being green

Here’s a word problem for you green-minded types:

I live in Brooklin. I want to go to Kennebunk (actually Arundel, to Wildfire HPV, but I would use Kennebunk as my base since my partner is there for business) to test-drive recumbent trikes as a first step toward greening my transportation. I have a regular, non-hybrid car at my disposal. If I drive it will take me about 4 hours each way, and about 17 gallons of gas round trip.

I can catch a bus in Bangor, about an hour away in the wrong direction, but not in Ellsworth, which is more like 30 or 40 minutes away. I can also catch a bus in Belfast, an hour or more away in the right direction. Neither of these buses will stop in Kennebunk. They will only stop in Portland. Portland is 30 minutes from Kennebunk. My partner is in Kennebunk with a Prius. She can come get me and return with me to Kennbunk, adding one Prius-hour of driving to the total carbon footprint of this trip.

If I do this and take the bus, I can return with her to Brooklin in the Prius. However, we then must drive to Bangor to retrieve the other car, adding two Prius-hours of driving to the two regular hours of driving to the carbon footprint of the trip. Alternatively, if I take the bus from Belfast, the car pickup will be on the way home.

“Regular driving” is about 20 mi/gal and Prius driving is about 45 mi/gal.

What is the best way for me to get to Kennebunk?

Do I (a) Drive to Kennebunk (8 hours of driving for the round trip)
(b) Drive to Belfast and take the bus from there to Portland (3 hours of regular driving, plus on extra Prius-hour, plus the bus, which is $35 and 9 hours)
(c) Drive to Bangor and take the bus from there to Portland (2 hours of regular driving plus 3 Prius-hours, plus the bus, which is $25 and 2.5 hours)
(d) wait for her to get home with the Prius and then drive to Kennebunk as a separate trip (8 Prius-hours)

Bueller? Anyone?


I’m very, very excited. We now have a choice of velomobiles in the US. In addition to the allwelder from Velomobile USA in Texas, we now have a US dealer fro the Go-One3. Prices are still high-ish (base model at 10k, and then accessories for winter and assembly bring the cost to $17k) but I’m so glad velomobiles are making inroads into the US market. Unfortunately the “financing” available is a credit card at 24% APR. Yikes! We need to get banks educated so we can get auto-type loans for these.

PS: my favorite is still the Aerorider. Anyone importing them yet?

I’m a big fan of open-source software, the open source movement in general, and creative commons licensing. These are all sets of practices that move away from the mine-mine-all-mine model of intellectual property and toward a more collaborative way of being. To my way of thinking there’s a lot of good that comes out of financial motivation, but there’s also a lot of good that comes from collaboration, including most useful science. The trend toward racing-to-publish, secrecy, and sabotage in the science community really disturbs me, so I’m always glad to see something leaning in the other direction.

For a variety of reasons, my work computer has given me the chance to experiment more fully with open-source computer systems. I’m still running Windows Vista for practicality’s sake, but nearly everything else that I use regularly is open source, and it’s working brilliantly. By my calculations, that’s several thousand dollars worth of software not purchased from large corporations. I don’t mind supporting good R&D, but at some point it starts to look and feel exploitative. Further, we’re a church–we have a lot of the same needs as a corporation, but at least in this stage of our development, we don’t have the same kind of budget, and our values suggest that maybe supporting other endeavors should be our first priority.

So for the curious, here’s what’s working well for me:

    web browser (instead of Internet Explorer): Mozilla Firefox
    mail client (instead of Microsoft Outlook): Mozilla Thunderbird
    drawing program (instead of Adobe Illustrator): Inkscape
    layout program (Instead of Quark Xpress): Scribus (warning: this is ever so slightly harder to install than the others. If you want it for Windows, go to the scribus page and under “choose your platform” choose Windows. Read the whole page through, don’t forget to install Ghostscript first, and then look for the download link all the way at the bottom.)
    photo editor (instead of Photoshop): the venerable Gimp, possibly one of the oldest of these open-source projects, and one of the first to gain widespread use.
    photo viewer/slideshow maker/simple editor: Irfanview, and no, I don’t know how to pronounce it, but it’s tiny and fast and flexible.

These will serve most of the needs that most of us have, with no licensing headaches and no major dents to our purses. Of course, all projects accept donations if you are so moved.

I had some time today without contacts or glasses, which means I couldn’t do much if it wasn’t three inches from my face. I spent it reading, which is the one thing I have always done with or without corrective lenses. Today’s focus was environmentalism. When I spend time online I tend to bounce from thing to thing in a stream-of-consciousness research fog, noting and bookmarking as I go. I’ve learned a lot of good things that way. I’ve also lost some time to things to esoteric to mention, but when you spend time online you have to take a certain amount of chaff with the wheat, no matter how good your search strings are.

Today was more focused than most, though–something about the 3 inch radius of my world. So I started with my “lived values” bookmarks.

I delved back into furoshikis and found some more pictures, but not any more styles of using them. I seem to have exhausted what is out there for the time being. I hemmed off some pieces of fabric and have been using them–and the more I use them the more I want to play with them–so I’m still interested. There’s a book called Gift Wrapping With Textiles that may be next on my list. I’m really enjoying the variety of possibilities with furoshikis. For one thing, they can be reused. For another, the bags can be made to fit their contents (more or less) and the icing on the cake is that they don’t have to match anything. If you see an appealing, two-sided or through-dyed fabric, you can use it. For someone like me who revels in beauty, this is a great way to make use of small amounts of beautiful fabrics without having to make clothes of them.

After furoshikis (don’t ask how I made the leap) I started researching transportation options. I’ve been wanting a recumbent trike for a while now–ever since my very dedicatedly environmentalist friend in Minneapolis introduced me to recumbent bikes and I discovered that they were lovely, except for the falling-off part. (A ‘bent allows riders to sit more or less naturally and pedal with their feet in front of them). What I discovered today is that the base price for trikes has dropped from about $3000 to about $1200, and in some cases, as little as $999. That was hopeful news. But the truth is, living here in Maine it’s hard to justify even that much for something that has a shorter season than a kayak. Ice, sand, salt, poor visibility, and cold, driving rain will get you off the road long before the snow flies, at least if you’re me. In addition, we have some wicked hills. Eventually I’m sure I would master them. But that would certainly make the difference between commuting on the trike and going out for occasional pleasure rides. I have a $70 used touring bike that is perfect for riding twice a year. If I’m buying a serious vehicle, I need to have plans to use it.

So naturally I started looking at fully faired, electric-assist trikes, also known as velomobiles. Holy cats, are they ever cool. And not just cool, but sensible. Apparently there are two down in the Biddeford area, but no others in the state of Maine. A fairing is a shell, made to reduce drag and increase protection from the elements. It can be made of anything from neoprene to molded fiberglass to wood, as long as it does its job. Of course, with a human powered vehicle mass is a factor, but so is structural stability. If you get rolled or hit you don’t want to get hurt if you can help it. Some velomobiles are basically frames with thin shells; others use the shell for the structural strength. With electric assist you can even make it up steep hills despite the doubled or tripled weight (these things tend to weigh 60 lbs or more) and reasonably arrive at your commuting destination ready for work, and not for a shower. Living here in Brooklin with Wooden Boat School just around the corner it of course occurred to me that a stitch and glue or strip-built fairing would be fun to build and stunning to look at…but it would also be heavier, and I have no experience with either of those building techniques. Still, given the prohibitive $6000-and-up price tags (closer to $12000 with all the options that would make them Maine-winter-ready) it’s tempting to give it a try. Given the price drops on the recumbent trikes, though, maybe I should just wait for mass production and importation to have its effect; a good third of that cost is getting the machines from Europe, where they are somewhat available, to this side of the pond.

I think a Subaru and a fully-faired trike with studded tires would make a good two-car solution for our household. Somehow, though, I suspect the bank won’t finance a velomobile. Ah well, someday.

The question of religious dress is complicated, especially if you don’t live in a cloister. As I said before, it should be practical. It should fit with my values. But “practical” includes “can wear it without it becoming the center of attention”. What often happens when I wear a salwaar kameez to work is that people’s brains stop short at my clothes and they don’t hear anything I say that doesn’t involve the word “India”. As a minister it’s not all about me. But my clothes can make it all about me, which is bad if my goal is to get folks thinking deeply about religion or something.

So okay, it should blend in. What’s out there already?

Of course we have to consider the all-purpose robe. With the right cincture (belt) it might even blend in.
Knowing how practical the salwaar kameez is, that goes on the list of models.
The sari has that infinite-size-changing quality, as does the sarong, and in pants, the dhoti.
Lots of women committed to subtle plain dress are choosing jumpers.
I have to say, overalls are pretty comfy, and I’ve seen some professional-looking ones.
There’s also a thing called “fat pants” or “thai fisherman’s pants“–a kind of stitched wrap pant–and ordinary wrap pants.
For warmth we have the usual: jackets and sweaters, leggings and tights. I’m not dealing with overcoats, socks, or underwear–that’s a whole other headache.

So just in major indoor clothing we have:
1) six yards of undraped fabric
2) robes
3) tunics
4) baggy pants
5) skirt
6) pants or skirt with bib front
7) jackets
8 ) sweaters
9) wrap-around clothing: pants, skirts
10) vests

That’s a good selection of options to start. Really, only shirts are missing. Perhaps a pirate/renaissance shirt? Of what we have, robes, tunics, baggy pants, jumpers, overalls, and wrap clothing can be inherently size-flexible.

To make others size-flexible you’d have to add something subtle: elegant lacing, adjustable buttons, something.
To make them sustainably produced they’d have to be of organic fabrics, sewn probably by one’s self or in a cottage-industry model, preferably fairly locally.
Then to make them affordable, you’d need to have the option of mixing and matching your entire wardrobe–maybe a palette of tans, whites, and blacks to start–so that you only needed maybe 20 garments for a whole three or four season wardrobe. That would also help reduce the overconsumption that tends to come with seventeen different reds in one closet. (Now you need seventeen of any red accessory…)
With natural and unique fabrics I can’t imagine how to make the red from one dye lot match another, so incorporating color would be tricky.

Of course, there’s always a simpler way. One of my rural colleagues has taken to wearing black Carhartts for work. It’s tempting.

I came. I sewed. I saw that it was pretty neat.

So after my previous adventures in research and development, I’ve been using the three furoshiki I made (one 60″ square, two 45″ square) around the house. I used them for laundry bags. I used them for auxiliary carry bags when my briefcase wasn’t enough. I used them for grocery bags. I used one to carry a couple of jars home in the two-bottle wrap. I even used one to carry the dog down an over-steep set of stairs. She was very cute.

Thus, this may turn out to be a brief dalliance with something sensible, but I rather suspect not.

Pitfalls: (1) remembering to say “I have a bag” before the attentive baggers have everything tucked into plastic.
(2) making sure one is available when I’m leaving the house
(3) remembering to take one with me
(4) remembering the various possible tying methods on the fly.

but yes, I can say that I think it’s a great and useful idea. I can also say that I can see the uses of a 28″ furoshiki. Mine are sometimes overlarge for small jobs. I’m still working on the point of an 18″ one. At any rate, I determined that I liked them.

Intrigued, I went looking for more than the Japanese Ministry of the Environment PDF, figuring that something so versatile with such a long history must have more than a few variations. Not much is out there, but about twelve pages into my Google search results I did find this blog called Watashi to Tokyo in which the author refers us here to the blog of “a geek living in Japan” and here for gift wrapping, a backpack and a center-rosette box wrapping, all in furoshiki. I hear there’s a book about this. If I get my hands on it, I’ll see about doing some English-language explanations. One website notes that they only ever see gaijin (foreigners? my Japanese translation skills aren’t great) using these in Japan, but I have no idea if that’s fair or accurate.

I’ve been thinking for some time about the trouble that clothing causes in our culture. I always thought fashion was a bit of a nuisance, but my time in India really expanded my thinking. I don’t mean to say that those who like fashion should not enjoy it–of course they should! Self-expression is varied. But if our clothes arean expression of ourselves, then I think we need more options.

Some days I like to dress up–it feels right. But most days, especially when I’m working, clothing feels like a tool. I need it to serve me, not the other way around. To that end, I’m developing some standards to work with:
it should keep me warm and dry and covered to meet basic modesty standards of our society;
it should be comfortable and easy to work in;
it should have a sustainable supply-chain life from fiber to manufacture to sale;
and I shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time or energy or money on it. It takes time and energy from other things that I think are more important. I get frustrated when dealing with clothing becomes an obstruction in my day.

In addition, I have a medical condition which causes significant weight fluctuation, and I want my clothes to accommodate that without my having to maintain wardrobes for every size my body can be.

Before my trip to India that wouldn’t have occurred to me. But Indian women’s clothes, notably the sari, dhoti, and lungi but also the salwaar kameez and kurta pajama, are designed to be flexible.

Saris are six to nine yards of unstitched fabric, wrapped around one’s body in a variety of ways. They are always custom-fitted because in essence the garment is created anew each time you put it on. The catch is the choli, a short and tight blouse usually worn underneath. Those become tight very easily. The men’s equivalent, the dhoti, is also a long length of unstitched fabric, usually 5 or 6 yards. Here is a good dhoti-wearing guide, if you’re good at following words with no illustrations. Lungis are like sarongs, a shorter length of fabric knotted around the waist for casual wear; salwaar kameez and kurta pajama describe essentially the same outfit: a pair of baggy pants, a long tunic, and (for women) a long, light scarf. The baggy pants (salwaar or pajama) are big enough to accommodate a pregnant belly, with a yoke at the top and drawstring for fitting. The tunic (kameez–related to the French chemise–or kurta) is loose and long, often with slits from the hem to the hip for easier movement. In any of these clothes, an extra inch or two at the waist does not mean a trip to the store, just a slight adjustment when you put them on. They are elegant, and in the case of the salwaar kameez, easy to learn to wear.

Observation: the easier it is to put on, the less flexible it is about fit and size.

Several years after returning from India I found myself needing a new wardrobe for a new career. I went shopping, but not with much enthusiasm. I got some good, serviceable work clothes. But it didn’t feel right wearing them. On top of that, they didn’t quite fit right because my weight kept changing. I had never spent so much time worrying over my clothes as I did that first year out of school. At the same time, I was trying to live according to my values. Something wasn’t matching up.

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