Saturday, June 23, 2007

'nother bag

Here's my latest plastic bag bag. For this one I used heavier plastic, and had to go up to a size P hook from an M. This is the project that scratched up my hook. :( Can you guess where the bags came from? I have enough loops cut to do probably one more bag, and then it is on to the heavier department store bags, and a new method that a little bird told me about. I'll post about that sometime in the future if it proves successful. :)

Call me Cinderella.....

I have never been what you would call a slave to fashion. I have always been the most comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, but recently I started feeling really schlubby (is that a word) in my normal outfit. However, I felt great in skirts or dresses. As I rarely find anything I like in a store, I set out to make some. I have always felt that I was born in the wrong point in history, so I started looking for vintage or vintage-styled patterns. That is when I discovered that Vogue is releasing reprints of historical patterns in _modern_ sizes. No more trying to guess what size you are in a vintage pattern. Also, most of their vintage patterns are from the 1950s, one of my favorite fashion time periods. I purchased several styles that I liked, on sale of course, and have made one of them so far. It is Vintage Vogue pattern V2902, and I LOVE it. I must say that it was a challenge for me to make, since I still consider myself a somewhat novice seamstress, and it was my first fully lined dress, first zipper installed (I always had my mom's help on these before), and it involved a lot of hand sewing, which I don't particularly care for. But, it turned out great and it is so much fun to wear. The dress is cotton chintz (I think, the bolt wasn't labeled) that was about $3/yard and has a bit of stiffness to it, so it stands out nicely without a petticoat, and the lining is muslin. I found out the hard way to prewash your muslin - the bottom of the lining shrunk about 2 inches the first time I washed it.

The second pattern line that I've found and LOVE is Folkwear Patterns. Again, they are vintage patterns sized to modern standards, and they are printed on butcher paper. So much better than the tissue paper! I have several of their patterns (purchased uncut from eBay), and have made pattern number 235, Sporty Forties' Dress. It also has a sweater pattern to knit, but alas, I only know how to crochet. So far, anyway. This is a lovely shirtwaist dress that uses a minimum amount of fabric (WWII rationing) but still looks great and is a very flattering cut. I made the short-sleeved version out of a light taupey calico with a white print (yes, you can use it for clothes), and found some great shell buttons for about $2 a package of 12. In case you are wondering, I shop at JoAnn's - it is the closest fabric store to me. I also learned a new technique, French seams, from the Folkwear pattern. I'd highly recommend learning this if you worry about fraying seams.

I was asked by my Mom earlier this year as to what I would like for my birthday, and I replied a gift card for JoAnn's so I could get the supplies for a project. Well, Mom really came through and I was able to get material and notions for 3 dresses. Yippee! With what I already have on hand I should have a fine dress wardrobe for many years to come. Have I mentioned that I still wear shirts I had in junior high? I wear stuff until there is no wear left in it, so these dresses will last me a long while. My next dress, which I will be cutting out today, will also be a Sporty Forties' Dress, this time in a really cute pink floral cotton that a friend gave me (she found it for $1 a yard and bought the whole bolt, made herself and her daughter a dress, gave me enough for mine, and still had some left over that she is making into a rag rug - quite a buy!). She is also the one who brought over her dress form so I could take these swell pictures. :) Thanks Glenda! Hopefully I'll have the pink dress done next week, and I'll post pictures then. After that one, I'll be making 2 of the Folkwear pattern # 121, Guatemalan Gabacha, one in a yellow calico and one in a nifty blue floral on a cream background. I also have the fabric to make Vintage Vogue #2903, in a purple cotton print, but I'm going to need an extra set of hands for that one, so I don't know when I'll get to that one. I've definitely got the sewing bug right now!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What I'm doing now to reduce my impact

I've instituted several changes in our household over the past year to save energy, and this ties in to the current Riot for Austerity: 90% Reduction Challenge. In the past year we have:
  • installed an outdoor clothes dryer (the old umbrella style) and use it almost exclusively for drying our laundry
  • switched our kitchen spotlights, kitchen ceiling fan lights, and one bathroom's light fixture to CFL bulbs
  • signed up for a time-of-use plan with our electric company
  • turned off unnecessary items during our peak hours of noon-7pm
  • washed dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher
  • Freecycled some unused items
  • I've also tried to be more conscious of where our food comes from, try to reduce our food miles where possible, and make more items from scratch.
Since the 90% Reduction Challenge started June 1st, I have been concentrating on reducing our phantom energy use. I plan on taking this project in stages, first concentrating on electricity, then water, then food. I will also be working on lowering our consumption of consumer goods throughout the project. I must confess that I fell off the dishwashing wagon and used the dishwasher for nearly a month when I was feeling yucky with sinus troubles. How easy it is to fall back on old habits when we are feeling down. But, I've gotten back to it and enjoy clean dishes the old-fashioned way again. I have also used my solar oven for the first time (see the post below), and hope I can make it a regular occurance. So, here are the things that I have done since the challenge started:
  • raised the thermostat to 85F during the day and 82F at night
  • turn off my computer with the outlet strip
  • unplugged the washing machine and dryer when not in use
  • unplugged the percolator when not in use
  • used my solar oven to prepare a meal
Next on my list of energy-use projects is to open up the water heater and make sure it is set at the right temperature (I can't believe you have to open up the panels on the darned thing to do this) and purchase some outlet strips with individual switches for our electronic devices. I'm also going to do some experimentation to find the optimal settings on my refrigerator and freezer.
Our municipal recycling program doesn't accept glass, but there are several drop-offs throughout the city, so I am going to designate a box in the garage for glass recycling and drop off when it is full. I also want to do this for batteries.
I'm also putting in a garden this year, but I'm in a planting black hole until mid-July, so I'll be posting more on that as I get stuff planted.
So, that's where I stand right now. I'll be posting more as I complete more projects.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Update on Electricity Baseline

OK. I had asked the question in the comments of the 90% FAQ over at Simple Living about converting the standard heating energy numbers to kWh for those of us with all-electric homes. John was kind enough to reply, with the end result being the following: "So, if you wanted to follow standard energy practice, an all electric househould would get 1000 therms x 29.3 / 3 = 9767 kWh added to their alottment (natural gas is more efficient for heat) for heating purposes." Given that number we would be allowed 20,767 kWh annually as the current US average, so a 90% reduction would be 2,076.7 kWh annually, or 173.06 kWh per month. This puts us currently at 65.26% of the national average, which is much less daunting than 123%. :)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Riot for Austerity: 90% Reduction Challenge Baselines

I've been trying to reduce our expenses over the last year or so, and being frugal is also usually good for the environment. My focus now is on more of an environmental bent, but saving money will be good, too. For those of you who don’t know, it has been recommended that we reduce our personal carbon emissions to 10% of the current US averages to avoid the worst effects of global warming. That means a 90% reduction in what we use in order to ensure that future generations have a decent planet on which to live. A 90% reduction may sound extreme, but it is necessary, and any amount that we can reduce now will have a great effect on the future. I know I'll be learning a lot of new skills with this project, and I’m looking forward to it. If you want to look at the rules for this challenge and the US averages, go here: (The text below in italics was copied from that site.) There is also a Yahoo group set up for those of us participating in this challenge ( ) OK, now for our baselines:

1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR.

The last 12 months we used about 500 gallons. I don't drive at all (I'm beyond quirky and on Mars), and my husband commutes to work. We are at 33% of the national average for a household of 3 for personal usage. However, my son gets bussed to preschool, and for the 2007-2008 school year, he will be responsible for approximately 33 gallons of fuel. He will be able to walk to school once he starts kindergarten in the fall of 2008.

2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH

The last 12 months we used 13,552 kwh, which puts us at 123.2% of the national average. We have an all-electric home and since we live in the desert we use our A/C a good 5 months of the year. Since last October, our usage has been declining compared to the previous year, with last month being the greatest reduction at 27.61%. Thank you clothesline! I am concentrating on getting our phantom use down and will be using my solar oven extensively this summer. We also installed ceiling fans in the main living areas since last summer, and have raised the thermostat to 85 during the day and 82 at night. That seems to be helping a great deal.

3. Heating and cooking energy. N/A we use electricity.

4. Garbage - the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.

I don't know how to calculate this, as I don't have a scale. We don't put out nearly as much as all of our neighbors. We can probably go 3 weeks without having either the recycling or garbage picked up, by can volume any way. We recycle all we can, and I try to reuse what can't be recycled if I can. I will be working on reducing packaging that comes into the house this year.

5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.

We currently use 67 gallons/person/ day, so we are at 67% of the national average. I'll be working on reducing our time in the shower and try to get better at the mellow yellow rule, as well as getting my husband on board with that. I'll be irrigating my garden this year, so I really have no idea what that will do to my overall water usage.

6. Consumer goods. The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc… Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR

I'd say we are at the average, and I really want to reduce this amount. We buy way too much crap.

7. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here’s the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.

#1 is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY* (or mostly - it doesn’t have to be certified, but should be low input, because chemical fertilizers produce nitrous oxide which is a major greenhouse contributor). Local means within 100 miles to me. This includes all produce, grains, beans, and meats and dairy products that are mostly either *GRASSFED* or produced with *HOME GROWN OR LOCALLY GROWN, ORGANIC FEED.* That is, chicken meat produced with GM corn from IOWA in Florida is not local. A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST 70% of your diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more. I also include locally produced things like soap in this category, if most of the ingredients are local.

#2 is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to calculate, because Americans spend very little on these things (except coffee) and whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet. These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk, tea loose, by the pound, rather than in little bags), this would also include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.

# 3 is Wet goods - conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

I really don't have any numbers on this. I want to buy local and organic, but it is difficult here. The real farmer's markets are shutting down for the summer, and when they are open, the closest one is probably over 20 miles away. We have a local grocery
chain that has "farmer's market" in their name, but a lot of their produce is imported from Mexico (which is almost in my "local" area). At the moment, I'm just trying to keep us fed, and try to buy only products that come from this country. Hopefully I can start
harvesting from my garden in late summer, and our diet will improve. I have found a ranch only 45 minutes away that has free-range beef, and a friend and I are planning on buying a quarter of beef this fall. We do have a local dairy and egg company, but I think all of their animals are commercially raised. (I just found out yesterday that a local dairy company is just breaking into the organic market. Yippee! Local AND organic!) I'm trying to reduce the amount of meat in our diet, but when we do have it, I would like to have it raised in an organic and humane way. I recently read "Omnivore's Dilemma" and it has really changed the way I look at our food supply. Scary.

I doubt that I will hit the 90% mark on anything, but I'm going to do the best I can with what I have and what I know. I think that's the best any of us can do. It doesn't have to be all or nothing and perfect; anything we do to reduce our impact is a blessing to us and
our planet. Good luck everybody!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Solar Cooking

I bought a Global Sun Oven off of eBay a few months ago, but had never used it. I stuck it outside last week to test it out and see how hot it would get. It got up to 350F! So I finally got brave and decided to make a meal. Wednesday I made tuna casserole and cooked it in the Sun Oven. I decided on that because all of the ingredients, except the peas, are already cooked, and I figured I'd have less a chance to kill us all with food poisoning if I screwed something up. Anyway, it all went well. I left it out for about 2 hours in the late afternoon sun, had to move it across the yard once when the shadow from the house moved over it, and the oven was still at about 200F when I took the casserole out. It was hot and yummy! It got a thumbs up from my husband and my son was eating it two-fisted, so I'll assume he liked it. And cooking with the sun assures that we will eat supper before 10pm (does this ever happen to you?). My next adventure will be bread. I'll let you know how that goes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Plastic Bag Crochet Project

OK, you know the pile of plastic grocery and shopping bags that we all accumulate? (Ever wonder if they actually start breeding after a while? I do.) Well, about a year ago, I was searching the web for what to do with all of these darn things, and I came across plastic bag crochet. You can crochet with grocery bags? The hell you say! Yes, indeed, you can. So, I started saving my bags and sorting them by color (I'm nuts, I know, and I accept that). A few months ago I finally decided to tackle the project and pulled out my trusty rotary cutter and mat and set to work cutting the bags into strips....until I also cut the heck out of my finger. I then took a break in the project until I could acquire a Klutz cut-resistant glove (made by Fons and Porter, highly recommend it if you are a klutz like me ;) ). Then with my hand protected I could finish the cutting portion and set to the real work. If you want instructions on how to make the "yarn", see this site: I made my totes using her plastic bag tote patterns ( and ), but I have also used a lot of her other patterns as well. Thanks Marlo! So, here are the finished bags I have so far, and I'm so proud of them! (I've included a close up of the mostly red bag - my husband loves that one because it reminds him of imitation crab meat.) The plastic of regular grocery bags is really easy to work with - the heavier department store bags are another story. I'm working on a bag now with the heavier plastic, and my nice shiny plastic hook is all scratched up. :( A helpful hint: don't mix different weights of plastic, or your bag (particularly the round ones) will get all wonky. Once I run out of regular bags, I'm going to try the plastic that disposable training pants come in, toilet paper packs (the large ones you get from Costco), and other miscellaneous packaging. I'll let you all know how it goes, since I know you will all be sitting on the edge of your seats until then. (insert cricket noise here) I have been using the finished bags when I go grocery shopping, and the checkout people and baggers are always amazed by them. Next I need to figure out how to make produce bags. I'm thinking Lion Brand organic cotton or maybe muslin. Anybody have any patterns to share?

Is this thing on?

OK, so I never thought I'd be doing this, but I need some place to keep track of my many projects. I'm going to be posting about my progress in the Riot for Austerity 90% Reduction Challenge, my garden, my craft and sewing projects, my everyday gripes, and just about anything else I can think of to talk about. Hence the blog title - it will be a little bit of everything. So, if someone is reading this, leave a comment to let me know I'm not just talking to myself. :)