Archive for the ‘BeingGreen’ Category

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Fun with Bicycles (or, How Not To Ride One)

July 23, 2009

I’m going to make a confession now that is actually less embarassing than one might expect: I never learned to ride a bicycle.

(Gasp!  Shock.  Really?  Yes.)  Why?  Numerous reasons:

One, I was a coward as a kid.  I’ll be the first to admit it.  I also didn’t learn to swim or climb trees, for exactly the same reason.

Two, the bicycle is an insidious device.  With only two wheels and (in my case) a seat designed to give you crotch bruises, these suckers are anything but fun for the novice.

Combine that with certain feelings of inadequacy (having an older sister and cousin who could already ride perfectly and certainly weren’t patient enough to help me learn), frustration with relatives (PLEASE, Dad, do NOT walk up to me after I’ve killed my ass and ask me in the perkiest tone you can muster if I’ve been “practicing riding my bike”), and an uncontrollable feeling of terror whenever the thing goes too fast and you have a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, I learned a few helpful things today that should help to minimize discomfort, panic, and injury for anyone who’s just starting out on a bike, but especially me.

Lesson One: How Not To Ride A Bike

1. My sister’s method: Start at the top of a shallow hill and coast down, keeping your feet a short distance from the ground.  Repeat until you stop going into panic attacks.

Why?  Because this happens: The bike starts going too fast.  You try in vain to brake, by touching the ground with your feet, but by this time it’s already too late.  You have two choices: fall over or stand up, hold on, and skid along the ground while the bike humps you from below until it finally stops.  Then, if you have something else in common with me, you hyperventilate for the next few seconds.

2. Mother’s advice: Disregard sister’s advice.  Get on the bike, push off, and start pedaling.

And be ready for Panic Attack #2, because – again, only if you’re like me – as soon as the bike starts to pick up speed, you freak out.  Assuming the bike ever picks up speed in the first place.  The alternative: you try to pedal, the bike tips over.  You try to correct the problem.  It fails and you have another panic attack.

(Although this might seem a bit self-serving, I do not consider “having a panic attack when I lose control of the bike” to be the same as “being a coward”.  I am fairly sure that a coward wouldn’t have gotten on the stupid bike to begin with.)

Anyway, this is the method I found that actually works:

How To Actually Ride A Bike

First of all, you know all those seasoned bike-riders you see out there with their feet on the pedals?  They’re not you.  Unlike you, they’re actually comfortable with what they’re doing.  You are not – or so I assume, because if you were I expect you would know how to ride the thing.

So here’s what you do: Keep your feet on the ground.  Lower the seat until you can get a good grip on it.  Start at the top of a slope (a gentle slope), sit on the bike, and walk your way down.  Yes, walk.  While you’re on the bike.  When you’re a bit more comfortable, you can even start to pick up some speed.  Run a little.  Walk it back up the slope and go down again.  Whee.

All right, so it’s a little childish.  But let’s be serious here: would we rather look a little childish, or kill our elbows, knees, shins, ankles, and nervous systems trying to ride the thing some other way?

(Oh, and here’s a fun tidbit for future adult bikers: a podcast about adults learning to ride for the first time. We’re not alone out there.)

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BeingGreen: Staying Warm & Cool Without Electricity: Part 2.

April 10, 2009

Even though I conveniently forgot to do this one last week (warning: Script Frenzy will ruin your life, kthxbai), I decided that there was no way I was going to let this Friday pass without wrapping up this topic.  So here I am.

In the last article, I covered various methods for staying warm without eating up your electrical bill.  Now I move onto a greater challenge: staying cool.

The reason I view it as a greater challenge is because, unlike heat, your body does not produce coolness.  You have to get it in from the inside.  More accurately, you achieve it by removing heat from your body.  Wearing cool clothes helps with this process, via the same method that allows it to make you cold in cooler weather, but only if the air is sufficiently cool.  If the air is warmer than you, you’re going to end up absorbing heat no matter what you wear.

So how do you stay cool?  Well… there are a few options.

  1. Stay hydrated.  Sweat, though unsightly and often malodorous, is your first line of defense against heat.  By sitting on your skin, it helps to suck heat out from your body and… er… I’m not entirely sure where the heat goes.  I only know that it works.  Drink an adequate (not excessive!) amount of water so that your sweat glands have something to secrete.
  2. Eat/drink cold stuff.  Ice water, ice cream, and frozen fruit will all suck heat from your body (and taste darned good in the meantime).  Just watch out for the sugars, and don’t overdo it.  The only thing worse than being hot is being hot and sick on sugar or water.
  3. Go to your shower – or your kitchen sink – and spray down your hair.  As mentioned earlier, water sucks out body heat, and there’s no better place to lose it than your head.  In addition to your head’s basic heat-loss properties, your hair will trap the water and keep you cool for a longer duration of time.
  4. Take a cool shower or bath.  This method has been employed by both animals and humans for as long as there have been animals and humans with temperature-regulation problems (or pretty close, anyway) and for good reason.  Take the sweat effect and magnify it, and you’ve got what a bath can do for you.  If you don’t have access to a bath, or don’t want to use the water, wet a cloth and wipe down your face, your chest, and behind your ears.

Finally, there are a few common-sense tips that you can follow to make sure you don’t pick up excess heat:

  1. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.  These will help to reflect heat away from you while trapping any cool air you might accumulate.
  2. Stay indoors as much as possible.  I know; who’d have thought it’d be green to avoid nature?  But it’s easier to get and stay cool in a controlled environment.  Go outside where it’s hot, and you end up reabsorbing heat, which means you have to get cooled down all over again.  (Pool parties are excluded.)
  3. Wear shoes only if you’re walking on a hot surface.  If the surface is cool, it’s better to lose the shoes and let the heat leak out through your feet.

That pretty much covers it… and it’s about twenty-five minutes until midnight, so it’s off to bed for me.  Adios.

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BeingGreen: Hunger vs. Cravings.

April 4, 2009

Dang, it’s amazing how a day of formatting your computer can throw off your schedule.  This technically should have gone up yesterday (of course), but it ended up getting delayed.  Don’t even ask where iLOL’d went.  It didn’t tell me.

Anyway, I’mma talk about food some more.  This time: learning the difference between hunger and cravings.

I have this problem a lot.  I’ll have a day or so when I consume more bread than usual (read: any), and it throws me completely off-guard.  For the next couple of days, I have to deal with grain cravings.  And it doesn’t matter what I eat.  I can have two eggs, a sausage patty, and an orange, and I’ll still be getting this message from within: “Hey!  Did you eat your BREAD yet?”  So I get the false impression that I’m still hungry and attempt to stave it off with soy nuts and whatever else.

It just doesn’t work.

No matter what kind of diet you eat, you’ve probably come up against this kind of thing.  Consume something that used to be a staple in your diet – be it bread or soda pop – and your body reacts as though it were welcoming an old friend.  “Hey, welcome back!  You should hang around forever!  Wait, what do you mean you have to leave?  Come baaaaaaaaaaaaack!”  Indulging the cravings doesn’t help.  The only way to get rid of them is to ignore them.

But how do you tell the difference between a craving and hunger?

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious.  You’ve just eaten a full meal, and your body is niggling you to eat more; it’s going to be fairly apparent that you don’t actually need more food.  Other times, not so much.  Suppose the last time you ate was a couple of hours ago.  How can you know for sure?

Finally, I devised a test that seems to cover it.

It’s pretty simple.  Before eating something, I consider consuming different foods.  The thought of omnomnomnominating a piece of bread will often make my body send off pathetic cries of deprivation.  But the thought of eating something richer – like a glass of milk or a dish of vegetables – will elicit the opposite response: “No, don’t!  I couldn’t eat another bite!”

If that’s the case, it’s definitely a craving.

So, what to do if you’re not hungry but craving some kind of food?  Quite simply: ignore it.  Remove yourself from the area of temptation (i.e. the kitchen).  Get busy doing something that is either mentally or physically engaging.

Or just quit buying the food that’s giving you the cravings in the first place.

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BeingGreen: Staying Warm & Cool Without Electricity: Part 1.

March 27, 2009

Well, it’s not exactly winter or summer, but a recent cold snap has brought to light a particular topic: how to stay warm (or cool) without using large quantities of electricity.

It’s human nature, of course, that when we get too hot or too cold we try to fix it.  And it’s human nature to look for the easiest method possible, which generally amounts to cranking up the thermostat.

And there are, as usual, a few problems with that.  For one thing, a single temperature is rarely suitable for everyone; someone’s liable to be too hot or too cold.  For another thing, air conditioning uses power, which costs money and has environmental impacts.  While it isn’t often feasible to lay off the air conditioning entirely (especially here, where temperatures can reach >100 degrees in the summer), you can usually reduce its running time and still keep warm fairly well.

To that end, I present Part 1: Staying Warm.

The first step is a big, looming one, of the kind that might terrify casual greeners, but is fortunately a one-time procedure: removing any window drafts.  This is best done when the outside air is cold, since cold drafts are very easy to detect when the house is warm; it may also be possible when the air is hot.

You should first go through your house, turn off all fans, and close all windows.  Make sure that they are tightly sealed, with no visible cracks; any window that cannot close fully should be noted as faulty and replaced.  Once the windows are tight, check for invisible leaks: stand in front of the window and feel around for patches of cold air or cold breezes.  Move around if necessary, and consider asking another person to double-check.  Any windows with leaks should also be replaced.

(Note: It is possible that, no matter how thoroughly you check, some leaks may go undetected.  The only way to discover these is to sit in front of the window for long periods of time, employing whatever methods you usually use to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature, and note if you are unusually cold anywhere.  Cold feet are a sure leak detector.)

(Second note: All leaks may not be in the windows.  Floors, ceilings, skylights, and vents can all let in cold air.)

Once you’ve completed Step 1 – or if, for some reason, you are incapable of doing so at the moment, but would like to save on electricity anyway – you can tackle the remaining steps, which are mainly small things you can do to increase your personal heat without warming the entire house.

  1. Wear footwear.  If you’re like me, and are usually more concerned with keeping your feet cool than warm, this can be a problem.  If you don’t want to track dirt around your house on your shoes, it can also be a problem.  The best solution I’ve found is to keep a pair of fuzzy slippers on hand and wear them when I’m really cold.
  2. Wear enough clothes.  Sweaters, longjohns, and the like can all be extremely useful, though it can be time-consuming and annoying to pile on the layers.  A warm, fuzzy bathrobe makes a good quick fix, and withstands a considerable amount of cold.  Frigid hands benefit from gloves, though you’ll want to leave the fingers off when you type.
  3. Drink warm fluids.  A cup of hot chocolate or coffee in the cold can be very soothing.  If you have it in a ceramic or glass mug, keep the mug around; it stays warm well after the drink is gone and can used to warm cold fingers.
  4. Acclimate yourself to cooler temperatures.  Start reducing the thermostat setting a little bit at a time, allowing yourself to adjust to each setting before you move it down again.  You may never get to a point where you really feel warm in lower temperatures, but you should find it easier to get and stay that way without cranking up the heat.

Of course, staying warm at work or in bed is a slightly different matter than during the day in your own home.  Some of these tips can be carried over, but some situations will require improvisation.  You’ll need to employ your own ingenuity to deal with these situations as they arise.

Good luck!

(Stay tuned for Part 2: Staying Cool.)

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BeingGreen: Gift Wrapping.

March 20, 2009

Okey-dokey.  It’s late and I’m tired (busy working on upcoming Script Frenzy project), so rather than writing about something complicated I’m going to keep it pretty brief and write about green gift wrapping.

Gift wrapping is a total menace.  You get this icky shiny paper and a load of tape and cut out huge sheets to wrap stuff in, then a couple of days later you give the gift to the recipient, who tears off the paper and stuffs it in the trash.

Eew.

So how does one green their gift wrapping?

The most popular method is furoshiki, or Japanese cloth giftwrapping.  You just take a big square piece of cloth, tie it appropriately, and it’s good to go.  No tape, and the cloth is reusable.  Here’s a video on YouTube that demonstrates how to tie furoshiki.

Another method is to wrap your gifts in paper that was originally used for something else – old magazine pages, perhaps, or paper grocery bags with painted shapes on them.  This works best for smaller gifts, and some caution is needed to make sure it doesn’t look cheap.

If you’re not too hung-up on wrapping, gift bags are also a good alternative.  While most of them aren’t made of green materials, they have the excellent property of staying intact when the recipient gets their gift, and can be reused.  Many times if necessary.

Then there are the flourishes you put on your gifts.  I admit to having a huge weakness for wrapping gifts in ribbon – preferably the annoying two-way ribbon that you can barely get off the gift package and comes with a couple of cute little curls that you top with a bow.  The bow isn’t so bad – you can use the same ones for years on end, provided they don’t get mashed – but the strings are pretty much toast once your gift-givee breaks out the scissors.  You could use cloth ribbons, but in my experience it doesn’t make a difference; they get tossed anyway.  Best green option = skip the ribbons.

…er, lost my train of thought here.  Wait, found it again.  Geez, it’s too late to be doing this.

The best option I’ve found for gift-wrapping is simply not to do it.  Of course, this has the unfortunate side effect of not having a gift to open, but if the gift is spectacular enough the recipient isn’t likely to care.  Last year’s Christmas presents were handed out from a plastic bag; oohs and aahs abounded over the handmade pinecone Christmas trees.

So although it is prudent to be green with your wrapping, it seems that the really good reactions are going to come from the gifts anyway.  What does this mean?  Well, certainly not that you should stop wrapping all gifts; kids especially love the experience of unwrapping.  But you might consider it.  And if not, try furoshiki or gift bags.

Geez… I’m starting to sound like Green Girl.  I’ve got to get to bed.

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BeingGreen: Getting Rid of Petroleum.

March 13, 2009

Petroleum has become a ubiquitous ingredient in our everyday lives.  We run our cars on it (most of the time).  We rub our lips and babies’ rear ends in one of its byproducts (petroleum jelly).  And most of the candles available on the market are made from petroleum.

Unfortunately, like many other of our favorite products, petroleum is not such a great thing.  For one thing, it is not biodegradable.  For another thing, it tends to emit dangerous fumes when burned, and has been known to contain trace amounts of sulfur (and potentially other harmful chemicals, though this is unknown for certain).  Either way, it’s not very green, and it should be replaced as soon as practical.

Keeping it off your lips is pretty easy.  Several companies, including Burt’s Bees and Chapstick, offer natural lip balms without petroleum jelly.  Keeping it off your baby’s bum may be a bit harder; there are other moisturizers, but I have yet to hear of one with the greasy goodness of petroleum jelly.  Fortunately, the jelly is mostly harmless if not ingested; the only concern according to Skin Deep is potential contamination.

Candles are a bigger problem.  As stated above, petroleum (the rawer stuff, not the jelly) contains several chemicals which create nasty fumes when burned.  Your best bet is to get organic candles made from either soy or beeswax; soy candles are now available in several stores, though beeswax may be a bit trickier to come by.

Then there’s your car.  At the moment, there are only two things to run your car on: petroleum-based gasoline and ethanol.  Ethanol is said to be the greener of these options, although a recent kerfuffle suggests that it may not be as green as it’s cracked up to be – possibly because of the large amount of farming required to create it.  Rather than splitting hairs over which of these fuels to use, it’s best to cut down on your driving – which is better for the environment in several different ways – and consider obtaining a hybrid car, which will help to reduce the amount of gasoline used when you do drive.

These are the three biggest sources of petroleum in a home – and, without a doubt, the three most likely to pose a problem.  While it is by no means the most glaring threat to your health, petroleum does pose some long-term problems – most importantly, it is a non-renewable resource.  We can keep finding new places to drill for it, but eventually the supplies will be exhausted.

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BeingGreen: Care2’s Click to Donate.

March 7, 2009

(I have got to quit doing this.  Either I need to start writing my BeingGreen articles on, say, Tuesday, and setting them to go up on Friday, or I need to start keeping better track of which day it is.)

Here’s an easy one for the aspiring greenie.  It’s free, it takes only a few seconds of your time, and it’s easy to access.  I’m referring to Care2‘s Click to Donate feature – a collection of links that enables you to generate money from various causes just by clicking each image and following the “Click to Donate” link.  There are ten different categories: Global Warming, Rainforest, Baby Seals, Oceans, Big Cats, Primates, Needy Kids, Pets, Stop Violence [against women], and Breast Cancer.  You can click each one once per day.

I realize it’s  not the most high-impact thing you can be doing.  But it is the easiest.  And if you can commit to doing even this every day, you may find it easier to start making other green changes in your life.

http://www.care2.com/click2donate/