Friday Faves – August 12

This week has gone by incredibly quickly, and the cool evenings are reminding me of how close we are to the end of summer! Yikes!  I feel like this one went by in a flash, but maybe that’s just how it is when “summer vacation” is longer an annual part of your life…

Faves for the week:

Brewing my first batch of kombucha!  This fermented tea, believed to have detoxifying properties, takes some getting used to (or at least an affinity for vinegar.) You can buy flavored bottles of it at health food stores and cafes for about 3 bucks, or brew a gallon of your own for close to free!  I’ve been watching my “baby” scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast…yum) grow and am counting down the days till it’s ready to drink (2!).

Meeting new people. The same friend I walked 4 miles with last week invited me to brunch with some grad school pals. We connected over veggie quiche, warm muffins, a balsamic salad and talk of babies. (No, we’re not weirdly obsessed with babies, but one of the ladies is due in a few weeks!)

Wonderful hip-leg-shoulder stretchy class at the Yoga Hive. Yoga for Runners and Cyclists, to be exact. I’ve been moving away from the vinyasa power flow classes to wanting to develop a practice centered more on strength and focus. This class was just what I needed to clear my head and give some much needed length to my tight muscles.

Day of thrifting with Melissa. Officially the first day of my clothing challenge, we started out at an old movie theater-turned-flea market a few miles outside of the ‘burgh. The entrance houses fresh food vendors, the hallways are lined with stalls of purses, Steelers gear, vintage clothing, and jewelry. The theaters have been converted to shops with paintings, antiques, clothing, kitchen ware, carpets, and the list goes on!  We then made our way to trendy re-sale store, Avalon, to trade some clothes and update our wardrobes.

Vietnamese noodles with the bf after his two-week trip to Bolivia. If you’ve never tried pho before, now is the time to stop reading this post, find the closest Vietnamese restaurant, and go order up a big bowl. Generally made with thinly sliced beef in a delicately spiced stock, and topped with Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime, and whatever array of spices you desire. This particular hole-in-the-wall restaurant has become a staple of our lives, a place we visit at least three times a month. Since I missed out on the trip, I got the grand Iphone tour between slurps of spicy mushroom and tofu soup.

What were your favorite moments last week? 



Conscious Consumerism – Clothing Challenge

Now that we’re in the last month of summer, I’ve realized how few summer clothing items one can really get away with. I’ve rotated approximately five shirts, three capris, one dress, and one skirt through the entirety of the summer work-weeks. My weekend look is generally created by a pair of shorts or comfy skirt topped with one of three tanks that also double as my yoga gear.

There’s nothing wrong with this minimalist approach to a wardrobe, but the truth is, it’s fairly accidental on my part. I simply do more purging than I do shopping, which continually leads to weekly I-have-nothing-to-wear closet breakdowns. So I’ve determined that maybe it’s time for a wardrobe update…

But there are a few problems:

A) I have a hard time justifying anything greater than a $20 price tag, unless it’s an absolute “must-have” (cute dress for friend’s June wedding) or a “worthwhile” investment (Vibrams!).

B) I want to do a better job closing the reduce-reuse-recycle circle by buying more used goods.  Although ninety-percent of the furnishings in my house are recycled, upcycled, or handed-down, I still find it so much easier to walk into the usual big-name stores to browse rack upon rack of clothing produced by the thousands than to scavenge the unique racks of a thrift store.

C) Then there are the environmental impacts. The clothing and textile industry is extremely chemical and water dependant. Cotton is one of the most pesticide intensive crops grown, not to mention the dyes, flame-retardants, sand-blasting, and other environmentally harmful practices that go into clothing manufacturing.   A 2009 EPA study showed that over 12 million tons of textile products (mostly clothing, but this also includes furniture, carpets, etc) contributed to our municipal solid waste that year, and only 14% of it was “recovered” – kept out of a landfill through recycling, composting, or combustion.  This only accounts for textiles that entered the waste stream, and doesn’t include the 2.5 billion pounds of clothes that are donated each year.  Yes that’s 2.5 billion pounds versus 12 million tons… So although Americans are donating clothes by the bag full, we still have a long way to go in decreasing our clothing waste.  The EPA’s report also reminds readers that while textiles may be recovered and recycled, they do eventually end of as part of the waste stream once again…

Organic and eco clothing is one step in the right direction.  These clothes generally use pesticide-free cotton, bamboo, hemp, or even recycled fabric.  Something that has always stuck with me from Food, Inc. was the idea of voting with your wallet.  Purchasing alternatives to the more toxic or wasteful conventionally produced goods sends a message to companies that people believe certain consumer choices can lead to a happier, healthier planet (and body!).

The other options are simple and don’t take label-reading expertise, nor do they come with a higher price-tag (as unfortunately, many alternative options still do).  Reuse, buy used, trade with friends, or sew something new out of something old!

So for the next three months, I pledge to not buy a single *new* piece of clothing.  The much-needed wardrobe update will be done solely at thrift stores, consignment shops, and maybe some friends’ closets.

When thinking about this pledge, I started making a list of all of the thrift/resale stores in Pittsburgh, and it definitely lends itself to a few months of fun exploring and scavenging:

What local shops am I missing?  And if you’re not in Pittsburgh, what are the best thrift/resale stores in your town?

Friday Faves – August 5

Fridays, being at the end of the typical workweek are a good time to reflect about the past few days, and thus we have Friday Faves (plus, come on, list headings are just better with a bit of alliteration!). Posting this later than anticipated thanks to #5. Eating artichokes and typing are not very complimentary activities…

Morning Pages –  Last week, Leo at ZenHabits wrote a post that referenced “morning pages.”  The post was about willpower, but I was intrigued by the morning pages idea, which comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  It’s simple (or so it sounds) – each morning, before you do anything else, you write three pages in a notebook longhand. Leo’s angle on willpower was fitting for this topic, because let me tell you, it’s not easy to roll over and write longhand the minute you wake up.  But so far, I love being in the habit of writing each day, even if half a page is devoted to describing how tired I am…

Chatting with a fellow scooter-er while sharing a parking spot at Trader Joe’s.  In Pittsburgh, scooters are still pretty few and far between so I always feel camaraderie of sorts when I pass a fellow mini-motorcyclist on the street.  And since there aren’t too many scooters and motorcycles here, there also aren’t many motorcycle-specific parking spaces. So our choices are… take a full spot (I can imagine this only frustrates drivers, especially at places like Whole Foods..if you’re a ‘burgher you know what I mean…), make up our own spot (next to bike racks, medians, poles, any odd space), or share a spot (much preferred)!  This particular fellow and I bonded over our appreciation for how much our little vehicles can hold…

This taken last summer, and one of my proudest scooter-loading moments.

Four mile walk with a friend.  Seriously, does anything beat a long walk in a quiet park with a good pal?

Meeting some fellow gardeners over beers. My community garden plot, about four blocks from my house, is home to another dozen people, yet we rarely see one another!  Our watering, weeding, and picking schedules all vary, and the most I can usually do to connect with the other growers is wander around their plots, silently commending them on some darn good tomatoes and peppers.  As we finish the first year of this community garden, we’re working on plans for our compost pile, increasing our community-ness, and filling our plots with fall crops!

Swiss Chard - my most plentiful and favorite crop this year.

This artichoke. I haven’t had a fresh artichoke in over a year, and it was worth the wait.  Instead of my usually stuffing then steaming in the oven, I put a bay leaf, some lemon juice, and garlic in the water and steamed it over the stove. Dipped in garlic-lemon butter…yumm.

Finished the whole thing off myself... delish.

What are your Friday Favorites?  (Or Saturday, or Sunday…)

Book Review: No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Last week I was vacationing in Florida, at a beach full of sea-turtle nests (post coming soon!). Normally, my vacations are travel and sight-seeing orientated, always busy trying to make the most of out of my time in a new place. However, my only goal on this vacation was to RELAX and READ, and that I did! One of the books I finished in Florida is the first of my book reviews on this site.

Book Review: No Impact Man – The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries he Makes about Himself and our Way of Life in the Process 

By Colin Beavan

No Impact Man is a documentation of one family’s year-long experiment to leave no net environmental impact.  The experiment was borne out of Beavan’s realization that while he complained, ranted, and lectured about the environmental degradation and global warming facing our planet, he did very little in his own life to offset the major issues of carbon emissions, waste, and environmental toxins. Having no net impact did not simply mean recycling more, driving less, and remembering his reusable bags at the grocery store, but by taking drastic measures to see how far a New York City family could take their commitment to the planet.

What I appreciated right away about Colin Beavan and his family is that they really started from scratch. While he regaled friends and acquaintances about the warming globe and other hazards of our consumerism and other waste-generating habits, at the start of his project in 2006 he wasn’t taking his own bags to the supermarket, nor his own mugs on his daily run to the coffee shop; he was ordering take-out every evening and tossing the containers in the trash each night, and leaving his A/C on all day. He therefore wasn’t just taking his already-formed practices in sustainability to the next level, he was stumbling through the process of developing sustainable practices, the same way most people get started.

Considering that leaving no net impact on the environment requires making no trash, making no carbon emissions, releasing no toxins into the air or water, and being ultra-cognizant of every single consumer choice, Beavan eased his family through this project in phases, and takes the reader through the successes, difficulties, and thoughts that arise through each phase without being too linear in his writing.

Phase 1: No Garbage – This meant no more delivered dinners, nothing bought in packaging, no use of tissues, and no more disposable diapers for his 1-year-old daughter.

Phase 2: No carbon-producing transportation – His wife would walk the 40 blocks to her job, the stairs would get them to and from their 9th floor apartment. No cars, taxis, planes, or trains (though a couple of exceptions were made).

Phase 3: Sustainable Eating – Local food only, nothing packaged, nothing wrapped in paper or plastic.

Phase 4: Smart Consumer Choices – Not only reducing the amount of products bought, but buying only previously-owned items.

Phase 5: No electricity – Cut out the fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, lights.

And, Phase 6: Giving back – This is where Beavan turns to not only negative-impact practices, but positive-impact practices by volunteering to clean up the Hudson and tend to young trees among other efforts.

His theory: negative impact + postive impact= no net impact. 

Throughout the early days of the project, one strong theme immediately becomes apparent. What began as an experiment in environmentalism became the Beavans’ tool for strengthening their family bond, expanding their friendships, and becoming more aware of their community. Farmers at the market became aquaintances, friends were encouraged to drop by any evening for dinner, and without a TV as a distraction, Colin and his wife devoted more personal time to each other and their daughter. This is one of the take-aways that I liked most – stuff gets in the way of our relationships and when you remove the excess time- and resource- wasters, you’re left with no choice but to connect with others and with yourself.

While one may be able to say, “okay, my garbage can is less full and my travel is not producing carbon emissions,” it’s often difficult to put a real value on our habits in the grand scheme of global waste. But what people can quickly and easily discover is how their personal life changes with a change in habits, and it was refreshing to see that unexpected realization emerge in this book.

One aspect of the Beavans’ experiment that was never explicitly discussed was the cost factor of this way of life. One would have to assume, though, that by trading take-out dinners for bulk-bins, getting rid of your fridge and other large appliances, and going from disposable to reusable diapers would save a TON of money. My guess is that Beavan wanted to remain focused on the environmental and relationship impact of this year, rather than the economics. However, I also think that money is something that people who may not yet care too much about the environment can still relate to and I would have liked a little bit of discussion on the topic.

Overall Rating: No Impact Man is not a how-to book, and Beavan’s writing is not didactic. The narrative is thoughtful, exploratory, and also thought-provoking. Beavan works solid research into his book without overpowering the reader with references (a slew of which can be found in the index, however), yet keeps it personal enough to appeal to a wide-audience who may simply be curious about how exactly a New York City family could possibly live for a year making no net impact.

Not only do I recommend this book (it’s a fairly quick read, by the way!), but if reading books isn’t your thing, check out the documentary currently streaming on Netflix, or the original blog (

Are Fireworks Bad for Us?

Though I probably could fill a blog with snippets, stories, and pictures about my patio (like the time we hosted the most awesome Dinner Sometimes dinner group complete with a piñata, or the time we threw a fundraiser party for a local nonprofit that raised over $1,000, or how my cat has discovered a gap in the screening and climbs outside the patio to sit on a ledge and once freaked out when she couldn’t get back in). But, rest assured that this blog is not about my patio, not exclusively anyway.  It will become a place to explore and discuss various issues of sustainability.  Issues including, but not limited to: eco-living, transportation, gardening, living a non-toxic lifestyle, food production, and climate change.

To quickly start things off, the Fourth of July is still fresh in our minds, and whether you celebrated deliberately or not, you probably still heard the signature booms, bangs, and cracks of our long-standing Independence Day tradition. Yesterday as I was walking to my garden, a shared plot about four blocks from my house, I came upon these organized remnants of July 4th:

If you live in a neighborhood like mine (that is, almost any neighborhood in almost any city), you’ve been kept awake for the past week thanks to the popping and exploding noises coming from every direction surrounding your house.  Fireworks are no longer reserved for large public gatherings; they now explode above baseball stadiums, amusement park rides, newlyweds, and even yards and streets around the country.

The colorful piles of trash I found along my walk got me thinking about what else is left behind besides torn and burnt pieces of cardboard.  Fireworks use a cocktail of both toxic and non-toxic chemicals to launch, burn, and wow us with their colors and shapes.  Have you ever been ooh-ing and aah-ing over a grand finale and suddenly realized you were encased in a cloud of smoke and sulfur odor?  A scientist I am not, but I do recognize a questionable chemical situation when I find myself in one.  The ingredients for those bursts of color include aluminum, copper, magnesium, and sodium, caused to explode by charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate.  And that’s just a start. There are a host of other compounds involved in this tradition, some that hang in the air and fall into waterways, accumulating in fish and plant life.  A few studies have shown that there is an immediate drastic impact on air and water quality, but it seems the jury is still out on long-term effects. Chances are that if you’re in fairly good health, you won’t suffer much more than an irritated throat and slight headache, and there are simply too many chemicals pouring into our atmosphere on a daily basis to assign much blame to our firework habit.

But with all of the manufacturing chemicals we put into the atmosphere daily, do we really need to toss a few tons more into the mix just for 30-odd minutes of a celebration?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy myself a decent firework show every once in awhile, but it’s more about the gathering of people than the show. I enjoy celebratory affairs with my community. I enjoy being in a large crowd of people united by some common cause. Most of all, I enjoy the swelling sense of happiness and vigor that come from appreciating something in unison, whether it’s a baseball game, a party, a rally, or I suppose, a fireworks display. And maybe that feeling outweighs the perchlorates and particulates? Maybe at least for now…

The Patio 2 – In Pictures

The Patio

Four years ago I was living in Taipei and reconnected with a friend from college. This old friend soon became my boyfriend.  When I returned to Pittsburgh I temporarily moved into his apartment in a three-story castle.  Well, a Pittsburgh castle with a turret containing a carpeted spiral staircase, ivy growing up the red brick, and a toilet in the basement. This was three months after we started dating.  Long distance.

On a brief independent streak, I searched for one-bedroom apartments, while said boyfriend insisted we should just move in together. It was more practical.  There was a vacant apartment in the castle, on the first floor, the largest unit.  I won’t do it, I said, we just started dating.  But one day, when the landlord came over to show boyfriend the first floor unit I went along. It was huge. We toured the kitchen, the dining room, the living room.  It was nice, but I still wasn’t convinced. Then we got to the bedrooms.  The two bathrooms. Now I’m listening. And then we rounded the end of a long hallway, walked through a guest room, and ended up on… the back patio.

And that’s when I decided I’d move in.

The back patio is laid with stone, screened in, and the size of a medium living room. There was even a futon left there by the old tenants. It’s a gathering place, a dining room, a lounge, a workshop, an office, and (once in a while) a dance club.  And now it’s the inspiration for my brand-new blog.


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