Thursday, June 21, 2012

Book Pile Status

(This is taking the place of a Small Success post for the week.)

I've already shown that I have too many books.  The pile pictured there has actually grown a little bit, as I've realized that my initial trip around the room only included the shelves where I knew there were many unread books.  I forgot that my poetry shelf included Beowulf or that Watership Downs was residing on my bookcase of kid's books, for example.

Anyway, I've read 4 books from the pile since I posted that picture.  They are Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Memory of Earth by Orson Scott Card, The Girl Who Heard Dragons by Anne McCaffrey, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I greatly enjoyed all of them.   

In the past I've been asked, as a science fiction fan, whether I've read Brave New World, and I've had to ashamedly answer in the negative.  Finally, I've read it.  It's chilling in the way that the best futuristic works are - like Bradbury and Orwell, Huxley shows an extreme future in order to illustrate something about the present.  In this case, the importance of complex, critical thought and the power of societal pressure. 

The Memory of Earth is the beginning of Card's Homecoming series, the story of humankind's descendants on another planet.  The idea is that 30 million years prior to the story, the last remnants of Earth's residents settled new worlds.  To prevent the type of destructive wars that were apparently the end of civilization on Earth, a protective computer system called the Oversoul was set up over the planet Harmony.  The Oversoul prevents them from creating any type of technology that speeds travel (like wheeled carts) or that would be considered a large-scale weapon.  But the Oversoul is starting to fail... The book raises some interesting questions about belief and the practice of religion, since the Oversoul is the god of the people of Harmony.

The Girl Who Heard Dragons is actually a short story collection.  The first story, with the same name as the collection, takes place in the Dragonriders of Pern 'verse.  Most of the others take place in a space-faring universe that's probably related to McCaffrey's other books, but I've only read the Pern novels.  My favorite story was "The Greatest Love", a story written in 1956 about a fictional first attempt at human IVF.  Aside from getting to drive T crazy with my questions about the medical terminology (she's a pre-med student), I enjoyed the twists and turns and stumbling blocks encountered by the characters as they pushed forward with the procedure.  Since I started this book the day after I finished The Memory of Earth, I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of styles between Card, a Mormon, and McCaffrey, who seems quite to distrust the religious establishments of the world. 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde shouldn't need an introduction, really.  I'm disappointed in myself for never reading it before now, since I've known the basic premise since early childhood.  The story, however, did not disappoint.  It chilled and horrified while at the same time examining the way one man dealt with his darker side.  Given the recent release of the Avengers (I haven't seen any of the individual Hulk films), I also saw the parallels between Drs. Jekyll and Banner and each man's success (or lack thereof) in controlling the beast within him.

In addition to those, I reread Neil Gaiman's American Gods back in May and I just finished rereading The Hobbit in preparation for the first film this December.  I'm also halfway through a book called The Four Percent Universe, which was a graduation gift.  It's a nonfiction book about cosmology, which is the study of the large scale universe: its structure, its origins, and what it's made of.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dealing with Pack-Rat Tendencies

I've noticed that I hold onto things for one of two reasons.  Either the items were important to me at some point and/or I think I might use them "someday".  Both sources of attachment make it hard for me to just throw things into a bag for goodwill, and the stuff just takes up otherwise-useful space.  If I'm really attached to something, I have to convince myself that someone else needs or will use the item more than I will.  There's really 2 methods I have to force myself to get rid of stuff when I just can't let go.

1. Give them to someone specific
This way, things I once loved don't float anonymously off into the donation bin.  I know where they're going and I can pick "good homes" with people I know will enjoy them. (Yes, I'm aware this comes across as a little neurotic).

One example: my collection of Dragonlance books.  I was really into the series in middle school and early high school, and I had worked hard to collect about 20 of the books over a few years of used books stores/sales.  By college, though, I had mostly stopped reading them, except for briefly introducing a friend to the series at the end of sophomore year.  I knew I wasn't going to read them again, but I couldn't bring myself to donate them after working so hard to get my set together. 

Solution? Email my friend and ask him if he would take the books off my hands. He gladly accepted the new reading material, and I freed up a shelf.

2. Have someone else tell me to get rid of them
Sometimes I just need another voice telling me that it will be okay.  Little sister usually fills this job remarkably well.  During a cleaning session last week, I made a small pile of guilt-laden items, and then called her in to ask her what I should do.  I wanted some old Winnie the Pooh bags (a duffel and a backpack) out of my closet, so that I could have more storage space.  But those bags were my trademarks for a lot of my childhood.  I felt really guilty letting them go.  So T verbally hit me on the head and told me to donate them.  And that was enough. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Small Success: Plastic-Free at the Farmer's Market

Well, new-plastic-free, anyway.  I'd gone to our local farmer's market once before, but came home with some new plastic.  This time, I went prepared.  I didn't have enough clean cloth bags to use them for everything I bought, so I had to bring some used plastic bags with me.  Still, I got green beans, a green pepper, broccoli, lettuce, and cherries without bringing home any new packaging.  I'll take the cardboard blackberry basket back this Sunday.

There was some confusion when I bought the lettuce, because I used a cloth bag to purchase loose leaves by weight.  I asked them to tare my bag, but the scale didn't have a tare function so after some discussion they just gave me a 25-cent discount.  In hindsight, I should have just bought a head of lettuce and not worried about it.  

(No pictures with this post - we ate everything before I realized I should have taken photos!)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Old Blue Jeans

This box contains 15-20 pairs of jeans I've worn and ripped through in the last 8ish years.  The really unfortunate thing is that these jeans ripped along the inner thigh; they wore thin from constant wear and then just tore through.  If the holes were in the knees, like they were when I was a kid, I could patch them or leave them ripped.  Alas, these are really not appropriate for public wear.  I didn't want to throw them away, so I've been piling them up thinking "someday" I'll do something with them.  Well, they managed to take up a drawer and a half of space without me ever doing anything.

I need that drawer space.  I'm proud of myself for crafting a wine-bottle tote out of one leg and a waistband, but I'm not going to make 30-40 of them.  That leads back to the "someday" problem, and even if I started a business I'd still have scrap.

Enter Cotton from Blue to Green's mail-in program*.  They take old denim clothing and turn it into insulation.  Then some of the insulation is granted to projects like Habitat for Humanity, for use in insulating homes for those in need.

Green Guilt assuaged?  Potentially helping those in need?  Totally worth the shipping cost.

*Cotton from Blue to Green also takes denim through volunteer-organized drives; none appear to be scheduled on their website, hence I'm mailing my jeans in.

Friday, June 8, 2012

(Very) Small Successes at the Beach

We're on a family vacation this week.  I've had a hand in producing a lot of trash, which I'm not proud of.  There are a few bright spots, though.

Like cloth napkins and a reusable produce bag.  I've actually managed to get my family to use the cloth napkins at every meal we've eaten in the apartment.  And to use the reusable produce bag, which my Grandma made for me from a fabric scrap and shoelaces.

I was disappointed to find out that they don't recycle here. At all.  But this is our little pile of recycling, and it will go home to be recycled there.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lesser of Two Evils

There's not really a conclusion to this post.  I've just been thinking lately about choosing one type of waste over another.

To be specific, I'm talking about the increasingly popular choice to go paperless.  This involves switching from a paper-based organization system to an electronic one, either whole or in part.  There's a big positive impact here: not using paper is much more forest-friendly than using paper.  My conscience starts to twinge, though, at the fact that going paperless means relying more on technology, particularly portable devices like tablets.  Laptops, tablets, smartphones - they're all made with plastic components and designed to be replaced.  Electronic waste is a big environmental (and human rights) problem these days. 

So which impact is worse?  Using a tablet, which will go to an e-waste dump in a few years when it becomes obsolete?  Or using paper, which is recyclable?  On the other hand, even only using 100% recycled paper so no new trees are cut down, you'd still need a computer and a printer with ink. 

I don't have an answer.  I do have a Nook.  I also prefer to read articles on paper.  I'm not sure there is a good choice if I want to continue in the modern world at all, much less pursue a career in a technology- and publication-heavy science.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Small Successes: Learning to Can

(So much for posting every Thursday.  Oops.)

I don't know how relevant this lesson will be in the future, since I'll be living in the city without cheap access to bulk produce, but I'm glad I learned how to can anyway.  It seems to be one of the best ways to save money and support local agriculture, although it's somewhat labor-intensive. 

I visited Miser Mom earlier this week, and she taught me how to can.  We picked strawberries and then made jam; I came home with five jars and some brand-new knowledge :)