I failed at many of my Plastic-Free July resolutions, including staying away from bagged popcorn at the office. But the journey doesn’t end with the end of July! Today I popped up some popcorn from the bulk bin to my own to satisfy my carb urges tomorrow.
It all starts with some a bit of oil in a saucepan. I love the occasional dab of butter, but popping with it hasn’t worked well for me as walnut and olive oil have. I’ve discovered by experimentation that this particular pan can handle six tablespoons of popcorn kernels, so I measure those out while the oil starts warming up.
My mom has a specialty popcorn pan with a handle you can turn to keep the kernels from burning, but it’s totally not necessary. I grab the handles and lid of this pan with a dishtowel (so I don’t get burned!) from time to time and give it a good shake. Once it starts popping vigorously, it doesn’t really need to be shaken any more because of all the action going on inside.
If you have a glass lid for your pan like I do, it’s especially easy to see how much of your popcorn has popped. But the real determination for when it’s done is when a few seconds have passed and you haven’t heard any popping or if you start to smell anything resembling burnt popcorn. Yup, if you put in more kernels than there’s room for things can go bad. And as I mentioned before, my recent experiments with using butter for popping resulted with mostly unpopped corn. 😦
Anyhow, that’s it! You can season your popcorn if you like. Most of the time I just add a dash of salt and the popcorn disappears soon enough.
For tomorrow, though, I stored most of it in this reused container. And for once, I will avoid the evil bagged popcorn, oh yeah!
P.S. – I know a lot of folks have always prepared popcorn this way, but I was raised on microwave popcorn and the occasional Jiffy Pop, so this is for other folks like me. For a while I also tried switching to popping the kernels in lunch-size paper bags which worked pretty well, until one day I left the popcorn unattended while it was popping and…
I freaked out when I came back into the kitchen and saw the microwave power was off, and then even moreso when I opened the microwave door and saw the popcorn bag on fire. This is what it looked like after I quickly grabbed the un-fire side of the bag and threw it into the sink to put out the flames. The microwave still seemed to work after that incident, but I’m much more comfortable with the stove now. And it’s way more fun to watch through the glass lid and see the kernels expand and pop all around.
In 2014 we were staying with my mom while saving up for a house, and there was a large backyard used mainly for the exercise of mowing the lawn. But then, I learned about composting. It was incredible. The onion skins, the carrot tops, the apple cores that were filling up the trash can every day and making it all stinky could instead be thrown out into the backyard. After the labor of raking up a yardful of leaves, instead of stuffing them into brown paper bags for yard waste pickup, they could just be piled up in the backyard messily.
Even though my mom’s not a gardener, composting piles were immediately useful as there were some dips in the yard and a couple of holes where shrubs had been dug up and wouldn’t be replaced. All the compostable material went right into those spaces. It would mound up for a while, but then it would break down or compact. Then more could be heaped on top and eventually that would flatten out also. Of course, this is similar to the concept of sanitary landfills, but without having to put all the produce trimmings in plastic bags first and then sealing them underground forever where they wouldn’t benefit the soil.
Fast forward a couple of years to this February. My husband and I had just bought our own house. One of the very first projects on my agenda was to set up a compost bin so I could have plenty of rich humus for future gardening projects. Being frugal, I found some hardware cloth that had been abandoned in the back yard, secured it into a cylinder shape with some twist ties (my husband has a whole collection that he’s saved), shoveled the grass off of its new location, and “planted” it. Success! All the food scraps we had, all the yard waste, I just threw it in there for our first five months without ever turning it, watering it, or whatever else it is that people do with compost piles.
From the outside it hasn’t looked like much has happened and I didn’t really expect much when finally turning / moving the compost to a new bin this weekend. But I was hoping, and was rewarded with this.
Although the outside was dry and didn’t sustain any kind of life, some of the inside was rich, moist, and full of bugs helping to break it down further. So now I understand why you’re supposed to turn the pile, to get some of that other material on the inside and benefiting from this goodness. Maybe in the future I’ll turn it more than once every five months. We’ll see.
As for the new compost bin, I needed one that was just a little larger. Strolling around the neighborhood during bulk pickup week turned to my advantage when I found a perfect-sized portion of chickenwire, which I’ve used as my new enclosure.
You can see a bit of the mess I made shoveling out another section of grass and some of the heavy clay soil underneath. I should probably add that back into the compost. The pallet was used for a gardening project earlier in this year, but it had bugs around it that looked like termites so into the compost it went too! At least it’ll help serve as a support. The new bin is about half-filled from the contents of the other full compost bin. And I’ll start filling up the old bin again (it’s closer to the house) while this one breaks down. If I wasn’t so lazy, I just might have compost for the fall garden. But, meh, I’ll settle for spring. 🙂
Interested in learning more about composting in your backyard? Zero Waste Chef has a great post on Composting for the Lazy.
Judith Levine’s book Not Buying It: My year Without Shopping was one of the my earlier influences towards taking frugality to the next obvious step of wasting less money on things that I don’t need. After an overwhelming holiday (a.k.a. shopping) season, she and her husband decided to take a break from shopping in 2004–no new clothes, no processed junk food, not even greeting cards. This book is a journal of her experiences throughout the year–shopping withdrawl, social pressures, political pressures, activities to fill time that was previously spent shopping, Buy Nothing Day, and after many months something approaching non-shopping nirvana.
Their non-shopping year in 2004 was not so far removed from the September 11 attacks and the aftermath of politicians sharing economic concerns, and the politics of shopping runs a strong vein through this book. Levine notes:
“It was impossible to remember a time when shopping was so explicably linked to our fate as a nation. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product, and if the gross domestic product is what makes America strong, we were told, the marketplace is what makes us free. Consumer choice is democracy. A dollar spent is a vote for the American way of life. Long a perk and pleasure of life in the U.S. of A., after September 11 shopping became a patriotic duty. Buy that flat-screen TV, our leaders commanded, or the terrorists will have won.”
Or while planning out a home improvement project that was already underway and exempt from the no-spend rules:
“After dinner, I take out the paint chips I have been collecting and spread them across the kitchen table. Engrossed in the pure, flat colors, grouping them in twos and threes, placing them in light and in shadow beside fabric swatches and blocks of wood, I forget global warming, the war in Iraq, the egregious George W. Bush and the only slightly less egregious John Kerry. As I make a note to bring home several cooler grays from the hardware store–Benjamin Moore alone must have a hundred–it occurs to me that I have better choices in paint than I do in presidents.”
But non-consumerism results in more for Judith than just asking friends to meet her for a walk or a picnic instead of going to the mall or to a restaurant. There are times where the best alternative to buying something new is to ask to borrow it from someone else. This is something I have trouble with myself but am encouraged by Judith’s experiences.
“Not buying has forced Paul and me to feel vulnerable and to ask for help, an almost un-American behavior. But the ability to ask for help might be a good skill to cultivate. Today I asked, and got service and a smile…. [W]hat I need is some non-consumer confidence.”
Sadly, early in the book I was secretly cheering when Levine gave in to a purchase or allowed someone else to treat her to a restaurant meal because it allowed me to feel self-righteous that I wouldn’t stoop to that level (although that may not be entirely true). At other points I felt guilty about aspects of their project that “beat” my own such as the fact that I rarely make it a full week without going out for lunch with my work friends. But it’s not a competition, and what’s right for each person will be different. I could learn much from Judith’s moment of nirvana the first time she goes into a store without feeling tempted to purchase anything.
“And just as I realize I am free of the desire to shop, I also feel free of the desire to judge others who desire to shop. I can condemn overconsumption and the systems that support it and it supports, but I don’t have to condemn the shopper.”
This is one of those books that gets me excited, and honestly there’s still a bit of an instinct there to go out and immediately buy a Buy-Nothing to satisfy my excitement. 🙂
But it’s okay. I take a breath and realize that not buying it is about giving me more control over my life and freeing up my time for other interests. I might start some veggies for my fall garden, relax with some yoga, or (very likely) curl up with another good book from the library.
I recently had to retire a pair of jeans, so I’m not ready to lose another. This pair is pretty special too. It’s the only pair I still own from back when I still bought jeans new. They probably lasted so long because I’m very partial to jeans that are blue, but these black jeans are finally fully broken in and super comfortable. Maybe a bit too broken in, as I recently discovered this small hole in the inner thigh section.
It’s a good idea to check your clothes regularly to see if they need mending anywhere, maybe while putting them away after each washing, but much of the time I find my clothes magically washed. For some reason, this is one of the chores my husband enjoys.
Anyhow, even though I found this late and the worn-thin fabric had already developed into a hole that I could poke my finger through, there was still plenty of time to save these jeans. I quickly gathered up some supplies:
A denim patch from a pair of retired jeans
(Some people are really into visible mending and you can do that too, but I prefer the kind that no one notices. )
Gathered my supplies
Emphasizing the hole in my jeans 😦
In this case, the hole was small enough that I started by stitching both sides of the gap together. This makes the rest of the sewing a lot easier.
Then, with the dark side of the patch facing outwards, I loosely sewed it around the worn out area. Sewed a couple of zigzags through the middle to make sure all of it was firmly attached. Sewed near the edges of the patch (after trimming to size) so the patch wouldn’t be tempted to come loose. Sewed any area where it wasn’t already sewn. The inside may not be pretty, but hey it’s the inside. The spot that was previously worn thin is now well-reinforced.
Since they’re black jeans and the hole was on the inner thigh, you’d have to be looking really hard to see the patch.
So, there you have it. My jeans are saved. The 1,800 gallons of water that it takes to grow cotton for a new pair of jeans is spared. The pesticides, dyes, and chemical softeners that would have gone into creating that new pair are also spared. Best of all, I’m spared the frustrations of trying on a billion pairs of new jeans before finding one that fits kind of okay. I have a perfectly good pair already broken in.
In Austin, anyone can stop off at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off center to pick up some totally free ReBlend paint. Paint isn’t supposed to be thrown out in the trash, so people who have left over paint take it down to the Drop-off center, where it’s blended into one of three color combinations and repackaged for anyone in town to pick up. The blending process releases any VOCs in the paint, so while it may have had VOCs originally at least they won’t be released in your home. And did I mention that this paint is free?
In April I made my way out there to pick up paint for some ugly walls in our new house. Taking the bus was a bad idea because it was a lot further to the bus stop carrying a few gallons of paint, and my carrying bags weren’t quite right for the job. Fortunately, by walking I had the opportunity to enjoy this railroad to nowhere.
When I visited only the dark beige color was available, but any paint would have suited my needs. While there, I checked out the Reuse Store (free stuff that other people dropped off but still has a lot of use in it) and got a hammer, screws, a nice Italian planter, and possibly other things that I don’t quite remember.
My mom had given me a few paint roller supplies, but I made a trip to the hardware store and picked out a couple of quality brushes that should last the rest of my life–a 1.5″ angled brush for detail work and a 3″ paint-all-the-things brush. (I had been hoping the Habitat ReStore would have some used paintbrushes, but sadly it only sells them brand new.) Plus, I picked up a short ladder at a yard sale in my neighborhood because I had no other good way to reach near the ceiling. Holding the small amount of paint for each day was simple with a reused plastic container. I’ll probably give away the paint roller supplies on Freecycle in the near future.
(Note: If I had decent carpeting I would probably need to invent a dropcloth also but fortunately, or unfortunately, the carpet that came with the house is permanently stained and at some point in the non-distant future should be removed.)
This is the closet in our guest bedroom before it got its new paint job. It was off-white and doesn’t look too bad there, but the other walls had many spackle spots and smudges which didn’t make it look very friendly. I couldn’t bear to take a picture of them.
And here’s our happily repainted guest bedroom.
My husband was so happy at the improvement. At some point I’ll probably be making another trip to the Reuse Store to pick up a small jar of white paint to touch up the trim. (They have so much free stuff!) But in the meantime I have a half a bucket of paint left and will be working on the hallway and bathroom cabinets, which are the two things that most need it.
At this point, even though I have several other rooms that could benefit from it, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be getting another large bucket of paint anytime soon. While working with this stuff I’ve realized that I’m pretty much just putting a layer of plastic on my walls. Not sure how I feel about that. The greenest solution is obviously to live with smudgy walls, but nope. This warrants further investigation. Do you know of any good alternatives?
You hear a lot about using reusable water bottles instead of disposables, but most of the time it’s quickly followed up with an evaluation of the best reusable water bottle to buy. Creating new reusables tends to use more resources than single disposables, so there’s a break-even point at which your investment becomes better for the environment than continuing to use disposables.
Want to get to the break-even point instantly? The greenest water bottle that you can buy is the one you already own. Maybe it’s sitting in your recycling bin at this moment. Maybe it’s at the thrift shop. Or maybe it’s a kombucha bottle that someone else drank from and struck your fancy (as mine is). In the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle priority list, reuse comes before recycling every time. You save one container from disposal or recycling costs and another one from the expense of being created.
I’ve been using this bottle for the past year. It’s enhanced by a coozie from my college days that was just sitting around and doing nothing. Sure, I browsed Etsy looking at the billions of lovely creations that could have graced my bottle to provide the much needed grip, but I had to be honest with myself and admit they weren’t needed with this alternative.
Some zero waste advocates are just following the trends and using the movement as an excuse to buy new stuff, but don’t be fooled. Many zero waste swaps are super frugal or even free. The next time you’re tempted by some zero waste instagram pics, look around at what you already have and hang onto your money for the things that are really important to you. For most people, that isn’t a super fancy water bottle, or a particular kind of jar just to store trash in.
P.S. – If you’re still buying disposable water bottles, take a moment to calculate how much money you spend in a year on just water. Once you do that, the switch should be obvious.
Thrift – the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully
Thrift is one of the core principles by which I live my life. I’m not hardcore thrift, but here are a few examples of thriftiness that I do practice.
When a sock is beyond repair, its partner doesn’t need to be thrown out. Here I paired a lonely sock with one I picked up at the Really, Really Free Market. I may never buy socks again. And as for the holey sock, it may still have some use for the elastic–a hair band or cushy rubber band replacement. Or at worst just a rag.
(You may also notice the DIY insoles that should help these shoes to last longer.)
I reuse all my old t-shirts by making them into tshirt yarn and transforming them into rugs, bowls, and more. I’ve even stockpiled extra shirts from the RRFM when I needed more to complete a project.
Rice. Lentils. Laundry detergent. Eggs. Spinach. I make the best use of resources by reusing the containers that I already have instead of disposable packaging. (This is a work in progress.)
By cooking dried beans or making my own bread, I can avoid both single-use packaging and food waste, plus save money.
Growing Food From Seed
Getting food right from my backyard? I need to do more of this.
Want something to read? Something to watch or listen to? Looking for an air-conditioned free place to hang out in the summer? I use my library for all these things.
Furniture shouldn’t be disposable. I buy second-hand and am not afraid to reupholster furniture that I already have to make it last longer.
Personal Care Products
The deodorant recipe below may not have worked out for me, but a simple deodorant powder works for me just fine. I’ve been doing the baking soda wash and apple cider vinegar rinse as a replacement for conventional shampoo and vinegar. For some products like eye shadow and blush, I’ve found that it’s just as easy to do without.
These are just a few of many examples of thrift. How does thrift surface in your life?
Sidenote: although “thrift” is in the name, it’s no accident that I didn’t mention thrift shopping. Thrift isn’t about shopping. That’s just a fallback for when I can’t make do without, repurpose something else to fill the need, and can’t or am too lazy to make it myself.
This week was bulk pickup week in my neighborhood, a.k.a. that time of year when people set perfectly good stuff out on the curb. Of course, it’s also a great time to find awesome new things without buying new. I adopted a small armchair that needs upholstering, a small wicker basket, and this beautiful canvas artwork. Gazing into it fills me with a sense of serenty.
But I passed by other art, tv stands, floor lamps, a telescope, and so many other things.
Do you have bulk pickup in your area? It’s a great time to take a stroll, and if you see something you like grab it! It sure beats pushy salespeople and new-stuff prices anyday.
I have naturally tendencies towards thrift, and that’s what first gave me the idea a couple of years ago to try growing some of my food myself. Since then I’ve discovered many other reasons for growing my own food:
experiencing the joy of creating something
getting a bit of exercise
conserving the soil and getting my hands dirty occasionally
knowing exactly where my food came from and how it was grown
really appreciating the work farmers put in to grow the food I buy at the market
not having to deal with the waste from bagged carrots or stickered cucumbers
I started small, with just watermelons that first summer. It was a total failure because I was using seeds from a supermarket watermelon, but I wasn’t deterred.
That winter I grew some carrots and radishes. That first carrot was so tender and sweet that I swore to grow carrots every year from then on. Sadly, when I invited my young cousin to the backyard to harvest a couple of the still-small carrots, she got over-enthused and pulled almost all of them. Only a couple survived to grow to adulthood.
Last summer my watermelon attempt was sad again, even with seeds from a packet. Maintaining a summer garden in Texas is tough. My sunflowers grew tall and beautiful, but attracted too many bugs and ended up not even having any kernels in the seeds. At least I got a few good cucumbers that go round and my purchased oregano plant happily took root and provided for many meals of spaghetti. As it started cooling off a bit, I took a shot at growing some peas but only ate a few before an early frost killed off my plants.
This winter is already off to a decent start, though, with the standard radishes and a couple of carrots eaten early. (They take forever to grow… or maybe I just need to water them more often). Even though my few spinach plants haven’t produced much I’ve picked some of the leaves to eat and am also considering just eating the broccoli leaves as well since I don’t see any indication that a head will ever form on those two broccoli plants. The onion seeds and garlic I planted in the fall are promising long-term success.
Purchases for this year
Last week I took a morning off to visit The Natural Gardener. It’s not at all convenient on public transit but has a great selection of seeds and other goodies. Unlike last year’s visit, this time I was disciplined enough to not buy a fancy new pot. Only things that would go in the ground in my garden (plus paper wrapping and a rubber band for the onions).
Seed packets and peat pellets
Dry pellet and swollen pellet
Kennebec seed potatoes
So I’m not sure I even have the room to grow potatoes, but there’s a little patch of dirt where I’m going to try it. At least I think there’s enough finished compost to pile on top as the plants start to grow. It was just over a buck for all these seed potatoes so no harm done if I fail this attempt.
These are for the fall garden but like I said, that garden store is not convenient so I stashed them away now. One bunch of watermelon radishes at the farmers market is $2.75, so $2.99 for the seed packet is a good deal if I grow even just five radishes.
Italian Roma Tomatoes
Some people say tomatoes are easy to grow, but they intimidate me a bit. I hear they can attract the leaf-footed stink bugs that my sunflowers attracted last summer, and those things really freaked me out. But I love so many things with tomato sauce so am already mentally preparing myself for what it will take to have my own source for spaghetti, pizza, chili, red rice, and many other delicious foods. ($2.39)
California Wonder Bell Peppers
A bit of bell pepper goes into almost any entree, and frozen bell pepper would work easily well most of the time. So fingers crossed that we get a decent yield from these. ($1.99)
I’m not a fan of spicy foods, so this is a mild jalapeño. If this produces a lot and my husband doesn’t gobble them all up, I can prep and freeze some to add a slight kick to winter stews and such. ($2.50)
Italian Large Leaf Parsely
At $3.79 these were the most expensive seeds I picked up this trip, and I kind of have the buyers remorse on this one. But if I can figure out more ways to eat parsley or grow a few parsley plants in pots to give as gifts, maybe it’ll be worthwhile.
Save the Bees Flower Mix
I wanted to get marigolds because I read they’re good companion plants for tomatoes. When they didn’t have any marigold seeds, though, I looked around for any other kind of beneficial flowers. This mix lists basil, cilantro, dill, and other useful herbs as ingredients, so I may get crazy at some point and try to identify and separate the seeds to use to my own design. ($2.69)
1015Y Onion transplants
I planted some onions from seed in October and have probably eight that are growing happily, but they’re scrawny in comparison to these transplants. Just $2.50 for a couple of dozen onion transplants? I couldn’t resist.
I saw these little pellets of dirt and thought they must be awesome because they’re zero waste. No price tag or anything. At only 18 cents each, I picked up six of them to give them a try. Sad to say, after some investigation into how to use them it turns out that harvesting from peat bogs is horrible for the environment. Plus, there’s some netting around the peat which is supposed to be biodegradable but is made up of unknown composition. This’ll definitely be a one-time thing.
A Saturday in the Garden
When the weekend came around, it was time to get to work.
Yesterday was cold but after the sun came out and warmed things up a little I did a bit of weeding, a little raking, and checked out the status of my compost pile. I follow the lazy composting method of throwing it on the ground but have been exceptionally lazy in that I rarely bother to turn it. Much to my delight there was some rich dark crumbly stuff underneath, which you can see just a bit of in this picture. If my shovel wasn’t broken I would’ve turned it more. That’s one thing on my “things to buy” list.
1015Y Onion Transplants
This was my primary goal of getting outside this weekend. These babies needed to get in the ground and get some water. Now there are a couple dozen onion transplants scattered about my garden bed, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce
Next up was to use up some of my old seeds that might not make it to next season.
I’ve tried growing a little bit of this lettuce indoors but wasn’t too impressed. Maybe it’ll work better outdoors. Or maybe it’ll freeze and die. The only reason I bought this last year was because I made the mistake of going into a Walmart where I saw seed packets for 20 cents each. I really need to stay out of those places.
I was a bit surprised to find planting peas on the gardening calendar for this season, but there they were. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of planting the peas without first soaking them in water overnight as the instructions state. There may not be much hope for this year. But fingers crossed anyway and heavy watering for the next couple of days.
By the way, use #238 for t-shirt yarn: substitute for twine in garden trellises.
Danvers Half Long Carrots
There were just a few of these seeds left, so I found room for an extra row in the garden bed. Historically for me these have taken several months to mature so once again I have my fingers crossed that these will turn out okay.
A Sunday Indoors
Okay, so I didn’t spend all of today indoors, but my gardening focus was all indoors as I prepped for the Spring garden.
Four tomato seeds and three pepper seeds are now each nestled into their own pellet container or yogurt pot and all together in a small baking dish in a plastic bag. This should make a nice mini-greenhouse for them. I’m planing to start a few more in a couple of weeks so I have plants ready to transplant at different times.
I also started two mini-pots of thyme from seed. The seed packet they were in had time to harvest listed as 180 days so no holding my breath until those are ready.
Last of all was another packet of lettuce to finish up. This one is a microgreens variety which, although it tastes alright, produces such a small amount of greens and is so annoying to harvest that I probably won’t bother to get any more such seeds again.
It’s two dark to take decent photos now, so in conclusion here are photos taken earlier of my two Meyer lemon plants grown from seed, over a year old but not obvious by looking at them. Poor little guys.
Once upon the time, four little apples experienced their first Christmas. They sat on a counter for days wondering which of these great people they would end up providing nourishment for. But day after day, they were passed over for Christmas cookies and chocolates. The days turned to weeks and the apples started to become sad not just in spirit but in body also.
At the end of the holiday season, someone took sympathy on these little sweeties and brought them my way. But then also, they were accompanied by cookies and chocolates as well as more exotic fruit like bananas and oranges. So for several days more they waited and the soft spots on them grew more plentiful.
Finally I also took sympathy on them and decided to salvage them before they could age any further. No, they weren’t appetizing enough to eat as is anymore, but I peeled them and cut off the areas that were too far gone.
The peels and innards of the apples overflowed my already nearly full small compost bowl. The apple flesh itself was quartered and sliced and piled into my sauce pan. With a little water to get it started, I simmered the slices until they mushed easily with a spoon, and ta-da!
Delicious applesauce headed to the freezer where it’ll stay good until ready to be eaten or used in baked goods. No apples in the trash bin this time!