Archive for the ‘conscious living’ Category

Highlights from Laudato Si   Leave a comment

I took advantage of my recent road trip vacation to read the new encyclical written by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’. I have to say that it is a very well written document. To say it is a climate change encyclical is selling it short as it addresses environmental and social declines in general, discussing social and environmental justice issues and philosophical attitudes for environmental preservation. Having read a number of textbooks/books on environmental topics, I think this is a more sound document than most.

While I personally did not find anything controversial in the document, and only had slight disagreements with a bare handful of statements, I can understand why some people will be challenged by it. That’s kind of the point. For me it was a very supporting, encouraging, refreshing, and inspirational read.

The encyclical is a long document: 246 paragraphs, which in the English version is 72 pages, plus 11 pages of references. So I’ve just cherry-picked some of the passages that struck me the most. (It’s still long, but it is so hard to pick just a few passages!)

“…Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.” (¶ 20)

“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (¶ 49)

“Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. …” (¶ 92)

“…The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone’. These are strong words. He noted that ‘a type of development which did not respect and promote human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples – would not be really worthy of man’. He clearly explained that ‘the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them’. Consequently, he maintained, ‘it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few’. This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.” (¶ 93)

“…[Jesus’] appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’’ (Mt 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world. Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel. Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?’ (Mk 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with a special significance for our development. …” (¶ 98)

“There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means ‘an increase of ‘progress’ itself’, an advance in ‘security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture’, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that ‘contemporary man has not been trained to use power well’, because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. …” (¶ 105)

“… Finance overwhelms the real economy. …” (¶ 109)

“…According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in the garden he had created (cf. Gen 2:15) not only to preserve it (‘keep’) but also to make it fruitful (’till’). Labourers and craftsmen thus ‘maintain the fabric of the world’ (Sir 38:34). Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things: ‘The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them’ (Sir 38:4).” (¶ 124)

“Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” (¶ 129)

“Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.” (¶ 138)

“In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. …” (¶ 146)

“…It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. …” (¶ 155)

“…Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. …” (¶ 160)

“… Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies or countries dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries.” (¶ 173)

“…The twenty-first century, while maintaining systems of governance inherited from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions. …” (¶ 175)

“…The limits which a healthy, mature and sovereign society must impose are those related to foresight and security, regulatory norms, timely enforcement, the elimination of corruption, effective responses to undesired side-effects of production processes, and appropriate intervention where potential or uncertain risks are involved. There is a growing jurisprudence dealing with the reduction of pollution by business activities. But political and institutional frameworks do not exist simply to avoid bad practice, but also to promote best practice, to stimulate creativity in seeking new solutions and to encourage individual or group initiatives.” (¶ 177)

“A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments. Thus we forget that ‘time is greater than space’, that we are always more effective when we generate processes rather than holding on to positions of power. True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building.” (¶ 178)

“There are no uniform recipes, because each country or region has its own problems and limitations. It is also true that political realism may call for transitional measures and technologies, so long as these are accompanied by the gradual framing and acceptance of binding commitments. …” (¶ 180)

“The Rio Declaration of 1992 states that ‘where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures’ which prevent environmental degradation. This precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it.” (¶ 186)

“This does not mean being opposed to any technological innovations which can bring about an improvement in the quality of life. But it does mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account, and that, when significant new information comes to light, a reassessment should be made, with the involvement of all interested parties. …” (¶ 187)

“Whenever these questions are raised, some react by accusing others of irrationally attempting to stand in the way of progress and human development. But we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development. Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term. If we look at the larger picture, we can see that more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable. It is a matter of openness to different possibilities which do not involve stifling human creativity and its ideals of progress, but rather directing that energy along new channels.” (¶  191)

“…It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress. …” (¶ 194)

“Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. … This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume.” (¶ 203)

“…When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. ‘Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act’. …” (¶ 206)

“…The existence of laws and regulations is insufficient in the long run to curb bad conduct, even when effective means of enforcement are present. If the laws are to bring about significant, long-lasting effects, the majority of the members of society must be adequately motivated to accept them, and personally transformed to respond. Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. …” (¶ 211)

“…Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (¶ 217)

“…An adequate understanding of spirituality consists in filling out what we mean by peace, which is much more than the absence of war. Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. …” (¶ 225)

 

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A Plug for EWG, and the Stepwise Approach to Less Toxic Products   Leave a comment

This year’s summer eco-audit was exposure. For the audit I’ve focussed on personal care products, and this year also looked at cleaning products. Previously it has been a bit of a challenge to do this audit as it was hard to find information about safety of the various ingredients in the products I was using. And what resources I did find didn’t really help with the questions “how much should I be concerned about this?”, or “what’s in this product that doesn’t list ingredients?”. But thanks to Environmental Working Group, I was actually able to do a comprehensive audit of every personal care product that Conan and I use this year because if the product itself isn’t in their Skin Deep database, I could search by ingredients. (I only had one bottle from a gift set that didn’t have ingredients listed, and I ended up tossing it anyway because the rest of the set turned out to be unacceptable.) Since Skin Deep includes a 0 to 10 ranking for each product and ingredient, as well as an indication of how much data there was on which to base the ranking, it is a great tool for getting a sense of where to focus my concerns. The Guide to Healthy Cleaning isn’t as comprehensive, but I still found the rankings to be really helpful since I otherwise have no idea if some complicated chemical name is something inert or harmful.

Overall I found that my products are generally pretty well ranked (it helped that I just tossed all my conventional makeup when Conan became tall enough to reach into that drawer, and tossed a couple other things that I had laying around when I found out the ingredients). That made me realize that my “stepwise” approach to reducing exposure to potentially harmful compounds in personal care products works better than I had expected. When I first did this I was completely overwhelmed by the list of compounds that “they” say are “bad” and not to use. Most of those compounds are also things that I would never be able to keep in my mind between shopping trips and I’m not willing to keep a bunch of wallet cards. So I focussed on a couple things at a time. Turns out you reach a point where the products that don’t contain the easy-to-remember chemicals-to-avoid, also don’t contain many of the hard-to-remember chemicals! (It might also help that I’ve all but stopped shopping for personal care products at conventional grocery stores and drug stores.)

My personal path started back in college when I decided that I wanted to avoid mineral oil and petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) as they are petroleum products not plant products. As time went on I started to avoid D&C and FD&C colors (not necessarily an exposure thing but based on the desire to avoid compounds derived from coal tar), BHT, parabens, and “fragrance” (which is an issue because it can include anything and often includes some very toxic compounds). Lots of “natural” brands do still use the term “fragrance” on their ingredient lists, but for some of those brands I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they do explicitly say that they don’t use any toxic compounds (like Aveda, Dr. Bronner’s, and Toms of Maine).

My next step? Aside from “fragrance” in a handful of my products, most of which are companies that I’ll take the gamble with, the only red-flag compound in my list was retinol (vitamin A). Since I need to go to the dermatologist soon anyway, I’ll talk with her about Vitamin A. Apparently, it’s a cancer hazard when exposed to sunlight, and can bioaccumulate to the point of being a developmental toxin. I sort of knew this already from a dietary standpoint: too much vitamin A is bad since it can build up in the body, but eat all the beta carotene that you want (it won’t build up but is easily converted into vitamin A). I’m guessing that the little amount in my lipstick and under-eye concealer isn’t really a concern but I’ll follow up anyway.

I will also add that this is why we need a Safe Chemicals Act! No one should have to worry about whether the personal care products they are using contain carcinogenic or toxic compounds, and we shouldn’t be the guinea pigs used to find out.

Keeping Cool Without Breaking the Bank (Or Not)   1 comment

It’s been a hot summer here in Sacramento this year. I don’t know if it has actually been hotter than normal, but it seems like there have been more no-Delta-breeze nights with subsequent day temps near or above 100 degrees. Keeping cool has been a priority.

A few years ago I posted about some of my strategies of keeping a house cool (here and here). The first strategy is to block the sun from shining in/on the windows and exterior walls. Curtains will block sun from coming in the house but the windows and walls still heat up. Shade trees, awnings, or extended eaves keep the sun off the windows/wall so that they don’t heat up. We’ve got awnings over all of our east and west facing windows, and tall rosebushes in front of the south facing windows. The shade trees on the south side of the house aren’t yet big enough to offer shade.

The second strategy is to take advantage of breezes. At night, the breeze coming in through open windows may be able to cool the house down sufficiently to delay or prevent turning on the A/C the next day. (This strategy works great in Sacramento…when there’s a Delta breeze.) When there’s no breeze or it’s hot as blazes outside, though, fans can serve in some situations to help you cool off.

There’s a third strategy that I use but haven’t written about before and that’s to not heat the house. Sounds obvious, right? But as my husband has pointed out, most people don’t really think about it. Is it summer and the forecast says it’ll be around 100 degrees? Then don’t run the dishwasher, stove, oven, or vacuum during the day. It’ll just heat up the house and make the A/C turn on earlier. Even TVs, computers, and any other electronic appliance will generate heat. The TV on in our house for long enough for my husband to get in a game of Battlefront can raise the temperature by a couple degrees. A computer? I’ve worked from home and watched the temperature tick up as I sat in front of the thermostat (in the office) working on my laptop. Even when the A/C turns on, unless the room with the heated appliance is next to the thermostat and therefore controls the thermostat, it will still be warmer and less comfortable than the rest of the house.

We’ve managed to have a couple days early this summer when it reached 100 degrees outside and our A/C didn’t turn on because we were out of the house part of the day, didn’t turn on the TV or computers until later in the day, and moved the toaster outside for breakfast. (There are many more days when we’ve added plenty of heat load to the house, but small victories, right?) I should also mention that in summer our thermostat is programmed to 83 during the day, and my husband usually turns the cooler on manually at around 79 or 80 degrees.

One great thing about the strategy of reducing heat load is that it’s double $ savings. You’re saving money by not using electricity to power the heat-generating device(s) and saving money by reducing energy spent cooling the house. However, as we learned this year, casual applications of these strategies aren’t enough to “tunnel through the cost barrier” to borrow a phrase from Amory Lovins. I was sorely disappointed early this summer when our A/C died and had to be replaced. For a while I forgot about all the monthly savings these strategies have netted us as I stewed about having to spring for an expensive new A/C. As much as I would have loved to be able to live without heating and cooling, we’re not there yet and the new system has won me over with its super-efficiency and quiet operation.

Posted August 17, 2014 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use, frugal living, home, simple living

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Good Timing Working Out a Blueprint for Nursing Through the Second Year   Leave a comment

For the last few months I’ve been trying to work out a “plan” for the second year of breastfeeding. It’s amazing how difficult it is to answer the question “What does it mean to breastfeed for the first two years?” Now, four months into that second year I’ve finally got something worked out.

From the get-go I fully intended to breastfeed for at least two years, and at the beginning it’s easy to understand how it works. Actually making it work, now that’s another story. While pregnant I read/heard the descriptions of how to nurse a baby, but it was completely over my head and I didn’t get it. Sitting on my bed with Conan shortly after he was born I was completely blank and thankful for the Rachels’ help latching Conan on the first time. And we had our struggles: Conan’s neck and back tension meant he couldn’t open enough for a good latch when he was born, I was so emotionally not yet ready for visitors and Christmas that I got blocked ducts and mastitis two weeks in, I got a yeast infection and had to resort to gentian violet (we have a picture of Conan’s mouth stained purple to prove it), I got blocked ducts 3 times in the first 3 months with a handful of close calls since then, and between pumping and sometimes Conan as either a hoover or lazy latch I’ve had several rounds of bruised areolas (that’s how it feels anyway) with the most recent just a couple months ago.

With a newborn I found it easy to get into the groove of the feeding schedule and evolve over time, especially with the addition of “solids” in the latter half of the first year. In our society, though, where the vast majority of babies are no longer breastfeeding after 12 months, understanding how that evolution continues after 12 months is more challenging. Plus, there’s so much variety in situations and desires that everyone has to answer this question for herself. Even the World Health Organization, which recommends breastfeeding for the first two years, doesn’t give an explanation of what that means.

Back before Conan’s first birthday I started trying to figure this out, starting with the question of how long I should continue to pump. That’s when I first started getting frustrated because I saw so many times the phrase “you don’t need to worry about frequency of feeding because toddlers will self-regulate”. Ok, that’s fine if you’re home with your toddler but that it completely not helpful when I am trying to figure out how long to continue pumping at work. It is also unhelpful when your toddler shows no desire to communicate and never asks for milk (but expects it at certain ritual times and gets very excited when it is offered). I found a few discussion boards where it seemed the longest that anyone continued to pump at work was to 18 months. So I’ve been just continuing the status quo with that 18 month target in mind.

But I wasn’t really happy with a random 18 month target. It was like dealing with sleep and things like “at 5 months babies can sleep through the night” and then getting to 5 months and feeling like I wasn’t going to suddenly stop going to him at night and not feeling like there was anything unnatural or wrong about his behavior. So we just ignored all of that kind of advice and let him evolve at his own pace. Realizing that made me wonder if it is possible to do the same with breast feeding even if he doesn’t get to regulate me 5 days a week.

So I decided that I’m going to continue pumping until he no longer wants a bottle at day care. If that means I’m pumping for around 2 years, I’m fine with that. Along with that I also decided that I think he should continue drinking his day care milk in a bottle. It makes sense to me that he get my milk through a nipple, be it mine or a silicone one. When he starts supplementing with cow’s milk it should be in a plain cup. The sippy bottle should only ever contain water, just like mommy and daddy’s water bottles. I have no idea which nursing will go first/next, but until it no longer seems right I’ll just continue with the status quo.

These decisions were timely as a week an a half ago I got mastitis again, and it took me four days to get the ducts unblocked. It is looking like that may have affected production and Conan may need to start supplementing with cow’s milk at day care. Having just worked out a blueprint for breastfeeding in the second year, though I’m at peace with whatever happens however it happens (I think).

Posted April 20, 2014 by mayakey in conscious living, food, parenting

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Pregnancy IS a Second Chakra Exercise in Letting Go Control   Leave a comment

For the last several months I’ve been working on catching up on my photo albums/memory books. They were a little out of date. The paper album hadn’t yet left 2004. The digital album really only had 2009 and 2010. Now my paper album is up-to-date (except for the wedding albums), my friends-and-family album is in progress, and the digital album is halfway through 2007. I chose to do this as a first chakra exercise (as well as clearing the mess from the collage table in the living room so that I can do some artwork) prior to Baby coming. I figured that it would be a good first chakra exercise because it reinforces my tribal history, reminding me of the friends and family that have made me who I am today.

I also wanted to figure out a second chakra exercise, since the second chakra is physically located in the sexual organs and it seemed like it would be appropriate as a part of labor prep. For the longest time I didn’t have any ideas what to do. Then a few weeks ago I realized that pregnancy in and of itself is a second chakra exercise. Not only that, but it’s an exercise in letting go control, which is my biggest second chakra issue. Yet another example of how well nature takes care of itself. During pregnancy I am no longer in control of my body/senses, sometimes my mind and emotions play with me and become “unpredictable”, and time after time after time there are circumstances where it doesn’t matter what I want because it’s just not going to happen. I can have the image of the ideal pregnancy: healthy diet, daily supplements, regular exercise, plenty of relaxation, a nursery that is carpeted before the baby becomes full term allowing plenty of time to pull together a nursery, a solid plan… However, that just ain’t reality and  the most important thing I can do is let go and accept what is reality. Yes, I know, that’s true in normal life as well, but it’s magnified during pregnancy. Stressing out is not an option. And when I have had breakdowns they need to be resolved asap; repression is not an option, depression is not an option. Most of those breakdowns have been related to either control issues or relationship issues, both of which are second chakra, and have resulted in me being able to work through some significant challenges that I hadn’t been facing. Mentally, conscious pregnancy has been very healthy for me.

And now I think I’m ready for labor and then letting go control of the rest of my life.

Posted December 10, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, musings, pregnancy

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So What Plastics Are Recyclable?   2 comments

One of the questions that came up as I was preparing to sort my trash for this year’s solid waste audit was what plastics should be classified as recyclable and which as non-recyclable. In 2001 when I did my first personal trash sort this was an easy question to answer. This was back in the day when recyclable plastics were only types 1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE). So the “recyclable plastic” category was just plastics with those numbers on them, and everything else was considered non-recyclable. In 2006 and 2012 it’s a little bit different because officially any numbered plastic can be put in our recycling bin. I’m a little skeptical that all types are recycled, though. I’m inclined to think that the commonly recycled plastics are sorted out and the rest are trashed, but that they tell people to put all numbered plastics in the bin to make it easier for the general population and increase recycling rates.

My understanding is that types 3 (PVC aka vinyl) and 6 (PS aka polystyrene) are not commonly recycled because of the potential for release of toxic gases during the process (that would be chlorine gas and styrene). Type 7 is the catch-all number, and includes everything from polycarbonate (of BPA fame) to the new corn starch plastic PLA, and much more. With so much variety inherent in type 7 plastics, there must be a variety of physical properties, which I would think makes it difficult or impossible to recycle type 7 plastics. As far as I know, types 1, 2, 4, and 5 are currently the only commonly recycled plastics, so those are the only ones I throw in the recycle bin. In 2006 that was also how I differentiated between recyclable and non-recyclable plastic. But for 2012 I wanted a little bit more certainty so I tried contacting the company the collects our waste to find out what actually gets recycled. The reply that I got back was confidence inspiring: “As far as I know everything is recycled except for Styrofoam.” (with no name or email signature). Not helpful. Do I take this response at its word? Or do I assume that it was someone who didn’t know what they are talking about? I suppose maybe the various types could be compressed enough combine them and make something new.

For the trash sort I worked out a compromise. “Recyclable plastic” was types 1, 2, 4, and 5. “Non-recyclable plastic, no number” was plastics with no identifying number, so that I’m not even supposed to throw in the recycle bin. “Non-recyclable plastic, 3,6,7” was plastic types 3, 6, and 7, which are uncertain but assumed to be non-recyclable. But I’m still left with a little bit of a dilemma: do I continue throwing away types 3, 6, and 7 or do I start tossing them in the recycle bin in case the waste management company ISN’T sorting them out and throwing away. So far, we stick with the status quo. But I’d hate to think I’m throwing away what I could be recycling.

Posted October 24, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, environment, resource use

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Passing On the Best Gift I Ever Received   1 comment

What do I consider to be the best gift I’ve ever been given? The gift of college, fully paid by my parents (well I did have a small scholarship). Especially in today’s world I am incredibly grateful to have been able to go to the university of my choice, focus on my classes without needing to work during the school year, and get a college degree without having a loan to pay off afterwards. This is a gift that I really, really, really want to be able to pass on to my children as well. My parents did this using savings in bank accounts and CDs. We’re going to add another investment option to our arsenal: a 529 plan. Years ago when I first heard about 529 plans I didn’t think they were that great because I thought it meant you were picking the state where your kids would have to go to school. Having been given the choice to go anywhere in the country, except for schools located in-state or near home, I couldn’t imagine setting that kind of limitation for my kids. But when I realized that the invested money can be used for qualifying education expenses anywhere, I changed my tune.

To be honest, we’re not fully taking advantage of all the potential benefits of a 529 plan. Really the only benefits we’re taking advantage of are the tax-exempt nature of the distributions and the hopefully higher rate of return than a simple savings account or CD. Depending on the state there are other benefits available (I think typically only to residents) like tax deductions. This will seem kind of random, however, but we’re not enrolling in the California 529 plan, or the New Mexico 529 plan. We’ve enrolled in the DC 529 plan. It’s because SRI (socially responsible investing) is very important to me, and the DC plan is the only one (as far as I know) that is managed by an investment firm dedicated to SRI, Calvert. My Roth IRA is through Calvert and I really like the work that they do. TIAA-CREF, the plan manager for California ScholarShare, has some SRI funds but I don’t know that those funds would be part of the 529 plan. I don’t know if Oppenheimer, the plan manager for The Education Plan (NM) has SRI funds. By investing through the plan managed by Calvert I can rest assured that all of the funds in the plan are SRI funds. And I know that I am comfortable with the positive and negative screens that the company uses, and with the shareholder activism in which they engage.

Now we just have to manage to put enough money into savings in the next 18 years to be able to pay for whatever college will cost in 2030.

Posted October 17, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, money, pregnancy

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