homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thinking Outside the Bag

runner-up titles for this post:
Bag Lady Rant
Paper or Cloth?

Plastic grocery/shopping bags are bad, bad, evil, contaminating enemies of the environment. I could explain why, but chances are that if you're visiting this page, you're a friend of mine and we probably think pretty closely on this issue already anyway. But if you'd like a little more background, here are a few well-written pieces on the subject. Go ahead, read up...I'll be here when you get done.
See? They're awful.

For some time now, I've used canvas totes at smaller shopping establishments and just went with the flow at larger chains. There are a number of places around my neighborhood to take plastic bags for recycling, so it just seemed a matter of annoyance and inconvenience. Okay, so they gave me the bags; but I gave them back! But the truth is that the problem isn't just where they're going after use; it's also the pollution involved in manufacturing them in the first place.

And I'm also becoming more and more jaded about this whole recycling thing.

I remember about 10 years ago, I worked late one night and saw the custodian emptying the office waste bins. Our company had clearly-marked bins, some for regular trash and some for paper to be recycled. The paper bins had signs with detailed instructions outlining exactly what was (and was not) to be placed in them, and procedures for doing so. I had spent months carefully removing staples and tearing out the plastic windows from envelopes, thinking all the while that the paper in the recycling bins would be, well, recycled. So when this guy dumped both bins into the same wheeled Dumpster, a little piece of my optimism and faith in humanity just shriveled up and died.

Flash forward to the recent articles about e-waste that isn't recycled but is shipped overseas (the carbon footprint, egads!) to pollute in someone else's backyard, and the suspiciously-similar trucks that pick up my trash and recycling (owned by the same contractor), and I am a bit less confident that my efforts are really making a difference.

So now I'm becoming more aggressive about reducing our plastic bag usage. And you know what? People are really pissing me off.

Case in point, tonight at the grocery store. I picked up only a few items...3 bags' worth. The clerk finished ringing my order, and as I dug around in my wallet for my debit card, he turned to bag my purchases. I said, "No thank you, I brought my own bags." He gave me a blank look. I grabbed my bags from the cart and tossed them up on the belt. As he ran the card and totaled my order, I filled the first bag. He turned, stared a little more, and asked, "So, um, you don't want any bags?" I said no and filled the second bag. He then gestured to my last two items and asked, "Do you want these in a bag?"

At this point, I'm dim enough that I thought he just wanted to help and was intending to use, oh, I don't know, one of the cloth bags from the stack between us. Nope. He cheerfully put the items in--you guessed it--a plastic bag, and wished me a good night.

Here's your sign.

I should mention that this is not the first incident exactly like this. It happens more often than not. I state my preference, or out-and-out object to the plastic...the employees stand there uselessly while I bag my own groceries...and finally help by finishing up with plastic. And I should also mention that this is at stores which now sell their own logo'd cloth bags! I guess when they were jumping on the good-PR bandwagon, they all forgot to hold staff meetings about cloth bag etiquette. So just for everyone's edification, I'll set forth a few simple rules.

1. No means no. (In fact, this pretty much applies to everything in life. A good rule to know.) If I've already told you twice that I do not wish to use plastic bags, chances are pretty good that I will not be changing my mind when you ask me a third time.

2. I have already stated my intent to use these bags for ferrying my purchases. You are allowed to touch them. And you are especially encouraged to help me when I have two cranky young children with me. Standing there staring while I do all the work is just going to make about you. ('Cause that'll show you. Snark, snark.)

Oh and just for the record, it's not just the chains. Last summer I had an argument at the farmer's market with a vendor who refused to put his produce into my canvas tote until he had pre-packaged it in a plastic bag. I swear, it's as if people have become so conditioned to that part of the transaction that they don't get closure without it!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Language explosion

Our 22-month old is going through a big language growth right now. Man, it's exciting. He delights me with words I didn't know he even understood, and is putting together fragmented (and a few complete) sentences like an old pro. He's also starting to identify colors (orange is his favorite; anything he's not sure of is--gleefully--"WHITE!!") and can apparently count to 10, although (here's one for the unschoolers in the audience) no one taught him. It's funny...First Kid gets all of the careful lessons and Second Kid just kind of picks things up and surprises you.

Oh, and for the first time since Second Kid was gestating, we finally got a snowman-worthy snow this week. Hooray!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Now here's an idea that excites me...

If you're blessed with the bandwidth, check out this talk on by engineering professor Richard Baraniuk. He discusses the philosophy behind the Connexions project, which is essentially open source learning...a free, universally-accessible, customizable, and editable repository of educational information. As a lover of libraries and the internet, and a growing believer in all of us having the potential to thrive as autodidacts, I am thrilled and excited by projects like this. Knowledge should not be restricted, data should not remain static. Learning is something that should be shared: freely, responsibly, and with enthusiasm and respect.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Thoughts on censorship

Life is just full of contradictions.

Because I'm a parent, I hope that my children will grow to have a similar value system to my own.

Because I'm a thinking person, I want my children to make informed choices. After all, I was neither pre-equipped with a value system, nor did I have it installed. It has been (and continues to be) an evolving process of assimilating information and adjusting my perspective.

I've always been against censorship. Dissension in thoughts and ideas is essential. And revisionist versions of history are fundamentally dishonest. In an academic sense, I realize that it's important to know about the past in order to understand the present and shape the future. I like to think that I have a comprehensive enough understanding of changing attitudes and social climates to frame a piece of written work in the mores of the day, blah blah blah.

But it's sometimes difficult to keep that in mind when I put on my Mommy hat and read to the kids.

There's always this moment of...hesitation...when I come across what I consider to be objectionable material in children's literature. I wonder for just a moment whether I should gloss over certain things, or eliminate them from our library. Because I do not want my kids to grow up with certain ideas and values...whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, colonialism, or any other number of unfortunate -isms.
A person shouldn't believe in an -ism; he should believe in himself.
--Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Frankly, it's uncomfortable to read certain things to my sons. In particular, classic children's literature seems to be filled with scenes with children being casually beaten, and often for unintentional transgressions. (Especially the poor children who lived in that shoe!)

But then I think of how much I have always frowned on sanitized, politically-correct versions of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and the like. And I remember that most of these images did not register with me on the same level when I read them as a child.
"Sometimes an elephant in a green suit is just an elephant in a green suit"
--Should We Burn Babar?, Herbert Kohl
I also realize and appreciate that questionable material of any sort is a terrific opening for dialogue on difficult issues. What will help my child more: to pretend that certain attitudes don't exist, or to take the opportunity to have a discussion about why people might act a certain way, and what our feelings are on the subject? Not to mention, one of my primary objectives in learner-led education is to broaden my childrens' worldview, not to narrow it. You'll never learn anything by limiting your input to ideas with which you already agree.

So even though a few of the books on their shelves make me shudder, we are going to keep them.

But I still won't sing "Rock-a-Bye Baby" to any child. That just disturbs me.