Good Reads

It always inspires me to see so many people out there who are either trying out new changes for a more sustainable lifestyle or who are sharing knowledge that they’ve acquired over years of mindfulness. Here are just a few of my favorite blog entries from the past week in case any of these inspire you also.

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Over at Pioneering the Simple Life, a broken plastic wheelbarrow was restored to working condition with wire stitches.

Ania has taken inspiration from a hamster in small steps to improve her quality of life and help the environment.

Mhloe has completed her second month of zero waste and confirms what I suspected was true in that you never need to buy a new pen again. (I find pens on the ground so often that buying a reusable one is out of the question.)

Dani shares her experience making a drop-off at the landfill and how she hopes to never have to do that again.

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Sky is swapping out single-use tissues and single-use grocery bags.

Peggy describes some of the reasons why it makes sense for everyone to cut back a bit on the meat and dairy and why she’s vegan.

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Nikki salvaged some delicious produce by dumpster diving.

And although Earth day is now past, it’s never too late to take advice from this Earth Day tip offered by Katy from the Non-Consumer Advocate.

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The Totally New Refrigerator

Our house came with a refrigerator from the previous owner.

It kept our chillables cold and our freezables frozen. But there were a few problems with it.

  1. At 25 cubic feet of storage, it was simply way bigger than we needed.
  2. It had an ice maker that didn’t work. I’m sure it’s fixable, but manually filling ice trays solved this problem nicely.
  3. A layer of fuzzy frost would quickly form over our manually-filled iced trays and anything else in the freezer.
  4. The couple of times that we stored veggies in the bottom drawers in the fridge those also froze, even though the custom temperature settings for those drawers were on the warmest setting.
  5. As a proponent of simplicity whenever appropriate, I’d strongly prefer a fridge that is not connected to the water supply.

And then a week ago, I woke to discover a small puddle in the kitchen. The bottom of the refrigerated section was full of water. Whether this was melted frost or something else, I had no idea. Normally this would have been the time to investigate what was wrong with it or hire someone to come fix it, but my husband was unwilling to tolerate this fridge any longer and started telling me again about the fridges he’d seen recently at Fry’s Electronics and Home Depot. If I wanted a happy marriage, repair wouldn’t suffice this time.

So we started our homework on new fridges. Unfortunately, the less expensive (and therefore more appealing) ones he’d looked at actually weren’t Energy Star. (He thought all fridges were energy efficient these days, but sadly it’s not true.) Off the bat, we eliminated fridges that were over a thousand dollars, had a bunch of bad reviews, didn’t have the Energy Star rating, or were 15 cubic feet or larger. It’s amazing how quickly a huge number of choices will narrow down.

I ended up picking out this fridge–10 cubic feet of storage, two-thirds in the upper refrigerated section and one-third in the bottom freezer section with drawers.

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After browsing various shopping sites, I found one with a few floor models of this refrigerator for sale–the perfect option for the reluctant consumer who hoped at least for “not new”. Better yet, we would save over a hundred dollars. Unfortunately, this option fell through because the only shipping method would take about 3 weeks and that wait time was not acceptable.

Just a few days later, we had a brand spanking new fridge. It came wrapped in plastic with a huge cardboard box, several large plastic foam blocks, plastic film over all every drawer to protect it, and tons of tape to keep each bit of film and anything else secured. We carefully removed all of the packaging piece by piece, managed to create a reusable roll of tape from the pieces painstackingly removed, and left the fridge doors open for a day to air out some of that new fridge smell. (Who would have thought that one day a new fridge, a new car, and a new pair of shoes could all smell so similar!)

After plugging it in and letting it pre-chill for a couple of hours, voila, here is our new fridge in action. It may not be glamorous, but it is absolutely everything we need in a fridge.

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So, what to do with the old fridge? My hubby’s given up on it and wants to send it off to appliance recycling heaven as soon as possible to do with what they will (even if it means that it’ll actually end up in landfill). But I’ll be listing it on the free section of Craigslist. Fingers crossed that there’s someone out there that wants a fridge like this and would rather pay the smaller amount to get it fixed than to buy a new one.

This purchase may more than offset any of the greenish lifestyle changes that I’ve adopted in the past year, but it’s no reason to stop trying. It’s just a reason to love and care for this new fridge so it can serve us well for many, many years to come.

April 24 Food Haul

I missed the farmers market this week in order to take the opportunity to visit the Resource Recovery Center and pick up some ReBlend paint. While there, I also managed to pick up some screws which look about the right size for reattaching the window shutter that came off, some washers for for making Roman shades, a small terra cotta window pot (made in Italy), and a couple of other goodies. (This was all free stuff, folks! Dumpster diving without any of the inconveniences.) There was still time to go to the farmers market afterwards, but I made a mistake thinking I could lug around a 3.5 gallon tub of paint from the pick-up area to the bus stop some blocks away. Even switching arms regularly and making frequent stops to rest, I just wanted to sit back for a while.

So in the end, this morning I made a one stop shopping trip to pick up tons of goodies.

One Stop: Wheatsville Co-op

  • IMG_20160424_090812Acorn squash, 1.50 pounds: $1.79
  • Beets, 0.80 pounds: $1.59
  • Broccoli, 1.30 pounds: $2.33
  • Salad mix, 0.24 pounds: $1.68
  • Carrots, 1.51 pounds: $2.70
  • Kale, 1 bunch: $2.49
  • Navel oranges, 1.40 pounds: $2.51
  • Cucumber, 0.92 pounds: $0.91
  • Golden delicious apples, 0.78 pounds: $1.79
  • Roma tomatoes, 1.03 pounds: $1.33
  • Gala apples, 0.79 pounds: $2.36
  • Pink lady apples, 0.68 pounds: $2.24
  • Orange bell pepper, 0.30 pounds: $0.90
  • White onion, 0.77 pounds: $1.38
  • Valencia oranges, 0.84 pounds: $0.83
  • Ataulfo mango, x1: $0.99
  • Peaches, 0.63 pounds: $2.39
  • Garlic, 0.13 pounds: $0.78
  • Yukon potatoes, 0.92 pounds: $1.37
  • Bagels, x2: $1.98
  • Nut & Oat bread, 1 loaf: $3.69
  • Whole Wheat bread, 1 loaf: $3.69
  • Toilet paper, x2: $1.58
  • Peanuts, 0.91 pounds: $4.81
  • Banana chips, 0.12 pounds: $0.41
  • Crunch peanut butter, 0.70 pounds: $4.89
  • Soymilk: $3.69
  • Smart dogs: $3.99

Total: $53.48

I expected the total to be higher for my packed little shopping cart, but there were a lot of good sales this week (yay, extra bread for the freezer) and it was that time of the year that I got my special 10% off member discount. My only regret is that I couldn’t find raisins in the bulk bins, which is why I ended up getting the banana chips. Oh, and the fact that organic broccoli at the co-op comes with both a rubber brand and unrecyclable tag. But, well, I really wanted some broccoli for my pizza. Yumm.

Happy Earth Day!

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Happy Earth Day everyone! Austin is hosting a big festival this weekend with talks, music, yoga, upcycled crafts, and more. Well… I could do that for Earth Day (and I do have a couple of things that could be dropped off at the electronics recycling booth), but instead this year I’ll just hang out in my backyard. I’ll watch my veggies grow, trim the areas with the tallest grass, and collect branches that have fallen during the recent rain.

On the plus side, I can drink fresh water from the tap at home (Austin water is pretty good) instead of the special feature of getting a fill-up from a bottled water company. I won’t be surrounded by exhibitor booths encouraging me to buy a new electric car. And I’ll have the peace of nature surrounding me instead of being crammed among so many people. My back yard may not be much, but it’s a still a little bit of paradise that I want to honor this Earth Day.

What will you be doing?

 

 

Pre-food

Since our new house has a large backyard, one of my goals is to gradually convert it from lawn into a garden. Now that we’ve been here for two months, time to check in on what progress I’ve made so far.

First of all, sadly, I neglected both of my baby Meyer lemon tree plants after the move. They were left at my mom’s house, watered rarely, and the last of the unhappy leaves finally fell off when I moved them over a month later. But plants are resiliant. I put this one outside where it could get fresh air and whatever water nature provides, and the leaves have already started coming back. (The one I kept indoors still isn’t happy, so guess where it’s going.)

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So far I’ve built three makeshift raised beds from some bifold closet doors that had already been removed and weren’t in terribly great condition, combined with store-bought compost dug into the existing soil.

The tomato bed was the first of the bunch, and it’s a jungle now. There are just a couple of tomato plants (one uncaged and falling over itself, one bursting out of a cage it has outgrown), many onions planted as sets but now floppy, parsley, thyme, leafy things, and some plants which I’m not sure if they’re weeds or part of the Save-the-bees seeds I added. Since reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution, I’m less concerned about weeds in my garden, though. As long as they don’t get out of control. Fingers crossed.

I also planted out bell pepper plants in there a couple of times but both times they disappeared. There must be some critter visiting my yard that really loves to eat young bell pepper plants.

Bed number two is the future home of my cucumbers, with a few watermelon radishes and nasturtiums in the empty spaces.

IMG_20160420_173709Bed number three is a home for melons–cantaloupes, canary melons, and watermelons. They really shouldn’t all be crammed together in such a small space (the vines will crawl out onto the lawn in different directions), but not all of them will make it to adulthood and this is a chance to see which ones win. I also planted melon seeds in random areas around the yard, but they won’t be getting watered so regularly unless it turns out to be a rainy spring. There are just a few nasturtiums in here also to help repel insect pests.

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I’ll be building at least one more bed in the not-distant future, but in the meantime I also found an abandoned pallet and added some compost to give my yellow squashes a home before it got too late in the season. (In Austin summers many plants have a tendency of dying.) Going outside today to take this picture, I was shocked to see that two of them had grown so large already but then remembered that those were the two I started inside. Heh.

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Last but certainly not least are some seedlings still growing inside. Here’s a marigold, tomatoes, oregano (experimental form of plant-the-cuttings-directly-in-soil propogation), jalapeno, and bell pepper.

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And a few more: another jalapeno, zinnias, more marigolds, and rosemary cuttings.

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I need to start lots more marigolds and zinnias inside to make sure they grow happily and make my front yard look nice for a general housewarming party in June.

And with any luck, this summer we’ll have a variety of delicious foods at our doorstep.

The birds and the chips

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The fact that birds will eat chips found on the ground is not so surprising. What did surprise me is what happened before this photo was taken, which I didn’t capture on camera. The big bird walked right up to what look liked an empty chip bag, grabbed it with its beak from the bottom end, and shook it so the leftover chips spilled out onto the sidewalk. This has left me with so many questions.

Do we leave non-empty bags of chips on the sidewalk so often these days that birds know to do this without a second’s thought?

If the birds fill up on chips, how are they going to attack the nonhelpful bugs in my garden?

Is there a good way to compost greasy stuff like chips as an alternative to landfill?

Is it better to feed the chips to birds rather than to send them to landfill? Or do birds have similar health problems to humans if they eat too many chips? I can’t imagine they’re used to eating so much salt and grease.

How did this bag of chips end up on the ground? When I was a chip-eater, leaving behind this many chips was unthinkable. They were too addictive and precious.

April 16 Food Haul

First Stop: Wheatsville Co-op

  • IMG_20160416_102334Jicama, 2.21 pounds: $4.40
  • Cara Cara oranges, 1.79 pounds: $2.57
  • Carrots, 1.53 pounds: $2.74
  • Zucchini, 1.34 pounds: $1.33
  • Navel oranges, 0.95 pounds: $1.70
  • Minneola tangelo, 0.23 pounds: $0.76
  • Roma tomato, 0.21 pounds: $0.42
  • Red bell pepper, 0.44 pounds: $1.67
  • Green bell peppers, 0.36 pounds: $1.26
  • Avocado, x1: $1.99
  • Bagels, x6: $4.95
  • Mozarella, 0.58 pounds: $4.09
  • Tortilla, x30: $1.49
  • Toilet paper, x2: $1.58
  • Coconut almond granola, 0.68 pounds: $2.03
  • Soymilk, half-gallon: $3.69
  • Tofurkey hot dogs: $3.74

Total: $40.44

I looked at the produce stickers this week to see where my fruits were coming from and decided to pass up on the pears (Chile) and kiwis (Italy? really?) and ended up with lots of citrus instead. Also got some mozarella so we can make pizza instead of eating out this week. But I forgot to get broccoli, my favorite topping.

Second Stop: Downtown Farmers Market

  • IMG_20160416_103300Strawberries, 2 pints: $8.00
  • Brussel sprouts, 2 pints: $8.00
  • Acorn squash, x2: $4.00
  • Beets, 2 bunches: $6.00
  • Mushrooms, $3.00
  • Kohlrabi, $3.00

Total: $32.00

The beets last week were fantastic, so this week I doubled up. I’ve been roasting them together with carrots and brussel sprouts. Who would have guessed they would taste well together, but the internet said so and it was true!

Looking around for another new-to-me food, I found a bunch of kohlrabi. They smell like cabbage but are a bit sweeter on the inside. Not outstanding but they’re good for adding a little variety of texture to salads.

Can-Free Peas

In January, I planted the other half packet of pea seeds in my mother’s garden. I forgot to soak them before planting but subsequently drenched the little patch of ground. For a month I watered them semi-regularly. But then I moved away and waterings were rare. This past month the peas only got rain and morning dew. Grass and weeds found a new home in the neglected garden. And yet somehow the peas perservered. Against all odds, they plumped out and my mom sent me this picture of them earlier this week. Nature really is brilliant.

Plump pods hanging on the pea vines

The next day I stopped by to check them out and picked all the pods that seemed full or kind of full. (What do I know about picking peas?) They filled up about half of this two-cup bowl.

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Taking them out of their pods resulted in what looks like only a third of a cup of peas.

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But no matter. I ate a few raw and the smaller peas were the sweetest and most delicious. I stuck them in the freezer temporarily to keep them fresh and will be adding them to our fried rice tonight. Since quitting canned foods, I’ve missed peas so much and here they are better than ever! I’ll definitely be planting more next year. My only regret is that it’s already too warm to plant a new batch now.

Book Review: The Big Necessity

A couple of months ago, I was watching the city of Austin’s Dare to Go Zero tv program, which features families competing with each other to create the least amount of waste judged by weighing the bags in their trash bin. Two of the families had diaper-age children, and to to reduce their waste one family switched to reusable diapers. The other switched to flushables. It was shocking to me to see flushable diapers being used as a “green” alternative to the regular disposables. Either way, they’re waste. Isn’t it the same thing?

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Hoping to find out what happens to everything we flush down the toilet I checked out Rose George’s book The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters. She takes us on a tour of the sewers, into water treatment plants, to smart toilet facilities, and to areas where people rely on other methods than flush toilets for handling their wastes. George begins on this happy note:

Ninety percent of the world’s sewage ends up untreated in oceans, rivers, and lakes, and a fair share comes from the sanitary cities supplied with sewers and treatment plants. Sanitation in the Western world is built from pipes and on presumption. Despite the technology, the engineers and the ingenuity of modern sanitary systems, despite the shine of progress and flush toilets, even the richest, best-equipped humans still don’t know what to do with sewage except move it somewhere else and hope no one notices when it’s poured untreated into drinking water sources. And they don’t.

The first stop George takes us on is an inside look at the sewers. Other than the massive blockages caused by grease sent down the drains and random stuff discarded into the sewers (for example a grenade), she doesn’t make it seem all that bad.

This is not a bad odor. It’s musty, cloying, and damp, but it doesn’t stink. It’s diluted after all. Without water, the average human produces 77 pounds of excrement and 132 gallons of urine a year. Add toilet flushes, and the total jumps to 4,000 gallons. Thanks to the WC, the flow is 98 percent water.

Of course, today the human waste is just one part of the equation when it comes to the disgustingness of what goes down our drains.

By the end of the century sludge contained far more than pure human excrement, and hardly any of it good. Anything that gets into the sewers can end up in sludge. U.S. industry is estimated to use 100,000 chemicals, with 1,000 new chemicals being added each year…. Sludge may contain pathogens from all sorts of sources.

And all of this, she explains, eventually comes back to us. The Great Stink of 1858 where the Thames was literally full of crap. Any flooding where the sewers cannot handle the added capacity of rain water draining into them and end up overflowing. Areas where people use the street as a toilet so it gets around with ease. (Most areas you hear about where there’s no clean water, guess why.) Even when the waste has been treated, the result often ends up going right back to our own drinking water source.

After reading about this I had to look it up and sure enough, treated sewage in Austin is returned to the Colorado River, where our drinking water comes from. The sludge goes another route, over to Hornsby Bend, for further treatment and composting together with our yard waste pickup to become Dillo Dirt. This is the good Class A stuff, not the barely processed Class B sludge that winds up on some farms in areas which suspiciously have higher frequencies of many diseases, as discussed in the book. And it’s a good thing too. As a firm believer in not letting things go to waste, I have some Dillo Dirt in a couple of my garden beds right now.

Ever wonder what happens after you flush the toilet? Preparing for a trip somewhere with other toilet customs? Considering a composting toilet for your home? If you have any interest in how to take care of your business, The Big Necessity is a must-read. And if you haven’t checked out your copy from the library, it just might make great material for reading on the john.

Afternote: The book never mentioned flushable diapers as it’s from 2008–almost a decade ago–when flushable diapers had just barely been introduced. After doing a bit more research, though, I was happily surprised to realize that it’s only the liners that are flushed. (Not sure how I thought whole diapers could be flushed, guess the name threw me.) By no means do they break down as easily as toilet paper, but toilets seem to handle them if they’re swished around in the bowl a bit before flushing. And the human waste ends up in the right place. So they may not be perfect, probably aren’t the best things to put in your pipes, and may not be appropriate for areas that experience drought, but they’re definitely not as bad as my first impression.