An aside, and then prep for the PP

Dude, look what I found… my novel, years of blood, sweat, toil, angst and actual lived history: available used for $3.28. *sigh* It’s better than when I found it used on the discard pile at the Alameda Friends of the Library sale last year (I know who you are — I saw the inscription…). Anyway — fame and infamy. It’s everything it’s cracked up to be. *facepalm*

But never mind that. We’re working on the Plastic Purge, or getting ready for it. And everywhere I look, there’s plastic. Plastic! My magazine came wrapped in plastic. My vitamins are sealed in plastic. My shampoo bottle is plastic. My fish fillets are vacuum-packed in plastic, inside a plastic bag. My mayonnaise is in a plastic jar. My ketchup, too. My eBay packages come in plastic. My meat comes in plastic. My new clothes have plastic tags on them that I have to snip and discard. Is it just me, or are we drowning in plastic?

I always think it’s just me. But it’s not; plastic is really everywhere.

The Plastic Purge begins Wednesday. And I will start fresh on that day, June 1. I’ve had to tread carefully beforehand, because I don’t want to have had my purge before the official time. But the more I look, the worse it is. It’s in my car, it’s in my mail, it’s in my coming in and going out. Stepping off the plastic bus is going to take an entire revise of how we’ve lived til now. Shopping, cooking, storing, eating, shipping, gifting, sharing, bathing. It’s all fraught with the use of plastic, and changing that will be a trial.

Good thing I’m ready for a challenge. Are you?

green day

This is how I spent my day, but it’s not unusual. It’s fairly typical of how we live these days, and I wanted to give a baseline of how life is at Chez Tracey before the Plastic Purge begins. Note my regal attire, left, as I hold my royal scepter and show off my tiara. It’s not easy being the Queen of Green, you know.

Outside (photo): I’m in our vegetable garden, which I’ve grown every year except the handful of years I lived in apartments in San Francisco and elsewhere. But even on my apartment balcony in Concord, a jillion years ago, I grew tomatoes, herbs and strawberries. What can I say? I’m a farmgirl at heart. Behind me in the photo are two compost bins, both from Freecycle, because I have that much going on with my green waste. We don’t put much into the green bin on trash day unless it’s big branches; we compost everything else (or feed it to the chickens). I also have a separate spot where I compost the cat litter in winter (far from any food or recreation — outside the fence, if you must know.) If you didn’t know this already, animal waste is a major source of greenhouse gasses, and the clay cat litter is a BAD environmental choice; the U.S. Geological Survey that 2.14 million tons of clay is strip-mined each year for kitty litter. Start using wheat chaff or shredded newspapers, because that clay litter is bad news.

Back to the photo: I’m standing on mulch that we got for free when a neighbor had a tree chopped down. The raised beds are made from scrap lumber and found wood — one is a former dresser and another is made from a broken park bench — both creative reuses that kept stuff out of landfill. The round vegetable planters are former wine barrels — a Craigslist find. The stepping stones were scavenged, a few at a time. I think even the clothes I’m wearing in the photo are second-hand. Because why not? We rarely buy new here, partly because we (I mean our family as well as the Western world) already have more stuff (that we don’t even use) than we could possibly need in five lifetimes. We continue to work on downsizing and simplifying, and the upcoming Plastic Purge is part of that goal.

So: my Green Day.

Morning is about the animals: Creatures first, people second. That’s a rule on the farm and it’s a rule here, too. I try to make cat food from scratch when I can. More often, I feed them canned stuff that I got with coupons or in bulk at Costco, and this is an area I continue to work on: too many cans to be recycled, and what’s in that stuff anyway? I need to perfect the cat food recipe because, actually, they hate it. And then it’s a waste of food (chicken livers, wings and backs, plus oatmeal, carrots and eggs), and it’s also a waste of energy. What to do, what to do…

At least the chickens will eat cat food if the cats won’t. (I know — gross, right? But chickens are not picky. They will eat each other, given the chance.)

After the cats and chickens are fed, watered and let out to roam the yard, I make coffee — trying to judge how much we’ll reasonably drink in one day. Leftover coffee gets poured into a container and used as hair rinse (try it if you’re a brunette; it helps cover gray naturally); I also freeze it as ice cubes during summer to use in iced coffee. After making a pot, I turn off/unplug the maker and pour the fresh coffee into a Thermos pitcher, which keeps it hot but not acid and bitter all day. Saves energy, and the coffee doesn’t get gross from reheating. I found the Thermos at the Portland Goodwill for $1. If there is any leftover or funky coffee any other time, I pour it on the compost. By the way, a few years ago I bought a copper mesh coffee filter and use it every day. I have not purchased another package of coffee filters in four years. I bought the filter at Lucky and it cost about $9, a great “green” purchase.

If it’s a work or school day, I make lunches, but I have not used plastic wrap, baggies, paper napkins, paper towels or lunch bags for many years. I do use waxed paper (compostable) and I make great use of Tupperware and other reusable containers (yes, these are plastic). I put real spoons, forks and cloth napkins in everyone’s lunches. You think your kid will forget and throw the spoon away? Maybe once or twice (buy a couple of thrift-store spoons til they get with the program). As with any new scheme, it takes a little while to get used to. Mistakes happen. But in the long run, it’s a more sound ecological practice to use and reuse your own silverware and napkins and Tuppers than it is to throw away a plastic bag or fork or a paper towel after one use.

I work at home so I don’t have a commuting cost — how green is that? My usual day includes household chores like laundry — which I try to wash early in the day so I can hang the clothes to dry. If it’s later in the day, I’ll just set the basket of damp stuff aside til morning; I might hang wet clothes on our small indoor drying rack or put them on hangers to air dry inside.
Since we air-dry on the line, that means ironing. Dry cleaning uses lots of harmful chemicals, plus the plastic bags, so I use this service only for silk, tuxedo shirts or delicate eveningwear or maybe a vintage dress. Ironing is a commitment of one or two hours a week for shirts, pants, and other odds and ends. I don’t iron our cloth napkins — it just isn’t that important to us. And that goes for sheets, too.

Since I’m at home during the day, I’m able to cook from scratch — dry beans, bread, cookies, soups and stews — these have no extra packaging or processing, better for our health and the planet. I spend a portion of most days in the garden pulling weeds, watering or other yard chores — this keeps it organic, since I don’t use Round-up or fuel-powered machines like a Weed-whacker. I compost or feed to the chickens whatever I pull up, weed-wise. Dandelions are a delicious treat for the hennies. Plus, any slugs or snails are literally dead meat when I find them — chickens make very short work of the poor little mollusks.

I have many errands to run every week — my shopping routine is much more like hunting and gathering, and I find it serves us best if I do it myself in the car. I make a meticulous list, take a snack or lunch and my own water or coffee, music for the car, and plenty of cloth bags. I shop locally and in bulk if possible, and I keep my mileage/gas to 25 miles or fewer per week. I also go on my errands in a circular route so that I am not backtracking, and will often park in a central location and walk to several stops. My errands include the grocery store, shops for bulk buys, the bank, the post office and the library. These are not shopping trips for pleasure, although I find it very satisfying as I provide for my family. But shopping as a hobby is not sustainable in any possible way, and is terrible for our household budget, besides. We are much more financially secure since we eliminated recreational shopping from our lives.

In the afternoon, after the massive erranding, the putting away of provisions, the checking in on the finances, and the completing of work-related writing and research, I chill out with a glass of homemade sun-tea (zero calories, zero energy, and costs about 5 cents a gallon to make). I knit or crochet (usually with rescued yarn), read books from the library (free) or magazines from the Friends of the Library magazine exchange (free). When the Boy gets home from school (he walks or rides his skateboard, since he has those two healthy legs and school is just a mile away), he has a snack, does homework and plays some video games with friends (his limit is one hour a day, 2 hours a day in summer).

Between then and bedtime, there are more animal chores (collect eggs, put chickens back in the coop with fresh water, hose down patio after chickens visited and pooped), plus dinner to cook, dishes to wash, and usually a mountain of laundry to fold. Some nights there’s kung fu or a baseball game to go to, or a movie we want to watch together. My daughters and Mr. Husband get home from work via the ferry and Bart or the bus. We eat dinner together as a family (proven to improve healthy, welfare and the state of the world as we know it) and I turn in early — 9 pm, so I can read some more before sleep.

Is that much different from your life? In what ways could you greenify? I could ride my bike more — many of those errands can be done on a bike. That’s on my list, and so is exercising more — by walking or biking. And I’ve got to stop Mr. Husband from bringing home another plastic bag, after forgetting the reusable one.

How green is your valley, anyway?

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.

plastic fantastic

It’s everywhere. Plastic, that is. It’s really, truly in everything we buy and no wonder America and the planet and choking in plastic debris. Does this sound like a rant? It isn’t — yet. It’s more of a concerned discussion, with a rallying cry to myself. Self, I say, what are we gonna do about all the plastic in our lives?

Last year, for the month of June, I went on the Food Stamp Challenge and lived on the budget for a family of 4.5 on food stamps for the month. I blogged about it and learned from it, and am still practicing some failsafe food savings. June seems like a good month for a crusade, so what the heck? This year I’m going to work on eliminating plastics from our lives, June 1-30. And it won’t be easy.
This morning I went for a cup of coffee and they served it to me with a plastic lid (I brought it home to recycle), plastic stick to stir (I didn’t use it) and several little plastic cups with cream (I used them and left them there, doh!). If I go no-plastic, I will have to eschew the cream next time. Because the chance of the happy folks at Carl’s Junior recycling those little plastic cups is about a million to one. Nope, I’m pretty sure those little cups will be sitting in a landfill somewhere for the next thousand years or so. Unless, of course, they get blown out of the truck and manage to make their way to a waterway, and so out to the Great Pacific Gyre, aka Plasticland of the Pacific (see photo).

I buy gallons of milk in plastic jugs — it’s a better buy than smaller sizes. But it’s plastic, right? Which may or may not get into our food and our bodies, etc. Plastic needs fossil fuels to create, produce and transport the goods it packages. I could go on. But you already know this stuff. The dealio is this: I’m going to try and cut out plastics, and will blog on occasion about it. More, if it’s amusing, and less, if it’s dull. (Let me know in the comments section, please!)

But I figure on having to change my tune on a number of things: my couponing, for one. I get some pretty sweet deals on lunch meat and cheese with coupons, for example. But those are pretty plasticky, packaging-wise. That means I will have to ask for stuff at the deli and have it wrapped in paper only. More expensive? I’m sure it is. And potato chips — those tend to be in plastic bags. Pasta often comes in plastic. Bread comes inplastic. Bagels, shampoo, juice? Bars of soap may be wrapped in paper or boxes but come lashed together with plastic. So do multiples of anything. Our vitamins have the top sealed in plastic. Computer games and printer ink have plastic everywhere in the packaging. Toilet paper comes swathed in plastic, unless you buy individual rolls. Guess I’ll be doing that from now on.

We’re already pretty good about buying less plastic, or letting in very little. But this is about stepping it up a notch, and then we’ll see if we can still eat and pay the rent… What a pity that (once again) ethical living and paying the rent seem to be opposed. Is it more expensive to live without plastic? Can we live better? Or is it more costly and will we have to give up elsewhere to make this scheme work?

Stay tuned.