Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guest Post: Iced Coffee to go

So, my sister Taylor wrote this guest post over a year ago, and somehow I have not actually posted it yet. So though another summer's nearly over, here's her story of how she makes iced coffee to go with less waste and less cost than buying it at Starbucks! 

Since I'm a guest blogger, I'll quickly introduce myself. I'm Steph's little sister (by 20 months) and I am currently starting my second year of medical school. Steph asked me to write a little bit about one of my wasteless practices. I've picked up a lot of her habits, but I came up with this one all on my own.

I wasn't a coffee drinker until my senior year of college. My biochemistry professor's soothing voice at 9:30 am was enough to necessitate a daily dose of caffeine. But I quickly realized that drinking hot coffee on the way to class was not an enjoyable adventure. My roommate drank the Starbucks bottled Frappucino Coffee Drinks, so I figured I'd give them a try. You could pick them up pretty much anywhere on my undergraduate campus that also sells hot coffee. They worked great, but they cost a pretty penny.

I realized that I could just reuse the glass bottles and use my own coffeemaker at home, saving time, money, and countless glass bottles. It's a simple process: just make a cup of coffee the night before you want to drink it, pour it in the bottle, add whatever else you like in your coffee (milk, sugar, etc.), and place it in the fridge UNCAPPED. In the morning, twist the cap on, give it a shake, and you're ready to enjoy.

They're better than the Starbucks made ones for many reasons:
-You don't have to spend daily $$$ in the store
-You can make whatever flavor coffee you want, Starbucks brand or not
-You can make them the night before, meaning they are fresher than the Starbucks version that have preservatives
-You can also make a bunch for the week, and keep your fridge stocked
-You can reuse the glass bottles over and over

I currently use Starbucks Veranda coffee with Coffeemate Fat Free Vanilla creamer, because that's what I like for hot coffee too.

Now that I'm in medical school, I've started using this method for my afternoon caffeine, because at least 2 doses are necessary. I still make them the night before, and then just stick them in my backpack to drink at the library. They portable, pretty spill-proof (keep them upright though), and they taste good cool/at room temperature if you can't keep them refrigerated.

I also do this with iced tea, I just use Snapple bottles. I don't recommend using the same bottles for tea and coffee, because you can't get them as clean as you want sometimes, so you don't want your tea to taste like coffee or vice versa.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Conference Successes (eco-friendly and otherwise)

I was at a conference this last week; I can confidently say I accomplished more and enjoyed the experience more than any other conference I've been to.  I've been to a couple other smallish conferences like this before, but this time I went in knowing more people and confident enough in my science to reach out and network more than I have before.  I also did a lot of prep work and managed my energy levels well, which helped a lot. 

I spent the week prior to the conference preparing to meet people, in much more depth than I'd done previously.  I read through the list of conference attendees and presentations, and planned out who I definitely wanted to hunt down.  I also tried to note what I wanted to talk to them about.  It didn't work out exactly right, but it gave me a plan so I didn't freeze up every time I was confronted with a person whose work I admired.  My advisors also helped me organize a few meetings, which took a bit more of the pressure off.

Part of my prep work also involved pre-planning my energy management.  I'm an introvert, and at past conferences I've tried to push myself to be at every talk and go out with people all the time.  This results in me burning out by mid-week, and generally being scientifically and inter-personally useless for the last day or two of the conference. 

This time around, I sat down with the conference schedule and mapped out which talks I would definitely skip, and which I thought I could skip if necessary.  I focused on culling talks on the days when I knew I was meeting people, or early morning talks when I had plans to go out the night before.  There was no point in me going to a talk if I'm going to be too tired and/or distracted to pay attention, if I could get a bit of rest instead.  I also told friends and advisors honestly, before and during the conference, that I would be taking care of myself like this; they generally respected my decisions.  I was still exhausted by week's end, but overall I had a much easier time focusing on the talks I did attend and still having some conversational skills left by the end of the week.

I also tried to mitigate some of the environmental impact.  What I ended up doing was baby steps, if anything, but still something.  I took a few cloth napkins and a good quality plastic fork I already owned, and used those in lieu of paper napkins or plastic utensils at the hotel or end-of-conference picnic.  I did not take my own plate, which I kinda regret, but that would also have been hard to carry, especially when dirty. So room for improvement there.

I was also helped a lot in my environmental endeavours by the conference itself, though they weren't perfect.  The organizers provided lunch for us every day at the conference center, with nothing disposable involved.  They also had real cups and saucers for coffee breaks, although I started carrying my conference mug because they sometimes resorted to paper cups when the real ones ran out.  They did have a few plastic giveaways that I didn't resist (water bottle and sunscreen), but overall I was pleased with how they ran it. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014


It's been a crazy year.  I dropped off the map with this blog, in part because I didn't have any new zero-waste adventures to share, but mostly because I got hit with some mental health issues at the end of last semester.

I may blog about that more at some point, but the summary is: grad school is really, really stressful and sometimes that messes you up. It is always stressful, but especially when you are trying to balance three research projects and an NSF proposal and unnecessarily early concerns about thesis project selection.  For me, that stress overwhelmed my ability to cope and keep working at the necessary rate, and so my brain and body started going into a shutdown mode around Thanksgiving.  I finally got help in January, and am in a much, much better place than I was 6 months ago, but this blog managed to drop off my priority list. 

I may widen my blog post topics in future, we'll see, but for now I'm feeling celebratory, so here are a few things that happened this semester that I'm happy about:
  • I FINALLY FINISHED MY PAPER FROM MY UNDERGRAD THESIS!!! (Reviewer comments don't exist yet, shhh) but submission will happen this week. AHHHHHH!!! 
  • But seriously that paper has been a shadow over my life for the last two years.  I started the project almost exactly four years ago (minus two weeks).  And it is finally almost gone.
  • I learned how to set boundaries.  In my personal life and my professional life, I am finally learning how to tell people NO and say how I want to do things.  I am learning how to tell people that they hurt me (that's in my personal life only, thank goodness).  This has been a lifelong lesson coming.
  • I'm grappling with my faith and my identity. I started claiming my faith under somewhat hostile circumstances, at school and in my head (and at church, though that was more subtle).  Twelve years later letting go of those things means redefining who I am and where I stand with God. 
  • I'm finally managing to actually send messages on this online dating website.  No one has replied, but getting myself to be proactive about dating is a major step for me.
 So woohoo! Here comes summer and adjustments and new and continuing dilemmas, but today is a good day.