Summer Vacation (Pandemic Edition)

Way back 20 years ago in January, I thought I would be doing a lot of traveling this year and thought how it would be great to start using this blog to write about my travels, almost the digital equivalent of a scrap book. I had a bunch of trips lined up for 2020, and had actually paid for a trip in March to Seattle (didn’t get any money back on that one), a trip in April to Disney World (got a refund for the hotel and vouchers for everything else), a trip to a farm in June (got the entire refund), and a trip to Lake George in July. I got into a disagreement with the AirB&B host in April when I tried to cancel, and someone from AirB&B tried to intervene on my behalf, but I still couldn’t get any money back. When it came time for the trip, we decided to go. We brought our own stuff with us and wore masks in public expect for the four times we dined outside.

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Samir on a terrifying rope course. 

Was it the vacation I intended? No, absolutely not. I had been to Lake George when I was a child and literally the only thing I remembered was the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum. So of course I was very excited to take my own kids to a place that has haunted me for more than 35 years. Alas, even though it was open, it was all inside, so we did not go. We also arrived on a Monday, when our reservation was Sunday, in order to let the place air out for a bit.

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Being alone in the woods for many hours made me very happy.

Anyway, that’s the bad stuff. The good stuff is that I went for five days without cooking once! I had intended to cook, but the apartment had no pots and pans or utensils for cooking. (Later, I looked at the reviews and saw this was mentioned in a lot of them.) There was a refrigerator and microwave and coffee pot, so we ate granola bars and fruit for breakfast in the apartment, and then usually had lunch out and either picked up dinner to eat in the apartment, or had our lunch leftovers for dinner.

As far as activities, we went to a historic fort and got to hear them shoot a cannon, went in the motel pool, went to the beach, took the kids on a ropes course and zip line that they loved but nearly gave me a heart attack, and found a hiking trail so secluded that we only came across one other group in four hours of hiking (my favorite day).

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At the Lake George town beach.

So despite the fact that I have horrible insomnia when not in my own bed and one night only slept for two hours, I am glad we got away. The kids had a great time and a change of scenery was good for all of us. I probably would have preferred a cabin in the woods situation, especially at this time, but we are thinking we might do that in the fall.

Sustainability Project: June 2020

For this month, I am writing about dishwasher detergent. I am #blessed to have my very own dishwasher at home. Since the coronavirus quarantine, I went from eating at home about two breakfasts, one lunch, and five dinners a week to seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and seven dinners a week. And that’s for four people. So it’s a ton of dishes. I would possibly be crazier by now if we hadn’t gotten the dishwasher installed last year.

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My younger son watching the koi outside the columbaria in Green-Wood Cemetery. Yes, I could have uploaded a photo of my dishwasher, but this is more interesting and also water-related.

Initially we used whatever name-brand product we found at the store for dishwasher detergent. But I started to look around for something else and found Dropps. You may know Dropps from their commercial featuring the CEO in a bathtub. That commercial is just for their laundry detergent, but they also have dishwasher detergent pods. They are free of dyes and fragrances and plastics and are shipped in compostable, carbon-neutral packaging. Having used them for about a month now, I will also say I’ve been able to eliminate the use of a rinse agent. These are better than the brand name combined with a rinse agent. As soon as I am out of laundry detergent, I will be trying this brand as well!

Sustainability Project: May 2020

For awhile, I had been looking into using different garbage bags. I don’t love using big-name brands, and I want to get away from all single-use plastic. I finally settled on trying these bags. They are made of recycled ocean plastic that is collected off the beaches. Crazy, I know!

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My kids at Jones Beach in New York last summer. So glad we have clean and beautiful beaches nearby!

Previously, I had used the bag that is probably the most common name in garbage bags and has a drawstring. Not having a drawstring anymore took a bit of getting used to, but not that much getting used to. And as always, I really like it when I’m able to get away from using the more popular brands of household products!

Another Yard Update: Dirt and Groundcover!

Just in case it hadn’t been obvious, my yard and yard-related chores has been a real comfort to me these last few weeks! Anyway, I had wanted to dirt put down last fall, but frost hit and we ran out of time. So the yard stayed bare and barren all winter. Yes, it was a little depressing to look at, but honestly it was better than the cement. I’ve discovered that a cement yard really upsets me. The contractor who had originally busted up the concrete had a landscaping friend, and together they were going to get a large truck full of dirt delivered. But he began being unresponsive to me, for some still unknown reason. I called around to companies large and small, but could not seem to get anything. At this point I was anticipating having to to all the shoveling myself, but still wanted it done, as the level of the dirt was way below where it should be, volume-wise.

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My kids are “helping.”

Finally, with the threat of stores closing and the increasingly valid desire to not be around anyone, I ordered two pallets of dirt from a store a few blocks from my house. I didn’t bother thinking about how difficult it would be to do the work myself, because there was no choice. It took only two and a half adults (my two kids each account for a quarter of an adult) to spread all of the dirt in my yard in two days.

But of course spreading the dirt is not the end of the job. The contractor had recommended me to get turf, but I didn’t want turf. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t like the look of an overly even lawn. I wanted something that looked organic and a bit chaotic. I also wanted to see the grass grow from seeds. So I bought grass and clover seeds and single-handedly spread them over the yard and then spread another layer of dirt on top. The night I planted the seeds, there was a lot of rain, which continued for days. After that, I watered it a few times. I didn’t want to buy a sprinkler, as I had been advised. I think it’s a waste of water. Grass grows in fields that are never watered, so why couldn’t it grow in the yard without a sprinkler?

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This is actually from a week ago, and it’s so much greener now!

Then came the days of waiting. But after about two weeks, I started to see little shoots emerging from the ground. I was so happy, I started crying. It’s starting to fill in a bit now, but looks chaotic, which I like but may upset others. Also, I’m planning to plant a few more actual plants, like some flowering vines on the back fence (the green fence in the photo above), so I would not consider it “finished.” But I am way happier now than I was with the concrete!

Continuing to Work on my Yard (all about soil)!

Last week I wrote about my trials and tribulations of getting the cement in my backyard taken away. That actually took place last fall. After the contractor finished moving away most of the broken cement, he said we would wait to do the next part until the spring.

While this was ongoing, I decided to test my existing soil. A few people warned me that it may contain heavy metals or other dangerous things, and I had to do that before I planted anything in it we would possibly eat. I didn’t have a solid plan as to what to plant yet, but I wanted to include the possibility that I would be gardening edible plants.

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These tiny tomatoes came from a plant I had in a pot last summer. I opened my shed in December and found these growing! And yes, they were yummy!

 

After several annoying and possibly hilarious attempts to test using kits I bought online, I discovered the NYC Urban Soils Institute. You mail them a soil sample, and for a reasonable fee, they test it for you and email you the results. The soil from my yard came back as lacking in biologic material but otherwise fine. I was so happy to hear it!

Through the Soils Institute helpful website, I found that the best way to amend my soil was by adding organic matter. I would add to need topsoil, because the level was so far below the cement, but the winter is not the time to do that. Since it was a mild winter, I started just adding organic material by burying my organic garbage. It sounds odd, but I was already bringing scraps once a week to be composted. This was even easier! Just dig a hole and bury them!

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In early February, I went for a walk and found this very early flower! I hope to have some in my garden this year.

A few people asked about animals digging it up, but we are vegetarians, so it was only fruit and vegetable scraps. I live in Queens, so the only animals about are stray cats, who wouldn’t want my scraps, and raccoons, who can easily find tastier stuff in garbage cans. I have never had a problem! And never will, since it is now spring and I stopped doing this because things are growing in the yard. More on this next week.

Another Earth Day (or Month) Project

Last April, I started making sustainability swaps, and I’ve both kept up with and continued to do these. So this April, one year after starting this, I decided to write about a big, drastic, and potentially even (a little) life-changing multi-month project.

This story starts more than seven years ago, when we bought a house. The house and having a washing machine inside it is great, but it also fulfilled a dream of mine of having my own outdoor space. Being in Queens, NYC, of course that backyard space is pretty small. And unfortunately, it was also 100% paved, and that cement had been put in about two or three years before we bought the house, so it looked brand new. I thought it would be stupid to bust it up when it looked that good. I tried to have plants in containers, but it never worked out that well, and I didn’t spend that much time out there, because it was bare and dull.

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I didn’t take an official “before” photo but this is indeed the yard before. Most of the cement is to the left, but just looks likes plain cement, so do we even need a photo?

Last fall, only a few days after having my older son’s birthday party in the yard, we busted up the cement! And when I say “we,” I mean paid contractors. I am not operating a jackhammer! I assume everyone knows concrete=bad, but maybe I am wrong. If you want to read about how bad cement is for the environment, you can start here. And personally I couldn’t finish this article because I started crying, but maybe you’ll do better.

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Dramatic photo mid-bust!

Anyway, it’s gone, and I’m so happy! But of course, this bare surface cannot possibly be the end product I was looking for. And it’s not, but I will save the rest of the story for next week.

Post MinsGame/Middle of Pandemic

This MinsGame month was the strangest by far. Even though I was trapped at home almost the entire time due to the pandemic, it was by far the hardest time I have ever had. I attribute it mostly to the lack of being able to focus. My nine-year-old son did a lot of it by himself, as I lay in the pits of ennui. Nevertheless, we were able to declutter quite a bit, which always makes me feel better.

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Beautiful flowering tree!

 

Life at the end of March looked very different from the beginning. I have not been to an inside physical location other than my own house since March 15th. Probably the next time I will do so will be in May. I know I am very, very lucky. I have always been able to do my job entirely at home. My spouse is in the same boat. Of course, now we also have to conduct a full day of school at home at the same time for two kids. That has been rough, but fortunately my older son has figured out how to do and submit most of his work himself.

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Huge tree just starting to bloom.

My outside space in the garden has been really great, as has the local hiking trail that starts only a few blocks from my house. We have started to wear homemade cloth face masks whenever we go out, in compliance with the CDC’s recommendations. None of us are sick, but so many people who have this are asymptomatic, so who knows? Better to be cautious than infect someone else who needs to be out, like healthcare workers or city employees. Another place I’ve gone is the cemeteries. Last Sunday was sunny and perfect weather, and I walked for two hours and didn’t see a single person. I was by myself, and realized I hadn’t been by myself in about a month. It was really peaceful, and I hope to go again soon.

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My flower identifying app says this is nettle. Such a pretty color.

 

 

MinsGame Spring 2020: Day 31

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It’s Day 31, the final day of the Minimizing Game! And I hardly had to do anything! My husband is in the process of cleaning and reorganizing the basement, and went through all his books. Here are 33 books we decided to part with! There were actually about five more books on this shelf, but they were all books I intended to read, so I kept them for now. Also, note that while the piano books from a previous day were temporarily staying on this shelf, they weren’t in the day’s count. They are just there because I will donate all the books at the same time.

Will update again with my thoughts and learnings from this round of the Minimizing Game.

MinsGame Spring 2020: Day 30

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For the Minimizing Game Day 30, I did something I’ve put off doing for a long time and cleaning out the two drawers in the display cabinet in my dining room. The display section itself is always nice and neat, but the two drawers were another story. They were crammed so full of papers and miscellaneous items that I could barely open them anymore.

Now they are nicely polished and contain dividers to store my stationary, sewing kit, and power cords. So what I minimized was mostly papers, but also included the above items. So happy with today’s efforts!

MinsGame Spring 2020: Day 29

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Samir was especially amused at this report from when he was in kindergarten that says, “The sea can kill you.”

For the Minimizing Game Day 29, we (mostly me and my older son) went through three tubs of paper materials from school. We spent about three hours on this project, and while I think we have more to go before it’s totally sorted, we did get rid of an entire large recycling bag full of papers.