The Post

I am far more excited for The Post movie than Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Katharine Graham is my Rey (FYI: if you don’t get this reference, each is the female protagonist and lead character in the respective films). During college getting-to-know-you questionnaires and job interviews after college, whenever someone asked “Who would you like to meet or have lunch with, dead or alive?” or “Who is your role model?” I’d simply reply, “Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post for 20 years, and a total boss lady.” Thus, I’m very excited that the recently released film The Post, with Meryl Streep playing Katharine Graham, will make my role model a little less obscure, and also prove that I’m actually ahead of the trend for the first time in my life.

I knew nothing about Katharine Graham before I chose to read a biography about Katharine and write three papers about her for my expository writing class during my junior year of high school. In a primarily all-male class, where my fellow classmates picked Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and lots of male presidents and rockstars, I picked Katharine because she seemed like a rockstar to me. She was an exemplary female role model as the publisher of The Post when the paper broke the Watergate scandal, Pentagon Papers, and more. She worked in a male-dominated business and was under a lot of pressure in a role where she succeeded her father and her late husband. Prior to reading Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Storyby Carol Felsenthal, I thought Katharine’s life was smooth sailing: grew up wealthy, had a fabulous education, and got a job from her father. Little did I know that her career with The Washington Post, and her confidence and character as the Katharine Graham she would become immortalized as, did not begin until the age of 46, after her husband committed suicide and she became publisher of the newspaper

The book shows that leadership and greatness do not come naturally to everyone, and sometimes it is just thrust upon those who feel less equipped for it. Because the movie is about how The Washington Post released the Pentagon Papers, I want to shed light on who Katharine Graham is and how she became the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. Let me share with you, below, some excerpts from a paper I wrote in high school about the crossroads in her life, and how tragedy opened so many doors for Katharine Graham (who went by “Kay” her whole life):




On June 5, 1940, Katharine Meyer married Philip Graham. On their first date, six months earlier, Phil had told Kay that she would marry him. On their third date, they were engaged. From the beginning of their relationship through their 23 year marriage, Phil controlled Kay and caused her endless insecurities. Kay dealt with her husband’s growing manic-depression, his cruel insults toward her, and his nonchalant extramarital affair. Only Phil’s suicide at the age of 48 would end Kay’s years of living in poor health, solitude, and embarrassment, and give her a new chance at life.

With the loss of her maiden name in her marriage to Phil, Kay also lost her identity. Kay, “who [once] strode across [her college] campus like the captain of a triumphant hockey team…became like the abused child who lurks in the shadows for fear of getting hit” (156). She remembered “playing idiot” for many years “so that Phil could run around Washington being brilliant” (157). Phil’s death gave Kay the greatest gift that would consume her passion until her death: The Washington Post. Yet for years, Kay was a bystander as her husband and father (multi-millionaire Eugene Meyer) ran the paper. Kay was not surprised when after eight years of grooming by Eugene, Phil was given 70% of the voting stock of The Post as a gift. Kay, the owner of 30%, said that Phil “thinks I’m an idiot. Honestly, I have no influence” (Felsenthal 130). “With her marriage, Kay’s ambitions died” (100). She was so greatly intimidated by her husband’s gregariousness, intelligence, and charisma (friends said that Phil “was the man of [his] generation most destined, most qualified, to be president of the United States”) (99) that Kay stayed out of Phil’s spotlight. 

After Phil’s death, Kay morphed from a “dowdy” (253) and “timid” (99) “poor little widow” (237) into the only female CEO of a Fortune 500 company who caused Nixon to resign, fought against the Newspaper Guild, and was as “tough as nails” (340). The mother of The Post, she was affectionately known as “Katharine the Great” (365), and her years of playing “attendant” to Phil the “prince” (157) were over. At the age of 49, Kay was described by friends as “so beaten down by her mother and husband that she hadn’t built up an identity” (253). “Kay started to sign ‘Katharine Graham’ instead of ‘Mrs. Phillip L. Graham'” (236). She finally became her own person through the power of running The Washington Post.  Despite Kay’s many insecurities from Phil that haunted her all of her life, her colleagues thought “The Post came to life under Katharine” and Kay “did a job Phil couldn’t have done” (445)When Kay received offers to sell The Post, “she said flatly that she wanted to keep it, that it wasn’t for sale to anyone, at any price” (236). Kay became so close to the paper (she was publisher from 1963 to 1979 and chairwoman of the board from 1973 to 1991) that it was said that “the man who ran the paper…would become a sort of nominative husband” (251). Kay “had decided to marry herself to The Washington Post”  (251). Phil’s suicide allowed Kay to find her second spouse, The Post, and finally form her identity through her new life in the media world.

Because of Phil’s suicide, Kay was focused on making sure The Post “passed on to the next generation,” yet her unintentionally influential role in The Post was “one of the greatest achievements of journalism in this country” (445). One of the hymns that Phil’s children chose for his funeral was the Easter hymn “The strife is o’er, the battle done” (224). On that day, a 23-year battle ended for Kay and a new life began. “In a sense, Kay Graham was born in 1963” — the year of Phil’s death (443). 

© Rissponsible Living, 2018

Why It’s Important to Have Girlfriends

People often have the same response when I tell them where I went to high school: “Oh, you went to an all-girls school?”  I’m sorry, but I have no idea what that means or assumes about me.  To others, they may be thinking of the movie “Mean Girls” (which is now a musical by the way!  I can’t wait).  To me, it means two things: 1) that I received a wonderful, rigorous secondary school education without the distraction of the opposite sex, and 2) that I made incredibly strong, life-long friendships with those girls.

I have always relied on my core friend group from high school (MKM you know who you are!) and in college, the number of girlfriends and close confidants continued to grow.  At my co-ed college, I also made some very close guy friends, and I’m so grateful for those relationships because I didn’t have guy friends at my all-girls high school.  But there is something special about watching “Sweet Home Alabama” or “The Bachelorette” with your BFFs, donning facemasks, and drinking Sangria.  In late-night conversations on a sleepover or around the firepit, when you shed some tears and laugh so hard your abs (or one ab) hurt, you learn so much not only about your girlfriends but also about yourself.  These are the women that are with you through thick and thin, and it’s the best feeling to find those friends.

Before I delve into finding new friends, I want to note that it always takes work to keep the ones you have.  Staying in touch with old friends does take work but it is so worth it.  So how do you do it?  Make time for girls’ nights or dinner dates, take breaks from seeing your roommates or significant other to make time for friends who need you, and write notes / send surprise gifts to friends living far away.  These do involve sacrificing your time and also balancing the different relationships in your life, but these also make you a better friend and make your heart feel fuller.

With post-graduate life, living in a new city, far away from your college friends, and in an apartment by yourself, you may find you have to start from scratch.  Finding new girlfriends is made easier when you have nice co-workers, join a young adults’ church group, or give in and use Bumble BFF.  In this case, it’s important to remember what constitutes a healthy relationship with a friend and what you look for in your friendships (and NOT to befriend girls like the character in HBO’s “Girls” because they are the worst our generation has to offer).  I just finished reading “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay (10/10 recommend), which is a compilation of award-winning essays by this New York Times bestselling author.  One of her chapters (and essays) is called “How to Be Friends with Another Woman,” and below are some snippets of some of my favorite advice from Gay:

  • Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be toxic or competitive.  This myth is like heels ad purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.
    • This is not to say women aren’t toxic or competitive sometimes but rather to say that these are not defining characteristics of female friendship, especially as you get older.
    • If you find that you are feeling toxic or competitive toward the women who are supposed to be your closest friends, look at why and figure out how to fix it and/or find someone who can help you fix it.
  • If you are the kind of woman who says “I’m mostly friends with guys” and act like you’re proud of that, like that makes you close to being a man or something and less of a woman as if being a woman is a bad thing, see the above bullet. It’s okay if most of your friends are guys, but if you champion this as a commentary on the nature of female friendships, well, soul-search a little.
    • If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s just you.
    • I used to be this kind of woman. I’m sorry to judge.
  • Sometimes, your friends will date people you cannot stand. You can either be honest about your feelings or you can lie. These are good reasons for both. Sometimes you will be the person dating someone your friends cannot stand. If your man or woman is a scrub, just own it so you and your friends can talk about more interesting things. My go-to explanation is “I am dating a jerk because I’m lazy.” You are welcome to borrow it.
  • Want nothing but the best for your friends because when your friends are happy and successful, it’s probably going to be easier for you to be happy.
    • If you’re having a rough go of it and a friend is having the best year ever and you need to think some dark thoughts about that, do it alone, with your therapist, or in your diary so that when you actually see your friend, you can avoid the myth discussed in the first bullet.
    • If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this without shame. It’s not your fault your friends are awesome. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It’s okay for women to do it too.
    • Don’t tear other women down, because even if they’re not your friends, they are women and this is just as important. This is not to say you cannot criticize other women, but understand the difference between criticizing constructively and tearing down cruelly.
  • Tell your friends the hard truths they need to hear. They might get upset about it, but it’s probably for their own good. Once, my best friend told me to get my love life together and demanded an action plan, and it was irritating but also useful.
    • Don’t be totally rude about truth telling, and consider how much truth is actually needed to get the job done. Finesse goes a long way.
    • These conversations are more fun when preceded by an emphatic “GIRL.”
  • Don’t let your friends buy ugly outfits or accessories you don’t want to look at when you hang out. This is just common sense.
  • When something is wrong and you need to talk to your friends and they ask you how you are, don’t say “Fine.” They know you’re lying and it irritates them and a lot of time is wasted with the back-and-forth of “Are you sure” and “Yes?” and “Really?” and “I AM FINE.” Tell your lady friends the truth so you can talk it out and either sulk companionably or move on to other topics.
  • If four people are dining, split the check evenly four ways. We are adult now. We don’t need to add up what each person had anymore. If you’re high rolling, just treat everyone and rotate who treats. If you’re still in the broke stage, do what you have to do.
  • My mother’s favorite quote is “Qui se ressemble s’assemble.” Whenever she didn’t approve of who I was spending time with, she’d say this ominously. It means, essentially, you are whom you surround yourself with.

Again, the above are direct excerpts from “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay.  Check out on Amazon or Goodreads today!  And choose your new friends wisely, cherish your old friends, and be the friend to others you’d like others to be to you.

 

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© Rissponsible Living, 2017

Gifts that Keep on Giving

A birthday is one of the few things that everyone has in common, and it’s also one of the fewer things that happens year-round. As you mark your brand-new 2017 calendar (I recommend Paper Source for women and Moleskine for men, both have sales going on right now!), and mark friends’ birthdays in the coming year, don’t wait until Facebook sends you a notification to wish them happy birthday. It never hurts to buy gifts in advance, and if the gift is an experience or something tangible, both will last for a long time after you give them. In my case, most of my friends probably have everything they need (and most also have better taste than I do), but there a few things I like to give as gifts and highly recommend.

For a simple birthday present or to show you’re thinking of someone, mail them a Greetabl. Founded in 2013, this adorable start-up strives to provide affordable gifts that are convenient for the sender and special for the recipient. To create a Greetabl (see steps in the picture below), all you have to do is pick a box (with many available vibrant prints and designs); select a fun gift to go inside (simple like confetti or sophisticated like champagne gummy bears? You choose); and add photos of you and your friend along with a personalized message that will be printed in the box. Greetabl can link to your Instagram for you to pick photos, and the recipient can take the photos out of the box and have them as a keepsake. It’s an aesthetic, easy, and genius gift, and shout-out to my friend Alison for sending me one when I got a job and introducing me to such a cute company!

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While a Greetabl is great if you’re sending something to a friend far away, a customized Snapchat filter is the perfect gift for someone you’re celebrating with in person. You can create an on-demand Snapchat filter for someone’s birthday, going away party, engagement celebration, baby shower, parents’ anniversary…honestly anything! Use Snapchat’s suggested designs or create you’re own and upload the image; set the location and boundaries for the filter (the smaller the area the cheaper the filter); and set the time and duration of the filter. Once you pay for the on-demand filter, it will be scheduled to appear at the place and time you set! I made one for my best friend’s birthday weekend in the Hamptons and she was so surprised that something we joke about as “goals” is something I actually did! Everyone there used the Snapchat filter to post and save in their camera rolls, and it became a great memento of an amazing weekend.

While a cupcake or bottle of champagne are sweet and yummy gifts, they don’t really last more than a few hours after they’re given. Give a friend a book that they will enjoy and it can be a life-changing read for them, a fixture in their bedroom or bookshelf, and something they can share with others as well. For someone in their 20s, my top picks for literary gifts are Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and The Defining Decade by Meg Jay. I even gave my friend Milan a deluxe leather Jesus Calling by Sarah Young for her birthday, because I know faith is important to her and she would enjoy a devotional book. My friend Conner did something very cool that I hope inspires others: for each of his friend’s 21st and 22nd birthdays, he gave each of us a book that he thought fit our personalities or we could really benefit from. It’s super thoughtful and something you’ll always treasure.

Last but not least, sometimes the best birthday present is an experience that doesn’t have to be extravagant, but can make you feel extravagant. Take a friend, sister, or family member to high tea. One of my favorite places in Georgetown is Lady Camellia, a hidden gem on Prospect street that seats only a few dozen for tea, macarons, scones, tea sandwiches, whatever you desire to feel classy with good company. I’ve been with my best girlfriends from high school, as well as with my mother and aunt. It’s a unique experience and a great chance to catch up with the person you are celebrating, and also feel like you are in “Downton Abbey” or “The Crown.”

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© Rissponsible Living, 2017

About

Welcome to Rissponsible Living! (2.0).

What it’s all about…

“I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it.” This quotation from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises used to be one of my favorite lines from literature, because it resonated with me. I wanted to learn how to live in “it”: the moment, life, whatever “it” is. But just now I realize what the quotation really means. Like the Lost Generation of expats that flee the U.S. to Europe in Hemingway’s novel, millennials run away from their problems. We do not face things head-on, we like to complain but do not wish to ride out the storm and be a part of the solution. We do not care what “it” is all about, we just want to “live in it.” I am guilty of being more concerned with a moment (or Snapchat, oops) than the deeper meaning. But while I am sometimes swept up by the ephemeral, I also am always looking long term; I am very diligent about maintaining my happiness and working hard at improving my character. Millennials also train for half-marathons, study for the GMAT, work hard to lose weight for their wedding, take leave from work to go on a mission trip. We demonstrate firsthand that it takes time, diligence, and patience to accomplish your goals. It also takes the help of others, from family, to friends, to community (which is part of the definition of “the good life,” scroll down for some ancient Greek philosophy!). This blog is my testament that anyone can live a life worth pursuing in the 21st century, even a millennial or young urban professional (aka yuppie).

Rissponsible Living is, essentially, a “yuppie’s guide to a wholesome and wholehearted life.”

How it started…

What started as a way to pass a summer without an internship grew into a hobby and now a love of labor. This blog is not a personal diary nor a site for me to rant or hide behind, but an outlet for me to research questions I wish answered and share them with anyone who can benefit. From eco-friendly habit and climate issues, to books worth reading and places worth traveling to, I like to think that Rissponsible Living holds me accountable to live life a little fuller and a little more rissponsibly. 

In May of 2015 when I launched Rissponsible Living, I was motivated to learn more about the environment, and created this blog to share my journey of finding “sustainable living for the high-maintenance millennial.” Now, wanting to take on a new challenge, I have expanded my blog from living a green life to also living a good life. It is a “yuppie’s guide to a wholesome and wholehearted life.” From reading recommendations to recipes (even she can do!), to interviews with those who inspire, this blog is my way of exploring a fulfilling life and a responsible (I mean, Rissponsible) life.

Why the good life?

In my quest to live more sustainably, I realized that my resolutions to reduce my carbon footprint were actually working, and I wanted to do the same for other aspects of my life as well. Starting on January 1, 2016, I gave up using plastic water bottles, and I stuck to it. I ate red meat less, never used disposable silverware in my college cafeteria, and took the bus to work every day. By writing about climate change I became hyper-aware of eco-friendly efforts and technologies everywhere I went. It was eye-opening. And then I realized, if I could create a self-awareness about my actions and their effect on their environment, why can’t I do this for everything else? Thus, from the quest for the “green life” evolves a quest for the “good life.”

My association with the good life comes from my time in my college’s Great Books Colloquium and how the Greeks defined it. (Not sorority or fraternity Greeks, but like actual ancient Greeks).

The “good life” is simple: it is the life that one would like to live, or one would find worth pursuing.

Nowadays, a liberal arts education is criticized, not because the value of a college degree is questioned, but because academic institutions don’t prioritize teaching their students how to live the good life. I bet students graduate without even knowing what it is or how to find it. But the good life comes from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (add to your 2017 to-read list if you haven’t read it!), which derives from the Greek eudaimonia, meaning “happiness” or “welfare.” Etymologically, it consists of the words “good” and “spirit.” Ancient Greek ethics says that the “eudaimon life is the pleasurable life.” (Are you sold yet? If only someone could make a green smoothie that sells this stuff in a bottle). For example, Aristotle says that the aim of a city (which most of you probably live in) is not just to avoid injustice or provide economic stability, but rather to allow “at least some citizens the possibility to live a good life, and to perform beautiful acts.” Let us hold this definition in our hearts and practice it for 2017, and years to come, because the opportunity to live a good life is something few have and most take for granted.

I don’t have the recipe to a good life, and I am still figuring out what it means, but I hope the ingredients of Rissponsible Living are something worth trying.

© Rissponsible Living, 2017

The Author

img_9032Marissa (also known as “Riss”) lives and works in Washington, D.C. She is a recent graduate in political science from a private university in California. A native of D.C., she is never bored by our nation’s capital.  Her goals every year are to read more books, explore new hikes, visit different cities, and write more handwritten notes to family and friends. She is also an avid sports fan and member of her neighborhood  church. Also, if you ever have any good ideas for where to pitch a hammock, let her know.

While enrolled in an environmental policy course at her college, Marissa  became very interested in how to live a more sustainable life. Being an East Coaster in the California drought, she realized how conscientious Californians must be of their natural resources, such as water; something that other Americans take for granted. She was motivated to learn more about the environment, and created this blog to share her journey of finding “sustainable living for the high-maintenance millennial.”

Now, wanting to take on a new challenge, Marissa has expanded her blog from living a green life to also living a good life. Think of it as a “yuppie’s guide to a wholesome and wholehearted life.” From reading recommendations to recipes (even she can do!), to interviews with those who inspire, this blog is Marissa’s way of exploring a fulfilling life and a responsible (I mean, Rissponsible) life. She doesn’t have the recipe to a good life, but she hopes the ingredients of Rissponsible Living are something worth trying.


Copyright Notice:

© Rissponsible Living, 2015-2017 and Marissa A. Baly. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and Rissponsible Living with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Rio 2016

We are watching history being made. The Rio Olympics is more than just the 31st Olympiad, the hype four years after London, the star athletes and patriotic viewing parties in our homes. Rio 2016, despite all of the critiques and uncertainty leading into these games, embraced its problems during last night’s Opening Ceremony and celebrated its tenacious spirit and desire to solve some of those problems. Brazil made it very clear that climate change is one of those problems they hope to solve through unity. First, here are a few reasons why this Olympics is ground-breaking, at a glance:

Historic moments:

  • USA sent the largest delegation of athletes of any nation (554), and the most women that have ever competed for a single nation in an Olympics (292).
  • This is the first Olympic games held in a South American city.
  • Model and Brazilian Gisele Bundchen took the final catwalk of her career at the Opening Ceremony, with “The Girl from Impanema” in the background.
  • Ten athletes are members of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team (ROT). IOC President Thomas Bach, who selected the team, said in his speech at last night’s ceremony: “We are living in a world where selfishness is gaining ground, where certain people claim to be superior to others,” he said of the Olympians representing displaced people across the world. “Here is our Olympic answer.”

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With these historic moments kicking off Rio after only the first day, all eyes on the world are on Brazil, and they are using the attention to promote a noble cause: climate change. Here is why Brazilians are champions of climate change, and the message they hope to send with Rio 2016:

  • The poorest people in the world hurt the most from climate change, like the little boy in the favela nursing the small sampling during the Opening Ceremony. From low-altitude to arid regions, or people who live off the land, warming temperatures and rising sea levels hurt them most. “The poorest people and the poorest countries are being hit hardest by climate change,” writes the World Wildlife Forum. “Yet they bear least responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions.” In CO2 emissions per capita, the U.S. is 11th country in the world. Brazil is about 120th, even though it is the world’s 5th-largest country.
  • However, climate change does not discriminate. It transcends borders, faith, socioeconomic status, ethnicity. In their film during the Opening Ceremony, Rio showed that Amsterdam, Dubai, Florida, Greenland, and of course Rio, will be gravely effected by rising sea levels. Even in developed countries and affluent cities, climate change still persists and will displace millions of people.
  • Ten refugee athletes were recognized by IOC President Bach for their bravery and enhancing diversity. The formation of the ROT is the result of the current refugee crises and global forced displacement at a record high. The UN estimates about 21.3 million refugees in the world right now, but climate change will increase the number of refugees and exacerbate the tensions we see now. Climate change could create 150 to 200 million “climate refugees,” people who will be displaced as a result of the effects of climate change.
  • Brazil is home to an amazing amount of biodiversity and nature. The Amazon Forest contains 1 in 10 known species on earth, and houses half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests (1.4 billion acres!).
  • There’s an environmental consciousness in Brazil that doesn’t exist in a lot of other countries, especially developed ones. Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben tweeted yesterday, “Americans watching the climate change segment of #Rio2016 ceremony are reminded that in most of the world this is not controversial.” Where climate change is a critical concern in Brazilian culture, many Americans are climate change deniers. Plus, fewer people in the U.S. think climate change is human-caused than any other country, even though scientists attribute it to man-made activity.

In conclusion, I’m excited to watch this Olympics not just for the athletes going for the gold, but a host city and country on a mission to send a message to the other 204 nations competing in this Olympics. The road to Rio 2016 was not a smooth one, but the road to minimize the effects of climate change will not be easy either. The Athletes’ Forest is exemplary of the lasting mark Rio 2016 is trying to leave after the games conclude. During the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony, every athlete from each delegation was handed a seed as they entered Maracana Stadium. The Olympic athletes planted the seeds in metal towers, and they will grow into trees in the Athletes’ Forest in Deodoro, a neighborhood in West Rio. It is ideas like this that show the initiation, education, and determination we need to minimize environmental damage and have faith in the future. I look forward to the day that the athletes making history this week bring their children to Rio and show them their seeds, then trees, in the Athletes’ Forest. Rio is inviting the world to join the fight against climate change, and I hope the world answers. As IOC President Bach said at the Opening Ceremony, “In the name of all Brazilians, I welcome the world. Rio is ready to make history.”

© Rissponsible Living, 2016

Office Life

Working my first “real” job post-college has been surreal, but I have realized that you give up a little to gain a lot. While I have acquired a lot of skills, great friendships with my co-workers, a better sense of time management, and a new appreciation for city life, my passion for the environment and efforts to be sustainable have taken a back seat in the concrete jungle.

Whereas in college my senior year I refused to use disposable utensils, I find myself using paper cups every day in the office for water and plastic silverware every day I take lunch to my desk. I didn’t use plastic water bottles for all of 2016 as a part of my new year’s resolution, but in the last few weeks I have purchased several because it is convenient when I am on-the-go downtown. Lately I have been looking in my office trash can at the end of each day, and I’m disappointed by the number of napkins, water cups, tissues, and stacks of paper I toss every day. As an individual, I probably produce a good number of the trash that our building staff takes to the alley dumpster each day. Imagine how much my 200 coworkers are producing as well, and how much we do combined? I’m not guilty of producing too much waste, but it is irresponsible of me to overlook how little effort I am putting in to living a more sustainable life.

I doubt that I am alone, so hopefully others have this question: how does one synthesize a sustainable life with an office life? Sitting at a desk all day in the downtown of a major city, how can you still care for the environment and stay true to your environmental roots? It’s a question I’m struggling to answer, but I have a few tricks that should help.

1. Use a thermos for your coffee. My family probably has 14 thermoses lining our kitchen counter on a given day, but my dad still hands me a paper coffee cup every morning when I’m running late to catch the bus. What’s worse is most of my co-workers use two paper cups for their coffee so it’s less hot. I wanna say “Yo, intern, that’s what thermoses are for!!!!” Every four paper cups manufactured equals one pound of CO2 emissions, and 20 million trees are cut down to make paper cups every year! So two coffees a day equals 4 cups, which equals bad for the environment. My new favorite thing is the YETI cup — it keeps your beverage either ice-cold or piping-hot, so you can use it for coffee and water during the office day! And no condensation at all from the metal tumbler; there’s nothing worse than puddles of water by your keyboard from your water cup.

2. Use a reusable water bottle. Whether you have a grungy Nalgene with national park stickers, or a preppy tumbler with your monogram on it, having a favorite container for water is not only sustainable, but you’re more likely to drink more water! During the work day it’s a great reason to get up and walk to the kitchen, maybe chat with a co-worker, and go to the bathroom eventually (lol). Twelve billion gallons of water are used in the making of paper cups annually, so your consumption of water from the office water cooler is wasting a lot of valuable, fresh water. Plus, many paper cups are coated with plastic, so they can’t be recycled. And these are just the facts assuming you’re using those little cone-shaped paper cups by your water cooler. If you’re tossing plastic water bottles every day, you’re really bad! Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. 50 BILLION! Our nation’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, which could fuel 1.3 million cars each year. Lastly, you can save money drinking from the tap: eight glasses of water a day (recommended for your health) at U.S. tap rates equals about 49 cents per year. Eight glasses a day in bottled water is about $1,400 a year! Save your hard-earned dollars, don’t spend them on Deer Parks.

3. Purchase a potted plant. One of the few things I loved in California that I can find on the East Coast is a succulent. I’m a sucker of succulents — they’re small, aesthetic, and super easy to care for. I have one on my desk that I barely have to water, and it just brings a little of the outdoors to my office. Indoors plants are also great for clean air and can have numerous benefits, such as purifying the air of indoor pollutants, cooling your office, and other things. If you have an office with a window, small orchids are also wonderful indoor plants that do well in room temperature and thrive with sunlight, just make sure you water them frequently.

4. Eat green to stay lean. My exercise regimen has definitely decreased since I started working; lots of my co-workers bike to work, take walks during lunch, or run at home after, but a lot don’t. A lot of people also work through lunch, sit at their desk for 10-12 hours a day, and are too tired to exercise when they come home. Eating healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks at work is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and try to shed a few pounds or stay in shape. Salads are very popular in most work places, especially here in DC (i.e.  Sweetgreen, Chop’t, et cetera), but be wary of what you add to your salad. Some foods have very high carbon footprints; one kilo of lamb emits the same amount of greenhouses gases as driving 91 miles in your car. Adding beef to your salad is 63 miles, cheese is 31, and pork is 28. But having beans, tofu, or vegetables? Equivalent to only 4.5 miles in your car! Be smart about what you put in your lunchbox or purchase during your lunch break — it has greater consequences than just the monetary cost or calories you consume.

5. Bike, walk, or bus to work. This approach is probably the most obvious, but it’s easier said than done. While a lot of professionals, especially young people, use public transportation to get to work, most of us take Ubers or taxis on days when we are running late or it is raining. One of the coolest things about living in DC is Capital Bikeshare: a bicycle transit system where you swipe your card, pick up a bike (like a vending machine almost), ride it, and drop it off at another location. For commuters who do not own bikes or worry about theirs being stolen, Capital Bikeshare is a wonderful option. Plus, you can always bike one way if you are meeting up with friends for happy hour after work or going somewhere on the weekend. I personally take the bus to and from work every day, including the DC Circulator, which literally circulates around the city and only costs $1.00 to ride. The American Public Transit Association says that public transit saves about 1.4 billion gallons of gas annually (aka about 14 million tons of CO2). So even for those so doubt the efficiency of buses, they’re definitely more sustainable.

I have been making an effort the past few weeks to not let my work schedule hinder my ability to be sustainable. The eight to ten hours that most people put into the office do consume most of your day, but they by no means define how you approach each day. Many people I know incorporate respites into their long work days: from walking to work, to taking a power walk at the end of their lunch hour, to meeting with their significant other after work for a weekly happy hour, we make time for things that bring us joy and we think can relieve us from the daily grind. So why not try to be sustainable as well? Saving some trees, water, and bits of the Ozone should bring us a little joy each day. I’m definitely trying and will keep aiming to improve.

© Rissponsible Living, 2016

Happy Birthday, John Muir

Often I am not aware of people’s birthdays in advance – sometimes I could see a person multiple times in one day and not know until later that it was their birthday. John Muir is no exception; I wasn’t aware that today is the anniversary of Mr. Muir’s birth, until my dear friend Alison (a great Tennessean and lover of national parks) brought it to my attention. In honor of what would have been his 178th birthday, here are 10 reasons why John Muir is still super relevant in 2016 and as young as ever. We millennials know Muir as a renowned environmentalist and founder of the Sierra Club, but he also graces our coffee mugs, quotes in our Instagram captions, and his hiking trails on our t-shirts. This past year I’ve been blessed to visit Yosemite National Park and Muir Woods National Monument, both which would not be possible without Muir. In my opinion, Muir is the ultimate “bae,” and would be a perfect 21st-century hipster.

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John Muir is a total hipster. Even this photo has a Sepia filter.
  1. The hipster beard. Always with a chest-length beard, Muir quit shaving way before men in 2016 started sporting the long facial hair. Just Google image “hipster beard” and look at how similar every flannel-clad man looks to Muir, 150 years ago. Even The Urban Beardsman praises Muir for donning the full beard and its comeback: “Once only associated with Paul Bunyan, Santa Claus, and John Muir, the full beard has started calling to a new generation of beardsmen over the past few years,” the website writes.
  2. Avid protester. Just as current college students have been protesting this week that their universities divest from fossil fuels  (NYU and Columbia, Melbourne Uni, UMass, and MIT to name a few), Muir was protesting the construction of a dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley 100 years ago. “Dam Hetch Hetchy!” he famously wrote. “As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”
  3. He’s out of this world. Literally – there is a minor planet named after John Muir. In 2004, an amateur astronomer living outside Los Angeles discovered a “1-mile diameter celestial body,” according to the Sierra Club. The International Astronomical Union named that minor planet “Johnmuir.”
  4. Flannel. John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland. Scots basically invented plaid, which is the common pattern for flannel shirts. Modern hipsters wear plaid flannel, so logically Muir would have fit right in.
  5. Dog lover.  There is nothing more attractive than a man who loves his dog, and Muir loved his dog Stickeen so much that he traveled with him in Alaska and then wrote a memoir about it.
  6. Pals with the president. Maybe not all hipsters would want to rub shoulders with a president, but celebrities do it all the time in 2016. Just the other day, the White House released a video of President Obama and NBA all-star Steph Curry mentoring one another. Similarly, Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt went camping together in Yosemite for three days in 1903. While there is no Buzzfeed video of their interaction, I am sure it would have been a hit.
  7. He was funemployed and single. “Funemployment,” a 21st-century term for “unemployed individuals who decide to enjoy the free time that unemployment provides,” describes Muir’s early adult years well. When Muir was 30 years old and living in Yosemite, he “was unmarried, often unemployed, with no prospects for a career, and had periods of anguish.” Sound familiar?
  8. College kid. It’s not guaranteed that Muir was a frat star or raged in college, but he did attend University of Wisconsin-Madison when he was 22, from 1860-1863. Were his years at the Big Ten school the best of his life? How many beers did he have? Who knows! I like to think Muir was the BMOC.
  9. Squad goals. Muir did take a lot of solo trips in his youth, but he also had strong friendships. Two of his best buds were poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and photographer Carleton Watkins. Hanging out with a poet and a photographer is a hip combo – I am sure that if Muir had an Instagram it would be lit.
  10. He could’ve been in a band. One of Muir’s nicknames was “John of the Mountains.” Could he have been the lead DJ for The Mountains, a Danish electronic trio? Their debut album, released in 2014, was called The Mountains, the Valleys, the Lakes. I feel like Muir would dig it.
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The author, Marissa, at Yosemite National Park. Muir helped establish the park in 1980.

Happy belated birthday to the amazing legend that is John Muir. On a more serious note, he has accomplished so much in his life that we all take for granted and I didn’t mention above. Read a brief bio from the Sierra Club here.

Disclaimer: I’m not the first to think of this topic. There is a blog called Hipster John Muir, as well as lots of hipster tattoos of Muir on Google images. Tattoos of his chest-length beard are not recommended.

© Rissponsible Living, 2016

Interview with Eco Can Founder

In 2016 it is very easy to be a self-proclaimed environmentalist, but it is not as easy to be an environmental entrepreneur. Cara Basmajian is the founder and CEO of Eco Can™, a recycling/trash receptacle that “provides a simple and convenient way to separate recycling from trash in spaces where recycling is often overlooked, such as bathrooms and bedrooms.” Not only is the Eco Can sleek and chic, but it also strives to protect our planet and help those who live on it: for every unit sold, Eco Can donates a meal to Children’s Hunger Fund.

You can visit the Eco Can website at www.myecocan.com, read more about Cara and her Eco Can in a recent article by The Beach Reporter, or purchase an Eco Can here for $19.95 today. I had the honor of interviewing Cara about her product.

RL: Thank you, Cara, for interviewing with Rissponsible Living! I am excited to feature your product. Can you tell me about the Eco Can? How does it work, and what inspired you to create such a product?

CB: Sure, thank you so much for featuring Eco Can! Eco Can is simply a dual recycling and trash can intended for bedroom and bathroom use. Eco Can is made of two parts easily attach and detach to sort recycling from trash, while maintaining the appearance of a standard bedroom or bathroom small trash can. One day while I was in college, it hit me that I was throwing so many recyclables into my bedroom and bathroom trash cans. I was shocked to find that there wasn’t a product on the market that solved this issue. I had never imagined that I would be an entrepreneur or run my own business at such a young age, but one Saturday morning as a graduating senior, I randomly woke up with a fire in my gut telling me to pursue this idea I had and I have not looked back since!

RL: Have you always been passionate about the environment? How have your personal experiences shaped your desire to be eco-friendly and inspire others to be as well?

CB: Since I was young, I’ve recognized that I am a very passionate person. Whether it’s the food I’m eating, the book I was reading, or the yoga class I was taking, I always want everyone to experience what I was getting out of it! My passion about the environment really started when I had this idea and I began researching about recycling and observing the patterns of the people around me. I find myself every day becoming more and more passionate about the environment and about inspiring others to be as well.

I feel very fortunate to have gone through some unique personal experiences that have taught me a lot about myself and others, which have played a huge role in my entrepreneurial journey. I spent many years from the ages of 12-20 sick with a chronic illness that in some episodes kept me out of school and in bed for 4-5 months at a time. I could go on for days about what I learned in those years, but most importantly, in respect to Eco Can, it instilled mindfulness in me. In order to maintain my health, I have to commit every day to getting good sleep, eating well, exercising, taking a significant amount of supplements/vitamins, etc. I’ve learned first hand how important being mindful of how you treat yourself and your body truly is, and in recent years I’ve looked beyond that to see the incredible benefits of being mindful about how you treat others and our environment.

RL: You have a beautiful website and the Eco Can seems like a very practical product. Why do you think everyone should have an Eco Can – what are the main selling points and how would it best benefit the average household and reduce people’s carbon footprints?

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Brand-new and bright variations of the Eco Can, available online.

CB: Well thank you! I was definitely nervous about launching a website, as I had no experience in design or website building – but it works for now! A while ago I read that about 75% of household waste is recyclable, while only about 10-15% of that recyclable waste that accumulates in bedrooms and bathrooms is recycled. That to me is a crazy statistic – imagine how much waste we could reduce if people began recycling that 60-65% that is currently being thrown out as trash!

I think of Eco Can as having two main benefits. First, of course increasing recycling goes a long way to help the environment. One of the coolest things that I have experienced thus far with Eco Can is using the product myself and observing others use it. It’s an amazing feeling to have created something that serves a real purpose. Every week when I empty my can and see that the recycling half is full, it inspires me even more to get this product to the masses because I know the incredible impact we can make on the environment putting it to use. Also, I love seeing people like my dad use his Eco Can. My dad is my favorite person on this planet, yet he hardly ever recycled anything until he began using his Eco Can in his bathroom and office. All of a sudden he is exponentially more aware of his waste and is learning about recycling at 55 years of age – and he’s excited doing it (although this could be because his daughter created it haha)! Regardless, it’s awesome. Second, a less obvious benefit and building on the example of my dad, is that I truly believe that this product will help cultivate a more mindful individual. It’s empowering to know that even such a small effort such as sorting recycling from trash in a bathroom has a real effect on our planet. I think once you realize this, it opens your eyes to how much waste you create and even further to how you treat your own body. I genuinely hope that this will lead to people thinking twice about buying plastic water bottles or what foods they regularly put in their mouths. I know that’s a lot behind a simple recycling and trash can, but I am passionate about bringing my dreams for this mission to a reality!

RL: Our environment is getting worse at a point where it’s sometimes beyond repair. What do you think are some of the reasons people don’t take more time to care for the environment, and how can millennials (people in their 20s and 30s) be better stewards for the environment?

CB: Unfortunately, it feels like we live in society centered around selfishness and a fast-paced lifestyle, not to sound too grim… Whether it be due to social media or pop culture, it is all too easy for young people to get sucked down the path of comparing themselves to others and trying to meet ridiculous expectations set by society. I sense that a lot of people in younger generations today are missing a sense of identity. From knowing who you truly are or at least setting out to discover that, I’ve experienced that that’s where you find your true purpose, which I believe in whatever unique way involves serving others and respecting yourself and this planet. I remain optimistic that our young generations are trending towards becoming more conscientious, and I believe this begins with our leaders. Whether it be a political figure, a business icon, a professional athlete, or a celebrity, it’s important for everyone with a platform to stand for respecting the environment and others, being comfortable in their own skin, and aware of those less fortunate in this world. I argue for this because I believe that teaching people to care for the environment begins with teaching people to care for themselves – I look at this issue with a more holistic approach. I also have a lot of hope in kids today – I am beginning to partner with a non-profit called Grades of Green that works with hundreds of thousands of young students across the country, and I am inspired and impressed constantly by these kids and their desire to spread environmental awareness!

RL: I know that your sister and my friend, Chloe, goes to church with your parents, and your family has a strong faith. How does your faith play a role in your passion for the environment (or Creation)?

CB: I love this question. My views on this are constantly developing, but I’ll give you what I believe at this point. As a Christian, I believe that God created this world, which tells me that we are to respect it. Living in southern California you can walk outside at any time and marvel at nature’s beauty – whether it’s a pretty flower or the Pacific Ocean. God intended for nature to be respected and appreciated, a lesson that sometimes falls short in Christian communities. There are so many personal blessings that come from nature (who doesn’t find joy and peace sitting on a warm beach or walking through a field of flowers or hearing birds chirp in a forest??) and it’s important to recognize that. We share this world with billions of people and creatures and we definitely don’t own this world. When this is understood, respect for the environment follows.

We live in a time where we hold more power than ever to affect the environment and where Christian stewardship is beginning to more largely include taking care of the environment. This excites me and gives me a lot of hope. For example, the pastor at my church, Journey of Faith, has touched on how we are supposed to gently leave our mark on this world. In this year’s Easter services, he put up photos of trash built up in countries around the world (relating this to our sins). While the sole intention of that was not for everyone to recycle their sermon programs, the photos had a real effect on many of the thousands of people who attended the Easter services. While those leading the environmental fight often separate themselves from religion, I hope that we see Christian leaders, and leaders of all faiths that believe that God created this planet for that matter, step up and encourage us all to live more consciously and gently.

RL:  What is next for Eco Can? Any new additions, products, or vision for the company?

CB: I am currently focusing all my efforts on getting into retail stores. This week was exciting for me because I received samples in different colors and sent some out to buyers who have requested them. So far, there is interest from two major retailers in Eco Can, but I am in the very very early stages of any retail agreements, so I am both managing my expectations and remaining hopeful. Fingers crossed!!

I have ideas for variations of Eco Can and more products that will hopefully come later, but for now I’m super focused on getting this product out there and beginning to establish a brand with Eco Can. I have big dreams of creating a successful brand that will give me a platform to use what I’ve gained from my personal experiences to inspire others and make this world a better place!

RL:  Well thank you so much, Cara! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Rissponsible Living. Is there anything else you would like to add?

CB: Thank you for this interview! I love what you’re doing and it’s always inspiring to speak with those who are passionate about similar causes!

© Rissponsible Living, 2016


Cara Basmajian is the founder and CEO of Eco Can. She lives in Manhattan Beach, CA, where she is originally from, and attended UC Berkeley and UCLA for college. She loves yoga, history, and chocolate chip cookies.

2015 in Review

Dear reader,

Thank you for your support in 2015. Every click, comment, and like you provided on this site made my day and motivated me to keep researching, photographing, and blogging. When I started this blog back in May, I didn’t think I would have kept it up this long or received this much readership; I definitely could not have anticipated that making this blog would be one of my highlights of this past year.

2015 was the year I turned 21 and began my senior year of college. I traveled to Maui, San Diego, North Carolina, Yosemite National Park, New York, Florida, and Santa Barbara. I read 32 books, started my college honors thesis, and wrote about two dozen entries for this blog. Every city I visited, every coffee date I had with a friend, or book I checked out of the library, I thought of this blog. My iPhone camera roll is full of an amalgam of photos of bus ads and restaurant menus and sunsets, all because they somehow reminded me of my responsibility on this earth to live a sustainable life. Thanks to WordPress.com, here are some stats on how this blog did this year (a 2015 annual report), and here’s hoping we shatter these stats in 2016!

Sincerely,

Rissponsible Living ©

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sweetgreen

“Beets don’t kale my vibe?!” my friend exclaimed. Upon driving by the storefront window of Sweetgreen’s soon-to-be unveiled location in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, my vegetarian friend was skeptical. Is this cheesy saying a sign of good things to come? How will Californians receive Sweetgreen when the growing national chain opens its first West Coast locations?

The author's lunch on an autumn day at the Sweetgreen in the West End neighborhood of DC.
The author’s lunch on an autumn day at the Sweetgreen in the West End neighborhood of DC.

Sweetgreen is a DC-based chain that brings farm-grown produce to consumers in a fast-food setting. From green salads and grain bowls, to freshly-pressed juices and frozen-yogurt, Sweetgreen boasts a very healthy and vegan-friendly menu, and it’s all customized by the consumer. Founded in 2007 by three Georgetown University graduates, Sweetgreen “applies the fast-casual restaurant model popularized by Chipotle Mexican Grill to leafy greens.” It’s incredibly appealing because you can build your preferred healthy meal and order it in a timely manner. The line was always out the door, and soon Sweetgreen expanded from its humble M Street beginnings.

Now Sweetgreen has 27 locations total: eleven in DC, five in Maryland, and three to four in each of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. California has two coming soon – the one in West Hollywood (on West 3rd Street) and a later one in Santa Monica – thanks to a $18.5 million investment led by Revolution Growth, a DC venture capital fund. The booming number of locations nationwide demonstrates that the business attracts a wide spectrum of consumers. In business districts, there is always a line of professionals waiting to get a salad to-go on their lunch break. By university campuses, college kids in athletic clothes line up to buy a study snack or healthy post-workout meal. Plenty of people also go to Sweetgreen for a nice lunch out; granted, if you were paying $10 to 15 for a salad wouldn’t you?

Called “the ultimate millennial brand” by some, Sweetgreen lives up to its name. Nicolas Jammet, one of the co-founders of Sweetgreen, started the company with his friends their senior year at Georgetown University because they “couldn’t find many options for cheap, healthy food.” Their desire to have a healthier yet cost-efficient diet is now a nationwide business that employs over 800 workers,  has an annual revenue of over $50 million, and makes over 25% of sales via its mobile app.

The author (on the left) at the 2014 Sweetlife Festival with a friend.
The author (on the left) at the 2014 Sweetlife Festival with a friend.

Business experts, like AOL co-founder Steve Case, have compared Sweetgreen to Starbucks and Chipotle for its attractive business model and future as a trending fast-casual dining chain. Yet Sweetgreen is also unique because of its “community-centric philosophy”: their “commitment to promoting healthy, active lifestyles” permeates so much of the company, especially their community outreach. Sweetgreen in Schools is the company’s homegrown program that “educates kids about healthy eating, fitness and sustainability through fun, hands-on activities.” What started in 2010 as a one-week program now involves over 1,000 students in the DC metropolitan area and New York. The Sweetlife Festival also began in 2010 as an annual one-day music experience that features a variety of food vendors, forums with local farmers, and sustainable activities like recycling at the festival to receive a prize.

In summary, Sweetgreen is definitely something to be excited about on the West Coast. It’s been thriving in northeastern cities, sells healthy and locally-raised food, and markets super well with its chic logo (backwards e’s? So trendy!) and inspirational quotes that cover every store. Sweetgreen is also a model of sustainability: they use 100% plant-based compostable packing, offset 100% of their energy with wind energy credits, and much more. Whether you live in an East Coast city and do not eat at Sweetgreen often, or you live on the West Coast and are skeptical about the restaurant’s hype, don’t be. Eating at Sweetgreen and being a fan of the brand will help your heart, the environment, and your community. Still not convinced? We’ll leave you with the company’s manifesto. If you’re not inspired by this, then we don’t know what else to say. Don’t kale our vibe?

Manifesto

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

Interstellar

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

Although the movie Interstellar was released in theaters last November, its message is timeless. I only just watched this Academy Award-winning film, directed by Christopher Nolan, and was blown away by the astounding visual effects, acting, movie score (who doesn’t love Hans Zimmer?), et cetera. Yet one aspect of this movie trumps all the others: the film’s plot, the glimpse it provides of our planet’s bleak future, is unfathomably plausible.

If you have not seen this movie, don’t worry — there are no plot spoilers in this article. The movie, starring Matthew McConaughey, takes place in a 21st century earth where humans have completely exhausted all natural resources, and exploration and technological advancements cease to exist because they are deemed impractical and inefficient. McConaughey is a former pilot and NASA astronaut, but lives as a farmer to raise his two children because the demand for food is so high. Crop blight has caused global civilization to “regress into a failing agrarian society”; blight is a plant disease that is a rapid and complete chlorosis, browning, and death of plant tissues, and has historically contributed to the Irish Potato Famine and a severe loss of corn in the U.S in the 1970s.

Granted, this is a highly imaginative science-fiction film, but how conceivable is the movie’s setting? Will standardized schooling start specializing American children to work in different economic sectors? Can professional sports be reduced to  non-marketed, non-televised events in high school arenas? Should history’s successful explorations and monumental discoveries be re-painted as tales of inefficient, wasteful shams? Interstellar poses many questions about the future of modern society, and while most of these scenarios are extremely exaggerated hypotheticals, the climate’s harm to crops and the agricultural industry is far from myth or sci-fi.

In 1997, NASA released a study on the increasing prevalence of dust storms. In “Desert Dust, Dust Storm, and Climate,” they reported that airborne dust particles are problematic because they alter the climate by intercepting sunlight intended for the earth’s surface. These dust aerosols shade the earth from the sun’s radiation, and in many places in the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures at the surface often reduced by 1 °C during this decade. Lofted into the air by wind-erosion of dry, loosely-packed soil, the dust aerosols form clouds that deter sunlight, leading to the cooling of the surface below. At the time the article was written, about half of the dust in the atmosphere was likely caused by human activity, demonstrating that climate change is not just the phenomenon of global warming, but cooling as well – in general, more extreme temperatures worldwide.

Dust clouds and storms are often caused by low vegetation cover and disturbance to soil surfaces, which are results of drought, according to U.S. Geological Survey research. The state of Arizona experienced severe dust storms in 2011 and 2012; dust storms are dangerous, often causing motor vehicle crashes and chronic asthma. Dust storms are highly prevalent in drought years and less frequent in years with greater precipitation. High vegetation cover means a low risk of dust storms because more particles are trapped, the soil surface is covered, and there’s a high wind reduction – the soil surface is intact. With low vegetation cover, the opposites are true, and thus there’s a high risk of dust storms.

The current California drought has been compared to the climate preceding the 1930s Dust Bowl; it’s believed that the same atmospheric condition that caused the country’s worst-ever drought in California in 1934 has also influenced the state’s 2014-2015 drought. And not just Arizona and California are affected by dust storms and drought: the National Resources Defense Council found that 1,100 counties (one-third of all counties in the contiguous U.S.) face higher risks of water shortages as a result of climate change. Lower rates of precipitation not only cause droughts and less vegetation, but also more frequent wildfires and dangerous water shortages. Fewer amounts of water can concentrate contaminants “such as heavy metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides, and sediments and salts.” Thus, water supplies are less potable, overall drinking water supplies decrease, crops yield less, and food security suffers — all scenarios that occur in Interstellar. 

Our world is far from the apocalyptic dystopia that the U.S. becomes in Interstellar, but don’t McConaughey’s character’s words ring true? “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” While we still live in an age of exploration and technological pioneers, why can’t we also look down at the ground we walk on and have concern for the dirt beneath us and the air we breathe? We live on a perfect planet, and Interstellar tries to tell us that we probably will not find any other home like it. Thus, we must care for what we have before it’s gone.

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

Gracias, Madre

“Just don’t get me anything for Mother’s Day. A card is all I need.” Are you sure, Mom? I know that the women in our lives often have everything they need, and it’s hard to find the perfect, practical, price-friendly gift for anyone on any occasion, especially mothers with high standards on their one day of the year. For moms, birthdays remind them that they’ve aged another year, and wedding anniversaries can grow duller with the decades. Mother’s Day is when the spotlight is on them, and they can truly shine.

Since Mother’s Day is Sunday, you literally have days to find a gift or card for the mother figure in your life. Whether it’s your mother, grandmother, godmother, sister, aunt, or close friend, show them how much you admire the maternal role they play in your life and others’. Give them a gift that reflects a comparable mother — Mother Earth. Yes, it’s cheesy, and probably what you expected, but ever since you were in nursery school, the women in your life probably appreciated every art project you ever hand-crafted. Parents hoard their children’s artwork because work by hand demonstrates an immeasurable labor and inexplicable beauty that is priceless. Since we no longer finger-paint, why not give them something similar — something made by nature?

Handmade soaps from a farm in Virginia, sold at the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market in DC.
Handmade soaps from a farm in Virginia, sold at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market in DC.

Handmade soap is one of my most frequently given gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Day. Often sold at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market, and probably many others throughout the city, these bars of soap are incredibly fragrant, vivid in color, and often can be packaged in beautiful wrapping by the vendor. If you don’t have time to slip by a farmer’s market the day of Mother’s Day, you can also try to make soap at home. Regardless of where you get it, handmade soap is a natural and simple gift that will be a much-appreciated addition to your mother’s bathroom sink.

A slightly pricier but similar gift is a product from Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics. One of my personally favorite stores, Lush is the mecca of handmade bath and beauty products: from face masks, to their renowned bath bombs, to lip balm, hair treatments, body butters, shower gels, and much more, Lush has it all. Furthermore, they have an exemplary company green policy, and all of their stores in 46 countries use 100% recycled materials and follow their mission of ethical buying. Fun fact: they also gift-wrap their soaps in colorful scarves, but at an additional cost. Lush has over 800 stores worldwide, and one is probably located near you!

A LUSH store the author visited in Santa Monica, California.
A LUSH store the author visited in Santa Monica, California.

To add to your mother’s love for soft skin, you have to let her succumb to her sweet tooth. Equal Exchange is just one of many brands of fair trade chocolate; it’s guilt-free as a consumer, and also pretty healthy for you with its high content in cacao. All organic, the chocolate bars range from Milk, Dark, and Very Dark Chocolate, to additional ingredients of coconut, raspberry, caramel, hazelnut, and more. Equal Exchange also sells amazing ground coffee — my family friends have raved so much about the French Roast in particular that I give it to them annually. While it does cost about $10 for 10 to 12 ounces of coffee, Starbucks Coffee can cost $15-35 for a bag of 8.8 oz coffee, and while it may be exotic, it still isn’t fair trade. Equal Exchange is a worker-owned cooperative that supports small-scale farmers and their families in Central and South America. They are affiliated with Fair for Life and Small Producers, a member of the Fair Trade Federation, and have a Gold rating from Green America.

It’s always safe to buy a Hallmark card and a coupon for the Cheesecake Factory, but you can make this Mother’s Day truly special for the ones you love. Just as they brought you into this world or have cared for you with a loving heart, give a present that shows your affection for this planet and your ability to be charitable and love others as well.

© Rissponsible Living, 2015