Friday, May 30, 2008

Green Friday: Why I bother

“Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.” (Michael Pollen, “Why Bother?” New York Times, April 20, 2008).

Do you ever feel like there’s not much point in trying to live in an environmentally responsible way, given the enormity of the problems the world faces and the billions of people who don’t seem to care?

And do you get confused by conflicting opinions on whether you should buy an energy-efficient fridge now to replace your still working energy-guzzler or wait until the old monster has died? (If anybody knows the answer this question, please let me know.)

Does trying to figure out if locally grown but not organic produce is better than imported organic produce make you want to throw up your hands in despair, grab a bag of additive-laden cookies, and collapse in front of the TV?

Even I, who was steeped from a very young age in the belief that if I add my little effort to your little effort, then eventually we can change the world, have days when I feel like this.

I mentioned somewhere on this blog that my husband and I have tried to live in an environmentally responsible way for much longer than it’s been trendy (we’re not very trendy people)—not because we were better than anyone else, but because during our ridiculous number of years at university, we were more aware of the issues than people in the real world. Plus it was cheaper and we were broke.

Some people thought we were freaks (in fact, some members of my family still call me a freak. Hi, Mike! Love you!). But we didn’t much care. We tried to live in a way that felt right to us.

My mom has a list posted in her cupboard that I wrote for her about 20 years ago on things she could do to have less impact on the environment. I was reading it the other day and I realized that some of the things that people used to think were weird or downright wrong, like putting your purchases in your own bag instead of a plastic one, are now mainstream.

I know people who don’t believe that global warming is caused by humans. They say it’s a natural fluctuation. That may be. But even if it is, it’s not a valid reason for not trying to live in a less harmful way. We’ve been aware of environmental degradation since long before global warming became a household concept. Smog alert days, PCBs in the breast milk of women in the Arctic, diminishing resources, overflowing garbage dumps, constant exposure to all sorts of cancer-causing agents—these issues have been around for decades.

To me, it’s not about being on a bandwagon or trying to save the world by myself. It’s about living in a way that’s in sync with my values. I make some choices, like not coloring my rapidly graying hair (which is still in desperate need of a cut—obviously the progress I made during “Enough procrastination, already!” month is wearing off), based on environmental concerns. Other people make other choices. A lot do less than I do and a lot do much, much more.

My efforts alone are not going to save the polar bears or the rainforests. But if I do what I can and you do what you can and my neighbor does what she can and your uncle does what he can, well then, this poor earth—and our descendents—will be better off than if we all did nothing.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What I love about hands-free phones

I don't have a hands-free phone. In fact, I use my cell phone only a couple of times a week, for coordinating with my husband how two adults with two cars can have two children in three places at one time without a time machine. And, thank goodness, I'm not so very important that I can justify walking around with a phone in my ear all the time. But there is something I love about hands-free phones.

My monkey mind has lots of conversations with people who aren't actually with me at the time. And I compose a lot of stuff in my head--blog entries, email to Hayley, things I want to write (and promptly forget as soon as I have time to sit down at my computer), reports to clients. And sometimes I get so involved with these words in my head that my mouth moves. And being a person of gestures, I might even move my hands.

It used to be that if you saw someone talking to herself, your first thought might be that she was a bit loopy.

"Look, Daddy, that lady in the car next to us is talking to herself. Does that mean she's crazy?"

If she had young kids with her and you were a parent yourself, you might have sympathetically postulated that she'd spent the morning singing "Baby Beluga" 421 times and was so desperate for adult conversation that she'd resorted to talking to the voices in her head.

But now, if you see someone talking to herself, you're likely to assume that you just can't see the phone she's talking on--especially if she's like me, in desperate need of a haircut and with so much hair that I could have phones in both ears and be wearing several pairs of big hoop earrings and no one could see them.

So now, thanks to modern technology, I can talk to myself without embarrassement. If I wanted to, I could even speak out loud and people would just think I'm monopolizing a phone conversation. Instead of worrying that I've chaperoned one elementary-school field trip too many and gone off the deep end, people just assume I'm on the phone.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday #14--What's around the bend?

Yesterday my 16-year-old cousin was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

I, like everyone, have lost loved ones in my grandparents' and parents' generations to a variety of causes. It's devastating to lose anyone you love, no matter what their age and the circumstances.

I've lost friends and family in my own generation to illness and accidents. It's scary and tragic when someone close to your own age dies.

But this is the generation below me, the generation that's still made up of kids--kids who should be spending the coming summer hanging out and having fun, not fighting cancer or watching one of their own fight cancer. This is just plain wrong.

Because they help me with my volunteer work for Chemo Angels and because we've recently lost someone to cancer, my kids are more aware of this disease than many. But this is the first time it's so close to home, someone they know well. This is their boisterous cousin who is so full of life and energy that she can hardly contain it, a talented artist who draws pictures for my daughter and hands down clothes to her--someone who was fine when she was my daughter's age and fine when she was my son's age, but is not fine now.

Last night my almost-13-year-old son and I had a late-night talk, and I explained the phrase carpe diem to him. We talked about how important it is to really live your life--to not put off the things you long to do or the things you have to do--because you never know what's around the bend.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's see

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Improg word: Monkey

I've just noticed that this is my 20th improg post, which means that Hayley and I are about two thirds of the way through our original words. If you'd like to participate in our improg project by suggesting words or improgging yourself (c'mon, Margerie, I know you're wanting to!), let us know.

If this were any other week, I would have groaned after pulling the word monkey out of Hayley’s envelope of improg words. But just yesterday I stumbled across a new blog, iHanna's Creative Space. On Hanna’s “About Me” page was a phrase that made me stop in my tracks: monkey mind. I’d never heard this phrase before, but I was pretty sure I knew exactly what it meant and I immediately Googled it.

Well, my guess was right and—here’s more evidence that I live under a rock—it seems that lots of people already know about it. It’s from the Buddhist analogy comparing a cluttered, chattery, unfocused mind to either (a) a monkey swinging from tree to tree, unable to stay in one spot for long, or (b) a room full of noisy monkeys. Both analogies work for me.

Plans for the future, memories of the past, relived conversations, conversations I’ve never even had, shopping lists, to-do lists, self-recrimination, other people’s criticism, ideas for projects and writing, snappy comebacks I couldn’t think of when I needed them, panic over all that I’m behind on—all of this is going through my mind all the time. Being in my head is like walking through the primate section of the zoo.

I’m largely unaware of the noise or of the tension it causes until something makes it stop. Then I get that sense of ear-ringing relief that comes after leaving a very loud place, like a rock concert, a three-day camp with 13 Brownies, or any social occasion involving a group of almost-teenagers.

One place in which the noise stops is my favorite park. I don’t know why my mind calms down in this particular park. It’s a beautiful spot, with water and trees and trails, but hundreds of parks in this area are beautiful spots with water, trees, and trails. I used to go to this one sometimes the first time I lived here, but my memories of it aren’t particularly quiet ones. In fact, they’re decidedly fuzzy and involve things like sitting on a dock with friends, drinking rum out of paper cups with Ronald McDonald’s picture on them and singing “American Pie” loudly and off-key.

But for whatever reason, when I go to this park, the monkeys get very quiet. It doesn’t matter how awful I feel when I pull into the parking lot, whether I’ve just had an argument with someone or I’m teetering on the edge of the Black Hole of Depression, how much work is waiting for me, or how loudly my clients, my children, or my mother are clamoring for attention. I step out into air and light that seem somehow different and it all stops. For a few minutes I can hear the ringing echo of the voices and I become aware of the tension I’ve been carrying around. And then my head enters the same time zone as the rest of my body and I understand what people mean by “living in the now.”

The other calm, although not quiet, place for me is my belly dancing class. Moving my bottom half in one direction at one speed while moving my top half in another direction at another speed—sometimes while balancing a cane on my head—is all my pea brain can cope with at one time, so everything else just has to stop. Although it sounds kind of funny, belly dancing class was a sanctuary last year when my cousin was dying of cancer. The heavy sadness was there even during class, but for one hour a week my mind could let go of the worry and the stress.

So now I’m looking for more ways to bring the noise down to a healthier and more manageable level. Do you have a monkey mind? What helps you to calm it?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

As we saw it

Earlier today I went to a rummage sale at a church near here, where one of my husband’s best childhood friends got married almost 13 years ago. The bride was a beautiful, exotic, South American girl several years younger than me. We were so happy for them—and relieved, too, that this old friend had chosen someone we truly liked (isn’t it awful when your friends choose someone you can’t stand?).

Child One was about eight weeks old and the wedding was his first big social do. At the time we lived in another town and had to make an overnight trip. What a production that was! We had gone from being a couple who could throw a couple of toothbrushes into a backpack and hop on a motorcycle, to being parents. This baby—who, because he had been premature, was still pretty small—required enough stuff to fill our car from top to bottom. (As a more seasoned parent, I now realize that we only thought he required that much stuff.)

The worst part of it for me wasn’t the worry of travelling with a baby. It was figuring out what I was going to wear to the damn wedding. I was in that awkward stage—my skinny clothes were too small (as they have forever remained), but my maternity clothes were too big. I hadn’t bought anything new, what with being busy learning how to be a mom several weeks before I’d expected to. So I went to the wedding feeling about as frumpy as it is possible to feel, in a long skirt with an elastic waistband and a top through which, I was sure, everyone could see the outline of my nursing pads, with leaky boobs the size of watermelons, circles under my eyes, and hair in desperate need of a cut (hey, those last two are still true today!).

Our friends had a storybook church wedding, in stark contrast to our own backyard wedding, an occasion so dysfunctional that for years my husband and I couldn’t look at the photos without cringing at the stress they brought up. The bride was surrounded by other gorgeous, young women and a big, loving family. The reception was crowded with unmarried, well-dressed people who had slept well the night before, or, if they hadn’t, it certainly wasn’t because they’d been up all night acting as a milk cow. As we walked among these beautiful people with our baby in his little homemade overalls and our god-awful ugly diaper bag, I wanted to disappear into the floor.

Years later I told the bride about how inadequate I had felt that day. And then she told me about how inadequate she had felt about a year later, when she and her husband had come to our town for a visit. She was newly pregnant. There I was, in our own house (a tiny, old, falling-down house, mind you, but our own house), overly educated, making baby food and baby clothes, an experienced mom. Unbeknownst to me, the image of me scooping puréed squash into ice cube trays intimidated her for years. She saw me as some kind of homeowning, supersmart supermom—a real parent.

Really, we’re our own worst enemies sometimes. I felt inferior to her because (as I saw it) she was younger than me, more beautiful than me, more interesting than me. She felt inferior to me because (as she saw it) I was older than her, more of an adult than her, a perfect mom (Ha! Double ha!).

As I stood in the church parking lot today, I wished I could go back almost 13 years and tell that tired and frumpy-feeling new mom that no one would remember what she was wore to the wedding that day or what she looked like (really, when you’re carrying a newish baby wearing overalls printed with cute giraffes, is anybody even looking at you anyway?). Over the years I have been to numerous gatherings with the families of both the bride and the groom and not once have I been greeted with "Oh, you're the one who wore that awful skirt and top to the wedding. I remember that I could clearly see the outline of your nursing pads." I would tell her that the beautiful young bride, once she became a mom herself, would be just as worn out and feel just as inadequate. And I would tell her that she and the beautiful young bride would still be friends so many years later.

Now that we’ve both been mothers for over a decade, with two kids each, the age difference between us means nothing. Nor does the difference in our education, whether we used cloth or disposable diapers, what we look like, or whether we own or rent our homes. The fact that we’ve shared this experience in the parenting trenches, that our husbands have been close friends for almost 35 years, that our children have been friends for all of their lives and will be for years to come, that the two of us can laugh over how we used to see each other and ourselves—these are the things that are important.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Green Friday--Saving water one bucket at a time

Now that gardening season is upon us, I’ve placed a bucket in the shower to catch the water that would normally go down the drain while the hot water makes its rather slow journey from the water heater to the bathroom. I have a smaller bucket that I use while waiting for water to wash my face. When you multiply these bits of water by four people, it adds up to a lot.

In this blog I tend to complain loud and long that I live in a place with precipitation on an average of 154.5 days a year. So it might seem ridiculous to you that I would try to conserve water. But there’s no point in wasting something just because you have a lot of it and, believe it or not, even here in the temperate rainforest we do have dry spells and summer watering restrictions.

Plus I grew up in California where, it seems, I was permanently affected by the drought of 1976–1977. And lately, as we’ve been watching Frontier House on DVD and I’ve been reading Little House on the Prairie to Child Two, I have apparently been infected with that pioneer waste-not-want-not mentality.

I’m sure that my neighbors must wonder what the heck I’m doing sloshing around the already wet yard (sometimes in the rain even!) with my big red bucket of water. Several spots in our yard don’t get watered by the rain because they’re protected by the eaves or by the branches of the ginormous trees that surround us, so I use my bucket water on them.

A bonus of this scheme is that my haphazard watering habits have improved tremendously. In the typical scenario, I say to myself, “It looks like today will be one of those 154.5 days with precipitation, so why bother watering?” but it doesn’t actually rain and the poor bean plants shrivel. Or I forget about the umbrella effect of the trees. Or I put “water the garden” on my mental to-do list again and again and again while the Shasta daisies topple over with heat exhaustion.

While it appears that I’m normally incapable of getting off my butt to go fill up the watering can or turn on the sprinkler, hauling a bucket of water out of the bathroom and into the yard doesn’t seem to be any trouble at all. And, if it happens to be one of the 210.5 days without precipitation, my red bucket reminds me to water the rest of the yard while I’m out there.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


My good friend Hayley, breast cancer survivor extraordinaire, recently met a woman named Heidi Marble, an eight-year survivor of inflammatory breast cancer. Heidi has established a registered charity called Buttons-n-Dollars to raise money to help under- and uninsured breast cancer patients with their treatment. Using donated buttons and costume jewellery, she turns broken mannequins into works of art, which she then sells or leases.

If you have costume jewellery or buttons that you're not using, please consider sending them to Heidi to help her continue her great work. You know all those mismatched earrings in the back of your jewellery box? And how about your overflowing button box? Declutter your drawers (or for those of us with a teeny tiny craft supply addiction, make room for more) and help Heidi at the same time!

To learn more about Heidi, her book Waiting for Wings, and her art and to find out how you can help, visit her Undone website. Her shipping address is

Heidi Marble
25017 NE 188th Court
Battle Ground, WA 98604

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #13--Wishes

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's see

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Improg word: Order

My improg, and blogging in general, has been pre-empted lately by work, driving people here and there, illness, work, three and a half days of sunshine (three and a half days!), work, gardening, volunteering, work, general disorganization, the dreaded grocery shopping, and work.

There are a few different approaches I could take to today’s word. If you’re one of the three people who read this blog regularly, you know I’m trying to get my life in order, but since I’ve been failing miserably at that lately (see above), I’ll pretend that this approach didn’t occur to me and move right on.

I used to be a waitress, so I took a lot of orders, screwed some up, and even dropped a few. I’m a mom, so I give a lot of orders, too. And at times I’d love to have a wooden gavel so I could bang on the kitchen table and shout “Order! Order in the house!” and threaten any disorderly family members or cats with a stint in the clinker. Finally, there's the burning question of why, being such an overly educated person and trained as a librarian to boot, I have to sing the ABCs every time I put things in alphabetical order.

But instead I did a little research on something I’ve wondered about for years. You know how they say that your birth order can have a big impact on your personality? Well, I’m not sure just how this fits my crazy upbringing.

Originally, I was the younger of two, with a brother four and half years older than me. Then my dad remarried, so from the age of 10, I was the second youngest of six (although I didn’t live with these siblings). When I was 11, my brother moved to our dad’s and then I was like an only child at my mom’s (my main home). But much of the time I had to be more of an adult than a child in that relationship.

Three years later, my mom and I moved. Every summer I travelled 1000 miles to spend two months at my dad’s, where my younger stepsister was the only child still at home. While I’m a year older than she is, we were so much younger than the others that we were always treated like a matched pair. We hated this (and, often, each other) when we were younger, but in our case the adage about absence making the heart grow fonder was true. Although I sometimes obnoxiously lorded it over her that I was the older one, really it was like having a sister who was my own age but looked nothing like me.

So I’ve been the youngest, a middle child, the oldest, and an only. According to the stereotypes, I should have every personality characteristic under the sun. I should be extraverted, introverted, responsible, lazy, high achieving, low achieving, a conformist, a rebel, dependent, independent, able to get along with everyone, and unable to relate to others. No wonder I’m so confused.

I think some experts would count my family of origin as the most important one. According to an article in Time, my brother should be the favorite child. He should also be smarter than me and more likely to pursue higher education, thanks at least in part to the fact that he had a younger sibling to mentor. Does (unsuccessfully) trying to teach someone to burp the alphabet count as mentoring?

I, as the younger one, should rebel against his success and be more of a “loose cannon,” “less educated,” and “likelier to live [an] exhilarating life.” Obviously, my family never read this article, because this is not how we turned out. When I rebelled, it certainly wasn’t against my brother (in fact, he often contributed to my delinquency). He went straight to the real world; I spent a ridiculous number of years in university. And in my life, crossing five things of my to-do list in one day is about as exhilarating as it gets.

It’s a toss up as to which of us is smarter, but I can tell you this: I am definitely the favorite. So there.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Green Friday: Buried in junk mail, part 3--Direct mail

As I said a couple of weeks ago, stopping the flow of unaddressed junk mail here in Canada is easy. It’s the addressed stuff that is harder to deal with.

Charity appeals pose a real problem for me. Although I realize that organizations rely on them for fundraising, the number I receive is ridiculous. I saved them all over a two-month period and ended up with a stack several inches high. It’s time for charities to look for innovative ways to get their fundraising message out, instead of blindly mailing out envelopes stuffed full paper.

The ones that really annoy me are organizations that I already donate to asking me for more, more, more. Our public television station is a prime example. I’m more than happy to support them and every year I donate what I feel we can afford. But no sooner have I renewed my membership than I’m getting special appeals from them, and they start bugging me to renew several months before I need to.

And then there are the junk faxes. Not only are these marketers wasting paper, they’re wasting my paper.

There are some steps you can take to reduce the flow of direct junk mail. The Direct Marketing Association in the U.S. and the Canadian Marketing Association both offer “do not contact” lists. The American organization offers several options. In Canada, registering means that you will not be added to any new contact lists (mail, fax, or phone) for a period of three years. Opinion varies on how effective these are. (The CMA is not letting me link directly to their registration page, but you can get there through the "Do Not Contact Service" button on the right side of their home page.)

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse gives more tips for those in the States to reduce all kinds of junk mail.

In addition to registering with the Canadian Marketing Association, I’m trying to systematically deal with all of those offers and appeals. First, I’m cancelling store loyalty cards that I don’t use on a regular basis. I actually started doing this when I realized that I was carrying about 54 pounds of these cards in my purse, and I decided that getting a free greeting card at Hallmark or a $5 coupon at a shoe store once a year was not worth having lopsided shoulders at the age of 60.

Whenever I get mail from the stores whose cards I’ve kept, I look for a way to contact them to ask that they not send me any special offers. I don’t use these offers. Sometimes they make it out to my car or into my wallet, but 99% of the time they languish there. I’ve accepted the fact that, for me, these coupons are a waste of paper and my limited brain space, so I don’t want them anymore. I’ve been surprised to find that most stores do have a way to opt out of receiving these offers. You may need a magnifying glass, though, because they’re written in teeny tiny print.

I’ve also started favoring those charities that don’t sell or trade their mailing lists, or at least allow me to tell them not to pass my name along. Some, like the World Wildlife Fund, let you choose how much mail you receive from them. This makes so much sense. If I know I can give only once a year, let me tell you this so you won’t waste your money and a whole bunch of paper trying to get more out of me. Some are also moving to email for their newsletters.

If you have any tips for stemming the flood of junk mail, please let me know!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #12--Watching the world walk by

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's see

Monday, May 12, 2008

Well, that explains a lot

My crummy mood lately is probably due in part to the weather. According to the Vancouver Sun, we are going through the coldest spring since 1972 (a record-setter I don't remember because I was very wisely living in a warm and sunny place then).

My heart is longing for capris, t-shirts, and sandals, but I'm still swaddled in jeans, sweaters, and socks.

My heart is longing to open the windows and let in the sound of birds singing, but I'm still listening to the hum of the furnace.

My heart is longing to have enough natural light to take pictures inside (imagine!), but my camera is still asking for the flash outside on most days.

My heart is longing to take unencumbered walks in the sun, but I'm still juggling my camera, an umbrella, and tissues for my cold-induced runny nose, and my shutter-button finger is, more often than not, numb.

Things are improving. The boots, big coats, and snow clothes have been put away. My kids and I have pretty much recovered from Ugly Winter-Hand Syndrome. Flowers are blooming. It was light out after 8:00 last night. The gardening season officially opens this weekend, which means that, theoretically anyway, we're past the threat of frost.

And we're supposed to have at least two warm days in a row, starting on Thursday. Two whole days in a row! Not one, but two. Maybe even three, according to the extended forecast. Not tease-you-in-the-morning-with-a-bit-of-sun-but-then-cloud-over-and-start-raining-by-noon days. Whole days! I can't wait. I'm trying to figure out how I can spend every minute of those days outside.

On Wednesday night you'll find me at the back of my closet, digging out the flip-flops and t-shirts that haven't seen the light of day since last summer. That weather forecast better be right.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Green Friday: Seed starters

I’m going to take a break from junk mail this week. The sun is shining today (although it’s not close to warm yet—where is spring this year? My flip-flops would like to know) and my thoughts are turning more and more to gardening.

I’m not a knowledgeable gardener, despite the rather large library of gardening books I have, and I tend to garden more by accident and procrastination than by design. But the accidental successes I have are enough to keep me going—that and the fact that if I don’t, our forest will slowly but surely take over our yard and I’ll never see the sun again.

I’ve never been completely successful with starting plants from seed, due in part to my haphazard watering habits. But I’d like to master it because, in addition to being cheaper, it seems that it must be more environmentally friendly than buying pots of seedlings: no new plastic pots being made and thrown away, no truckloads of plants being transported. (Also, I have some craft projects in mind for empty seed packets so I have some extra motivation to plant seeds.)

This year I’ve decided to buy as few new plants as possible. Every year I divide my mature perennials in the seemingly impossible attempt to fill up this big garden of mine. In the past few weeks I’ve gone to a couple of plant sales put on by public gardens and clubs, where the plants are divided or started from cuttings and planted in reused pots (I also discovered that one of the gardens here will gladly take used plastic pots—bonus, since so many of them don’t have recycling numbers on the bottom and can’t go in the city pickup). And I’ve renewed my determination to get some little seeds to grow.

A couple of weeks ago, Child Two and I made 90-something of these seed-starting pots from toilet paper tubes.

I first saw the instructions in the February/March issue of Mother Earth News, and since then I’ve run across them on the internet too. We planted them up with a variety of flower and vegetable seeds and put them in our little greenhouse cart on the deck. It’s not an ideal place for them, but because of the Most Horrible Plant Slayer who lurks in our house, we can’t start them inside. They wouldn’t dare ever pop their first leaves out of the dirt for fear of having them chomped right off. When the planting season officially starts on the Victoria Day weekend, we can plant the pots right into the ground.

I would love to hear your tips for environmentally friendly gardening!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #11--Hiding in the daffodils

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's see

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Improg word: Orange

I don’t have a lot of time for an improg entry this week. I’ve got four big work projects on the go, plus my regular chauffeur duties; two track meets; a year-end planning meeting; dance, music, and art classes; a shift in the school library; and a “quick” visit for tea with my mom and a friend of hers tomorrow that I know will turn into an all-day thing. And some of these take place at the same time, which means I also have to get my time machine working so I can be in three places at once.

The upshot of all this is that I have about 100 hours’ worth of work sitting on my desk and only about 20 hours this week to make some headway into it. I just can’t spend an hour pondering over a word, even if it is something fun like yodel or stapler.

Fortunately, I picked a fairly visual word today: orange. I was never too fond of orange until recently. Because I grew up in the 70s, orange was inextricably linked in my mind with brown and green, together forming ghastly upholstery patterns. And it reminded me of fall, when the leaves turn color and the dreaded winter looms.

I don’t have a favorite color—being fickle like I am, with a short attention span, I have a different “favorite” every day, depending on my mood and the weather. On any given day, it might be yellow or blue or red or purple or even green. But orange never even made it into the cycle

Then I accidentally painted my office orange. I know what you're thinking ("What a twit!"), but it was easier than you might think to do something like that. The paint chip clearly showed a Tuscan gold—classy and calm. I pictured myself working in an environment that would make Martha Stewart proud—ordered, coordinated, just the kind of place to write and edit works of great wisdom. Once on the walls, though, the paint revealed its true nature—not classy or calm at all, but a riotous California-poppy orange.

Once I got over the initial shock, I realized that it was perfect for me. I am not classy or particularly calm. I come from the wrong side of the freeway in a California town and I’ve always loved California poppies and how they can grow in the most unlikely and seemingly inhospitable places. My office, which is the coldest room in our house and looks out onto the forest in our backyard (a gloomy place on a gray day), had been painted an oppressive, depressive mushroom-soup color. My new orange walls brought a shot of sunshine into the place where I spend most of my day.

Now orange is linked in my mind not with overstuffed couches or shag carpet or fall, but with spring and summer, sunshine and flowers and—very important to me—warmth. I don’t see California poppies all that much here, but now that orange has shown up on my favorite-color radar, I notice all sorts of orangeness brightening up my day.

Speaking of orange, Margerie was wondering what this was going to look like when it opened. Yesterday I was near the park where I took that picture, so I stopped by to get an update. Here it is in all its orange glory.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Green Friday: Buried in junk mail, part 2--unaddressed ad mail

I used to receive, on average, three or four pieces of unaddressed advertising mail every day—the kind of stuff that gets delivered indiscriminately to every house in the area: flyers for cleaning and gardening services (on my paranoid days, I would wonder if they’d been looking through my windows and peeking into the backyard, thinking “Wow, this woman really needs our help!”), menus for local restaurants, fat envelopes of coupons, and worst of all here in Vancouver, ads from real estate agents.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against real estate agents. In fact, some of my best friends are real estate agents (Hi! Love you!). But do I really need flyers about every house that’s on the market in my own neighborhood? If I want to know how much Myrtle and Joe down the street are asking for their house, I’ll look in one of the three real estate supplements that are delivered with the community newspaper every week.

And I definitely don’t need fancy brochures and glossy postcards advertising the latest skyscraping condo development downtown. I’m not likely to pack up my husband, two kids, three cats, the contents of my sewing room, 12 bins of Lego, seven (or is it eight?) guitars, a piano, and hundreds of books and move them all to a $2 million dollar condo on the 25th floor of the Shangri-La.

One agent here sends notepads to, I assume, everybody in town. They arrive once a month or so whether we need them or not. The funny thing is that when I saw this woman at a community event last summer, I couldn’t figure out at first why she seemed so familiar. For about 15 minutes I wondered why I associated this complete stranger with the dreaded grocery shopping. Was she a checker? Did she work at the deli counter? Then I got it—her picture was at the top of my shopping list!

Canada Post lets you easily opt out of receiving unaddressed ad mail. I did this recently and the very next day noticed a drastic decrease in the amount of unwanted mail I get. No more flyers, no more menus, no more coupons, no more notepads (which is okay with me—I have a stockpile of them), and no more real estate ads. Child One, who is responsible for emptying the recycling box, has had his workload cut in half.

The founders of the Red Dot Campaign are trying to increase the number of Canadians who know about Canada Post’s Consumer's Choice program. Their website gives instructions on how to opt out—the whole process takes about two minutes:
  1. Print this letter and fill it out.

  2. Leave it in your mailbox for your postal carrier.

  3. Make a little sign for your mailbox that says “No junk mail, please” and has a red dot on it. (The please isn’t strictly required, but I’m a mom, and you know how we are about these things.)
That’s it. You’ll get a card from Canada Post explaining the program and how to opt back in if you change your mind.

Canada Post’s opt-out program doesn’t deal with addressed junk mail, the kind that comes from being on a gazillion mailing lists. However, if the 67% of Canadians who aren’t interested in unaddressed ads no longer received them, how many fewer trees would we use?

The Red Dot Campaign’s website directs U.S. readers to Forest Ethics, which has information on efforts to get a similar service started in the States.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Enough, already!--Month three

Two months ago I declared “Enough, already!” on the things that I have too much of in my life—physical and emotional time and energy zappers—in order to make room for better things. Since I tend to come up with these ideas and then promptly forget about them, I’m giving each month a theme to help me remember.

In March, I declared “Enough procrastination, already!” and got some long-put-off things done. In April, I said “Enough, already!” to garbage. I put more thought into what I bought and how it was packaged. I looked for ways to reuse or recycle things that in the past we’ve thrown out. I now use up food before it moves to the back of the fridge and evolves into a new life form.

Now it’s a new month—time for a new theme. I kicked around a few ideas: clutter, driving, shopping, blah, blah, blah. But I knew that I was avoiding what I really need to do most—I’ve been avoiding it for years. I concentrate on improving my physical environment or aspects of my personality that are holding me back or my appalling lack of time management skills, but I ignore the engine that runs the machine of my life: me. As I wrote the other day, my emotional underwear is in tatters and it’s because I just don’t take care of myself.

Although I come from a long line of martyrs and I probably sigh more than most people, I don’t ignore my health through some sense of martyrdom. It’s partly due to habit. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time and energy doing things that weren’t good for me, and although my biggest vices now are chocolate and Coke (the kind that comes in a can), I never quite got the hang of treating my body well. And part of it is that, as the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease; in my busy life of kids, clients, mother, accident-prone cats, endless laundry and grocery shopping, etcetera, I’m not the squeakiest wheel.

I’ve read the women’s magazines and parenting books that tell me that unless I take care of myself I can’t take care of anyone else. I recognize how too much stress and too little sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition affect me (and sometimes, unfortunately, those around me). It doesn’t require a PhD to figure this out—I’ve known it for years. I just need to make it a priority. So this month's theme is "Enough neglecting myself, already!" (not catchy, but the best I could come up with in my present overtired, stressed out, anemic state).

I’m inspired to finally do this by someone near and dear to me (if you’re reading this, you know who you are. Hi! Love you!) who recently made a big decision to put his health and well-being first. The change in him has been amazing.

So I’ve made five promises to myself (not rules, because I’ll rebel against my own authority and break those right away): to get enough sleep, to eat better, to exercise regularly, to spend some time every day doing something I love, and to find ways to reduce and manage my stress level. For this month, as I go about my daily life of work and chores and driving to and fro, I’ll try to listen to my own body and give it what it needs.