Saturday, March 22, 2008

I have been remiss again. Some updates:

Yesterday I found a whole foods store in Geneva, 45 minutes away which sells bulk items-dried beans, granola, dried fruits, teas, spices, etc. I stocked up while I was there, and will now make a point to shop there whenever visiting my friend who lives in Syracuse. I have to drive right by the store anyways to get there, so it will not even be out of the way. They have paper bags to put the food in, and pack in paper. I will bring my own bags next time-I didn't expect to find it so I was unprepared.

We bought a smoker to do the hams and bacon. The hams turned out awesome, we have not tried the bacon yet. The smoker also will do dehydrating, so we can do jerky, dried fruit, tomatoes, etc. Yum yum! I am having a hard time finding non-plastic wrapping material. The butcher paper I bought is plastic coated and cannot be reused. I am wondering if buying plastic bags and reusing them would be better. I will have to do some research. Since the goal is to exclude air and moisture, I wonder if waxed muslin would work? I could use honey bee wax. People have been keeping meat for thousands of years before plastic, there has to be a way.

I tried mozzarella again. It came out more like mozzarella than the last attempt, but still did not stretch. Turns out the milk I am using must be ultra-pasteurized, so I have a line on a farm which sells raw organic milk. I will pick some up next week and try again. I did make lasagna out of the ricotta I made last time, the mozzarella I made this time, sauce from my tomatoes last summer and eggs from my own chickens. It was so good we ate almost the whole pan in one sitting! My husband complained jokingly that I did not make the noodles from scratch-next time I said. Funny, he laughs at me wanting to make everything from scratch but sure likes the results.

I started onion seeds this week. Next week I will start the Solenaceae-peppers and tomatoes. Working in the college greenhouse has helped me be more patient with my own starts. Usually by now I would have all my plants started and they would be leggy and pale. I am very excited about the garden this year. I know much more than I did last year due to my time in the greenhouse and school, including ways to minimize my work load!

I have a new kitten rescue, named Sam. I found him walking down the side of the road with a can of salmon on his head, like nothing was wrong (Sam is for Salmon Head). He was a wild little thing at first, but now adores being handled. He is a deep sable/black color with green eyes, and about 3 white hairs on his chest. Gorgeous cat. If we didn't already have 3 cats......

And last, my Bull Terror is laying on a black carpet in the full sun, panting like a steam engine. She could move into the shadow, but I am sure it feels so good to lay in the sun after this long, long winter and she can't resist. Looks like a good idea, so I think I will join her.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cheese making adventure

Since I cannot find any cheese not wrapped in plastic, I thought I would try my hand at making cheese. Countryside and Small Stock Journal had an article about cheese making complete with recipes, so I ordered the supplies on-line.

I was a little disappointed when I received the package 2 days later. While it came very quickly, which was great, everything came in non-reusable or recyclable plastic. The rennet, which is a liquid, came in a completely non-recyclable bottle, and the citric acid came in one of those home sealed plastic sheets. I think I may search out a local cheese maker to buy rennet from in the future, but that will be a while as the bottle I bought should make a thousand pounds of cheese. So I suppose given how long it lasts, one reusable if not recyclable plastic bottle isn't horrible.

I thought I would try mozzarella first, since that is supposed to be the easiest. I heated 2 gallons of milk to 90 degrees, added 1/4 tsp thermophilic culture, diluted 1/4 tsp rennet into 1/2 c cool water, and added it to the milk. I was to stir it for 15 seconds then let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes to curd. Well, it thickened, then decided to stop. I left it for hours and it would not curd. I heated it up in the sink to 110, trying another idea from on-line, and it would not curd. So I finally decided to just strain it and see what came out. I put muslin in a strainer and poured in the liquid to drain, putting another pan underneath to catch the whey. After a while, I found what looked and smelled suspiciously like ricotta cheese! So I strained it all out and ended up with 2 pints of fresh ricotta cheese. Half way through I switched to straining through a screen, so more solids got though into the whey, but it went faster. I refrigerated the whey and went to bed.

Next day I thought I would make ricotta out of the remaining product, since there seemed to be so many solids in the bottom of the pan. I put it back on the stove, heated it to 190 degrees, and added 1/4 cider vinegar. I stirred for 15 minutes, but did not see any curds forming that were not already there, and the ones there were pinprick sized. I put more muslin in the strainer, and poured the liquid in, figuring I may get another 1/2 cup ricotta, but not hoping for much. As it strained, I could see the ricotta forming against the muslin, so pulled up a corner and scraped the cheese sticking to the fabric with a spoon to collect it. This allowed the rest to drain more quickly. I got another pint of ricotta this way. By then there was a small enough amount of liquid that I could gather all the edges of the muslin and make a bag, which I could then squeeze to get more liquid out. I squeezed out probably another 1/8 cup, then opened it back up. On the upper edges where it was the driest, the cheese looked and smelled suspiciously like cream cheese. So I continued to scrape and drain until I had about 1 cup of cream cheese, which was the consistency of cold whipped cream cheese.

I had bread already started, so I took one of the unbaked loaves and made bagels by shaping into balls, poking my finger through the middle for the hole, boiling each for 1 minute each side, brushing with egg, then baking for 30 minutes.

So my mozzarella turned into ricotta, my ricotta turned into cream cheese, and my bread turned into bagels. All said, I am pretty happy with the results! Today I will try the mozzarella again, and hopefully will get mozzarella, so we can make lasagna for dinner.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thrips and aphids and mites, oh my

One of my responsibilities as Greenhouse Manager at school is IPM, or integrated pest management. Used to be when you brought in soil it was completely sterilized, all the greenhouse was sterilized, then if you saw an insect it was sprayed with a chemical which instantly killed it. Nowadays, when certified organic, we use IPM. This is a combination of biological, physical and chemical controls, the main point being to create balance and long term pest management.

That said, we have a huge thrip and aphid problem, and since there are spidermites in an adjoining room, we will likely soon have those as well. I had purchased Aphideletes, a parasitic fly which lays its eggs in the aphids, but these are long term controls not short term crisis management, and we are now in crisis mode. Today I ordered lady bugs and Atheta; the Atheta will predate on the larval thrips in the soil, and will remain in the soil indefinately once colonized. The lady bugs just eat aphids, lots and lots of aphids....this is a good thing.

I also have been using trap crops. I have garlic oil, which came in a plastic jug, but has a 99/1 water/oil dilution rate, so in my mind that one jug is worth it. The oil is a repellant, so I fill a small spray bottle with the diluted oil and spray it on the leaves that I would like to keep pest free. I then leave a trap crop without the oil, for the pests to go to. I can replace this trap crop periodically and destroy the soil and plants to get rid of the eggs and larvae on the trap crops. It is not 100% effective, but it works to keep the pests from destroying the plants.

I also have been manually checking the crops and squishing the aphids and thrips by hand. While this is not something which could be done large scale, it is helping with the small amount of plants I have going right now.

Organic IPM is a measure of patience and compromise. You will not achieve a 100% kill rate right away. It takes time to work, and it will never work "perfectly". The point is, we can live without perfection. It is better for our health and the environment to have a few leaves with thrip scrape marks than to have perfect leaves full of insecticides.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Climbing back on the wagon

Even though we have our friends here I have been trying to get back on track. I did not buy any bread, but just made white bread for the boys, which everyone has enjoyed. We did buy mac and cheese, but it actually does not contain plastic.

I am finding that my homesteading efforts and the low plastic trend go hand in hand. The more I grow and raise here at home, the less plastic I use. Homesteading also allows you more visceral, direct contact with your food and products. Just as shopping with plastic in mind causes you to be a more conscious consumer, homesteading makes you aware of every step in the process of bringing the food to the table. Add in eliminating fuel consumption and chemicals which comes from mass production and shipping of storebought food, and your impact on the environment shrinks even more.

I bought my years seeds from High Mowing Seeds and they came in today. I poured over seed packs of red and yellow pear tomatoes, white, purple and orange carrots, rainbow chard, burgundy and green beans, snap and snow peas, and lots of others. I still have lots of chili pepper seeds from last year so will try cayenne, habanero, jalepeno, and others. The red and blue potatoes will be in next month. Rainbows of fresh vegetables waiting to be grown. Today we had a thaw, it was practically balmy at 44 degrees, the snow started melting and the sun was out. Made me want to start digging in the garden, but the ground is too wet. The chickens were thrilled with all the grass uncovered this morning. Another few weeks to go for outside peas and spinach, and I will start the indoor transplants in another few weeks.

I usually use plastic bags to put up frozen veggies all year, but I could also use jars. Last fall I used jars to freeze applesauce, and it worked really well. I think this year I may use glass jars to freeze beans, peas, corn, carrots, peppers, etc. I could freeze them in mixes for 'pre-made' dishes such as soups, stirfries, and pot pies. I also will get my dehydrator fixed (the Bull Terror ate the plug off years ago and I never got around to fixing it) and will dry tomatoes, apples, and strawberries. I am looking forward to making my own sun dried tomatoes, packed with fresh garlic and basil.

Last weekend we butchered a 550 lb pig with a friend of ours. I skinned and gutted it with our friend, but then overnight got a cold so stayed home while DH butchered and made sausage. He saved me all the fat so over the week we made lard to use for soap, suet and candles (and pie crusts!) The lard was really neat to make, you take the fat, cut it into chunks, then slowly melt it in a pot. Once you strain it out and pour it into a pan to cool, it turns bright white. A by-product of making lard are cracklins, which are basically deep fried pork fat. Yum yum, you can feel your arteries hardening just thinking about it.

We brined the bacon and hams, they will have to sit in the brine for 3 weeks then will be ready to package. We are using our Uncle Bill's recipe, so the bacon should be so strong it makes you pucker when you eat it, but in a good way. Apparently you can brine a turkey, so we will have to try that with one of the turkeys I raise this summer. The hams were 30 lbs each, so we cut them into huge chunks since they would not have fit into my oven. We wrapped all the meat and lard in butcher paper, so avoid the Styrofoam and plastic from the store. I have the skin, organs, and the head in the garage, (frozen due to the cold) and plan on making pork rinds, treats and ears for the dogs.

The cool thing is how you can use just about every part of the pig for something. The dogs had two ham bones, they crunched them right down for dinner. Kept them occupied, especially Jack, the one on crate rest-had him busy for a whole day. I used the other ham bones to make broth, with which I then made potato-leek soup. We wasted a lot this time simply because we did not know how much time it would take to do everything. Next time we will glean even more. We are also buying a steer for the summer and will butcher it in the fall. Our friend will keep it with his, and we can butcher it at his house since he had the set up for it.

I finally came up with a potential answer to the cheese dilemma. I purchased cheese making ingredients today; rennet, cultures and wax. I shall endeavor to make my own cheese, starting with mozerella, which is supposed to be a fairly straight forward cheese to make. I have recipes for cottage cheese, ricotta, feta, cheddar and farm cheese, but will try them one at a time. I have a friend who has dairy goats, so I can get goat milk for the feta.

I just keep in mind when looking at all this work I have planned: a tired puppy is a happy puppy!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Falling off the wagon

I have to admit, I have fallen off the wagon. It started after the NOFA conference, when my 10 year old dog Jack, the one I have traveled all over the country with competing and performing in sports and shows, woke up one morning unable to walk. I rushed him to the vet, where it turned out he had a disc problem and needed meds, which they gave me in a plastic bottle in a plastic bag. I numbly took the bag and went my way. I stopped at the store to get hot dogs to feed the pills in, and bough plastic wrapped hot dogs which they packed in a plastic bag, and I took it and went home. These meds did not work, so a few days later I went back and got 3 more types of meds, all in plastic bottles all in a plastic bag. Again I did not argue.

My big canvas bag was peed on by a dog when I was teaching freestyle, and that waits to be washed, but there is a sick chicken on the washing machine so I have not been doing much laundry. SO every trip to the store has meant a new plastic bag.

Our friend's kids are coming over today to stay for a week, which meant a trip to the store to buy fake, plastic food like Kraft Mac and Cheese, processed peanut butter in plastic, and white bread.

The good news is that even though I have been less careful, I only went up to one grocery store bag of garbage last week. The bad news is that with my friend's boys coming, we will likely be up tp a large bag this coming week. I still love that they are coming, but it will be a real challenge to keep it down.

It has been so hard when this busy to stay organized enough to do this. I will have company all weekend, and I have a large assignment for school, so I do not know if I will have time this weekend to sit down and organize myself. I have been so good about organizing schoolwork this semester, which is a huge undertaking, but myself and the household is another thing altogether.

Friday, January 25, 2008

NOFA NY conference

I am at the NOFA NY conference in Saratoga Springs; well, actually in my hotel after day one of the conference. This is a meeting of organic growers, producers and tradesmen with classes and round table discussions about sustainability in agriculture. I am sad to say even in this group of greenies many just do not get the plastic thing.

There is a Chinese raffle, and most of the items are wrapped in plastic or have plastic bottles.

At the tea and coffee station there were Styrofoam cups, with the ceramic ones way in the back.

One grower of organic nuts and chocolates had everything in plastic containers.

All the dairies had cheese, yogurt and milk samples in plastic wrappers, tubs and bottles.

Many of the companies selling organic soil amendments had them in plastic bags or bottles.

I see a real need here for plastic education. I would not have thought this would be a group which needed it. Plastic is so ubiquitous that even environmentally sound people do not question its use.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yet another critter

This is not about plastic. I just thought it was funny.

My husband is a bleeding heart. The man swerves the car to miss frogs and butterflies, I kid you not. When I caught the $&*^&^% mink which had been killing my chickens, he made me release it rather than drown it. He is a big softie, which is an endearing quality.

We had a squirrel in the walls of our house, and we could hear him chewing away in the evening and afternoons.

So we set up a live trap and tonight caught ourselves a red squirrel.

Well, "we can't take him anywhere and release him, he would starve". I have no idea what he was thinking he would do if he caught it when he set the trap up in the first place.


We now have a temporary new pet. We put him in the old rat cage, with a nest box and lots of food, which is funny because only last week we moved the rats to their new condo. Tomorrow I have to go buy him (or her) a water bottle. Come spring we can release him far away from our house. In the mean least he is in the house in a contained way rather than chewing his way through the walls.

And here I was trying to reduce the number of critters around here!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Getting Busy

Last week started getting busy; I went to school one day, an all day doctors appt/errand run another, volunteered at the church to make banners a third. So what happened? I didn't make bread for three days or make granola or yogurt for a week, we ran out of milk and we ended up short of ready to eat food.

I am at the threshhold. I am out of many of the foods we eat which come in plastic, and have not found alternatives yet. Cheese. Meat. Cereal. I went to the store today after church and there was nothing to buy.

I am looking at buying local foods as well as plastic. I question what the difference is between 0.1g of plastic wrapping compared with the petroleum used driving those naked oranges 3000 miles. Thus, in the dead of winter in which I did not prepare for food wise, I am out of food options. There are next to no truly green food choices.

I bought a frozen can of apple juice concentrate two weeks ago for granola and when I got it home read on the label "From China". We live in the North East, arguably the home of the best apples in the country, if not the world, and we are shipping them in from China?!

I start school full time tomorrow. I will be heading up the organic certification of the entire Ag program (crops, pasture, dairy and veg production) as well as running the greenhouse and veg field production and taking a class. How am I going to be able to manage running a plastic less household while being gone 5 or more days a week? Next week I will be gone to a 3 day organics conference, what is my family going to eat?

I guess I am depressed about this. It is such a hard path. Everything in the entire store I normally shop in outside of a few limp veggies shipped in from CA is wrapped in plastic.

The good news is I have managed for the second week in a row to keep the plastic output down to one grocery bag full (not including recycling but including everyone else's plastic-4 people). I have only added a couple of new plastic bags. I started a double batch (4 loaves) of oatmeal bread, and we already had a great meal of baked Orange Roughy with sun dried tomatoes, basil and garlic (came wrapped in paper at the store), cappalini with homemade sauce from tomatoes out of my garden, and homemade biscuits. Everyone is full and there are leftovers. I am also going to start growing some food for us in one of the side rooms in the greenhouse. Call it a perk of running the place.

I am finding organization is key to this endeavor, especially meals. I think maybe it is time to resurrect the other blog to start looking at plastic free meals and recipes. This is worth it t me, but it is work. And sometimes, like all work, it gets you down. I can see how so many people decide it isn't worth the trouble.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shopping trip

I has left my purse at my brother- in- laws, so to make the trip (40 min) worth more I decided to run some errands in Canandaigua, which is 15 minutes further. Since we live in such a small town, trying to get to any decent stores is an hour trip in any direction, so we try to make it count when we do go.

I went to a pet store to stock up on dog food and other supplies, and since I don't feed my dogs junk that means going to a premium store. I found scoopable wheat cat litter in a large paper bag, so I am giving it a whirl. I think I got 20 lbs for $14, which all things considering is not bad. I will be able to compost it directly rather than find a spot in the weeds way out back, which will be nice. Of course, the idea of using a food for the cats to crap in seems a little, well, indulgent, given that there are starving people in many parts of the world. However, since their own governments, not I, are keeping them in that condition, I think I am safe to say my cat litter choices will not likely effect the situation.

I also stopped at the Cananaigua Spice Co., which was said to be a bulk spice shop. The web site, has a long list of things the store does to be environmentally friendly, and the idea of getting spices in bulk appeals to me. I got there, and everything was in plastic. When the owner came over and asked if I needed anything, I told her about the avoiding plastics, and she started telling me about the regulations and laws governing bulk food sales. Apparently they are getting so stringent businesses cannot afford to keep them going. She then offered to take my list and fill it directly from the bins in the storeroom into paper bags, if I did not mind hand written labels! She then said if I plan on coming again and know what I want, I can call ahead and she will have it waiting for me, or I can have the bags refilled when I get there.
We also bought a bottle of Wet Fart Hot Sauce! I have been collecting hot sauce bottles, like Kick Yo Ass Hot Sauce and Hellfire Wing Sauce. I love the names, pictures, and descriptions on the bottles. She had several more kinds there, so I think I will pick a new one up every time I go. We use the hot sauce in chili, popcorn, and other concoctions.

She was very nice, she sourced local and organics as much as possible, and I plan on stopping by there whenever I am in the area. Turns out there is a Wegmans, Lowes, Pet Depot, drug store and the spice shop all within a 1/2 mile, so I can combine a trip to see family with all my errands for a month. Seems like a win win to me!

Oh, and I used my canvas bags all night, they worked great.

Monday, January 14, 2008


This started as a response to Fake Plastic Fish's post on running. I started getting windy, and figured I should just make my own post.

Shoes. Are their plastic free alternatives? Birkenstock are the closest I can think of, but are not the most practical shoe ever. They are clunky, not waterproof, and useless in winter.

So, since I cannot get away from synthetics in shoes, my motto is buy few, make them last.

I think buying a really good pair and taking care of them is the most important thing we can do. I used to buy cheap shoes and would go through 2-3 sneakers a year, plus a pair of boots and dress shoes. I now buy Merrill's or Keens, which last me several years. I also have the problem that if I wear shoes which are flat or really worn out, I get shooting pains in my legs, so good support is a must.

I have five types of shoes I 'need'.

Daily cool/cold weather shoes:

* edited to add-upon thinking, I could have worn a really good pair of lace up hiking boots and for both winter boots and winter shoes. I did it last year. But LL Bean came out with PURPLE mocs. I was weak. I couldn't help myself. I shall flog myself daily for a week.

My last three pairs were
Merrill Mocs: bought in 2003 in Malibu when teaching at a dog camp. Wore daily year round for 2 1/2 years, then occasionally until the sides tore out.
Merrill light hikers: bought early in 2006, worn for over a year daily, still good other than the back started fraying and bunching from not untying my shoes to take them on and off.
LL Bean Winter shoes-Purple!!!- bought September 2007, worn daily for 4 months, no sign of wear.

Daily summer sandals:
Ok, this is a tough one. I have lost many sandals to the Bull Terror, who once in a blue moon with get lonely, bored AND locked in the sun room and decides to console herself with my shoes. Usually sandals. Usually only one so I have to throw one perfectly good sandal away, and can remember how nice they were. Of course up until this last pair I bought cheap Walmart shoes. This year I paid a lot for my sandals and they are really good shoes, so her royal hienyness and I had a long talk, and she seems to understand how important this is. Now I wouldn't consider sandles a need until I started kayaking. I would go barefoot but this summer my son stepped out of his kayak for a break and landed on a muskrat trap. Luckily he was not hurt(screamed like a banshee though!), but it goes to show that you never know what is on the bottom of a river, and shoes are a good thing. Also, we got out of the kayaks to go to the bathroom and get more ice, and I needed shoes to go in the stores. Keens can get wet repeatedly without damage, so they seemed a good option. They also float, another good feature.

Keen's: bought March of 2007 with my kayak, worn all summer, look brand new.

Winter/barn boots: I live in upstate NY, so I need warm, dry boots. I went through many cheap pairs of boots which were never warm and never lasted until I found these. They are mostly made of plastic, but given how long lasting and totally waterproof they are, I am using less plastic with these over the long haul. My brother Bob said they are not good on cement for 8 hours a day, they will not last. In that case a good pair of work boots is better. I also wear them on the farm and on other farms, so I can wash them with chlorahexadine and they do not care. They also make Arctic Muck's, which are good down to sub zero temps. My friend has a pair, but I like the idea of only having one pair of boots, so I just wear more socks.

*edited to add-in order to meet biosecurity rules for school and possibly a later job, rubber boots were a requirement. I could probably otherwise use a nice pair of laceup workboots or hiking boots and they would cover both winter boots and shoes.

Muck boots: bought in 2005, still like new.

Hiking boots:
* Edited to add-this seems like a want, and it is, I guess since I don't have to hike. However if you are going to hike, you really want a good pair of boots. I could get away with using a good pair of laceup workboots, but it would be a risk. Hiking mountains means lots of ups, and more importantly downs, which cram your toes into the toes of your shoes. I have worn my hikers as winter shoes, and they worked fine and lasted well.

Merrill high topped hikers: bought 2005, still in excellent condition.

Dress shoes:
I do have dress sandals which I rarely ever wear and will likely not buy more of. I do not have a job I need to dress up in, so I cannot vouch for dress shoe brands. I would assume, however, that if you buy simple, plainer shoes they would last through fads more often. To me, refusing to buy into fashion is a major way to cut wasteful spending and usage. But then again, farmers don't care what you wear, so I am at an advantage in this pledge. Weddings and funerals I am still on the fence about. I use the one pair of dress sandals for all fancy summer shindigs, and have been lucky no one has died in the winter in a while.

Sandals: can't remember the brand, wooden base and leather uppers, plastic only a thin coating on the bottom and sole, and a pad on the heel. 2 years and they look like new.

I have 5 pairs of shoes, plus two old pair I keep around for painting and the like, but which would be uncomfortable for daily use. Part of taking care of our shoes is wearing older ones for messy activities, which prolongs the life of our new ones. That is it. Upon reflection I could lessen this to 2 or 3 pairs by not replacing the winter shoes and Muck boots and just wearing the hikers. We do not need a closet full of shoes, and shoes do not need to become obsolete because some French guy labeled them out of fashion. I will definately think before buying another pair.

My grandfather used to get his shoes repaired, and at one point filled the sole of his shoes with glue to stretch them further when they got a hole. I could learn a real lesson from him, and he only ever had one pair of shoes.

Buy good, simple shoes which are made for what you need to do, and take care of them. Untie them every time to avoid damaging them. Clean them off when muddy, don't leave them out in the sun or weather. And for Pete's sake, don't leave them around a Bull Terrier!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The battle has begun.

I didn't even think there would be a battle. I assumed my family would merrily carry on their plastic buying ways, I had no intention of telling them what to do. I was simply looking for alternatives for my own usage, and if in the process any of these things worked for them, it was a bonus.

Today after church my husband and I stopped at the store because he wanted to pick up some things. Turned out he wanted to make us breakfast, and wanted bacon and eggs. I asked him if we could just make pancakes or coffee cake, and he said no, he couldn't cook those, and asked if there was a problem with what he wanted. I said bacon comes in plastic wrap, and I had been trying to avoid the plastic. I said it nicely, then realizing he just wanted to do something nice, I said go ahead and get bacon, it is not like this is written in stone or anything.

I also am trying to eat better post surgery too, but again, once is not going to kill me so I didn't even bring it up. We got the bacon, and since my hens are on their slow winter laying schedule we picked up eggs in cardboard. Naked veggies and some canned cat food and we were done. Of course I did not have my bag with me, so there went two more plastic bags in our house, but again, since my husband was being very nice offering to make us breakfast I let it go. No point in making all of us miserable, we certainly wouldn't last long.

He started pointing out over breakfast all the things I am going to have a hard time buying. He said there is no use trying because it will be a drop in the bucket for usage. That I cannot make any difference so why bother. That it cannot be done because plastic is ubiquitous (that means everywhere-I had to ask) That it would be a full time job for me to do this, it was too much work, and not worth the effort.

I asked him not to be discouraging, and he said he wasn't, he was being reasonable and realistic.

Maybe he is. I know I cannot change the world, I had no intention of changing the world. I just wanted to make changes of myself. The idea of living without plastic scares people and that is really depressing. It saddens me this happened, but I guess it does not suprise me. It just makes me more determined to reduce plastics to the perimeter of my life.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Of Mice and Pens

Alright, as I settled in last night in my evil bed with a logic puzzle book and a black pen, I had made a discovery. Not a good discovery, but an "oh crap why couldn't I have stayed blissfully ignorant" discovery. I looked at my right hand and realized I was holding a tube of plastic, which came wrapped in plastic with 19 other tubes of plastic, inside of which was another tube of plastic containing black ink. Yes, my pen is entirely made of plastic.

Big deal, some may say. Well, I have a long tradition, started by my father, of doing my crosswords and logic puzzles in capital letters drawn in black ink. Why? You just do. It could be because pencil smudges on the recycled newsprint the puzzles are typically printed on. It could be because of the way pen smoothly rolls across the paper, or the nice contrast between the bold black capital letters marching across the nearly white paper. Or it could be because pencils are for sissies and wafflers. John Kerry uses pencils on his crosswords. So does Mitt Romney. Ron Paul? A pen man. Probably black. You can just tell.

I use black pen for everything. Checks, copious pages of notes for school, puzzles, lists, you name it, you will find it done in black pen. So just use a refillable pen? Nope. I have one, a metal Harley Davidson pen given as a gift, and the refills are plastic which come wrapped in hard plastic.

Here is a true story. When the space race was going on, the Russians and Americans both had a conundrum. Pens do not work in zero gravity-how were the astronauts going to do research with no way of recording the results? So the Americans spend millions of dollars using their best engineers to design a space pen which would work even in zero gravity. The Russians gave the astronauts pencils.

So that is what I will have to start doing. I need to use pens for checks, but I can borrow the pens at the stores. I would have to use them for bills, but there are Internet pay options for most of our bills, and I have been thinking of doing this as each stamp is now 39 cents. I can use the mouse as my pen, and although it is plastic it will be used for many years for many things.

It just is not going to be the same using a pencil for my crosswords. Maybe if I ripped the eraser off it?

Friday, January 11, 2008

A trip to the store

Well, today was the first time I have left the house in a week and a half, due to recovering from my thyroidectomy. I drove the one mile to the store to get a few groceries, and to go to the bank. Yes, I could have walked but I am not supposed to carry anything heavy for another week, and that would be a long way to lug groceries for my poor mutilated neck!

I had picked up a huge canvas bag from LL Bean last month which was on clearance because someone ordered it monogrammed then changed their mind, and this is what I brought with me. For the first time in my life I brought my own bag to the store. Yes, it is very silly but it felt like a new start, like I was embarking on this grand adventure and this was my first step. As I shopped, I followed my list and also made some different decisions. I usually buy romaine lettuce in bags, because it is a tiny store and that is all they have. Last month I would have bought them anyways, thinking that it is a basic food need. This time I left them on the shelf. I can cook with spinach to fill the leafy greens until next week when I will be driving right by the Wegmans, where I can get all the naked veggies I want. I can do without in order to reduce my use. I picked up instead an eggplant, green peppers, pears and apples-that was all the produce to be had not wrapped in plastic. I normally would have picked up some meat and cheese, but they are all plastic wrapped, so I walked on by those as well.

I got out of the store with only a jug of milk (no paper cartons), a bottle of Ivory dish soap, and the lid of the oatmeal can in plastic. Everything else was plastic free! For me, that is pretty darn good. I have been researching dish soap alternatives, and next week will pick up some soap flakes in a cardboard box to give it a go. I can start getting the oatmeal bulk when I go to Wegmans. I realized after I left the store that the gas station kitty-corner from the store sells cardboard cartons of milk, and it is usually pretty cheap.

I didn't go to Wegmans because it is 30 minutes away, and that seems like a lot of gas to use when I don't have to. When school starts again, I drive right by there several times a week, so shopping there costs no additional polution.

I am still hoping to start getting milk from Byrne Dairy in jars, and raw milk from an organic dairy, but they are near school and I won't be heading that way for another week.

All in all, I was frugal and brought home far less plastic than I ever had before on a comparable shopping trip. I am pleased.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Small changes

I have been looking around at what I can do to minimize our use of electricity, and last night came upon a couple answers. I have two large fish tanks and a 125 gal terrarium with a turtle and until yesterday a frog (said turtle had said frog for lunch, sadly.)

The 30 gal tank upstairs has only 2 angels, an eel, and some loaches and plecos; these were hand-me-downs from a friend, and I put them in a separate tank because the angels had ick, which has since been cleared. The tank downstairs is a 55 gal which has been running for the last 10 years, only disturbed once to move to this house. It is set up to the same requirements as the other tank. I am seriously thinking of combining the two and dismantling the upstairs tank. It would turn off two motors, a heater and a light. I would have to start cleaning the 55 more often as a result.

This is not a bad thing, however, since I recycle the used fish water for my plants. It provides a nice fertilizer, and I do not have to use chemical fertilizers as a result.

I am also thinking of selling the turtle tank this spring and letting the turtle go. He is a young (5 yr old) painted turtle who is very adept at finding food and catching live prey. He was given to me as a baby by the same friend as above who found him in her dog yard-her dogs eat turtles, so she thought I could keep him. I have been thinking of building a small garden pond this spring, so I could release him on the property and continue to feed him until he adjusts to being outside again. This would turn off two lights, a heat lamp, a heater and a pump motor.

I also thought I would try to reduce at least 2 loads of laundry a week going through the drier by drying on a rack. We have a front loader so the rack will not hold an entire load, however if I can even just do half loads on the rack and combine the rest of the clothes for the drier, I should be able to get two down. The other options are to get another rack, put shirts on hangers and hang them from the cupboard handles in my laundry room, or bring the outdoor clothes line indoors. There is a huge radiator in the laundry room, so it gets pretty warm in there which should dry the clothes fairly quickly. When it warms up this spring I can dry outside.

Finally, I am going to try to make our own cat food. I made the dog food for a long time, this can't be much different. I have two senior Siamese who are pigging their way through $40 and 92 cans of cat food per month. I figure I probably can make their food cheaper than that, as well as eliminate all those tin cans. I thought I could flash freeze the food in muffin tins and wrap them in tinfoil or already owned Tupperware, and defrost a few days at a time. If it goes well, I will likely raise a few turkeys this summer just for the cats. I was planning on getting an order anyway, and you can only get 15 or more at a time due to chick safety during shipping. I'll just keep a few more rather than auction them off.

So, hopefully I can reduce my carbon footprint a bit by making these small changes.

Nix shampoo?

Well, I bit the bullet today and tried washing my hair without shampoo. I have been reading about using baking soda and vinegar as shampoo and rinse, and thought I would give it a try. I have pretty long hair, down nearly to my waist, and it tends to be fairly dry and frizzes on top where my grey hairs play havoc, but also gets a little greasy at the scalp if not washed regularly. I used about 3 Tbs in a mug of hot water at first, but since I had not washed it in two days it still felt a little dirty at the scalp so I took a few Tbs in my hand and applied it directly to that area. After rinsing, I have to say my hair felt the same as after a good shampoo, so stage one seemed to be a success. I was pretty skeptical about the vinegar rinse. My hair is very picky for conditioners, and anything less than Pantene leaves my hair un-brushable. I used about 1/4 cup vinegar in a mug with hot water, and poured it over my head rubbing it in as I did so. Immediately my hair felt smooth, and that feeling stayed after rinsing with water!

After I was done with my shower and dressed, the true test came-the brush. I started to brush my hair and it ran through as if I had been using salon conditioner! Much easier than with even Pantene!

I am sold. I will see what it looks like dry, and give it the test of time, but so far I really am happy. The good news is the baking soda comes in cardboard with no plastic, and while I used vinegar from a plastic jug (left over from summer) it is available in glass jars with only a plastic lid. If I can figure a way to get the rest of my family to join me, we can nix all those plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner!

I will be looking at making herbal vinegar for my hair, I bet many herbs and spices would smell really good in a hair rinse, such as lavender, citrus, and vanilla.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

IPod touch

My husband, who doesn't care at all if he uses plastic or not, actually bought quite the gadget which all things considered is very good at reducing plastic. He bought the iPod touch for work as a alternative to a blackberry. It came in a small cardboard container with a carboard lid with no Cellophane and no huge hard plastic case, although it did have plastic bin and lid inside the cardboard box. The lid is recyclable, and the box is so sturdy it could be reused. Also, the information packet was wrapped in a paper envelope, rather than plastic. The machine itself is mainly made of metal, with few plastic parts. It is about 3"x4"x1/2", and has a touch screen which eliminates a plastic pen.

As he played with it over a week, he realized there were many things this little gadget can do. It works as a calendar, so he can keep track of appointments, and it can link up to other people's calendars as well. It can hold telephone numbers and addresses. It can function as an iPod, downloading enough music to last days with no repeats. If you downloaded directly off the Internet, which it can receive via wireless, you could reduce your use of plastic in CDs to zero. It also can be used as a PC, so you can check your e-mail, surf the net, and use word processing for notes. It could replace laptops for many, which would further reduce the use of plastic.

I was very impressed, and that does not happen with technology often. Apparently there is a version which also serves as a cell phone. Now I would not go throwing out a perfectly good laptop, Sirius radio or Blackberry to buy this. However, if I were in the market for one of these, I would certainly consider this. I think multi-tasking technology could help a lot of people reduce their usage of plastic and other materials without giving up the things they need.

Here is a link to the Ipod touch:

Plastic Ocean

You will never look at plastic the same again.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Homemade yogurt

I could not find any yogurt that did not come in plastic with at least one non-recyclable piece, and even the recyclable ones are only so in some areas, so I decided to try making my own yogurt. I first looked at all the yogurt makers, but they, alas, are all also made of plastic. So after some searching, I found a site which had recipes for making yogurt without a yogurt maker.

Basically, you inoculate milk with plain active yogurt, then keep it warm for 5-10 hours. The site has several ways of doing this, such as a heating pad, thermos, and crockpot. My first batch I tried in my crock pot. I put a tablespoon of yogurt in each glass pint jar and filled them with milk, stirring well, then putting on lids. I added 1/2 inch of water to the bottom of the crock pot and heated it on low to around 100 degrees F. I placed the jars in the crock pot and turned off the heat. Every 40 minutes I turned the heat on low for 10 minutes;I set the kitchen timer every time I made a change so I would not forget. It took about 5 hours and I had yogurt. This really did not take much time overall; I puttered around the house all day anyways, so it really was not 'work'.

We used homemade jelly in place of fruit, (my husband really liked the blueberry, I liked the grape) but this summer I will experiment with putting up whole sweetened fruit to use in yogurt. The beauty of this system is once you have that first batch, as long as you save a few tablespoons plain yogurt from each batch for the next, you never have to buy yogurt again, and if you buy milk in glass jars, no part of your yogurt will be in plastic at any point in its making.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


I just got home two days ago from the hospital for a thyroidectomy. I stayed only one night at the hospital, but I was completely dismayed at the amount of waste, specifically plastic waste. I must have gone through 8 Styrofoam cups, about 10 little pill cups, several juice cups, the container which goes on the toilet, a water pitcher, kidney shaped pan, and all the plastic wrap on everything from my socks to the bread for dinner. This does not count all the IV lines and other inevitable plastic equipment used in the surgery. Nothing was reusable or recyclable. The worst for me was getting a single slice of white bread neatly wrapped in cellophane. It didn't even resemble food! I am not sure why the hospital could not use paper cups for drinking and pills, and why they could not recycle some of the plastic which was not in direct contact with wastes, such as the pitcher.

I thought about the fact there were 366 beds at this hospital, all wasting what I would guess is about a pound of plastic a day. Multiply this by 7569 hospitals in the US, and you have about 2,770,000 pounds of plastic per day being thrown into the environment.

There was nothing I could do about my thyroid, however this experience made me realize that by watching our health we are minimizing our impact on the environment. Hospitals and doctor's offices are so paranoid about germ contamination they contaminate our environment without hesitation. I understand, having taken microbiology, how vital it is that hospitals are as close to sterile as possible. The problem is they are creating a worse medical crisis in the long run. Our ability to deal with our physical environment is fast declining, and it is logical that chemicals are responsible for this. When are they going to wake up and realize that you cannot just keep jettisoning plastic garbage in these amounts and expect to have a clean and healthy environment; if there is not a clean environment, how can we have healthy people?

I did end up taking the water pitcher home. I cannot recycle it, but since it is insulated I can use it to keep a jar of milk warm when making yogurt. At least one small thing was reusable.