Thursday, May 31, 2007

Goals for Low Impact Week

My picks from Crunchy Chicken's suggestion list:

1. Reduce energy consumption -

I'm already pretty good about keeping everything turned off or unplugged, because we blow out fuses if we don't! I don't run the A/C during the day when Brooks is gone, although we've just started to hit our 90-degree weather so I might use it a little.

And as mentioned below, I don't have a dishwasher or washer and dryer.

For gas use, though, I'm going to try not running hot water when cold will do, and turning off the oven/burners sooner, using the residual heat to finish cooking. This is more comfortable when it's so hot anyway.

2. Reduce water usage -

This is my big wasteful area, since I don't pay the bill. It also means I can't really measure it because I don't see the readings, but I know I can cut back quite a bit.

taking shorter showers

turning off the water when you're brushing your teeth

being aware of water usage when at the kitchen sink -
turn it off in between tasks and don't wash dishes with constantly running water

saving in a bucket the water that is discharged while warming up the shower and use it to water plants
YAY for my PLANTS! Brooks laughs at me but I love them so much that I go out to look at them several times a day. (and no offense to Crunchy Chicken if she sees this, but I had to laugh at the original image of a bucket being discharged from the shower.)

3. Change your food habits -

try to buy organic and/or locally grown food
the farmer's market and strawberry-picking!

use cloth bags at the grocery store instead of getting paper or plastic
I've been wanting to do this for a while.

try eating vegetarian or vegan for the week (choose your level from egg/dairy acceptable to no animals products at all)*
We were already planning to do this for a few weeks starting Monday so I'm going to leave it as previously scheduled.

4. Reduce your dependence on paper products -

don't use paper towels
I don't promise to give them up forever, but I did just cut up some old sweatpants for rags and got fabric for napkins, so I can do without for a week and minimize thereafter.

5. Reduce your garbage output -

recycle everything you can (for your area)

donate used items to a charity (many have pick ups and drop off locations) instead of throwing them out or taking them to the dump


6. Reduce Single Occupancy Vehicle usage -

We can't really reduce this any more right now...but we are down to one car, Brooks takes the metro to work, and I am going to give up my 140 miles/week teaching commute in August.

7. Do something that lasts more than a week -

I don't think any of those additional things were particularly feasible right now, but besides some of the above things that may last, I did recently stop cleaning with chemical products. Baking soda and lemons do a beautiful job on my stained old white sink/stovetop/bathtub, and vinegar-water spray and castile soap take care of the rest.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Low-Impact Week

I've started several different posts trying to sort out my thoughts... and will have to settle for something short for now. Too much pacing the house and not enough Herodotus reading.

I may have finally broken myself of reading the anti-feminist mommy blogs, and have recently moved on to the hippie-liberal environmentalist blogs. (I mean both terms in the nicest way possible.) My verdict is still out on the whole global-warming issue and to what extent the sky is actually falling, but I have no problem at all with the idea that we middle-class Americans are still among the richest people on earth, and that our habits of thoughtless consumption are unloving and unnecessary.

Several movements are afoot to help people commit to lowering their consumption and carbon-footprint levels, in varying degrees and lengths of time. The Riot for Austerity a.k.a 90% Reduction is an amazing project but one which is far beyond me at this point (although her blog is the one that's been making my head spin during the last few days). I'm settling for Low-Impact Week, which starts this Friday. I'll try to have my goals up tonight or tomorrow.

I appreciate that these women are offering measurable goals and gradual steps toward environmental responsibility. And even if I'm not sure about all the statistics and what they mean, it's all very much tied to the corporate-consumerism that is so easy to dislike and so hard to resist. So I am glad for help in being more conscious about even the little choices, because they really do add up.

It's short notice, but check out Crunchy Chicken's ideas and see if you can implement a few.

In other related news, I finally managed to drop off my recycling today. The city told me that landlords were legally obligated to provide a recycling service, but Brooks thought ours had enough on his plate dealing with our building's inadequate and erratic electrical system. And I, being the take-it-all-on-myself-rather-than-rock-the-boat kind of person that I am, decided I could deliver it to the recycling center myself. Well... I did... after driving in circles around it looking for the entrance in a neighborhood where I really didn't want to get out of the car. Fortunately the phone number was on one of the gates so I called and they opened up. I'll probably do it again as long as I can keep it to one trip a month, now that I know where to go and that they do usually have the gate open.

But Herodotus awaits...

P.S. Sandwich of the week: grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper, and goat cheese on toasted sourdough bread.

P.S.2 I guess it wasn't as short as all that. Let's just say that short = rambling and inconclusive.

Seven random things about me

Now that I've been tagged twice to do this...

1. When travelling abroad (and two or three times at home), and whenever my American-ness is not immediately evident, I am most often taken to be from a Mediterranean country. This is despite the fact that my mixed ancestry is almost exclusively northern European. Perhaps I have my Mexican great-grandmother to thank for this chameleon quality, but I need to develop the modern language skills to match.

2. In high school I took fencing lessons from an instructor who cultivated a moustache and drove a Cavalier. He scorned modern sport-fencing strategies that allowed you to take four hits as long as you hit the other guy five times -- the "two dead guys scenario." His approach presumed that it was for real.

3. As a child, I loved spinach so much that I called myself the Spinach Monster.

4. I like candy corn. That makes it hard to really set myself up as a foodie.

5. I don't have a TV, stereo, microwave, dishwasher, or washer and dryer. This apparently puts me in something like a 2% minority of Americans.

6. We just got a Scrabble game. The last time I played was as a teenager, with Sara J, in a version that gave us extra points for playing words derived from our respective novels-in-progress and allowed us to trade letters and place words in irrational propinquity (kiernbug, anyone?). Brooks doesn't let me do that.

7. My dream vacation (other than a honeymoon in Istanbul) is to go bicycling in the Greek islands. But I already got the h. in I. so one shouldn't expect too much adventure in one lifetime.

I don't think there are seven people left for me to tag; I'm late jumping on this trend.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Several posts in progress...

both thoughtful and random.

but in the meanwhile, check out my tomatoes!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Walking through a Picasso

There's nothing like modern art to make the world seem wild and strange again.

Today was our last day before Brooks' second job keeps him away for 12 hours a day, so we had breakfast at Teaism and paid a visit to the Phillips Collection (to which I had acquired free passes). They were between special exhibits, but the permanent collection was just the right size for a few hours' browsing.

The collection ranged from van Gogh and Renoir (the famous boating luncheon) to Kandinsky and Klee. We want this one for our living room wall above the red couch. Looking at it full size makes you feel like you're about to fall through the window into the vast blue.

Walking home from the Metro, I found myself looking at everything as if it were in a cubist or abstract painting. All the colors were louder, the angles more alarming, the juxtapositions more vivid. Try it for yourself! You'll see things you never saw before.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What to do with pork tenderloin on sale

Or, a Successful Taco Experiment.

Cook the pork like this. Except I didn't have an orange so I used half a grapefruit, and added a liberal dusting of chipotle chili powder. And the loin was small so it only cooked for 2 hours.

Shred the meat and stir in a few big spoonfuls of the pan juices, to keep it moist and soak up the yummy flavor.

Assemble in corn tortillas with:

jack or mild cheddar cheese
salsa verde
finely chopped radishes and cubed avocado

I happened to have all these things lurking in my refrigerator but it turned out so good that I might have to do it on purpose next time.

Authentic living

I'm trying to figure out exactly what I mean when I talk about wanting to live more fully and authentically. In practice it often degenerates into trying to do more which is definitely not what I need. Heidi has a painfully close-to-home post about what happens when the perfectionist drive takes over.

But what is the solution? I don't think the answer for me is simply to stop doing things. The desire for excellence and the compulsion to action are good things. Using one's gifts for some noble end is a fundamental human activity, even though it can so easily run amok. I've been reading articles lately by people who are so burned out by the misuse of vision that I feel almost guilty for saying that I really want one. I want to work hard for something that I am passionately devoted to, something real, not just something that I create to keep myself on that addictive edge of being completely overwhelmed.

But right now I'm not thinking about any sort of "life purpose" (apologies; I hate the phrase myself). What about just life?

I don't want to be list-driven but I do want to be intentional, to identify my under-developed faculties, to take small steps toward wholeness in all the important categories of living. My categories so far are:

1. Spiritual
2. Relational
3. Physical
4. Environmental
5. Artistic
6. Intellectual

I hope in the next few weeks to reflect on each category and come up with an idea of what authenticity and wholeness might look like, and how to move toward it in a balanced way.

Any thoughts? How do you define authentic living? How do you fight perfectionism without giving up on excellence and hard work? How do you know when you get it right?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

a hopeful start


Day 1 of my backyard container garden.
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two kinds of tomatoes, and cilantro seeds around the edge

tuscan blue rosemary, oregano, cuban basil, and lemon basil

cucumber plant, green bean and nasturtium seeds

yellow squash, yellow pepper, daylilies

I'm afraid the squash and pepper will eventually overtake the daylilies but they'll be pretty until then.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My summer project


Better pictures coming later; I had only the cell-phone camera at home today.
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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Good Things

When I was a moody adolescent, my mother tried to help me look on the bright side by making me write three positive things in a notebook every day. It didn't last long, as I could seldom think of more than one. (Never underestimate the capacity for passive resistance to happiness of a child identified as a melancholy-phlegmatic temperament at the age of eight or so.)

I may not have changed much since I was eight, but, in the right frame of mind, small things make me happy to a disproportionate degree. And this weekend, the combination of big and small Good Things has been dizzying. (Well yes, I am on prescription allergy medication... but still!)

On Friday, I had lunch with a friend I hadn't seen or spoken with in at least four years, and rediscovered what delightful company we find each other to be. On Saturday, Brooks got his M.A. in English. The two ceremonies were long but the weather was beautiful and I brought out my white eyelet sundress from winter hibernation.

Brooks' family was in town for the graduation, so we showed them our apartment. Grandma Alice loved it, even down to the tiny kitchen, because it reminded her of NYC apartments in the '30s. Later, in old town Alexandria, we ran into the Wasson twins, whom I hadn't seen since last summer. I had an orange-chocolate ice cream cone. Finally, while the rest of the family took a taxi, Brooks and I walked all the way back from the waterfront to the metro in a slight drizzle, under streetlights, past a Spanish restaurant with its live band still playing in the window, still in my flouncy-skirt sundress and heels, feeling for all the world like someone in a black and white Parisian movie.

Today I found an antique/thrift store within walking distance and came home with a dusty-pink linen tablecloth with scalloped edges that fits my table perfectly. The house smells delicious because I'm roasting a chicken with herbs and garlic to take on a picnic to Mount Vernon tomorrow, since Brooks' dad and grandmother stayed in town for a little more sightseeing. In fact, I must go rescue it from the oven now...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Thwarted Conservationism

After years of hibernation, my Pacific Northwest upbringing has emerged full-force. I have uncontrollable urges to stop using disposable products, to shun plastic bags, and to recycle everything in sight.

But somehow it isn't so easy here. The city won't pick up our recycling because we live in an apartment building with more than 3 units (4, in fact). The trash company, paid by the landlord, doesn't have a recycling service. My last resort will be to call the city again to inquire after a drop-off center; the website has not been forthcoming. For now, I continue to grit my teeth and throw away the tin cans.

The other day I was out of cumin, a spice on which I rely heavily. So I thought, "I can take this lovely empty glass spice jar to the organic grocery (extra points for being within walking distance) and refill it from the bulk section, with no interfering plastic bag." I was asked not to do it again, because the register scale was not calibrated to adjust for container weight, even though I knew exactly what it weighed empty. Why have a bulk section and not encourage re-use of packaging? Oh for my First Alternative days, where they hid all the containers and bags and we had to put everything in our old Nancy's yogurt tubs!

I did manage to get a re-useable coffee filter...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Time to begin...

Now that I have finished my first year of grad school (and slept 15 hours a day for 3 days), it is time to venture into the blog-world. I am excited that this new venture coincides with the first summer in 8 or 9 years that I haven't been working full-time.

I chose Magical Realism as a title partly because it is an artistic style that I like, although the examples I've encountered may be on the milder side of the spectrum, like Amelie and Dandelion Wine (I have yet to make it through a Garcia-Marquez novel). In broader terms, though, its curious intersection of the sublime, the whimsical, and the everyday sums up the perspective that I try to maintain. For me it goes hand in hand with my journey into the ancient Church, where the spiritual takes on all kinds of physical manifestations. Mostly, though, it comes down to being open and noticing all the surprises and mysteriousness in the world. I tend not to be very good about noticing, so I hope that starting to write again will help me start to notice more.

Although I have to do a lot of reading this summer on my M.A. comprehensives list, I really want to use the unprecedented "free" time to devote energy to as many of the neglected, non-academic spheres of life that I can. I am turning 30 in July, and I'm tired of living a just-get-by tunnel-vision-student life. Come September, perhaps I'll have established some good habits that will help me live more fully and authentically even when most of my time does have to be spent studying.

So expect some randomness as I sort out what this blog and I are about and what on earth I am supposed to do with myself without a Latin test every three weeks! And I swear the tree outside the living room window didn't have leaves until today. The green light is definitely new.