Friday, December 31, 2010

Ragging on quinoa... again!

In my never-ending quest to find natural ways to manage my hair, I recently read a recipe for exfoliating one's scalp. The recipe called for mixing 1 TBSP of either quinoa or brown sugar with several tablespoons of conditioner, massaging that into your scalp, and rinsing it out, followed by washing your hair.

I have both quinoa and brown sugar in my pantry, but since I haven't yet made myself try the recipes recommendeded by readers of my "Why Quinoa Is Like Liver" post, I decided that I might as well use this healthy but (to me, anyway) foul-tasting grain for something.

I knew I'd made a big mistake as soon as I was finished. Quinoa, unlike brown sugar, doesn't dissolve in water. It was a bear trying to rinse the stuff out, and I'll probably be picking quinoa pellets out of my hair for days. Poor quinoa... it gets no love from Tacoma Green Mama!

On an upnote, I turned the job of combing out our daughter's hair to my husband several weeks ago, and he's become quite good at it, accomplishing the task with much more gentleness than I can achieve. And he graciously offered to comb out my hair tonight. Now that was a New Year's treat!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A love-hate relationship with public transportation

Loving it in Boston: For most of my adult life, I didn't have a car. Living in Boston, I didn't need one. Public transportation was inexpensive, plentiful and frequent, while crazy drivers, lack of parking and exhorbitantly high auto insurance rates made having a car in Boston a big pain.

When I needed a vehicle for travel, I rented one; to do grocery shopping, I usually hailed a gypsy cab. (Gypsy cabs were cars driven by retired men who picked up people in their own vehicles and charged less than regular cabs. Most folks in Boston ignored the illegality of the practice: merchants knew that they increased business, and regular cab companies knew they generally made shorter trips then the regular cabs wanted to make, and often into neighborhoods the regular cabs didn't want to frequent. The police, I think, didn't want to crack down on old men who were just trying to make a little more income).

I finally bought a car after getting married, but even then, I continued to use public transportation (or walking) to get around most of the time. I especially loved taking public transportation to and from work, because it always provided me a relaxed chance to read, think, write, or even sleep.

Liking it in Tacoma: One of my struggles in moving to Tacoma was that the public transportation system isn't as extensive or efficient. Still, during my first year, I found a job that allowed me to take public transportation to work, which I could catch a few blocks from my home.

In my second year, that changed: due to the economy, Pierce Transit had to reduce service. After that, the nearest bus stop was a 40-minute walk from my home, and the nearest stop to my job was a 15-minute walk away. Hubby would drop me at the bus stop, and I'd walk the final leg.

Hating it in Seatac: A few months ago, I got a new job in Seatac, a city between Tacoma and Seattle where the SeaTac (for Seattle-Tacoma) Airport is located. I started driving to work, which takes about 45 minutes. However, my conscience about using so much gas bothered me, and on a few occasions when I attended conferences in Seattle and took the bus instead of driving, I remembered how enjoyable taking public transportation could be.

Well, I got my chance to take public transpotation to work. My car broke down a few weeks ago, and it's taking some time to save the money needed for the repairs. Here's what I've had to do:

-- Hubby drives me to the nearest bus stop. Time: 10 minutes.
-- I take two buses to get to downtown Tacoma. Time: 40 minutes.
-- I tranfer to a bus to the SeaTac airport. Time: 45 minutes when the traffic is flowing; as much as 1-1/4 hour when it's not.
-- A coworker picks me up from the airport and drives us to work. Time: 5 minutes.

That's an hour and 40 minute commute each way, if the traffic is good.

Note the last step. If I were to take public transportation regularly, I couldn't always depend on a coworker. So I looked into what it would take for me to get from the airport to my job. I tried all the configurations possible on Sound Transit's trip planner: fastest way, fewest transfers, least walking.

The answer was the same each time: one train ride, followed by two buses, taking one hour. For what is, by car, a 5 minute drive. And if there are any delays? Forget it!

This would add two hours to my already 3-1/2 hour commute. Walking is not an option: the journey from the airport would probably take me about 30-40 minutes, and involves some steep hills. I have a bad knee, and after a few days, I'd barely be able to walk at all.

I also looked into van pools, of which there are several that go from Tacoma to Seatac. But most of those are TSA employees who work staggered shifts at the airport, so they depart Tacoma at times such as 6 am, 11 am, and 2 pm. Nothing is available for someone who works a 9-5 job.

So what does this mean? Well, it means I need to get my car fixed! Public transportation just isn't an option: I can't impose on my coworkers forever, and a daily 5+ hour commute would mean I'd never get to see my daughter. Not to mention, I sometimes have out-of-office meetings during the day that I need a car to get to.

I have heard the arguments against expanding public transportation. Jeff Jacoby, a columnist with the Boston Globe, made them regularly, arguing that Americans love their cars and hate public transportation. I agree with the first claim, not the second. I don't think most Americans would give up cars altogether, but I think many people hate the rush hour drive to and from work. If public transportation is efficient and convenient, I think many people would choose that option. But as my example shows, for many people it's either not available, or so unwieldy it might as well not be.*


* And please note that moving closer to one's job, or taking a job closer to one's home, is not always possible either.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dragging my family along on my green journey

OK, I admit it. I'm the big greenie in the family. But I love how my family comes along on the ride.

Not perfectly, of course. I have the hardest time getting my husband to remember to use reusable bags, even though I put them in his car. (Fortunately, I do most of the shopping in the family, so we don't collect many disposable bags).

But in other areas, my family has come a long way. For example, even though we keep a roll of recycled paper towels around the house (which lasts about 6 months), they've gotten used to using cloth towels and napkins.

But it's really cool when they start to love some of the green changes. My daughter loves helping me mix together my skin and hair care recipes. I never expected my husband to be more avid about gardening than I am. And he loves my homemade deodorant. As a big guy, it's been hard for him to find a deodorant that keeps him dry all day. My homemade stuff does the trick!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reusable bags and the barriers to going green

I recently got into a discussion on the blog of a company, which I won't name, that sells reusable bags. The company's blogger was responding to a news story about lead being found in the inks used in some reusable bags.* The blogger wrote about how this news story shows why people shouldn't buy those cheap $1 reusable bags now sold in almost every store, and should buy quality bags like theirs instead. Their bags sell for $13-16 each.

He or she added that it's embarrassing to be a walking advertisement for a company, since many reusable bags carry the logo of the store where they were purchased, and that it's even more embarrassing to use a reusable bag in one store that carries the logo of another store.

I responded in part because of the blogger's tone: it was snarky and critical of those who buy inexpensive bags, rather than simply positive about their product as a great alternative.

I wrote back that for many people, their bags are too expensive, and if it's a choice between buying their bag or none at all, they'll continue to use disposable plastic bags. I added that I personally feel no embarrassment about whatever label is on my bag, no matter what store I'm in. (Does anyone else? When you think of all the ways we advertise companies, from the labels on our jeans to the logos on our T-shirts, does anyone even care anymore?)

The blogger responded to my comment that it's better to buy one quality bag than a cheap one that people won't value and will likely discard. She or he then linked a photo of one reusable bag thrown into a pile of garbage, which consisted of several disposable plastic bags, and added a comment about it being silly to think we can save the planet for a buck.

The blogger then deleted my follow-up comment twice. But since this is my forum, I'll share it here. My points were:

1) Comments like that are the reason many people think environmentalists are out of touch with the needs of ordinary people. A family household probably needs an average of five bags to carry all the groceries they buy for the week--so to buy this company's bags, they'd need to spend $65-80. In this economy, many households don't have that kind of spare income--but more can afford to spend $5 for five reusable bags.

2) When you tell people that the efforts they're making aren't good enough, rather than encouraging their progress, the end result is that people often throw up their hands and say, "Forget it!"

3) It's important to acknowledge the barriers that people face, and offer "next best" alternatives if a reader can't, because of whatever circumstances, do the very best. I shared a quote I'd read recently by a doctor, who said that if people can't afford to adhere to the "12 things to always buy organic" list, they can still reduce the burden of pesticides they ingest by eating a wide variety of produce, and washing produce well before eating it. I suggested this company do the same (perhaps not on their company web site, but at least on their blog), saying something like, "For those who can afford it, please buy our bags for these reasons. But if you can't, please continue to do what you can to reduce the amount of disposable bags you use."


What do you think? I'd like to do the very best for my family in everything, but that's not always possible. I started this blog because I want people to know that even if you can't buy a homestead and live off the grid, or afford to purchase organic cotton clothing and a hybird vehicle, there are still ways to become more green inexpensively.

The blog Condo Blues also recently took up the topic of reusable bags. She writes,
I don’t support laws that ban plastic shopping bags because it ends up hurting people that cannot afford to buy reusable shopping bags. I’d rather a store or city offer incentives for using your own bag because I think you get more flies with honey than vinegar.

Condo Blues goes on to share some sweet honey: an interview with the "Green Bag Lady," a woman who sews reusable bags and gives them away for free.


* Note: The news story that reported on lead in reusable bags had some interesting readers' comments. One reader questioned the holes in the story. He pointed out that the story never reported how many bags were found to contain lead nor how much lead they contained. He asked whether or not ink in the lead on the outside of the bag can leach into food on the inside of the bag, as well as how much lead can be absorbed by food that generally remains in a reusable bag for less than an hour. Without this more specific information, he noted, the story sounds like propaganda by the makers of disposable plastic shopping bags who want to discourage people from using reusable bags.