T-Shirts for Sale!

Visiting Jamaica Cottage Shop in southern Vermont.

Sporting one of the new t-shirts on a visit to Jamaica Cottage Shop. (More on that later.)

What an extraordinarily enjoyable whirlwind of a summer, with some days feeling like I was at the edge of the whirlwind, traveling swiftly, and some days in the center, when time stood still.  I was fortunate enough to make it to three remarkable events this summer – the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, the International Herb Symposium, and the SCA’s Pennsic War – and I look forward to reporting back on each of them.  First, though, I want to introduce you to the “Plant Weeds: The ’s’ makes it legal.” t-shirts that are now for sale here at Vaguely Bohemian.

Since I’m a person who tends to research things ad nauseum, this was quite a process.  I researched different printers and methods of printing, different t-shirt manufacturers and materials, etc.  I discovered that t-shirts are pretty interesting.  I’d never given much thought to this basic garment, but the variations just within t-shirts are impressive.

I also learned that, even with an item as ubiquitous as t-shirts, the options are limited.  In an ideal world, I’d be printing on gorgeously crafted locally-made t-shirts made out of locally-grown hemp.  Slightly more realistically, I set out to find organic cotton or hemp t-shirts that were Union-made in the US, and that were also available in both the basic unisex fit and a nicely-styled and reasonably-sized women’s cut. My printers don’t have a source for a shirt like this, and my own research hasn’t been able to uncover one either. At first I found this frustrating, but ultimately I think it’s a sign of how important it is that consumers choose mindfully.  The more we choose to buy organic, sustainable shirts made with good labor practices, the more those will be offered.  My ideal t-shirt might not be on offer now, but so long as I choose the closest I can get, I’m encouraging the market to choose sustainable, ethical practices.

So what shirts did I end up with?  I chose to use Aurum Organic blanks.  These shirts are made abroad, but the company itself is based in Burlington, Vermont.  Although Aurum Organic is owned by a larger manufacturer, this is as local as I can get for t-shirt blanks, and supporting a strong local economy is important to me.  They’re also printed locally, by the brilliant people at Amalgamated Culture Works in Burlington.  It has been an absolute pleasure working with Amalgamated Culture Works, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The t-shirts are soft, well-made, and styled beautifully.  The colors are rich, and the women’s fit is perhaps the best fitting women’s t-shirt I’ve ever put on.  For me, this isn’t the most important thing in the world, but I think that it’s not a bad thing for clothing to be both sustainable and flattering.  I’m working on obtaining a size chart, but I’ve found that I take the same size in these that I take in most other brands, so I’d say they run true to size.  This was also important to me.  I tried on one national-brand t-shirt that ran at least a size and a half small in their women’s t-shirts, and I think that creates unrealistic expectations for women.

Most importantly, to me, the t-shirts are 100% organic.  Why was this my priority? The Rodale Institute reports that cotton growers use 16% of the world’s pesticides and that cotton is one of the top four GMO crops in the world.  (Whether or not you believe GMOs can be used for good, there are troubling issues around the patenting and corporate control over seeds.)  Organic cotton is GMO-free and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.  Conventional methods of growing cotton aren’t good for the earth, the farm workers, or the consumer, so any cotton t-shirts I sourced absolutely had to be grown using organic methods.

While I was in the midst of all this research, it sometimes seemed like this would be a perpetually “in process” project, so it was pretty magical to send my design to Amalgamated Culture Works and, a few days later, pick up a box of crisply printed, gorgeous, real t-shirts that I could see and touch – and wear!  I’m pretty chuffed, and I hope you like them, too.  If you do, please consider placing an order and/or sharing a link to a VAGUELY BOHEMIAN shop: Witty weedy wares on the web:  You’ll be supporting my own local microbusiness Vaguely Bohemian, as well as a local independent printer, and organic practices of growing fiber for clothing.  Also, there are more designs and more options in the works, and your purchase will help make those a reality.  Thank you for your time and consideration!

Rob Stewart’s REVOLUTION

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch environmental films.  After all, I know what they’re going to tell me, right? And I’m doing my best, right? Do I really want to listen to someone tell me how bad things are when I already know? But flattery will get you lots of places, and when I was offered the chance to screen and review Rob Stewart’s new film Revolution, I said yes.  (For the record, I didn’t have to promise the review would be good, and I don’t get any kick-backs based on click-throughs.)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish.  Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

What I’d been forgetting is that films don’t just tell, they show.  Revolution is, firstly, stunning.  It’s filled with shots of creatures that make you think, “Wait, that’s a real live living thing?  That’s so crazy and cool and gorgeous and just plain weird!”  In the narration of the film, Stewart says, after describing his first experience with a shark, “…sharks were like dragons or dinosaurs, but they were real.”  This film is filled with images that remind you of how fantastic and unlikely and breathtaking this world is.  Just for that, it’s worth watching.  Just for the sheer joy of remembering that we’re on the same planet as creatures like cuttlefish and baobab trees.

Of course, it isn’t all happiness and joy.  There are darker images:  Ruined coral reefs.  The Alberta tar sands.  Huge plastic bags full of dead seahorses, caught for consumption.  The impact of these images lies in the fact that they’re not shoved in your face the way Game of Thrones loves to spatter blood around.  Instead, they’re presented almost gently.  As in, huh, bags full of something brown.  And then you recognize that they’re seahorses, small ones, so there must be thousands in those bags.  And then you think of the way seahorses move, because you’ve been watching gorgeous images of sea creatures.  And perhaps, if you’re like me, you think of how seahorses have always been one of those animals that seem to be out of a fairy tale, one of the creatures in this world that really seems to argue for the reality of magic, or something even better.  And seeing them there, body after body piled into clear plastic bags, so obviously a commodity speaks for itself.

Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Rob Stewart and young activists in Saipan. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

It’s this gentle, almost meditative quality that really drew me into the film.  Told almost conversationally, in the format of a memoir, Revolution follows Stewart’s own experiences: learning about animals as a kid, making the film Sharkwater, and realizing that it’s not just sharks that need saving, it’s the oceans, the forests, the atmosphere, and us.  While Stewart does call his audience to action, he’s not shoving an agenda at the viewer, and this film is refreshingly lacking in pontification.  Stewart acknowledges both the crushing frustration of watching politicians do nothing again and again – but also offers evidence that hope is merited, that people really do care enough to make changes.  He encourages personal action and personal responsibility, while acknowledging his own outsized debt to the environment incurred in the making of the film. Perhaps the best thing about this film is Stewart’s talent for sharing his own contagious affection for the creatures filmed, for the natural world as a whole, and for the young activists striving to make things right.

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Conversations about the environment so often only happen among those who already agree with each other.  The liberals talk about how scary global warming is, while the conservatives, I imagine, talk about how crazy those conservationists are.  This is a film that I think might be able to cross those boundaries, because you just can’t help but be delighted by shots of leaping sifakas (a type of lemur)  and pygmy seahorses, because it’s a first-person narrative (“I did this” instead of “you should do this”), and because this is a story told in an openhearted way.  I know no one wants family fights over climate change, but this is a film that just might start a conversation instead.

I was ready, when I hit play, for the harrowing statistics, the overarching problems.  They’re problems that I already fight to contribute to as little as I can, that I already obsess over, that, frankly, I usually do my best to avoid hearing more about.  What I wasn’t ready for was Stewart’s modest way of presenting our generous and exuberant world – the world we’re fighting for.  As he asks, “What if we had a world to fight for instead of fighting against our problems?  What kind of world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?”  It’s worth finding out, and if you want to share with friends why we’re fighting for that world, or if you could use a refresher yourself, watch this:

Boho on a Bike

By neznámý (scan, reklamní leták) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I bought a motorcycle helmet.  I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to spend $200 so quickly.  But I wanted full face protection from the wind, not to mention that I like my jaw just the way it is.  Really, a Vespa’s more my style than the big old bike we’ll-call-him-Logan recently acquired.  Don’t get me wrong, the bike’s super cool.  But I’ve never been a speed demon, so if I’m ever at the wheel of something with two wheels and a motor, it’ll be a scooter…

I would love to see more people (calling all bohos!) – including those who don’t fit the black leather image of motorcycles – utilize bikes (and scooters) for everyday transport.  With less cars on the road, bikes would be safer.  The demand for fuel would drop and with it pollution, not to mention money spent on transport.

The first time I rode on a motorcycle, Logan picked me up at the train station in Philly on his Yamaha 250.  The bike – for all I ended up loving it – was small, and my helmet was smaller.  We jumped on the highway within minutes and the wind tucked under the face plate and smacked me hard enough that I had trouble breathing.  Not to mention that we were flying down a highway populated by crazy city drivers, my knees scant feet from their fenders.  I chanted affirmations in my head, and we did make it through alive and well, except for the massive pressure headache I had from the ill-fitting helmet.  Thus my willingness to sacrifice income for one that felt just right.

There’s a store in Bar Harbor, Maine called Jekyl & Hyde: One side is full of bright colors, jingly hip scarves, and flowing skirts; the other is knives and black leather.  My sister has commented that this store is a metaphor for my relationship: me the crunchy boho, Logan the biker in black.  That being said, motorcycles are a pretty awesome boho mode of transport, since they’re easy on gas and get you out into your environment.

The latter was what really won me over: Once we got off the highway, I could feel the moisture rising off a nearby stream, smell the pine needles and the farm fields.  There’s no real separation between you on the bike and the family on the sidewalk or the horses in the field or the deer by the side of the road.  Cars put boundaries between us and the rest of the world.  On a bike, it’s impossible to pretend those exist.

I think we’ve gotten comfortable with our boundaries, and lots of us are a little scared to be out there without doors and windows.  That takes courage…  It turns out you do have to be pretty badass to ride a bike, after all.

(Just rediscovered this draft.  It’s a little out of date, but what the heck.)

The Evolution of a Bohemian Closet

In high school I shopped at Express (during sales).  Pretty mainstream, I know.  About the same time I started paying for my own clothes, I discovered TJ Maxx.  Still mainstream, but I still stop by once in a while, since I’ve sometimes found organic cotton clothes there, and besides, shopping last year’s fashions and overstock seems to make for a lighter footprint.

Clothes from long ago and/or far away? No problem!

My closet got decidedly more interesting when I started traveling:  A whole slew of garb originally intended only for Pennsic has become daily wear.  There are also some choice pieces from further abroad: a merino sweater from Ireland, a muckross scarf, a punjabi from South Africa, a couple of beautiful tops gifted to me by an Italian friend.

When I returned from my first long stint of travel, sick of carrying an overpacked dufflebag full of clothes, I swore that I wouldn’t go clothes shopping until I had worn out or given away my current wardrobe.  For the most part, I stuck to that.  First, I brought bags and bags of clothes to Goodwill.  Then I wore the basic clothes I liked best.  As those wore out, I moved on to more daring numbers, including purple, plaid, and silver pants.  Eventually, most of the clothes I owned were some strange color or pattern, and I admit I picked up a few solid-colored tops to try to even things out. If I needed something for a specific occasion, I headed to the local thrift store.  I also got given a bunch of hand-me-overs from a cousin-by-marriage who happens to be my size.

Finally, this spring, I was heading out for work in my favorite pair of purple pants when I realized they had not one but two holes in them.  A few days later, I found a hole in the elbow of one of those basic solid-colored tops.  I also realized that most of my tops were from the ’90s and so the waist line was far too close to my belly button, while several of my pants had the same (decade) and opposite (low waist line) problem.  It appeared to be time to go shopping, and – since I wanted basics that would last for ages – I probably couldn’t get away with going to the thrift store.


It was definitely time to go shopping!

The problem was, shopping for clothes had gotten a lot more complicated.  I’d learned that cotton (functional, comfortable, natural, cheap – the sterling silver of clothing) is a major GMO crop.  And that it’s often treated with nasty chemicals.  Not to mention that clothing companies are notorious for unfair labor practices.

In my ideal world, we’d all get handmade clothes from local artisans who source fair trade, organic swaths of fabric made by other local artisans where such fibers grow.  (Cotton does not grow in Vermont.  I’m pretty sure hemp would grow well here…if our legislative bodies would…well, that’s a post for another day.)  Unfortunately, things aren’t set up that way and, with my limited budget, that isn’t a trail I can blaze this year.

On the other hand, I had come across Patagonia’s all-cotton-is-organic policy shortly after learning about the GMO issue.  They have good basic clothing, too – stuff nice enough to wear to work, flexible enough to be functional, and sturdy enough to last.  An online sale brought many pieces to prices I could deal with, and the company did okay – getting a grade of a “B” – in this Apparel Industry Trends report on labor practices.  Not perfect, but definitely a step in the right direction – especially since I started out at Express, which was given a “D”.

What about the clothes themselves?  I ended up getting two new pairs of paints and four tops (two for work, two for play).  They’re organic cotton (or blends, including hemp), fit well, and the quality seems to be excellent.  There’s a fair likelihood I’ll still be wearing them in the 2020s – along with the harem pants I just picked up a pattern for, the fisherman’s pants I plan on getting from Thailand (at some as yet to be determined point in the future), and the choli top from Pennsic that I can wear anywhere over one my hand-me-down poet shirts.

Dear Cooper’s: What the Frack?

Dear Cooper’s Lake Campground,

I thought we really had something.  When I first met you, you were healthy and full of life.  I loved contemplating the lake and sitting under the shade of your tall trees.  Walking from Merchant’s to Camp, I’d end up out of breath and then collapse into my tent, and sleep like I never sleep away from you.  Even the noise from the road took on the quality of waves, or breath.

We celebrated Pennsic together.  You introduced me to a lot of your friends, who have become dear friends of mine.  I met Logan at the intersection of Free Will and Good Intentions.  I have a lot to thank you for, Cooper’s, and not just for two weeks a year.

I thought it would last forever.

But Cooper’s, now I hear you’ve been thinking about fracking around on me.  You’ve even signed some sort of agreement to frack on your grounds, under the trees where the woods battles used to be held.  When I heard, I was livid.  You say you’ll use protection.  You say you’ll get tested.  But don’t you know you’re endangering your own health as well as mine?

Here in Vermont, they’ve banned fracking.  Say what you like about our relationships with trees, but we’re not prudes.  It’s even legal to walk around naked in public!  Just so long as you’re not being lewd or lascivious – or fracking.

I’ve loved you for ten years now, Cooper’s.  I’m not going to break up with you via blog.  I’ll come back just once, to say goodbye.  But once you and your new buddies have fracked, it’s over.


PS:  I hope we can find a new home for Pennsic.  You say you don’t understand why you should give up custody, but I think Pennsic deserves to be somewhere healthy, with fresh air and water.  Your fracking is a bad influence. Pennsic XXXVIII

A Love Letter to Dandelions

Dear Dandelion,
You must have been the first flower I knew by name.  I remember making crowns of your blossoms, and wishing on your seeds, as my breath against their feathery parachutes launched them to unknown adventures.
Sunlight through a dandelion
Growing up, I didn’t know your properties or constituents, or that you could nourish and support.  But you were always welcome in our yard, because you’re cheerful and friendly, and we’re all better off with more cheer and more friendship.

Now, I can’t get enough of you.  Every time I see dandelions pop up where they’re unwelcome – without angst, or resentment, or any ill feelings – I’m filled with hope at the sight of such good-natured tenacity.
Maskrosor 01
When people pull you up and throw you away – or poison you – I think they must be mad.  A lawn without dandelions looks bereft.  Don’t they know how you can help our bodies take up nutrients and let go of toxins?  Don’t they know how tasty you are?  Don’t they know you’ll come back anyway?

I made a lot of wishes last year, and I’m watching them come up already.  You’re the first flower that’s bloomed in my yard this spring, in a crack between front stoop and driveway.  I’m enjoying chai brewed with last year’s roots.  I’m looking forward to my first salad with dandelion greens, and I think I’ll pick some tomorrow.

Yours always, with many thanks,

PS:  I’ll vote for you.  #dandelionlove

Taraxacum from Bulgaria

Saving the Harvest

“Autumn,” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

When I moved to Philadelphia, I was psyched about shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I’d heard about the place for years, especially from some friends in L.A.  It sounded like some kind of crunchy paradise, where food was both organic and cheap.  The nearest Trader Joe’s was quite a ways across the city, but my boyfriend and I would zoom over on his motorcycle and then make our way back, with groceries strapped to the bike and my back, him steering and me balancing a full chicobag in each hand.

It was great, until I read the label on a can of beans or something (something not at all exotic) and saw that they were from New Zealand.

I eat organic because it’s healthy – but also because it’s better for the environment (which ends up being healthier as well).  So I felt like the organic-ness of the food was canceled out by the fuel that was expended getting it from New Zealand to Philly.  It was a bummer.

Now that I’m back in Vermont, I try to make organic eating affordable by getting things in their basic form (veggies instead of soup, flour instead of scones), by taking part in a CSA, and by shopping at an awesome local store that sells “discounted gourmet foods.”  This generally means that they’re selling, say, a dented can of coconut water for 75 cents or a case of near-expiration Liberte Greek yogurt for under $5.  (Believe me, I can eat Liberte yogurt fast enough to beat that expiration date!)  I don’t know if you have a store like this near you, but I’m really glad I do.  I also feel good about shopping there because a lot of their food (even though it’s perfectly yummy and healthy) would go into the dumpster if they didn’t exist.

I got to thinking of all this because I heard an interview on Here and Now about all the food that does go into the dumpster.  In that interview, Jeremy Seifert of the documentary Dive! (about dumpster diving) mentioned that 96 billion pounds of food go into dumpsters in the US every year.  That’s 96 billion pounds of food wasted, not to mention the labor of the people who grew and processed that food, the land that food was grown on, any pesticides and fertilizer that went into those crops, and all the fuel and packaging involved in getting that food to the store shelf.  That’s heartbreaking.

Times are hard, but in a land of such abundance, I think the primary solution may be simple:  not to waste what we have.

Clean Living in a Dirty World

Back before midsummer I promised some “Mea Culpa Mondays” – in which I demonstrate ways to alleviate my green-related guilt and make life easier at the same time.  Since time has danced his merry and compulsive way into fall, I guess I should get on that!

Today’s suggestion regards household cleaners:

If the Smell Makes You Woozy, 

Don’t Spray it Around Your Home
For me, this guideline nixes most brand name products, so I’ve joined the “old wives” by using human- and eco-friendly substances like:

  • white vinegar: (usually cut with water) for disinfecting and general cleaning
  • baking soda: for scrubbing and deodorizing
  • castile soap: e.g. Dr. Bronner’s (usually cut with lots of water) for general cleaning
  • salt: for scrubbing
  • a detergent base: such as Sal’s Suds (cut with lots of water): for stripping grease/oil

The prices can’t be beat, and these fellas know how to multitask.  I clean pretty much everything in the house with these ingredients, so I don’t need to store (or pay for) specialized cleaning products.  When I have time, I like to get creative by adding essential oils and such.  But mostly, I take one of the above mixed with water and spray it on…whatever…and it works.  It’s just a matter of using common sense to figure out which of these ingredients is best for the job at hand.

So next time you run out of window cleaner, tub cleaner, tile cleaner, dish soap, furniture polish, laundry detergent, or whatever, shame the scrubbing bubbles and the animated bald men, save yourself some cash and karma, and prove that cleaning up can be chemical-induced-headache/nausea/sore throat/guilt-free. ;)

* According to Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Berthold-Bond.

Puck, Pennsic, and the Man of la Mancha (A Frivolous, Festive Friday)

This cartoon, from xkcd, always cracks me up.  For being both green-related and creative, it’s earned it’s place this Frivolous Friday.  Here’s to the Man of la Mancha: I will always get teary watching that film, no matter how much of a sap it makes me.

It is, perhaps, not a non sequitur to segue from Don Quixote into announcing that I’m now 99% sure I’m going to visit Pennsic this year.  (What’s Pennsic?  This is Pennsic.)  That’s right, I will be reporting from on the ground at Cooper’s Lake, though with a several-day delay because, my friends, I am leaving my Glowing Rectangle safe at home.  This is some festive news, which makes this a Festive Friday, too.

A (somewhat belated) Happy Midsummer to all.  Here, we celebrated a laid-back St. John’s Eve with a fire in the firepit and fresh strawberries with cocoa scones.  Now, goodnight and a puckish weekend to you.

Mea Culpa Mondays

Welcome, friends, and gather round the campfire – which is fueled by hand-gathered branches and fallen limbs, and so, I think, carbon-neutral.

There are periods when I’m trying to be especially mindful of my environmental impact when I find myself going a little bonkers.  I not only make sure to avoid excess packaging and worry that I’m recycling everything that should be recycled, but I worry about the energy that recycling will use up. Things seem so complicated.  It is at these periods that I am tempted to become a hermit in the woods, residing in a solar-equipped, reclaimed-wood cabin and living off of stinging nettles and dandelion greens.

Of course, there are lots of days when that doesn’t sound half bad, really (so long as I also get to snack on freerange eggs and fair trade chocolate).  But since I can’t swing it now, I’ve instituted “Mea Culpa Mondays,” instead.  This only-partially-tongue-in-cheek title will indicate blog posts where I try to find ways to (a) take responsibility for environmental and/or social impact and (b) make my life easier at the same time.

Right now, I’m going to do both of these by turning off the computer, thus reducing electricity usage and distraction.  Until next time, enjoy the campfire and feel free to roast some marshmallows.  (Has anyone discovered a whole food version of marshmallows yet…?  Oh dear…)