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July 23, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

the other rooms

As I move away from the kitchen, the biggest culprit in creating trash, I found that for most of our other rooms, the living room, bedroom, and office/music/craft room, all I really needed to do was remove the waste bin in order to better divert those items to recycling or compost. Perks of a tiny apartment means it’s just a few more steps away to the kitchen, where paper from the office can be recycled and snacks from the living room (like the kernels in a popcorn bag) can be dumped into the compost. Without having a trash bin within arm’s reach, it makes you think twice about where you’re

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I have a collection of my great-grandmother’s handkerchiefs which look dainty next to my rubber ducky in the bathroom

tossing items. Also, since we’ve done away with tissues (except for the box in the closet for guests if they prefer), I’ve made sure to have a handkerchief at my beside and on the towel rack in the bathroom so they’re easily accessible and I’m not tempted to just use toilet paper when I have a sniffle.

Since nearly everything is digital now, we got rid of our printer years ago, and that has helped us to drastically cut back on excessive printing. My husband and I both work office jobs with access to printers, so I’ll print off my Amazon return labels and student loan forms there when necessary. Sometimes we get into a pinch when either of us forgets to print off or bring home from work the needed paperwork, but friends have been willing to let us pop over and use their printer if it’s absolutely necessary, or we just get creative! I like the fact that it really forces us to think about whether something really needs to be printed off, and the answer is usually no. Recently though my husband has been asking for us to reinstate the printer since he needs to print off music for church each weekend, so even if we end up snagging a used one again I’m happy that we were at least able to learn to go without one for so long and really utilize our digital databases like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.
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leftover condiment and pill bottle make great organizers for office odds and ends

When there’s nothing (or very little) being printed in the house, then that means we’ve also cut back on our use of staples, paperclips, and other office supplies which is great. I still keep these items around for stuff like medical or tax information, and also because paperclips are super useful for many other things (like using them to poke open the SD card on my cell phone) and not everything that gets stapled is paperwork. Also old notebooks and notepads get reused until there’s nothing left – I don’t care what logo is on them. I haven’t needed to buy office supplies in several years which makes me very happy.

I also hold onto and reuse padded envelopes and other large mailing bags so that they get at least one more use (and I’ve noticed that some of those plastic mailers now have a second line to peel and seal which makes me so happy!). I just choose the size of envelope that can handle another fold on the open end, slap on the new mailing label, and tape that sucker up. I’ve never had an issue with mailing these so far, but be sure that you remove all previous bar codes (that can get a little tedious, thanks Amazon). While I am trying to scale back my online shopping, sometimes I deem my pile of left-over envelopes too large to hold onto, and when I’ve offered up the extras on any of the recycling or trading groups I’m a part of on Facebook, I’ve had no problem with others wanting to take them all. Side note: find your town’s “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook or join Freecycle.org – they’re amazing.
No one likes getting junk mail, but if you’re trying to cut back on waste, you become very acutely aware of how difficult it can be to push back this onslaught of unwanted paper. Most companies are actually very helpful and after one phone call or email or online form completed, I never hear from them again. I make sure to tell the stores that I know how to find them online and prefer to browse there than through the catalog, and many of them are very gracious about it (LL Bean of course!). And then there are those companies that you can call several times, write dozens of emails, get promise after promise that you’ve been removed, and yet you will still get promotional offers that praise how great their products and customer service are!  You’ll know at that point if you ever want to do business with them again (I’m looking at you, Verizon, Comcast, and Capital One!!). When I was first getting started, there were so many companies to contact that I would save one piece of mail from each (recycle the rest) and save them for either a long lunch break at work or stretch of road trip when I’m not driving, and just make all the calls/emails then. Now I get them so rarely that it’s not as daunting to just quick send an email out. Also, just a note that to be removed from all those credit card offers (apparently except for Capital One because they suck) you will need to contact a third party company (the credit companies will give you their information) and you’ll need to mail in a form with your social security number since it’s tied to your credit ratings. I wish I could remember the name of the company that handled that, but please just be sure it’s an actual credit agency and not a scam for your SSN!
If you’re transitioning to more digital and cloud-based information, then you probably also have a plethora of CDs laying around useless (and let’s be honest, you don’t really want to make them into a craft). I found a place that will recycle them, along with several other e-waste type items:  Backthruthefuture.com. They don’t take jewel cases (but those crafts are better then the CDs anyways), but check out their website for information on how to send in your pile of free AOL online hours.
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my mess of a desk: gift cards waiting to be sent for recycling and envelops galore. good thing the desk closes up to hide all this.

And finally gift cards – what everyone actually wants for Christmas. If you’re buying them, please do the gift recipient a favor and don’t get ones with glitter on them (in fact, please don’t ever buy anything with glitter on it – those note cards and gift wrap are not recyclable and you can never get rid of the glitter, ever). This will also allow them to be recycled, either by asking at the store whether they will reuse the cards themselves once the balance is used up. If so, let them hold onto the cards. And if not, send them to EarthWorks! Fill out the form to get your local shipping address, and send them your gift cards, old ID badges, store rewards cards, etc.
And speaking of giving gifts, do we really need to always use wrapping paper? I know how special it is to give something with a nice presentation, and at least gift bags can be used many times, but wrapping paper is literally made to be used once and then throw it away (unless you’re that person who is actually able to save the paper nicely, I am not). Often, though, the nice paper bag from the shop you bought the item in looks great with just some plain tissue paper, and when that’s a little wrinkled from reuse it can still carry donations to the thrift store. Even better, I love to give Lush’s knot wraps as gifts since they’re so versatile, and I use them to wrap up the other part of the gift I’m giving. Nice scarves or handkerchiefs would also do well to serve as pretty packaging, or going the route of giving the gift of experiences rather than things (outing to a museum, movie, theme park, forest park, paint night, dancing lessons, karate lessons, music lessons, or repairs on a car – I know, I’m very practical and it speaks to my heart). There are still some family members or situations like bridal showers where I feel like my reusable options either are too casual or won’t be understood, so I end up having a roll of gift wrap on hand for those. Otherwise I like the opportunity to demonstrate an alternative to creating waste while still showing the recipient that I care about them.
When I have the time to think creatively, I can still give nice gifts and be organized, and produce a lot less waste than usual. This isn’t always the case (we’ve all picked up a gift en route to the party and wrote the card before we walked in), but I find that by knowing other options ahead of time it makes those alternative much more accessible.
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May 28, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

let’s eat!

When thinking about what to cover for this post, it can pretty much be summed up in one phrase: don’t use disposables, use real items. This is probably the easiest area of life to eliminate a lot of potential waste, stuff like plastic forks and paper plates, items that can easily be replaced by things you already have – you don’t even need to go shopping! Just look in your cupboards!
We have a set of cloth napkins that we keep on hand on our table, and you can see the

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The fish s&p shakers guard the napkins and protect your tastebuds

folded ones in front that I’ll reuse a few times until they should be washed (for those quick wipe of the mouth corners and brushing of crumbs). I also have a much larger set of cloth napkins for when we host a lot of people for parties or cookouts. Both sets I’ve found at thrift shops, but if you want to get all fancy there are tons of beautiful cloth napkin options out there. I prefer ones with patterns so that they hide any stains from beets, wine, oils, etc, so my guests and myself don’t question their cleanliness.

As for plates, just use your regular ones. Your guests will appreciate the fact that they’re not being served a cheap, flimsy paper one (and spilling their food on their legs because they’re eating on their lap at a cookout). This goes for silverware, too. Ditch the flimsy disposables and give the people some real utensils. If you need to get another set of dishes and silverware so that you’ll have enough for company, it will probably be worth it if you host a lot – just think of how much money would be spent on the disposables over the lifetime of a few extra plates! And if you purchase them from places such as Target or Ikea, not only will they be cheap but if one breaks or you end up wanting more, you can buy individual plates so you’re not stuck with another pack of 10.
sofie and i

I don’t have any pictures of my cookouts, so here’s an old pic of my niece showing me up with her use of a reusable sippy cup.

Now this may seem like a lot of extra clean up, but let’s be honest, washing all those extra dishes really doesn’t take that much longer – plates are the easiest things to wash, even if by hand. Utensils are not my favorite, so I usually dump them in whatever bowl or large container that also needs to be cleaned, and let them soak overnight in hot soapy water, and wash them the next day. I do have a dishwasher now which makes it easier, but we would host parties of 30+ people before, and trust me, the pile of dishes looks much more daunting than it really is, especially when your spouse is also cleaning. And if yours doesn’t clean, then maybe you should look at replacing that, too.

If you must use disposables, there are some great compostable options out there, just

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My leftover compostable items from my 30th birthday party (the silver star cups kept it classy).

make sure you get ones that are certified compostable and not just “biodegradable plastic”. That’s not a thing. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. See rant here about that. Anyways, I order the supplies for my church now and there’s a bunch of great looking and sturdy options for plates, cups with cute designs on them, and utensils made of corn resin that hold up really well.

If you’re hosting a big party like a cookout, make it easy for guests to know where to place items. At one big party, I had a small table set up next to the recycling bin outside – a basket for napkins (with one tossed in for an example), and a bucket for utensils (again an example utensil) and a bag for the compostable plates and cups. If you want to get all Pinterest and make cute signs for everything go for it, I don’t have time for that but it would probably help to prevent careless guests from tossing their bottle caps in the compost bags. This is particularly great because it also works as a conversation starter on why you’re so obsessed with trash and not making it, and how we need to be responsible consumers – you know, what everyone wants to talk about at a party!
If you’re going to someone else’s for a party and bringing a dish, a great saran-wrap alternative is using a beeswax cloth to cover your dish. The beeswax allows it to stick a bit to the side of the bowl and keeps food from getting nasty on the cloth, and just a quick warm water rinse gets it clean again! It’s not as secure as saran-wrap, but if I have

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The edges of my beeswax cloth are starting to fray, but that’ll happen after a few year’s use. Also, I have a set of 4 of these metal mixing bowls with silicone bases to keep them from sliding around, and secure lids – one of the best investments I’ve made in the kitchen.

something very liquid to transport, I’ll put it in a closed container anyways, or one of my bowls with a secure lid. When I first saw them, I thought the cloths were a bit pricey so i tried making a few myself. They work great, but if I ever need to replace them I will definitely not be making them again. That is one item that was not worth the effort, and it’s worth it to buy the professionally-made ones since you’re saving so much money on not buying disposables anyways!

So start hosting! And when guests compliment you on choosing to use real plates and utensils, feel free to brag about how much money you’re saving and waste you’re preventing. And then accept their offer to help clean up! Or relax and spend time with your guests, and let the dishes wait until tomorrow, they’re not going anywhere.
April 22, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

this one crazy simple trick to being green, and you’ll never guess what it is!

shark meme

Happy Earth Day!

Reducing one’s trash output is just one way of having less of an environmental footprint, and it’s just one way to measure your impact (especially considering that it requires big changes in what and how much we consume). But there are many other ways to have a big impact as individuals, and I want to highlight one in particular. It’s very easy to do, but most people don’t realize how much of an environmental impact this has.
So, you want to green your routine quite a bit, right? Well, you could…
Save water by not showering for a year
and
Save just over 3 gallons of gasoline by not driving your sedan about 100 miles
 and
Save energy by not leaving the lights on – for a total of 480 hours, or 20 straight days.
 Or, you could not eat a 1/4 lb hamburger every week for 3 months.
That’s right. Choose to not eat meat. Occasionally, or regularly. Dairy too. The production of these foods have huge environmental impacts.
If one person eats one less burger per week for a year, it’s the equivalent of not driving for 320 miles, or line-drying your clothes half the time.
If a family of 4 skips meat and cheese 1 day a week for a year, it’s the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 5 weeks or shortening everyone’s daily shower by 3 minutes.
If a family of 4 skips steak one day a week for a year, it’s the equivalent of taking your car off the road for almost 3 months
If everyone in the US ate no meat or cheese just 1 day a week for a year, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles, or removing 7.6 million cars off the road.
(These facts and more here!)
And we’re just talking energy used and water consumed! I mean, the meat industry does produce more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector (cars, trains, planes, buses, etc). Never mind the massive amounts of pollution that come from the refuse of 56 billion animals (that’s a lot of manure, and it has to go somewhere. Sometimes it’s our fresh water sources, other times it’s the ocean) Or all the pesticides used for the soybeans and corn for the animal’s feed, or the fact that all that land is being used far less efficiently for feeding animals rather than feeding people. Or the fact that the meat industry is the main contributor to deforestation, especially of the Amazon. And we haven’t even begun on the massive human rights and workers violations that happens in the slaughterhouse and meat processing facilities because the meat industry has worked so hard to keep any external investigations out of their facilities! Or would you prefer if I talked about the abuse of the animals first? Or how filthy the meat processing facilities really are? And don’t even get me started on the fishing industry!
Whew, so many reasons, and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface.
My point has always been this: what we choose to consume has a big impact when we look farther up the production stream and down the waste stream. The meat and dairy industry have worked very hard for consumers to not know the true cost of our food. By reducing our reliance on these products, and swapping them out for healthier alternatives we can also have a huge environmental impact, in a good way.
If you want more information, follow any of the links I’ve provided here or just do a quick Google search. I also really enjoyed the documentary Cowspiracy, which is available on Netflix . It’s all about how this is such a huge problem that no one is talking about, and most people don’t know about.
I became obsessed with reducing my trash, and all related lifestyles changes, because it was something that I could quantify and measure my progress, challenging myself to do better. I like the data, and I like to see my progress. Not eating meat and dairy is a simple switch, and this single action has a much higher impact for such a low amount of effort. I really like that.
And honestly, when I get lax about my trash efforts and indulge in something that came in plastic packaging or have a delicious West Indian vegetarian roti that I know will come in a Styrofoam container, I tell myself it’s ok, because I don’t do it that often, and I haven’t eaten meat in so long that this far outweighs my little bit of packaging. It’s all about balance, and right now, our food system is anything but balanced.
April 8, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

home brews

Coffee gets it’s own dedicated post because, it’s coffee. I’ve garnered a lot of interest over my interesting “contraptions” so I figured I’d give them more than just a quick shout out, cramped into another post.

Before I even started obsessing over reducing my waste output, I was realizing how much money I was spending on k-cups for my Keurig (a sweet gift from my husband years ago for Christmas). The Keurig had been a nice addition for a few years, but honestly the coffee wasn’t that great, and my local grocery store had only one option of fair trade and organic k-cups, and it just wasn’t cutting it for me. I’m not that sensitive to flavors, but I think the taste of coffee brewed in plastic was getting to me (never mind the fact that it wasn’t fresh). I thanked my husband for the thoughtful gift that had served me well for years, sold it on Craig’s List, and I bought the supplies for a single-brew cone.

Just a note though that there are inserts for Keurigs that can be filled with your own grinds, so you’re not throwing away pods and can use whatever amazing coffee of your preference and freshness. I’ve heard though that it’s hard the find the right size inset for the updated Keurig model though, and it sounds like a scheme to just keep people buying the k-cups (like a perfect example from my marketing class of “creating loyalty” through limiting consumer’s options. Yes, I have an MBA. No, my classmates didn’t know what to do with me).

Anyways, my equipment of choice was a ceramic cone that sits over my cup (from Amazon) and a 2-pack of organic cloth filters from CoffeeSock (also available on Amazon). I love them.

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The Dream Team: glass electric kettle, pour-over brew, and my diesel Zojirushi travel mug (with my reusable baggie drying in the background)

At first I was hesitant that it would take so long (I have to boil water? and then slowly pour it over the grinds? but that takes minutes!) though I actually really enjoy either the slow wake-up as I watch the grinds steep (weekends), or I multi-task and pack my lunch

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This is what they call the “bloom” while brewing

in between pours (weekdays). Every other month or so I boil the cloth filter, along with my dish sponge and scrubber – though each individually, to remove the build up of the oils so the filter still brews a mean cup, and the sponges aren’t harboring too much bacteria. I don’t find this extra step to be a bother, I just boil away and forget about each one as I’m doing other stuff in the kitchen, and swap them out as I remember them and usually before the water evaporates. The fact that each of those items last long enough to be cleaned many times before tossing is wonderful: the first coffee filter lasted me probably a year and a half, and while it was probably still a little more money than paper filters would have been, it’s still saving me a lot of money from all those friggin k-cups, and the quality of coffee is so much better. I can splurge on the good stuff with all the good “labels” (fair-trade, organic, non-GMO, bird safe…) and even I can taste the difference. And coffee is one of the few products that many stores sell in bulk, so you probably don’t even have to find a “green grocer” who will allow you to tare out your glass containers before filling up or let you use your own bags (though the woman at my local grocer remembers the tare weight of my container that I bring in, so clearly I’m there frequently).

My husband got all into it, too, with figuring out the right coarseness of grinds specifically for this pour-over method, and the percolator. He wanted a manual grinder so we could finely-tune the coarseness of each batch of coffee. I told him one click to the left of “auto-drip” at the in-store grinders was good enough for me, but I guess we each have the items we’re willing to spend time on.

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Hand grinder with storage vessel, decaf grinds, percolator grinds, pour-over grinds, and measuring spoon (i.e. vintage soup spoon), and the box that stores all coffee and tea items. No minimalism here.

And yes, we have a percolator, a vintage, glass, brew-it-on-the-stove percolator. The

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Just like your grandma’s

pour-over cone is good for one or two cups, but after that the filter needs a good rinsing and is better after it’s dried, and not to mention the time it takes to brew 3 or more cups that way. So when I saw this sweet thing at a market I nabbed it for when we have guests over. There’s no filter needed, the aluminum basket serves that function as well, and it’s fun to watch it brew on the stove. I was initially concerned about using glass on the stove, even though that’s how the percolator is made to be used, but after the first use I got over my fears and now have no problem gently tossing it on.

When we’re done brewing, the grinds get scraped into the compost bin (or in the summer I’ll mix them into the soil for my tomato plants since they love it!) and everything gets a rinse. Easy as pie!

Also, I totally forgot to mention in my last post about my produce that I store at room temperature! I probably forgot because it’s so boring, but here it is. Everything goes into the bowl, except onions and garlic which go into the basket, to keep them separate and in a dark but ventilated space. Squash goes on the counter when that’s in season. Thrilling, aren’t you glad I made sure to put that in here?

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The produce gets stored with other important things on the sideboard, like my paper to-do pile and wine.

March 25, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

keep it fresh

Now that we’ve gone grocery shopping with all our cute cloth bags, you don’t want to just bring everything home and cover it in Saran wrap. That kinda defeats the purpose of saving all those plastic bags from the store, and I will judge you for it.

I must give credit where credit is due: the Berkeley Farmers Market Produce Guide is my go-to on how to properly store produce, and without plastic. I found it on another blog, and have since printed it out and leave it clipped to the side of my fridge for easy referencing. I highly recommend doing the same since it taught me how to extend the life of my produce (hint, not everything goes in the fridge, hence the celery in water on the counter in my previous post), which prevents the produce from spoiling before I get to it. While not comprehensive of all fruits and veggies, it’s a great start.

Next, I have an assortment of both glass and plastic containers that I reuse to store veggies, cooked dishes, and bringing food to work for lunch. My plastic containers consist of Ikea’s stack-able set of food storage containers, and to-go containers from restaurants. Besides getting a bunch more use out of the to-go containers from a restaurant, I still like using these when items will not be heated up in said plastic – salads for lunch, leftover pizza, soup that will be portioned into mason jars or bowls for heating, half an onion, etc. They tend to be the very large or very small containers which are hard to replace.

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My basket of plastic and shelf full of glass jars (lids on the door). The cabinet is low, so being able to pull out the basket to rifle through the mess is lovely.

For everything else I use glass jars: I have a bunch of mason jars, both wide- and regular-mouthed, that I’ve found at the local thrift shop, but I’ve also accumulated a great collection of leftover jars from condiments, pasta sauces, salsa, and pickles. Why put these in recycling when you can reuse them yourself for that half a cucumber? I started looking for better jars when shopping, and if an item was a tie between two brands based on it’s nutritional content and level of organicness, then the winner went to whichever jar seemed like it would be the most useful once emptied. It took a while, probably a year or two, to slowly rotate out those jars that were oddly shaped and were more of a pain to deal with, and accumulate the good brands (wide-mouthed pasta jars are the best!), but it was totally worth it, and now I know which jars are perfect for half a lemon or avocado so I know which ones to reach for!

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The CocoaPuffs are my husband’s, but the seltzers are my addiction (it’s ok cause it’s aluminum cans, right?)

For securing the snacks, I’ve opted for clothespins rather than chip clips. I have yet to have one break on me, and when they finally do it’s just scrap metal recycling and compost for the wood. I also don’t ever throw out the rubber bands that come from bunches of produce or other packaging: the cat litter get shoveled into an empty chip or pretzel bag (did I just get rid of your last excuse for using plastic shopping bags?), throw a rubber band around it to secure, and that there is the majority of the trash we create. If I ever get an excess of rubber bands that I know I won’t get to, I’ve offered them to the guy at the farmer’s stand in town and he was thrilled to get an assortment of bands for his produce.

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My preferably sparse pantry and cooking cheat sheets.

As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to be able to see everything in my pantry cupboard so items don’t get out of sight and out of mind. This is about an average amount of what is kept on hand: some items that can be quickly prepped like pasta and sauce or soup, and other staples for larger recipes such as dried beans, rice, nuts, etc. I also find that this keeps my shopping (and thus spending) more minimal since I know what I currently have or want to use up.

And yes, that is a handful of Ziplock baggies next to my basket of reusable baggies and wraps. These are bags that have been sent home with me with delicious leftovers from others, and those that were currently in use when I phased out using Ziplock bags a few years ago. That’s right, I haven’t bought any Ziplock baggies in at least 3 years, so spending $7 on a single cloth baggie doesn’t seem so bad now does it? And those Ziplocks that are still kicking around get washed and reused and sent home with others with leftovers many times before they finally puncture a hole and are sent to plastic film recycling (at most grocery stores), though it also helps that I just don’t use them very often anyways.

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My hummus looks holy with this lighting, but it’s hummus so it already is.

And now for the fridge. Along with the basic half an avocado in a container and homemade dressing in a mason jar, you can see a few of the ideas from the Berkeley guide put into use here: beets wrapped in a damp cloth in a bowl (on left of middle shelf), carrots in a closed container with a damp cloth, and my leafy greens in the crisper that I haven’t yet taken out of the cloth bag. One that’s not in the guide – cilantro (bottom shelf, put the bunch in a jar with some water like a vase and cover with a plastic bag, I reuse the same one over and over again. Replace the water every few days and it’ll last over a month. You’re welcome).

One thing you’ll notice is a lack of meat. I am a vegetarian, though my husband is not, though fortunately for our trash production he is also not a chef since meat generates a ton of trash. I try to steer him toward buying more sustainable meats from local farms (buy less of higher quality meat) which typically means a frozen whole chicken or leg of lamb and less packaging, though occasionally he comes home with a Styrofoam tray of low-grade beef cubes wrapped in a thousand layers of Sarah wrap, and it’s then that our marriage is put to the test, and the next several weeks or months it takes to cover all that nasty packaging in the trash bin when we finally fill it and I no longer have to look at it. But I try to not judge him for it, too much.

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Leftover soups in the tall cartons and veggies scraps waiting to be turned into stock. And a whole frozen chicken that’s been waiting to be cooked for a long time…

It took me a while to figure out how to handle less waste in the freezer since I wasn’t keen on using all glass, even though I’ve never broken a jar. I came across the idea of reusing milk cartons, and I love it. I hold onto my flax milk cartons for soup (I typically make a

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I pour the condensed stock in 1/4 cup pours into my silicone muffin pan to freeze and then pop them out into the carton to grab quick while cooking.

double batch and freeze half), homemade stock (made from veggie scraps and made very condensed so a frozen 1/4 cup gets me 1 cup of stock), and homemade veggie burgers. My smaller creamer cartons are perfect for sliced ginger and other smaller items. Whenever I freeze berries, ginger slices, green beans, etc, I make sure to lay them out on a cookie tray first and leave them in the freezer until I remember they’re there and then transfer them to a carton. This helps prevent them from all freezing together into a blob.

I do like to have frozen veggies on hand for those weeks when I didn’t do a good job in meal planning, so I make sure to buy the brands that have recyclable bags since many brands have switched to using a non-recyclable type. Maybe next year I’ll be better about stocking up at the farmer’s market when items are at a discount and freezing them for later, but that clearly didn’t happen last fall.

And that’s about it! Storing veggies without waste is definitely not about having fancy storage containers or anything, and as you can see a lot of what I’m using are items that would’ve been destined for the recycling bin anyways. When you start thinking about what waste will be created when purchasing an item and if there’s alternatives to buy or a way to utilize that waste, it really starts to add up to a lot of waste saved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 6, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

you look just like someone i know…

It happened again today: I met someone for the first time and they said I looked really familiar, had we met before? Or I look just like someone they know, from back home.

I get this a lot, and it’s usually a nice feeling since it’s always said in a pleasant and warm manner, and it seems like the other person enjoys thinking back on this person that they know. I’ve learned though to just say “yeah, I get that a lot”, rather than “I have a very generic face so I’m typically confused with any other white millennial woman with long brunette hair”.

It’s true though. I have a fairly generic face with no real distinguishing features. My cheekbones are of average depth, my forehead isn’t too big or small, and my nose is only identifiable by the small gold ring around my right nostril (and a small bump on the bridge hidden by glasses). When enough make-up is applied, I can be quite pretty. And when I don’t get enough sleep and don’t care to put on make up, I look quite haggard. I can already tell that bags under my eyes will soon be a distinguishing feature so maybe I’ll stop being confused with that person you know.

And I’ve only recently realized how much of a blessing that this mediocrity of aesthetics has been. I was never made fun of for having big ears or a small mouth, for being too fat or having a ton of freckles. I did self-inflict a bad hair style or two until I realized how important it was to bring a picture to the hairstylist. I was also too shy as a pre-teen to tell the hairstylist that I looked like a boy and this was definitely not the cool pixie cut I had in mind can you please fix it? That was a defining year of puberty for me, though mostly out of self-consciousness than taunting.

On the flip side, I’ve also realized how much unwanted attention I’ve avoided because I don’t turn heads as I walk down the street. I’ve only had a few occasions of strange men trying to talk to me at bars despite very clear signals that I’m not interested (like having my laptop open and several research books spread in front of me. Yes, I studied at bars in grad school, it was usually a great place to get some work done). I also don’t remember solely being complimented on my looks or outfit as a kid, though this could have been because my mom let me dress myself, and it was the late 80’s/early 90’s, so there wasn’t much to compliment me on other than how many patterns I was wearing at once and whether I was clean. I’ll take it though over the unintended consequences of having such adorable kid’s clothing now. I really struggle with not only buying my niece super cute clothing all the time, but then also letting that be the focus of our conversations. Just like I was complimented as a kid, I want my niece to hear how polite she has been, how creative or smart she is, or just simply to have an engaging conversation about what she did, felt, saw, thought, reacted, etc, without it revolving around how she looks.

And it wasn’t until I was thinking about how much of a blessing this neutrality has given me that I also realized how sad it was that I could be happy about this. I’m so happy that I’m not too pretty or ugly so that I’ve avoided a good amount of socially antagonistic situations. That’s a pretty sad reflection on our culture.

Every once in a while I get really frustrated when someone posts a group picture with me in it on facebook, and inevitably there comes the typical comments: “such beautiful women!”, “looking gorgeous!”, “so beautiful, inside and out!”. I know they’re well-intended, and what the extended friends and family are saying is kind, but why do we always need to reaffirm the women in our lives that they’re beautiful? Why can’t we just share a photo of a group of people having a great time together, sharing their time and life and energy with one another, and then just reduce it to whether or not I’m aesthetically pleasing at the moment? Let’s be honest, I’m blinking in half of the photos I’m in, so let’s talk about the great weekend we had instead or accomplishments that were made?

You may say that I have it easy because I’m already married, and I know that this is partially true and is definitely a benefit of marrying young – I’ve never been single and of age to go to a bar and try to pick up a date. However I’ve always maintained a level of not caring what others think of me that was much higher than my average peers (hence I don’t mind talk to strangers about my trash, makes more sense now huh?), which I’m now realizing I can attribute to my plain looks: I never expected the compliments so I didn’t try hard to receive them. I’m not saying that it didn’t hurt when I saw others being complimented all the time when I wasn’t as a teen, but I’ve come to embrace my “girl next door” looks, as that overly-friendly guy on a red eye flight once told me (thanks buddy, I woke up just to have breakfast, not to chat from across the aisle).

This feminist is tired that the conversation is still revolving around beauty, granted one that is more inclusive than it used to be, but still about the one thing that I don’t have any control over. Can we please move the conversation past what the gene pool doled out for me? I love the line from Grey’s Anatomy where Dr. Yang proclaims “Oh, screw beautiful. I’m brilliant! If you want to appease me compliment me on my brain.”

In the meantime, I am happy to be confused with your cousin or childhood best friend or that lady from yoga last week. As long as she wasn’t all dolled up and looking for superficial compliments, I’m sure we look just alike 🙂

February 22, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

to market

Many of the books I’ve read have claimed that to best understand where your trash comes from is to rummage through said trash and see what’s in there. Well, I don’t need to sort through mine to know that the majority of my trash comes from groceries and food prep, and this was even more true before I started trying to cut back on the trash, and I believe it’s the same for most households. But go ahead and feel free to sift through your gross, wet plastic if you want to take stock of your own trash.

Since so much of my efforts are focused around the kitchen, I decided to write two posts about groceries: one regarding grocery shopping and the other around food storage. So stay tuned because eventually I may get to that second post.

But before we even get to the store, here’s what I have on hand:

On the left are my produce and bulk dry goods bags. Some I’ve bought, some I’ve made, some are cotton and some are mesh. This hodgepodge collection works well for me so I have varying sizes and materials depending on what’s going inside. The mesh bags are great for leafy greens; grains and nuts are perfect in the cotton bags. The center picture is the bunch of produce bags all stuffed into one, along with the bulk containers, on top of my cloth shopping bags: another hodgepodge of bags I’ve accumulated over the years from thrift shops, stealing from my mom (you’re not getting the co-op bag back!), and freebies from events. Everything stays tucked into one bag which I try to keep in the trunk of my car so I don’t forget them or am prepared for any impromptu grocery trips. A lot of trying to live a “zero-waste” lifestyle is just being prepared and anticipating your habits, and for me, seeing the bundle of bags on my back door bothers me because they don’t belong there, they belong in the car, so I’m more likely to grab them the next time I’m headed to the car.

So obviously, I try to buy items in bulk. This is when you purchase loose items by weight: everything from quinoa, flour, beans, nuts, granola, chocolate chips, dried fruit, and flax seeds, and since you’re buying only the quantity you want, you need to have a container to put said items into. There is a small green grocer in my town which lets me bring my own containers and I love them for that. I mainly get my spices and coffee from there, and this is great because they’ll tare out the weight of my glass containers, I fill them up, and then pay a fraction of the cost for fresh, organic, delicious coffee and spices. Not only is this way cheaper ($0.85-$3.00 to refill the spices depending on the spice) but it means I can keep using the spices that fit into my spice rack (though of course I needed to create another row).

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Yes, I alphabetize my spices. And yes, celery does like to be in water on a counter. That and more in my next post on food storage…

Just a quick note on the other type of bulk foods – purchasing larger quantities of items from places like Costco or B.J.’s or even certain items from Target: I actually found that I was wasting these items more when I was buying vast quantities at once. This may be due to the fact that my household is only two people and we’ve always been in small apartments so the amount of real estate that my 20 pack of paper towels or laundry detergent was taking up made me want to use it up faster just so I could have more storage space. Especially since often Costco just bundles together 10 cans of soup, then you’re just bringing home more trash with the box and plastic wrap keeping it all together. If you have a large family, then this is probably a lot different for your consumption needs, but I recommend reviewing how you use those items since I came to the conclusion that it was probably cheaper for me to buy certain items in smaller quantities, and it instilled a sense of scarcity in my every day consumption habits.

Ok, back to the first type of bulk goods. So other than coffee and spices, for other bulk goods, I am forced to go to a certain pretentious grocery store since buying in bulk is not typical in America for some reason that probably has to do with the food industry lobbyists, or at least that’s what I’m blaming it  on. Said pretentious grocery store does not allow you to use your own containers because they fear outside contamination and a lawsuit. I think this is a load of bull since any small child could easily put their grimy little hands into the granola container and take out a handful, but no that’s fine, let’s worry about my clean, washed, glass containers. Since I’m clearly not a germophobe, I’ve found my loophole: I just reuse their containers over and over again

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the cashiers are on to me

until they’re cracked and worthless, and then I finally send them to recycling. I had a cashier once tell me that I’m really not supposed to do that because of the whole contamination thing (“even though, I know, it’s so wasteful!”, “yes, yes it is, you pretentious ‘green’ grocery store!”), but instead I just smiled and said “ok!” and have avoided that cashier’s line since. I mean, look at how many times I’ve been able to reuse that container on the right! I’ve also learned to use my cloth bags more often for nearly anything that will carry well in them.

As for produce, I’m of course all about the local farmer’s market when it’s in season. Not only is this the best way to get produce without any packaging or even stickers, but I’m a total advocate of supporting local farms and businesses, and you get to develop a relationship with them (or I’m just odd enough that they always remember me). I think it says something when you know your farmer by their first name, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you who my primary care doctor is.

I digress. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I live in New England, which means our growing season feels like it’s two months, which means I’m stuck with the grocery store most of the year, though thankfully winter markets are getting more popular. Good thing too, because grocery stores have begun adding more and more packaging to their organic produce (not the conventionally grown stuff!), and I’m about to lose my mind with how everything is either individually wrapped in plastic or stacked on a Styrofoam plate and wrapped in five layers of saran wrap! I mean just look at that:

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good to know at least the butternut squash is still plastic free

Every single potato and pepper is shrink wrapped! I lost it a few months ago and wrote a nice, long, thoughtful letter to this particular grocery store’s corporate headquarters detailing why I was no longer shopping there because of this issue (you bet your britches I did). I had previously called the produce manager and talked with him about it (are you doubting what I do in my spare time?). He said that they had been losing money on organics because either stickers were falling off or people were swapping them, so they weren’t charging the full price for organics. So I made sure to acknowledge this and offered several alternatives in my letter (which perhaps coincidentally I saw one implemented a few weeks later). What, did you think I just sit around writing blog posts about this? (Feel free to be active about this as well!)

Wow, even more digressions. Anyways, steer clear of the produce packaging. This again thus sends me to the pretentious grocery store, though make sure you avoid their plastic baggies as well. I find that I really don’t need to put everything in the bags -especially items like apples, oranges, squash, potatoes, and even broccoli, which usually end up all bagged together in the same grocery bag anyways. I have these really neat things called hands that are also really useful for managing my produce.

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check out these bad larrys 

Once I’m out of the produce section, the rest of the shopping trip is mostly based around choosing the best packaging options. Always look for glass containers over plastic (glass can be recycled an infinite number of times whereas plastics can really only be recycled once, maybe a few times depending on the type), and containers that can potentially be used around the house. So look for wide-mouthed lids to reuse for storage or funky shapes and colors for vases, etc. Many of my food and office storage container are just jelly jars that now hold paperclips. And when buying plastic containers or bags, make sure they’re recyclable (especially frozen produce bags) and pay attention to how you’ll need to rinse it out if it can be put into recycling. I have wasted far too much time trying to get last bits of hand lotion, lemon juice, or tamarind paste out from containers with tiny spouts, or with plastic lids fused together so it’s impossible to separate. Thank you to the companies for taking the time to put the recycling stamp on your product and then leave the responsibility to the customer to figure it out how to actually make it work.

I also try to buy items that I can prepare quickly at home, for cheaper and of course with less packaging. Below are  few examples:

  • Fresh ginger: I buy fresh, then peel, slice, and freeze it so it’s ready when I need it and still has a kick to the flavor
  • Minced garlic: I’ll keep a jar of this on hand just in case I underestimate how much I need in a recipe, but otherwise we just cook with fresh garlic – it’s not that much more work, really (do a YouTube search on peeling garlic, it’ll change your life)
  • I make homemade broth/stock from vegetable scraps and it’s delicious. I freeze it in 1/4 cup batches in a cupcake pan, and once frozen they’re transferred to another container, so it saves money, space, and my sodium levels

I’ve also found that really simplifying what I have on hand helps me from wasting food, especially condiments. I love Asian cuisine, but I’ve finally realized that I’m not going to make it nearly as good at home, and I will not use up those cuisine-specific ingredients before they expire. So when I’m craving pho or pad thai I will support my local restaurants. This is the same with salad dressings – yes, the papaya poppy seed dressing sounds amazing, but unless I’m going to use it all within a month or two, it’s not coming home with me.

I also do not like having a “stocked” pantry. I purposefully do not keep a ton of stuff stored away because I’ll never see half of it and it will just waste away until I finally purge the cabinet, and my organic quinoa is too expensive to toss. I have enough grains or beans to do something creative with leftover broccoli or whatever if I need another meal or to use up the last serving of produce, a few cans of soup or frozen soup from a double-batch that I can rely on. This has really cut down on our food waste, though apparently it does look a bit extreme to the family member who, after visiting once, sent me a check to go buy more groceries (not joking, but I do know that they toss a lot of food because it ends up expiring or spoiling before they get to it, so who’s laughing now?!). The one thing I do buy in large quantities is cereal since I can get it in a double-sized bag (less plastic!) and I know for certain that it will be gone by next week.screenshot_20170220-210058
By using a shopping list this has also taught me how to grocery shop like an adult, and it has kept me from pretending that I’m an amazing chef and buying random ingredients that I’ll do nothing with. I personally like Google’s Keep app since I can have many lists going at once, I can share the list with my husband for him to add his items, and the app stores the items after they’ve been checked off. This saves so much time in creating a shopping list since it’s just going through the saved items and re-checking them to bring them back onto the list, because let’s face it, every week it’s the same fruit, oats, cereal, and flax milk. Also, I’ll add in the PLU#’s for the bulk items that I put in bags so I can read them off to the cashier during check out.

So there you have it, in far more detail than anyone could want to know about as thrilling of a subject as grocery shopping! Since this was long enough already I figured I would save for another post my methods for food storage and whatnot, and I’m sure you’re just waiting with bated breath for that one.

Geeze, and I thought Hawthorne was long-winded.

 

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