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!

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.

When Is a Fish Not a Fish?

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.

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Samir gradually coming to the realization that a pet fish doesn’t do that much.

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.”

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When is a fish not a fish? When it’s Joey Ramone the Second!

Sustainability Project: January 2020

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!

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Photos of paper towels are dull, so here is a photo of my younger son, climbing a tree (hey, it’s loosely related!)

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.

Sustainability Project: June 2019

As I wrote sometime last month, I would like to keep up with the sustainability swaps, and do about one a month. It turned out I did something different than I was thinking about, as I ran out of coffee. Since this post is about coffee, I have to admit something: I have a Keurig.

I bought it a few years ago, after breaking every glass coffee pot I tried to make it work with. I don’t know why I have this problem, but I will also say that I am the only person in the house who drinks coffee from home on a regular basis, so most of the time, if I made a pot, it would go to waste anyway.

Now, of course, I wish I didn’t buy a Keurig. I was weak and annoyed at spending so much money buying single cups of coffee from various shops. But I feel terrible about all the plastic K-cups that go into the landfill. And I did try the kind of K-cup that allow you to peel off plastic part, and then that portion goes into the recycling, but it wasn’t great.

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This is the variety pack!

So after some searching, I found this company: Tayst. The beans are sustainably sourced and the pods themselves are 100% compostable!

The only downside to this plan is that I do not yet have a compost area, as when I bought my house, the backyard was paved. I do have a small front yard, and since coffee is good for plants, and I only drink about three cups of coffee a week at home (most is at work), I am wondering if I can’t literally just bury these little suckers and let them feed the tree that lives there? I plan to try this and see how long it takes them to break down. A possibly fun experiment?

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Just adding this photo of Samir from 7 years ago for fun–but note I still have the same coffee cup!

Meat-Free May: Week 3

We are into the third week of Meat-Free May! I am still feeling good and have not eaten meat nor wanted to eat meat. I do have a few health updates that may or may not be related. Because I was at the doctor’s this morning for my annual, I know I lost two pounds. Also my blood pressure, which has never been a concern of mine, was 118/75, so now it is even less of a concern (previously had been 120/80). At some point this week, I remembered that in the past when I was vegetarian or vegan for years-long stretches, I became deficient in vitamin B12, so I did start taking that as a precaution.

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Hiking in the woods near our house!

This week I ate out a lot, but forgot to take photos every single time! We went hiking, biking, went to a show at my son’s school, and I went to a concert and spent a lot of time hanging out with horses. One night I ate Chinese food out at a fancy place. We had an assortment of things, but my favorite was Shao Kao Fu, which is seitan with mushrooms and peanuts. I also ate Thai food out with my family, and had Massaman Curry with tofu and vegetables. And finally I had Italian food out with my family, and I had eggplant rollatini.

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These were actually really good!

I’m trying to remember what I ate this week at home and mostly failing. There were a ton of my favorite salad: kale, avocado, cucumber, tahini, and hemp seeds. I made orange seitan with broccoli for the family one day. And I finally got to try jackfruit, which I’ve been curious about for some time. It came four cakes to a pack, so I made them all, and ate two on successive days for lunch. I liked the jackfruit, even though I’ve not into crabcakes that much. I would definitely be interested to try jackfruit in a different format!

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This was my favorite thing I’ve made in a long time, and I ate it two days in a row!

Meat-Free May: Week 1

It hasn’t been a full week yet, but since I didn’t take notes and am liable to forget, I thought I would check-in how I did for week 1 of Meat-Free May. In short, it went well! Meaning, of course, I didn’t eat any meat, and I felt fine and wasn’t craving it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I generally eat the same two things for breakfast and lunch every day: cereal with almond milk and a banana and kale salad and a peanut butter sandwich. My only weekday deviation was an egg salad with carrots and chips one day, as I was at the DMV all morning and didn’t want to bring my lunch with my.

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Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs: a yummy study in contradictions!

One night for dinner we had spaghetti and meatballs. Having two young kids, this is a staple at our house. They were hesitant when I told them the meatballs might taste differently because they were not meat, but they not only ate everything I gave them, but asked for seconds!

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They ate all this and asked for seconds! And yes, I let them eat in front of the TV, but in my defense, we were watching Kiki’s Delivery Service!

Another meal I put together at home was ready-made Indian stuff, also from Trader Joe’s. It was chana masala (chickpeas with tomato and spices), palak paneer (cheese cubes with spinach puree), and garlic naan (flatbread). This was too much for my older son, so I also made him frozen fish fingers. My younger son is a much more adventurous eater and proclaimed it “spicy, but not too spicy.”

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I was hungry and started eating before taking the photo!

Over the weekend, as predicted, I ate out twice. For lunch Saturday, we had pizza. For dinner Saturday, we went to a large food truck festival called the Queens Night Market. I was walking around and eating too much to take photos, but we mostly all shared everything. We had corn on the cob, a rice cake with eggplant and tomato puree on top, a corn cake with tofu and vegetables cooked into it, a spiralized potato with cheddar seasoning, and fried ice cream. I have to admit that I was nervous there would be no vegetarian options there, but there were plenty. I plan to go back many times this season!

 

 

Sustainability Project Week 5

Because of the way the days fell on the calendar this month, there are five weeks to this month-long project of sustainability swaps. I was happy to do one more swap than I originally intended! For the first week, I stopped using plastic water bottles, for the second, I stopped using plastic utensils, for the third, I stopped using first-use paper products, for the fourth, I stopped using sandwich wraps.

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There were four balls in this pack I got from Trader Joe’s for about $6.50.

This week’s swap is dryer sheets! The internet has a ton of information (whether it’s true or false, I am uncertain) on why dryer sheets are bad for you. I am undecided on that for myself, but the focus of this project is to swap out single-use products for multi-use products. Thus, balls!

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My older son impersonating a fly and showing the size of the dryer balls.

These wool dryer balls were bought in Trader Joe’s, but there are tons of similar products available elsewhere in person or online. Obviously, they don’t have a smell, and I’m not into my clothing smelling like a flower enough to go out and get essential oils to put on them. But they do seem to make the clothing fluffy and also reduce drying time, thus saving electricity. I recommend them!