Thursday, September 20, 2007

Death to the oversized t-shirt!

Maybe it's not a great idea to take scissors to fabric after midnight and/or a couple glasses of wine, BUT I think I'm on to something here...I've repurposed 3 oversized t-shirts into tank tops! Problem 1: I have a gazillion XXL t-shirts that I only wear to sleep in or to exercise. How do we end up with so many free t-shirts that get consigned to the sleepwear/exercise/bum around the house category? (I want to see companies/events start to give out shirts in women's sizes and if they're too small for guys, tell THEM to deal with it--give it to a girlfriend, use it for when you dress up in drag on Halloween, whatever. I'm tired of men's sizes hegemony. Hmph.) For some reason I brought 3 of these offending shirts with me on my trip to Argentina, ostensibly to sleep in. I mean, these are bad--so unflattering that I would probably not even wear them around my own family. Problem 2: I need tank tops for my upcoming travels to other parts of the country and don't want to spend the money on cheap, poorly made ones. So now I've killed 2 birds with 1 stone and have 3 tank tops that I would actually wear out of the house, and 3 fewer unflattering sleep-only t-shirts. The sample shirt pictured was actually my dad's around the time I was born. It's quite sentimental because the Univ of Arkansas is both his and my mom's alma mater. I hesitated to cut into it, but I'm pretty sure they would rather me actually get good use out of it and "represent" the Razorbacks in public, even if it means altering its original shape, right? Let's hope so. Here's what to do to make your own original (albeit, quite "funky") tank tops.

1) Find a "real" tank top with a shape you like to use as a pattern. Place it over the t-shirt so that you can visualize the shape you want, and start cutting. I do the neck first, and you can get creative with that shape. So many choices: v-neck, crew, zigzag, whatever! I've been cutting the necks out of shirts for years because tight necks happen to be terribly unflattering on me. A word of caution: On your first pass, cut less than you might assume you should, unless you're going for the Flashdance look.

2) Cut the arms off. This is the point of no return, and results in a look that I can only describe as "all-American dude barbequing on a speedboat". Yes, the arm holes will extend well down your ribs. But don't worry, you can fix it if you move on to the next step...

3) Sew the arm holes together. Try on the shirt and pin the arm flaps together. This is your chance to get creative with the stitching.

4) Optional: For a more fitted look, gather the fabric at the center of your back add a few stitches. This is what I call the Gap mannequin phenomenon: You know how their shirts always seem so well fitted on the mannequins, and then you feel misled when you walk around to the back and see that they are clipped? Well, there's nothing stopping you from doing this to your own shirts with a few stitches. Maybe it's the wine talking but I like the way this one turned out. Sorry about the bad shadows--the lighting in this room is not so great.

Here's the new and improved Razorbacks shirt. I don't have a "before" pic, but trust me, this is a big improve- ment. It's settled...I'm never buying another tank top again. Oh, and the scraps from the neck band? Headbands, of course.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Repurposing junk mail

Bulk mail. Perhaps the most annoying daily reminder of useless waste and pathetic, uninspired advertising. I just always wonder, what percentage of the population actually pours through these mailers and runs out to snap up the bottles of Miracle Whip for the bargain price of $1.89? Undboubtedly, most pieces of junk mail travel a short distance from mailbox to trash can. A while ago, I spent the few minutes it took to stop the various bulk mail bundles from arriving at my apartment--If you haven't already done the same, the info is here. The good news is it worked, and fairly quickly. But I moved into a temporary housesitting situation for a couple months and was faced with the massive amounts of "fresh boneless meat flaps!", "2 for 1 cans of creamed corn" announcements all over again. I finally got around to submitting my friends' address to the companies' "do not send" lists, but in the meantime, for weeks the mailers piled up. I refused to throw them away, vowing to find some use for them, damnit. Running late to a birthday party one day, I ended up wrapping the present with some grocery store's weekly specials, and I must admit I was incredibly pleased with the way it turned out. The same glossy, pandering ads for pork chops and bell peppers that made me cringe at the mailbox actually looked pretty cool around sharp corners. And as my friend Tracy says, wrapping is all about the ribbon anyway (so save every ribbon you get and reuse those too). I was so pleased with the result that I found myself looking forward to the next opportunity I had to wrap something--anything--with salvaged bulk mailers. I have enough just from one month's worth of mail to wrap every present I'll ever give out. So first things first, get on the "do not send" lists. But while the flow of waste is still coming, find a use for the bright colors. They'd make great matting behind photos in a could cut them into thin strips to make bookmarks, or make them into unique envelopes...What else?

Monday, September 17, 2007

And the winner is...

So I got 30 entries with the correct answers: The Lunapads kids are Aiden, Genevieve, and Garrett. In case you're wondering, I wrote all of your names on strips of paper, and did the old fashioned thing--pulled one out of a hat. And that lucky name was...EMILY B. from L.A.!! Congratulations, Emily! And thank you so much to everyone who participated. The best part was reading about why you're interested in trying reusable menstrual products and your experiences of trying them already. It was so encouraging to hear from all of you, so thanks for sharing your thoughts! And, for all those who participated but didn't win, I hope this is just the beginning of your relationship with Lunapads...Order some now! Remember, while the initial cost is a little more than what you pay for disposables, after a few months you will actually be saving money by using them. And we know all the other benefits, of course! So thank you, spread the reusable word, and let me know how you like your new Lunapads...

Read the original Lunapads post here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Last day to enter Lunapads contest

I'll be drawing for the winner tomorrow, so send me your answers before the end of the day! If you haven't already entered, read about Lunapads and the contest here.


Read it: "Plenty"

Right before I came to Argentina, I read “Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally", the book by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon that has brought much recent attention to eating locally grown food. It was a great, fast read, and details how the authors spent one year eating only foods whose origins they could trace to within 100 miles of their Vancouver apartment.
While cynics might dismiss their experiment as just another gimmick in the “let’s try something sustainable for one year and write a book about it” trend, it’s clear from the opening pages that this was anything but that. “Plenty” is an authentic and heart-felt attempt by one couple to wrestle control back from our highly flawed, destructive, polluting and wasteful agricultural system. Ok, this is starting to sound like a newspaper book review, but bear with me. They trace how an impromptu feast from all local ingredients illuminated their lurking suspicions that something just isn’t right with how we eat, and that they could do better. The book details their journey from subsisting primarily on potatoes for the first month…to educating themselves about what is grown around them and the satisfaction of knowing precisely where each apple and onion came from…enjoying the abundant months of farmers’ discovering how grounding and enjoyable some old-school culinary arts can be: Think canning tomatoes for winter, turning cabbage into sauerkraut, and making cheese. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?!

By now you’ve probably heard the statistics. The average ingredient in any given North American meal travels at least 1500 miles--and often many more--to get to our plates. Think about all the fossil fuels used up and burned just to bring you a tomato that never gets ripe in December. And why? Somewhere along the way we’ve gotten spoiled, expecting oranges in january and tropical bananas year round. Does anyone actually recall the days of seasonal fruit? I am not old enough to have that memory…And as any foodie will tell attest, it’s a gastronomic crime to eat out of season, mediocre, unripe produce that is a poor imitation of its seasonal counterparts. On the other hand, eating locally can be as gourmet as it gets, like at Chez Panisse, the original regional foodie restaurant in Berkeley. A couple months ago, I got treated to one of the best meals I've ever had...Just look at that dessert!

But Alisa and James didn’t just eat locally grown produce. We’re talking grains, eggs, fish, and dairy products too—their entire diet. That meant honey instead of sugar, and they went without any wheat products for almost the entire year until they found one lone wheat farmer at the edge of their 100 miles. But they discovered other grains, and other ways of making balanced meals. Obviously, their experiment automatically ruled out supermarket food, chocked full, as it is, of a medley of ingredients and “flavors” of whose origins are unknown (and disturbing to ponder). Eating locally necessarily means eliminating processed, factory made foods, which is not only healthier, but also makes a statement for a smaller, healthier, and more connected food production system.

What’s most illuminating about "Plenty" is that Alisa and James discover that eating locally is not any kind of deprivation or punishment. On the contrary, they found eating a more joyful experience and became not only more connected to what they put in their bodies, but also to the very specific place they live and to the conditions that make their food possible. When a toxic spill killed the area’s salmon supply in a nearby river, they felt it deeply, and went without salmon for the year. I suspect that if we were all eating more locally, we would more quickly see how dependent we are on the delicate balance of nature that makes our nourishment possible. If we knew where our food came from, we would undoubtedly be more alert to the early signs when something is off balance, and we would hopefully be inclined to react more quickly.

So what to do? The easiest step to eat locally is of course, visiting our farmers’ market regularly. Most have way more offerings than just scrumptious produce—at mine I can get eggs, honey, the best cheese in the world, milk, hummus, bread, nuts and dried fruits. I’ve yet to try the grass-fed bison, but I bet it’s juicy. Discover what your area has to offer! (See below for how to find local food). Host a local-foods potluck, which will be a good excuse to hunt down some local wine or beer. As summer comes to a close, get crazy and can some fruit to enjoy in the winter. I can already see it—canning parties becoming the newest hipster pastime...And be sure to check out the 100-mile diet website and get inspired by how many people are taking on the local eating challenge, at some level or another. Eating as locally as we can is one crucial step towards creating a more sustainable way of feeding ourselves.

P.S. Eating in Argentina has been an adventure. On the one hand, out of economic necessity, everything is much more local—I’m pretty sure most of the food I’ve eaten comes from within a couple hundred miles, because they just can’t afford to truck food thousands of kilometers. But on the other hand, there’s not much diversity—tons of pizza, pasta, meat and bread, and not many “whole foods”, as we would call them. So I’ve found myself almost obsessively searching for decidedly unlocal foods like, peanut butter (I’ve heard tales of its existence in at least one store in Buenos Aires, but have yet to find it), which is somewhat legit because I need protein. A little less justified was my quest for salsa, simply because I’ve been craving some spice and in my normal life I subsist on Mexican food. When I finally found some “Newman’s Own Chunky Salsa”—I know, not even the good stuff--in the “Imported Foods” aisle of a huge supermarket, I unthinkingly snapped it up. Yikes—I can’t imagine the thousands of miles that jar traveled! Woops. Ironically, far from being the satisfying and familiar explosion of flavor I was anticipating, eating it has been a reminder of why it’s a good idea to eat locally. You see, you just can’t find good tortilla chips here.

Check out this great resource to find locally grown food near you, at farmer’s markets or through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture): Local Harvest. Just type in your zip code...You can even search for specific foods and it will tell you if there is anything in your area!

The 100-Mile Diet.. Has lots of fun features and lets you find your own 100 miles.

Ask your local bookstore to order "Plenty", or order it from Powell's.