Monthly Archives: January 2008

Learning To Fix Stuff, Part 1

Back in August, when Fake Plastic Fish was less than two months old, and I’d only recently become aware of my plastic consumption, my sandal broke. In fact, the elastic strap had become so worn, I had a feeling it might break that very day as I left the house and packed an extra pair of flip flops just in case. Sure enough, it snapped as I was walking down the street. The old me would have automatically tossed them out and bought a new pair. But these were some of my most comfortable shoes, and I didn’t want to waste them, plastic or not, so I found a shoe repair shop down the street and had them fixed in fifteen minutes.

This might seem like a very simple, common sense thing to those of you who have been trying to live frugally, simply, and greenly for longer than I, but at the time, I felt so proud I wanted to call my friends and tell them the news: Guess what! We don’t have to throw stuff out! There are people who can fix it!

Since then, I’ve had a few more opportunities to fix things instead of throwing them away. For example, for months, my computer mouse was operating eratically, refusing to move the pointer where I wanted it to. The old me would have junked it and bought a new one, but this was the new me. Determined to make it work again instead of getting a new hunk of plastic, I found an article on called How To Clean And Fix A Mouse and was all set to take the mouse apart when I remembered hearing somewhere that if the surface the mouse rolls on is too slippery, the mouse might not operate properly. I was using a bare desk without a mouse pad. So I tried slipping a piece of paper under the mouse, and sure enough, that did the trick.

Recently, the wire on my favorite cheese slicer snapped. I’ve had this things for many years, and it’s served me well. Surely I could find a replacement wire for it. This, however, turned out to be a more difficult task than I expected. I visited multiple hardware stores with my cheese slicer attempting to find the right kind of wire. They all seemed to have something called “galvanized steel,” which apparently is not rust-proof or strong enough. I’m glad I actually asked for advice instead of just buying the first wire that looked similar to the one that broke.

Finally, one hardware store salesperson recommended I check a kitchenware type of store instead. So I called Sur Le Table, which seems to have locations in many states, and sure enough, they carried stainless steel replacement wires for cheese slicers. Unfortunately, as you can see below, they come in a plastic zip-lock bag.

So there’s the dilemma: a small plastic bag vs. a sturdy stainless steel kitchen tool. The kitchen tool won. I do wonder if I had checked further if I could have found stainless steel wire not packaged in plastic. But I’m pretty pleased that I was able to easily “restring” my slicer on New Year’s Eve just in time for the nice cheese our friends brought to our little party.

Now here’s my current fix-it problem. A blow dryer. Some of you might be thinking that a blow dryer is not the greenest thing to have and use in the first place. And you would be right. No arguments there. But the fact is that I do use a blow dryer on my hair for a minute or two each morning, and this one just suddenly stopped working. When I turn it on, nothing happens. Nothing. (And yes, it stopped working BEFORE I took it apart to examine it!) And yes, I have tried pressing the reset button. And yes, I have also cleaned out the air vents.

So my friend Mark was nice enough to lend me his hair dryer until I get this one fixed in Hawaii in a few weeks. Why in Hawaii? Because that’s where my electrician dad is with his pro multimeter, which we will use to figure out what’s wrong with it. The trip was already planned. I visit them in Hawaii every January for my mom’s and my birthdays. (No, flying to Hawaii is not very green either, alas.) Fixing the hair dryer is a bonus father/daughter bonding experiment. I found these instructions online, which hopefully will help:’s How To Fix A Hair Dryer. If we do figure it out, I’ll post the step-by-step process with photos.

The big question is why we don’t know how to fix things already. Why does it require all this research? And how many times have you taken an appliance to a repair place, only to be told that it’s not worth it to fix and that you should junk it and buy a new one? Everything has value and is worth fixing or repurposing in some way. But it’s not always easy to figure out how, these days. Have you all watched The Story of Stuff? It think there’s a clue in that video about why this is so.

Happy Hoppin’ New Year!

After our rockin’ kitty New Year’s Eve party last night (only kitty-lovers allowed), one of us (me) slept until 1:15pm this afternoon, then somehow managed to crawl out of bed and put together a pretty awesome pot of Hoppin’ John, the traditional New Year’s Day dish of black-eyed peas and rice. Except, not having a hamhock lying around anywhere, I used this recipe from The Vegan Chef: So I guess this is a good start to our mostly vegetarian new year.

I think 2007 was probably one of the most eventful years of my life. I began it by running my first marathon on my birthday, January 7, and ended it by adding two new fantastic beings to our household. Along the way, I did some more running, had a hysterectomy, got enlightened about plastic, started this blog, made trips to learn all about where our recycling goes, and joined a wonderful environmental group, Green Sangha.

We can’t predict what each year holds in store, but we can create some intentions (as opposed to resolutions) to help guide us in the direction we think we want to go. So with that, here are a few of my intentions/goals for this year.

  1. Get more sleep. Okay, this one goes on the list every year, but it never seems to happen. I stay up very late blogging and Internet surfing most nights. So when you think about it, sleep is very good for the environment. When you’re asleep, you’re not running a computer, or TV, or using lights. You’re probably under covers with the heat down lower than when you’re awake. You’re probably not up eating food that you don’t need to be eating and drinking wine that you don’t need to be drinking, another way of cutting consumption, as I’ll mention again in the next intention. Sleep is just an all-around groovy thing to do. I wish my subconscious would believe that!
  2. Eat and drink less. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I do eat food, mostly plant-based. Dark chocolate and red wine are awesome plant-based foods, right? It’s the “too much” part that gets me. So I’ve joined Crunchy Chicken’s Project Nowaste (No Overeating While Attempting to Save The Environment) and am hoping that looking at the way I eat as it affects the planet will help me to cut down on food as I’ve cut down on plastic.
  3. Get back into running. In the beginning of last year, I attempted to join the United States Running Streak Association’s group of people who have run at least 1 mile every day for a year. I forgot when I signed up that I’d be having surgery later in the year and unable to complete the streak. And after the surgery, I just didn’t have the motivation to start again. So, once I finish with this post, I’m going to go out and do my first mile since I stopped running in September. Running’s good for the environment, too. Eco-running (picking up plastic as I run) but also the fact that it requires nothing but a pair of shoes and some lungs and legs. No electricity necessary.
  4. Get a bicycle and learn to ride and maintain it. Bikes scare me. I don’t know why. Michael has 5 of them. He’s also had a few accidents. But really, with a sturdy bike, I wouldn’t have to wait for the bus or reserve a Zip Car to run errands across town. So I plan to look for a good, used bike and then take the bike maintenance classes offered by Missing Link so that I’ll actually feel confident about riding it.
  5. Move my money into socially and ecologically responsible investment funds. I realized that while I’m being really careful these days where I spend my money, I’d forgotten about where the little extra gets invested. So a few weeks ago, I made an appointment with Ian at The Social Equity Group in Berkeley and as soon as I have time to fill out the paperwork, I’ll be that much closer to helping create a sustainable world.
  6. Get more involved in Green Sangha’s Rethinking Plastics campaign. This Thursday night is a strategy session for the new year. I’m looking forward to doing more work with this group to make changes locally (encouraging grocery stores to phase out plastic bags, educating the public about plastics, etc.)
  7. Make more field trips to learn about plastic and waste first-hand. Next week, I have plans to visit a landfill and a commercial compost operation, and I’ll be reporting back what I learn. I don’t know where else my studies of plastic will take me this year. Wouldn’t it be great to see the inside of a plastic factory? Or a factory that makes plastic toys? I have no idea how to get into a place like that, but then, when I started this project, I had no idea how to get into a recycling center either.
  8. Write an article about plastic for print. My friend, Mea, keeps telling me I should write a book. I’m not ready to think that big. But it would be a good challenge for me to write an article for a magazine. I’d like to try it. The blog is great, but it only reaches people who read blogs. All the people I see carrying their plastic shopping bags are probably not environmental blog readers, but they might read a local paper or magazine. Any suggestions for publications I should approach?
  9. Find new blog software and organize Fake Plastic Fish in a way that’s easier to navigate. I’ve sent out the request before. If anyone can help me figure out the best blog software to use and how to set it up, I’d be forever grateful and possibly willing to pay.
  10. Meet a few more Fake Plastic Fish readers and bloggers in person. I’ve met a few of you. I’d love to meet more. Let me know if you plan to come out to the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ll buy you a coffee (or tea) in a reusable cup!

So here’s me this afternoon with a pile of cats, getting a head start on Intention #1. And now it’s time to get out and do Intention #3. See you tomorrow.