumes from overheated Teflon-coated cookware have been known to kill caged birds.”

There are also problems with durability: the non-stick surface chips off or gets scratched rather easily. I agree with Sandbeck, who says, “Eating a little oil is a lot healthier than eating a little Teflon.”

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is almost non-reactive (Mendelson reports that if something salty or acidic is stored in stainless steel for a long time, corrosion may occur), can deal with high temperatures, is dishwasher safe, and can be inexpensive.

One of my favorite cooking pots is a stainless steel saucepan that my husband bought from Sears when he was a bachelor immigrant to this country many years ago.

You’ll want your stainless-steel pot to have an aluminum core—it helps in heat transfer.

Fallon urges her readers to choose stainless steel cookware over aluminum because of aluminum’s highly reactive nature. (See below.)

Copper is a good heat conductor, but it needs to have a stainless steel lining since it is very reactive--acidic foods can absorb an unhealthy amount of copper.

Copper is usually more expensive than other options, and it tarnishes—which means you have to polish it regularly.

Cast Iron
Cast iron holds eat well, is virtually indestructible and is inexpensive. But it is also very heavy and should not be used to store food, since food can absorb too much iron.

Glass cookware is non-reactive, good for storage and inexpensive—but more delicate than metal. I once made a hot Pyrex casserole pan explode by attempting to deglaze it with room-temperature wine. Not pretty.

While cheap, lightweight and abundant, aluminum cookware is also very reactive. Salty or acidic sauces will actually pit the surface of an aluminum pot. Cabbage becomes smellier when cooked in aluminum. Have you ever cooked sorrel in an aluminum pot? It turns into a slimy, brown ooze.

Mendelson notes that the FDA finds no evidence of danger in ingesting aluminum and that the link to Alzheimer’s disease posited years ago has been debunked.

Still, Mendelson does not recommend using aluminum pots because of the off-tastes and discoloration in food--and the reality of ingesting more aluminum than our bodies are designed for.

Fallon notes that aluminum is toxic to the body in large quantities and that other facets of modern life—processed soy products, refined table salt, deodorants, antacids—also introduce quantities of aluminum to our systems, so it might be best not to compound this with even more aluminum exposure.

Sandbeck calls aluminum cookware “unsafe at any heat.”

So, given all that, what is the recommendation?

Sandbeck uses stainless steel and cast iron cookware.

Fallon uses stainless steel and cast iron cookware.

And so do I.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Making marmalade

In my husband’s worldview, there are some foods you eat only at breakfast and there are some foods you never eat at breakfast. Marmalade is a breakfast requirement; strawberry jam, however, should never be eaten in the morning. Aren’t cross-cultural marriages fun?

Since my husband’s breakfast routine is unwavering, we go through a lot of marmalade. And, since I don’t want him to consume high-fructose corn syrup, that industrial super-sweetener that seems to be in every processed food item in America, either I buy the brands that contain real sugar (usually imported and usually costing between $4-9!) or I make my own.

Why make my own? It’s cost-effective. I reuse packaging (glass jars) rather than consuming more. It tastes pretty good. And it’s easy.

I make it when I find organic citrus in the grocery store. I insist on organic because I learned from Sally Fallon that most commercial citrus is treated with neurotoxic cholinesterase inhibitors (to prevent spoilage), which I don’t want anyone I love to eat.

The recipe I use is from the Joy of Cooking. It involves 24 hours of soaking and about 30 minutes of cooking. This morning I multi-tasked, dusting and washing floors with trips to the stove every five minutes to give the marmalade a stir.

Et voila!

Gaman Desu Yo

As a knitter, I have read much about the therapeutic value of the craft.

Its soothing and repetitive nature has helped people stop smoking, lowered anxiety, managed anger. It can serve as both mental and physical therapy, as described in The Knitting Sutra, a book about one woman's recovery from a debilitating motorcycle accident.

And this type of healing applies to crafting in general.

This morning on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, we heard about how Japanese Americans who were interned in camps during WWII created objects of beauty in order to combat despair. Their endurance—gaman, in Japanese—was bolstered by creative expression.

As the NPR story documents, crafting helps get you through rough times. (I suspect that the rate of crafting goes WAY up in the long, dark days of winter.)

Feeling rough around the edges? Need gaman?

Maybe it's time to give yourself space for a bit of crafting.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cleaning with vodka

Although I am more of a gin girl myself, I think I am about to stock up on cheap vodka.

In my quest for a less toxic home, I am always on the lookout for new strategies.

For Christmas, my boss gave me a gift certificate to Tome on the Range, my local independent bookstore, and I picked up Organic Housekeeping: In Which the Non-Toxic Avenger Shows You How to Improve Your Health and That of Your Family, While You Save Time, Money, and, Perhaps, Your Sanity.

This is the kind of book I read for fun.

While browsing through it over lunch, I found several references to vodka as a cleaning agent.

Vodka can replace rubbing alcohol, which is extremely toxic, in home cleaner recipes such as glass cleaner. While vodka is technically drinkable and therefore non-toxic, it is also colorless and, once the alcohol evaporates, odorless. Apparently, it shines chrome and glass and is a good spot-remover for oily stains.

Now is the time to admit that my wise mom had already suggested vodka as a cleaning agent, but I had reacted skeptically. She puts a concoction of vodka, lavender essential oil (and water?) into her iron's water-for-steam reservoir, and it makes ironed clothes smell great.

Secrets of the Spas: Pamper and Vitalize Yourself at Home (Life's Little Luxuries) has a great recipe for a spray room deodorizer, but it calls for rubbing alcohol. I am about to mix some up with the vodka that has been in my cabinet for three years.

And if it doesn't work? I guess I'll just have to make a Chocolate Martini.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Women Empowered

Just got back from a presentation by Phil Borges, humanitarian photographer.

Phil spoke about the need for global female empowerment, especially in the developing world. Why?

According to CARE, 70 percent of the world’s poorest people are female.

SIL International reports that two-thirds of all nonliterates are women.

Compassion Beyond Borders reminds us that educated women

  • are less likely to be poor
  • are less likely to contract HIV/AIDS
  • are less subject to physical violence and other abuse by their husband
  • earn incomes that they (unlike their husbands) spend on their children
  • raise agricultural productivity in peasant families
  • participate in the social, political, and economic development of their community

And that
Female education is more effective in reducing birth rates than are family planning programs--increasing the level of a mother’s education by three years lowers her birth rate by one child. Increases in women’s income improve child survival rates 20 times more than increases in male incomes. Educated mothers:
  • are less likely to die in childbirth
  • raise fewer children
  • raise better educated children
  • raise healthier children, who are less likely to die in childhood
Fairly domestic issues, no?

Phil confirmed all of this in his presentation and sets these facts forth in his book Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World , in which he brings faces to these statistics and tells stories of amazing women in the developing world.

All of which serve as a reminder to those of us lucky enough to be educated and empowered to appreciate what we've got.

Tonight, I am feeling grateful for my education, my liberty, my (relatively) egalitarian culture.

I also have a desire to spread and share my good fortune. Some good places to start are:

Goodbye, junk mail. Hello, forest.

I hate junk mail, but my husband REALLY hates junk mail. As in tirades. As in lectures. As in preaching to the choir....

He once patiently phoned and wrote to all of the catalog purveyors who sent to us, only to realize that mailing lists get sold and updated nearly every time we make a purchase of anything.

But then we discovered that there are companies who do nothing but keep on top of this. And some of them even plant trees.

So in late November, following (once again) a tip from my friend Stephanie's blog, Surviving the Workday, I signed us up for GreenDimes.

For a dime a day ($3 per month), they get your name off direct mailing lists and keep it off--and plant a tree for you every month.

According to GreenDimes,

  • 100 million trees are chopped down every year for junk mail sent to American homes.

  • 28 billion (that’s 28 with 9 zeros) gallons of water are needed to make all the paper used for junk mail.

  • Paper makes up a third of the 235 million tons of waste Americans send to landfills each year.

  • The typical American household receives about 70 pounds of junk mail a year.

  • The amount of junk mail sent grows by 3 billion pieces a year.
The company launched on September 18, 2006, and it has a running tally of its estimated impact. As of this writing, it has stopped almost 71,000 pounds of junk mail, planted or saved 55,000 trees and saved 181,000 gallons of water.

It also keeps a little tally of my impact: to date, 17 pounds of junk mail stopped, 2 trees planted or saved, and 43 gallons of water saved.

Baby steps.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tea in bed

The advantage of being married to a British male is that I get brought tea in bed every morning.*

Being a Midwestern American, I am not used to such solicitous treatment.

But I like it.

I suppose it is possible that not all male British partners have this vocation, but I know at least three, and all of them do this. (Good work, British mums, for training your boys so well!)

If you are lacking this service, don’t despair. What you need is

  1. a partner or a housemate

  2. tea and milk

  3. a training regimen (two or three days of drills so that said partner or housemate can practice getting up silently, making the tea and bringing it back just in time for you to wake gently to the world)
Should they prove resistant, simply refuse to do any of the essential yet invisible things one does in a household relationship (menu planning? lint removal? unclogging drains?), and tea should be forthcoming.

Having engaged in the hard work of domestic activism, we all deserve a cuppa in bed.

*Except when my family is around; then I bring him tea in bed....

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


More sustainable crafting--

Building on the idea of recycling surplus possessions (like old cds and dvds), I have knit a welcome mat out of old t-shirts.

To make one, you simply cut the shirts in a spiral to make one long strip (sort of like when you peel an apple all in one go) and then knit them up on giant needles (I used size 17) in garter stitch. I paired the t-shirt strand with a little mohair yarn to make the rug a bit fuzzier. As you can see, I used green and red t-shirts--and the blue stripes were white t-shirts that I dyed indigo and then cut up.

I got the idea from Alterknits: Imaginative Projects and Creativity Exercises, which not only has a chapter on knitting with t-shirts but also has a great chapter on making felted bags out of old wool sweaters--which I am very keen to try (but doubt that my old sewing machine will be able to sew over a felted wool sweater....).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Today was—get ready for it—Mammogram Day!

This one was rather thorough (nine images!), since it was a diagnostic rather than a screening. But I am healthy (if lumpy) and will probably be so until my late forties, the age when both my mother and maternal grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Girls, we DO need to be careful.

According to The Breast Cancer Site, one American woman in eight either has or will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. If detected early, the five-year survival rate exceeds 95%.

Be informed.

Over 20? Do your self-checks.

Over 40? Get your mammograms.

30-something with rotten family history? Ask a women's health professional for advice.

All of us should also get our annual check-ups (including the dreaded PAP). Women's clinics around the country can do this for a minimal fee.

Looking for an easy way to help others? Click daily on the "Fund Free Mammograms" button at the Breast Cancer Site to help fund free mammograms for low-income, inner-city and minority women, whose awareness of breast cancer and opportunity for help is often limited.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Magical Rice Paper

Have you ever used these amazing disks of rice paper?

They look and feel exactly like hard, thin plastic until you get them wet. It takes only seconds of contact with water to start them on their transformative journey to pliability. I just wave them under a stream of warm tap water, and in five to ten seconds, they're ready to roll.

As you roll whatever you fancy inside them, they soften into a rather elegant, translucent vehicle, enabling you to eat utensil free. (The pictures below give you an idea of the options. My own don't look nearly as pretty. I need to work on my rolling technique.)

Tonight's supper was the leftover Aubergine and Sweet Potato Stew with Coconut Milk (from Thai: The Essence of Asian Cooking) along with these spring roll wraps, which I filled with a sliced spring onion omelet (seasoned with soy sauce), avocado and cucumber--all handy things from the fridge. I didn't make dipping sauce this time because the leftover stew provided a nice, hot coconut milk sauce.

These rice paper wrappers are great for quick lunches: just get the wrap wet, fold anything inside--leftover salad, curry, noodles--and you're eating a healthy and beautiful meal.

Thank you, Viet Nam.

One World, Everybody Eats

This doesn't count as a real blog post, because I am just going to tell you to read a very cool post from my friend Stephanie's blog. It's about food and fairness and a better world.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sustainable Crafting

I skipped Sunday chores today due to a work meeting that started on Friday night, went all through Saturday and finished today around noon.

I came home disinclined to do anything much.

I made a cup of tea, put in a DVD, plunked myself down in front of the television and commenced knitting.

Sigh. Something about knitting--the repetition, the color, the tactile sensation--is amazingly restorative.

An hour later, I’d made a coaster out of some old yarn and one of those junk-mail CDs that arrive without invitation in my mailbox.

I had been wondering what kind of sustainable craft-type thing I could do with old CDs, and I found the CD coaster idea on the Frugalhaus knitting website.

The picture above shows my first attempt at a CD coaster—a bit too thick and fuzzy (more like a trivet than a coaster!), so I’ll have another go with lighter-weight yarn. And another cup of tea. And another DVD.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Let There Be CFL

I've just watched Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

Disturbing. Infuriating. Shame-inducing. It makes me want to reject my species.

What can one do?

Individually, not a whole lot. But if we all bought CFL lightbulbs, it might start something.

I had vaguely heard something about them on NPR and so bought them today on a whim.

Then I got home and felt stupid--I had paid $7.58 for a three-pack of CFLs with a brightness equivalent to 60 watts--when a four-pack of regular 60-watt bulbs cost 77 cents. Didn't seem smart.

But now, feeling more informed and less greedy, it seems to have been a good investment. Why? Watch Gore's film and, for more specific CFL information, read How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It.