Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do Something

With all the upset and turmoil in our economy, I thought I would write a blog about the huge debt the USA has to China and how finally this fact is being reported by the mainstream media.

As usual, I did a little research before beginning to write my blog. Unfortunately, the more I researched, the more complicated and alarming the subject matter became. The realization that China is our biggest “investor” (mostly in securities like US Savings Bonds and Treasury bills) was very depressing. China dangles this debt of $1.4 trillion over our heads like the Sword of Damocles. Only the thin hair of national cooperation and "good will" between our countries keeps it from falling.

Adding insult to injury, China--the same people who sold us a cornucopia of deadly pet foods, lead poisoned and dangerously shoddy goods for our children, tainted seafood, mislabeled medications, unsafe medical devices, leaking condoms, exploding tires, electrical motors which burst into flames and so much more, now have the gall to blatantly issue us “words of concern” and “warnings” about their "investment." They are trying to tell us how to handle our economy, our policies, our country. In other words, after ringing our door bell, they not only sell us the huge bag of flaming dog crap on our porch, they want to tell us how to stomp it out. Jeeze!

Next I read that wealthy Chinese have been coming to the US and snapping up homes at bargain prices due to the housing market collapse.

A few more clicks in my browser and I was seeing articles which stated that not only are the Chinese coming here and purchasing real estate but they are coming here and buying local US businesses. And yet, on the flip side, US companies, like Coca Cola have not been allowed to purchase local businesses in China.

And now, Chinese officials are telling everyone who will listen-- the US dollar is weak and should no longer be considered the “benchmark currency” of the world. They want us (and our money power) replaced and/or kicked down a notch. The Chinese, they love us . . . to death.

The more I searched for data, the more depressing and scary our situation looked. I didn't want to just write about this gloomy stuff. It would make my blog a total downer. So, what to do?

Focus on the positive, I thought.

But what could I find positive in this situation?

Just this; I think this current hard patch can be a good thing for us. It can push us to do the things we know we should be doing but haven't. Like all the people who started taking public transit when the gas prices went up. Suddenly, saving money was more important than convenience. And the end result was a bonus for the environment.

So, let's imagine the worst; China cashes in it's chips and wants a payoff on its investments. Or we have a total breakdown in trade between our nations. Everything comes to a grinding halt. We implode.

Well, if we continue to buy locally created goods--Made in USA products, in all their forms, at least some of our companies may weather the storm. Or at least, we can feel better about ourselves because we tried to do something to help them weather the storm.

Even if this doesn't happen, even if we just continue to drag our broken wing behind us like a eagle hit by a SUV, there still could come some good. This dark time can give us the kick in the butt needed to get moving on the road to change . . . change our attitude . . . change our lifestyle. It can push us toward a dedication to a life of low impact. And hopefully, force us to show respect toward our ecosystem, our planet, our home, whether we want to or not. Sacrifice for the greater good, or else.

I don't expect anyone who isn't thinking on that track already to embrace this concept easily or quickly. It has taken me years of baby steps and small epiphanies to adopt a more sustainable, less materialistic life. In a hundred little ways I try to be and do what I think is “a good thing,”-- to lessen the harm. My religion is now the Church of the Three R's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Every time I throw something in the trash, I think, “nothing goes away, it just gets moved around.” And I get a little prick of panic behind my eyes. The earth can only hold so much crap and I hate adding to the pile.

Along this line, I think it is better to reuse or repurpose something versus recycling. Recycling takes energy, causes pollution and is only slightly better than trashing the item-- though, I would never recommend trashing over recycling.

Repurposing, on the other hand, saves energy, pollution and usually money. And when items are repurposed or reused, it is one less item which must be manufactured or less resources tapped into to make a new one.

Practicing the three R’s has become a game, a challenge for me. Few items are too small or insignificant for me to blithely toss them. I feel a small thrill every time I find a way to repurpose or reuse something. It is a relief to give it a second life, instead of sending it down the recycle stream or worst of all, the trash heap.

For example, I rescue mesh produce bags and find a new life for them as cute and functional items like a bib holder to hang on the back of a high chair. I simply add a little crochet edging, an old button or two, stiffen the bottom with a sheet or two of aluminum made from soda cans which is punched with a hole punch and crocheted along the punched edges. In the end, I have turned something which would have gone to the trash into a useful item, and guess what? I had fun doing it.

The list of items I have retrieved and reused is long and varied: I flatten and cut aluminum cans into sheets. I emboss, cut, punch and use them for all kinds of projects: book markers, tags, crocheted bags, ornaments, etc. I have given some of these items as Solstice (Xmas) gifts and others I use around the house.

I make magazine holders from cereal boxes and used USPS Priority Mail boxes. I cover them with old wrapping paper or wallpaper samples or spray paint. I cut the bottoms off sturdy plastic (juice) bottles and use as drawer organizers or to hold nails/screws or gardening items. I decoupage tin cans to use as pencil holders or small flower pots.

I nab all kinds of containers; yogurt containers, Styrofoam cups, take-out containers, etc. I use them for growing seedlings and rooting cuttings. The plants which come from the seeds I use in my garden or give away as gifts.

In my raised bed organic garden and containers I grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. I recycle by saving the seeds from my plants for replanting or trading. By saving the cut off tops from store bought pineapples and potting up I can grow them into new plants and eventually, new food. Last summer one of my rescued pineapple tops bore it’s first fruit. Yes, I grew a pineapple. It was delicious. This year I hope to have another.

I also planted up several seeds I saved from Texas grapefruits we bought at the store. I now have several little grapefruit trees in pots. I’m not sure what will happen with these plants but it’s fun to imagine one day picking grapefruits from my own trees I raised from seed.

Though technically, not one of the three R's, whenever I bake bread from scratch every Saturday I feel very earth friendly. At least I am taking a tiny fraction of burden off the environment by producing my bread at home: no fuel to truck the bread, no packaging to produce or add to the trash. And I also grow my own sprouts in a sprouting jar. And I've been mulling over plans to make my own yogurt and I think I have it figured out (I was trying to find a simple/easy heat source). I've decided to try my seedling heat mats. Hopefully, I will be making a batch in the next few days.

And of course, I compost.

I donate unneeded items to charities and what I can’t donate or recycle I freecycle. Even simple things like egg cartons (you’d be surprised how many people want used egg cartons), packing peanuts, cardboard boxes and more are given away or freecycled.

I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.

And yes, I know crochet net bags and aluminum can crafts are not going to "save the planet," that's not the point. The point is the attitude of doing more with less. Using the imagination to find solutions instead of taking the lazy route and throwing something in the trash just because it's easy to do so. Being lazy and selfish is not going to pull the wagon out of the mud. We have to all do our part. We have to all try. We have to all do something.

So, where do I get a lot of my ideas, tips, information and inspiration? I read Mother Earth News magazine for one thing. I think this is one of the best publications on the planet. Every time I get a new issue I glance at the cover and think it is sort of bland and boring. It’s not flashy, there are no commercially glib shots of Martha Stewart or some actress/model cooking or holding a product or any eye-candy at all. The covers are usually unremarkable, predictable even, but I have grown to take comfort in this predictability. The word reliable pops to mind.

Just as predictable as the cover is my reaction once I open the magazine. Glancing at the table of contents, I am hooked. For days I carry the magazine from room to room, trying to snatch a few minutes to finish an article or two between chores or projects. Every time I read Mother Earth I learn something new, I am encouraged and I am inspired. I want to try new things, be more independent, be a better person. I love this magazine. And guess what else is good about Mother Earth News? It is, of course, 100% Made In the USA.

In keeping up with the times, Mother Earth News has a web site. On the web site is an archive of most (if not all) their past articles since the 1970's. The best thing: the articles are free. I received, as a gift, the Mother Earth News set of 4 cd’s: all the magazine articles from 1970-2007. It is an awesome bundle of information and inspiration. I highly recommend them.

Another site I find rewarding is Instructables which bills itself as the “the Biggest How To and DIY community where people make and share inspiring, entertaining, and useful projects, recipes, and hacks.” I putter around this web site often. It is fascinating and silly and wonderful and useful and sublime all at once. The step-by-step projects range from geeky electronic gadgetry to green living how-to’s and much more. If I need an idea or have a question or just wonder how to do or make something, I can usually find it somewhere on this site...or Mother Earth News.

Also stocked with information (as well as entertainment) is YouTube. It isn’t just dancing hamsters and dumb people doing dumb stunts anymore. It actually has lots of useful how-to videos online like those at the Make Magazine profile and many member contributed tutorials.

Along this same vein, another good diy site is Craft Magazine (associated with Make Mag), which is no longer in print. They only have the online version now.

And of course, there is DIY Network, from TV. It has lots of interesting and useful stuff but is very heavy on the commercial aspect.

I love looking at the things people make and sell. One web site for truly local home grown, Made In USA items is Etsy. The sellers on Etsy are creative and the prices are very good. And best of all, Etsy is a home, a jumping off place, for small businesses in the US. Etsy is by the people, for the people. Etsy is great.

Anyway, the point is, now is the time to not only support our economy by purchasing USA made goods but also to look to ourselves to save ourselves. If you are worried about money, make your own bread, it’s cheaper. If you worry about salmonella in your spinach or your peppers or your salsa--make/grow your own. Save on the packaging and the calories. You’ll be glad you did.

If you worry about China poisoning your children with lead painted toys, buy from Etsy or one of the toy companies listed on my blog or make your own. Or practice the three R's; shop your local thrift store and buy vintage American toys, dishes, whatever you need/want. Give the natural world a break from the pollution of the industrial world by buying used instead of new. Because ultimately, that is the best option.

And lastly, I want to tell you about another DIY craft I did. I took a dollar store night light which had an ugly picture in a frame in front of the bulb. I removed the picture and replaced it with another. Now when I go to my kitchen the night light illuminates the darkness with a photo of the blue and green planet Earth with one word floating above it: HOME.

May we never forget what's really important.