This Wedding Brought to You By….BLARRRRGHHHRRAWWRR!!!

Imagine you step in to the most beautiful wedding reception you’d ever seen… and at the front of the hall, you see a sign:

Thanks for coming! This wedding has been brought to you by….

– cheap labor from China! I got SUCH a deal on this dress thanks to those nice people over there working in conditions that have been illegal in the US since before our grandparents were born! YAY!

– South American flower plantations! Nothing says “I heart nature” like two thousand dollars worth of orchids soaked in pesticides, farmed by people who probably live in squalor, and shipped to the US in an airplane, then a truck, then a car. Fair trade? What does that mean?!

– Half a forest! Didn’t you just love your outer envelope, inner envelope, pocket fold, random piece of shiny tissue paper, response card, response card envelope, registry card, directions card, and other random pieces of shiny tissue paper? Oh, and don’t forget to take a program, a new napkin with each drink and hors d’oeuvres, a pack of tissues just in case you get a little emo, and your fancy cardstock seat assignment!

– Half a barrel of oil, fresh from the Middle East.  You didn’t think we’d pass up the opportunity to ride in style, did you? Wooooo-hoooo stretch Hummer limos!

– Enough wasted food to feed 200 people who are actually going hungry!  Don’t like salad? Well that’s okay, its going to be put in front of you anyway, and then in a few minutes someone will come by and throw it in the trash for you. No probs.

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Feeling awesome yet?

I know as I write this that I’m going to get a lot of shit for it. Women get VERY defensive about weddings. I’ve been engaged since June, and reading wedding websites and blogs has been an eye opening experience as to the depths of the obsession with “our big day”.   This obsession ranges from choosing bridesmaids dresses without any regard for how they make their friends feel about their bodies (or their budgets), to racking up obscene amounts of credit card debt, to paying absolutely no attention to the amount of waste that “special day” will produce.

Where did this come from?  I have photographs of my grandparents weddings and my fiance’s grandparents’ weddings.  Both of our father’s parents wed around WWII. Our grandmothers are wearing gray skirt suits.  Our mother’s parents wed in the 50s in simple white dresses at simple church ceremonies.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we can have a little more fun with it these days… but the “its my special day and I can do whatever the Hell I want” attitude is permeating and ridiculous and I have to wonder how, when, and why it came about.

I hope this isn’t coming off as judgmental on my part, because if it is – let me be clear – I’ve gotten sucked in to it too to a certain extent.  I decided that my wedding would be the only excuse I’d ever have in life to own a pair of Jimmy Choos. So I bought them.

… and subsequently felt guilty and shallow and returned them, but found them used on eBay for less than half the price instead.

I’m also in a constant battle between remaining true to myself and remaining true to the budget we agreed on.  This is causing major trouble when it comes to flowers. I like flowers. They’re pretty. Florist bills, however, are not pretty. Neither are pesticides and the lack of fair trade options in the floral industry.

After calling and emailing over a dozen florists in my area, the cheapest quote I’ve received for fair trade (or US grown) flowers is a minimum of $1000, but based on the number of guests, likely closer to $2000. The only other option that is eco, human, and budget friendly are the fair trade flowers you can order from Costco. The choices there are extremely limited – red roses, or white roses.  Not what I had in mind, but, this is one of those moments where I can decide to be Bride Amanda, or just Amanda.

I obviously have not updated this blog in a long time. I’m in grad school full time, so this was put aside but not forgotten about.  There are 938298348477383823 different wedding blogs out there, most of which feature incredibly expensive and glamorous weddings that, aside from winning the lottery and a lot of cosmetic surgery, are not realistic for me. Many others focus on budget weddings, but often fail to acknowledge the reasons why certain things are so affordable. I don’t know that there is a niche for a dirty hippie with grad student loans bride, so I’m debating whether or not I should start keeping the blog again to share my challenges with finding a happy place between wanting to host a classy, elegant, fun wedding – and remaining true to my values of considering the environment, considering humanity, and living within our means.  Knowing how sensitive and defensive women are about this, I am a bit worried about offending people with that I might write here… so please rest assured, if I bash a certain element of the typical wedding or wedding planning process, it is not directed at a bride herself, but at the industry and the culture surrounding weddings that pressure us (myself included) to set so many important things aside in the name of pretending we’re princesses for a day…  when it’s actually supposed to be about marriage.

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Wastefully Yours

So it turns out quitting your job after 3 years and transitioning to graduate school while maintaining an active social life, taking care of two cats, and getting a normal amount of sleep results in not having a lot of free time to update a blog.   Sorry if I’ve left any of you dangling in suspense, but somehow I doubt thats the case.  Its been a hot sunny summer, and I hope people have been enjoying it by spending time outside.

Speaking of the heat, a  steamy summer is incomplete without iced coffee. For a hahhhdcoah New Englandah like me, Dunkin Donuts is the way to go.  So it does not make me very happy to admit that of all the coffee shops in the area, Dunkins is the only one that consistently uses styrofoam cups for iced coffee.  Worst of all,  its styrofoam cups with plastic cups inside. Why do you need two cups for one drink? I do not know… but this is the result:

First of all, don’t litter on the T.  Seriously folks. If you’re old enough to ride the train by yourself, you’re old enough to know where trash goes, and its not on the seat.  There are also trash bins all over every single T station I’ve ever been in. I wish they’d start fining people for being pigs.  I almost said something to the woman who left this cup, along with her Metro, but she was too busy saying “HELLO? HELLO?” in to her cell phone… in an underground T station.  A+ at life!

Secondly, styrofoam? Really? Almost every other fast-food chain has eliminated or at least cut way down on styrofoam containers.  But summer in Boston means plastic cups inside styrofoam cups ALL over.  The DD’s I go to at North Station automatically doubled up the cups, and I’d have to give back the styrofoam one. Other places don’t do it automatically, but I see people asking for it. WHY?!?!  Can someone explain this to me please?  Is it because the plastic cups get wet on the outside?  Okay, use a napkin?  Or one of those sleeves that are made out of recycled cardboard.   The double cup thing is the epitome of wasteful.   There’s just no reason to create twice as much garbage as you need to. More importantly, the plastic is recyclable. The styrofoam is not.  MOST importantly, littering is gross. You learned that in pre-school.

Now, I’m loving our new apartment, and I don’t blame them for this as I realize the phone company distributes these… but… when is the last time you actually used a phone book?

Here we have about four dozen phone books individually wrapped in plastic. First they sat outside for about a week, and it didn’t appear that any were taken. Then they sat in a plastic mail bin in the doorway for over a week, and no one took them. After that, they were dumped on the floor under the mailboxes where they sat for a few weeks, and then vanished all at once, presumably to the trash.   I do realize there may be some people out there who don’t have the interwebz and still rely on a phone book to find the nearest cheap Chinese delivery instead of Yelp or MenuPages, but considering most people my age don’t even have land lines anymore, it really doesn’t make sense to make so many phone books.  And why do they need to be individually wrapped in plastic?  They may as well pack them in styrofoam boxes too.

The main point here is that no one needs to go to extremes to be more eco friendly.   I’m pretty sure our lives would not be adversely affected if our iced coffees only came with one cup, and a simple call to phone company would get you a free phone book.   Find a  fine line between knitting your own organic clothes, living off of water and seeds – and being that lady on the train yelling and littering.  It can’t be that hard to do.  🙂

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How to be a clean dirty hippie

Have you ever glanced in the mirror to check your hair and thought to yourself, boy, I could really use some Isostearamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate, Ricinoleamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate, Citric Acid, Glycerin, Sodium Styrene/Acrylates/Divinylbenzene Copolymer, Ammonium nonoxonyl4-Sulfate, Methylparaben, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Sodium Chloride, FD&C Yellow 5,F&DC RED 4, and a bunch of other combinations of letters pretending to be words?

I know I certainly have.  Because that would be the average bottle of 4 dollar brand name shampoo.  Nonoxonyl 9 is a manmade chemical spermicide which can also kill the HIV virus. Nonoxonyl 4 might be 9’s little brother, but still, does that REALLY need to be in my hair?  And are all the dyes really necessary? Does shampoo clean your hair more effectively if it comes out of the bottle in a pretty color?

Michael and I have started shopping for shower products by finding the bottles with the fewest amount of ingredients and the fewest amount of nonsense words.  This is also true of cleaning sprays, dish soap, etc.  I know the epic awesomeness that is Trader Joes has not reached all 50 states yet, but for those of you lucky enough to have one nearby,  making the switch to organic and earth friendly cleaning products isn’t nearly as expensive as one might think.

1. Renpure Organics – Shampoo and Conditioner – no dyes, preservatives…or spermicide. A few nonsense words, but also lots of nice simple things like “pomegranate”, “green tea”, and “sunflower oil”.  All ingredients are certified organic.   Regular price is 6.99, but I’ve already found it twice in the last 3 weeks on a “buy one get one free” special – once at Whole Foods, and once at Walgreen’s.

2. Shikai body wash.  This stuff is great. Its 2 dollars per bottle cheaper at Trader Joe’s than at Whole Foods (5 vs. 7 for a bottle).  I love the cucumber melon and gardenia scents.  100% organic, no dyes, no parabens.  It doesn’t come with fancy light refracting sparkles or “moisture ribbons” or any of the other ridiculous marketing gimmicks you see advertised on most body wash products, but guess what?   I don’t need my body wash to do tricks.  It cleans skin, and it smells nice.  End of story.

3. The Marcal “Small Steps” line.  No more excuses about earth friendly products costing more. The Small Steps toilet paper, tissue, and paper towels are made of 100% recycled paper, and are all the same price or cheaper than non-recycled brands like Bounty or Kleenex.   Its pretty basic stuff, so you won’t see a smiling animated bear wiping his ass or a golden retriever puppy snuggle with this toilet paper on TV any time soon, but really, can you survive without hammocks for your puppy out of your toilet paper?  Or walking around the forest caressing your face with it?   Its for your butt. It doesn’t need to be made out of clouds or quilts or angel hairs soaked in aloe.   Seriously, save money AND trees. I promise you will survive.

Not pictured (because cleaning products aren’t as fun to look at as puppies and bears frolicking in toilet paper):   7th Generation and Simple Green cleaning products (kitchen wipes, cleaning spray, dish soap, glass cleaner, and carpet cleaner).  All available at Target, sometimes on sale.  The 7th Generation products tend to be a bit pricier than the common brands, but not expensive enough to noticeably change our monthly expenses.  They smell less chemically (the all purpose spray smells like orange, and the 7th Generation wipes smell like lemon) and I feel better about not using harsh chemicals and bleach on surfaces the cats frequent.

Give just a few of these products a try, maybe just start by replacing one product at a time,  and you’re well on your way to being a CLEAN hippie – no sandalwood, pachouli, or birkenstocks involved!

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Before and Afters – Round 1

Well, we did it!!  We are moved in and (mostly) unpacked.  Many thanks to Stephen, Mike D, and my parents for helping us move with only a half day UHaul rental – no big trucks or movers, and as few trips back and forth as we could manage.

We still have a bit of furnishing and decorating to do, but I figured it was worth posting what we’ve done so far.

Living room before:

After…

the Buddha carving isn’t staying on the floor – we just haven’t figured out the perfect wall space for him yet.

More living room/breakfast bar:

Kitchen:

Not a whole lot we could do with the kitchen, but it needed some color.  Michael suggested blue light bulbs… I didn’t really think that was a good idea, so we compromised, and his man room is now decked out with blue LEDs (thanks, Ikea)

Master bathroom:

After!

and the most important addition:

More to come next week, but for now, I have to focus on studying for my midterms instead of decorating.

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This DIY stuff could get dangerous…

In the alternate universe where I have tons of money, my bedroom would look like this, only with an exposed brick wall instead of concrete:

…but in reality, Michael would probably hate it, Shep would destroy the very expensive bedspread, and red wine would be spilled on that white carpet within a month.  Also… more than one pillow might be a good idea.

So back to reality, where Michael and I are moving TOMORROW!!!  We have a very nice queen size memory foam mattress sitting on the plain old 20 dollar metal frame. Which is fine, I guess, I mean, it’s not like its ugly – its just not much of anything.  I’ve been scanning craigslist off an on for an actual bed, but haven’t found anything worth buying.

Then it occurred to me that all we really need is a headboard. We already have the frame, and really, what is the point of a footboard?

After having a pretty good experience with table making…  could I make a headboard with recycled wood?   Could that be more complicated than making the table, other than the measurements needing to be more precise?

Here are a few ideas I might run by Dad and the nice folks at Longleaf to see how DIY-able they are.

Obviously my version would be on a much smaller scale than these, and I’m certainly not planning on covering our apartment walls with floor to ceiling wood, but using a similar look, I wonder if I could just make a simple headboard that would lean against the wall with the bed frame we already have pushed up against it.

Opinions anyone??

This weekend’s challenges:

– Figuring out to move the most stuff in the fewest number of gas-wasting trips.  Michael is moving from Brighton, I’m moving from Andover, the apartment is in Melrose, and we’ve got a family reunion in Methuen to get to.

– Another DIY project: moving 3 couches, a queen size bed, and a 50 inch flat screen from a 3rd floor walk up, with no professional/paid movers or equipment (but great friends and a cheap Uhaul!)

– Trying to convince the boyfriend that buying brand new cardboard boxes from Uhaul is wasteful (financially and environmentally) and just plain silly.   He didn’t like the idea of going to ask for boxes at the grocery store, and I was too busy this week to do it for him.  Waste averted thanks to my mom, though, who brought boxes home from her work.

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From a barn to my apartment – the story of a plank of wood

A few weeks ago, my friend Catherine and I visited Longleaf Lumber in Cambridge.   While their speciality is flooring, their website had a lot of neat random antique wood items.  I decided it was worth a look.

I’ve been oogling the reclaimed wood tables I’ve seen on Etsy and Viva Terra, but they are all well beyond my price range. I’ve also been laughing at stores like Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn that sell “antiquED” wood tables – rather than actually using restored or reclaimed wood, they take new wood and beat it with chains to make it LOOK old.  This seems very silly considering the amount of ACTUAL antique wood that is available, but oh well – it’s over priced regardless.

Since my dad is pretty handy and told me he’d be willing to help, I decided it was worth trying to make my own table. Even if it came out horrible, my parents could use it for storage in the basement or on the deck, and I’d have a better understanding of why furniture like that costs so much.

When Catherine and I walked in to Longleaf, looking pretty clueless, the woman at the front desk immediately asked us if we needed help, and listened patiently while I tried my best (in very non-experty fashion) to explain what I was looking for.   She took us to a huge barn filled with more random pieces of lumber than I could have imagined.  While most of it was WAY too big for my project (mostly for flooring, beams, and larger construction projects), it was still neat to look around and consider all of the history stacked up and sorted by size and wood type.  There were pieces of barns, beams of old houses and factories, flooring and pews from old churches, and pilings from old docks, including lumber from the Charlestown Navy Yard.

I probably could have wandered around there aimlessly for a while just looking at everything, but the woman helping us had quickly found a few pieces that might work for my reclaimed wood table.  I decided on an inch thick piece of cherry, originally from a barn (I’m guessing the barn floor, based on the thickness and gouge marks on it).  I never would have found it if she hadn’t been helping us,  especially since I didn’t really know what to look for.

When we went back in to the office to pay (only 40 dollars, by the way!), I spotted a box of old shoe lasts from a factory in Lawrence.  Since my great grandmother worked in a shoe factory in Lawrence, I thought that was pretty cool – so I got one (for 1 dollar).  They were also selling cutting boards made from old church pews, with half of the sale price (10 dollars) donated to a food pantry, so I got one of those too.

Catherine was kind enough to model them for me, and also helped me put the wood plank in my car:

After purchasing 4 very simple legs at Ikea for 10 dollars each, and some sand paper for 8 dollars,  then waiting for a weekend that my dad and I were both around, it was time to try making a table:

First we had to saw off a little over a foot – partly because the plank was too long, but also because it had a pretty big crack on one end. My dad did the sawing because…well… if the power saw was in my hands, I could ruin a lot more than an old plank of wood.

Then we brought it outside to meet the power sander.  Dad helped, but I did some of this on my own.  The first few passes with the sander removed a cloud of dirt, then the color of the wood started to change and the gouge marks faded.

After sanding for 15 minutes or so, I wiped it off and brought it back in to the basement for the clear polyurethane coat.  My parents had some leftover from an older project, but it happened to be water based – which I would have bought if we didn’t already have some.  Though it requires more coats than oil based, and doesn’t protect quite as well against spills on the wood, it is far less toxic, easier to clean up after, dries faster, and is biodegradable.

After this coat dried, we sanded it lightly, and applied the second and final coat.  If I wanted it to be really glossy and better protected, we could have done a 3rd or even 4th coat, but I wanted this to look more natural and a little rustic.

Next,  the part I thought would be easy turned out to be the hardest part, and if I didn’t have my dad to help, I would have ended up very frustrated with a very lopsided table.  One thing I hadn’t considered about the very old wood – it was a little bit bowed.  Not enough to be visible by looking at the plank alone, but when we were lining up the legs, it was pretty damn obvious.  I didn’t take pictures of the process of making the legs even, because I don’t think Dad would have found that helpful.  🙂

Not counting letting it dry for an hour between each coat,  it took less than two hours and just about 100 dollars to make this table.  I could be biased, but I love it!!  In a few days, it will be in the new place!

So if you can’t afford the expensive version, and you know someone handy with a power saw, give it a try!

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BamBOO?

Remember the smell on your hands during the frog/fetal pig/cat dissection in 10th grade bio?

Formaldehyde is a very old and very common fixative, and one quick glance through the wikipedia page reveals that it is used in far more products than most of us are probably aware of.  While it may not be the most horrible substance in the world,  it certainly doesn’t coincide with those happy “Eco-Friendly!” labels on practically every bamboo product out there.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you have noticed the bamboo trend in everything from flooring to clothing.  As someone who loves trees (and Asian inspired decor), I jumped right on this bandwagon. Unlike woods from trees,  harvesting bamboo does not involve cutting down 50 year old trees and throwing away the bark.  Technically, bamboo is a grass. Like grass, it can grow pretty much anywhere without the help of pesticides and fertilizers, and if you pull one blade out of the massive web of roots, another blade will pop up in its place almost overnight.  Some species of bamboo mature in 5 years, and can grow more than 2 feet in a 24 hour period.   Because of its size, rapid growth, and some other sciencey stuff I won’t get in to, bamboo also releases more oxygen than trees.

If you think about the impact of harvesting enough trees from a rainforest to floor a home, versus harvesting enough bamboo to floor a home, it is clear that bamboo has a significant environmentally friendly edge (and it looks awesome too).  The same goes for any product that can be made with bamboo instead of hardwood – like those cutting boards and utensil trays that are sold pretty much everywhere right now (and they are usually priced nicely, too).

But according to EcoVillageGreen and several other sources I found, “while the growth and cultivation of bamboo is very much organic, the manufacturing process that converts it from woody plant to end product is definitely not green. For flooring, for example, bamboo goes through a complex process ranging from steaming under pressure to kiln drying to hot pressing, all of which are very energy-intensive.  Additionally, some grades of bamboo flooring use formaldehyde adhesives of unknown quantity.”

This is a bit of a dilemma!  While using bamboo products removes that mental image I get of a monkey coming home from a hard day at work to find his tree has been cut down to make a floor in a yuppie mansion, I really don’t relish the idea of eating off of something that could be fixed with a chemical that can preserve dead tissue for decades and smells like the cat I had to cut apart in my high school bio lab.   In terms of eco-friendliness, it still seems that bamboo beats wood in a cage match, but be on the lookout for products that are labeled “formaldehyde free”, especially something in large quantities like flooring or something you’ll prepare food with (I’m giving my bamboo sauce spoon a suspicious glare right now).    My homework now will be to check out the bamboo kitchen accessory section at HomeGoods and see how many, if any, of the products are labeled “formaldehyde free”.   I also emailed the Etsy store I purchased the little sushi plates from to see if they know one way or the other.

The other increasingly common use of bamboo is in textiles – clothes, rugs, robes, towels, etc.  It feels amazingly soft, is usually priced reasonably, and like the bamboo “wood” products, is often labeled “eco friendly”.   It turns out though, this is not often the case. Bamboo fabric is far less environmentally friendly than the other form because of the steps required to turn a wood-like grass in to a silky fabric.   I found a description of the treatment process here, quoted in part:

  • Bamboo leaves and the soft, inner pith from the hard bamboo trunk are extracted and crushed;
  • The crushed bamboo cellulose is soaked in a solution of 15% to 20% sodium hydroxide at a temperature between 20 degrees C to 25 degrees C for one to three hours to form alkali cellulose;
  • The bamboo alkali cellulose is then pressed to remove any excess sodium hydroxide solution. The alkali cellulose is crashed by a grinder and left to dry for 24 hours;
  • Roughly a third as much carbon disulfide is added to the bamboo alkali cellulose to sulfurize the compound causing it to jell;
  • Any remaining carbon disulfide is removed by evaporation due to decompression and cellulose sodium xanthogenate is the result;
  • A diluted solution of sodium hydroxide is added to the cellulose sodium xanthogenate dissolving it to create a viscose solution consisting of about 5% sodium hydroxide and 7% to 15% bamboo fiber cellulose.
  • The viscose bamboo cellulose is forced through spinneret nozzles into a large container of a diluted sulfuric acid solution which hardens the viscose bamboo cellulose sodium xanthogenate and reconverts it to cellulose bamboo fiber threads which are spun into bamboo fiber yarns to be woven into reconstructed and regenerated bamboo fabric.
  • I’m no scientist,  but very little of that process is natural, and I have a hard time believing any of those chemicals are remotely eco friendly.   Another dilemma – because cotton goes through the same process to become rayon, but requires pesticides to grow, which bamboo does not.

    So what to make of the set of beautiful, soft, affordable, and 100% bamboo towels I ordered from Viva Terra last month?   There is no information on the website or on the tags regarding the manufacturing process – it just says “100% pure bamboo fiber”.  That might mean it was manufactured using the more expensive and less common non-chemical method – I certainly hope so, considering Viva Terra’s eco friendly promises, but it doesn’t seem likely I could find out for sure.  One company that has promised eco-friendly bamboo textiles is Gaiam – but no bamboo towels there.

    I guess the takeaway message here is that unless you floor your home with only natural tile and dry yourself off from the shower with leaves, you are going to buy products that would normally be made with wood or cotton.  As an alternative, many of the same things can be purchased in bamboo form with a decreased environmental impact, but not quite a negligible one.  Hopefully as bamboo maintains popularity and more consumers demand to know how their products are made, fewer and fewer chemicals will be involved in the process.

    Save some for the pandas though, because they are a lot cuter than humans, and they knew bamboo was awesome long before we did.

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