Sustainable Tourism, Part 2: Traveling through Denver and Boulder

If you missed part 1 of my discussion of sustainable tourism, check it out here. In it I detail my considerations regarding choice of accommodation in Denver. Now, on to the long-awaited (yes, it’s been a month since part 1, 😢) part 2, where I show you some of the sights of M. and I encountered while traveling through Denver and Boulder and discuss how we went about being sustainable tourists! (Psst, if you don’t want to read several paragraphs about how beautiful and fun my trip was, skip down to the bottom of this post to see my list of six tips for sustainable tourism.)

On our first day in Denver, we couldn’t check-in to our bed and breakfast until 3 pm, but our flight landed at 10 am. What to do in those many hours before we could unload our bags? Well, the Church of Cannabis happened to be open to the public from 1 to 3 pm the day that we landed. Hey, when you’re in the area, you might as well sample the local culture. 😉 So we decided that would be our target destination for the afternoon, and we started figuring out how to get there from Denver International Airport.

M. was advocating taking a rideshare car from the airport, but after we looked at a map, we realized that the Denver rail system has a train that goes directly from the airport to Union Station in downtown Denver (near where we wanted to be). Taking the rail would be cheaper and a whole lot more sustainable, so on the rail we went. The train cars were very clean and comfortable, and I enjoyed just staring out the large windows and noticing how different the views are compared to Chicago and New York.

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We got off of the train at the last stop, Union Station, and grabbed lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant nearby. M. chose something vegetarian. I was a bit less sustainability minded (oops) and got something with shrimp.

After lunch, we started feeling sleepy. We had been awake since 5 a.m. or so, and needed to pep ourselves up. So, next stop: caffeine. We grabbed a bus from Union Station to head to our destination, Bardo Cafe, which is within walking distance of the Church of Cannabis. M. got his coffee in his reusable coffee mug, while I opted for my chai latte in a to-stay mug. That’s two fewer single-use cups in the landfill.

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As you can see, I also carried a little reusable stainless-steel water bottle around with me so we didn’t have to buy a new plastic bottle whenever we got thirsty. 🙂

After our caffeine fix, we walked over to the Church of Cannabis. If you’re not a member of the church, you can’t smoke there, but the building itself was still worth a visit. The worship room hosts a beautiful mural that I could have stared at for hours.

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After exploring the church, we headed to the bed and breakfast, where we discovered that they offer coffee and tea 24/7 (in reusable pitchers). So, for every morning of the rest of our stay, we refilled our mugs and water bottle from the B&B kitchen.

On day 2, we decide to take a day trip to Boulder. I’ve never done any extensive hiking (I am thoroughly city-raised. . .), and I was very excited to experience the Rocky Mountains. Initially M. and I had considered taking a rideshare to Boulder, but in Union Station we saw an advertisement for the Flatiron Flyer, a Denver bus route going directly from the station to downtown Boulder every fifteen minutes. How wonderful! A well-run and convenient public transit system does loads to help residents lead sustainable lives! So we opted to take the bus. It was a very pleasant and quick ride. And a lot more economical than a rideshare. 🙂

Once we arrived in Boulder, we had brunch at Lucile’s, a Creole restaurant located in an adorable Victorian era building. The restaurant used cloth napkins that seemed to be made from fabric scraps: sustainable and adorable, hurray! And this time I did order a vegetarian dish. 🙂

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After brunch, we were energized and ready to hike. We decided to head for the Mount Sanitas trail, since it was the easiest to get to from Lucile’s (about a 30 minute walk). During our walk, it started drizzling, and I got concerned that we’d be caught on the mountain without any protection from the elements. (We hadn’t brought umbrellas because I had lost my old one, and the new, biodegradable umbrella that I had ordered was delayed in shipping. More on that in a future post. 🙂 ) So we went to three or four different stores, hunting for umbrellas, with no luck. At some point we decided to give up and keep trekking on.

Fortunately the drizzling stopped and the rest of our walk was without event. I ended up being happy we hadn’t found an umbrella to purchase, because conventional umbrellas aren’t very sustainable anyway.

As we got closer to the beginning of the trail, the sidewalks became more narrow and unpaved, but the once we reached the beginning of the trail itself the path was very walkable. After about ten minutes of walking, we came upon a fork in the trail. We decided to attempt the steeper and more difficult path. Despite my nervousness about possibly falling off the mountain (my goodness those paths are steep and gravelly), the hike paid off. The views were amazing.

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Once we got back down from the mountain, we felt like we had a good excuse to treat ourselves to some local beers. 😀 Unfortunately, the place that we chose ended up being a tad mediocre. Perhaps we have been spoiled by the Chicago craft beer scene. But it was still nice to sit down and nurse our sore legs. Then we hopped back on the Flatiron Flyer to return to our Denver B&B for a good soak in their hot tub.

Day 3 was spent exploring the areas closest to our bed and breakfast. The B&B’s owner turned out to an expert in both local sights and vinyl, so we had decided to check out his recommendations. First off was Wax Trax, a twenty or so minute walk away. While M. searched through the many racks of used and new vinyl, I browsed the web and sipped tea at Hudson Hill, a cute little cafe/bar across the street. I made sure to ask for a mug for my tea!

When M. was done looking through vinyl and I was done sipping, we headed to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Once again, we opted to walk there. The walk between Wax Trax and the gardens was also about twenty minutes. I enjoyed trekking through the surrounding neighborhoods on foot and gawking at people’s houses. The closer you get to the gardens, the larger the houses get! And oh boy, there are some mansions.

The entrance to the gardens was a little difficult to find, but once we found it, we were taken aback by the size and beauty of the place.

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I think we spent at least two hours walking around its entirety. There was even a bonsai section! All in all, I’d highly recommend checking out the Denver Botanic Gardens for yourself. And a giant gold star to the gardens for including composting bins next to the recycling bins! 😀

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For dinner on day 3, we decided to splurge and go to a trendy restaurant. This is where our sustainability efforts went downhill a bit. We knew we would eat meat at our dinner, because that is part of the splurge, but we hadn’t checked the portion sizes beforehand and ended up over-ordering. Neither one of us had brought a reusable container with us, so we had to accept the takeout boxes from this restaurant. And the boxes were definitely not recyclable or compostable. We also had drinks later that night, but we forgot to ask for “no straw, please,” and so, in our lack of foresight, we were saddled with single-use plastics. Sigh.

On our fourth and final day in Denver, we paid the Denver Art Museum a visit. Once again, because of the central location of our B&B, we were able to walk to the museum fairly easily (about a fifteen minute walk). The B&B was also kind enough to hold onto our luggage even though we had already checked out, so we didn’t need to worry about lugging heavy bags around.

The museum has two buildings, so we tried to split our time evenly between them. We only had about three hours total to devote to the exhibits before we needed to leave, so we didn’t get to see every floor, but it was still an enriching experience. And the museum itself is beautifully designed. One of my favorite exhibitions was Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place, a series of site-specific installations by Latinx artists that very much spoke to the current political climate in our country. Below is a photo of part of Plexus no. 36, by Gabriel Dawe.

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Sadly, our museum day also ended up being one of our least sustainable. Both of us forgot to bring our reusable travel mugs, so when we got thirsty we ended up buying drinks that came in plastic cups. Fortunately the cups were recyclable, but M.’s drink came with a straw (I remembered to refuse mine 😇), which is definitely not recyclable. After we were done with the museum, we also ended up taking a rideshare to the airport instead of using public transit, since we had cut our plans too close to our departure time, so our carbon footprint was a bit higher than I wanted it to be (and that’s not even considering the carbon footprint of flying. . .).

Well, now that we are back in Chicago and I have had time to mull over our trip, here is what I learned about traveling sustainably:

Six tips for being a sustainability-minded tourist:

1) Always carry a reusable water bottle and a reusable mug.

Ideally, pack some container that can double as both. Carry a reusable napkin as well.

2) Always say “No straw, please.”

Refusing straws was one of the hardest parts, simply because we forgot that straws exist until they were already in our drinks. Bring a reusable straw with you if you prefer to drink with one than without. This is one of the areas where we failed miserably. 😦

3) If possible, stay somewhere close to the center of things.

Our B&B was within walking distance of the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and a lot of good restaurants and bars. So we walked almost everywhere! And because we walked so much, we got a much more personal view of the city than we would have if we had taken rideshares or taxis.

4) Use the local transit system!

Ride-sharing and taxis should be a last resort. The only times we used rideshares were when we were late to our drinks plan (this only happened once) and when we were several neighborhoods away from our B&B and it was too late at night to feel safe walking back.

5) Don’t over-order when eating out.

Because our room didn’t have a microwave, we didn’t think we’d end up reheating and consuming any of leftovers, so we tried not to have any. If you want or expect leftovers, remember to always carry a reusable container, like a small steel bowl with an air-tight lid, so that you aren’t caught unawares like we were. You could also leave the leftovers to the restaurant to dispose of, but this is not necessarily sustainable if the restaurant does not compost.

6) Support the local businesses. Avoid going to large chains for your caffeine/breakfast/snack fixes.

This may be a strange one to put in a list of sustainability tips, but I think it deserves consideration. The heads of large corporations that have lots of outposts are usually disconnected from the areas where their outposts are located. That disconnect means that they are less likely to care about their environmental impact on their outpost’s surrounding community, they are less likely to care about the employees who come from that community, and they are likely using the cheapest ingredients possibly, which usually means they haven’t considered whether those ingredients were sustainably or ethically produced.

These chains almost never have sustainable options for dining in or drinking in. If you get a meal at a certain fast food restaurant with a red and yellow logo and you opt to dine in, you still get your food in the same single-use containers that you would have gotten if you had opted for take out. But if you had decided to get your meal or snack at a local cafe, you could have asked the food to be served on a reusable plate.

And, a bonus tip: if you’re planning to fly or travel in a way that will create a large carbon footprint because you have no other reasonable options, consider buying a carbon offset from an organization like Terrapass. Their website seems easy to use, and the carbon offsets are not as expensive as I would have expected. I haven’t bought one yet to offset my Denver trip, but it is on my to-do list.

If you are planning to travel soon, I hope these tips help you!

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

A quick acknowledgment: These tips hinge on a certain level of mobility and financial stability that M. and I are certainly fortunate to have, and I do not intend to shame anyone who cannot follow these suggestions or doesn’t travel at all because these options are not financially or physically viable.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

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Sustainable Tourism, Part 1: My Stay at the Queen Anne in Denver

About a month ago, M. and I took a little vacation to Denver. We had been desperately in need of a non-family-centric trip, and neither of us had ever been to Colorado before. So we booked our plane tickets and then started searching for accommodations.

I was determined not to use AirBnB for our trip. We’ve used AirBnB before, with little to no issues, but there have been a lot of accusations of racism surrounding the platform itself. There’s also the possibility that AirBnB is jacking up the cost of housing in cities that are already impossible for lower-income residents to survive in.

Unfortunately, hotels, another alternative, are not the most environmentally friendly. Hotel rooms are (typically) stocked with little plastic bottles of toiletries that are changed out with each new guest, increasing the unsustainable consumption of plastic. The bottles may not be recyclable, and even if they are, who knows if the hotel actually follows through on recycling? Breakfast is usually served with single-use, nonrecyclable, noncompostable items too, like plastic coffee stirrers, plastic-coated tea bags, and packets of creamer. And I doubt the major hotel chains follow ecofriendly, low-waste practices when it comes to cleaning and laundering.

So cue the bed and breakfast (henceforth referred to as the B&B). To be honest, I’d never considered the B&B to be an attractive accommodation. I had this image of B&Bs as old-fashioned and stuffy, thanks to a whole lot of television shows and movies that seemed eager to feed me this stereotype. But when I started exploring our accommodation options, I kept seeing the name “Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast” in my search results. The Queen Anne was in our desired neighborhood, close to a lot of attractions, and in our price range. And, it billed itself as an ecofriendly business, one that uses low-waste practices, organic bedding, and organic toiletries. I was intrigued, to say the least. We took a look at their website and realized that a room with a hot tub in the Queen Anne B&B was the same price as a regular hotel room in the same area! We were sold.

It was easy to find the Queen Anne once we landed in Denver. The B&B is located in a quaint up-and-coming neighborhood an easy bus ride away from Union Station. The Queen Anne actually comprises two buildings, one of which hosts the dining nook and common area. As we walked up to the door of the main building, we marveled at the beautiful flowers lining the pathway. I had never seen so many butterflies in one place in my life, which (to me) was a good sign of a healthy ecosystem. (M. later informed me that the ridiculous number of butterflies was due to migration patterns. Still awesome.)

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The entrance to the Queen Anne. To the right of the door you can see a sign proclaiming the building’s historic nature!

Once we had our fill gawking at the flowers, we rang the doorbell and the innkeeper came out to greet us. She was extremely friendly, and gave us a little tour of the common areas. There was even a beautiful backyard for relaxing in. She pointed out the herbs, peppers, and leafy greens that were growing around the house/B&B, and mentioned that the B&B kitchen often harvests from the garden for their daily breakfast preparations. My green, food-loving heart soared upon hearing this.

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Some of the herbs growing in their garden.

After the tour, we set out to explore our room: Gallery Suite #2. It’s called the gallery suite because the walls are decorated with pieces from local artists. Gallery Suite #2 is one of the most expensive rooms in the Queen Anne, but we wanted to treat ourselves (although it’s still affordable compared to some hotels out there).

The bedroom area had an exposed brick wall with an inset stained-glass window, a vanity area (with desk, lamp, and mirror), a record player, an armchair, and a bench by the window. The bed was plush and cozy, and according to the Queen Anne’s website all of their mattresses are made with recycled metal coils and sustainable green tea insulation foam. Their bedding is supposed to be 100% organic cotton, “undyed and unbleached.” However, the pillowcases and the duvet cover are certainly not undyed (they are gray, as you’ll notice from the photo), so I’m assuming that by “bedding,” the Queen Anne’s website is referring to the actual sheets (which looked undyed to me). When I took a closer look at the gray pillows, I did notice one of the tags stated that the material was polyester. Unfortunately, I forgot to investigate the fabric tag on the sheets themselves.

The bathroom was outfitted with a cast-iron tub and the usual toiletries (all from companies that tout themselves as sustainable). The shower gel, conditioner, and shampoo were all located in a large refillable dispenser, which is meant to reduce waste by allowing the B&B to continue refilling the dispenser from bulk containers rather than buying and replacing smaller bottles. (If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the dispenser reflected in the mirror.) There was also a sign on the bathroom wall detailing the B&B’s ecofriendly policy of changing linens “between guests or on request only (towels on floor or in tub).” I really like this policy because it reduces excessive laundering (and therefore reduces excessive water consumption). If you’re staying at the B&B for more than one night, you really don’t need to have a new batch of freshly laundered towels brought to you every day.

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Now, to the hot tub area. The hot tub was located at the end of a small hallway. There was a door separating the bedroom from the hot tub room, and the hot tub room also had a door leading out to the B&B’s backyard, in case we wanted to have some fresh air wafting in while we were “tubbing.” We felt quite spoiled. It even had multi-colored lights!

Once we were done tubbing, we decided to check out the Queen Anne’s “happy hour.” The happy hour is a little meet and greet that is hosted in the B&B’s common area every day from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Local wines and local cheeses are served, and the guests can mingle as they choose. M. and I were happy to sample the wine, which was delicious, and we took a few too many servings of cheese and crackers. . . .We didn’t mingle much, because we are a bit introverted, but the other guests were friendly and seemed to be enjoying their stays as well.

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After a good night’s sleep, M. and I woke up early the next day because we were curious what the B&B’s homemade breakfast would be like. We were not disappointed. On the menu that day were homemade waffles with blueberry compote. Oh, it was so delicious.

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Homemade waffles!!!

The breakfast was served on ceramic plates (reusable!), and we were each provided with a ceramic mug for coffee or tea and a glass for water or orange juice. The coffee was from Novo, a local supplier. There was also tea (my caffeine fix of choice). The tea was supplied by Mighty Leaf, and according to the label on the box the sachets are compostable, but unfortunately each sachet was wrapped in what appeared to be a plastic bag. 😦 Every other bit of the breakfast was wonderful though, and M. and I made a pact with each other to continue waking up early each day of our stay, since we didn’t want to miss the other breakfasts!

On the second day, we had the great fortune of having breakfast cooked for us by the owner himself! He made us a mushroom and spinach omelette with cherry tomatoes and guacamole, garnished with chives from the B&B’s garden. Again, so good!

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The omelette, prepared by the owner himself!

We also had the opportunity to chat with the owner for a little bit once he was done in the kitchen. We learned that he has owned the Queen Anne for about eight years now, and that he used to be a professional chef (no wonder the breakfasts are so good)! We also met his parents, who happened to be visiting him and were helping him out. It was great to see behind the scenes and get glimpses of the owner and his family; I got the sense that the owner truly cares about his guests. Not only was he cooking for everyone, he was happy to take the time to give M. and me a long list of recommendations for where to go in Denver after we expressed that we weren’t sure what to do that day.

On our third and last day, the Queen Anne kitchen continued to delight. The featured breakfast that day was scrambled eggs with chives from the garden and paneer cheese, a fresh-fruit cup (served in a ceramic ramekin), a green chutney, and Indian flatbread (possibly chapati). I was pained knowing that that we would be leaving that night. Oh, how I miss those breakfasts now.

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Overall, we had a wonderful time at the Queen Anne, and I can’t wait to go back. In terms of our stay and enjoyment, I would give the Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast 5 out of 5 gold stars. Our room was cozy and comfortable, the hot tub was a delight, and the innkeepers and the owner were all extremely friendly and accommodating. Not to mention, the food was excellent!

But, how does the Queen Anne’s sustainability stack up? I think it’s clear that the Queen Anne is doing its best to be sustainably and ethically run. By using bulk soap dispensers, the B&B avoids excessive plastic consumption. By laundering only on request/between guests, the B&B avoids excessive water consumption. (According to the B&B’s website, the shower heads are also low flow, which saves even more water.) By using local ingredients in their breakfasts and happy hours, including ingredients from their own gardens, the B&B lowers its greenhouse gas emissions since its suppliers don’t have to ship or transport items very far. (Keeping a garden also aids local fauna [like bees and butterflies].) And by using organic cotton sheets and sustainably made mattresses, the B&B both lowers its carbon footprint and supports sustainable manufacturing. Last, but not least, the buildings that make up the Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast are each over a century old; repurposing and preserving old buildings instead of tearing them down can be more sustainable because you avoid using up energy to tear the building down and you avoid releasing greenhouse gases in the production of new materials for raising a new structure.

However, there are a couple of areas where the Queen Anne could improve. The gray pillowcases and gray duvet cover seemed to be made of polyester, which is certainly not sustainable. At the very least, I would suggest switching to recycled polyester for those parts of the bedding. I would also suggest finding a different tea supplier, one that doesn’t keep its tea sachets in noncompostable plastic bags. And, last but not least, while M. and I thoroughly enjoyed the hot tub, hot tubs are not very ecofriendly. They typically use chlorine to clean the water, and they consume a lot of energy. Unfortunately, I can see why having a hot tub in the B&B would be lucrative (it certainly attracted M. and me to the venue), so my best suggestion would be to try to replace their current hot tub with a more energy-efficient one or to retrofit it to be more energy efficient. (To be completely honest, I’m not sure what model hot tub the Queen Anne currently uses, so perhaps it is already the most energy efficient that it can be).

Overall, the Queen Anne is still much more environmentally friendly than a traditional hotel establishment. The owner and innkeepers clearly have a mind for sustainability, and I would much rather support a small business where the owner has a closer and deeper connection with the clientele and has an honest consideration for the environment. Additionally, the owner is a person of color, and I believe it is very important to help lift up businesses owned by people of color because my country (the United States) clearly has a problem distributing power and wealth equally—if the government won’t fight for equality for “minority” groups, then it’s up to citizens and consumers to do so with their voices and their dollars.

So, here’s my final verdict: using the Green Stars Project‘s system, I’m going to give the Queen Anne 4.5 out of 5 green stars! The Queen Anne could improve a little bit in two or three small areas, but overall it is doing a great job with sustainability. The owner has his heart in the right place, and I’m sure he’ll keep making strides forward. Staying at the Queen Anne also helps avoid the ethical and sustainability pitfalls of traditional hotels and AirBnBs, and supporting a small, local business that supports other small, local businesses keeps money and power in the hands of people who actually want to change our world for the better.

If you’re ever in Denver and looking for a sustainably and ethically run place to stay, go to the Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast!

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❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

A quick acknowledgment: This review does not consider pricing much at all, partially because that wasn’t the #1 most important factor for M. and I when we were selecting accommodations. M. and I are certainly fortunate to be able to be picky with our choice of venue, and I do not intend to shame anyone who uses AirBnB or hotels (or doesn’t travel at all) if those are your only financially viable options.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Hopelessness

For pretty much the entirety of my life I’ve been extremely aware of the problems that plague my nation (try growing up as a queer lower-middle-class Asian woman in a society that believes wealthy white cis-hetero males are superior to everyone else). I’ve often felt hopeless in the face of all of these problems, all of these ways in which this society oppresses myself and others who are considered minorities. But I’ve kept picking myself back up, because I know what is right, and I know that’s what I want to keep fighting for.

In recent weeks, my feeling of hopelessness has increased exponentially. The US government’s extremely inept responses to a devastating earthquake, multiple category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and a mass shooting were extremely disheartening. Here are all of these wealthy white men wielding their unearned power to perpetuate ignorance and add to the destruction. Here is a media that perpetuates the status quo by continuing to blame my generation for everything from the increased use of a certain color of pink to our current economic crisis, dismissing us as “millennials,” ignoring our cries for change, and doing very little to advocate for actual solutions to the problems they report on. Here is a society where those with exorbitant privilege and wealth feel okay just sitting idly by, unwilling to fight for what’s right because that would mean giving up one of their many, many comforts. I feel overwhelmed by the injustices of our world.

But I won’t allow myself to be apathetic toward these problems and lose interest. I can’t allow myself to think of this as the new normal. Because these issues affect us all, whether we want to admit it. Although by no means am I in the highest echelons of society (not that I’d ever be allowed there anyway), I certainly have enough power and resources to do something. So I have to do something. I have a duty to my community, a community called humanity. I think we all have this duty, and those who can most afford to act on that duty should.

My heart goes out to all of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. I will keep advocating for gun control, because no one should have to go through what you went through. When it is easier to buy a gun than it is to buy contraception in some states, there is something gravely wrong with our country.

And my heart goes out to all of the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and to the victims of the earthquake in Mexico. I’ll keep fighting to curb climate change, because I know that the poorest and most disenfranchised people of color are those who will be impacted first. I’ll keep advocating for a government that cares about all of its citizens, because Puerto Rico is a part of our country and Puerto Ricans deserve the same rights and care as those of us on the mainland.

I’m going to take action by upping my donations to organizations advocating for gun control and to organizations fighting climate change. I’m going to continue reducing my carbon footprint. I’m going to work with progressive activist organizations to elect candidates who actually care. And I’m going to pay  more attention to my representatives and hold them accountable. Even if my representatives are progressive and are already fighting for my values, they can always do more.

If you’re feeling hopeless too, I’d advise coming up with a game plan. Donate your time and/or money to help the victims of these climate change disasters. The Hispanic Federation is a great place to start, as they will distribute your donations to areas in need, like Mexico and Puerto Rico. Another good charity is Earthjustice, which uses the legal system to fight against climate change. If you would like to vet a charity before you donate to it, organizations like Charity Navigator provide comprehensive rundowns of various nonprofits’ efficiency and transparency. Call your senators and urge them to fight for gun control and fight for reducing carbon emissions. If they say they’re already working on that, urge them to work harder. And don’t stop thinking about these issues. Don’t let this wash over you and become just another blip in the timeline.

Listening to this podcast also helped me snap out of my feeling of hopelessness. The hosts have a really nuanced, caring, and important discussion about the current events of the past week, specifically the shooting in Las Vegas. They reminded me that, as overwhelming as all of this is, we can’t just stop in our tracks. We’ve got to keep talking about all of these issues. We’ve got to keep acting. Apathy is part of what got us further into this mess.

This blog will return to its usual programming of discussing sustainability and ethical fashion in the next post, but I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge current events here. I know I do a post like this every couple of months, but with all that is going on, I’m surprised I don’t decide to do this every day. (Admittedly, that’d be exhausting for both you and me.)

Stay safe, keep resisting, and don’t give up. Movements are built through the power of many individuals working together toward justice.

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Human beings are not burdens.

On Wednesday, a hateful, pitiful, corrupt shell of a man proclaimed that transgender people are a burden. He proclaimed, in the most flippant form possible, that to allow transgender people into the military would create financial strain on the US government. Once again, this man failed to see the humanity in other people. He failed to consider the burden of his own callous, disgusting words and actions.

As if effectively banning transgender people from the US military won’t create an undue mental and emotional burden for those citizens who are affected. As if that mental and emotional burden won’t end up hurting the country more than an inclusive policy would. As if this statement won’t add to the waves of depression that have been hitting those who are the most disenfranchised. Being transgender should not mean that one’s rights as a citizen are revoked. Being transgender should not mean one’s rights as a human being are revoked.

The true burden on this country is the lack of diversity within the highest echelons of government and leadership. Diversity needs to be celebrated. It needs to be cherished. It needs to be seen as important. Being around a diverse group of people fosters tolerance. Being around a diverse group of people opens up important opportunities: opportunities for new experiences, for new understandings of oneself and of others, and for new relationships. Opportunities for growth. Transgender lives matter. Transgender people are PEOPLE. A government that denies anyone’s humanity, that denies that equality that should exist for ALL human beings, is a government that needs to be kicked out.

Lady in Red

After the US election results were announced, I decided to become a part-time vegetarian* (in other words, I’m committed to being meat-free for two-thirds of my meals every week!). It’s clear that the current US president and his administration don’t care about curbing climate change, even though the Earth and humanity are at an important turning point. Part-time vegetarianism seemed like a simple way for me to fight back against the wasteful and delusional tendencies of the current government: research shows that eating less meat can help curb catastrophic climate change! How? Wastes from the meat industry pollute waterways and release a lot of methane into the atmosphere; methane is a greenhouse gas, so the more methane that is released into the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped on the Earth’s surface. Additionally, livestock require a lot of grain and water for sustenance, so the more livestock there are, the less water there is to quench the thirst of human and irrigate gas-trapping plants. If each one of us reduces our individual levels of meat consumption, there will be less demand for meat, which means less raising of livestock, which means less methane-producing fecal matter from livestock, less global warming, and more available water.

M. has embraced the part-time vegetarianism diet too. So, recently, M. and I went to the Chicago Diner for a lunch date. The Chicago Diner is a highly praised vegan and vegetarianism restaurant in Chicago, and we wanted to see if the hype was well-founded.

I was in the mood for something fried (because I lack self-control) so I ordered a crispy spicy chicken sandwich:

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It was delicious! The “chicken” patty was crisp and flavorful, with a breading that was much spicier than I had expected. I love spicy food, and whenever I order a spicy sandwich, I’m usually disappointed by how little heat there is. Chicago Diner got it right. I really wanted to try Chicago Diner’s vegan shakes too, but by the time M. and I were done with our entrees, we didn’t have room for dessert.

To go with my environmentally friendly meal, I wore an environmentally and ethically conscientious outfit:

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The choker and mock neck top were made in the United States in sweatshop-free conditions. The sleeveless blazer is an oversized, unlined blazer that I bought from the thrift store and then altered by lopping the sleeves off, binding the cut edges with bias tape, and shifting the button a few inches to the left so it would create a slimmer line when buttoned.

And here’s a goofy selfie for ya (oh yeah, I was wearing lipstick at some point that day…):

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The lipstick is Metallurgy, from Portland Black Lipstick Company. If you haven’t noticed, I love their lipsticks so much! This one is a shiny olive green color over a black base. I only bought a sample size but now I’m debating getting the full tube…

If you’re wondering why I’m so underdressed, considering it’s only March and Chicago is a cooold city, M. and I had our lunch date on a weekend of freakishly warm weather. I think it was in the low seventies (Fahrenheit)! As much as I enjoyed walking around outside without a coat on, those temperatures are a reminder that climate change is real and should not be taken lightly…. More reasons to stick with these new lifestyle choices of mine!

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

* I know I could do even more by adopting a 100% vegetarian diet. But I don’t want to give up meat entirely because there’s as much of a cultural component in my meat-eating as there is a taste factor. (For example, a lot of dishes that my Mom would make during my childhood involved animal products. I really want to preserve the food of my cultural heritage, and that would be extremely difficult to do if I become 100% vegetarian. Malaysian food is very seafood based and Cantonese food involves a lot of chicken and pork.) I think part-time vegetarianism is a good compromise, and also a more realistic goal. Most of the human population would probably refuse to give up meat entirely, but not as many would refuse to lessen their meat consumption.

The True Cost and the Value of Compassion

I watched The True Cost earlier this year. If you haven’t heard of The True Cost, it’s a 2015 documentary about the fast-fashion industry, conceived of and filmed after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. The filmmakers interview survivors of the collapse, factory workers, activists, farmers, founders of several fashion brands, and factory owners.

It’s a hard movie to watch. The images are devastating and the truths in it are hard to swallow. But whether or not you agree with every single point that is made in this documentary, the larger point remains: we have to acknowledge that we are aiding and abetting in the destruction of millions of lives when we purchase from massive retailers that emphasize excess consumption over human rights.

Fashion is an industry that affects us all. Even if you don’t care one bit about the latest trends, you still wear clothing. And, especially after recent elections and world events, I think we need to reexamine many of our daily actions, including our spending trends. I believe that in order to be better citizens, we all have to be better consumers.

The way fashion operates right now is not sustainable. The cheaper it is to produce clothes overseas, the more our environment suffers from the production of what are essentially throwaway goods: synthetic fabrics from cheaply produced, low-quality clothing pile up in our landfills, and toxic chemical dyes leak into our water and soil. The less we value the work that goes into our clothing, the more our local economies suffer from a culture of consumption that doesn’t concern itself with the people making the goods we purchase: the products on the shelves are conceptually detached from the humans who created those products with their own hands, with their own blood, sweat, and tears, so it becomes easy to ignore what those fellow humans are enduring in the production of these objects, and it becomes easy to forget the need for better environmental and labor regulations. We are all struggling against a larger force of greed.

One of the most consistent arguments that I’ve heard against being a more ethical consumer is that ecofriendly and fair trade brands can be prohibitively expensive. I would say that is not true. (For examples of affordable brands, see the companies tagged as $-$$ in my list of ethical and ecofriendly brands.) I think this “prohibitively expensive” argument stems from the fact that, as consumers, we’ve been trained to value a low price tag above all else. For many of us, a $5 t-shirt is normal. Some people might say they would never pay more than that for a t-shirt. But why is this? It’s because that’s what’s been made normal. Fast-fashion stores thrive on constant, sustained shopping. In order to get the customer to return a few times a month, even a few times a week, trends have to be constantly changing and advertising has to suggest that you are only desirable if you wear the latest trends or if you have a constantly changing wardrobe. And so the customer returns every month, every week, every few days, in order to be this desirable person. And so the stores have more incentive to churn out massive quantities of cheap clothing. And the more we are surrounded by $5 t-shirts, the less we wonder how these items came to be so cheap, and the more we become accustomed to ignoring the human rights violations that make the $5 t-shirt possible.

I think it’s important to start looking at clothes differently. Even if buying ethically made or sourced clothing is a little more expensive than what we have become accustomed to, if we can each reduce the quantity that we buy, then our wallets will still be full and our consciences will be lighter. If we make a point of buying less and buying ethically, brands will have to change their practices to meet the demand.

There are also means of being an ethical consumer that are still “cheap.” If the idea of paying more than $5 for a t-shirt is still difficult to handle or truly financially impossible, you can go to a neighborhood thrift store or consignment shop (ones I like are Crossroads Trading, Buffalo Exchange, Housing Works, or Beacon’s Closet, the latter two of which are pricier but have online stores or auctions). If your clothes and shoes are getting worn out, find a neighborhood tailor or cobbler. Organize clothing swaps with friends or go online to find a clothing swap nearby. Save up to buy higher quality garments and shoes that will last longer, so that you feel less of a need or desire to purchase “throwaway” goods. Wait for sales (most brands have at least one in the summer and one in the winter).

For the past two years, I’ve been on my own sustainable and ethical consumerism journey. I’ve been trying my hardest to avoid the fast fashion retailers (H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy, Gap, Urban Outfitters, etc.) for the past year and a half. Ethical consumerism requires some willpower, but once you start forcing yourself to do it, it becomes second nature. And I fight the occasional urge to browse the fast-fashion racks by reminding myself of the Rana Plaza collapse and of the sisterhood I share with these factory workers (most of them women) overseas. If I really need that physical shopping fix, there’s always my local thrift store.

I’ll leave you with an illuminating quote from Livia Firth, who is featured in one of the segments in The True Cost: “Is it really democratic to buy a tee for $5, a pair of jeans for $20? Or are they taking us for a ride? Because they’re making us believe that we are rich or wealthy because we can buy a lot. But in fact, they are making us poorer. And the only person who is becoming richer is the owner of the fast-fashion brand.”

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Love, Hope, and Strength

 

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I went to the Women’s March in Chicago on Saturday. It was inspiring. Women’s rights are being threatened by the current US President and his administration (and when I say women, I include trans women and women of color, because I have not forgotten your existences and you are my fellow women too), and I was glad to know that there are so many people out there who are willing to make it clear that the current administration’s policies are wrong. I was excited by all of the people and messages that I saw. And I have at least two friends who, after witnessing the march, are inspired to start taking more political actions after having been politically inactive for years.

I’m not going to stop fighting to protect my body and my rights as a human being. And I’ll keep fighting for your body and your rights as a human being, whether or not we agree on all issues.

I hope all of you out there stay safe and continue to practice love and compassion, both for yourself and for others.

❤ S. (aka AMisplacedPen)

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Blue Velvet

Last month, I officially left my early twenties. I have a lot of mixed feelings about how my mid- to late twenties are looking given all of the events of last year. A part of me wants to ignore the outside world and curl up into a ball. But I’m determined not to give into that impulse, especially since I’ve resolved to be community focused in the upcoming year. Once in a while though, everyone needs a day off. And what better reason to take a day off than your own birthday?

I ended up having three different celebrations, one with my family, one with my friends in NYC, and one with M. in Chicago. For my night out with M., I really wanted to make a new birthday outfit. Then, four days before our special date night, I realized my attempts to make a velvet dress were not going well… The bodice that I had sewn together was fitting poorly, I was exhausted from work and wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to fix the fit, and I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the pattern as I thought I’d be. The fabric was so beautiful though, I didn’t want to just give up…

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The fabric in question. Look at it call out to you!

Fortunately, I still had enough velvet material left for a skirt, and while I was back home in NYC I had made a trip to M&J Trimming and bought some beautiful Belgian elastic with a fleur-de-lis pattern on it, thinking it would make a lovely waistband. A quick and easy gathered skirt was my best bet. The velvet is striking enough by itself, so I knew even with the simple shape the skirt would still have high visual impact. I cut out two rectangles from my remaining velvet, added pockets in the side seams, and then, in place of a serger, used the zigzag stitch on my geriatric sewing machine to attach the Belgian elastic to the gathered rectangles of velvet. Add a few choice accessories, and viola! I felt rather “high fashion”:

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My photographer was not very pleased to be standing for ten minutes in a cold stairwell to take these photos for me…My expression here probably reflects how he felt during the photoshoot.
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Is it just me or is this photo blurry? Perhaps this will be my excuse for getting a new camera…And a tripod to replace my reluctant photographer. 😉

This outfit ended up being an extravaganza of ethical and eco fashion, which made me doubly excited to wear it out. My shoes, bag, and sunglasses are all from various consignment shops. The sheer turtleneck top I’m wearing was made in the U.S.A. My rhinestone clip-on earrings are from Vintage Underground. The rhinestone bracelet on my left wrist is from a thrift store that uses its profits to provide services for disenfranchised men. The watch I’m wearing is almost entirely biodegradable because it’s made (mostly) from wood!

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Some of the aforementioned accessories.

Last, but not least, the silver lipstick I am wearing is Perfect Foil, from Portland Black Lipstick Company. The lipstick is made in the United States from natural materials, and the parent company is a small business founded and run by a woman (a very nice woman, who sent me a personal email to confirm my online order!). I’ve tried two of Portland Black Lipstick’s colors so far, and Perfect Foil is a little bit drier than the other one, but that’s to be expected of such an intense metallic pigment. And even with the intense pigmentation, my lips didn’t feel too thirsty over the night.

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Look how shiny! (If you’re wondering why the texture looks rough, I used a lip brush to apply the color so there’s some weird nooks and crannies in the lipstick surface now…)

To match my outfit’s ethically conscientious attitude, M. and I started my birthday night at Lula Café for dinner. Lula Café has existed for almost two decades and makes a point of using as many local ingredients as possible. For my entrée, I had duck breast with truffle au jus and red rice risotto. It was sublime!

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Then we made our way to The Drifter for drinks and a show. The Drifter is a cozy bar set in a historic space and run by a woman named Liz Pearce. Fun tidbit: it’s actually not as common as you’d think for bars and restaurants to be owned or run by women (like many other lucrative industries, the food and beverage industries are very male-dominated…).

The Drifter appealed to me with their amazing cocktails and cabaret acts throughout the night, including a couple of burlesque performances. Burlesque fascinates me; I waver back and forth between looking at it as male-targeted titillation and thinking of it as empowering performance. It’s easy for me to forget that both of these views are gross simplifications; as with almost everything, there is nuance to be had. While M. and I were at The Drifter, we caught two burlesque acts, both of which were hilarious (one involved the performer’s buttocks moving to the rhythm of Mozart!). While I was sure that some of the people in the crowd were only at the bar to gawk at bared female bodies, the combination of humor and self-assurance that I saw in the women who were performing was definitely empowering to me. I came away with a lot of admiration and a desire to learn burlesque myself!

All in all, I had a really lovely evening. It was a good time to refresh in preparation for the years ahead. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and I’ll need all the strength I can muster to keep fighting the good fight.

Wishing all of you equality, love, and peace.

❤ S. (aka AMisplacedPen)

Entering the New Year with Silver Nail Polish and Some Resolutions

It’s been a long couple of months. There was the election. Then there was my struggle to settle into my new job (did I mention I have a new job?), which I love but requires me to work at a faster and more intensive pace than I am used to. Then there was more about the election. But now I am back home in New York, surrounded by family and wonderful homecooked meals, and I thought it would be a good time to treat myself.

I don’t usually wear nail polish, for two reasons:

  1. I often feel too lazy.
  2. I try to cook at least two or three times a week and I don’t want to worry about flecks of toxic nail polish getting into my food.

But I’ve recently felt a craving for all things silver, including beauty products. And then I came across this little vial, and I had to have it:

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This nail polish is the Greenwich color, from the tenoverten brand. One reason I overcame my inhibition against buying nail polish is that tenoverten nail polishes are eight-free, cruelty-free, and vegan. Eight-free meaning that the nail polish is free of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), which are potentially toxic components of many other nail polishes. The polish is also made in the U.S.

I’m not adept at painting my nails, but the polish was a pleasure to work with. It applied smoothly, and I got an opaque coating with only two layers (although one layer creates a great, subtle shimmery effect). I’ve had the polish on for a couple of days now, and I noticed two tiny chips, but I didn’t apply any base coat or topcoat. It’s possible that staying power might be heightened with some extra coating.

Below are a few photos of the polish in action (the first photo was taken with a white light flash, the last two were taken with a warm light flash):

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I love this polish. The silver color feels and looks luxurious (when I sent M. a photo of my nails, he actually said “v luxe”), and I appreciate the little luxuries more than ever right now.

To go with this shiny new nail coating, I have a shiny new resolution. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I tend to forget or break mine, but I’m keeping it simple this year.

My resolution for 2017: Remember my communities.

I belong to communities of strong women: women like my mother, who worked night shifts as a waitress for most of my childhood and adolescence, yet woke up early every morning to prepare breakfast for her children and ensure that they went off to school properly fed and on time. I belong to communities of people of color: people like members of the tribes who stood at Standing Rock through harsh weather and abusive treatment to protect the water that nourishes them and those they love. I belong to communities of human beings: human beings who all feel anger, sadness, fear, happiness, and love, no matter their ethnicity, race, or gender.

If I feel too afraid and downtrodden to take action against strife that I have witnessed or heard about, I will remember my communities. I will regroup and gather my strength and go back into the world to take a stand for that which is good for my fellow human beings. I will be fueled by compassion.

I’ve already started on this resolution, which gives me hope that I will not break it in 2017. I have started eating less meat (specifically, in the past month, I have reduced my meat consumption by 75%), because that is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to reduce climate change. I have changed my consumer habits to focus on buying local, fair trade, recycled, American-made, and organic, because the people who are behind the products matter. I have, for the first time in my life, contacted my alderman about an issue in my neighborhood, and I plan to contact my senators to ask them not to vote for Jeff Sessions or Scott Pruitt in their confirmation hearings, because my voice matters.

I am still afraid for what the coming years will bring. But I am also determined to keep moving forward. I am determined to keep striving for a more just world.

And an armor of silvery nails can’t hurt.

Wishing you all a safe and happy New Year,
❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Hatred is not the way forward.

Donald Trump has been elected to the U.S. presidential office.

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know how I feel about this result. Needless to say, I am frustrated, sickened, and scared.

There are many people who feel just as scared and just as frustrated. In the past twelve hours, I have seen social media flooded with cries of “you betrayed our country by voting for X” and “if you voted for X candidate, defriend me immediately.” There is a lot of hatred and blame being thrown around.

But there are good ways of attributing blame, and there are bad ways. My nation, our nation, has systemic issues. Actions and political feelings don’t happen overnightthey are fostered by years of cultural pressures. The votes that were cast for Trump were not cast on a whim. If there is anyone or anything to blame, it is the greed, racism, and sexism that still pervade American society today. And nothing will change if we don’t tackle the roots of all of the issues that led to Trump’s election. Hatred only fractures us. And pointing fingers without acknowledging that there are also larger forces at work does nothing for progress.

So, I am determined not to fall into the pitfalls of despair or hatred. I am determined to keep moving forward.

There is a lot of work to be done. Let us remember our collective humanity. Let us continue standing up for the rights of our fellow human beings, regardless of citizenship, gender, sexuality, class, or race, and work towards positive change together.

I love you all. Stay safe.

S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)