LADWP customers — go green!

I found when I signed up for paperless bills for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that I can request that between 20 – 100% of my power come from green sources for a mere three cents more per kilowatt hour. According to their 2011 report, 19% of LADWP is now generated from renewable sources such as biomass, geothermal, solar and wind. I urge you to sign up for this program. If you don’t live in L.A., check your local energy provider to see if this is an option. I had no idea!

A random check shows this is an option if you get power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and you can also do it if you live in Baltimore. Or use Mass Megawatts if you’re in New England. Apparently, the market has been deregulated and you can actually shop around for potentially cheaper and greener energy options. So what’s stopping you?


Can I recycle this?

I recently had to own up to the fact that the padded base of my Swiffer had deteriorated to the point of uselessness. Though I’ve spent countless hours and gone down many a metaphorical dark alley trying to replace and repair inexpensive household items — including spending several hours attempting to track down a replacement motor for my hairdryer before ultimately crying uncle — even I realized this was a lost cause. And since I could think of no immediate use for a discarded Swiffer, I considered the possibility of recycling it. It appeared to be made of two recyclable materials, aluminum and plastic, so why not?

Here’s the thing, though: the aluminum and plastic parts are welded together, and not at all easy to separate, and I know mixed materials like that are generally a no-no in the recycling world. But am I sure? As with most complex recycling questions, not really.

Figuring out what can and cannot be recycled can be an onerous task. First off, while you might know that your city (in this case, L.A.) recycles five basic categories of material — paper, cartons, metals, glass, and plastics– you might not know what every single thing you’re looking to toss is made from. In addition, each municipality has its own subset of rules, and there is no national, state, or even countywide standard.

I did run across this slideshow from the L.A. Times that might answer some of your more vexing questions and breaks the answers down by municipality. There were a few surprises, like car seats, which, while manufactured from multiple materials (generally a problem for recycling) are accepted by the city of Los Angeles, though not Long Beach, Glendale, or Santa Monica. CDs and DVDs, which L.A. and Glendale accept, are not taken in Manhattan Beach, Burbank or Riverside.

Hope that helps give you a starting point for your recycling questions. If you get really stuck, contact your local municipal recycling program, or post in the comments, and I’ll try to look into it for you.

Non-thrifty thrifting: what not to buy at a thrift store

I am a big believer in providing economic incentives for socially beneficial behavior. Charging a dime for one-time use bags? Great idea. Subsidizing solar? I’m all for it. The fact is, very few people are going to be willing to take it on the chin for the greater good, even if their hearts are in the right place, and you certainly can’t depend on pure goodwill for widespread change. So while I think buying used provides a social and environmental benefit to society, it’s unrealistic to expect most people to do it if they aren’t also getting something out of it, i.e., a good deal. And friends, some items in thrift stores are not good deals.

I know thrift store shopping varies considerably throughout the U.S., so please note this advice is based on the shopping available in very upscale Santa Monica, California. Extrapolate as you will to your local market.

Worst thrift store deals:

1. T-shirts

At my local Goodwill, all short-sleeved shirts, including t-shirts, are priced identically, at $4.99. While you might get lucky and find a fancyish short-sleeved shirt from a well-known designer on the rack (never out of the question in a wealthy zip code like this one,) the majority of shirts are more like this worn-out pink number originally from Old Navy. If I may anthropomorphize for a moment, it looks sad, ike it lost its job or is going through a bad breakup.













Meanwhile, a few blocks away at TJ Maxx, this fetching little shirt awaits you for a mere dollar more. Sassy!











2. Drinking Glasses

I have seen the occasional high-quality houseware item to be had at a good price. For the most part, though, thrift stores are reselling ordinary items that were cheaply made in the first place. These mundane glasses are priced at  $1.99 apiece.






Meanwhile, at my local TJ Maxx, you can get six similar glasses for $7.99, or only $1.25 each!








3. Shoes

Even I, a person who is not squeamish about purchasing a gently-worn item, have only successfully bought two pairs of used shoes in my entire life, and they were both vintage pairs in very good condition that would paralyze you with envy if you saw them. Given that the majority of the world shares or exceeds my disgust at the process of slipping on someone’s castoff footwear, how can any reasonable person be expected to purchase a pair at my local Goodwill, considering the outrageous cost? The average pair of shoes I found — mostly from fairly generic mall stores, like Steve Madden, were $14.99 used.


Only two blocks away, at my local discount shoe store, you can buy a brand new pair of Steve Madden shoes for 60% off of 109.99, or about $44.00. Sure, that’s three times as much as the used ones, but given that (a) shoe styles change a lot more than drinking glasses or t-shirts, and (b) used shoes are at least a bit off-putting, it’s not nearly enough of a bargain for the average person. Especially since, if you take a dip down in quality, you can easily get a used pair of shoes in the discount rack for $15.00 — a far preferable option for most people.






Next up: what you should buy at the thrift store.

Bake it Before It Goes Bad

Need some additional tools to help you avoid food waste? Check out  Christine Schoenwald’s new blog, Bake it Before It Goes Bad, featuring recipes for food she has on hand she’s trying to use up. Get in on the ground floor with her banana pineapple cake. And thanks for the reminder that bananas can be frozen and used later in smoothies!

Komputers 4 R Kids: An Interview

DonateWebPicComputers, especially ones not in good working order, can be fairly difficult to get rid of. But don’t rush to assume your only option is to bring them in to your city’s local electronics recycling program — they may still have some useful life left. If you live in southern California, consider donating your used electronics to Komputers 4 R Kids in Cerritos. Since they do repair work on the premises, they’ll take computers in non-working condition. James Watson of Komputers 4 R Kids tells us all about it below.

1. Can you describe the basic mission of Komputers 4 R Kids?

Our mission is to help children acquire the technology and skills they need to succeed in the future by providing equitable access to resources.

The Komputers 4 R Kids program offers hands-on experience for information technology students and provides computers for kids who are underserved as a result of economic, language and cultural barriers. It also prevents E-waste in our local communities.

2. How do you find the kids who you teach computer repair to? Does everyone who volunteers for eighty hours get a computer in exchange for their labor?

We have established relationships with computer user groups, several unified school districts, regional occupational programs, adult schools, and several colleges and universities with electronics programs.  Some students come of their own accord, some receive credits, and some even get paid through different programs.  We have no shortage of interns and volunteers.

Everyone who puts in eighty hours of volunteer time will receive a PC.

3. How do you determine who receives the repaired computers (the ones that are not given to the kids volunteering)?

A recipient must either show that they are receiving government assistance (Cal Works, food stamps, welfare, children on the reduced lunch program etc.) or that they meet the federal poverty guidelines. Proof of income can be shown through W-2s or a paycheck stub. A photo ID is also required.

HomePageComputers are limited to one per household and cost $160.00. You will receive: a computer, keyboard, mouse, and flat screen LCD Monitor. (Sorry, no laptops.)

All computers are internet-ready and come preloaded with Windows 7, Office 2007, and an anti-virus suite.  It’s an awesome machine for surfing the ‘net and doing homework.

4. What types of electronics do you always have a need for? What do people typically offer you that you can’t use?

We accept all (working or not) TVs, circuit cards, cabling, computer monitors, computers, printers, computer peripherals, copiers, fax machines, DVD players, radios, and stereos.

5. Do you know of other organizations like yours located elsewhere in the country?

Free Geek in Portland, Oregon and Computers for Classrooms in Chico, California.

6. Anything you’d like to add?

Several two or three minute long videos are available on the Komputers 4 R Kids web site which give a more detailed description of the program.

Stuff I Learned From Reading StillTasty

800px-Fusilli_pastaPasta can be good for three years after purchase.

You should store your bread on the counter, not in the frig.

You eat frozen chicken two years after you put it in the freezer, even though it might taste yucky.

You can freeze eggs for up to a year.

You can put bananas in the refrigerator, once ripened, to keep them good longer.

Putting saran wrap over an open container of ice cream stops those nasty crystals from developing.

Some oils should be refrigerated and some should be stored at room temperature, and you no longer have to wonder which are which.

You can freeze butter and milk.

Is this still good?

IMAG0144You know that thing when you’ve got old food in the refrigerator and you’re not sure if it’s good, so you poke it or smell it and compare to the expiration date and eat it anyway/throw it out in a panic? Or maybe you’re like me, and sometimes when you’re really not sure if something’s good, you feel too guilty to chuck it, so you put it back for a few more days until it’s definitely past its prime and then throw it out. Worst option of them all. 

The last thing I want is for you to eat food that makes you sick. However, after spending a month in Mexico about ten years ago in which I had no refrigeration and it was crazy hot all the time, I learned that food is a lot hardier than the world would have you believe. You can leave eggs unrefrigerated in the heat for a week, cook them, eat them — and you know what happens? Nothing. You’ve just enjoyed a delicious omelette and you’re 100% fine.

If you want to know the real deal about how long food lasts, you can check this WebMD article (eggs are good for up to 5 weeks after you get them) or Eatbydate which lists items individually. It also breaks down the code of ‘best before’ ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ dates, reminding the less staunch of heart that these dates generally signify the quality of food and not the safety. They also have great suggestions about how to deal with food that’s just about to go bad. If you’ve got a bunch of slightly oldish apples, for example,  you can cook them in a pan for ten minutes, add some cinnamon, and you’ve got yourself a tasty side dish.

Another thing I like to do when I have one weird ingredient I don’t know what to do with is go to and type in the ingredient I’m trying to use up. A lot of times you have something that might not be quite good enough to eat raw but is fine in its cooked form, like some droopy broccoli or mushy bananas. You might find a delicious new dish you make over and over again this way!


Candle Craftiness

I am not a crafty person. I’m not handy, I have no discernible fix-it skills, and if the working world required a basic level of depth perception or mechanical skill, I would be out on government-sponsored disability. So when I do anything remotely crafty I am (a) super proud of myself, because the bar has been set so low and (b) you can be absolutely sure that if I can do it, you can, too!

If you’re like me, you occasionally roll through Bed Bath and Beyond or the Container Store and eye the various organizing receptacles with admiration and annoyance at  why you’d have to pay north of ten bucks for a piece of plastic to put cotton swabs in. I was on the hunt for something to put a few cotton balls in when I realized that my almost used up candle would be just the ticket!

It’s one of those nice slightly opaque glass ones, and I was able to pry out the remaining wax in a minute or two, washed it out, and was good to go. Plus, as an added bonus, it smells faintly of fig. Mmmmmm.


Crafty and Living in L.A.?

IMAG0126I had several bags of stuffing (for pillows and such) that I didn’t need, and in my efforts to find someone to take them off my hands, I stumbled across the ReDiscover Center right down the street from me. They have a warehouse full of reusable materials they make crafts and electronics from, and have classes as well as open nights of freeform craftiness for kids and adults!


The materials on hand range from cardboard tubes to rug samples to tiles, and they are pretty open about accepting donations that could be used in a crafty way. Stop by if you’re in the area!IMAG0124

P.S. If you have any leather, they have an upcoming workshop and could really use some donations.

Nancy’s Train Tips

IMAG0102There was a time, before the advent of commercial air travel, when the train was regarded as an incredibly efficient and pleasant means of getting from one place to another. You’d sleep in a well-appointed room for a few days, read a trashy novel, meet Cary Grant (or possibly, if you were less fortunate, Bing Crosby) in the dining car and have yourself a time. Now taking the train over any distance is seen as a quirky, non-viable option for most people, though if you are going from one obscure point (Alpine, Texas) to another (New Iberia, Louisiana) it it may still be your most convenient travel option.

What about for city slickers within driving distance of an airline hub? If you’ve got a little extra time, I put forth that the long-distance train might not be a bad choice. You can sightsee! It’s relaxing! You can get up and walk around at will! And I’m not going to pressure you, but it is way less taxing on the environment than taking a big old jet.*

As a veteran of many train trips, from interstate ones to those that go clear across the US of A, I can offer you some tips to make your journey more pleasant:

1. Remember that your train trip is not just a means to an end; it is part of your vacation itself. If you’re going to get all Type A about how long it’s taking and constantly clock how far behind schedule you are, you are just going to drive yourself batty. It’s like complaining your horse-drawn carriage around Central Park is ten minutes behind schedule. Feel that gentle rocking? Isn’t that nice? Now go get yourself a glass of wine and a deck of cards.

2. Bring lots of ones and fives. They’re good for tipping in the dining car, and 521392_10200211057023438_1630528697_nalways appreciated at the snack counter.

3. Bring a variety of entertainment options. You’ll find yourself daydreaming and staring out the window a lot, which is a perfect use of your train time. However, take it from someone who has gone from LA to Boston on the train multiple times: you’re going to need more entertainment than lollygagging will provide, and there’s nothing like finding yourself stuck with a collection of Busby Berkeley musicals and discovering you’re in the mood for a crime drama. I bring podcasts, TV series, books, writing projects…and I will generally only use a few of the many options available to me. I love knowing I have options, though.

4. Chat people up. The dining car is the best place to make the acquaintance of new compatriots, since group seating is compulsory, but time isn’t a particularly rare commodity on the long-distance train, and you may find an opportunity for conversation in the observation or lounge car. I can’t say as I’ve made any lifelong friends in this manner, but what other opportunity do I have to meet a stay-at-home Mom from rural Mississippi or a friendly Mennonite?

IMAG00915. Relax. It’s rare that you are in a position where you can have absolutely nothing to do. Embrace the chance to let your mind wander. You might have a revelation that changes your life!

4. Give in to the will of the train. No one is less of a morning person than I am. However, breakfast starts at 5:30 or 6:00 and often ends shortly after 8:00 — and, friends, I am a fan of pancakes. Besides, once they’ve started those announcements over the loudspeaker there’s no sleeping, anyway.

I hope you’ll give long-distance train travel a shot, if only once, for the sheer novelty. You might have a nice trip for a change. And who ever says that about a plane ride?

*the only reason I can justify having this post on my environmental blog