#DroughtLiving

1 Sep

I’ve been thinking a LOT about the drought lately.  It’s hard not to when you live in an area that’s marked by a red so dark it borders on black on all the drought maps.  It’s as if they ran out of shades of red with which to convey the seriousness of the situation.

Then, I went here.

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And hallelujah, if I wasn’t already thinking about water issues I was now.  There’s nothing like going somewhere where your scarce resources are abundant to put things in perspective.  It’s like when my mom comes to California and discovers that avocados are two for a dollar.  It’s guacamole time all the time.  I could regale you with tales of what it’s like to have so many avocados that you worry they might go bad, but instead I’m going in a little more sobering direction.

This is what it’s like to live in a drought.

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There’s so much blame. Have you seen the #droughtshaming hashtag?  A quick Twitter search will give you pictures of runoff from faulty sprinklers, well-manicured golf courses, and more watered sidewalks than you can count.  It’s like environmental McCarthyism.  I may be guilty of overusing the term, but I tend to do it in conversation and not on the internet.  Whether that’s better or just makes me so fun to hang out with?  You be the judge.

Even the cities are getting in on it.  Most cities have hotlines that you can use to turn in your neighbors.  I haven’t done so, but I may have been tempted by the neighbors watering down their plastic chairs int he middle of a light rain.

Drought shaming is a nice vehicle for righteous anger, but doesn’t really solve anything.  Luckily Californians are looking for more positive ways to address water waste.  In fact, if you look at the #droughtshaming hashtag, at least a third of the tweets offer other solutions.  That’s not something you normally find on social media.

You can find resources. It seems like everyone in our community is offering programs to learn more about how you can conserve.  Our library recently offered a Water Wise Gardening program, but I was surprised when I saw similar programs offered several times a month through different organizations.  There are rain barrel classes at the nature center, landscape seminars at the universities, and drought-tolerant workshops at the garden centers.

Water districts, which really had no need for flashy graphics before, are now among the top destinations on government websites. Residents who would like to get a rain barrell, tear out their lawn or replace their faucets can find rebates and classes from their city or water district almost anywhere in California.  Unfortunately most of these rebates don’t apply to California’s many renters.

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The rules are a constant source of frustration. Conversations on water usage come up all the time.  I spoke with a coworker who was concerned that her city’s prohibition against planting new plants that aren’t drought-tolerant meant she had to forgo her garden.  I leaned toward the growing your own food uses less resources than purchasing shipped food side of the equation, but the answers aren’t always clear.  Different cities have different rules.  Even neighbors might have different days that they are allowed to water on.  Certain rules, like that you can’t water within 48 hours of significant rainfall, come into play so rarely that it’s not a surprise people forget they exist.  Then there’s the distinction between restrictions (mandatory) and conservation measures (recommended)… If you haven’t already been immersed in water education, it’s easy to get a little lost.

It’s working (kind of). Many cities are meeting or exceeding the conservation thresholds Governor Brown has mandated and the savings have been improving drastically throughout the year.  You can have tons of fun with the State Water Resources Board’s conservation reports to see the statistics.  My city went from a 5% decrease in February (over 2013 statistics) to a 22% decrease by May.  That’s higher than our mandated benchmark of 20%.  Some places (yay! Merced at 43%!) are doing much better and some (boo! El Monte at -10%) are doing worse, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Remember all those rebates I mentioned?  Our water district has already run out of funds for turf removal and that’s pretty common throughout the state.  Other rebates are taking months to get to processed there are so many of them.  On one hand it’s frustrating, but on the other it means people are making changes and making them rather quickly.  That’s exciting!

Water conservation is a topic that seems to cross political boundaries, too.  I could have a half hour conversation with someone about water usage and still have no idea where they stand politically, despite water conservation being tied into government regulations.  Anytime people come together to make the world a better place,  it’s a positive step for our state.

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Now, I hate to be a downer, but even with all these positive steps, it’s unlikely that our drought problem will be solved.  The state even has a website that allows us to watch our water supplies dwindle.  California supports too much agriculture, too many people, and has too little precipitation.  Unless that changes, these are only delaying tactics.  I think that’s what really captures the reality of living in a drought. Even when we know we’re fighting a losing battle, we still band together to resist.  And talk about how, hopefully, El Niño will be strong this year.

~April

Photo Adventure: Ten Lakes Redemption

20 Jul

On completely separate occasions, both my friend Daniella and I, had kinda lousy experiences at Ten Lakes. Not that we’re complaining, mind you. Camping in Yosemite is still preferable to many things, even if it does involve blood loss, sickness, missing persons, and monumental amounts of whining.

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But looking back on the experience several years later, I still remember amid all the complaining, the jaw dropping view from Ten Lakes Pass, and the view of the lakes. It was time for us to give Ten Lakes another try.

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Glacial Polish

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In the early evening we heard rockfall off of this wall.

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The moon, Jupiter, and Venus reflecting on glacial polish

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The wildflowers were so fluorescent they could have been painted by Lisa Frank.

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I was apparently obsessed with glacial polish on this trip.

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Blue Conness

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Redeemed.

~Robin

Photo Adventure: The Best Camera

25 Jun

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Tenaya Lake Encased in Fog

These pictures are from all the way back in May when I took a weekend trip to the Eastern Sierra.

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Tuolumne River, sadly bare of snow

Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my camera battery, or rather, forgot to pack the battery I had charged….and forgot to bring the car charger I bought specifically so I could recharge my camera batteries during road trips. Awesome.

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Sunset at South Tufa

(Also, a jar of Nutella was pretty much the only provisions I brought for the entire trip. Either I wasn’t at my smartest when I packed my food, or I was a freaking genius. I can’t decide which.)

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Storm Clouds over Mono LakeIMG_1195_2
Snowy June Lake Loop

Besides I couldn’t skip posting these, look who showed up!

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Aprilly!

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Aprilly and Greg!

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They brought better food than I did, and even managed to make baked brie in a dutch oven in a downpour. Left to my own devices, I probably would have just eaten spoonfuls of Nutella in my van. I’m glad they endeavored because it was soooo good. (I offered to spread some of my half-eaten jar of Nutella on it, but for some reason they declined.)

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The next day the weather cleared enough for us to hike into Lundy Canyon.

It turns out Greg and I have differing opinions on photo orientation. He hates anything that isn’t landscape. This immediately made me want to champion portrait orientation as the superior choice in photo layouts. But then I realized that I’ve been shooting more and more in a square format since I started goofing off on Instagram, and I kinda like that too. So here it is, I’m stating it for the record: I’m pro photo layout diversity.

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~Robin

P.S. I miss you!

One Dead Person Who Is Definitely On the Invite List to My Imaginary Dinner Party

30 May

Today I want to talk about someone I admire. She lived over a century ago, her name was Lydia Maria Francis Child, and she was a 19th century badass.

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Portrait from her collected letters

Most people have never heard of her but they probably know the first verse of a poem she wrote:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Knowing only that, you would probably picture her as a silly Martha Stewart-esque house wife. Cheerful, rosy cheeked, with an annoying inclination for “the way things used to be”. This picture is far from correct.

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Hale Farm and Village

I learned about Child when I did an internship at Hale Farm and Village years ago. I was encouraged to read her book The American Frugal Housewife Dedicated To Those Who Are Not Ashamed Of Economy. At first I only paged through it, unimpressed by the random list of tips for 19th century housewives. But when I finally read it properly I was grabbed by her introduction. In it she says:

“The writer has no apology to offer for this cheap little book of economical hints, except her deep conviction that such a book is needed. In this case, renown is out of the question, and ridicule is a matter of indifference.”

“The information conveyed is of a common kind; but it is such as the majority of young housekeepers do not possess, and such as they cannot obtain from cookery books. Books of this kind have usually been written for the wealthy: I have written for the poor.”

Every piece of advice in the book is intended to be one hundred percent practical. Child is practically poetical on the topics of frugality and economy, and she had little patience for frivolousness or vanity. When writing about how to maintain combs she advises:

“The jewellers afterwards polish them by rubbing them with dry rouge powder; but sifted magnesia does just as well- and if the ladies had rouge, perhaps they would, by mistake, put it upon their cheeks, instead of their combs; and thereby spoil their complexions.”

That, my friends, is nineteenth century sass.

There are even a few tips and “receipts” that are still practical, or at the very least intriguing, including one that has been all the rage on pinterest. Rather than a modern day Martha Stewart, think of her instead as the life-hacks queen of the 1830s.

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Hale Farm and Village

Of course, the majority of the book is outdated today. Very few of us need her advice for keeping butter in brine, making our own lye from ashes, or her three different preventions for lockjaw. (I like to think that if she were alive today, we would share zealous opinions on the subject of anti-vaxxers.) The America of Child’s Frugal Housewife was very different from our own, and struggling with it’s own contemporary issues. Yet, even today, her devotion to economy is still valuable. American Frugal Housewife was a great success for Child, and led her to publish other domestic manuals.

But she didn’t just publish domestic manuals. In fact, she was a prolific writer who published works in a wide variety of genres. Over her career she authored works of historical fiction, children’s literature, comparative history, political opinion, and romance. More importantly, she was a driven activist, fighting not only for women’s rights, but also for the abolition of slavery, prison reform, and against Indian removal. Certain aspects of her activism make me think that she would be right at home among modern feminists, particularly the way that she campaigned for the rights of less privileged minorities. She seemed to understand that there was a connection between white supremacy and the rights of women. That was something that other prominent feminists didn’t always get.

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Photo shamelessly plundered from Wikipedia

She gets even more badassery points because she managed to use her writing to support herself through her husband David’s rocky legal and political career, even during a period of time when he was jailed for libel.

Sure she is not without her flaws. Her style of writing, while probably entertaining for her intended audience, today seems a bit trite. Today’s women might be annoyed by how freely she issued parenting advice considering that she did not have children herself. But I admire her because she didn’t shy away from controversy, and used her talents to create positive change.

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From a letter about John Brown to Virginia Governor Henry Wise.

In a society where talking about money was borderline profanity, she saw that women with limited means couldn’t learn how to manage their households. So she wrote a book for them. She wanted children to have both constructive ways to play, and reading material that was entertaining and educational. She published several children’s books and took on an ambitious project: the first American magazine specifically for children. She saw that slavery was entrenched in American culture and scandalized polite society by writing against it, advocating for the black right to vote, even for interracial marriage. She was unapologetic about her controversial beliefs in a society that expected women to fade into the background.

And Lord help you if you ever found yourself at the receiving end of her sarcastic italics.

~Robin

From Reading Green to…. Sleeping Outside

20 May

The day April posted that she was going to take on a challenge to read harder I found myself squirming with guilt. Should I take on the same challenge? I love reading, and I should try to diversify what I read.

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To tell you the truth I feel like I already have. During our month long earth day celebration I read several books that would not have gone to on my own. For the most part, they were great. I was glad that Earth Day gave me the incentive to pick up treasures like The World Without Us, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Trash (which I thoroughly enjoyed but never got a chance to review.) Still by the time the end of April rolled around I was counting down the days until I could put the blog reading aside and finish the Magicians series and dive into Wildwood.

But there was another thing that drove me nuts all through the month of April: I was spending way too much time chained to my laptop. I wanted to get out more, but April is a busy time for me, and I’m a slow writer, so I spent the majority of my limited free time staring at a computer screen and slowly going crazy. In a few months I’m going to start taking classes for grad school, and I’m sincerely worried that it’s only going to get worse.

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Less of this….

But I just happened to wander over to Semi-Rad that day and Brendan had issued his own challenge. Spend 31 Nights between now and September sleeping outside. Quite honestly, accepting his challenge feels a bit like cheating. This challenge is genuinely impossible for people who don’t have the money or the means to get them to a park that allows camping. Not everyone has a backyard to sleep out in, or they live in areas where it’s unsafe to sleep outside. I just happen to be one of the lucky people who occasionally gets paid to sleep outside. And my backyard is a park. I’m spoiled, and it’s something of a travesty that I don’t enjoy it more often.

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So I’ll take that challenge. Even though I probably should be setting goals that are just a little bit harder, I genuinely want to do this. Because even if it only manages to drag me away from the glow of the computer screen and into the outdoors for just one night, I won’t regret it. Not even a little bit.

~Robin

P.S.
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Definitely more of this.

From Reading Green to Reading Harder

15 May

This year I decided to tackle Book Riot’s Read Harder 2015 challenge.  I’ve recently become somewhat of a devotee of Book Riot.  I love that they hold both fine literature and guilty pleasures in passably equal regard because they have such a passion for reading.  I’ve recently gotten back into that sort of reading since I began working at a public library again and their guidance has been invigorating.

Of their many favorite topics, the writers consistently return to that of diversity in literature.  Like many of them, I never paid close attention to the diversity of my reading list.  I read what I liked and that was that.  Their attention to reading diverse authors has made me interested in what my literary life was missing.  That’s part of the reason I started the Read Harder Challenge.  There are several categories that will push me to read outside of my traditional repertoire of urban fantasy, psychological horror, and whatever has the longest hold list that isn’t written by James Patterson.

One of the first books on my list was Toni Morrison’s newest, God Help The Child.  I haven’t read any Toni Morrison (a.k.a. The National Treasure) books since Beloved scarred my adolescent mind in high school.  I detested the book and decided that since 15-year-old me didn’t like Morrison, all of my future incarnations would also spurn her books.  The Book Riot team could double as a Toni Morrison cheer squad, so encouraged by their de facto praise for her, I gave her another shot.

I’m so glad I did.  This is the type of book that the Read Harder challenge was created for.  It’s the sort of book I would never pick up on my own.  Character studies are not generally my thing, but the manageable length and my spirit of adventure spurred me onward.

This is the story of Bride, a twenty-something independent career woman whose success hides the pain of her childhood.  Her mother, who could pass for white, was devastated that her daughter’s skin was dark as night.  She distanced herself from the girl, causing a chain of hurt that spreads far beyond Bride herself.  Bride, and her companion Booker, must confront the pain of their past if they want to create a future.  What’s more, they come to understand that no life is perfect, no choice is without risks, and we all live with the failures of ourselves and those that care for us.  I’m amazed that Morrison, who is in her 80s now, has such a firm grasp on the concerns of this generation.

Perhaps it is the passage of a decade and a half, or maybe it’s just the more modern storytelling in this book, but I’m willing to admit I might have been wrong about swearing off Morrison.  Thanks to the Read Harder challenge, I hope to introduce myself to other previously off-limits areas of literature.

~April

Kitchen Adventure and a Recipe

13 May

Somewhere in the middle of April my friend Grecia invited a bunch of us over to show us how to cook.

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Grecia makes amazing dishes that she learned from her grandmother who grew up in Michoacan Mexico, and we happily eat her food at potlucks while moaning in gastronomic ecstasy. But Grecia is heading to the Marin Headlands soon (lucky gal) and she was gracious enough to teach us how to make a few of these dishes before departing.

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It was a delightful afternoon of friends, laughter, and amazing food.

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This is Marya’s excited face!

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I don’t remember what was happening here, but it was apparently really funny.

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We spent forever trying several different ways to get that stupid lid off. Then Grecia swooped in and rescued us. Yep, she used her teeth.

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Marya is still excited!
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She seriously could not contain herself.

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Flautas con Salsa Verde de Aguacate or Salsa de Papa, y Queso Fresco

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Mole con Sopa de Arroz

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It was an amazing feast.

Grecia even gave me permission to share her recipe for Tamarind Water.

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I wish I had gotten a picture of the tamarinds. I had never seen one, and the bowl of them caught my attention the second I walked into the kitchen. Within a few minutes Grecia had us peeling them and turning them into a delicious sweet and refreshing beverage.

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Agua Fresca de Tamarindo
Ingredients:
2-3lbs of tamarind
Sugar
Water
Intructions: Peel tamarinds and set to soak in water (overnight
preferably). Add more water and squuuuuuezee the juice out with
your hands. Keep adding water until you have squeezed all the juice
out and the seeds are left behind. Strain the juice into a container
and add sugar to your taste. Enjoy!!

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Katie works the tamarind magic.

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Food time. Out of our way!

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Many Good Noms.

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Clean up? No problem. Mila is on it.

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Such a great afternoon.

~Robin

Karma Project: Nepal Earthquake Relief

1 May

Several years ago my friend Glen became friends with a sherpa named Karma in Nepal. Together they created the Karma Project to provide employment, healthcare, and education to Karma’s community. Last Sunday’s earthquake dramatically changed the scope of the project, and now they are using tents and other resources meant for alpine expeditions to house people who lost their homes in Kathmandu.

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Glen has organized a fundraiser to help Karma evacuate his family to a safe location and deliver supplies to the villages of Paiya and Sibuje.

The situation in Nepal is bleak and will become worse. Glen is the calmest and most level-headed person I know. I’ve seen him calmly climb things that scared the crap out of me. Last year he encountered a mountain lion on an evening run, and instead of going home and vowing never to venture out of the house again he continued jogging. The amount of worry he’s shown this past week worries me more than anything else. Any donation (even to another relief organization) would be greatly appreciated.

~Robin

Earth Day: Sharing Nature with Children

30 Apr

Read Green 6.

As I mentioned earlier, children benefit greatly from exposure to nature. If you want more information, I would recommend starting with Richard Luov’s Last Child In the Woods or The Nature Principle. But I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read either of these books cover to cover, and that’s not exactly the topic I wanted to talk about for my last Earth Day post.

Instead I’m going to assume that you already have a vested interest in sharing natural places with a child in your life, but don’t know how to get started. Maybe you are the parent of the child in question, or lead a scout or youth group. Or maybe you are the cool and/or crazy aunt or uncle who just wants to teach the little nugget to appreciate the outdoors. The good news is that you don’t need an advanced degree in ecology to create meaningful experiences for children in nature. All you really need is a healthy dose of common sense when it comes to safety and some basic knowledge of how to reduce your impact in your natural areas of choice. Once you’re armed with those, feel free to dive into these resources:

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The first, Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children is such a classic that I couldn’t help but steal it’s title for this blog post. More than thirty years after its first publication the activities in it are still pure gold, even for a generation of kids who grew up being amused by computers and video games. I challenge you to find a child under the age of eleven who doesn’t enjoy playing Camouflage, Bat and Moth, or Meet a Tree.

The activities are divided into three categories. (And in true outdoor educator form each category is named after an animal. That is how you know this book is really legit.) Bear activities are calm and often introspective, crow activities encourage observation and physical activity, and otter activities encourage playfulness.

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Another great book that uses a slightly different approach is Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. The first part of this book is geared more towards expanding the skills and perspectives of the mentor, (that’s you,) and the second half dives into activities. It is definitely intended to be more of a curriculum guide than a collection of stand alone activities but don’t let that scare you away. It also focuses more on tracking and survival skills than Cornell’s book, but includes meaningful activities about awareness and community building.

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When my friend Sal described this last book to me, I thought it was too good to be true. There was no way a book existed that connects children with natural places using outdoor activities and books. And yet it does. The book is called A Sense of Place by Daniel A. Kriesberg. While this book is definitely more geared towards teachers, I don’t think the activities are too complicated or difficult to be useful for the rest of us. Plus, if you’ve stuck with us all the way through the month of April you clearly have an interest in books and the environment; it would be kinda great if you could pass those on to the next generation.

Those are just a smattering of the resources I know and love. If you want more ideas I am happy to chat about it. Leave a comment or send us an email.

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Thanks also to everyone who read along with our annual month-long Earth Day celebration. Thanks especially to Mara for writing a guest post, commenting, and also for always being awesome. To Lisa and Rebecca for their proof-reading rescues. To Bethany and Jamie at the El Portal Library who helped me find and check out a huge mountain of books. To Sal, Rebecca, Ayla, Becky, and everyone else who told me about awesome books I should read.

<3 ~Robin

P.S.

Earth Day: A Tale of Two Upcycling Books

29 Apr

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If you want to hear Robin speak passionately for awhile, there are a few topics that are guaranteed to get her talking.

  1. Bats
  2. Music with fiddles in it
  3. Birdwatching
  4. People who incorrectly use the word “upcyle”

While it may be true that I only recall having one or two conversations about number four, I do know she is my go-to person to complain about said topic with.  That’s why this post will be formatted as though I’m addressing her.

Ahem.  Robin.  Hi.

Remember how at the beginning of the month I thought it was a good idea to review some green crafting books?  Maybe even do a couple crafts?  Well, big surprise I didn’t get to the doing part, but I don’t have to actually make anything to review a craft book.  Anyway, I pulled all the eco-craft type books out of my library.  One evening I went through them all and was mostly pretty “meh” about the whole lot of them.  Until I came to one.  God, I wish I could show you the pictures.  I think the neighbors heard me yelling at this book.

Here’s the offender:

So, I looked up Danny Seo and apparently he’s a pretty successful guy in the crafting and home dec world.  His Facebook page claims he’s a “green living expert”.  So maybe I’m missing something.  Feel free to argue, but I think you’ll agree with me.  I kind of felt bad about panning this guy until I looked at the book again.  Immediately the regret evaporated.  I remember the rant you had about Michaels selling brand new mason jars to “upcycle” with.  Pretty much every project in this book fills me with that kind of frustration.

Some of the projects are just not that great of ideas.  The main contender for that category is the Painter’s-Tape Privacy Screen.  Said screen actually upcycles old window or door frames, but then lines those with criss-crossed painter’s tape.  First off, who wants a painter’s tape covered square in their home?  It’s ugly.  Second, none of that painter’s tape is being recycled.  Now it’s no good for its intended purpose and knowing me, I’d have gotten wasted a roll and a half trying to keep it from sticking to myself.  You know that.  You’ve seen me in action.  Finally, this project could have been slightly altered to actually upcycle.  Why not use fabric strips?  That’s just one thought.  If I was writing a book that I hoped to publish I’d probably think a little harder, which he did not.

Other ideas are baffling.  For the Electronic-Cord Organizer (all these hyphens are his), you take a couple wine corks, put a pipe clamp around them and literally stick a fork in them.  You are then supposed to use this contraption to wind your electric cords around them, apparently while they are still plugged to the wall, in order to keep them out of the way.  Would you do that?  No, you wouldn’t.

But here’s my favorite one of all time….  You’re not going to believe this and just imagine me shaking the book in your face and yelling this whole next part.  There is an actual project where you take plastic water bottles, fill them with concrete, then REMOVE the plastic bottle and recycle it.  You do not paint these bottles.  You are just stuck with ugly concrete two liters.  You’re supposed to use them for door stops or some bs.  Here’s the thing though, if you just recycled the plastic bottle you would have less waste.  Now you have concrete blocks which I guess you could recycle if you knew where you could do that?  UGH

Now if I were actually talking to you, you know at this point we’re going to be flipping out about these projects and thinking we could do so much better. I would have to put the book away so I wouldn’t keep pointing at new confusing ways to go green.  Since you’re not here and I’m too worked up to come up with some solutions myself, I’d like to bring things back to the bright side of life by introducing you to a second book.

The book is eco craft by Susan Wasinger and I can already feel my blood pressure dropping as I leaf through it.  Her projects are mostly classics, like using old sweaters to knit rugs or fusing plastic bags together to make lunch bags.  Not too out there, but still useful, interesting and actually upcycled.  Even though her creativity as far as techniques leaves something to be desired, her simple instructions and minimal use of new supplies makes this an excellent green crafting book.

Oh, I forgot she had this one… It’s a privacy screen, just like Seo’s except she uses those plastic six-pack can holders instead of painter’s tape.  I’m still suspicious that it would look good in person, but yes, Susan, that is an actual upcycle.

I feel bad going on so much about the book I don’t like and so little about the one I do, but looking through eco craft makes me want to actually go make something.  So I’m going to go do that.  Or at least think about it.

It was nice talking to you.  This Earth Day blogging thing is always more fun than I think it will be.

~ April

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