Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another reason to go natural

A blog I follow, The Black Snob, posted this story today about supermodel Naomi Campbell losing her hair. The blogger, Danielle Campbell, writes that Naomi Campbell is only a very visible example of a common phenomenon:

I know too many black women who have receding hairlines, severe hair breakage or who have gone bald as they got older due to alopecia. Usually these things are caused by harsh chemical relaxers or too-tight cornrows or heavy hair extensions.

Like the blogger, I had always had very thick hair, and it had been thinning and receding after years of using chemical relaxers. My main reasons for choosing to go natural were because of my concerns about what the harsh chemicals and toxins in relaxers were doing to my body and the environment, and to set an example for my daughter so she would know that her natural hair is beautiful.

Going natural seems to be spreading, at least in my circles. My sister, my college roommate, and the mother of the only other black child in my daughter's daycare, are all people I know who have gone natural in the last few years. And as the Black Snob notes, it's not really a political statement. It's about embracing our natural beauty, saving our bodies, saving the environment, and yes, saving our hair.

It's yard sale season!

I've posted a lot about my love for thrift shopping, but often as good--and sometimes better, in terms of deals--are yard sales. Folks here in Tacoma love to have yard sales. In Boston, it seemed like most of the yard sales were held by people who were moving or a group of families who combined to have one big sale, but here it seems like many folks have a regular yard sale every year after doing spring cleaning. This means, of course, that many sales don't have a large variety of items. However, it also means there are a lot of yard sales going on every weekend from May through October, and you can find many treasures if you hop around.

This past weekend, my daughter and I were able to hit four yard sales in the three miles we drove between home, the park and the library. One of the sales was to raise funds for a woman who is about to do the three-day breast cancer walk.

At the sales, I purchased a really nice four-slot, big-enough-for-bagels toaster in great working condtion for a dollar. My daughter found four cute summer tops in sizes 6 and 7 for a quarter each. A minor item I bought came in really handy already. For fifty cents, I got one of those squeegee and sponge things to clean your car windshield with, and needed it yesterday morning when I woke up to discover my car windshield covered with pollen, and my car out of windshield wiper fluid. I had to bypass a beautiful set of matching bookcases because I didn't have enough cash on me. But I know that as the summer goes on, there is more to come!


* In terms of furnishing our future home, we're getting close. With a queen size bed and dresser given to us by a friend, a dining room table from Freecycle, and numerous items purchased from thrift shops and yard sales (toddler bed, dining room chairs, a sofa, recliner, dresser and matching night stands, end tables, lamps, microwave, toaster, toaster oven, pots and pans, set of dishes, set of flatware, cooking utensils, bakeware, casserole dishes, tablecloths and napkins, computer desk, bookshelves, TV), our future home will be pretty well furnished. The most expensive of any of the above items was the sofa, purchased at Value Village for $25. The vast majority of these items cost less than $10, and many were less than $3. All total, I've probably spent less than $250 over the last two years on these things.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is boycotting BP/Arco a good idea?

I stopped in a 76 station today and asked the clerk if she knew why gas prices were going up everywhere in the area except Arco, when news reports indicate that gas prices are going down nationwide. We discussed it for a while, but she had no idea either, and said I should call corporate headquarters. And once more, I gritted my teeth and paid for gas that was 24 cents more a gallon than at Arco.

Later, I read this comment on a blog I follow, Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, and it made me rethink what I was doing:

I would just add, not buying gasoline from BP really does nothing to hurt them. Oil is a fungible product, so as long as you're buying from someone else, the price stays the same. Contra popular belief, the vast majority of gas stations are not company-owned, so you may put the franchise owner out of business, but the oil companies are collecting their revenues on the liquid, diffuse wholesale market, which sure as hell isn't going to boycott BP.

Only by using less oil do you hurt oil companies. That's how fungible commodities are different from everything else--BP's oil goes in the same pipelines as everybody else's.

Crunchy Chicken made a similar point on her blog tonight, as did the blog Fake Plastic Fish. The latter includes links to a number of articles about how all of us are contributing to the problem, by driving and the use of so many plastics in our lives. Here's a good one, among many: 23 Ways to Use Less Oil.

There is so much to change, which can feel overwhelming again, so I repeat my mantras: Small Steps. Do the Best You Can. On an upnote, a recent article about Pierce County Transit noted that the overwhelming response of people in our county has been to ask them not to make any more cuts in bus service, even if taxes have to be raised to maintain them. Breaking our oil addiction will only work if we keep pushing for alternatives to driving!

On a personal upnote about using less energy, we received our latest bimonthly Tacoma Public Utility bill today (which covers electricity, including heat, and water). Our April bill was twice that of February's, and equal to that of April last year. I had lamented the fact that our track record of reducing our energy usage had been broken (although the bill seemed too high for what I'd thought we'd used; c'mon, we used more energy in April than in February?!). Turns out, the bill was too high, and TPU corrected it. The resulting bill for June is a negative $91!

I will end this post with a challenge from Beth, the blogger at Fake Plastic Fish. This challenge is more for me than for anyone who might be reading. I don't want to start thinking, "Whew! I can buy the cheaper gas at Arco again!" This whole issue is so much bigger. Here's Beth:

The point is not whether we drive some or buy some plastic or eat some meat or carry a reusable bag. Those things won’t matter if we don’t change our basic mindset of entitlement. As far as I’m concerned, we’re entitled to have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothing on our backs. We’re entitled to healthcare and fair treatment and the opportunity for self-actualization. We are not entitled to a new car or prime rib or an iPod or expensive shoes. We’re not entitled to a latte wherever and whenever we want one or even a hamburger. We’re simply not entitled to destroy the planet, its animals, and the 85% of the world’s population who earn less than $2,500/year so we can have these things. We’re just not.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The confusing, the good and the even better

The confusing: a news story on the radio yesterday reported that gas prices have decreased an average of 15 cents a gallon over the last three weeks, and now average $2.72 a gallon across the nation. Now the cheapest price around here is Arco/BP, at $2.75 a gallon. That's not that surprising; averages are averages, and different regions will have different prices.

But there is no way gas prices have declined here in Tacoma. I've been watching the gas prices very carefully and they've all been going up at stations other than Arco/BP, from $2.79-$2.85 a gallon a few weeks ago, to now $2.86-$2.99 a gallon. It makes sense that our prices might be higher than other regions, but not that they are going up when others are going down. Can anyone explain this?

The good: Thanks to Aimee for her suggestion of the eco-friendly Rome's Old-Fashioned Cast Iron waffle iron, available at Amazon for only $19.99! Check out the informative Amazon reviews, too--this iron makes better waffles, but it takes a little more care to do it well, especially pre-seasoning it.

Even better: Our veggies are reviving! Despite the chilly springtime, our collards, kale, lettuce, rasishes and herbs have strengthened and are just about ready to pick! My spinach is still pathetic, though. I can't seem to get spinach right. My daughter is also excited because the seed she planted this year--a pumpkin--had outgrown its pot and is now flourishing in the yard.


Update, 24 hours later: Gas at my local Arco/BP station is down again, to $2.69 a gallon for regular. The other stations around me? Haven't gone down a cent.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Anyone know of an eco-friendly waffle iron?

One of my fondest memories of childhood was my dad making pancakes for us on the weekends, and it's a tradition I've continued with my daughter, only I make them from scratch (so I can add good stuff like whole wheat flour and milled flax seed) instead of a pancake mix.

I've added waffles to this tradition because I love waffles. We left a fairly nice waffle iron back in Boston, and so, given our tight finances here in Washington, I bought a cheapo $9.99 waffle iron at the drugstore.

Bad move. It's teflon and the teflon is starting to wear off. The waffle iron we had in Boston was also teflon, but because it was of higher quality, it hadn't experienced the visible wear and tear. I've read a lot about the dangers of teflon and other non-stick coatings (made worse if it's wearing off) and so I no longer use any such pots and pans, switching to stainless steel and cast iron instead... except for said waffle iron.

But it seems to me that all the waffle irons I've seen for many years have only had non-stick coating. Does anyone make them without non-stick coating anymore? And if not, are any waffle irons more eco-friendly than others? If so, please let me know! I may not be able to afford it right now, but it can join the wish list (along with a bicycle, rain barrel and compost tumbler)!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Green Bike Project

Ask and you shall receive... I wrote a few days ago about my transportation challenges. I have been boycotting BP by not buying gas at Arco, but that's getting mighty tough since in the past week or so, Arco's prices per gallon have gone down, and all their competitors, higher than BP for the most part anyway, have gone up such that now, many are 15 or 20 cents more per gallon than Arco, rather than 2 or 3 cents more. With finances tight, I grit my teeth and add 2-3 gallons of more expensive gas, crossing my fingers and praying that I'll see some cheaper prices tomorrow.

I also wrote about why cycling isn't an option for me: no bike, fear of traffic, leg problems. Well, there are possible solutions to the first two! A Seattle-based organization, Cascade Bicycle Club, offers a number of classes to help people learn bicycle safety and skills for commuting via bike, as well as the Green Bike Project, which provides free bikes to people who keep a pledge to reduce their ride-alone car rides by 60%. It's not home free for me just yet: given that I currently have to use my car on the job a lot (not just for commuting), I'm not sure I could pledge a 60% reduction at this time. But it's always exciting to know there are options!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gotta praise Alaffia again!

If you've followed my blog at all, you know I've written a lot about hair. Hair care is a big deal for most black women (see Chris Rock's Good Hair documentary for more). I've written about my decision to stop using chemical relaxers and my attempts to make my own hair care products from natural ingredients because existing products on the market for black hair are so laden with toxic chemicals. I have noted that I like the feel of my hair, as well as the fact that my dandruff problem is gone, due to using my own hair care products, but I haven't been as successful using my own mixtures for styling. I've also blogged about wanting to be able to be successful in styling my daughter's hair naturally.

Well, Alaffia, a company whose motto is, "Advancing Gender Equality and Alleviating Poverty through the Fair Trade of Handcrafted Shea Butter," has just introduced a line of reasonably-priced natural hair care products for wavy, curly and kinky hair. It also includes a line of products for children's hair. I can't wait to try them! So once more, thanks to Alaffia.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Making it work for everyone

OK, confession time: I watched about half of the No Impact Man movie when I first got it from the library. It was due yesterday and remembering how long I waited for it on the request list, I watched the second half before returning it.

The second half was very thought-provoking. I really respect Colin Beavan and his wife, Michelle Conlin, because they were very upfront not only about the challenges of trying to spend a year making as little impact as possible, but also about the strain that it put on their marriage. They also went through the painful time that year of Michelle getting pregnant and losing the baby.

It was helpful to see some of the things that went wrong for them, or that were just plain frustrating, because it gave me encouragement when things don't go as well as I'd like (like my garden so far this year). For example, flies started breeding in their worm bin and then spread throughout the house. (At the end of the movie, as they discussed the new practices they'd keep and the ones they'd get rid of, Michelle said, "Worm bin goes!") They also tried, after shutting off their electricity, to use a "pot in a pot," a system for keeping foods cool developed in Nigeria, and it didn't work very well.

At one point, when Colin is installing a loaned solar panel on the roof of his building, he comments that he now realizes, "It's not about using as little as we can use, but about how to get people what they need in a way that doesn't harm the planet." In other words, how do we make living more environmentally work for everyone?

This came up for me in the context of a conversation on an online forum about eating locally. One woman who is lactose intolerant and can't absorb gluten (a substance in many grains, including wheat, oats and barley), said that eating local for her would mean not getting the nutrients she needs to live. In earlier times when local food systems were all that most people had, people with dietary restrictions like this woman often died young. I don't believe we should sacrifice people in the name of doing something environmentally good, such as more local eating. But, as someone in the same conversation pointed out (as do most locavores), our current non-local food production system isn't sustainable. So once more, we come back to Colin's question: How do we get people what they need in a way that doesn't harm the planet?

Mayer, a lifelong activist who mentors Colin about urban gardening, thinks that individual action isn't the way to go at all. He argues in the film that doing things like changing your lightbulbs fools people into thinking that's enough, and lets politicians and business off the hook for making the big societal changes that need to happen. Colin counters that "walking the walk" is the best way to get people to listen to you as you fight for the larger changes needed. I would add that just because big changes are what's needed shouldn't be a reason not to make the small changes. But Mayer's point is well-taken: I can't grow complacent and think that small changes are enough, or that, "At least I'm doing something!"

Colin later says, "Using less is NOT enough; we need to demand that our systems become sustainable." That takes action. In response to a question asked by a college student about the most important thing one could do for the environment, he answers, "Volunteer for an environmental organization." These groups have been on the frontline for years in trying to make our systems more sustainable, both through their actions and their advocacy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More small changes

I was ready to post this and then noticed that a blog I follow, Condo Blues, writes about making small changes also.

Yes, they do add up! I've been thinking a lot about what more can I do. Of course, huge, structural changes are needed. For example, many people are car-dependent, as I am, because public transportation options are limited or they have health challenges.* I hope, hope, HOPE the Gulf Oil catastrophe will get our country to more seriously address our oil-dependency.

In the meantime, I continue to search for non-BP/Arco stations to buy gas from. I keep hearing too many bad things about Chevron, so although Chevron's gas is often comparable in price, I decided not to buy gas there either. I filled up at a Valero station last week, which was cheaper than Arco but it's not close to where I live or frequently drive; thus, not a good regular option. Many 76 stations have gas that is only a few cents more a gallon than Arco, so I've been getting gas there. Likewise, Costco's and Safeway's gas are often the same price as Arco or only a few cents more. Therefore, I do have alternatives for buying gas without spending a lot more.

OK, small changes. I bought a set of dining room chairs about two years ago from a thrift shop (my in-laws left us with a table, but no chairs). The fabric, worn to begin with, had become really frayed so I decided it was time to upholster. I had never done any upholstery before, but I asked advice from a woman shopping in the fabric aisle at Goodwill. She helped me pick out a nice, thick material (price: $3) and gave me some pointers. I purchased a staple gun and staples at a nearby sewing store ($7 total), unscrewed the seats, pulled up the old staples, measured the new fabric, and went at it. I'm pleased with the results. On an added note, the seats all had yellowed tags stapled to them that read they were made in compliance with some law dated 1929--how cool is that? It made me wonder how old the chairs were.

I recently purchased a Misto, a handy little kitchen spritzer gadget that allows you to fill and refill it with olive oil and use it in place of disposable cooking sprays.

I have long wanted to buy reusable sandwich bags and reusable Swiffer dry and wet pads, but the ones on sale at stores are a little pricey. Then I thought about checking out Etsy, an online marketplace for items made by craftspeople. Searches on the site yield dozens of handmade reusable snack/sandwich/produce bags and dust/mop pads, often starting as low as $2-3. I will purchase some in the next few days, and begin make that much less garbage.

* "What about biking?" someone might ask. Well, first, you need a good bike, something I can't afford right now. The bikes for sale on Craigslist are mostly children's bikes; the adult bikes I've found in thrift shops aren't in very good condition. Second, fear, travel time and route, and physical fitness play a big role in whether commuting by bicycle is realistic for someone. Tacoma is a very hilly city, which requires strong legs and great lungs, neither of which I have right now. And yeah, I'm a little scared of biking in traffic. (Colin Beavan's wife Michelle was as well; she got a scooter to power around on NYC's sidewalks instead. Later, she is loaned a large tricycle in which her young daughter can ride in the back).

At the Livable Communities fair back in April, one of the vendors was demonstrating electric bikes, which you recharge overnight. Cool stuff: the small engine makes tackling Tacoma's steep hills a breeze. However, the cost is 2-3 times more than purchasing a very good, new bicycle.