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.

 

 

The Continued Saga of Trying to Sleep Unlike a Baby

For many, many years, I have been unable to sleep without certain sleep props. For the unaware, sleep props are things that, without which, one cannot sleep. One of the most common sleep props in babies is the pacifier. Adults usually don’t have sleep props. I had a lot, which you can read about here. Over the almost five years since I wrote that post, I’ve tried to address them slowly, one-by-one.

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My cat Oz generally has no trouble sleeping, unless I rattle the treat jar or put a camera in his face.

The first thing I dealt with was the ear plugs. I woke up one morning and one of them had fallen out onto the floor and the cat was chewing on it. Which could cause him to die! I threw all them out, and, since I have a white-noise machine, didn’t really notice any issues.

The second thing I got rid of was the benadryl. For a few days, I imagined that I woke with my nose stuffy and couldn’t breathe. I got a nose spray and used that for about a week, until I forgot to use it. Now I am completely unmedicated when I sleep.

Next, I tackled the real issue and one that was the most difficult. For more than 10 years, I had not been able to sleep without a sugar-free cough drop in my mouth. When it dissolved (usually took a few hours), I would wake up coughing and feeling like I was unable to breathe. The first few nights without cough drop, I was very dramatic inside my head, thinking I would not be able to sleep. But I did. The next night, it was almost as difficult, but I still did it. And somewhere around the fifth night, I stopped feeling like I was choking to death every time I laid down.

Now the only thing I have left as a sleep prop is the white-noise machine. As I said in my post of about five years ago, this one doesn’t really bother me, as my bedroom window is on a street, and without it, I would probably wake 20 times a night, as I am a very light sleeper. However, on the rare occasion that I take a nap, I have stopped turning it on. And sometimes I will wake at 6am to go to the bathroom and turn it off then, as I only have less then an hour to wake anyway.

Overall, I’m really pleased with my progress to be higher functioning than a newborn human!

Sustainability Project: February 2020

It has come to my attention that kitchen sponges are gross. I’ve tried the Scotch-Brite sponge mentioned in the article, and thought it worked just as well as the traditional plastic sponge. However, they are sold wrapped in plastic and have to be replaced every few weeks, so I was still looking for something better.

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Enjoy this photo of a beautiful heart-shaped mushroom.

Fortunately, we do have a dishwasher, so anything we got would not have to be the sole cleaner of dishes. What I landed on was this dish brush. I like the way it looks and the fact it’s made of bamboo and ceramic primarily, with some recycled plastic. Also, it seems like it could last for a number of years. I’ve had it almost a month now, and it shows no signs of wear, although the only items I always use it on are those that can’t go in the dishwasher (my knife, bamboo cutting board, and saute pan). Right now, I got a very large container of dish detergent to add to it, with the thought that buying one large plastic container once a year is better than buying a small one every month.

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.