Monday, August 27, 2007

The Experiment Begins...

My experiment began on Sunday, August 26th and to be honest, I’m a little scared. I guess I never really sat and thought about how much my car means to me, and how much it gives me in terms of independence.

Saturday night I had these last minute panicky thoughts, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t start it this Sunday. I mean, that hardly gives me any time to plan ahead or work through my schedule.”

One of my duties at work is to collect the mail from the local PO. I told my boss about my experiment on Friday. She said she was ok with it but then looked at me rather quizzically and asked “Now, why are you doing this?” She also is not keen on my idea of combining my morning break time and my usual drive to the PO into one longer walk to collect the mail as “it might take you out of the office too long”, so I will either need to bring my bike to work or borrow someone’s car to collect the mail three days a week. Honestly, if it were my company and someone were doing this experiment I would be overjoyed that they were being proactive and that they cared about the planet. I would be trying to make things easier for them, not more difficult. But, this is not my company.

So the plan is this: I will carpool with Serge at 6:25 a.m. part of the way to work, then get on the bus at 6:42 a.m. and continue my commute, arriving at work around 7:00 a.m. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to start work early, so I’ll either walk or bring something to read until 7:30 when I begin work. Serge gets done work at 3:30 and he will then continue on to pick me up around 4:00 when I am done. Initially I felt like I was the only one making a sacrifice here, (I’ll be losing my only alone time of the day and leaving about 35 minutes earlier) but I wouldn’t really feel like going 15 minutes out of my way after work to sit in a parking lot for another 15 minutes waiting for him to come out. I guess the bus ride and my early arrival cancels out his afternoon inconvenience afterall.

PS I should also note that I’ve decided to use my scooter during this experiment which I think will make it more bearable. I’m a little afraid this will not give me an accurate picture of living with one vehicle because using a scooter, and my bicycle for that matter, is not an option about 8 months out of the year. However, with bus fare at $4 per one-way trip, I think the scooter is a more affordable option. And a 150cc scooter is still much more environmentally friendly than a big truck with a V8 engine!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

One Car, Two People, Three Weeks...

I’m starting an experiment (I love experiments!). My husband Serge and I have talked in the past about paring down to one car. We work nearly the same hours, in towns about 8 miles apart. We spend most of our free time together and aren’t usually running in different directions on the weekends (what can I say? We’re pretty contented homebodies!). We are both really interested in trying to lesson our carbon footprint. (Rate your carbon footprint HERE) Also, I’m very interested in working at home eventually, full or part-time and having one car at that point shouldn’t pose as much of a problem….but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The experiment consists of this: We will share our car for at least a three week period. No grabbing for the keys to Serge’s truck when things get rough-we have to pretend that we have just the one car, and one car only. Because we work about 9 and 18 miles respectively from home and have nearly no public transportation in our area, we will need to do some careful and creative planning. I see after work errands, lunch breaks at work, and getting to work too early to be my main obstacles. Also, as an introvert, I’m worried about having my alone time reduced from about ½ hour in the morning to zilch. On the positive side, the experiment will hopefully make us more aware of our driving habits, will save miles and gas for our car, and may save us some money.

I’m writing an article about our experience in the Nov/Dec issue of the Simple Living Network’s newsletter. Check out the network here. It’s a fabulous resource and there are tons of great people with helpful information on the message boards. I won’t be posting my actual article on this blog, but will keep you posted on the ups and downs of car sharing, and you can read the article on the Simple Living Network as soon as the newsletter is out.

A Canning Revival...

I’m not sure if it’s just me who is super-excited about canning, or if it really is making a comeback? You know how when you get some new information and are all excited, it seems like every newspaper, magazine, online article and person is suddenly talking about your new interest? That’s how it is with canning for me right now.

This summer was the very first time I ever did “grown up” canning (meaning, I was unsupervised). I bought local cucumbers, local dill and local garlic, sterilized jars from the Salvation Army, and made my very first ever batch of dill pickles. It took…hours. The result? Four quarts of pickles. (I never said canning would save you money, just that it’s enjoyable!). I posted previously on my other blog about my new theory, that we humans have an innate drive to put away, store up, preserve and save for hard times. In my opinion, it’s a drive that kept our great-great-great ancestors alive, and is just part of us now, a trait that maybe we don’t even consciously recognize but is present none-the-less. The other part of my theory is that because we don’t need to do this hunting and gathering anymore, don’t have time for it (or make time for it), we stock up on lots of other things in our lives: Sales (often buying stuff we don’t need, but hey! It’s cheap!), loading up on grocery sale items because it’s a good deal, stuffing our closets full of clothes or boxes full of jewelry, home decorations that just aren’t right or other trinkets. I think our desire to “possess” stuff is really a misguided desire to take care of ourselves and each other and to prepare for our future.

When we take the time to process local, seasonal, foods into forms that can be saved for “hard times” (winter), we listen respectfully to that sense of urgency, and find an unexpected sense of peace in it’s place. There is something wonderful about the entire process and if you’ve ever canned, dried or frozen foods for a later time, you’ll know just what I mean. It’s all the anticipation. “Wow~this blueberry jam is going to taste soooo good in the middle of January when it’s so cold and dark out!” There is also something to be said for being part of the entire (or most of ) the process itself. If you can, try to pick the vegetables/fruits you will be preserving. If you can’t, they will still be delicious, but picking the produce yourself helps make the food you preserve even more special. I remember chatting with my sister and mom as I picked the frozen berries I had for breakfast this morning. We were hurrying to try to fill our little baskets before it started to rain. I remember what a nice evening it was-no bugs, just a little breeze and the smell of all those ripe, red berries.

Food preservation is especially enjoyable if you share the experience with someone else. In “Mother Earth News” this month (Aug/Sept 2007) there is a great little article on “canning kitchens”. In these kitchens women of all experience levels and ages get together and do a community canning. After the work is done, the prized canned goods are split up between participants. What a great concept! The more seasoned canners share a wealth of information and an enthusiasm and curiosity is offered from the less experienced in the group. If you don’t have a group like this near you, what about starting one? Or getting together with you mother, a sister, an aunt or a good friend and tackling your project together? This labor day weekend, I’m spending the day at my mother’s house. I have a list of things to can about a mile long (ok, it’s just eight things!) but realize I won’t get to do all that in one day. What I don’t do that day, I can finish another, but working together with my mom in her kitchen is something I’ve been looking forward to. Not only will we have lots of good food to put up for winter, but we’ll make some great memories too. Happy canning!

Monday, August 20, 2007

(Some) Change is Good...

Change can be hard, more so for some of us than others. But some change is a lot easier than expected and can make a difference in a big way.

For a long time I have been a busy consumer-I LOVED shopping till I was dropping (lots of cash and then some plastic), running the roads just for fun and to get out of the house, buying “time saving” things for the house/for my life which ended up taking up more time when they broke down/needed cleaning/needed storage. I used to tell myself “You’re not as bad as _________. You deserve a treat for all the hard things you have to do.” (i.e. work at jobs I didn’t like, do chores I didn’t want to do, cheer myself up after being bombarded with media about disasters worldwide). I am also a very visual person-if I see beautiful things I want beautiful things. I feel very deprived when I window shop which is why I avoid it at all costs. Window shopping=depriving experience and wasted time for me.

I have been, in more recent years, a sort of on again/off again simple/frugal/green person. I suppose, like most things in life, change is slow in coming when habits are deep. In looking back over recent years however, I found that I’ve made some positive changes that are fulfilling/easy enough that I won’t go back to the way things were before. Here’s a list of some of them:

*Composting-It’s easy, quick and free. I normally am a fair-weather composter (composting between late spring and late fall) but this year I want to be more diligent about composting even in the winter months.

*Not using shopping as a recreational sport-My parents would love to hear me say this! I was the kid who saved only to spend. I would blow hundreds of dollars on back-to-school clothes/holiday party clothes/Friday night dance clothes/just because I felt like it clothes. Because I’m so visual it’s veeeerrrrryyyy hard for me to “see and not touch” or in my case “see and not buy”. So the best thing for me to do is stay out of the stores unless I REALLY need something (which honestly, isn’t very often). If I do need something I try to ask around my circle of family/friends-very often someone has the something I need and is happy to let me have it. I also check, ebay, and frequent the local thrift shops. BEWARE: Thrift shopping can be just as addictive as regular shopping. While I think of it as a form of recycling (I bring in products I don’t need and buy things I want), it can also get out of hand if I am buying a ton of stuff I really don’t need just to satisfy that “gimme” urge.

*Greening up home cleaning products-I get really angry when I see all the commercials for antibacterial cleaners/room fresheners/and products that promise to completely annihilate any living organisms in the home. While cleanliness may be next to godliness, our bodies also need a certain amount of “bad” bacteria to build up a resistance. Room fresheners (I used to use with abandon!) are simply chemicals masking odors, and are usually stinky too. Studies have found a link between “over clean” homes and children with increased allergies and respiratory difficulties. There are some great non-toxic cleaners on the market, and making your own is even better. Nothing, in my opinion beats the smell of freshly baked goods or the dissipating scents of lavender or lemon coming from my little essential oil burner.

*Cooking-I never thought I would say this, and perhaps it really is just a passing phase, but I am really starting to enjoy cooking at home. I used to detest it-all the work inhaled in what seemed like five minutes, mountains of dishes awaiting you after you’ve eaten, all the planning, organizing and buying of food items…but strangely enough, this summer I’ve really enjoyed my time spent in the kitchen. In fact, if I don’t cook for a few days (like when we were away on vacation) I sort of miss it, along with the (mostly) healthy eating habits we have when we are at home. By making homemade food, we support local farmers because we try to buy most of our produce at the local farmer’s market/organic farm stand. We also make our own bread and that has become a bit of a fetish-if we don’t make it neither of us can stand to eat store bought anymore. Once you switch, betcha won't go back!

*Buying local-I’m sure you’ve heard it a bazillion times already, but buying local is really good for the environment and for you! Think of all the time and fuel spent delivering things way across the country (and world for that matter) to your home town grocery store. Buying locally is good for three main reasons: 1) it reduces the amount of fuel used which is always good for the environment 2) it supports local farmers and backyard growers 3) it tastes better and is better for you. Fresh is best!

I’m sure there are a few more changes we’ve made or are in the process of making but I think this post is quite long enough! If you are interested, I’d love to hear about some of the things YOU are doing to make the planet and yourself a little healthier…comment below and let us know about your good changes!


My very first post here at “A Chick with a Conscience”-how exciting! For those of you who haven’t followed me over from this blog, let me tell you a little about myself. I’m a recovering consumer, trying to live my life in a way that is true to my values and not what society dictates my values “should” be. I am married to a wonderful (and very handsome!) musician, and have three sweet and furry pets. I am an octo/lavo vegetarian (I still eat cruelty-free eggs and dairy from time to time). We live in northern Vermont and are practicing being more mindful about consuming~things and food.

I love creating things and making things beautiful-especially when I can do so freely or on the cheap. A thrifty shopper at heart, I’ve always loved getting a good bargain and the further into this whole simple/green/sustainable living world I find myself, the more I question what I am buying, why I’m buying it and what else I might do instead of purchasing something brand new. I also feel passionately about a number of different causes: Animal rights/cruelty-free living, environmentalism, and humanitarianism are the three topics that most stir my heart. It can feel overwhelming-trying to make a difference in what sometimes feels like a big bad world, but during those very dark moments I like to think of Helen Keller’s words: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

This blog is far from a soapbox-at least I hope that I don’t come across as “preacher-ish” (I do have that tendency, so bear with me!). I want to use this space to connect with others who feel similarly, to ask questions, share resources, and brainstorm ideas.

So…welcome! Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of something hot, and look around. I’m glad you stopped by.