Nothing But Flowers

Life has been a bit crazy and a lot boring from too much going on – and by boring, I mean, work work work work work. No biking and no sewing. I haven’t even gotten the sewing space set up yet! Although that is partially because I spent most of Sunday binge watching Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.” It’s a fun show that packs a serious emotional punch at the same time. A highly scientific Facebook survey of my friends showed that I am not the only one my age who likes this show about retired couples. Everyone has given it thumbs up.

Binge watching aside, I apparently needed time away from everything. The Mechanic was out of town for the weekend, so it was just Gaston and I puttering around the apartment. I did get most of my to-do list done, so it wasn’t totally wasted, but still, no biking and no sewing. So instead of photos of a fun bike ride or my latest sewing project, all I have for you is flowers. But you know what? Sometimes I think we all need a little more beauty in our lives.

We have had a ton of rain lately (although that is fairly normal for summers here, it somehow seems like more than our fair share), and with that we get mushrooms popping up on the lawns everywhere. I love the ones that create fairy rings, or almost rings. Don’t they seem magical? My favorite, however, is this spot of sidewalk where annually some zinnia pushes through the cement and makes it’s own statement. It’s like one of those motivational posters, don’t you think?

Nevertheless, it persisted

Surprises in Northeastern Oregon

I missed a regular blog post earlier this week because The Mechanic and I were in Northeastern Oregon on a family trip. My dad’s side of the family gathered to say goodbye to my grandparents with a celebration of life and scattering of their ashes. I hadn’t been there in seven years, for my grandfather’s 90th birthday, and enjoyed exploring with fresh eyes.

Thirty-five years ago, my dad’s dad and his second wife moved to Lostine, Oregon, a small town in Wallowa County, Oregon. Their property, titled Big Foot Ranch (no idea why), is tucked in a narrow valley between Lostine and Enterprise. I was ten when they moved, and got to travel with them in my great-grandmother’s fifth wheel trailer – a huge adventure to me. Every summer thereafter we drove up to visit them. I rode their horse, swam in the irrigation ditch, and learned to drive on a Model A Ford pickup and an old John Deere tractor. (There goes my city creds – The Mechanic now has plenty of ammo to call me a country girl!)

Enterprise, in the far northeast corner of Oregon

To get there, we flew into Boise, the closest airport, and after meeting up with my brother and sister-in-law (who flew in from Texas), drove four hours to Enterprise. After being greeted by the beef industry in the Boise airport, we joked about what the cattle-raising locals would think when four  vegetarians rolled into town.My grandparents’ property is so lovely, with the rushing river and fields on either side. Marching up the hillside through the weeds is still the same, returning with socks and shoe laces full of burrs. This is my kind of wilderness! Also, the low humidity was sooo refreshing, despite the high temperatures.

I have changed in the seven years (!!!) since I’d been to my grandparents’ – then I was single, newly moved from Manhattan to Washington, DC, and unhappy with my job. Wanting to show The Mechanic all the things my brother and I grew up doing in Oregon made everything new. The biggest surprise was how bike-y the area is – whaat? Bike lanes through the middle of Enterprise?! And Joseph, OR, not only had bike lanes, but bike racks shaped like bikes, and one store had a large “Bike Friendly” sign out front, notifying all that not only were there bike racks, but drinking fountains, public restrooms and package shipping. I’ve never even seen this on stores here in the DC metro area! The Mechanic and I chatted with a woman who had been biking 65 miles into Enterprise, to get to Terminal Gravity Brewing. She said that for the most part, cars were pretty respectful of her and kept their distance, because not all the roads have decent shoulders and space to bike. I had heard that the area was trying hard to promote cycle tourism, and now I believe it.

Another surprise was just how much we loved the town of Joseph. It’s Main Street is maybe 5 blocks long, but it packs a ton of cute into those blocks. Famous for the bronze foundry, Joseph has a huge arts scene. Every corner had artwork in brilliant floral beds, every other store was something related to the arts (a wonderful quilt store too!), not to mention the artisan chocolate shop, the bistros and restaurants, and the murals. If you are looking for a relaxing, small town getaway with tons to do and see, this is your destination.

Wallowa Lake was also a surprise – having been in the area for so many years, I don’t know why we never hung out at the lake. My parents, brother, sister-in-law, The Mechanic and I ended up spending a very, very relaxing afternoon reading in the park by the lake. We had gone up to the top of Mt. Howard on the Wallowa Lake Tramway to admire the mountain views, and had planned on renting kayaks. Instead, we enjoyed the beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery around us. Ah….

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All around are remembrances of the Nez Perce tribe, native to the Wallowa area. As obsessed with Native Americans as I was as a child, I don’t remember exploring any of their history while visiting my grandparents. So I was pleased to be able to see a small bit of their history at the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and Joseph Canyon from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Viewpoint.

It seems like we packed a lot into a short trip; this doesn’t even include our evening at Terminal Gravity (their grassy front lawn will make you stay far longer than you planned!) and the day we spent with extended family and friends remembering my grandparents. I will leave you with more photos of the area. It is just so beautiful that photos don’t do it justice. I’m glad I got to visit one last time and have these images to share with you.

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But now we are home and I’m back to embrace my kind of outdoorsy –

ButIt seeWe packed a lot of scenery intoTheSave

Tulips and Bicycles in Philly

A friend and I spent a freezing cold Saturday in Philadelphia, PA, admiring all types of plants in wild, brilliant blooms, at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The theme was “Holland: Flowering the World,” and my hopes for tulips and bicycles were happily achieved – so many of the display gardens featured bicycles in some way or another. Tulips, my favorite flowers, were present everywhere. I have never been to the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society’s 188-year-old flower show, but my gardening friend and I were eager to go, and let Reston Limo to do the driving. Taking a day trip in a motorcoach from the Vienna Metro Station to the Convention Center in Philly was the perfect way to spend time with flowers, and each other (see, who needs a car?). I was expecting an exhibit hall of floral landscapes and scenes, but in fact, the show is divided up into several sections. We started with the landscapes, worked our way through the educational displays (where sustainability was on gorgeous display), then studied some of the art displays before walking through the plant competition on our way to the market place, then checked out the complimentary wine and spirits tasting. There was so much to see that we didn’t get to see it all! We also ran through the Reading Terminal Market, which was across the street, and a quick peek into The Fabric Workshop and Museum. Whew! So much to do in a day!

I loved the creative landscapes:

And I loved that so many of the landscapes included bicycles and bike parts: There was definite emphasis on how bicycles are embraced by the Dutch, as well as a sustainable form of transportation. Something I wasn’t expecting was all the cool artistic flower displays, which were really amazing:

I was inspired by all the displays about sustainability and green space, and its importance in cities, and hope that visitors had a chance to really read some of the signs and information.

It was a shame that the weather was so cold, because I had made a long-promised dress for my friend, and it was too cold for her to wear it. I guess she’ll will have to wait until the weather really is spring-like to wear her floral print spring dress! But isn’t it cute?

McCalls 6520 with modified sleeve – the perfect flower show dress, if it had been warmer!

It was so much fun getting to indulge in flowers, friendship and, as always, bicycles, for a day. I think we will add this to our annual “things to do” list! To see more and better photos of the flowers, and shots without the crowds, check out the article in the Washington Post.

On Balancing Gift Giving and Sustainability

I love the holiday season for so many reasons – holiday lights everywhere, a sense of magic, gluehwein, Christmas tree ornaments, and gift giving. I really enjoy giving gifts – finding something that is special and meaningful for friends and family, picking out fun and thematic gift wrap, and seeing the presents pile up. In my family, stocking stuffers are a big deal. Not $20 luxury candles, as some companies would have you think is appropriate for a stocking gift, but small things, like little Kleenex packets, lip balm, candies, and so on, all $5 or under. (Okay, that still adds up, depending on how large your stocking is!) Finding fun small things is almost more fun to me than big presents!

But over the years, as my brother and I have grown out of the toy phase of life (well, mostly!), and we become more aware of our impact on this planet, mad, frantic gift buying seems inappropriate. So this article from MindBodyGreen struck a chord with me, “Eco-Friendly Everything: How to Make Your Holiday Shopping A More Conscious Experience.”

Most of the gifts I give need to be mailed - California, Texas, New York, Germany...

Most of the gifts I give need to be mailed – California, Texas, New York, Germany…

Tip #1, “Remember that less is more,” is high on my list right now, since we moved last month. Packing up everything then getting rid of stuff we just don’t need makes this much more important to me – we don’t want stuff! I always try to pay attention to Tip #2 – I would never get anyone something that they couldn’t use or don’t need. I believe in shopping small anyway, as someone who sews – I would always rather support local artists if I can. The Mechanic and I like to do experiences. This year we are going to see “The Nutcracker” on Christmas Eve, plus, we have a big trip in January, and are saving up for that. nutcracker-2

Tip #6 is the tip I am trying out this year. We’ve talked about it for years – it would be better to donate to a worthy cause than to spend the money on more stuff. And the time seems right to support the organizations that work on things we value as a family, especially environmental protection and education. You get a donation, and you get a donation, and you get a donation! This could be fun! christmas-tree

It’s actually harder than I though to find The Right Organization, however! There are several really great organizations that protect the environment – Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resource Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy…. and on and on. Then there are educational organizations, everything from directly impacting children’s literacy, like Reading is Fundamental, to educational groups such as Southern Poverty Law Center that fights and educates about hate, intolerance and discrimination. I looked for tips and suggestions in “The Giving List,” to see what other, more active and aware people are suggesting.

Although I worry a bit that my family will be disappointed with only a few gifts this year, I hope they will be more touched and pleased when they read the cards notifying them that donations have been made in their names. Somehow it seems like a better legacy to leave behind. It could become the new Christmas stocking tradition – “Which organization is it this year?!” And maybe I’ll start sewing Christmas presents over the summer next year, to round out more conscious gift giving.

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October Travel Recap: Biking in Shenandoah

My second “catch up” blog post from the traveling I’ve done this month! Soon I should be back on track – at least a bit…

I’ve wanted to go to the Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival for a few years now – biking through the Shenadoah Valley in October = fall colors, farms, exploring new places, stretching the bike legs. Also, it’s proximity to the Frontier Culture Museum was a huge lure; that’s a museum I’ve wanted to go to for a while. This year, The Mechanic and I blocked the weekend and made sure to go. staunton-welcomes-cyclists-sign

Admittedly, blocking the weekend did not equal being prepared. We registered late, which made it more expensive, and were madly throwing anything and everything together the day we left. We planned to camp, since the Festival offers cheap camping on the soccer field at the middle school headquarters. Yep, not really prepared to camp. But that’s okay, because we had a great time!

I was so impressed about the way the host town of Staunton, VA welcomed the festival and how organized everything was. There were signs everywhere welcoming cyclists, and stores in the historic downtown area all had signs welcoming cyclists; some offered discounts. The hostess at one restaurant told us that the Saturday night of the Festival is their busiest night *of the year*. Still don’t believe in the economic power of people on bikes? staunton-welcomes-cyclists

I was highly impressed by the festival booklet that everyone received. The booklet contained cue sheets for every single ride of the two days, in tear-out pages. Each page included the map, cues, the “need help” phone number, and a QR code if you wanted to download it. The booklet also contained the full Festival schedule, Friday, October 14- Sunday, October 16th, a map of this historic downtown, information on local shops and Festival sponsors, driving directions to the remote start locations, and a recap of how the Festival put our registration dollars to work, donating to local charities and initiatives. I guess after 26 years of organizing this event, they know what they are doing, but I am still impressed by all this. cue-sheet-booklet

Part of our non-preparation (I kept thinking of Rootchopper’s No Wrong Plan Trip) meant that we arrived at registration Friday night after dark. That meant setting up the tent in the dark. After we went to find dinner. Sorry, other bike campers! We took our commuter bikes, since we sold our road bikes, which meant a more comfortable weekend. I never even wore my padded bike shorts, which I took. In fact, we pretty much stood out as the only cyclists *not* wearing cycling kit. If we’d done longer rides, of course it would have been a different story. But I enjoyed our leisurely approach to the Festival.

Another part of our non-preparation meant that instead of doing the 34-mile loop that we’d planned to do, we did the short 13-mile “family ride.” We were too exhausted from the week to get up early, and wanted to get in some area sightseeing as well. No big deal – the 13 mile loop, which started from Natural Chimneys park, which had once been renown for jousting, was lovely and we were quite happy with our laziness. Sunday we were more on the ball and got a reasonable start to the 20-mile farm loop, which included stops at three farms. Well, one was a bushel of apples set out for cyclists at an orchard, one was a pickling farm stop, and the last, official stop was Polyface Farms, famous for “radical” farming ideas that include healing the earth and being sustainable. We had hoped for an educational component to that stop, to learn more about their mission and values and techniques, but had to settle for hot dogs and “switchel” offered by polite middle school students. (I was happy to see friendly bunnies, even though I know they are being raised for their meat…) farm-ridefields

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We ate well in several downtown Staunton restaurants and cafes (more vegetarian options in this tiny 10-block town than in all of the DC area!), enjoyed the Frontier Culture Museum, and had absolutely perfect weather!

We are definitely adding this bike weekend to our schedule for next year. There is still more in the area that we haven’t explored, and with so many route options, we know we will see new things. And maybe be a bit better prepared for the camping….

Fields of Gold in Shenadoah

Fields of Gold in Shenadoah

 

Let Nature Nurture

There is a lot of pain, fear and anger in the world these days. I don’t know if it is worse than years, generations, decades or even centuries past, but it is certainly stressful. I have been avoiding the news, discussing the news, thinking about the news… I just need some time to recover from the raw emotions of the shootings in the United States, I need time to fully process and recover my strength. I don’t have time to turn to nature to help me heal, so instead, I’ve been hunting through my photos for pictures of some of my favorite healing nature places.

Water

My most relaxing place is the ocean. I love the crash of the waves on the rocks in Mendocino, which is my happy place. But there are many oceans, and rivers, and bays, and lakes, and other places that have water that make me happy.

Trees

I love trees, too. I love their huge size, the bright green when the leaves are new, the dramatic skeletons when the leaves are gone… In forests and in fields, and down the street from me. Trees are completely uplifting.

Blossoms

Any bright and cheerful blossom in the spring makes me smile – I can’t get enough of the gorgeous colors around me then. When I lived in New York City, I lived near Fort Tryon Park, and spent years wandering through the park soaking up the vivid colors. And I’ve always loved gardens – botanical gardens, gardens at historic estates, gardens of my neighbors. Bright colors make me happy! 2015_Dogwood blossomsChristina's Flower 2

Fort Tryon Park, in 2007

Fort Tryon Park, in 2007

Just looking at these pictures make me happier, and perhaps more resilient. Of course, they also bring back happy memories, which probably also lowers my stress level. It’s a nice reminder to see adventures with friends and family over the years.

I hope you have a moment to stop and smell the flowers and enjoy the trees. It won’t solve the world’s problems, but it might make them easier to stomach. red poppies

Unexpected Treats in Northwest Arkansas

The Mechanic and I took advantage of the Fourth of July long weekend to visit his father in Missouri. Although Poppa Mechanic (who is himself a mechanic and restores and uses tractors and farm equipment) lives in Missouri, he lives so close to the Arkansas border that we fly into Bentonville, AR, and most of our adventures are in Arkansas. I had only visited Poppa Mechanic once, several winters ago, and it was freezing cold, plus there was an ice storm! On that trip we enjoyed Crystal Bridges and Eureka Springs  so I was glad to have the opportunity to visit while the weather was better. The Mechanic and I were surprised and impressed at some of the unexpected treats we found. NW Arkansas

Caves and Cliffs

I have never visited this part of the US before meeting The Mechanic, so that makes all of this area new.  I’m especially enthralled with the caves and rocky bluffs everywhere! Near Poppa Mechanic is a cave that has been converted into an outdoor bar, and another is called the Old Spanish Treasure Cave. Ooh, fun! So visiting War Eagle Cavern was our second stop off the plane. The inside was not as spectacular as the entrance (and the tour guide’s grasp of science and history was questionable) but the entrance was AMAZING! Just like old movies or books, with green vines dripping over the edge – so cool. War Eagle Cavern Entrance

Its hard to get a proper picture from the back seat of the car, but these bluffs or cliffs or whatever they are called are literally over the road everywhere!

Its hard to get a proper picture from the back seat of the car, but these bluffs or cliffs or whatever they are called are literally over the road everywhere!

Elven Chapel

The Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel really isn’t an elven chapel, of course, but boy does it look like one! It’s secluded location belies the fact that it is minutes off the highway in Bella Vista, AR. Between the slender, graceful swooping design of the chapel and the quiet woods surrounding it, I expected Galadriel herself to open the door to us. The architect, local Fayetteville, AR, boy E. Fay Jones, had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, and also designed Thorncrown Chapel, just outside of Eureka Springs. If I’d known when we passed it on our last trip I would have insisted we stop. Cooper Memorial Chapel is simply magical inside and I was envious of the engaged pair touring the chapel as a possible wedding site. I hope they picked it.Cooper Memorial 2Cooper Memorial 1Good Eats

The Mechanic and I had discussed what we’d do when faced with limited vegetarian dining options, but never had to worry. Every restaurant we went to was a delicious surprise for us non-meat eaters. Even Poppa Mechanic joined us in our vegetarianism!

The first stop was the War Eagle Mill, just outside of Rogers, AR, which The Mechanic remembered as a child. A beautiful location, so many options of flour, cornmeal and more, and best of all, one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had in their Bean Palace Cafe on the top floor of the working mill. War Eagle MillOur next surprise dining experience was in Historic Downtown Rogers, the next day. We ducked into Hammontree’s Grilled Cheese and found a hidden gem. Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, plus every gourmet hot dog could be made with a veggie dog! A long list of local brews, a vintage bar and a ginormous pterodactyl over the entrance were other treats but the Star Wars themed art and menu items really sold me on the place. Feel free to open another location in Arlington, guys!

At the end of that day, we had ended up in Fayetteville, AR, further south, and with no idea where to eat, simply Googled “Vegetarian restaurants” and ended up at the charming Eco-conscious Greenhouse Grille. Our meal there was delicious, and left us pining for such an option at home.

Sewing Store!

I never know what we’ll run into when cruising a “historic downtown” of any small town, but I couldn’t have been happier to run across The Rabbit’s Lair. A sewing and knitting store located in a beautifully preserved pharmacy, The Rabbit’s Lair is the kind of sewing store I wish existed in more places. I did end up buying a few things, yarn and an embroidery kit, but I’m sure I would have found more if I’d stayed there longer! I mean, bunnies and sewing! I <heart> this!

The Farm

In addition to these stops, plus a few others (Who knew there was a Daisy Airgun Museum?! Yes, as in “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” And the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks was lovely), we spent a day on Poppa Mechanic’s farm, feeding cows and driving tractors. The wheat fields were beautiful in between crazy thunder and lightening storms, and I loved looking across the fields to see them twinkle with the light of more lightening bugs than I’ve ever seen before. The highlight for me was getting to drive a vintage Ford tractor, reliving the summer I was 15 and learned to drive, on a John Deere tractor, on my grandfather’s farm.

This quick trip was so much fun and definitely left me ready to return and explore the area even more. It was a great way to celebrate our nation’s birth. Trucks

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Sustainability in Shenandoah

The Mechanic and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary, and since the date falls midweek (June 14, in fact!), we celebrated over the weekend by hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

Looking West from Stony Man Summit

Looking Northwest from Stony Man Summit

 

The Mechanic, who prefers roughing it, agreed to stay at the Skylands Resort overnight, mostly so I could convince him to eat at the restaurant – I really wanted to celebrate with the famous blackberry ice cream pie! We stayed in a cabin, which was slightly deceptive, because we didn’t get our own cabin, but rather, a fourth of one of the original cabins.  It was charming, small, and rustic, but the charm mostly wore off as we watched a mouse exploring our belongings after we got into bed. Erk. The resort was fully booked, so we spent the night with all of our belongings in the rental car, while I sweltered with the sheet over my head, so the mouse wouldn’t run across the pillow. Romantic anniversary…

The weather was perfect, sunny, warm but not hot, and very windy. We saw three black bears, a few deer, lots of chipmunks, birds, inchworms, butterflies, and of course, the mouse. But what got me really excited was the hourglass in the shower. Shower ChallengeThis 5-Minute Shower Challenge is *brilliant*! I’d love to talk to whomever came up with this, because for all the things that hotels do to reduce their footprint, it’s hard to talk to people about how much water they use when they shower. This is the perfect way to do it – give everyone a game that not only brings awareness to an important conservation issue, but challenges them to see how they can help, while cheering them on to doing better. The “towel talk” is one thing, and dependent on how well trained the hotel staff are – even if you carefully hang up your towel to reuse, sometimes they still get replaced. Water usage is a conservation issue that doesn’t currently get enough attention, so it’s nice to see this challenge.

Other sustainability issues that struck us while we were there include, of course, biking and dining. The roads are so narrow and twisty and windy, that cyclists who brave the roads (and we saw many) were cranking up hills with queues of cars behind them, then whipping down hills, still with cars behind them. It’s not my comfort level, and it’s a shame that there isn’t a way to add in proper bike lanes. We did see a walking lane in Skylands, although it came to an abrupt end in the middle of the road. Walking LaneThe biggest transportation drawback to me was that even once we arrived at our hotel, we still had to drive to get just about anywhere. We explored hiking trails that were near Skyland, but I’m sure there are better ones out there. We just didn’t feel like driving to them. And you still have to drive to the various visitors’ centers. It’s a shame they can’t run shuttles between at least the visitors’ centers, resorts, campsites, and major trail heads. Reducing the vehicle travel within the park would contribute greatly to the air quality, which is the topic of a few of the displays in the Big Meadows interpretive center. Of course, The Mechanic loved our rental Mercedes Benz, a surprise and free upgrade from Enterprise, so he wasn’t as upset about driving, but after a deer jumping across the road immediately in front of us, he was even more cautious while driving. See – fewer cars would equal more wildlife survival!Our Wheels

Another thing that was slightly disappointing was the menu at the Pollack Dining Room at Skyland. Not a lot of vegetarian options. I mean, at least there were some, but I feel that national parks should put more effort into discussing food and sustainability if they are going to offer meals, especially when conservation is pretty much what national parks are all about. Even locally raised meat uses way more water than do vegetarian options, including grains and pulses. Plus, it’s cheaper. I don’t expect an entirely vegetarian menu in national parks. I mean, you’d lose a ton of visitors! But at least offer some better/other options than portabella burgers or pasta. Our meals were tasty, nevertheless, and the blackberry ice cream pie was worth breaking my no-dessert rule!Blackberry Ice Cream PieOverall, our second anniversary weekend was a definite win, and mouse aside, couldn’t have been better. The sustainability puzzle keeps me thinking, about ways to make it easier and more fun, but there are no easy answers, and I am not assuming to offer any. But I really love that shower challenge! Do you know how long a 5-minute shower is? Butterfly Whisperer

 

Of Swamps and Sazeracs and Cemeteries

Five days in New Orleans with my two best friends from high school, one of whom has been living there for the past few years, was definitely a highlight of the year so far. We three haven’t gotten together in a while, so what better place than New Orleans?! But beyond the friendship, there were some experiences that really stood out to me – the swamps, the cocktails and the cemeteries.

We visited swamps in three different places – the Audubon Zoo; the Pearl River Eco Tour in Slidell (just east of New Orleans); and the Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. And we saw alligators in all three places! Seriously, I fell in love with the mysterious, lush swamps and could have spent all day sitting in the Barataria Preserve.

Soaking up the sights and sounds of the swamp

Soaking up the sights and sounds of the swamp

The Audubon Zoo, of course, was educational as well, and we learned much about the swamps and who inhabits them, even the leucistic white alligator, a ghostly and massive unique reptile.

The Pearl River Eco Tour was an in-depth ride on a small boat (about 20 people) through the Honey Island Swamp, apparently one of the least altered river swamps in the country. Our guide, a native, told us about growing up in the swamps as well as all about what we saw. It was pretty amazing to see wild alligators! Some came up to the boat, hoping for a bite of hot dog or marshmallow, graciously offered by the guide, while some just eyed us from a distance.

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The Batararia Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Park was probably my favorite, however. The boardwalks meandered through the swamp and ended in a marsh, which, while lovely, couldn’t compare to the swamp. We saw alligators (truly wild, not expecting a snack!), a racoon, several snakes, turtles, squirrels, birds, bugs (at least they weren’t too bad), and lots and lots and lots of Spanish moss. And I got a new stamp in my National Parks Passport!

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After all these swamp experiences, we had to cool off somehow – so naturally, local specialty cocktails were the choice! I tried a Creole Queen at Cafe Pontalba; a Sazerac at Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone, as well as it’s signature drink the Monteleone; blueberry mojitos at St. Joe’s Bar on Magazine Street; and daquiris from the daiquri shop near my friend’s apartment. We balanced out the expensive drinks with local beers. Gotta try all the local flavors!

We ended our trip with some visits to the cemeteries. Alas, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is closed to the casual tourist; you have to be in a tour group. By the time we got to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, it had just closed. Although we checked out the Old Town Slidell cemetery, it couldn’t compete with the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which we visited on our way to the airport. I wish we’d had time to do a guided tour of it, because I’m sure we would have learned so much more. Next time! St Louis Cemetery No 1 St Louis No 2

We had been told we could find crypts dating back to the 1700s at the Slidell Cemetery, but couldn't find them, and it was too hot to linger too long. But it's a nice quiet local cemetery.

We had been told we could find crypts dating back to the 1700s at the Slidell Cemetery, but couldn’t find them, and it was too hot to linger too long. But it’s a nice quiet local cemetery.

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I’d love to go back and experience more, but I’ll probably want to return to the swamps and see more alligators! It’s fascinating to see them in the wild, after having only seen them in zoos in aquariums. I was tempted to bring one back… but I didn’t. Next time!Pink Alligator

Shopping, Sewing and Sustainability

The Mechanic and I try to live a sustainable life – we are vegetarian (except during international travel, when we want to try local specialties), do our best to avoid foods made with palm oil, we walk, bike or use public transportation on a daily basis, and rent cars when we are going out of town. We use as little water as possible, turning off the water during showers and while brushing teeth, and The Mechanic mostly washes dishes by hand to reduce water usage. We have CFLs or LED lights, reuse our plastic zip top baggies, use environmentally-friendly cleaning products as much as possible, take reusable bags when we go shopping, and turn off the lights in rooms we aren’t using. There is always room for improvement – I’ve recently been exploring environmentally-friendly toiletries and beauty supplies, and buying bulk food items like nuts. But for me, shopping is The Weakest Link.Plastic Baggies

Eileen Fisher, fashion designer and industry activist, said last year that fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. She knows better than I do, but there is no arguing with the fact that the fashion industry is not an ideal industry. From ethical treatment of workers to textile manufacture to shipping garments and shoes thousands of miles to billions of garments being thrown away, there are problems all the way through. Fast fashion, clothing that is turned out quickly after it appears on runways, has become the norm, as people of all ages flock to inexpensive trends as soon as they come out. Fashion Revolution Week, April 18-24 this year, brings attention to the nameless workers who crank out those fast fashion pieces, a movement inspired by and in honor of the over 1,100 workers who died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  In response, some clothing companies pledged greater transparency with their supply chain, resulting in the Fashion Transparency Index, ranking clothing companies by results. But even beyond the idea of who makes the clothes the world consumes are issues involving the fabrics themselves – polyester is made from petroleum; creating cotton fabric uses an unbelievable amount of water; there’s the fertilizer used in growing those crops; and apparently the average American citizen THROWS AWAY 70lbs of clothing a year. The statistics are depressing.

Who made my clothes? I did!

Who made my clothes? I did!

So with an industry dirty from beginning to end, how do you incorporate sustainability into what you put on every day?

Uniqlo

I love these pieces but maybe for the same price I should have just ordered three yards of Liberty of London fabric…

I could smugly answer, “Well, I make my own clothes,” but that is not only an incorrect answer, it doesn’t solve the problem. I don’t make ALL my own clothes. I don’t know where the fabrics I purchase are made, or by whom. I’ve never even looked to see where my patterns are printed! Because I have limited local fabric shopping options, I tend to order most of fabrics, which means transportation emissions from the warehouse where the fabrics are kept; don’t even think about how the fabrics were transported to that warehouse. And I still buy fast fashion – I love my Liberty of London for Uniqlo purchases! So what is a sewist and fashion addict to do?!

For starters, I try really hard to not buy clothing any more “just because.” I actually find that I would rather make most things anyway, and that I’d rather *wear* the things I make. It’s more fun to make cute reflective garments than basic tee shirts, but I may need to start doing that as well. I love Spoonflower because of their eco-friendly system: digital printing of fabric leads to less waste of fabric, ink and electricity; they don’t need to store potentially unpurchased fabrics that could end up thrown away; many of their fabrics are made in the USA or organic or both; they support small designers by giving them a platform; and the Sprout Patterns printed on fabric reduces even more waste! If I could buy all my fabrics from Spoonflower, I would.

One giant piece of fabric with the pattern pieces printed right on it!

One giant piece of fabric with the pattern pieces printed right on it!

I have started researching companies that do engage in eco-friendly, ethical creations. H&M and Uniqlo aren’t doing too badly on the Fashion Transparency Index, and I do like H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection, even though most of it is fancier than I’d ever need. I don’t know that I have the patience to simply not buy – I’m a bit like a magpie: Oh look, something shiny! But if I can focus on a list of places whose practices I agree with, at least my purchases are supporting what I believe in. I haven’t fully identified those companies yet; the ones I have found have very expensive clothing. On the other hand, the pieces I own that I’ve spent the most money on tend to be the pieces I love wearing. Hm… maybe that should be my new shopping strategy: only buy expensive things! Hahahaha….

In terms of sewing and sustainability, I will be testing out my first few download-and-tape-together pattern from indie pattern companies, and looking around for other places to order fabric. I need to find some patterns that can act as basics, so I don’t need to buy those but can quickly whip them up. I would love to be able to sew everything, but I simply don’t have time, and then I get impatient for something new, and then I go out an buy. Hm…. So really, what this all boils down to is being happy with what I have and not wanting anything new! But that seems boring to me – I need to make it work in more eco-friendly ways! And either way, I need to think about the carbon footprint of the USPS/UPS/FedEx way my orders get to me. Buy all the fabric all at once?

What are your favorite sustainable ways to shop and sew?