It’s hard to believe, but September is just a few short days away, and I usually do my biannual sorting through of all my worldly possessions in March and September. In March, the month that seems like it was just a few days ago, I really struggled to finish. I think it was mostly due to stress and changing from an office worker whose kids are at school 8am-6pm to a work-at-home person who also has to homeschool their kids.
I have a lot of thoughts about how this major life change that may or may not be permanent has affected me, but that is for another time. For now, I’ll say I am adjusted to my new life enough to be able to sort through my belongings next month. Let’s see how it goes.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the Minimalism Game Day 23, we have stuff I got rid of yesterday, but forgot to take photos. Today was the first day of distance learning for the kids, and I am uncertain how I feel about it. Despite all the minimizing, everything seems cluttered and crappy.
1.-7. I found a box of seven unopened baby wipes. I listed them on a local parent group for free and they were taken away in minutes.
8.-13. Formal kids clothing too small for Nadim.
14.-20. Some kind of toy race tracks Samir said won’t work with what we have.
Long ago, I was an apartment dweller, and wished I could get a large fish tank. But I did not, as I was afraid something would happen in the apartment and it would break or spill and the people under us would have stuff wrecked, and I don’t know. When we bought our house, I almost immediately got a 20-gallon tank and gradually, a bunch of fish. Samir was about three years old and enjoyed it as well. Actually, you can read all about it in this post.
So, yeah, I no longer had a fish tank. But years ago, before I had bought that 20-gallon tank, I also bought a small, 5-gallon tank, but never used it, because I wanted a bigger tank. That small tank was still in a box in the basement, and I took it out and set it up. Why did I do this? Samir still is upset about the fact that I got rid of the larger tank and had been asking for a Betta fish forever. It is a corner tank, and I realized I have a corner in my kitchen that goes pretty far back, so it’s not like you would use it for preparing a meal anyway. Plus, being the kitchen, it’s right near the sink, so cleaning the tank will be much easier.
The two kids had a great time picking out the gravel and tank decorations, and of course the fish himself. For the first ten minutes or so, they were very excited about having a fish. Then they were way less excited about having a fish. Feeding time came, and they fought over the privilege to feed the fish. Then they fed the fish and soon were no longer excited to feed the fish. Eventually, we decided to name the fish, and Samir suggested Joey Ramone the Second, which was unanimously approved.
We’ve had Joey for about a month now, and the kids are mostly uninterested. Oh well. So much for my rule of, “If it’s your fish, you have to feed it and clean the tank or it will die.” I do enjoy watching him swim around while I cook dinner or do the dishes. And Bettas are pretty smart, so to cut down on debris in the tank, I’ve trained him to take individual pellets of food from my hand. A friend watched Joey swim up on my command, and said, “If you have trained a fish to eat from your hand, then that fish is clearly your fish.”
I am still attempting to slowing swap out environmentally unsustainable habits for more sustainable ones, but as time goes on, this grows more difficult, as I am running out of ideas. Please send me ideas, if you have them!
For this month, I wanted to work on my use (or over-use) of paper towels. I am well aware that I use too many paper towels, and, once again, I think the problem is I was taught to clean using exclusively paper towels. Before this swap, I probably used a roll of paper towels a week!
In my efforts to cut down, I purchased reusable bamboo towels. I bought these over a month ago, and have only used about three each of the smooth and scrubby type. It says they can be washed in a washing machine, but I haven’t done that. I just wash in the kitchen sink until they look really disgusting, and then use for a final gross task and then throw them out. Usually this final gross task is my cat vomiting up a hairball. I imagine these two rolls will last about a year, which is a significant reduction in the amount of single-use paper in my house.