Category Archives: Practice

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!


It begins – the CSA box

I did something very exciting over the weekend – I signed up for my first ever CSA box!

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it works like this: you sign up and pay at the beginning of the season, and then every week you pick up a box of vegetables. The fruit of the farmer’s labor. Farms that offer them tend to be superearthfriendly-type outfits.

After exhaustive research (well, doing some research and then going with the one my friend recommended. you know, like you do), I’m happy to be a subscriber to a half vegetable share at Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.

Things I am excited about, about he CSA box:

1. It’s going to be so easy to eat in-season vegetables. I am totally convinced that it’s better to eat what’s growing right now, both because it cuts down on how far the produce has to be shipped and because it tastes better, but I can never keep track of what that is. I know, I could look at a list. I could spend more time at the farmer’s market. I could check up on blogs about it, but usually, I do not do those things. Because to do them, I would have to think to check, and that’s clearly just too much of challenge. Now my just-picked produce will come conveniently in a box. Excellent.

2. It was surprisingly cost-effective. I am used to paying a premium at the farmer’s market for this kind of superearthfriendly stuff, but this seems to be a much cheaper way to do it. Mine is averaging out at $17/week. That’s really not bad. Even my broke grad student budget can handle that.

3. I get to get creative with the raw materials I’m given. I get in food ruts VERY easily. When I was cooking for just myself, I would eat pasta, frozen vegetables that I microwaved, and pasta sauce out of a jar for an alarming number of meals. The other meals were usually stir fry. I still make these things when left to my own devices. Not that there is anything wrong with either of them, but I am excited for extra motivation to branch out in cooking. This is an excellent excuse to try new things.

4. The pick-up spot is 2 blocks from my house. Short commute! (I’m a little concerned that 3 of the first 4 things on my list at least vaguely have to do with my being lazy, but that is really the truth of the matter. This is me!)

5. Supporting local agriculture feels like a good thing to do. I know it won’t save the world, but I love going in with farmers on their season and then sharing in their bounty. I even like that there is an element of risk to it — if it’s a bad year, I won’t get as much. I like that in a small way, we’re in it together.

6. The produce comes in a box. Like Christmas.

7. My darling husband has agreed to take a picture of the box each week, and I will post it here. And then I will tell you what I made out of it. I know you absolutely can’t wait, right? What?! Me either!

CSA box. It’s happening.

Linked on:


The Next Step

I have my friendly neighborhood local government to thank for changing my behavior on the grocery bag front, but it’s possible I’ll have to take any further steps into my own hands. And what’s the next step?

Reusable Produce Bags. It’s happening.

But Oh Lordy Me, the options! A quick googling of “reusable produce bags” yielded a plethora of choices. This, I feel, is one of the problems of trying to be more eco-friendly (and really, let’s be honest, of trying to do any little piece of good in this world). The choices are just endless.

Let’s review. I could go

Organic 

Recycled 

Machine-Washable

Inexpensive 

Rainbow Colored 

Or, in perhaps the most frugal and committed option, I could

Make My Own

And that was in just the first 2 sets of results. Counter-productively, my first instinct was to throw up my hands, curse the heavens that I would never be able to choose, and lament my fate as a plastic-bag-using produce shopper until the end of time. I never said I didn’t have a hint of the drama queen.

Helpfully, my inner drama queen then calmed down, but unfortunately, she was overtaken by my inner Rational Profit Maximizer, as we call them in law school. I like to think of this mythical person as Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. Sure he’s charging people and arm and a leg for substandard housing, but the market supports it! It’s efficient! Efficient!

In my case, my rational-profit-maximizing instinct usually takes the form of being an unrepentant cheapskate. Frugal, I like to call it. Thrifty. So I looked at these choices and thought – how much do I really want to spend on some produce bags. How much harm can my little bit of plastic really be doing to the planet. Is it really really worth the money to buy these mesh bags, use them, clean them out, dry them and use them again?

It’s an interesting question, and one that any small eco-friendly step raises.  Because truthfully, any one person’s actions do a vanishingly small amount. Does that mean it’s not worth doing anything? I’m inclined to say that it’s still worth it, not just because our collective actions eventually have some effect, but because it’s good to try to do good. I have far from the most sustainable life possible, and there are any number of areas where I fail at this task of doing good spectacularly. But if it occurs to me that if there’s a little something I could do better, at minimal cost, then why not do something? Why not contribute just a little less to the demand for plastic? I really can’t think of a good reason.

So, off I go, choosing some produce bags. I will NOT be paralyzed by indecisiveness! I will NOT be dragged down by the insignificance of my action in the grand scheme! Instead, I will happily click on one of the options above, I will use them, and I will report back.

Stay tuned for the final choice.


Practice: Books for the Journey

What I’m reading during the 20+ hours I’ll be in the car in the next week

  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht
  • Not Quite What I Was Planning: And Other Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
  • A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

And of course, my ever-riveting Federal Courts Casebook! Hopefully, I will in fact be reading the most out of this last one, but should my eyes glaze over, I will be well-stocked. I am indebted to my wonderful parents for keeping me in Amazon gift cards. As my in-laws subscribe to The New Yorker and let me read it on their couch while visiting, my wealth of literary riches is extensive indeed for this break! (I just read this paragraph over. Please pardon my convoluted wording. I’ve been watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice while packing, and have apparently taken on their convoluted sentence structure. Heavens!)

I do hope to get caught up on reading for class and ready for finals, but a little time to read other things will be welcome as well. I’m a book fiend from way back – I was one of those kids who wouldn’t sleep because whatever I was reading was too riveting and could never get a big enough stack from the library.

Whenever we would go on car trips, my mom would take us on a special trip to the bookstore to stock up, and then I was strictly forbidden from reading our haul until the car pulled out of the driveway. The specter of me running out of reading material was not one my folks wanted to deal with, apparently.

So now that I’m all grown up, I have refrained from sending these books to my Kindle until tonight, the night before we leave. Aren’t you proud, Mom?


Practice: Kiva

Kiva! Kiva. Kiva. Kiva.

I first found out about this organization way back when I was an undergrad, and Nicolas Kristof highlighted it in a column. This was back in those halcyon days when nytimes.com was free, and I was one broke undergrad who read a lot of NY Times columns. This may be the only one, however, that sprung me to action!

Kiva is a microfinance site. I had heard some about microfinance (that’s lending in very small amounts to poorer people than would usually have access to loans), but was thrilled to learn that there was a way to be involved in it.

Really involved.

To make a loan on Kiva, you choose someone to lend to and put $25 in your Kiva account. And that’s it. The entire $25 gets combined with other people’s donations, and is loaned to the person that you picked. Then they pay it back and you can retrieve it, or lend it to someone else. So $25 can go around and around the world, helping people get a leg up and get out of some serious poverty. I love it.

(There was a scandal a while back about the money not going to the borrower chosen by the lender, but the organization has been pretty upfront about addressing that. Essentially, loans are lent out before borrowers are posted , so “your $25” is not technically going to the person you click on, since they already have the money. This does not bother me.)

Kiva will ask you for a donation to cover the operational costs of the program, but it’s optional. If you want, you can just lend your $25 and trust in others to keep the wheels moving. I usually chip in an extra two or three bucks because I think the model is so fabulous, and want to see it continue. Almost everyone does this, so they’re able to keep the doors open.

That first loan I made during my senior year of college was to a Ghanaian woman selling tomatoes. I did not have a lot of disposable income, but I figured I could use some of my beer money to help her get more tomatoes. I made my 21st loan today, to a Columbian woman with a beauty salon. Though there was a brief interlude there when I had a job, somehow I’m still a student with little disposable income, but this is one of the best uses of it I can think of. In between, I got some Kiva credit as wedding and birthday presents, and the more I put in, the more I’m able to re-lend. I keep lending because it makes me feel more connected to the world, and just maybe helps ease global poverty just a little bit, by adding my little bit to everyone else’s.

As Sesame Street once sang: Co-operation makes it happen. Co-operation, working together, dig it!

Kiva.


Practice: Making Things

It’s all about words, my job, which I love. Love, love, love. I was one of those kids who couldn’t ever get enough books because I was always finishing them. When I got to college and started taking English classes I was in heaven – really – we just read books and talk about them and then write about them? This is the best! And now I read laws and try to use them to help people, which is also, in it’s own way, the best.

It also takes a very long time. And maybe it’s my American need for instant gratification or just my human need to create, make something, change my environment a little, but I’m finding that I love making things. Taking something in my hands and changing it into something else. So that then I can look at it and say – that. I did that. Mostly it’s food (hey, that used to be frozen vegetables and now it’s COOKED vegetables), or, slightly more impressively, knitting (hey, that used to be yarn and now it’s a hat!).

In fact sometimes I get a little carried away and just get so impressed with the transformations I can’t stand it. Because, come on, some of these things seem pretty magical. That used to be flour and now it’s BREAD. That’s amazing! How can just stirring some things together, letting it sit and then putting it in an oven do that, really? How can repetitive motion with two sticks turn what is essentially string into a sweater? I’m convinced there is some magic involved in that. Though in the case of knitting, it’s not very speedy magic.

There’s a quote from 30 Rock where Alec Baldwin knocks up his girlfriend and then says, “I, like God, have created man.”

I don’t say that. I do spend a lot of time saying: I MADE that. I made THAT. I have created order from chaos, edible sustenance from inedible raw things, clothing from some yarn I bought last week! Ok, I don’t say exactly that either, but I do stand in awe of our ability as people to make change when change needs to be made, even if it’s in something small.

So today, here’s to that.