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Behind the Counter
30-something happily married, childfree, 4 cats, writer, vegetarian, animal lover, activist, lover of music, film, books, art, theater, and most things retro and kitschy, collector of fonts, photos, and toys...day job

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As of Feb 9, 2003

Thanks for joining me Over Coffee
A writer by passion and profession, I've been writing since I was old enough to know how, so establishing a weblog seemed a natural progression. By adding a blog to my site, I can speak about my passions and life, share my writing, art and photos, and comment on current events.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Heroes Welcome

I’ve heard the word “hero” defined as “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” That’s a nice thought because it means that any one person on any given day can be a HERO.

The person who gives blood, learns first aid and CPR or volunteers their time and their skills to help the planet, their fellow man or man’s best friend. It is the person who talks the talk and walks the walk.

So, while I like that definition of hero, I have to say that it isn’t 100-percent accurate. You see, to me, any time anyone gives of themselves -- sharing their time, money, energy and, yes, even their blood and sweat -- they cease to be ordinary.

Walking the Walk

Speaking of which, I have an extraordinary new friend in my life...a colleague named Tiffany. Tiffany lost her grandmother to breast cancer. To celebrate her grandmother's life, Tiffany has decided to take steps (many, many steps) to help others from this disease. This coming August she is participating in the "The 3-Day," a 60-mile walk over three days to raise money for breast cancer research and treatment.

I'd like to invite you, dear reader, to consider contributing to Tiffany's fundraising campaign. You, too, can be a hero! True, you don't know her. But, then again, she doesn't know the women who will benefit from her contribution either -- that's part of the fun!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Knitters For Critters
Yarning to do good and putting their needles where their hearts are, a group of Californian crafters have created Knitters For Critters to raise money this holiday season to help wildlife affected by the oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. Drop by and knit a bit if you can...

Details regarding the spill and wildlife affected can be found on the International Bird Rescue Research Center Web site. To learn the latest updates on the wildlife clean up efforts or for information about volunteering, visit Marine Mammal Center.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day: Breakfast, Lunch and Yikes!

My husband and I have been marveling at the volume of trash we see put out on neighborhood curbs on garbage day. We love that our new hometown, Cleveland Heights, has a nearly all-inclusive recycling program and its CURBSIDE.

It seems sad to see how many of our neighbors have not yet jumped on the green bandwagon and aren't taking advantage of curbside pick-up of recyclables. Of course, they're not alone. Just look at the statistics.

Yikes, Just Yikes

In the United States alone:
  • The average person creates 4.39 pounds of trash per day.

  • People throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.

  • People toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times.

  • The average office worker goes through around 500 disposable cups every year.

  • Nearly 44 million workers purchase or eat lunch out every weekday.

  • The amount of glass bottles people throw away every two weeks would have filled both World Trade Center towers.

  • People throw away enough aluminum cans to rebuild our commercial air fleet every three months, and enough iron and steel to supply all U.S. automakers every day.

  • Throwing away one aluminum can wastes as much energy as if that can were 1/2 full of gasoline.

  • A school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 4-8 ounces of waste a day or 67 (to nearly 100) pounds of waste per school year.

    SOURCES: Clean Air Council | Waste Reduction & Recycling Program, Waste-Free Lunches and San Mateo County RecycleWorks

When we lived in an apartment, the recycling bins were always full of mixed-trash because no one seemed to try or care about recycling. Now, as homeowners in this town, we delight in recycling all of our...well, recyclables.  I grin at seeing my recycling bags outnumbering my garbage bags.

Even as pleased as I am to be recycling all these plastic containers, cans, cardboard, paper, etc., I know that we could be doing better. I'm pretty good at re-using things, and our city's program helps us with the recycling. Now it's time to work on the reducing.  By not buying or using so many "things" in the first place, we can further minimize our "footprint."

Take My Morning Coffee...No Wait, Please Don't!

Did you see how many disposable cups workers go through in a year?!  It makes sense -- 5 days a week, assuming 50 work weeks a year and one to two coffees (tea, soda pop, etc.) a day...that would be 250 to 500 cups. That's not even counting the heat sleeves, lids and stirring sticks (or when you get two cups together because the beverage is too hot). Jinkies! That's a lot of waste.

We do try to recycle the plastic cups our iced coffee beverages come in, but the paper ones get trashed -- every day. I decided to buy a Starbucks’ insulated "tumbler" for both my husband and for myself. Now we've reduced, nearly eliminated, our paper cup usage - just like that. I like these because, unlike some travel mugs, they have a screw top lid that just seems to work better for me. Plus, we know it is just the right size for our grande coffees. As an added bonus, Starbucks gives a 10-cent discount for using a travel mug.

Of course, you don't need to this mug or even patronize this coffee merchant, but just image how much waste you could eliminate by using a re-usable container for your daily beverage of choice.

Let's Do Lunch...Right

Bento-style LunchPacking your lunch can help your waistline as well as your wallet. Besides, when you're a vegetarian, it can be especially challenging to find fast, healthy and interesting foods close to work in a lunch hour. While my husband and I gladly carry back home to our recycling bin the plastic containers and cardboard boxes our food comes in, I decided that we could be doing even better if we cut back on packaged foods - particularly individual/single-serving sizes - and reduced the number of plastic baggies we used when packing lunches.

In looking for new ways to pack even healthier and more interesting lunches and snacks, I gathered inspiration for interesting, healthful lunches and snacks from bloggers like Jennifer over at the Vegan Lunchbox and Biggie over at Lunch in a Box along with others who are embracing the Japanese "bento box" for making compact, fun lunches.

From the Vegan Lunchbox site, I found a link to learn more about waste-free lunches, which furthered my education on the value of reducing lunch waste and the cost (to the planet and your wallet) for "disposable" lunches. While the site focuses on school/children's lunches, the information is easily extrapolated. Take a look for yourself and just imagine what those statistics mean in relation to the average adult and grown up mid-day meal away from home, which is needed 50-52 weeks a year, compared to the 36-week school year.

Gradually I am changing my packing and our eating habits by selecting re-usable containers for entrees, sides and snacks rather than relying on plastic bags and individually packaged food products. I may not be able to do so 100 percent of the time, but every little bit helps. Another fringe benefit to containers over plastic bags is that chips, crackers and pretzels don't get as easily broken. I've even been having some fun using some of the Americanized bento-style lunch ideas.

In addition to helping the environment, buying fewer bags as well as purchasing items in bulk to create your own "single-service" puddings, fruit cups, yogurts, etc., tends to be a lot cheaper - so they're good for our wallets too!

Here are some of my favorite hints/tips for reducing, recycling or re-using related to carrying your lunch:

  • Take fresh fruit - it comes in its own natural, biodegradable wrappers, and most "wrappers" are even edible! (The skins and peels that aren't can be put in a composter, but that's for another post.)

  • Re-use cleaned plastic single-serving containers from pudding or fruit cups to separate non-spillable foods in larger containers.

  • Purchase silicone cupcake liners; they're great for baking AND make great dividers in a larger container if you need to keep items separate until lunch time.

  • Cook extra portions of your favorite foods during the week or do a little extra cooking on weekends to make your own frozen lunch entrees. Use re-usable containers that are freezer safe.

  • Select aluminum cans or glass bottles over plastic whenever possible for lunches. While all three can be recycled, plastic is more difficult to recycle and cannot be used to make new food-grade plastic containers while glass and aluminum can be.

  • Take home and re-use plastic containers, single-servings cups and bottles as many times as possible before recycling them (see previous bullet point).

Recycling Works!

Maybe you're asking yourself if it is worth it, and wondering weather recycling really works.The good news is that, yes, recycling does work:
  • Recycling an aluminum soda can saves 96% of the energy used to make a can from ore, and produces 95% less air pollution and 97% less water pollution.

  • Sixty percent of the world's lead supply comes from recycled batteries.

  • Recycling one ton of cardboard saves over 9 cubic yards of landfill space.

  • One ton of paper from recycled pulp saves:

    • 17 trees
    • 3 cubic yards of landfill space
    • 7,000 gallons of water
    • 4,200 kilowatt hours (enough to heat your home for half year)
    • 390 gallons of oil, and
    • prevents 60 pounds of air pollutants.

  • Producing recycled white paper creates:

    • 74% less air pollutants,
    • 35% less water pollutants, and
    • 75% less process energy than producing paper from virgin fibers.

    SOURCE: Clean Air Council | Waste Reduction & Recycling Program

Think about the statistics of how much one person wastes in a day, and then consider how easy and small some of these changes are for reducing, re-using and recycling. If each of us makes small changes, we can make a heck of difference just on our own.

For more environmental blogging, check out the Blog Action Day.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Giving the gift of Life

If you’ve read my blog or Web site before, you know that my husband and I have been long-time supporters of the American Red Cross – even before I worked for the organization (Jan. 2004-Apr. 2007).  One important way we contribute is through voluntary blood donations. My husband and I became ongoing donors after our first donation in Feb. 2003, when I convinced him we should donate blood for Valentine’s Day. This is no small feat for him as he is quite phobic about both needles and blood – particularly when either is going into or coming out of him.

I say “ongoing” rather than “regular” because I don’t want to claim what I consider to be the valiant title of “regular blood donor” by implying that we donate every 56 days. That’s the period of time in which you’re physically able to give again – you are eligible every eight weeks, which is up to six times in a year. There are many people who do so – like clockwork – and I hold them in high regard.  

Unfortunately, the best of intentions can get waylaid when things come up or, in my case, go down. Being a woman and a vegetarian, my iron is not always at a sufficiently high level to donate. I have to pay close attention to my diet, take supplements and schedule donation appointments carefully to push me over the line that I am generally at or just slightly below (the hematocrit reading must be at least 38 to give). Mine is never low enough to be a health problem (like full-blown anemia) – just not high enough to give. This means that we usually give more like three or four times a year.

We hadn’t donated since moving home to Cleveland this past March. Not that we didn’t want to, there just seemed to be something always getting in the way – busy with the new house, schedule conflicts, illness, etc.  Most blood collection organizations will tell you that it is a problem all too common in today’s busy households, particularly in the summer months when vacations and the like add to the mix.

Several times over the last few months we talked about giving but hadn’t yet. Then, last weekend, we saw signs for a Red Cross bloodmobile at a local mall that included the alert headline: “Blood Emergency.” We decided it was time. It wasn’t until we pulled into the parking lot that we noticed the signs for the bloodmobile/drive said “this Monday.” Not to let our good intentions lapse yet again, we decided to go home and schedule appointments online (www.givelife.org).  As we were discussing it, I made a profound realization – a connection that surprisingly I hadn’t made sooner.

On Aug. 9, my husband’s Uncle Tom was involved a terrible accident. He was on his motorcycle turning left at a light when someone ran the red light and struck him. He sustained life-threatening injuries, including a compound fracture of his thigh bone, the degloving of his (upper) leg and a nicked artery along with other trauma and contusions. At the hospital, he received blood transfusions while emergency procedures were performed.

As we talked about making the appointments, it struck me that Tom had received blood from someone who took the time to donate it. All the times I had said it (and don’t get me wrong, I always believed it), it had never hit home quite the way it had when I thought of and saw photos of Tom in the hospital’s ICU – when you give blood, you give the gift of life.

See, scientists can’t manufacturer human blood; there’s no way to grow it, replicate it or compel people to provide it. The only way to keep an adequate supply of healthy blood available for those who may need it when they need it, like Tom did, is for people to give it voluntarily.  

When I go today to donate – and hopefully I’ll be iron-fortified enough to do so – I still won’t be thinking about the people who might receive my blood. I’ll spend that hour thinking about and being grateful for the other people – those whose gift is helping save Tom’s life.

In less than an hour, you can do something that can save someone’s life – it’s a gift you give of yourself, literally, to a friend or even a stranger. Give the gift of life – give blood.

Post-Donation Update: That's right "post-donation"! My hemocratic reading was 38, so I was able to give - hurray! That's the update.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Feeling Helpless? Prepare yourself...

I have been following the coverage of the tragedy that in Minneapolis, feeling sad and helpless. Perhaps you are too?

When you make your plans and are preparing an emergency kit for your automobile, you probably won't be thinking about facing a disaster like the one that befell dozens of commuters in Minneapolis yesterday.

More likely any emergency plans and kit you have prepared are meant to help you cope with personal, small scale disasters – such as getting stuck in a rain or snow storm or breaking down on a road that’s off the beaten path. But, while you can’t imagine being prepared for something as unusual as a major bridge collapsing under you, you can do something - you do not need to feel helpless.

When an unforeseen disaster such as this strikes (or even just vehicle crashes), it can take some time for response and rescue crews to get to the scene and reach survivors in need of help. Some of the first people to respond will be those nearby or caught in the midst of the disaster themselves. While you can’t specifically prepare for every type of disaster under the sun, you can give yourself the tools and knowledge you need to help yourself, your loved ones and/or your neighbors when tragedy strikes.

  • Build an emergency preparedness kit for your vehicle, if you haven't already, including (but not limited to):
    • First aid kit and manual
    • Battery-powered NOAA radio with extra batteries
    • Blanket and/or sleeping bags
    • Flashlight with extra batteries
    • Fire extinguisher (5 lb., A-B-C type)
    • Compass, road map and knife
    • Heavy sack of sand or cat litter (for tire traction) and tow rope
    • Bottled water and non-perishable, high-energy food,
      such as granola or energy bars
    • Extra clothing and shoes

  • Get trained in first aid, including CPR/AED and rescue breathing, take a lifeguard course or simply learn to swim. (These are lifesaving skills.)
  • Make a plan for how you and your loved ones will connect in the event of a disaster.
  • Consider making a donation to a general operations or disaster fund for the national or your local American Red Cross or other local relief and response agencies so the resources will be there ready and waiting when disaster strikes.
The American Red Cross has information and ideas for preventing, preparing for and responding to (coping with) disasters of all types. They even sell ready-made starter preparedness kits that can be customized to meet your specific needs. Additionally, you can buy ready-made starter kits at a number of retailers such as Target or online at Amazon.com.

You may feel like there is nothing you, as an individual, can do in the face of a disaster of this magnitude that, unlike a storm or hurricane, came without any warning. You aren’t a rescue worker or medical personnel – and by all means stay out of their way when they’re responding. But, the fact is you can do something to be better prepared to help yourself and others.

Something is better than nothing and doing a little more to get ready is a little more than you did before…

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