Friday, April 25, 2008

The High Cost of Stuff

Last year I spent a lot of time trying to reduce the clutter in my home. I feel like I did pretty well - when we moved into my house, my office was filled top to bottom with boxes. Now, I have shelving up and my desk and I work there. I purged by selling things, giving things away, giving things to Goodwill. I have never had a storage unit, nor felt like I particularly needed one. After reading this article on Get Rich Slowly, I am glad I never got one.

Do you have a storage facility that you store stuff in and pay for each month? You may want to rethink that decision.

I still have a long way to go in my basement. In fact, I have a whole area filled with toys, clothes, and baby equipment that I am storing until the end of May to sell at a big sale. But little by little, we are getting things out of our house. Now if I can just stop the flow of stuff into the house (especially paper!)!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Honey Bees vs. Yellow Jackets

Now, I can't really say anything bad about yellow jackets as that creature is the mascot of both my brother and niece. Yellow jackets are often confused with honey bees but they act in much different ways. Here's are some (tongue in cheek) ways you can tell the difference:

Pollinating flowers? Honey bee
Eating raw meat? Yellow jacket
Found close to bee hives? Honey bee
Found close to your picnic? Yellow jacket
Lives in a hive? Honey bee
Lives in a strange grey blobby thing? Yellow jacket
Fuzzy legs in the back (for acquiring pollen)? Honey bee
Non-fuzzy legs in the back? Yellow jacket

Both yellow jackets and honey bees are of great importance to the world. Yellow jackets eat pest insects. Honey bees make honey but also play a critical role as pollinators. Here is an interesting story about honey bees. Our neighbor on the next block has several hives and sells honey (how's that for ultra local?) and I am happy his hive is doing well. I am also happy to say that we have many of the bee friendly plants and trees on the list. How about you?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

One of our local alternative newspapers has an interesting story in their Earth Day edition. Living in Portland, Oregon I have often felt pride in our green city. This story says we are not doing enough. The author, Corey Pein, suggests "seven things Portland should do if we're serious about being green."

Here are the seven suggestions with a little commentary:
1) Do something about plastic bags.
States and countries worldwide are starting to ban or tax plastic bags. These bags don't break down easily and often end up as persistent trash. Our local grocery store doesn't even offer plastic grocery bags although most stoes in Portland do. Live in Portland and want to encourage a ban on plastic bags? Contact Commissioner Sam Adams and let him know that you want plastic bags to go (or whatever you want to happen). Oh, and don't forget to do your own personal plastic bag ban by using your own reusable bag.

2) Enact a "carbon tax" on consumption.
Canada has a carbon tax that is going into effect in June. It is a two step process with a reduction in income tax and an increase in taxes on pollution. These two tax moves are designed to make polluting more expensive. Choose a lesser polluting option like propane? Taxed less. Choose a more polluting option like diesel? Taxed more. Choose an alternative fuel like a biofuel? Exempt.

3) Use "congestion taxing".
In 2003, London created a congestion tax around its city center. Cars that travel into the city center during prime driving hours are taxed $16. Guess what? According to the article doing reduced traffic during peak driving times by 37 percent. An added benefit? Bicycle commuting increased by 43 percent. The best thing about this tax? All the money is spent on improving transportation - all forms including buses, cycling, pedestrians and drivers.

One of the comments for the online article says that the improvement to London's traffic issues were only temporary and after 4 years, traffic is just as bad. A friend also wonders how our downtown area would respond to congestion taxing. Interesting things to ponder.

We have some friends who live in downtown Vancouver. As much as we love them, we hate trying to drive to their house during rush hour (especially with a car full of cranky kids since rush hour is around dinner time). While it is not a monetary tax, the congestion itself is a tax on our time and turns out to be a great deterrent.

4) Use city's credit to fund home owner's green updates.
The city of Berkley, California is rolling out a new program whereby a homeowner can borrow from the city and the money is payed back over 20 years "through an increased assessment on his property tax bill." A great thing about this program is that because the loan is associated with property taxes they can be deducted from state and federal taxes. This may help decrease the return on investment for long payback items such as a solar installation, especially in combination with rebates, tax credits and a lower energy bill. According to the notes in the article, Portland's Office of Sustainable Development can help you navigate your way through paperwork that can reduce a $18,00 solar installation to $5,500.

5) Use money for buses instead of streetcars.
Curitiba, Brazil is a city known for getting buses right. You pay ahead of time, the bus arrives on time, the entire side of the bus opens facilitating getting on and off and buses are frequent enough and fast enough to be meaningful transportation. Where is Portland planning to spend its transportation dollars? On a streetcar which with a "6.7 mile loop on the inner east side." Is that smart? Would Portland's Tri-Met be better off putting that money toward a better bus system?

6) "Market rate" parking zones.
Examples of this item range from jacking up parking spot prices in Washington, DC to $18 per hour near ballparks to Redwood City's location dependent parking (the farther you get from main street, the cheaper it gets). This issue here is that if people are driving around and around looking for parking (ever been to the Pearl? ever been to NW?) they are wasting gas. The thing I can't figure out is how this helps. Does it just discourage you from driving?

7) Increase bottle deposit (and go a step further and fund glass recycling).
Increasing bottle deposits make it more financially attractive to return your bottles and recycling rates go up. In Michigan, where the bottle deposit is 10 cents, their recycling rate is 14 percent higher than Portland's recycling rate. The author suggests increasing the bottle deposit to 25 cents which would turn bottles into a commodity. But here's the problem, according to my work place, which now sports "glass is trash" signs on our recycling bins, we are too good at recycling. So good, in fact, that all the local glass recycling facilities are overcapacity. Instead of trucking the glass hundreds of miles (with a cost of dollars, pollution and added gas consumption), our company decided that for now, they will not recycle glass.

When I first read this item, I thought, hey, we can use some of the money to fund glass recyclers. But there is no pay a deposit and then you bring the bottle back and get your money back. I did think of a way to really help this problem though, make your own beer and then reuse the bottles! What do you think? Or better yet, this idea from W, why have your soda or beer bottled at the grocery store? Of course this brings to mind the fact that you can bring a mason jar to any McMenamin's brew pub and they will fill it with beer. Don't forget about that!

So here is my question to you...what do you think of these ideas? Have you experienced any of them? Which one do you like best?

Happy Earth Day something green!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008



I mean look at these pygmy hedgehogs...could they be more cute? I don't think so!

Besides, I think it is a little more likely than getting my own hippo.

O, Reader, How Do I Appreciate Thee?

How Do I Appreciate Thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth (your comments) and breadth (all two of you) and height (links to me) My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

Today is "Reader Appreciation Day 2008" as suggested by The Other Mother. I got this idea from one of my fav bloggers Citymama who is also probably one of the first bloggers I got to reading on a consistent basis.

I have slaughtered, er, adjusted the beautiful Elizabeth Barret Browning poem ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.") in order to show you how much I appreciate you, my readers.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. You are why I am here! (Well, that and self-therapy and accountability). Thank you for joining me here, for witnessing, for providing love and support. Thank you all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cutting Grocery Costs

Our food bill is astounding. I know that some of it has to do with the fact that we eat organic and some of it has to do with the fact that our kids inhale fruit (could be worse). It also probably has to do with the fact that my kids eat a lot of snacks (like Veggie Booty and bagel chips). Lately, we have been trying to figure out how to significantly reduce our bill. In today's Oregonian, there was an article about how four families cut their food bill. Perfect timing! Last year, Rebecca Blood did a whole series on how to eat organic on a reduced budget. Although we learned some things, they didn't seem to affect our total food bill. One thing has really helped, and that is Citymama's Meal Planning Mondays. I subscribe to her blog so every Monday I see what she is cooking for the week. This inspires me to talk to W about what we are going to cook for the week. Having a meal plan and sticking to it is a great way to reduce food bills. Otherwise you are wandering around the grocery store grabbing random things that may not add up to an actual meal!

This is our menu for this week:
Sunday - Will's Indian style franks and beans with brown rice
Monday (yesterday) - Tacos (ground turkey, refried beans, tomatoes, avocado, cheese)
Tuesday - Meatloaf (pre-cooked and frozen), mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans
Wednesday - Pasta with white beans, arugula, garlic bread
Thursday - Salmon sushi balls (basically canned salmon wrapped in sushi rice with nori around it)
Friday - Out for sushi and to see Ani Difranco (yay!)
Saturday - ???

We make it a practice to bring leftovers for lunch so I had Will's Indian style franks and bean with rice for lunch yesterday and today I am planning to make a taco salad. W is actually starting to gather data on exactly how much meals cost.

So what do you do? Do you create a menu for the week? Do you know how much your meals cost? Do you have any tips for us? :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Squeaky Wheel

What do you remember, someone saying something good about a customer support experience or someone saying something bad? If you are like me, you remember the bad. For more information on what companies can do to make customer support better, go here: William Hertling & Support 2.0: The Rise of Support Activism.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Creative Spaces

I have a note by my desk that says, "I have a comfortable, organized space to do arts and crafts." It has been posted for several months and I haven't made any progress toward it. My artistic endeavors these days are more uncomfortable with boxes precariously perched on my stool while I am trying to lean in awkward angles to actually do the art. Reality is about two extremes. On one hand, you have a space that is comfortable and organized. On the other, you have something disorganized and in a sense, a space that works against trying to create art. I don't like trying to create in a disorganized space but I realized today that the other extreme isn't right for me either. For me, at least in my current creative mindset, art is elusive. It is a muse that comes to call occasionally. In the best of times, I can invite her in and give her a cup of tea while I create. In the worst of times she gets ignored and the creative urge leaves with her. But the thing is, even if she comes, she doesn't always stay until I am finished. Some times she leaves me mid-project. I think I will forever be the type of person that has projects in a variety of stages. And I feel ok with that reality. Now, I still would like to have a more inviting space that lends itself to creativity, but that vision has yet to reveal itself to me.

What about you? What type of space do you create best in? What is your idea space? Do you currently have projects in various states?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Earth Hour Failure

Remember this call to action? Did you do it? I didn't. I hope my excuse it good enough but I had raging flu / fever and I plumb forgot. If you remembered and did it, tell me about your experience! Sigh...there is always next year.

The Upside

I have not been feeling well for a few weeks. At first, it was just a general malaise and nausea. Then last week I got the flu which sadly morphed into pneumonia. The whole thing started out with me not feeling like eating (rare for me - I love food) and as I got sicker, I never restarted eating. This was a bad mistake. I had a raging fever for days (it peaked at 105 - but don't tell my mom). What they say is true, feed a fever. And I didn't. And that is why, perhaps, I got pneumonia. I was just too run down. Yuck. But I will tell you the one upside. And I am only telling you this because you will understand that I feel so bad, I needed to find an upside. I am seeing my cheekbones for the first time in months.