Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why I'm Still Travelling To Japan

Since the horrific earthquake and tsunami of 11/3/11, my twitter followers have indulged me as I retweeted news from Japan - and little else. I've followed the rapidly-changing situation very closely, primarily thanks to tweets from English-speaking bloggers and reporters in Japan linking to key articles (see my Twitter list of them), and live-streaming broadcasts of English-language Japanese news (primarily NHK). The contrast between their common-sense approach and the sensationalism (even alarmism) of reports in the North American press has been astonishing. (It makes me seriously question the calibre of the other everyday information we get.)

A few friends and family members have asked if we have cancelled our trip yet. No, we haven't, and we have decided we won't, unless the situation dramatically changes. Here's why:

1. We are not travelling to the areas hardest hit by the tragedy. The farthest north our itinerary takes us is Tokyo, which is no longer experiencing rolling blackouts or supply-chain-related food shortages. The more southerly cities of Kyoto and Hiroshima felt the quake, but were able to carry on with everyday life as usual, and have not experienced blackouts (they're actually on a separate grid from the north). Most business travellers have been advised to reschedule their trips to Tokyo for the end of April, so our mid-to-late-May trip should be fine. Our advisor at JTB Canada has indicated that we may experience some minor inconveniences (such as changes to train schedules), but nothing compared to the inconvenience of changing all our plans.

2. The situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors has stabilized, although the news from the nuclear power plant continues to be troubling. Since we were not travelling within the 30km (Japanese) / 80km (for US residents) evacuated zone, and foodstuffs and water in Japan are tightly regulated, I doubt we could be exposed to fission products in quantities sufficient to endanger our health. (If I want to worry about mutagens in my food and my everyday environment, I can think of lots of more likely culprits, starting with the new-car-smell that's offgassing from the rental vehicle I'm driving while my own car is repaired. Also, I worked with isotopes for years as a medical researcher, and probably got way more rads from P-32 spills by a certain sloppy grad student than I possibly could on this trip.)

3. Spooked by the incredibly sensationalist reports, tourists have been cancelling trips to Japan in droves. This means that those who are dependent on tourism for their livelihoods and living in completely unaffected parts of the country will be needlessly subjected to hardship.

For what it's worth, we did come up with a Plan B (to postpone our trip for an extra few months) and Plan C (to postpone until next year, and travel to London and Paris this year instead, since we'd be able to plan that on fairly short notice). We are grateful that we probably won't have to use those backup plans.

I'm heartbroken for the communities of the northeastern prefectures and awed by the resilience of their citizens - see QuakeBook Blog for some inspiring stories and an amazing fundraiser. Please also press the "Blog 4 Japan" button in the sidebar to see how else you can help.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Slow Reminders (an Etsy treasury)

The Slow Movement isn't only about buying local and handmade; it's also thoughtful, flexible, collaborative, personalized, timeless, and sustainable. It's about making holistic choices that support communities and their traditions and skills. Whether your interest is in Slow Food, Slow Design, Slow Travel, or Slow Fashion - or you just want to take a breather every now and then from the rat race - these designs from Etsy artisans will help you incorporate reminders to Take It Slowly into your everyday life.

Just Breathe with Gold ...

Make Do & Mend Poster

Paisley Shell Turtle Gu...

slow down greeting card

Make Do And Mend in Azu...

Hand screen printed SLO...

A Slow Stroll, petite r...

SALE - LAST ONE Make Do...

SLOW Sign Recycled Farm...

Garden Snail Stud Earri...

SLOW AND STEADY hand cu...

slow ride army green te...

Treasury tool by Red Row Studio.

Slow Living: Bokashi Composting

Inspired by recent posts on local blogs ADHDCanuck and Girls and Bicycles, I bought a bokashi composting kit a couple of weeks ago at my local eco-store.

Bokashi isn't technically composting (which needs oxygen); it's anaerobic fermentation. It's a super simple process. You layer your food scraps with bokashi bran, which contains the starter culture for the fermentation, cover the mixture so no air can get in, and repeat until the bucket is full while using the tap to remove any extra liquid - which you dilute and use as plant fertilizer. Then you wait a couple of weeks for the microbes to do their thing. At the end of the process, the food scraps will look like they've been pickled; you mix them into your regular compost bin (or a vermicomposter) or bury them mixed with soil in a pit in your garden to allow the decomposition to complete and get nice black compost. My plan, since I have no room indoors (until I get the basement organized) for a worm bin, is to save my bokashi-treated scraps until springtime, then add them to our outdoor compost pile. They can apparently be frozen, so I'll just transfer them to another airtight container and put them in our (detached, unheated) garage until the composter emerges from the snowbanks.

Being me, I had to do some extra research before I got started, so I did some hunting online. Here are some great sites that describe the bokashi process in detail:
I'm a little disappointed to learn that I could have made a DIY bucket for a fraction of the cost, but I'm stoked to get started right away! 

Day 1 (March 8th): Unfortunately the stuff I had set aside - limp salad, forgotten brussels sprouts - had started to grow black mold, so can't be used in the bokashi (At a future date I'll experiment with killing all the mold spores by baking it in the oven, then cooling it and adding it to the bokashi - but I was not feeling that brave for my very first bucket). So I layered in some bokashi bran and what turns out to be a pitiful amount of leftover pasta. Hmm, I need to have more stuff per layer.

Day 3:  I waited a couple of days and deliberately made fruit salad so I could get a decent layer of peels down. When I opened the box, there was a little condensation on the lid, and some white fuzz on top of the bokashi bran layer, which I fervently hoped was yeast and not an aerobic mold. Just in case, I added three generous handfuls of bokashi bran on top of this layer (which is probably 2/3 banana peels). And made a mental note that the resulting mixture is still quite dry, so I should aim for more veggies and moisture in the next batch of scraps.

I used an extra-large freezer bag partly filled with dried peas as my top layer to limit air exposure:

Day 4: husband threw in the fruits of an experiment in making whole-wheat bagels that went horribly awry. No bran, very dry, no effort to cover completely with my bag of peas. (Sigh.) He did report a pleasant yeasty smell in container.

Day 5: made fruit salad, so had lots of peels to add to the bokashi. Woohoo!

Day 6 through 15: a car accident (I'm okay, just mild whiplash and lots of paperwork), plus out-of-town guests, meant we've done lots of eating out and nothing has been added to the bin. Some of our food scraps went to regular garbage, some into the freezer for storage.

Day 16 (24 March): opened the bin at then end of our week of benign neglect to find no mold and a smell pleasantly reminiscent of pickles, so my improvised bag-o-peas is doing the trick at excluding air. The mixture is really dry still, so when I added my scraps I put in an extra cup of water to help things along. Also: we've spied a compost tumbler at Costco for a paltry $120 or so. How wonderful that they've come down in price! We'll snag one for ourselves next trip for the post-bokashi-pre-garden processing.

Day 20: Drained my first batch of compost tea: two-thirds of a cup! W00T! And hit publish on this post, which I'll continue to update periodically...

Who else has tried bokashi composting? How'd it go for you?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Monthly Slow News Summary: March 2011

Slow Design:
Slow Fashion:
Slow Travel:
Slow Living:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How-To: Manage an Epic Wardrobe Purge

I've written previously about fashion diets. Today I thought I'd share my journey so far with mine. 

My story will be quite different from that described by most of the perky world-travelling twenty-somethings who are blogging about minimalism. I've just turned forty, I've lived in the same city since 1994, and I've lived in the same single-family home with lots of storage for just over a decade. I'm temperamentally inclined to be a packrat: I save things for sentimental reasons or because I'll need them someday, I hoard craft supplies and half-finished projects, I go antiquing and collect select items, I buy too many magazines, and I have a mini-library in my home. I have children, and all the piles of kid-art and boxes of toys and things bought by well-meaning relatives that go with having children. I live in the suburbs. I own a fleet of vintage bicycles, in various states of repair, but I also ferry my kids around in an SUV. I do not have a single e-book I want to sell you.

So, yes, my fashion diet experience will definitely be different from someone who is at a very different stage in their life. 

My wardrobe hadn't been re-evaluated in at least five years, and in that time I have worn a range of four sizes (thank you, second pregnancy), gone through a phase where I decided that I need to stop dressing like a grad student now that I don't spend long working hours in a research lab (so I now have both lots of dress-like-a-grown-up clothes and lots of casual clothes), and brought a slightly ridiculous amount of clothing home from thrift stores. My closet was overflowing; it would be only a slight exaggeration to have called me wardrobese (heh, get it?). I can only imagine the closets of acquaintances whose primary hobby is going to the mall. 

I want a great capsule wardrobe; I love the idea of having a few key high-quality pieces that coordinate with each other, instead of a closet full of clothes that don't work for me. I'd like to spend less time on figuring out what to wear, and look more polished. I live in a four-season continental climate where the temperature extremes go from roughly -40 to +40 Celsius, often swinging by 20 degrees in a day, so for practical purposes I need a capsule wardrobe for each season. 

Hanging space after the purge.
This will look much less crowded once the stuff for other seasons is packed away.

Shelf space after the purge. 
These were literally overflowing at the start of the process.

Here are the steps I took to get one:

Stage 1: Make sure that every piece of clothing I own is clean. This was not trivial. I have a busy family with young children and a puppy, so there is always a huge pile of stuff waiting to be washed and another pile waiting to be folded. Often if things don't get folded quickly enough, they need to be rewashed because the kids have climbed on the Laundry Chair, dumping things onto the floor so that Miss Sheds-A-Lot can nest in them or tromp on them with snowy paws. This means that anything that needs special care waits absolutely forever before it gets cleaned - and so the pile of clothing that needs to be handwashed or hung to dry just gets bigger and bigger. It had grown large enough to fill two hampers. I wish I'd thought to keep track of the exact time it took me to get it all clean, as it would be a terrific object lesson in the wastefulness of having too much stuff. It took me many hours spaced over five days.

Stage 2: Presorting. Next I went through my whole wardrobe and presorted it into several categories. Anything I was unsure of, I tried on and got my daughter's opinion: you can count on a seven-year-old for honesty on fit. I sorted into 4 main categories: things that fit properly (put back in the closet), things that are too small (filled 1 photocopy-paper box), things that are too big (filled another photocopy-paper box to overflowing), and things to store (yet another box). This last category is reserved for things I'm keeping for sentimental reasons, like the sweet little black bias-cut crepe dress my genius sister had all her bridesmaids wear, and a couple of timeless pieces sewn by my Mom that I hope my daughter will wear one day. There is also a bonus category, of items that went into my mending basket at this point; only a couple of irreparably damaged things got thrown away. I plan to spend an afternoon soon mending things, then trying them all on and deciding which category they belong to.

Stage 3: Get objective second opinions from my inner circle. This took all evening and was actually tremendous fun. My friends were fantastically complimentary when something looked great, and ruthlessly honest when something needed to go. They raided my big boxes of castoffs to see if there were any gems that fit them, and each went home with a big bag of clothes that look way more stylish on them than they ever did on me. They helped me weed out the stuff that fits my body, but doesn't fit my lifestyle or go with anything else in my closet. Since I am losing weight (honest), I also kept a minimal number of good-quality pieces in the next size down from my current size. Warm autumnal colours and neutrals stayed; the vintage schiaparelli pink velvet blazer found a new home. 

Our criteria at this stage were the usual capsule wardrobe criteria, with a slow-fashion twist:

  • Does it fall within my colour palette for that season (since my different seasonal capsule wardrobes have slightly different palettes)?
  • Is it a flattering cut for my figure? Does it read as sophisticated (vs too young for me), and either timeless or on-trend?
  • Can it be custom-tailored or embellished to create something more timeless or figure-flattering?
  • If it needs special care, do I love it enough to make it worth the hassle? 
  • Was it bought vintage, or locally, sustainably, and/or ethically produced? Can I imagine still wearing it in another ten or twenty years?
  • If it was not sustainably or ethically produced, will I wear it enough times to mitigate its hidden environmental and social costs (through its durability and classic styling)?

If the answers to these questions were yes, I kept it; if they were no, I passed it on to someone who will (hopefully) answer yes.

The numbers at evening's end: 
10 items stored for posterity (in fairness, there is more at my parents' home),
8 classic items stored in the size below my current size, 
3 items to be tailored or remade, 
24 oversize concert-souvenir t-shirts boxed (to turn into a quilt),
29 items given to my three fabulous friends, 
12 items set aside for another friend who couldn't attend, 
35 items donated to charity, 
1 large bottle of wine (plus several cups of coffee and tea, a pizza, and two giant chocolate bars) consumed, 
4 articles of clothing rediscovered that I had completely forgotten I owned, and
19 timeless items purchased second-hand that made the cut.

Stage 4: Make a wish list of any items that are missing from my seasonal capsule wardrobesAs outfits were tried on, one of my friends kept a running list of items I should look for to complete my wardrobe. For me, those items were navy blue trousers, a crisp white tailored shirt with French cuffs, a fitted vest (waistcoat) and camisole for layering, a navy accordion-pleated skirt, and sundry accessories (primarily belts, which I hate shopping for). Luckily for me, there's a lot of navy blue in the shops right now. Naturally my slow-fashion criteria will apply when I shop for these items.

Stage 5: Figure out what I'm wearing all the time right now, in the coldest part of winter. These items will need to be part of my winter capsule wardrobe next year, and some of them will be seasonless enough to be part of my year-round capsule wardrobe. 

I noticed as I sorted my clothes that I wear more black and grey, and more velvet, in fall and winter; for warmth I often layer black leggings or jeans under skirts and dresses. On any given winter day I wear enough outerwear to exclude me from ever managing a Six Items Or Less stint, unless they change their rules so that outerwear doesn't count.

I'm done to this point at the time I wrote this post. Next steps:

Stage 6: Determine what my 33 items are for Project 333, for the April 1 to June 30 dates. The 33 items include clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes - but not day-to-day jewelry (my eyeglasses and the 3 rings and 3 hoop earrings that I practically never take off), undies and socks, pajamas, or workout clothes (which will double as loungewear for me). I'll trial-run my 33 items in March, and do a separate post about my choices. Since the weather will be shifting from still snow on the ground to early summer temperatures during the 3 months, I'll be dressing in layers and using the bonus rule of allowing myself to rotate in three warm-weather items (a light jacket, a pair of sandals) and rotate out three cold-weather items (my down coat and winter boots). I'll also call time-out on my 33-item wardrobe and use a different, even more limited wardrobe for my trip to Japan in May (which will mean dressing for higher humidity and temperatures I usually see in early July at home).

Stage 7: Pack for the Japan trip. My travel wardrobe will be a version of the capsule wardrobe I would choose for summertime, but limited by what will allow me to pack light, handwash and hang dry as needed, be comfortable doing lots of walking, and look suitably stylish for both the day-to-day stuff and some romantic evenings on the town. I'll probably be leaving all my black at home and packing navy blue instead.

Stage 8: Put more things in storage or give them away. Stages 6 and 7 will allow me to whittle down my wardrobe even further and set aside an additional few items to be given away, while the rest will get packed up for a few months, after which I'll see if I missed them and decide upon their fate.  

I have to say, at this point I'm feeling so happy to have found new homes for clothes that weren't working for me, and to have so much more room in my closet. I'm really stoked for the upcoming stages of this process. At the ends of June and September I'll probably decide to do additional rounds of Project 333, which will help me to further narrow my choices and define my personal style.