Category Archives: ethical year

all vegetarian boxed lunches are not created equal: or how i ate a brownie and a pepsi for lunch and wasted food

So now I officially feel pretty stupid for complaining about the vegetarian boxed lunch way back in this post, because I think we experienced the holy grail of seriously gross and inedible vegetarian cuisine this past weekend when we volunteered for another History Day event.  Here’s what the lunch looked like:

Okay, that’s a Pepsi, a bag of carrot and celery sticks, a “Mediterranean Veggetable Wrap,” and a brownie.  Now, there were actually two vegetarian wrap choices: the one pictured, and some other non-Mediterranean wrap, so I’ll applaud the catering company for the variety.  To bad the variety was DISGUSTING.  The options weren’t labeled beyond identifying them as vegetarian, so I had no idea what was in the box before I opened it.  I had to open the wrap to inspect it to see if there was anything that would trigger my mushroom allergy (spoiler alert: there was what looked like a portabella mushroom in there, so I’m glad I checked); here’s what it looked like:

So that’s some weird-looking pesto-type spread, some kind of feta-like cheese, and a bunch of soggy, cold, (potentially grilled?) veggies: some zucchini and squash, something that resembled red onions, maybe some tomato and carrots?  And upon poking around with my fork I located what looked suspiciously like a mushroom.  Great.  I couldn’t eat it, in part because I was afraid of triggering my allergy but also because IT LOOKED TERRIBLE.  One of the women on my judge’s panel let me check one of the “regular” veggie wraps, which looked like the same exact crap minus the pesto-ish spread.  I ate the brownie and carrot sticks and drank a Pepsi for lunch that day, while people around me were eating Turkey-Bacon-Asiago sandwiches.  I would have KILLED for the veggie sandwiches they had at the last History Day; those boxed lunches included chips!  And pasta salad and a cookie!  I seriously wish catering companies would just TRY HARDER.

We did, at least, have a total blast judging History Day entries again.  Ryan got documentaries this time and I was judging websites; we saw some pretty cool stuff and met some awesome kids.  Ryan and I are marking down 4.5 hours apiece for this one, and now that summer is around the corner, we look forward to finding more volunteer opportunities soon.

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dealing with donating to charity and the ensuing stack of solicitations

A recent post on my favorite consumer-watchdog website The Consumerist captures some of the frustration that Ryan and I and our friends have all experienced when donating to charitable causes: the dreaded stack of mail that almost inevitably shows up from the organizations that we donate to or, even worse, OTHER organizations which have flagged your address as the address of SOMEONE WHO DONATES TO CHARITY AND WHO MUST WANT TO DONATE TO ALL CHARITIES.  This is annoying for a number of really obvious reasons: first, for the environmentally-conscious consumer, it creates waste that you now have to deal with (hopefully by recycling the solicitation materials).  Nobody likes junk mail.  Second, your donations (along with many other peoples’ donations) have likely paid for these solicitations.  When we select a cause to support monetarily, most of us don’t love knowing that part of our donation goes to overhead costs like mass mailings; it feels icky, even if it is effective.  (I’m not having a lot of luck right now finding sources on how effective this practice is at generating more donations, but I’ll keep looking and update when I find something).  Third, and this is just a wild guess, but I tend to assume that in general, people hate being asked to part with their hard-earned money, especially when they’ve likely already donated to a cause.  It’s tacky.  It’s like accepting a gift from a friend, and then telling some other people that your friend is a totally-awesome gift-giver, so then those people go around asking your friend for some gifts.  Right?

The worst offense here is, I think, the fact that some of these mass solicitation mailings look very…expensive.  Our friend Tim has complained about those gorgeous full-color LARGE maps that Médecins Sans Frontières sends out to previous donors, and Ryan and I agree that it’s tacky that they send these out.  We’ve gotten several of those, along with other additional mail from other organizations, printed on fancy paper and cardstock with color photos and celebrity endorsements and pleas for assistance to insert random organization/cause here.  What’s so awful about this is the prospect that these practices would steer someone away from philanthropy—for example, we’re making it a point to no longer donate to Médecins Sans Frontières, even though I love their mission.  Look, I’m not knocking transparency.  Lord knows, transparency in charitable organizations is REALLY IMPORTANT.  But none of these mailings so far have been geared toward shedding light on the organizations’ practices and progress—they have almost all been solicitations for more donations.

So what do we do about this?  The obvious answer is to refuse to donate to organizations which sell your name and address and spend significant amounts of money on fancy mailings, but this is easier said than done.  We often don’t know which organizations are the offenders until we donate; then we’re stuck going through the hassle of removing our names from mailing lists (which, let’s face it, it sometimes ineffective).  The website CharityNavigator (which I don’t really like as much as GiveWell) lists some tips for stopping solicitations by mail, all of which seem to be generally good pieces of advice, though donating anonymously might turn off some of the donors who want to reap the tax benefits of donating.  The one piece of advice that they offer and which I’ve also seen elsewhere is to refrain from spreading around your charity dollars too much and stop giving small amounts of money to many charities; they note that “Small donations, such as $25, barely cover the costs the charity incurred in soliciting the gift. To recoup those costs, many charities will simply sell the donor’s name to another charity doing similar work.”  Sound advice, but problematic if you care about a number of causes and have limited funds to donate.  Obviously we need higher levels of transparency and more accountability involved in the non-profit world (just as we need more of both of those things in the for-profit world as well).  I don’t have any viable solutions at this point (this was more of an expressing-frustration post) but I’ll keep thinking about this and we’ll definitely come back to this topic later.  Send us any thoughts you have or any experiences you have with particularly bad offenders of this (or alternatively, any great organizations who don’t solicit! I know Ryan hasn’t gotten any mail from the Against Malaria Foundation).

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fun with volunteering, and the typical vegetarian “boxed lunch”

We LOVED our first volunteering experience today, where we judged entries in the Greater Kansas City (Missouri) History Day in Independence, MO at the Truman Library.  The relative pain of waking up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday (SERIOUSLY—we had to be in Independence by 8 a.m., and it’s an hour away, and we love sleeping in on the weekends) was mitigated by all of the fun we had geeking out over a bunch of high school and middle school history projects.  Ryan, Molly and I were all in different judging groups and divisions so we got to see a pretty wide range of stuff—some of it was great, some of it was…interesting (that’s about as candid as I think I can be!)  My assignment got changed thanks to someone dropping out at the last minute so I was bumped from judging group documentaries (bummer!), but I still had a blast, chatting with some cool students and learning some fun facts.  I also got to take part in runoff judging in one division.  It was so fun that it didn’t even feel like work.  We’re going to do another one of these in April.

I just want to be clear that what I’m about to say is not a legitimate complaint, per se, and I almost feel bad even mentioning it, because it’s so nice that the organizers had the foresight to order some vegetarian lunches in the first place, so Ryan and I weren’t screwed when lunch time came around.  Consider this more of a message to the world at large: a hoagie roll with lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, while certainly vegetarian, is not particularly appetizing to many of us.  I don’t know, I’ve never understood the “just go to Subway and order a sandwich with all the fixings but no meat” approach.  It’s a personal preference.  I mean, I feel like I’m splitting hairs and I just hate to be THAT PERSON who complains about a (free) lunch, but I just wish the caterers of the world would try a little harder.  Even a piece of cheese would have been a welcome addition, but even then it feels like the vegetarian cold lunch is a sad substitute for the ham and turkey sandwiches our meat-eating colleagues were enjoying.  I can’t stress this enough, I intend no disrespect to the organizers of the event or even the caterers, really: it’s nice that we live in a world where we’re accommodated at all.  I’m glad that there was some pasta salad and a bag of Sun Chips and a cookie to munch on when I got tired of eating my soggy hoagie roll with mustard and lettuce and a few sad onions.  (Although: I couldn’t figure out why the vegetarian boxes ONLY had Sun Chips in them, while the meat-sandwich boxes had freaking Doritos and other chips.  Like, is the assumption that we’re vegetarian and thus relatively healthy and averse to Doritos?)

My frustration here is exacerbated by the fact that I can’t even come up with a good solution for what a good vegetarian cold lunch would even BE.  A box of fresh fruit and raw veggies with dip?  I HAVE NO IDEA how to handle this one.  So friends: tell me what a good vegetarian cold lunch would be.  Keep in mind I’m allergic to mushrooms.  But all in all we are very grateful that we did have a vegetarian option for lunch here and we didn’t even have to ask for one.  That is really awesome.  The organizers of this thing did a really fantastic job in general and we’re really stoked that we got to be a part of it.

I’m going to count 5 hours of volunteering today.

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what we’ve been eating

Last week I sort of felt silly for all of the posts about the food that we’ve been eating so far; this is, after all, supposed to be a record of our entire year-long experiment in ethical living, and I’ve not said much about donating to charity or volunteering.  I will have a post about charity coming up soon, and as for volunteering I’m waiting on people to get back to me (and presumably I’m waiting on my references being checked), so there’s nothing really I can say on that front yet.  Recycling is pretty boring and we haven’t hit any major snags.  So I’m going to post about food again.  We do, after all, eat every single day, and so far the vegetarianism has been one of the more challenging aspects of our experiment.

On Friday night we were headed to Kansas City to go to a basketball game at Wash House; usually when we go out there we try to find somewhere to eat around KC since we’re not there for fun often, but on Friday we couldn’t think of anything that sounded good.  We had been wanting to try something vegetarian from our favorite Mexican joint in Lawrence, Tortas Jalisco, so we decided to give it a whirl.  In our recent meat-eating past we had both been huge fans of the chorizo torta on the menu, and we knew that they had a meat-free torta on the menu as well, so we both opted for that.  It’s listed on the menu as vegetarian, so we didn’t feel like we needed to ask about the beans.  Here is a photo of it:

The verdict: Eh, it was fine.  It had three kinds of cheese, which were all tasty but together were a bit over the top; the cheese was also cold so it made the sandwich, which is supposed to be served hot, a bit too cold for my taste.  As a substitute for what we used to order it’s not bad, but we’re definitely interested in trying something else vegetarian next time we go there.  The chips and salsa alone are worth going back.

We had some luck over the weekend when we grabbed lunch from Taco Bell.  I decided that we were going to go inside and ask the cashier some questions about vegetarian options on the menu, even though I hate doing it.  I just wanted to know what options are available for us at Taco Bell, which so far has been the most vegetarian-friendly fast food establishment we’ve encountered.  Their website is also really helpful, by the way: their food facts section mentions that “Several Taco Bell® items do not include meat as an ingredient. […] Of course you can also request that any item on the menu be prepared without meat or sour cream. The enzymes used in the production of our cheese, tortillas, and flatbread are not from an animal source.”  Their ingredient statement also seems really thorough and accessible.  Win for Taco Bell.  The cashier was really nice and recommended this thing that Ryan ended up getting: something rolled up with potatoes and cheese that only cost 99cents.  It usually comes with bacon in it, but the cashier told Ryan he could get it without bacon.  We both got meatless nachos (I got sour cream on mine, because I’m not worried about gelatin for this challenge; have I talked about my marshmallow addiction yet?) and I got a quesadilla with no chicken.  Witness the awesome:

We got some new veggie burgers that we’ll be reviewing soon and we’re going to try to make it out to a restaurant we haven’t been to yet, so stay tuned for all of that in the near future.

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some thoughts on a month of vegetarianism

Last week, I had my first legitimate craving for a Boca Burger.  That’s not to say that I don’t miss real cheeseburgers, because I do.  Ordering my baked potato and garden salad from Wendy’s and having to look at photographs of burgers is…pretty painful, still.  But I’m learning to manage.  Though I’m pretty sure I had a minor meltdown the other day when I kept repeating over and over again to Ryan, “Why doesn’t McDonald’s have a soy burger? I BET IT WOULD BE DELICIOUS.”  So far, however, our first meat-free month has been pretty okay.

Here are the positives: It hasn’t been terribly difficult.  We’re not starving, and we’re eating a lot of the same kinds of things we used to eat, just meat-free versions of them: things like salads, pasta, pizza, curry/Indian food.  I have this new-found appreciation for the humble and oft-overlooked cheese pizza; for boxed Palak Paneer and frozen falafel from Trader Joe’s, and for the aforementioned Wendy’s baked potato.  Ryan and I got burrito bowls from Chipotle last weekend and they were great; next time I need to ask them not to pile on the ingredients, I guess, because I could only finish half of mine.

Good vegetarian options are totally out there; you just have to look a bit and be flexible.  We’d probably have an easier time back east as far as dining out is concerned, but we’re doing okay here so far.  An unintended positive is that we’re eating out less and thus saving some money that way.  Sometimes we just don’t feel like bothering with any of our standard going-out options, but I can always find something awesome to cook at home.  It’s easier to make myself cook when our options for going out are a lot more limited.  We’re also definitely eating less “fast food,” since our fast food options are REALLY limited.

As far as the negatives go, here are a few of them, and I’ll write in more detail about some of these later.  First, it’s hard having to turn down invitations from friends who are going out to places where we don’t like the vegetarian options much.  It’s cool that more places have vegetarian menu items these days, but sometimes those options are really unappealing, and they are especially unappealing compared to the non-vegetarian options.  For example: neither Ryan nor I are particularly interested in trying the lentil burger or the quinoa hot dog at the Burger Stand.  Sorry, everyone, but we won’t be going to the Burger Stand at all this year—there’s nothing there that we want to eat, and the temptation would be horrendous, I think.  So because of this, we’re not going out with friends as much, which is a bummer.

Another negative: reading labels and scouting out ingredients on our own isn’t a huge deal, but Ryan and I are both very wary of being pain-in-the-ass customers when we go out, so there’s another downside—having to ask a lot of questions, and feeling like a burden for it.  Having to request accommodations (can you take the meat out of that?  Are you sure the sauce is vegetarian?  Can you check for me?) can be annoying, and we’re totally aware of that.  Both of these challenges fall under the category of “jerk vegetarians” and I’ll say more about this in the future.

Part of me can’t believe it’s already been an entire month.  I think going meat-free for a month can be a really good experiment for anyone to try: if anything, it causes you to think more about what you’re consuming daily, and that just doesn’t seem like a bad idea in general.  Health-wise I have to admit that I don’t feel any different, which isn’t a big deal because we aren’t doing this for health reasons anyway.  Still, I’m a bit surprised: meat’s supposed to be terrible for you, right?  Though I guess the good thing about not feeling different health-wise is that I don’t feel WORSE—I don’t feel like my body is suffering because I’m not consuming meat.

I’ll update about other things soon.  Here are a few photos of the baked ziti I made on Sunday.  It was chock full of spinach and sauce and cheese and it was freaking delicious.

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mistake #2: why are there meat products in everything delicious?

So a week ago I came down with this pretty wicked sinus infection.  I’m not going to use that as an excuse here, because I am completely responsible for this screw-up, no matter how sick I was.  Lesson officially learned—if it’s not listed on a menu as explicitly ‘vegetarian’, ASK.  Because I didn’t ask, and I consumed something with fish sauce in it, and it was totally my fault.

Zen Zero has been one of my favorite restaurants since I’ve moved to Lawrence.  It’s cheap, and while it’s probably not terribly authentic and most likely falls into that murky “asian fusion” category of food, it’s damn delicious.  There are a couple of menu items I get there pretty regularly and I would always get them with tofu, because they manage to do a pretty good job of cooking their tofu, which is nice (a lot of places screw tofu up pretty badly).  The Massaman Curry dish is one of my favorites: it’s spicy if you ask for it to be, coconut milk and potatoes and tofu and peanuts; it’s just this giant bowl of awesome.  Last Saturday was the first day I started feeling pretty sick with this sinus infection, and I could barely breathe.  I felt pretty lousy, but I made Ryan take me to Zen Zero in hopes of getting a big bowl of spicy curry that might open up my sinuses a bit.  Not only did it not make me feel much better, but that trip accounted for my first accidental meat consumption this year that I’m aware of.

The trip was made of fail from the beginning, because of those damn delicious shrimp chips they bring to the table when you sit down.  I should have made the server take them away, so there was mistake #1.  Ryan and I had to stare at these things the whole time without being able to dip them in that delicious chili sauce and chow down.  Ugh.

 

Now here’s where I really screwed up.  Ryan was smart, and ordered the Thai Basil Tofu from the section of the menu that read ‘VEGETARIAN.’  I was afraid to try something new and sort of out of it AND I had been dreaming about that damn curry so I just went with it, EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT IN THE VEGETARIAN SECTION OF THE MENU.  Again, totally my fault.  I just figured, TOFU.  There’s no meat in this.  RIGHT?  Wrong.  DEAD WRONG.  I realized after I had eaten most of it that I might have made a mistake, and the server confirmed that there was fish sauce in it.  Fail.

Thai Basil Tofu: Vegetarian

Massaman Curry: NOT Vegetarian.

So that was my first conscious screw-up.  I learned my lesson and will force myself to ask any time something isn’t explicitly listed as ‘vegetarian.’  I hate having to ask about stuff like this because I hate bothering servers/food preparers (especially after my long history in food service).  They often don’t know off the top of their heads about specific menu items, and sometimes the information is hard for people to find.  Ryan has a story about another scenario where he tried to ask about ingredients in a menu item and the people couldn’t confirm whether or not it was vegetarian, but I’ll let him tell that story.  So here’s the first big lesson I’m learning from the vegetarian part of the challenge: meat products are in A LOT OF FOOD.  Stuff that appears to be meat-free often isn’t, and that is pretty counter-intuitive.  If vegetarianism means simply abstaining from eating animal flesh, it would be a hell of a lot easier.  But because of the presence of things like chicken stock and fish sauce in products, you’ve got to do your homework.

Dining out seems like it’s getting increasingly difficult, thanks to this revelation.  Cooking at home has been a lot easier.

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recycling is (relatively) easy

I’ve been quiet lately because the semester has officially begun AND I came down with a killer sinus infection last weekend, but living ethically marches on.  I’ll post about my accidental meat-consumption snafu soon (another rookie mistake—I’m trying not to beat myself up about it) but in the meantime, I’ll update about our experience so far with recycling.

So I’ll just go ahead and say that recycling out here is fairly easy—it could be easier, sure—with a couple of caveats.  One of these caveats doesn’t even really affect us, but the city of Lawrence does not offer curbside recycling as a city service.  There’s a recycling service that one can opt to pay for, and as I understand the monthly fee is pretty small, but again, this doesn’t really affect us since we live in an apartment complex, and thus wouldn’t be eligible for curbside recycling regardless.  It’s a change from where I’m from: Hampton Roads has had curbside recycling as a city service since the 90’s, and the charge gets rolled into your water/trash bill.  We used to have these dinky little blue SPSA bins, and they updated to full-sized recycling trash-style cans a while back .  You could choose not to recycle, obviously, but you’d be paying for it anyway, and they were pretty clear about what they took as recyclables and what they didn’t take.  My folks have been recycling at home since it’s been widely available and I remember going on a field trip as a kid to the recycling plant and watching these giant sorting machines.  It even looks like my hometown even has this cute little website with tons of information about “being green.”

Lawrence is a significantly smaller town, so I get why they have a smaller operation.  The city’s website helpfully lists some information about recycling; there are recycling dumpsters in the parking lots of some of the stores (Dillons on 23rd has them) which take some things but not all recyclables, and the big Wal-Mart Community Recycling Center, while not centrally located, (but the town is tiny, so it’s not a big deal) is pretty accessible.  Ryan and I take our stuff to the Wal-Mart Community Recycling Center.  It’s nearby and takes pretty much everything, and they are pretty clear about what they won’t take.  Our IKEA bags help with our sorting.  So far, we haven’t had any real issues.

The one thing I want to complain about here is that for the non-seasoned recycler, it’s sometimes not intuitive or easy to figure out what gets recycled and what doesn’t.  It’s cool, there’s a learning curve for anything.  We are figuring this stuff out and I’m not afraid of sounding stupid.  Glass, newspaper, aluminum cans, office-pak paper; all of these things are obvious.  Cardboard, sure, but not pizza boxes, apparently—the cheese contaminates the box (yes, we Googled this before we tried to recycle one of these).  No wax-coated cardboard.  “Chip board” is sort of a confusing category: cereal boxes, cracker boxes, etc., but every now and again I’ll come across something I’m not sure will fit in this category.  Light bulbs can’t be recycled, which seems weird.  Some plastic can be recycled; a lot of it can’t, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out from looking at the container without checking the list.  So I guess my complaint here is geared toward product manufacturers.  It’d be incredibly useful to have packaging which makes it incredibly obvious that the packaging can be recycled.  Some packaging tells you it’s recyclable; a lot doesn’t.  A lot of packaging glaringly admits that it’s “MADE OF POST-CONSUMER RECYCLED MATERIAL,” which is fantastic.  Great.  But for those of us still learning, it would be helpful if we had a better system of identifying recyclables quickly.  That complaint aside, so far this is definitely one of the easier aspects of our challenge.  Committing to recycling is a small lifestyle modification that isn’t terribly time-consuming, especially if you have easy access to the recycling center.  Having to drive to the recycling center seems like one of those “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” kind of problems.  We’re due to make a trip here soon so I’ll take some photos and post them after we go.

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two weeks in

We’ve passed the two-week mark in the challenge, so here’s a quick update on how things are going.  We haven’t had any major malfunctions with vegetarianism—it’s actually been pretty cool that so far we haven’t had to make any huge changes to our diets.  I will admit that going to Steak ‘n Shake and not getting a burger was pretty damn difficult, but the milkshakes are still delicious.  Boca Burgers are definitely growing on me—so much so that we haven’t yet bothered to try any different brands of veggie burgers.  The other night for dinner I made this salad, which was damn delicious:


I’m going to be bummed when Honeycrisp apples disappear from the grocery stores soon, because this salad was one of the best I’ve ever made: spinach and spring mix, walnuts, Honeycrisp apples, this AMAZING honey-Chevre cheese from Trader Joe’s, carrots, and a honey vinaigrette.  Ryan approved as well.  This is relevant because this is definitely the type of salad I would have put apple-wood-smoked bacon on in the past—for what reason other than bacon is delicious, I’m not really sure, because this salad stands on its own pretty well.  I guess I’m still having a hard time removing the indoctrinated idea that meat=protein=necessary for your existence.  I know it’s not true, and I know humans eat way more protein than their bodies actually need, but it’s hard to get rid of some of the crap that you’ve been hearing all your life.  So far I’d say we’ve been doing pretty okay with the vegetarianism.

For charity: Ryan’s doing his thing and has updated about it.  I just got a confusing letter about my merit raise and I still have no idea how much money I’m making this year, but as soon as I do, I’ll figure out what 2% will be and post about where I decide to make my first donation.  Our friend has brought up some really good criticisms of Médecins Sans Frontières so I’m considering a different option.

Recycling: Nothing really to say about this, but our IKEA bags are working fabulously and we’re due to make a recycling trip soon-ish.  I will say that we got pretty angry about finding a new telephone book outside of our door this afternoon.  I need to figure out whether or not there’s a way to opt out of receiving a phone book in the future, because they are fucking worthless and they just go straight into the recycling bin.

Volunteering: I haven’t heard anything from 4-H yet (today was a holiday), and their application did mention that they would check all of my references.  I’ll give them a week before I contact someone and ask about the status of my application.  I’m chomping at the bit to start volunteering so I may go forward with the DCAP if 4-H takes their sweet time.

We’re sailing toward the end of our first month of ethical living and we haven’t hit any major roadblocks yet: I’d say so far the project has been pretty successful.  More updates to follow!

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week one recap

We made it through the first week of the year, and so far I think the challenge is going pretty well.  I want to thank all of our friends for the tons of support, love, and advice they’ve given us already: we’re getting great food ideas and advice on products to check out, volunteer resources, and really positive feedback in general from most of the people we’ve talked to about the project.  Thanks also for checking out the blog; we remain excited about our adventure and we look forward to continuing our documentation here.  We’re keeping a list of topics we plan on covering in the future.  Full steam ahead!

Today I submitted my first volunteer application, to 4-H.  I hope to hear something back soon; I’ve decided to hold off on the Douglas County AIDS Project for now, at least until I get in contact with 4-H and figure out what sort of time commitment I’m looking at initially.  If I can get in with 4-H and I find myself with extra time and energy, I’ll expand my volunteering commitment.  Ryan already posted about our first recycling drop-off with our new IKEA recycling bags; I’ve got a post in the works about the challenges of recycling in Lawrence.  Tonight Ryan had his first class for UMKC this semester, and for dinner we had Palak Paneer (of the Trader Joe’s boxed variety—it’s pretty tasty, for boxed Indian food) with basmati rice and naan.  We’ve been eating pretty well and the hunger I thought I was experiencing last week seems to have abated.  I’m not really missing meat at all, which is kind of surprising.  I guess I figured that by now I’d at least crave something I couldn’t have.  I went to brunch at IHOP with some of my girlfriends on Sunday and had a brief moment of panic when almost everyone else at the table ordered bacon with their meals, but when the plates arrived I didn’t even flinch (I love bacon, for the record).  I know it’s a small victory, but it’s nice to know I can go out with friends and not be intimidated or weak if/when someone at the table orders meat.

I haven’t yet figured out what charitable organizations I plan on supporting this year.  Ryan donates monthly like a bill; I will make my donations in several chunks (either twice a year or four times, depending largely on how I decide to spend my charity budget) because it works better for me and my overall budget to do it that way.  I’m thinking of supporting one local organization and one international organization, but first I need to figure out how much money I’m going to make this year (my salary fluctuates if I decide to teach extra sections, which I am doing this spring, and I’m not sure yet how much the extra section will pay).  Locally I’m a fan of Harvesters.  Internationally, I like Médecins Sans Frontières.  I’m torn between supporting one organization or several.  I need to do some thinking and research before I decide, though, so I’ll say more about my decisions as I make them.

That’s all I’ve got for the first week recap.  Let the challenge continue!

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choosing volunteer opportunities

I’ve been thinking a lot about volunteering, but so far I haven’t taken any action that isn’t merely exploratory.  I need to get on this, because I will procrastinate, and I don’t want to not have something in the works when my busy semester begins.  A few weeks ago Ryan and I went on a mini-search throughout town and in the foyer of the Lawrence Public Library found some helpful information regarding local volunteer opportunities.  We found out about the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center, which happens to be right down the street from us and has a useful web presence at volunteerdouglascounty.org.  If you visit the site and click on ‘Find a Volunteer Opportunity’ on the menu at the bottom of the main page, it leads you to a searchable database where you can filter based on location, type of opportunity, etc.  There are tons of opportunities available—you can be a dog walker or a ‘cat companion’ for the Lawrence Humane Society, help with data entry at the food bank (Just Food), read the newspaper at the retirement community; there’s so much that I’m having trouble narrowing down what I really want to do.  I’ve got to find stuff that works with my schedule, obviously, but that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue yet.  So far I’m especially interested in volunteering for 4-H and the Douglas County AIDS Project; I think I’m going to apply to both of those, and if one or both turn me down I’ll find some backups.  I am actually sort of terrified about getting turned away from volunteer opportunities because I don’t have much experience volunteering.  I’ll keep the blog updated on my progress through the application/interview process.

The volunteering part of this project is such a big deal to me because it actually figures into my dissertation in a way.  I’m really excited about being able to give my time to a cause I’m interested in—but at the same time, I need to acknowledge my weaknesses and make sure I don’t take on anything I can’t handle emotionally, because I need to be useful and effective.  I can’t, for example, work with small children, but I’m pretty good with older kids.  I don’t think I could handle any of the humane society gigs —although the cat companion opportunity sounds like fun—I get attached to animals too easily.  I don’t know how I’d do working with mentally-challenged individuals.  Senior citizens?  Not sure, but I think I could hack it.  I really want volunteering to be fun and not feel like a chore, and I also want my talents and skills to be put to good use, so I’m keen on finding the right opportunity.

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