Author Archives: nomountain

Boxing Day

Happy? I’m as happy as a turkey on Boxing Day. 

If you find yourself in England or, like me, spending your holidays with English in-laws, you might hear of a delightful phenomenon called Boxing Day. It’s the day after Christmas, and the story goes that it is the day when the wealthy would box up their old things, after getting shiny new ones on Christmas, to give them to the servants. Which, if you’re a servant is probably a better haul than actual Christmas, so it became its own holiday. And the banks are closed in England on December 26 to this day. 

Despite a lifetime of receiving my own shiny things on Christmas, I’ve never practiced Boxing Day, or anything like it. It’s pretty rare for me to get something that is a straight-up replacement for something I already have, and, let’s be honest, I have a bit of the pack rat in me. My own personal “boxing day” usually comes when I move, and is filled with annoyance and grief at the fact that I didn’t get rid of this huge ridiculous pile of things I couldn’t care less about long ago. (Anyone feel me out there?) After Christmas, by contrast, I can usually be found forcefully persuading my now-larger group of possessions to fit into my still-tiny apartment. With varying levels of success. This year, Boxing Day has come and gone. Here it is, January 17th, and I’m still working on integrating one of my new possessions into the available space. Friends, meet me at the coat rack. 

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.

I got a beautiful coat for Christmas. Beautiful. My mother picked it out, got the perfect size, boxed it, wrapped it in pretty paper, boxed it again and sent it to me. Since I opened it, I have been a little sad each and every day that it’s too warm to wear it. It is everything a coat should be: long enough to cover my knees, warm enough for a brisk winter day, and it even has a little tie around the waist, just to give it extra class. I love this coat. I cannot imagine ever in my life needing another one. 

I do have another coat. It’s a perfectly fine coat and has kept me toasty through four (or so) winters. I appreciate this other coat greatly. I thank it for its service. But it’s Boxing Day around here. Coat has to go. 

Sharing is hard. In this case, it’s not actually hard because I will miss my dearly departed coat (see above description of the prettiest, most wonderful coat in the world). It’s hard because I’m lazy about sharing. It’s easier to stuff things in the back of my closet than to think about how to give them away and then actually go do it. On Saturday. When there is so much good tv to catch up on. The Brits have it right, we totally need a special day for this kind of thing. An official get rid of it day. Spread the wealth day. 

The coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it

I’m doing it. I’m giving the coat away. I’ve even now publicly professed it to the internet. It’s time to remember that I have all of the things that I need and many of the things that I want. I can box that coat up and find my nearest winter clothing drive. It’s Boxing Day, after all. 

I’m not delusional here. I don’t think giving my old coat away will save the world. It’s just a coat. But we belong to each other, and it no longer belongs to me. This year, I’m celebrating Boxing Day. Bigger and better things next year, perhaps. 

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Dress Like a Pro

The end of my grad school days is officially upon me. I successfully finished all my studies and graduated back in May. This means many things for my life. It means that my flexible schedule will soon have fallen by the wayside, that the weekend will mean more again; it means the return of paychecks, hallelujah, and the start of a long-planned career. But most importantly for today..

It means my wardrobe has got to change.

I love buying clothes that aren’t just clothes. I’m totally sucked in, for better or for worse, by one-for-one type operations, like Toms. I buy clothes really infrequently, and I thought for sure there was something like that out there for a professional wardrobe, and I could buy a pair of pants or two. Right? Look spiffy, help support some great community organization. This was sure to be a win-win.

Turns out there isn’t.

At least not that I can find. I found some GREAT clothing companies. KNO Clothing. Threads for Thought. Seer Outfitters. Justus, which donates underwear to homeless shelters, a topic on which I could wax poetic for hours. Even Threadless tee’s that benefit UNICEF. Be still my beating heart! But nothing for work. I love a good t-shirt. I love some nice underwear, but can a soon-to-be lawyer get a blazer here? Apparently not.

I think this is an untapped market here, folks. I cannot possibly be the only one who had this thought, went looking, and came up empty.

So I charge you, dear Internet, to fix this. We could do a little more good.

 


How to Commute on Foot

I’ve made it my business the past few years to live someplace where I could walk to grad school, and I’ve grown fond of it. It’s not yet clear whether I’ll be able to continue my pedestrian commuting ways in my new gig, but I hope to. Planning alternate commuting strategies has renewed my respect for the merits of the foot-commute.

I was initially intimidated by the idea of schlepping to and from on my own two feet, but became super glad I started doing it. As it turns out, my fiercely independent side likes getting myself there and home again without worrying about public transit failing me or where I’ll put my car when I get there. It’s definitely not for everyone, or for every day, but for the past 3 years, I’ve been happy to say that it’s been for me!

Thinking about commuting by foot? Here’s how to, in 11 simple steps.

1. Live close enough to your workplace to walk there.

2. Acquire commuting shoes.*

*I grew up in Houston, a town where approximately 0% of the population walks to work. I had no concept of these alleged “commuting shoes,” but they’re exactly what they sound like. Usually comfy sandals in the summer and sneakers in the winter, it’s whatever you would choose to wear to walk  from A to B on any other day. The important thing is that they need not coordinate with anything else you’re wearing. Pulling it off requires only attitude. See step 4.

3. Leave all real work shoes in the bottom drawer of your desk.

4. ROCK the work skirt with sneakers look. Don’t worry, at least half the other ladies on the sidewalk will be wearing the same thing.

5. Create plan B for inclement weather. Your boss will not accept, “Well, it was raining and I usually walk” as a reason for not showing up. Alas. Bus, metro, taxi, or begging a ride from your nearest and dearest are all possible plan B’s.

6. Create plan C if you chose the begging option. Let’s have a semblance of self-sufficiency here.

7. Plan to call family members on your commute, and rarely any other time. Make sure to have an ambulance drive by at LEAST once per phone call. It will become a running joke with your mom. Call your sister only when it’s windy, then pretend not to understand why she can’t hear you. Laugh until you can’t take it anymore at her WHOOSH Hey WHOOSH it’s me WHOOOOOOOOOOSH impression of talking to you on the phone.

8. Plan your day around what will mean you have to tote the fewest pounds in the morning and evening. If in school, try NOT to let this morph into, “Oh, I guess I just won’t read that because there’s no way I’m carrying that book home.”

9. Realize that you didn’t read something because you didn’t want to carry the book home. Make it through anyway!

10. Scrutinize the crosswalk timing until you perfect your walking pattern to minimize wait time. Scoff at the mere mortals who don’t know your tricks.  Try not to scoff out loud.

11. Stop and smell the roses. Don’t stop and smell anything else.


Eggplant Pasta and CSA box round-up

I am totally in love with my CSA box. Every week, like magic, a whole new cornucopia appears just around the corner, with my name on it. It’s wonderful what beautiful and delicious things the earth can make, when people know how to do it.

Earth’s Bounty: Exhibit A

In the beginning, this were a little dicey. Dark, leafy greens are just not in my wheelhouse of cooking. I had a couple of successes. (This, in particular, was tasty), but mostly things just tasted resoundingly fine. Nothing special, nothing any better than I could do with the produce section of the grocery store.

Oh, there were lots of cucumbers, and I made this salad. And then I dreamt about it. Highly recommend.

As the summer has progressed, the box has gotten better and better. The kale and chard are gone, and they’ve been replaced by zucchini, beets, tomatoes and potatoes. Now these, I can work with. I made a potato and zucchini torte that was the bomb. It’s from Smitten Kitchen, so that wasn’t really in doubt. I made delicious roasted beets with balsamic vinegar. My husband even threw together some zucchini pancakes. YUM.

And today, I made some sautéed eggplant pasta. It’s a great way to both use an eggplant you might not be totally confident on what to do with, and put to use a tomato on its last legs. I used two cups of penne I had left over from something else, but you can scale it as needed.

Hello, delicious!

Go forth, and love your CSA box.

Simple Eggplant Pasta

Serves 2

2 cups cooked pasta

1 TBS olive oil

1 small eggplant, diced

2 plum tomatoes (can be in disparate stages of ripeness), diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp fresh herbs of your choice. (I used oregano. Basil and parsley would also be great!)

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Grated parmesan or mozzarella, for topping

Kosher salt to taste

Start by putting the diced eggplant in a colander in the sink and sprinkling a few good pinches of kosher salt over it. (I misread some instructions and coated it with a lot of salt, then rinsed the salt off and patted it dry. This made the whole thing too salty. Don’t do this.) Let sit for about an hour, while the eggplant drains. Alternatively, you can skip this, but the eggplant may be slightly bitter.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add eggplant and saute for about 10 minutes, until it starting to get a little golden color. If your tomatoes are at varying stages of ripeness, add the ripest tomato, along with the oregano, garlic, and red pepper flakes. If your tomatoes are at similar stages of ripeness, just pick one. Saute around for about 4 minutes, until the eggplant starts to fall apart. Add the pasta and the other tomato, and saute for just about 2-3 minutes, until the sauce adheres to the pasta. Add salt to taste.

Serve topped with grated mozzarella or parmesan. Rejoice in seasonal produce.


Homemade Dish Soap

In which, believe it or not, the homemade dish soap happens.

So, last we met, the dish soap was deemed an economical alternative, and a vow was made to make it. If I can quote myself, “I shall make my own dish soap.” Well, it turns out that the definitiveness of that statement was a bit premature. First, I balked at the $11 shipping cost of the washing soda, because, $11. Then, the lovely Rosalyn offered to pick some up for me, but, being a scatter-brained person, I failed to get back to her before the store she recommended closed for renovations. Alas. Then, it seemed like it had been too long since I blogged. Then it seemed like it had really been too long since I blogged. I decided I was a failure. Then, something miraculous happened.

I decided I wasn’t a failure after all. I was just taking things at my own pace.

Then, I started studying for the bar exam. Then that was all I did for two months.

Then I took the bar exam! Hallelujah!

And now, here we are, and here is the long awaited dish soap.

Ta da!

It turns out that washing soda flees the store shelves whenever I go looking for it. Though I’ve heard it’s a fairly common item for stores to stock, I haven’t found it in my regular grocery stores. And, I was unwilling to pay the aforementioned shipping costs to get in online. So there was really only one thing to do: make my own.

As it turns out, washing soda is really easy to make. It is, who would have guessed, just cooked baking soda. The recipe I’m using called for 1 TBS washing soda. So, I did this:

1 TBS baking soda, please.

And then I did this:

Do your chemical reaction thing, heat.

I let it cook for a little over an hour. The internet disagrees about how long this process needs to take. I saw times ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I figured since I had such a wee amount, an hour and a quarter would be just fine.

The other nice thing about this method (the first nice thing being that I got washing soda out of the deal!), was that I can just use the bowl it’s in to make the dish soap. Watch me go!

Going too fast to focus!

Bubbles!

The recipe calls for a tablespoon of shaved bar soap. I had a little store-bought liquid soap in the bottom of my squeezy bottle, so I subbed that. Next time, shaved bar soap, here I come.

This took hardly any time at all to make. I would use a little less water next time, so that the whole batch would fit in the bottle.

And that’s how I overcame mostly self-made obstacles to make my own dish soap. Next up: actually purchasing those reusable produce bags!

Make Your Own Washing Soda

Heat oven to 400 °. Bake for an hour or so.

Homemade Dish Soap recipe over here!


Today’s One Thing

Do one thing every day that scares you. Eleanor Roosevelt

That Eleanor Roosevelt was quite a lady. I hardly ever take this advice. Most days, I do the things that I do most days, and very few of them scare me. True, some of them used to be scary.

Shaving my legs. Using the oven. Cooking without a recipe (ok, that one still sometimes is). Crossing the street. Navigating the city.

But now, I do all these things without a second thought.

I did something this week that scared me. I took the bar exam. The bar is one of those necessary evil things. If you want to be a lawyer, you can’t go around, you can’t go over, you have to go through. So, I went through it. Having conquered that particular large and scary obstacle (you know, fingers crossed), I started to ask myself: I wonder what else I can do.

That, my friends, is a powerful question. It turns out I have a lot of possible answers. I bet I can start blogging again, and keep up with it this time. I bet I can write a letter to a friend who moved away and tell her I’m thinking of her. I bet I can find an awesome bar at which to watch the Opening Ceremonies, maybe with some help from my darling husband. I bet I can take better care of myself and schedule the doctor’s appointment I’ve been meaning to schedule. And finally, for today:

I bet I can ride my bike almost 6 miles to meet a friend for coffee.

Six miles on your bike is not actually that far. For serious cyclists, I’m sure it’s barely a warm up. I am no serious cyclist. I have a bike that I sometimes use to get around town (when I can motivate myself to carry it down the stairs), but I rarely fo further than about a mile or ride longer than about 15 minutes. This ride would be almost an hour, and oh, did I mention it’s been crazy hot around here.

This scared me. My husband thought I was nuts. But, emboldened by my recent discovery that I can, in fact, take a two-day-long standardized test, I was determined to do it. So I left early this morning, before the heat was too bad, and rode my bike almost 6 miles to meet a friend for coffee. It was hard.

She brought her baby girl, who proceeded to climb all over us and eat blueberries with her tiny fist and be generally adorable. Tiny fists of blueberries make it all worth it.

I then did not bike home, but took my bike home on the metro. Hey, I’m overcoming things that are scary, but I don’t have to overcome everything all in one day.

I hope to keep up the blogging. I have missed it. Post coming soon on what else I’ve been up to!


Economist’s Dish Soap

Let’s not be tree huggers for a moment. I know, it’s difficult, and I promise it won’t last. Here’s the thing. I’ve been thinking about making my own dish soap, and I just can’t decide if it’s worth it.

I have not yet done research on the scary chemicals in commercial dish soap, though I’m sure they are many. But since we’re pretending not to be tree huggers for a moment, maybe that’s not the only reason to do it. It might, just might, be cheaper. I’m willing to find out.

Let’s meet the contenders:

Option A: I’m currently using opaque, pink Dawn dish soap. It looks like this. It costs $0.23/fl. oz. at my local Safeway.

Option B: I’ve found a fabulous recipe to make my own dish soap. How much would that cost? Let’s do some math. Makes approximately 2 cups (16 fl. oz)

Castile Soap – 1/2 cup. – 32 oz. for $17.99 = $.055/oz. = $2.20

White Vinegar – 1 TBS (1/2 fl. oz) – 64 oz. for $4.09 = $0.06/oz = $0.03

Super Washing Soda – 1 TBS (1/2 fl. oz.) – 55 oz. for $4.25 = $.08/oz = $0.04

Water – let’s call that free. It’s not, but let’s call it that.

So we get a grand total of $2.27 for 16 fl. oz. That’s $0.14 /oz! The home-made dish soap is the winner!

Of course, in up-front cost, to make 2 cups of dish soap you have to spend $25.53. And that’s a lot, for dish soap that you can just spend a couple of dollars on at the supermarket. One of the trickiest things about trying to live more sustainably is that the up-front costs are often greater. If you have the capital – awesome – as this analysis shows, is can be cheaper in the long run. If you don’t have the capital, you can be stuck with less-sustainable alternatives. Bummer, that, but I don’t see any way around it.

No cost benefit analysis would be complete, either, without a calculation of my time to make it, but I’m leaving that out too. It seems like just throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl and whisking. Additionally, if it takes longer to do the dishes with this stuff, that should be a consideration, but I’m willing to at least try it before I decide that it will definitely take longer.

These are prices I found on the internet, and are approximate. The washing soda will likely be the most difficult, as I have never seen it in a store, and it costs, HELLO $11 to ship on the one site I found. That seems like a lot, for a $4 box of washing soda. This may require some more searching. Maybe I can find it in a physical store and not pay any shipping at all! A girl can dream.

I shall make a search for these ingredients, and I shall make my own dish soap, for it is in fact, less expensive than the alternative.

So. Home-made dish soap. Looks like it’s on!