Welcome to Green Gal's blog, where you'll find stories, recipes, gardening updates, and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems. This blog is written by a young woman entrepreneur who is also a beginning farmer-gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My friends live in words: A Clippings Journal Compilation Composition

6 November 2012

My friends live in words and some are ones I’ve met and some I’ve met when I’ve exposed their inner spines to light. Men and women friends, lovers and girlfriends. There are strangers here, whose words were striking and which I stole for my collection.

Pain endorphins angst; vegetate, 12 hours
scoundrel of scuffed-up wood, questioning in me the way to be
or not
permanence of language
on printed plasticky paper on rolls
in cell phone bodies, buzzing

I read you under a bleached sky
and wanted to write you, as you wrote to me
drunk and tasting sweetness
of being a breath in the night
without name
making errors
living within our own gardens
but sharing harvests to be enjoyed
You become a freckle on my right pinkie
and it’s okay, it’s part of our condition
as writers to embrace, take what is as is as can be
potential loveliness in uncertainty
recalling what was as a layer under our skin
and we have many layers
time gives us material
breathe in the fire, exhale el sol

I wrote this in class, during my Introduction to Creative Writing class this quarter. We had a few minutes to write something using the "clippings" journals we'd been compiling all quarter, a notebook or some kind of collection of words, phrases, photos, things from the world around us that we'd compiled together into a jumble as "fodder" for our writing, as my instructor was fond of saying. This has not been revised from its original penning in my notebook on November 6.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Serie del Sol: “Excursionismo de Mochila 101” (A Translation)

We were supposed to bring a "talent" into Spanish 5 class today para el final día de clase. A poem, un canción, a drawing, a skill. My Spanish professor and I hemos hablado sobre poetry y traducción on a few occasions, y por eso decidí que I would bring in some of my own poemas, translated into español.

We didn't end up sharing the talents, but we did sing La Bamba and eat cake that the professor brought para nosotros. Era delicioso.

But now I have some translated poetry of my own, and I would like to share it with someone. I suppose since you're reading this, that someone is you. I just have to say that the process of translating my own words into Spanish was illuminating. It taught me that I don't know what many words really mean in English. My assumptions about connotation and my understanding of certain nuances have been shattered and rebuilt for some words. I am learning how to say what I really mean in English while simultaneously learning new words in Spanish. Even if you don't speak Spanish, just read or speak the words to hear their sound.

Please note: This is not a polished translation; this is a 1-hour before class, get it done without too much mistranslation translation. I'm including both the English (you'll notice, if you read my blog, that these are revisions of the Sun Series poems I posted here), and in the coming weeks, I will revise these translations to insure that they speak truly to what it is I want to say. Though perhaps the mistranslations will actually illuminate subconsciously what I mean; who knows?

Aquí son tres poemas para tí y para todas las personas y vidas que viven por la luz del sol!

“por qué es la luz”

si yo pueda reflejar la emanación gozosa de la hermosura

calmante, media-memoria, que es

esta luz de oro sobre esta cresta del mundo

yo abriría yo misma y respiraría (inhala) su calidez

y desprendería  (exhala) de cada poro sus emanaciones 

serías las plantas intricaditas y las hierbas desperdigadas respirando la vida, estira—

del sol del cielo (inspira más completamente tu vida, vive completamente en la presencia) y

pregunta, si tenga que, pregunta por qué.

“why is light”

if i could capture the joyful emanation of soothing mid-memory loveliness that is

this light of gold on this crest of world i would

open myself and breathe (inhale) its warmth

and release (exhale) from every pore its emanations

you would be intricate plants and sprawling grasses breathing in life, stretch—

from sun from sky (breathe in more fully your life, live fully in presence) and

ask, if you must, ask why.
“el paisaje del sol”

el paisaje del sol todo que veo es sol

las respiraciones oros cubren las profundidades plantosas de tierra con resplandecencia como

el rubor de nuestras mejillas despues—qué, qué hace esto evoca en tu subconsciente—después del mediodía  

hacía calor, caliente,

sudor en el piel como

el fuego, la lluvia en la tierra como

el suelo está por fuego (!), y

ahora es temperaturado-calma todos cuerpos simplemente son (Tierra simplemente es) y mis párpados saben que está allí,

la luz del sol arrojando las sombras de pestaña, pelo

(y ciertamente será tiempo)

si, y ¿resplandé? y


en tierra como

tú y todo que eres resplanda

(has sepa todo esto ya, una vez o dos veces)

rayos somos rayos (levanta desprende levanta haz rodar),

y esa significa que piensas

lo significa pero yo siempre estoy donde estoy, y

puedes juntarme allí, aquí, el el paisaje del sol



Sunscape all i see is sun

gold breaths cover the plantacious depths of Earth with glowing like

the glow of our cheeks after—what, what does this evoke in your subconscious—afternoon

was heated, hot,

sweat on skin like

fire, rain on earth like

the ground’s on fire (!), and

now is calm-temperatured all bodies simply are (Earth simply is) and my eyelids know it’s there,

the sunlight casting shadows of eyelash, hair,

(and indeed there will be time)

yes, and do i glow and

              do i grow

on soil like

you and all you are glows

(have you known this all already, once or twice)

rays we are rays (raise release raise roll),

and that means what you think

it means but i am always where I am, and

you can join me there, here, in the sunscape


“el sol poniente"

todo es espectramente y el sol brilla la luz del sol los colores alinean para imitar el océano que refleja el color refleja el cielo siluetado montañas contrastan oscuras a luminosas tierra al aire o, ¿saben el arte que están, el paisaje que crean para nosotros por solamente podemos ver en el mundo lo que está allí para estar visto pero no visto si no estar buscado ¿estamos enseñado a ver precioso donde vimos la puesta del sol¿ las crestas de las montañas moradas azules el ambiente de un día iluminado por hojas anaranjadas arboles blancos o es esencial a siendo vivo a ver vida como arte ¿arte es vida, somos arte? (arte define vida define arte) siempre recuerda cada día termina con un sol poniente.   


“setting sun”

all is spectrumal and the sun shines sunshine the colors line up to imitate the ocean who reflects the color reflects the sky silhouetted mountains contrast dark to light earth to air oh, do they know the art they are the landscape they create for us for only we may see the art as one may see in the world that which is there to be seen but unseen if not sought are we taught to see lovely where we see sunset mountain ridges purple blue backdrop to a day lit by orange leaves white trees or is it essential to being alive to see life as art is life art are we art (art defines life  defines art) always remember each day closes with a setting sun.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Illuminating the East Shield

"Coyote! Coyote!” Guitar-string strumming with a borrowed pick, punctuated with foot stomping and an old man with a beard and the biggest grin bongo drumming his palms on the podium, which had been pushed to the side before the evening began. The student sways gently to the beat, watching from behind eyes as others lose themselves in the evening, their bodies pulsing with everything that is present in the room. Something holds the student back, a deeply trained disconnection between body and the pervasive consciousness of situation. The beat goes on, smiles form that will ache the cheek muscles as folks leave that night, infused with something remarkable like that most vividly diverse mushroom display contributed by other students, they are foragers of fungal fruits. Awe and respect for the mushrooms in the back of the room, physically and psychologically behind this strangers-neighbors-friends human connection, behind the music. Everyone calls out, reflecting not only the singer’s words but his light, even the student calls out “Coyote!” Yes, to begin with nature, as in our lives, the student reflects while trying to feel, this leads us back to where we are. Community, and yet—A woman rocks a rattle shaker in the spaces where bodies create dancing concave half-moons and before the student knows it a bird flies out of the lingering sound created by the shaking beads or seeds that reverberate to the ear and the bird, it says Come here, student. It flies into the student’s heart, bursting through shirt and flesh and ribs. Where are you, come here, I’m waiting but not for too long, so come on. The student follows.

Somewhere the sun is rising and birds sing. Let me tell you a story, please. It will just take a moment, the one that is your life. Perched on the student’s head, the bird relies to the birds in the trees and to the living world all around with trilling and seems to say Help me tell this story, it’s important that we tell this story. Disoriented, but feeling the warmth of sun and a crisp air that brings the student into their eyes, the student wonders not how the bird can speak, but why it knows that what the student needs is a story. The story of how to live has not been shared with the student yet. That story is seldom shared, the bird sings as it flies to a redwood branch. I have a story that will help you experience that story as your own subconscious narrator and guide, but I cannot tell you that story. It is a story you tell yourself, you paint the illustrations and the words you choose in writing it are yours alone. Instead, the bird chirped, and the sun was warm, and the student saw that it was the sun that told a story in this moment. Silence made space for light. The sun, it seemed to say, Rise each day, rise. Illuminate that which you can reach, but be patient. Warm that which you can illuminate, but warm slowly. Heat, it can wait, but always begin with the light.

The student saw that within them was a sun and it was only able to illuminate a fraction of the student’s right kidney. Stagnation clogged the exitways of light and paths of energy with barriers, all kinds of barriers. With a gentle shake in the right direction, nothing forced but nothing passive, and in front of the model of the most illuminating of all beings, the student opened up the distance the inner sun could reach. A spreading of light emanated within the student’s body, filling in crevices where before there was a darkness. A physical sigh of relief as collapsing cavities become supported by light. The sun, it has taught you inner happiness, the bird declared. It was hopping southeast, toward the day. Rise each morning like the eastern light. Illuminate within to the brightest degree before bursting forth.

The student followed the bird, trailing a faint light that burned brightest at its core. I still cannot dance with them, the student murmured through thought and sinking heart. Light slipped out the student’s fingertips, dribbling and oozing like something almost cleared out of a bottle. The sun as guide, does it release and lose what it shares? Bandage the wounds you carry so they may heal, but never forget to treat the roots of wounds, the vines that tangle from destruction and choke. Do not let your wounds ooze your light. Illumination unreplenished would darken our skies forever. The student opens eyes wide, and a still-damp-wood fire is on the verge of catching as the story begins to be written. Seven more moments. The student follows the bird toward the day. We follow the sun, follow the sun.


Inspired by an evening of story-telling with Jon Young on November 28, 2012 at Kresge College, UC Santa Cruz. Learn about the 8 Shields Institute here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sun Series circa Backpacking 101

“why is light”

if i could capture

the joyful emanation

of soothing mid-memory loveliness that is

this light of gold on this crest of world i would

open myself and breathe (inhale) its warmth

and release (exhale) from every pore its emanations

            you would be intricate plants and sprawling grasses breathing in life (stretch)

            from sun from sky

(breathe in more fully your life, live fully in oxygenated experience)

and only, you may only ask us why



all i see is


gold breaths cover the skin of Earth with glowing,


the glow of our cheeks after

(what, what does this evoke in your subconscious)

afternoon was heated, hot,

sweat on skin,

and now is calm-temperatured all

bodies simply are

(are you simply is)

and my eyelids know its there

the sunlight casting shadows

of eyelash, hair

on cheeks do they glow like you and

all you are glows


we are


(raise release raise roll)

and that means what you think it means but

I am always where I am

and you can join me there


in the sunscape


 “setting sun”

all is spectrumal

and the sun shines sunshine

the colors line up to imitate the ocean

            who reflects the color

            reflects the sky

silhouetted mountains contrast

            dark to light

            earth to air

oh, do they know the art they are the landscape they create

for us


only we may see the art

as one may see you in the world

there to be seen but unseen if not sought

are we taught

to see lovely where we see


            mountain ridges

            purple blue backdrop to a day lit by

                        orange leaves

                        white trees

or is it essential to being alive

to see life as art

            is life art

            are we art

            (art defines life defines art)

always remember each day closes with a setting sun.

This series of poems was written on the crest of a hill in the Ventana Wilderness (Big Sur) of California, that overlooked a vista encompassing wilderness, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. I was on a backpacking leadership trip for the weekend, and this was where we camped the second night.

I revised the original scribbles from my notebook for a creative writing class I'm in, and these poems are the result. They are still a work in progress, as all writing is. 

The photographs were taken at the same time the poems were written, and the real-life experience that the photographs capture only a small sense of was the inspiration for the poems' themes.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to be happy: a burst of excitement that needs to be shared

Woah, it's been awhile since I posted. Life has caught me up in its majestic, beautiful, joy-inspiring adventures and my time on the computer has been mostly work-related lately. My environmental work, the kinds of things I share on this blog, have largely moved into the real world and into a community that I interact with daily at UCSC. I plan to continue posting here once life settles into a routine (not too routine I hope!), and I want to post some thoughts and vibrations I've been experiencing lately before I sign off for a bit to catch up on reading and living.

I have learned and/or had reaffirmed in just the first week of school the following:

  1. When you're excited about life and particularly when you have something you're passionate about that you're able to live and do each day, other people want to be around you. I have made more friends this week just by smiling and sharing my inner happiness with them than I've made in a loonngg time. It feels so good to smile and see that smile returned on the face of someone you just met. Share your joy with others and truly engage with them.
  2. Smile in the face of pain, challenge, hardship. I went to my first Warrior Yoga class last night, and this was the major lesson I learned from the Sensei. Smile when it hurts, smile when you don't want to keep going, and always breathe! Attending class last night was INCREDIBLY timely since I have been feeling and jiving with this notion all week, smiling and finding that it really does bring joy to you. What you project into the universe comes back to you--this I believe 100%. Also, don't feel shy about smiling as you walk around the world, particularly when something is inside you bursting to be shared. You can't always shout to the skies about your love for life (certainly do this often, but not every moment), but you can smile and make eye contact with those you pass on the street. Seriously, you will get more people wanting to spend their time with you if you are smiling and excited about life. I know that may seems difficult sometimes, but once you catch the life-is-brilliant bug, you do not want to lose it--and you want to share it, so this blog post is an attempt to share it with you!
  3. EXERCISE DAILY! Man, my parents have been telling me this my whole life, and I FINALLY get it. It feels so good to exercise and face life with endorphins and a sense of accomplishment after a hard work-out. I'm incredibly grateful that I met a very cool someone this week who got me out on my bicycle to ride down the hill from campus. I was so excited to be back on my bike that I rode all the way back to my apartment afterwards--uphill. It felt exhilarating, and I think that was the moment that I caught the bug. Since then, I did yoga last night for two hours (hard yoga, meaning profuse sweating, thigh burning yoga) and then this morning after class rode around the campus, pushing myself and smiling and breathing up the hill. I am ready to take on the day, I've been out in the sunshine and seen the bay over my handlebars, and it's only 11 AM!
  4. You are all you need to be happy. YOU will make you happy, not someone else. Other people, people you love, might make your day brighter and they may be a support to your happiness, but ultimately, it's you who is in control of your happiness. If you haven't felt happiness without the support of another person, you may not have found what you're on earth to do yet. Once you find it, you know it, and you feel so psyched every morning that it's like you're constantly on a high. Obviously, you want to surround yourself with other people who are supportive, encouraging, and who REFLECT the light that you give off. People who take your light and keep it for themselves, or who try to put out your light, are unfortunate people who probably haven't found their own spark yet. Don't give up on those people, but don't let them darken your light. I feel like I'm writing a self-help book or something, but I seriously believe this. Ask anyone who's been around me this week or who's seen my Facebook updates--I am incredibly, unbelievably, incurably happy. Maybe I'm going insane, I don't know--all I know is that I want to hold onto this.
  5. Eat only foods that are real. Don't eat processed stuff or stuff fried in lots of oil or anything that makes you feel meh after eating it. If you eat a lot and feel stuffed, eat only as much as makes you feel satisfied. Don't search for happiness on your plate. Spinach and carrots are delicious, by the way. Since living in an apartment with a kitchen, I have been eating SO healthy and I can feel it. I think it's been a major influence in getting me exercising, because I feel so good and I want to feel even better.
Okay, now I have to do Spanish homework. I have to read a Pablo Neruda poem and write some responses about it. My creative writing teacher actually wrote on a poem I recently turned in that I have a similar style to Neruda, which made me feel that there's hope for my creative writing grade. That's a whole other blog post about how fantastic and inspiring my creative writing class is this quarter. 8 AM Tuesday/Thursday, and I leave class feeling refreshed and stoked on life.

However, with all this socializing, exercising, eating right, and writing creatively, I've been letting homework come last, which means by the time I get to it, it's 9 PM and suddenly I'm tired. It's all about balance, and I'm learning that, but for now, I'm just so glad that I finally figured out how to make friends and be happy and exercise. And I have a few hours before class, so I should sign off and get stuffs done. (Oh yeah, especially since my office is going CAMPING for our work retreat this weekend. I could just keep going on about how fantastic this week has been, but that would be rambling and boring--oh wait, is it already?)

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why I Love Public Transportation

Sure, sometimes you end up next to the smelly guy on the train or you wind up getting the bus with the loud cell phone people or the crazies. But the more you take public transportation, the more skilled you become at selecting seats, using body language (like angry faces and glaring to avoid conversations!), and just learning to deal with it because there are plenty of reasons--I'm about to name five--why public transportation is awesome. Here's why I love public transportation, and why I encourage you to utilize it as often as you can in your daily life.

1. Public transportation reduces the number of polluting, traffic-causing cars on the road.
Every time you take public transportation when you might otherwise have taken a car takes one car off the road. Think about people who take PT every day to work, school, or wherever they going when they could have driven. Certainly a bus requires more fuel than a compact car, but if you fill a bus with people and take the cars the passengers would have been driving off the road, you're saving a ton of gas and reducing pollution and traffic congestion.

2. Staring out the window when you're a passenger and letting your mind wander is really good for your brain, particularly when the scenery is nice.
When I take the bus and train home from college, I almost instantly find myself glancing up to the window and letting my thoughts wander for awhile before returning to my book or computer. Most of my commute is through forest and then through open space, so my mind has nothing in particular to grab ahold of and capture my attention--I'm free to explore whatever aspect of the universe of thought that my brain has the capacity to access. Often, I recognize how much I need that unfocused thinking to the passing world in order to let my mind wander, and I put my book or computer away. Pretty soon, the notebook comes out and ideas for things I should do at work, school, or on my blog come pouring out. I outlined the plan for this blog post while sitting on the Highway 17 Express yesterday, for example. I write best when I'm inspired after some unfocused gazing off into space, like on the bus, and I often do my best thinking when I'm the passenger of a moving vehicle without distraction. It's this unfocused attention that allows our brains to recharge, and the same kind of thing happens for me when I'm surrounded by nature and am able to simply think. Turns out, it's not just me. Richard Louv discusses this and something called "directed-attention fatigue" (28) in his book The Nature Principle:

Over time, the Kaplans [who conducted a study with a group similar to Outward Bound in the 1970s] developed their theory of directed-attention fatigue. As described in a paper by Stephen Kaplan and Raymond DeYoung: "Under continual demand our ability to direct our inhibitory processes tires. . . . This condition reduces mental effectiveness and makes consideration of abstract long-term goals difficult. A number of symptoms are commonly attributed to this fatigue: irritability and impulsivity that results in regrettable choices, impatience that has us making ill-formed decisions, and distractibility that allows the immediate environment to have a magnified effect on our behavioral choices." The Kaplans hypothesize that the best antidote to such fatigue, which is brought on by too much directed attention, is involuntary attention, what they call "fascination," which occurs when we are in an environment that fulfills certain criteria: the setting must transport the person away from their day-to-day routine, provide a sense of fascination, a feeling of extent (enough available space to allow exploration), and some compatibility with a person's expectations for the environment being explored. Furthermore, they have found that the natural world is a particularly effective place for the human brain to overcome mental fatigue, to be restored. (Louv 28)

Along these same lines, it has always bothered me when parents have their kids watch DVDs in the back of the car on long drives. I was never that child, and I'm so incredibly thankful to my parents for forcing me to sit there and gaze out the window. Occasionally, I read a book or colored or sang songs with family, but after awhile, I would get bored of doing anything and start to watch the orchards go by (you know what I'm talking about if you've ever gazed out a car window in an agricultural setting--the rows are so fun to watch, it's addicting), or start day dreaming. Those poor kids who have their eyes glued to a television in the backseat aren't developing the habit of day dreaming and thinking without being focused on something. How are you supposed to think about your life as a whole if you're always sectioning it off into "projects" or "subjects" or "to-dos"? Sometimes you need to literally just sit and stare in order to put things together in your life, and while we all know this and have had experience with it, being aware of how important this is and acting on this every single day will make us all more clear-headed. Having these experiences as a child in a car or on a bus or train set the foundation for us to be able to be creative with our thinking and learn to entertain ourselves. Being able to simply be, think, and enjoy the ride without being entertained is so important, and this is why I will never let my children (if I ever have any) watch DVDs in the back of my car--oh wait, that's because I won't have a car! :-)

3. How often do you get to be the passenger? You can get work done as you travel when you aren't driving.
While I recommend gazing out the window for a good portion of your trip, you can also get work done when you aren't the one driving. Some buses and trains have free wifi, or you can read or use a computer without the internet. You can also nap, which I call getting a lot of good work done.

4. Public transportation costs significantly less money than owning and maintaining your own car, and you don't have to worry about parking or the stress of driving.
Even if you do own a car, using public transportation whenever you can reduces the amount of mileage you're accumulating on your car and means you don't have to pay for gas at the pump as often. You don't have to pay parking fees or even find parking in the first place. You can enjoy a drink without worrying about driving yourself anywhere (a college student's best designated driver is often the bus driver).

5. You gain some perspective on life by observing those who have no other option but to take public transportation.
While I do not own my own car, I have parents who do own cars who've driven me back to campus before. I have friends with cars who could drive me places if I really needed a ride. Eventually, I will probably own a car--though I'll fight getting one as long as I can. I use public transportation largely because I'm a college student and everyone takes the buses, but I also do it because I know it is less polluting in the long run than using a car to get everywhere. But the fact is, most people who use public transportation have no other option because they have no car. Spending time on public transportation and realizing this fact can give you some perspective on your life and make you thankful and grateful for the privilege you have in being able to even make public transportation a choice rather than a necessity.

It can open your heart a little and make those uncomfortable moments on public transportation that I mentioned at the beginning of this article a little less of an issue. We're all just people doing the best we can, moving from one place to another. Maybe the smelly guy is homeless for reasons beyond his control; maybe the loud person on their cell phone is going through a rough time in their life and they need to have that conversation with whomever to make it through the day; and maybe the "crazy" people aren't really crazy after all. They just see life a little differently than you.

Hopefully this article makes you more inclined to take public transportation the next time you have an opportunity to do so. If not, I'm curious what your hesitation is, and I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Thank you for reading!
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Earth- and Money-Conscious College Shopping

Stores that sell college dorm "necessities" give out those lists every fall with tons of awesome gadgets, furniture, and other "essentials that every college student needs"! Of course, you want to be comfortable and have all the stuff you need for college so you can focus on getting good grades and having fun. But as a third year college student who thinks she might have finally gotten the system down, I'm here to tell you that while those lists can be great reminders for the things you really do need, you do not need to get those items new and you certainly don't need to buy all of the latest "dorm" accessories--if truth be told, you don't have room for all of those things in your dorm.
One of my boxes Green Gal brought to her first dorm room at UC Santa Cruz.
If you want to save money, reduce your environmental impact, and still have the stuff you need to be comfortable and happy as you study and enjoy college, you first have to take the time to think about what you truly need in your life at college. Find lists online and start compiling a list on your computer, thinking of anything and everything you might want. Give it a few days, then sit back down and delete those items from your list that you don't really need. Highlight the items you don't already own or will need to get more of and then sort them by where or how you plan to get them. Food lists obviously are separate since most of it will be new--although I raided my mom's pantry and got some spices, crackers, and other random things that she wasn't using, so don't think you can't get your food "used"! Once you've got your lists down to essentials and must-haves for you, start by asking friends, then shop the thrift stores in your area, and finally, find those stores where you can get the most environmentally friendly option for that product.

Getting Things from Friends and Family
Chances are, many people you know have and no longer use many of the things you need for college. When you're compiling your list of things you need, don't forget to send it out to your aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, and friends to ask if any of them have anything on the list that they don't use or are planning to get rid of. Particularly with kitchen things, people sometimes just have these items lying around that they're replaced with newer versions and haven't had the time to bring them to goodwill.
A whole box of kitchen stuff that my dad and stepmom gave me for my first college apartment. They had them lying around and weren't being used.
Buying Used
Most of the things you'll need can be purchased used from garage sales or thrift stores. It's important to give yourself plenty of time to visit these places and to remember not to get frustrated when you don't find the perfect thing at the first place you look. Patience with looking for used items is a valuable, necessary skill if you want to live an environmentally conscious and less wasteful lifestyle. Not only does buying used reduce the need for new materials to be processed into products, which saves energy and resources, but buying used requires no packaging. Most things you buy new have some kind of packaging around them, often made of plastic, so by buying used, you eliminate that waste.
Some of the things I got for only $2 from a garage sale! It just takes some planning and patience to find stuff you need used and for a great price.
Facebook and Craigslist specific to your school
While Facebook can suck your life away, it does have its uses. My school has a Facebook Groups page, and most schools have this. You access it by verifying your .edu email address. Within the groups page, there are tons of different kinds of groups, but one that relates to this post is the Free/For Sale group, where students post things they need and other student post things they're selling. Find out if your school has one because this is where you'll find appliances, furniture, and anything else that other college students are selling. You can arrange to pick up the item once you're in town, so you don't have to transport it all the way from home. Also, be sure to check the Craigslist for the town where your school is located because college students living there will likely post their items there, as well. It reduces how far you have to transport heavy appliances and furniture, which reduces the carbon emissions (the heavier your car, the more gas it takes for your car to get places). A third option is Freecycle, which is, well, free.
An example of some postings on the UCSC Free & For Sale group.
Buying New
For those items that you cannot buy used, think about things like packaging and ingredients to choose the least harmful and least wasteful products.

Here are some categories that I use when packing for school each fall and where I looked for these items. For each category, I've tried to give some ideas of a few truly essential things and how you can make an environmentally conscious choice when purchasing them.

Shower and Bath
  • Shower caddy: A college dorm essential, unless you like juggling ten things every time to go to the hall bathroom. Every college student gets one, and once the person graduates, those things must end up somewhere, so why not reuse them? Check local thrift stores and garage sales, or contact friends who've recently graduated from college. If you're going to buy new, go with metal instead of plastic because plastic never biodegrades and at least metal can be recycled or repurposed and doesn't leach toxins.
  • Towels: Check with family and friends to see if they have any bath towels that they no longer use. Avoid thrift stores unless you're really a trooper because you never know what they were used for if you don't know their previous owner. Either way, you're in college--you don't need luxury bath towels.  I do, however, understand that some people enjoy lush, fresh bath towels, so in that case, go for organic cotton bath towels. Important: Be sure to bring your own hand towels and remember to use them when you go to the bathroom. Paper towels are such an enormous source of waste on college campuses because they're stocked in the dorm bathrooms and people use them up like craaaazy. Read about an initiative taking place on my campus to eliminate paper towels from the dorm bathrooms here.
  • Toothpaste: You can't really get toothpaste used, so either purchase an environmentally friendly brand like Tom's of Maine or read about some alternatives to conventional toothpaste here. There are tons of other links online about making your own toothpaste (and deodorant and hair cleaning product, and more!)
  • Shampoo: College is a time for change and trying new things, so why not go no shampoo? If you're interested in learning more, check out how to do so here. College is also a time to make new friends, which might be difficult if you haven't washed your hair and you're still in the transitional stages of the no 'poo process, in which case try to buy shampoo that can be refilled by buying in bulk. You can buy the bulk size bottle and get smaller bottles to fill up and bring with you to the shower. Using shampoo with the fewest chemicals means fewer chemicals being absorbed by your college student brain! Gotta keep those brains chemical-free! But once you've made those friends and you know they like you for who you are and not how your hair looks, try going no shampoo!
  • Toothbrush: Just gonna leave this one up to Beth Terry at My Plastic Free Life since she has full-on reviews and details about toothbrushes, and why reinvent the wheel?
  • Loofah: Most women (and I'm sure men, too) love those plastic loofah things that make soap all foamy and awesome, and I must say that I feel lost without mine. But did you know that loofas are based on an actual thing from nature that comes from the ocean? I'm switching to a natural loofah this year, which doesn't make as much foamy soap, but which does scrub your skin better than a washcloth. Buy this one new, though... Of course, the best option is to go without any kind of loofah. It's unnecessary, really, but if you're used to it and aren't willing to make that change just yet, opt for natural over plastic.
Kitchen/Food Stuff (* Indicates this is only necessary if you're moving into an apartment with a kitchen. Everything else is for dorm life in which you're relying on dining hall food for most meals.)
  • Reusable water bottle: If you're still drinking single use plastic water bottles, just stop doing so right now. I can't imagine having to store those things in my dorm room... but regardless of storage, they are simply a nuisance to the environment and a burden on your wallet. If no one has managed to convince you why yet, please visit the Food & Watch Watch website to learn more. In terms of what kind to get, let's get some advice from Beth Terry at My Plastic-Free Life since she's more of an expert than I am on the subject:  "Get a reusable stainless steel bottle (Klean Kanteen has just come out with a completely plastic-free water bottle — no plastic on the cap at all!) or stainless steel travel mug, fill it up with tap water before leaving the house, and refill it wherever you happen to be. I don’t recommend reusable plastic or aluminum bottles. Plastic may leach chemicals into the water and aluminum bottles are lined with an epoxy resin, some of which has also found to leach into water depending on the brand. Why take a chance?"
  • Appliances (microwave, fridge, coffee maker, rice cooker*, blender*, etc.): First, ask around for these appliances among friends and family. Next, check your school's Facebook groups' For Sale page or Craigslist for people selling gently used appliances. Make sure they show you they work before you buy them. The fridges are especially easy to find because so many students buy them. However, mini fridges use a ton of energy, so if you don't find a relatively new one to buy used, go for a new one that's energy star rated... or go without a fridge. Be sure to unplug these appliances when they aren't being used in your dorm to save energy. In looking for a source about the energy use of mini fridges, I came across this Green Living Guide from Oberlin College. If you're interested in learning more beyond this blog post's suggestions, check it out! Also, your college might have guides for sustainable purchasing in your area--if you find a particularly awesome one, I'd love to see it!
Be sure to plug your appliances into a power strip so you can turn them off when they aren't in use. I usually plug everything but the fridge into power strip or leave everything but the fridge unplugged unless I'm using that particular appliance.
  • All the kitchen "stuff" you'll need in an apartment: I'm moving into my first apartment this month, so I spent some time browsing online and going through my mom's kitchen drawers to figure out just what items I really will need. I decided to buy as few of these things new as possible, and so far I've succeeded. I asked my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles if anyone had any kitchen stuff they no longer used. I got so many great things just from the people I know! Next, I went on Craiglist one Friday evening and made a list of all of the garage sales taking place the next morning and then inputted them to Google Maps, rerouted the map so that it would make sense to drive the route, and set out the next morning with a list of things I needed for the kitchen. A really diligent person might have rode their bike with baskets and a backpack, but I was on a time frame and knew that biking to 10 garage sales would take longer than an hour. So learn from my mistake and 1) Plan ahead so you have time and 2) Ride your bike! As it turned out, I only stopped at 2 or 3 of them and found most of the things I needed. One woman gave me an electric mixer, 2 glass mixing bowls, a pyrex pan, a spatula, oven mitts, salad tongs, and a cheese grater for $2! I told her that I was in college and moving into my first apartment and once she knew that, she said to choose anything I needed and it was mine. People can be so nice, and if I had gone to the store, I would have easily spent $50 on the things I got at her garage sale. Thank you, garage sale owner lady!
The $2 mixer--which ended up being a little rusty so be sure you check out the stuff you're getting thoroughly!--and a set of adorable plates that I got for $10 at a garage sale.
  • Cloth napkins, dishtowels, and rags for cleaning: Even if you're living in the dorms, it's totally manageable to use dishtowels and cloth napkins rather than paper napkins and paper towels. It's probably a good idea to have at least one roll of paper towels on hand for emergencies, but having cloth on hand for most things is a way to reduce your waste generation. Once they're grimy or ready to be washed, just throw them in with your regular wash. I often used my dishtowel interchangeably as a hand towel for the restroom and I just make sure to wash it often. Ask your parents if they have an old set of handtowels or cloth napkins. As with bath towels, you might not want to get used dishtowels from people you don't know unless you plan on using them as rags only for cleaning with cleaning products. You just never know what they were used for...
Clothing and Accessories
  • My advice for all things related to clothes and accessories is to look around thrift stores and second hand stores whenever you have the chance. Often, you'll find great stuff when you aren't even looking for something in particular. There are of course going to be times when you need a specific thing like a warm coat and you just can't find it in a reasonable amount of time. But if you really want to save money when it comes to clothes and purses and shoes and those kinds of things, pay attention to when friends donate clothes and be on the lookout at thrift stores whenever you have a chance. I honestly cannot remember the last time I shopped in a mall for clothing, jeans, or purses. I get all my clothes from family friends or thrift stores, and from the occasional thing my mom or aunt buys for me for Christmas. It just takes practice and patience to find the clothing you want at a reasonable price used.
Yes, Green Gal has a plastic shower caddy... Plastic is icky, though, so if you can avoid plastic, do so!
School Stuff
  • Textbooks: Once you get your course list, go online and find out if any of your books are on Project Gutenberg (free e-books!). If you're the kind of person who can read and truly engage with material when it's on a computer, that's awesome and you should take advantage of e-books and Project Gutenberg (Green Gal is not one of those people and only uses online books occasionally... I just love paper books). Next step would be to check Amazon for used copies of the books you need for class. You can also rent or borrow from people you know. The Facebook groups thing comes in handy with books, too. Your last resort should be purchasing the books new, particularly if they're not specific textbooks but are literature books, novels, or other kinds of books that are easily found used.
Green Gal brought too much stuff her first year, but packing and living in dorms is certainly a learning process.
  • Notebooks and paper: Seriously, check thrift stores. I found 5 unused notebooks, each 99 cents, at a thrift store once. I haven't bought paper or notebooks since... my goal is to use up all the unused paper (including the backs of 1-sided used paper) I have now before I even think about buying more... and I mean ALL of it. If you can't find them second hand like that, go for recycled content or find out if you already have paper and notebooks lying around your house.
  • Pens & pencils: Go for durability. I got a 7 Year Pen from my aunt, and it will supposedly last for 7 years. It's been quite a few months and it's still working perfectly. When getting pencils, go for actual wooden pencils and not mechanical ones. Mechanical pencils are made of plastic, which never breaks down. You can also now found refillable pens, both writing pens and white erase board pens. I haven't tried any of them out myself yet, but I've heard that they work, so just search around online and read some reviews.
Certainly, this list does not contain many important things you'll need, but I trust you to be able to evaluate your purchasing decisions by following the model of these suggestions above. If you have particular questions about products or want to know if I think something is necessary or even useful to have in college, I would love to hear from you. You can email me here or post on my Facebook wall here: https://www.facebook.com/greenbeangal

Look at how many things in this picture of my desk last year are made of plastic. That needs to change. You can make that change in your life before you start college by not buying things made of plastic. Easily remedied: no candy bags, wooden pencils, refillable pens, stainless steel water bottle, no cell phone, no printer (use campus printing services)... The list goes on depending on how much you're willing to change. But hey, it's college--it's a time for change anyway!
The 3rd Year Student Wisdom and Advice Portion of this Post
To those of you starting your first year of college, have fun, pay attention in class, and get involved in some on-campus organizations--but don't overcommit yourself. Explore, learn, and give yourself room to simply be yourself for awhile before cementing your identity with a particular organization or major, for that matter.

To those of you who are returning for your second, third, fourth, or even fifth year (here's to you, second year seniors!), continue to enjoy your college experience and don't forget that you are at college to learn, so even though your classes don't have that shiny newness that they might have had your first year, be open to learning new things and getting the most out of your classes. Try something you've never done before this year, find your niche if you haven't already, and if you aren't enjoying what you're doing, find something that makes you come alive and that makes life full of that shiny newness.

To everyone, have fun being creative with sustainable purchasing and finding things used. Garage sale hunting is seriously so fun--bring your friends! Your parents will love you for saving them money if they support you financially, and if you buy your own stuff, well it just makes so much more sense to save money while you're saving the planet at the same time!

I need to go finish packing now...

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Monday, August 27, 2012

Show Your Plastic Challenge: Week 1

This week, I took Beth Terry (of MyPlasticFreeLife.com)'s Show Your Plastic Challenge. I met Beth last Sunday at a lecture she gave for Science Sundays at the Seymour Center at Long Marine lab, and I was inspired to be more conscious of plastic in my life and begin the process of living without it. You can read a little about Beth and the lecture that I attended here.
I purchased a copy of Beth's book at the lecture last Sunday, and I am LOVING it. She has not only great resources and facts about plastic, but she also includes practical solutions. I will be writing more about her book in future posts.

The challenge is to "Collect all of your own plastic waste, both recyclable and non, for a minimum of one week." I tried my best to do the challenge this past week, but I went home for the weekend (I spend most of the year on campus at UC Santa Cruz) and lost track of a few of the plastic items that I used while out to lunch with family. I also didn't prepare all of my own meals at home, so there were likely a few plastic items that escaped my collection for the week. This upcoming week, I pledge to do better at collecting all plastic that I use.

I posted my challenge results to the Challenge page at My Plastic Free Life (awaiting moderation at the present time), and here's what Week 1 of the Challenge looked like in terms of plastic for Green Gal:

What suggestions would you like from the group to reduce your plastic waste?
  • Specific suggestions for brands for things like reusable glass straws, best types of water bottles and reusable storage containers, and creative ideas for reusing things we have to avoid purchasing new plastic products would be really helpful! Some of these answers might be in Beth's book, which I'm still reading, but if anyone has had experiences with particular brands, please give me your recommendations! Thanks!
List of plastic items you REFUSED this week.
  • plastic lid on fountain soda at various restaurants (who needs 'em?)
  • plastic straw for soda at various restaurants - plastic Starbucks cup for iced latte (used my own mug)
  • plastic knife to open my burrito (unfortunately, did use a plastic fork...)
  • plastic cup for salsa at restaurant (put the salsa from the salsa bar right on my burrito!)
  • a gumball at a restaurant last Sunday
Total number of plastic items in your stash: 17

List of recyclable items
  • Brisk lemonade bottle, PETE #1 - I know this type of plastic can be recycled through the campus recycling facilities, which means I place it with my other recyclables in one of the bins outside my dorm. On looking this up to make sure I was right, I found this: "Plastic containers #1-7 are accepted for recycling. This includes plastic bottles, jars, and tubs. Please rinse, and remove caps or lids before placing in recycling bins. Step on plastic containers to flatten." I had heard that removing caps was a good habit, but it's good to know that the University requests it. (Source: UCSC Environmental Health & Safety website page on Plastic Containers)
  • bell pepper bag - If I ball this up and place it with other bags in one bag, I can recycle it. I know my office has a bag of bags for recycling, so I will add it to that one since I don't have enough of my own bags to recycle it. I double checked online: "Bags must be contained within a plastic bag, no single plastic bags! Bags must be clean, dry and bagged together for recycling. You can place the bags in the mixed recycling bins throughout campus." -- UCSC Environmental Health & Safety page on Plastic Bags )
  • Colgate toothpaste lid - It's the same material as the lid for the lemonade, so I'm gonna go for it and put it with my recycling.
List of non-recyclable items or those you are unsure of
  • Doritos chips bag
  • feminine hygiene waste materials - Truly, it's 17+ items of plastic because obviously I did not collect all of my feminine hygiene-related waste materials this week.
  • plastic coated receipts - I need to start requesting no receipt!
  • Colgate toothpaste container
  • Almond cheese wrapper
  • Miscellaneous pieces of plastic that were in my dorm
  • plastic cling wrap from the bagels I got at the University Center cafe - I have been trying to reuse them when I need to wrap something up.
  • plastic spoon & plastic knife - I will reuse them, at least :/
  • Gum! I just realized that I had a piece of gum yesterday. Totally didn't even think about it! (Find out more about gum and how it is made of plastic here.)
I found out last Sunday that gum is made of plastic. It makes sense, but I was kinda bummed to learn that. I saw this gumball machine at the restaurant where I ate lunch last Sunday, and decided against getting one. But then yesterday, I had a piece of gum with my sister and totally didn't think about it!

What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?

Definitely do-able:
  • Next time I want non-water, I can fill up my water bottle in the dining hall with juice or soda. - Purchase vegetables that are not in plastic wrap.
  • Give reusable feminine hygiene products a try - I saw a post about it on My Plastic Free Life (click here) and reposted it on my Facebook page earlier this week. I guess I should seriously take a good look at it again.
  • Ask that cashiers not print a receipt for me, particularly when they ask (they usually ask at Starbucks, I've noticed).
  • Avoid purchasing items wrapped in cling wrap, and simply don't purchase it for my kitchen. Get reusable containers instead.
  • Actually carry around reusable utensils like I say I will. Maybe get lighter-weight ones or make some kind of carrying case for them so I can easily remember them.
Ideas for the future:
  • Make my own chips using tortillas or potatoes
  • Make my own toothpaste? (I guess I better read this article.)
What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?
  • Cling wrap
  • Foods that come wrapped in plastic (I can at least reduce the amount of these I purchase regularly)
What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
  • Toothpaste
  • Dairy-free cheeses (I'm allergic to milk--I suppose I don't NEED dairy free cheese, but on occasion, it is so delicious! Note: This almond cheese pictured below, while delicious, does contain casein, but it's not usually enough dairy to bother me. For vegan cheese options, I highly recommend Daiya brand cheese. Unfortunately, both brands come in plastic containers.)

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
  • Simply not purchase things that are unnecessary when they come wrapped in plastic and wait until I find a non-plastic version of the same item
  • Be willing to give reusable feminine hygiene products a try! (This is definitely going to be a challenge, I think.)
  • Stick to remembering my utensils when I go out.
What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
  • I will look into and purchase some reusable feminine hygiene products this week.
What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
  • It's all about being a conscious consumer and thinking before you order at a restaurant or grab something in the grocery store. I think I might start writing down all of my encounters with plastic in case I forget to hang onto them. That will also force me to consider whether I need that plastic item each time I encounter it!

So are you guys in? You should try the Plastic Challenge, even if you only do it for a week. It really opens your eyes to how often we use and rely on plastic in our lives. If you're wondering what the big deal about plastic is, please take a look at My Plastic Free Life at watch this video of Beth Terry speaking at a TEDx event:

Check back next week for my second week of the plastic challenge! For daily postings, thoughts, and updates, please Like Green Gal on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greenbeangal

Thanks for reading! Stay green, and enjoy your last week of August!

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