Trash and the Single Female

I’m not a single female. Happily married, see? (waggles ring finger.) But I’m the only female in this house. So why am I head-down in the trash can? How did taking out the garbage become a gendered job? Should I feel like I’m doing the gentlemen (Mr Husband and The Boy) a big fat favor when I’m taking out the trash? Should I get annoyed when it’s still sitting here in the kitchen? Who died and made me the Boss of Everything?

Uh. No one. Of course, I wouldn’t be alone in thinking that taking out the trash is the man’s job. Check out these marriage experts, and this one, and even these knuckleheads who have strong opinions about the Taking Out of the Trash. Looks like everyone has some thoughts on the matter.

Sorting trash. Yeah, that’s me.

 Amusing, but that’s not really our point today. I take out the trash as much as anyone else. It all depends who’s home when it’s full. But more important — it’s not just trash. We have a system of what goes where. Actual real garbage (which includes nasty bathroom stuff, old Bandaids and soiled plastics) is not much in existence at this house (apartment). We have a 1-gallon can in the kitchen that is lined with a small plastic grocery bag and is rarely even filled. One of us takes it down every week or so to the gray can. The gray can is usually pretty empty. We could get away with once-a-month service. Not so for the green and blue cans.

Everything else gets sorted and either composted or recycled. Broken glass? Recycled.
Electronics? Recycled.
Old clothes? Used for rags, then recycled.
Empty paint can? Recycled.
Paint can with some paint left over? Taken to Alameda County Industries for household hazardous waste disposal. (Free!)
Plastic bags? Collected and returned to grocery stores.

Look! Bottle caps!
Which one of you wise guys…?

Sometimes people (I won’t name names) put the wrong thing in the trash. Bottle caps, for example, are recyclable. Don’t throw them in the garbage. How long do you think it takes a metal can or bottle cap to decompose in “garbage,” aka landfill? About 50 years. More or less.

Probably more.

It’s easy to compost/green waste your leftovers and pizza boxes. Seems like everyone gets a green can at the curb these days, from whatever trash management company your city or area uses. We had two magnificent compost bins working at our last house, our Little City Farm, plus chickens, but I don’t find it too odious (odorous?) to take a load down to the green bin every day, now that we are apartment-dwellers. I have to leave the house anyway, right?

While taking out the trash may or may not be your purview at your house, I have always found it a simple starter-chore for kids. It’s a good idea to teach them young about recycling and what can go back into the earth (the circle of life, right?), and help carry it out to the curb. It’s not as if the need to recycle and reduce waste will go away soon. Good habits start early.
Better yet, though, is reducing, or pre-cycling, what comes into the house. Potato chip bags, with few exceptions, are not recyclable. Sun Chips (original flavor) has a biodegradable bag, and so does Boulder Canyon. If you can find these brands, it’s no problem to green-waste the bag afterward. If you’re buying Mylar bags or loud, crinkly plastic bag chips (Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Doritos, et al), you’re in trouble. Not likely that your local center will recycle those, and they end up in landfill. And how many bags a year are we talking? The Potato Growers Association says we eat three billion bags of chips (of all flavors) per year. Three billion? That’s a lot of landfill. I’m just saying. Can’t control what everyone else does, but we can control what we buy and how we affect the landscape around us. Think about that next time you reach for a plastic bag of chips. And even though The Boy loves them, I avoid buying them, knowing I’ll still see a few bags in the garbage anyway (= what I can’t control).
I’m working on this with other products. I go to the meat counter and ask for paper-only wrapping instead of getting plastic-wrapped bacon, lunch meats or fish. Better quality and fewer preservatives means it eat sooner, too. It won’t last a month in the fridge the way nationally branded products encased in plastic might. Which leads to less food waste, which leads to less methane in the atmosphere. Slower warming of the globe and all that.
You get the picture. Think about what’s coming in through the front door, and you’ll be able to manage how it goes out the trash can even more. Worry less about who’s taking out the trash and more about what you’re putting into it. A full recycling bin bespeaks a generous heart. Or something like that.
All smiles!

Modern Muse = Green Scene

We (Modern Muse) went live this week on Alameda Patch, a local online “newspaper” that is part of the much larger AOL-Huffington Post media family. Doesn’t family sound so cozy? It’s a business — what can I say? — to which I contribute mostly voluntarily, and occasionally on a paying basis.

Mostly I just wanted to let ya know that I’m cross-posting and you’ll see the same posts on Alameda Patch as Green Scene, although I will also post on non-green stuff here as well. Clear as mud? Yeah!

In the meantime, today I’m doing about 6 things at once. Some guys from the rental company came to fix the bathroom wall where the roof had leaked behind the tiles and turned all the grout rust-colored. They just finished. I wanted to look busy while they were here, because who wants the hired help of your landlord to think that you are lazy? So I vacuumed. I know — call the press! And washed all the bathroom rugs and shower curtain because they had to get moved anyway for the painting guys. I wore my apron all morning. I am wearing it still. See? [twirls]

I had some lemons and blueberries and the lemons were looking a little sad, so it was time to make blueberry muffins. Ding! Just heard the timer… Mini-muffins are fun to eat. I don’t usually make them mini-size, but then I discovered some mini-muffin papers that I must have bought? some time? for the holidays, maybe? These are a good clean-out-the-fridge food — I used up the two sad half-lemons, the rest of the package of blueberries (they were a BOGO), and I also used a half cup of plain yogurt in place of some of the milk, to finish that up. They smell good.

Although my Plastic Purge doesn’t start until June 1, I am looking at my house and life with new eyes. Through plastic lenses, maybe. I started a mental list that will soon have to jump to paper or pixels as it grows and grows — what I buy or use now that includes plastic, and what will change in the future. I can’t wait for the challenge to begin. I’m ready now. Alas for such things as calendars and commitments. Let’s see if I can keep my mojo going for 30 whole days.

Yesterday I planted the rest of my garden, mostly squashes: watermelon, yellow zucchini, cabocha, white and orange pumpkins (2 types), Texas orange squash, acorn, and spaghetti squash. Looks like a squashy summer ahead. We finally ate the last ginormous zucchini of 2010 last night for dinner. It was huge. I mean — huge. (See photo of dishes, where giant zucchini rests on the bread box like a lizard on a rock.) The rind was thick so I cut it off, then steamed and served with olive oil and Tuscan herbs. It was — OK. Not great. Sauce or butter or I don’t know, something would have helped. It was just a little blah.

Too bad. The chickens liked it this morning, though. Ta-da. No waste.

no go

Following up to the other day’s post about the suckhole that we hoped would be ours — poo. We didn’t get the house after all. As these things happen, just as we were getting our offer ready, someone else put in a bid (this was after we’d been assured that no one else on the planet, nay, the very universe was interested…). Their bid was lower than ours was going to be — but it was accepted. So clearly, the Big Kahuna has something else in mind for us. I can’t say I’m amused by the whole roller coaster of the real estate market, with its last-minute nasty surprises. But what the hay? You win some crack houses, you lose some. But I’m not bitter. Much.
So I took all my library books on restoration and recycled buildings and energy-efficient chicken coops, et cetera et ad infinitum, back to the drop-chute and took out more books on WWII and the Holocaust, a more cheerful prospect at the moment. Seriously. I was doing research on my new novel before we fell into the House Frenzy a few weeks ago. And writing a novel is always more fun than not writing one.

Another post soon: I’m back on the blog wagon as a local spotlight on Alameda Patch (a little pinkie finger of the AOL-Huffington Post media empire). My posts will be more frequent and certainly more sterling than of late. I think I’ve recorded only triumphs and tragedies, without basic stuff that shows how the great machine works. (Wow — labored metaphors are just my thing today. No. I’m not bitter.)

I spent yesterday and today helping a friend with his beehives. The bees were mad as hell yesterday and really aggressive — so much that I dashed for the house two or three times. I got too freaked out being swarmed over.  See photo above — that’s me at the back and neighbor at the front, loading an empty hive into his garage. Today the whole hive took off en masse — which explains why they were so pissed off yesterday. They stopped in a local tree, but that wasn’t far enough away, so they took to the wind. Inside, I helped my pal spin honey out of the comb and we bottled up almost 20 pints — at about a pound and a half per jar. It was slow, sticky work, but I came home with a pint jar of fresh early spring honey and a beeswax candle made from an earlier batch. And it was very good.

See? I’m not bitter. I’m sweet as honey.

what’s new, pussycat?

Hi. It’s me. Been busy. Just wanted to poke my head in the back door and share what we’ve been doing. In a word, LOTS.

We are days away from making the offer on the pot house — the gutted, in-foreclosure dump in the West County (Sonoma) that was once a pot-growing house. We’ve been taking measurements, poking through floors and woodwork, calling the county, pacing off boundary lines, scraping together our cash (since it’s a cash-only deal), talking to neighbors, and thinking, thinking, thinking if we can really do it. We think we can.

We’ve been talking with family and friends who have the know-how. My dad has a barn full of stuff: 2 toilets, a bathtub, a sink (I’ll take those, thank you), a barn-sized pile of lumber that is solid redwood, including barn flooring (thank you, we’ll take that, too). My teen/YA daughters have boyfriends who need extra bucks and can swing a hammer. And we have a Boy (that’s free labor right there).
In short, we think it’s gonna be OK, and even though we’re buying a trash-heap, it isn’t toxic, there’s good water, it’s in a great location, and we’ll own it outright. If Mr Husband lost his job, we would be homeless by the end of the month when we couldn’t pay the rent. Once we own this property, as scary as it is, we could at least camp there. It would be something of our own. And it will be an excellent retirement plan for us — to own our own place, whether or not we have income. As long as the taxes are paid, we’ll be fine. That gives us HUGE peace of mind, despite the hard work ahead.

We’re already planning how to reuse and rescue materials. I’m gonna get paint from Freecycle as well as light fixtures, switch plates, outlets, etc. People always have this stuff sitting around in their garages. I plan to haul as much of it as we can get and make use of it. I’ve been checking out books from the library and compiling a “look book” of ideas and plans, like using a table topped with a marble slab as a baking station/counter in the kitchen. I’m willing to take a bet I can put that together for free/cheap, based on Freeycle and salvage. I’m a lifelong baker and a baking table like that would be heavenly!

I could go on but suffice it to say that it will mean changes in the short run — we will likely move out of our big house and into an apartment til The Boy finished high school so we can save on rent and put the extra toward renovations. But all worth it! Fingers crossed…

Don’t hate me but I’ve also been working on the Challenges set forth in January. Here are my updates on those:

1) Fat Ass Challenge. I’ve lost 1 pound. Purely accidental. I don’t know how. I haven’t tried very hard, but I haven’t had soda in almost 2 months so that might have helped. I did just start doing yoga in the mornings this week and am AMAZED at how much better I feel when I do it. And that’s free, btw — class is held in my bedroom before coffee. Later in the year, I imagine my hammer-swinging arm will get ripped.

2) Garden Produce/Tracking: In March I had almost $100 in eggs and produce (herbs, oranges) from our little farm (large suburban yard). The number of eggs has increased as the weather has improved and I am trading a lot of eggs — for citrus, ocean-caught fish (Pacific wild salmon steaks!), worm castings, coupons, etc. I’m sharing eggs now with people who have apricot and plum trees for later in the year trades. I found a kitchen scale in my late great-aunt’s kitchen and now it’s mine, and helping to track produce numbers.

3) Meal Planning: I have not been consistent over the past month, since my great-aunt passed away March 21, and I’ve been cleaning her home of STUFF. I also caught a horrific cold when she passed (coincidence? huh.) and have been fighting it for a month. That’s one way, I’ve noticed, that i deal with emotional stuff — i get sick. So those two things, plus the adventures in real estate, have made meal planning sketchy — BUT… we have not been eating fast food. We have been cobbling meals together rather than do take-out, which is in the plus column. I’m getting back on track on this item though.
4) Coupon savings: Have been very dedicated to this, and doing really well. I’m saving about 50% on everything we buy. Or rather, NOT SPENDING it. There’s no actual “savings” from this, but it leads directly into the next item…
5) $25K savings goal: We passed the $25K savings goal in March and are at about $35K right now. This is not a pile of cash, as mentioned before, but money we didn’t have to spend –> cost avoidance, paying off bills and not paying interest, etc. The items that pushed us over the top were receiving a second car (my late aunt’s) for $1, using Mr. Husband’s bonus to pay off 3 more debts and push a credit card debt down to a small balance, an continuing to add to savings, 529, 401K, emergency slush fund, chasing down rebates, getting every penny back through our Flexible Spending Account for unreimbursed medical, making donations in kind (with receipts), rolling coins…etc. Now I’m wondering if we will hit $50K for the year in cost avoidance/cash not spent. I must say that tracking these spending choices on an Excel spreadsheet helps a lot.

6) All Homemade and No Dryer — I’ve been really good about the Homemade Challenge — I haven’t bought anything that I could make myself. I’m really looking forward to exploding this challenge with the property, if the deal goes through. As for the No Dryer Challenge, I slipped a bit in the last month with three things — 1) I have been sick as a dog, 2) it has rained A LOT, and 3) I have been gone a lot to the West County (Sonoma) to work on my great-aunt’s house and look at property) — so being sick, bad weather and not being home = a dozen loads in the dryer, and I’ll just have to live with that.

That’s all for me for now — I’m reading all comments, just don’t always have the bandwidth to respond. Hope everyone had a wonderful Passover, a blessed Ostara, a holy Easter, a lovely spring and also Happy Earth Day today. And many more…

keeping track

This is a year of keeping records on what we’re growing, how much we’ve produced, where we’re saving and how we’re getting out of debt. I’ve been doing all these things for a while but now I’m actually tracking them. And you, Dear Reader, will get to follow along as I pinch pennies, pick up grains of rice and glean fallen apples. Doesn’t that sound enticing? Well — trust me. I’m excited about it.
   I hate to call them resolutions, although I’ve resolved to live this way. These are more like over-all goals and ways of being. Being rather than doing. A context rather than a rule. So here are the ways of living for 2011, in no particular order, and weighing equally in importance. More or less.

1.  Compact living. (Continuing my fourth year…) That’s the pledge of not-buying-new and not using up as many resources as possible, a la most Americans. Conserving electricity, water, recycling, thrifting, gleaning, getting rid of stuff and living more simply, eating locally, less waste in food and avoiding excess packaging, making do or doing without, debt reduction and cash living…all that kind of thing. Just more of it. Interested? We’re a dedicated bunch — more than 10K of us yak regularly at The Compact. Join us.

2.  Savings Challenge: This is the year of saving $25,000. That is, we will be $25,000 richer a year from now. Doesn’t mean a pile of gold, my friends, but it does mean we will pay down bills, and thus save in interest payments. We’ll add to our 401K and get the company match, which is free money. We’ll make donations, save pennies, and avoid avoidable fees, and in the end, by Dec. 31, 2011, we will be $25K better off, somehow. I will tell you that this is already going well. As of Jan. 1, I made a few adjustments to bills that put us close to the $1,000 mark already — by paying off a bill with a high interest rate and making a donation and changing our insurance coverage. Look for occasional posts on this topic, not as bragging, but more as crampons on the icy slope toward financial freedom. And believe you me, if we can do it — with 5 kids, two divorces and years of struggling single-parenthood, assorted debts, college loans, and just one income — anyone can. By the way, I made a spreadsheet for this.

3. Fat Ass Challenge. OK, as I type this I am eating holiday M&Ms. So how badly do I need this challenge? I would like to shed 20 lbs but I can’t seem to get off my fat ass, so this will be an ongoing battle. It used to be easy for me to blink and lose 10 lbs. But I had a year of disability during which I moped, and did not exercise, and the blub has settled. I gotta move my ass. That’s all there is to it. And stop eating candy, fer crap’s sake. Willpower, my ass. Literally.

4. Garden Production. I have a garden and some chickens. So what? I’d like to know how much my little farm is producing and what that is worth to me in the food budget. So I made a spreadsheet for that, too. I stole the idea from the Dervaes family of Little House in the Suburbs — they are some fine folks and I recommend you check in on them once in a while to see how you could make your suburban plot of land completely arable and productive. They chart their progress and I shall, too.
This ends up in the plus column, because if I am getting eggs at the rate of 3 a day, then I am saving $10 a week by not buying 2 dozen organic brown eggs. My eggs and veggies are worth something, and not just their own intrinsic value. They are worth barter or trade value as well. If I trade eggs for something instead of cash, so much the better.

5. Meal Planning.  I was given a month-by-month desk calendar that no one else wanted and it seemed perfect as a meal-planning calendar. I have been planning meals a week at a time for a while but this helps me keep track of what we eat all month, and I can look back to see what we ate last month, etc. This is not just about budgeting and keeping our health on track. I am also trying to eliminate food waste in the house, and using leftovers or using up what we have is easier if there’s a plan for it, and you know what you’re doing day to day. I know how my brain works, and if I don’t know by noon what is for dinner, then it is not happening. I get slower and slower and lazier and more lethargic — maybe just more tired — as they day ebbs, and I will end up ordering a pizza ($10-$20) or Chinese ($35) or sushi ($50) if I don’t plan and stick to it. So how often can I blow my budget with sushi? Not much, if I intend to get us $25K this year. It’s all part of a Master Plan.
     This week’s menu includes finishing up the holiday ham. We didn’t eat much of it when The Vegan was here, but she went back to NY so we’re eating meat again. We had mac-n-cheese-n-ham bits on Monday. I made a ham-yellow pepper-cheese frittata in the oven in my cast iron skillet tonight, and tomorrow will be white bean soup with the last of the ham. The beans are doing a passive soak overnight.

6. Coupon Saving. Yes. I’m one of the crazy coupon ladies. But I’m a clever crazy one. I don’t buy sh*t that we don’t eat. I don’t buy cleaning supplies and Airwick candles. I don’t buy Pampers. There are TONS of coupons out there for that kind of crap. However, with judicious use of coupons for real food (plain cereal, cheese, milk, yogurt, veggies, cat food, health foods), and combining with store sales and rebates, I saved easily 40% on my grocery bills the second half of 2010. Our Christmas was one of the “richest” ever, despite spending less, because of coupons, sales, rebates and deals. So…I started a spreadsheet to track my savings. What I don’t blow on paying full price at the store will go into the savings column on my Master Plan spreadsheet. If I save 40% every week, that’s a significant amount of money not wasted at the store, and that we can spend on debt reduction, investing elsewhere, and so on. It’s a Master Plan, I tell you. (cue evil laughter)

7. Homemade Throwdown. Damn that Max Wong. She challenged us on The Compact to an ALL HOMEMADE year. Make it or fake it til you make it. No buying gifts, etc. Make it all. EEE-gads. Well, OK. I guess I can do that. So watch for this goofy little challenge to rear its ugly head somewhere in the future, probably when I’m drooling to buy something that I could make but am feeling lazy. Like pizza. Or some cute vintage red Italian pumps.

Are seven challenges enough? Yes. But wait…there’s one more.

8. One-Car Family. Yep. The old Isuzu died, and we decided not to go into further debt to buy a second car, and also that leasing a car would be a total waste of money with nothing to show at the end. We might as well just go out for an expensive meal every night for the next two years, if we’re gonna just throw money away. We will share the one car that we have — a 2004 Mitsubishi Outlander that gets good mileage and has about 93K on it. Here’s to riding my bike, taking the bus, walking — and, I hope, walking my Fat Ass off. I’ll be writing about these adventures this year.
Plus — children, chickens, writing, the world, and my ongoing quest for spiritual fulfilment in the garden.
Can you dig it? Say yes — and email me at if you want me to send you any of these spreadsheets for your own use.
Ciao, bellas.