Putting the green in holiday greenery, with a pop of red

There is a lot of greenery in holiday decorations, but not a lot of green.

  • Our neighbors have left their Christmas lights on all night long since before December.
  • UPS has been bringing a package to the neighbors nearly every day since Black Friday. Inefficient deliveries means online shopping isn’t more environmentally friendly than driving once to the mall. (How about a discount if you opt to lump all your household’s purchases spread out over several weeks into a single monthly delivery?)
  • Single-serve aluminum baking pans and disposable champagne glasses are designed for holiday office parties or hosts who can’t bother to cook and then wash dishes afterwards too.
  • After the flurry of unwrapping, the mounds of paper, ribbons, bows, and probably a little kid’s already lost new toy, are whisked up in a pile for the garbage.
  • Unwanted gifts, notably the ugly-on-purpose white elephants, are given for a chuckle, then tossed.
  • The everyone-must-have-it-and-so-shall-I item is purchased at all cost, only to be relegated to the back of a closet stuffed with last season’s trends. A lady paid $300 for a Hatchimal in an online auction! That much money can buy a whole chicken coop set-up with a flock that will lay edible eggs every day all through next Christmas.

This year, our first living in the United States, we wanted to make at least a two-person dent in America’s Christmas-time consumption. We went for a hike in the forest while everyone was stuffing themselves silly at Thanksgiving, and the next day picked up free pecans straight from the trees while everyone was shopping on Black Friday, purportedly to help bring businesses out of the red. For the greenery, I didn’t need to spend green; I just had to look outside.

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Navidad 2011 in Jardín, Colombia. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

I hadn’t had a proper backyard garden since we lived in Jardín, Colombia, where every vividly painted balcony had a little old lady stooped over with a watering can. It didn’t matter if the pot was an empty pop bottle, as long as you grew pretty flowers in it. And everyone did. Gardening in Jardín was effortless: year-round mild temperatures, fertile soil, abundant water.

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Growing corn on either side of a mandarin orange tree in our backyard in Jardín. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Texas is a whole different beast. It’s like riding a bronco. I really, really, wanted to see at least one bright red tomato popping out of that tangle of green branches, like Rudolph’s nose if he ran into a pine tree, and so I hung on as big ol’ Texas weather bucked with all it’s got: a drought in June, 100-degree days in July, a rainstorm-a-day that brought fungus in August, aphids in September, daily tickling sessions to help pollinate in October, nightly tucking the plant to sleep under sheets for frost just at fruit-set in early November, and numbly stripping the branches of any tomato bigger than my pinky fingernail before the hard frost in the teens in December.

I missed my Rudolph moment, but green ripened into red in the dark cabinets and exploded with homegrown flavor. After that first juicy bite of lost summer, I made my peace with winter’s closure of the growing season and yanked off the tomato cage. I guess I wasn’t entirely at peace looking at unopened flowers and still had the bronco-buckin’ grip that can snap metal. That broken cage released my creativity, and with a little redneck ingenuity (duct tape) the upturned trellis became an upcycled tree.

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Coffee capsule/tomato cage 2016 Christmas tree. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Tinto in two forms helped with the rest of the decorations.

1.) Tinto as black coffee: Empty espresso capsules became dangly bells that let out a dainty ring against the sides of the tomato cage. This is our fifth year of hanging the same Nespresso capsules (and hanging the same hand-sewn stockings) on a miniature Christmas tree, which back in Colombia was made out of fresh bamboo branches each year. We rescued the capsules from the trash bin of an office that worked with and drank a lot of Nespresso.

2.) Tinto as red wine: Empty bottles will spell out J-O-Y to my visiting nephews and nieces learning to read (it’s my middle name too). The letters were cut out from the cardboard of a cracker box. The twine had held up pole beans in the backyard. The red marker and gold ribbon were discarded by previous tenants. Three evergreen clippings came from branches that overhung a nearby walking path and were due for a trim. The wine came at a cost, but we’re happy to be still celebrating monthly anniversaries.

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Joy in a bottle. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Thank you to the coffee and wine growers for contributing to our year-round enjoyment of these beverages and our year-end holiday decoration.

Thank you to the tomato growers who will sustain us until next summer’s crop.

Thank you to those who also choose to find peace and beauty in the simplicity of a more sustainable seasonal celebration.

Thank you to my readers and fellow writers for nourishing my mind with your inspiring ideas and encouraging words.

Now bring on the holiday desserts! (Thank you to the cocoa growers, the vanilla growers, the almond growers…)

Seasonal greetings from Tinto Tinta Translations!

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¡Feliz navidad! Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes
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Cycle to Recycle

To celebrate America Recycles Day, last Saturday the 12th I participated in the Bicycle to Recycle bike tour of Denton’s recycling center.

The good folks at the community bike shop Qerencia gave us tune-ups before hitting the rail trail. They need a new rental space, and I apparently need a new back tire.

Coffee sacks and baby grands

Trash-turned-into-treasure was on display, like this Rwandan coffee bag repurposed into a rustic dress.

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Among other “how could they have thrown that out?!” objects, the environmental educator had seen a baby grand piano crushed into smithereens. It saddens me to see so many tossed belongings that didn’t get sufficient curb alert. I proposed having an alert sent out to thrift stores like the philanthropic Ruth’s Room before it goes into the trash compactor.

Another idea is a neighborhood collection site for unopened food and usable clothing, akin to the Little Library movement. Perhaps old kitchen cabinets or an entertainment center (go ahead and toss that TV at the e-waste site and grab a book) could be salvaged for this purpose. What have you seen in your communities to repurpose perfectly usable goods that people just trash on move-out day?

Our 20-odd group of adult cyclists gathered on the scale at the solid waste compound and clocked in at around 3,000 pounds, about half that of a single SUV Hummer, a monumental waste.

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Greased bike chains and Rusty Tacos 

Feeling good about our individual weight and invigorated by the exercise on the ride back to downtown, we scarfed shrimp and brisket tacos by Rusty Tacos, which were fortunately neither rusty nor recycled, as in regurgitated (100% post-consumer…ingredients?). For a truly Tex-Mex feel, we had our picnic lunch on Mexican blankets spread over the square’s lawn.

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On the courthouse steps, a group of musicians provided folk and bluegrass tunes, as they do every Saturday. Denton vibrates music, down to the musical note bike stands that dot the downtown square.

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Daily ways to reduce our trash impact

The latest innovation in my home was to get a recycling canister twice as large as the trash bin. It works! Have you tried a visual trick to promote reuse and reduce garbage?

Here’s a quick ABC of my small actions for food-related waste:

A: Avoid plastic bags. Wash out produce bags and bring cloth tote bags to the grocery store

B: Bring Tupperware to restaurants or group meals where there’ll be leftovers instead of a Styrofoam (not recyclable) take-out box

C: Compost kitchen scraps. Meet your neighbors or ask on a local gardening forum for nearby composters.

Specifically for coffee:

A: Avoid disposable cups. Bring your own ceramic mug or to-go thermos.

B: Buy beans in bulk and a reusable coffee filter for Keurig-type machines, instead of disposable capsules.

C: Compost coffee grounds. Meet your neighbors or ask on a local gardening forum for nearby composters.

What will you keep out of the landfill tomorrow (and every day!) on America Recycles Day?

Denton Caffeine Crawl for National Coffee Day

 

In honor of National Coffee Day, this morning Tinto Tinta Translations hosted a caffeine crawl around downtown Denton, Texas.

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The objectives were to support local coffee shops, build community, and promote biking in Denton. Fellow entrepreneurs in the Denton Area Small Businesses group, neighbors on Nextdoor, local hosts on Couchsurfing, and cyclists in the Denton Bicycle Coalition were invited.

I rode to each coffee shop on my bike.

Drunk driving = bad. Caffeinated bike riding = good (to a certain extent).

First stop on the Caffeine Crawl Agenda, bright and early at 6:30 am, was Upper Park Cafe at 222 W. Hickory.

Daniel and I ordered an Americano. Tori, the waitress who swaps shifts at Upper Park with another night job in between wrapping up her senior year at UNT, clearly runs on caffeine (how else?) and gave us a sample of their popular pecan coffee, which supposedly has extra caffeine. Grinding coffee beans with pecan nuts would smell divine, but the flavor was a little too strong and seemed syrupy.

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Café de Antioquia: el mejor café del mundo (Coffee from Antiouqia: the best coffee in the world)

The second stop had a double purpose. Cultivar Coffee Bar shares shop at 235 W. Hickory with Hypnotic Donuts, making for a no-brainer breakfast. At 7:00 am there were already a couple of bikes chained to the patio fence adorned with UNT pendants, and a handful of students inside the cozy space.

Bacon strips top two of the favorite donut flavors, Canadian Healthcare (with maple icing) and Evil Elvis (with peanut butter and banana), but I guess I’m not southern enough yet. Instead, I ordered the third most popular, Express Yo’ Self: a chocolate donut spread with coffee icing and sprinkled with coffee grounds. What else?

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Sunk into ‘70s sofas set up family-style in a living room, eerily watched over by a chicken-headed Hindu deity with a donut in multiple hands, we could barely see petite Krysten efficiently running Cultivar behind a mammoth La Marzocco coffee machine. The sleek Italian machinery paired well with the retro bar seats, just as their house coffee paired well with Hypnotic’s donuts.

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At 7:30 am on the opposite side of the square, (114) West Oak Coffee Bar was serving up heartier protein-packed breakfasts alongside fall-flavored beverages. Their seasonal barista specialties of campfire cortado (a s’more in a mug: handmade walnut syrup, chocolate milk, and marshmallows) and yam and taro lattes (one-upping pumpkin in nutrition and uniqueness) sounded cozy, and the warm visual palette of brick-exposed walls and worn wooden tables was fitting. Jim, the assistant roaster, said that when they’re roasting coffee downstairs it smells like bread baking. Oh my, sensory overload of yumminess. I’ll have to check back when it finally feels like fall. When does that happen in Texas?

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Caroline, the media manager, described her field visit to their direct trade program in Colombia and the goal of offering growers equal wages. Jeremy, the head roaster, and Matt, the owner, came upstairs and the whole West Oak Coffee Bar staff melded behind the bar like one big, creative, friendly, coffee-loving family.

So far there had been only a handful of hipsters, students, and business folks headed to work at each coffee shop. At 106 N. Locust, Jupiter House was nearly a full house by 8:00 am. The line was long, the signs were small (and lacked prices), and the place felt like your typical coffee shop. I found the most atypical group underneath the sign Murderers Row.

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It was a small sampling of the large eclectic group that forms every Saturday morning, comprised of professors, lawyers, artists, a county commissioner, and the former mayor. One lady greeted a judge up for election heading out with coffee-to-go, then said she’s friends with the other candidate. The group’s mix of political persuasions makes for interesting conversation. How better to create community?

They came to Jupiter out of convenience and in search of camaraderie, but none came for the coffee. It was a meeting place; the thermos was brought from home as an accessory. This was the only place where I stayed dry on coffee, but I got my fill of conversation.

The last stop on my tour was Shift Coffee, straight down the street at 519 S. Locust. Oscar and I sat outside, soaking up the morning sun and discussing healthy sports habits among children. At this point I was hardly feeling healthy: I had only had a donut to eat, and much too much coffee to drink already. And the coffee shops were clustered together around Denton’s downtown square, limiting my pedaling. I’d have a long bike ride home and would be fueled to the brim by then. My other car runs on caffeine.

Shift has simplistic, contemporary-stylized menus on mini clipboards and a repurposed window, but their coffee is complex. Barista Kat gave me an adorable full sensory description of my Ethiopian pour over with apricot and black currant notes, a light acidity, and the sense that fall is right around the corner (I chose it over the Panama honey because I remember my sweltering days in Panama as an eternal summer, and I’m about ready for that to end here in Texas).

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Barista Ramen shifted his attention between me and another customer, giving both of us a full education on our coffee. He pays meticulous attention to quality control, tasting everything from their rotating supply of roasters. But of course their favorite is Spyhouse Coffee Roasting from Minneapolis, as I was wearing my Green Party Minnesota shirt, and I met a fellow Midwesterner at the bar who works across the street at Bullseye Bike Shop. Biking and coffee, on target.

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I settled into a parlor chair by a bookshelf stocked with classic literature and chatted with a white-bearded, gnome-nosed man (it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!) about population growth in Denton, the final frontier of the metroplex. Fort Worth used to be where the West began, and Denton is now where the wild expansion butts heads with long-horned ranches.

With thoughts of farms and families ruminating in my head, and too much coffee churning through my bloodstream, I left the knowledgeable staff and hipster haven of Shift and headed home.

Barhopping starts out running and slows to a pub crawl. This caffeine crawl started out barely awake and revved up to 90 RPMs. I shifted to low gear on my bike ride back and wondered how long it would take for over 500 mg of caffeine to filter through my system.

After the splurge comes the purge. Tomorrow is International Translation Day. I think I’ll celebrate starting now with several glasses of water/agua.

Donkeys in Ohio, a cool mule in Idaho (and just pigs in Iowa)

While the elephants march across stage at the Republican National Convention in Ohio and fuel a media frenzy among Democratic donkeys, a humble mule plods up the mountains of Idaho and churns out a heartwarming news story.

I come from the heartland of America. Minnesota is easy enough, but my highschool state is often overlooked and/or confused with others that have more vowels than outsiders can handle. The easiest association has always been agricultural. Iowa = corn, Idaho = potatoes. Ohio = where the river caught on fire and sparked a sputtering environmental movement.

In this story Idaho’s taters stay invisible underground, while its spectacular mountain scenery rises as a backdrop for a tropical crop: coffee.

Matt Bishop serves coffee brought into the Boise foothills on the back of his mule, in a true tribute to the way Colombian mules transport the coffee over mountains to be exported across the Americas.

Don’t be fooled by all the fancy, unnecessary accent marks in Café Mulé. This is a humble operation. The mule, named simply Richard, is led by an earnest-faced young man in overalls and a straw hat. Matt Bishop dishes out cups of coffee to hikers, mountain bikers, and other nature enthusiasts who need recharging. And he doesn’t charge them a cent.

Naturally, the Forest Service, when they caught wind of his generosity, booted him out of federal land for not paying for a permit. Logically, it’s an upfront to our capitalist society’s values, but ironically it was private landowners who offered Bishop stand space, a place to take a stand against greed and embrace slow-paced enjoyment of our national lands.

Café Mulé continues to pour free coffee to hikers willing to go off the beaten path, wait for a freshly prepared cup, and perhaps give a tip for his passion.

Back to Ohio and its burning river (and inflammatory attacks among candidates), I’d like to make two suggestions for a more environmentally friendly pour-over preparation:

1.) A reusable cone like the Brewologist stainless steel dripper that doesn’t require disposable paper filters.

2.) The hikers should follow the pack-it-in, pack-it-out philosophy and bring their own thermoses to not have disposable styrofoam cups.

Happy trails to you, and may coffee make them all the merrier!

Tinto Tinta arrives in Texas

A month and a half ago, I got up before dawn and started a long drive out of the Medellín valley. We were enshrouded in a fog that clung to the cold mountains at three o’clock in the morning, a frighteningly solitary hour. I feared that up there, all alone, the car wouldn’t be able to bear the weight of our suitcases crammed with a ridiculous number of my dictionaries, enough coffee to last us at least three months, and all the basic tools to start a new life, minus the machete—not because it wasn’t essential, but due to oversize restrictions.

Montañas de humo Colombia Rionegro Antioquia

We arrived at the airport intact, took a deep breath once all the luggage was checked in, and ordered some strong coffee at Pergamino.

How else would we bid farewell to Colombia?

In June 2016, with my Colombian husband and his shiny new immigrant visa, we began our next chapter of life in the United States.

Sufficient reason to forgive the marked absence on this blog lately, I hope.

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Discover Denton rodeo

We arrived smack in the middle of summer to the flat plains of Texas. We came from a tropical country that enjoys equatorial heat year round. We didn’t have a clue about what was in store for us. I’m from Minnesota, where summer is like a hiccup that comes unexpectedly between opening and shutting the freezer door.

It’s so hot that I only drink coffee once a day, at six in the morning, when a cool breeze comes in and it’s only 84 Fahrenheit inside, which is the average high in Medellín. By 10 am it’s hit 92 degrees. Would you like a mid-morning coffee? No thanks.

But I love the new place and how we’re transforming it into a home.

I really want to plant some corn and beans in the backyard and grow a truly Colombian garden, or at least a replica of what we had in the beautiful village of Jardín (translates to Garden), Colombia.

We are now in the city of Denton (sounds like “dentudo”=long-toothed), where folks like their food. Not so much the grass that toothy rabbits eat. More like cowboys with their steak.

Unfortunately we could not feed any rabbits, or even goats, the tall sea of grass in the backyard. We sweat it out mowing manually (where is that darn machete now?), fertilizing the soil along the way with our good intentions to cultivate the land.

For now we have to wait until the heat of summer passes.

¡Sexy Cold Brew! //📷@elisacrisc

A post shared by Pergamino Café (@pergaminocafe) on

Meanwhile, how about some iced coffee? Yes please. Or just ice cream…