Monday, February 20, 2017

The P Word-An Update

From our plastic-free shopping trip today.

Last month, I posted about how my partner and I are both becoming overwhelmed by the proliferation of plastic in our world and our waste stream. In the time since, we've taken a number of measures to eliminate the plastic we bring home from stores and other places. As of now, I need some plastic bags for scooping the cat boxes.  I use bags in all of the trash cans around the house, not just to keep the cans clean (which really doesn't matter, as they are washable,) but also so that the cat waste isn't the only thing I'm putting in the bag and then throwing the bag away.  It makes sense to me.  I'm beginning to think, however, that that's just silly.  The less I put in a plastic bag, the smaller bag I can use, so the less plastic I am tossing into the trash each week.  The trash cans can simply be dumped into one, central can with a bag in it.  So I'm working toward that! Speaking of which, we are researching other ways to get rid of our dog and cat waste. More on that in another post.

After having seen a show on trash last week, which featured a segment on living a zero waste lifestyle, and then having come across this article, we have become more determined than ever to reduce and hopefully eliminate new plastics in our lives. We are not getting rid of plastic items we already own and are using, unless it's just to donate something we don't want anymore that's in perfectly good shape.  We will simply use things until they are used up and repair those things when they break, for as long as we can.  It would not make sense to toss out perfectly good items all of a sudden, just because they are made of plastic.  (Heck, the laptop I'm using to create this post is plastic!) That would only compound the problem. Like any other well made product, a well made plastic product can potentially give you decades of use.

What we are aiming to do is not bring any new plastics home. The photo caption above might seem misleading, since the trip was not plastic-free.  We used plastic containers; however, they are containers we've held onto for this purpose, not new plastic containers. Today's trip was the second shopping trip we've made with the aim of not bringing in new plastic. The first was last week, and was not as successful as today's trip. Our local store does not have a bulk section, and almost all of their organic produce is...wrapped in plastic. We came home from the store the other day with very little, save a few vegetables and greens. Today, we were able to do a real shop, and the only new plastic that came in the door was the seal on our bottle of ketchup.  (I plan to learn to make my own condiments.  It's not hard--I'm just not there yet.) We also took the time while in the store to explore and see what else we use at home that we can replace with something not wrapped in plastic or in a plastic container.  Our options are fair. The food co-op at which we shopped today does not have things like bulk personal care products, but they have many other items our local store does not have.  The store near where I work in DC, however, does have bulk options for personal care.  What this means is that we will be shopping three different places, but at different times. It should not really add any extra burden.  We also learned today that we need more reusable produce bags.  If i have the right fabric, I can make some.

My partner has set up a "trash jar" for us.  This is a glass canister, into which we are going to be putting plastic that comes home with us from the store--like the seal I mentioned above. We are going to do this for a year.  We got this idea from the show I mentioned.  When they were talking about the zero-waste family, the mother held up a glass jar--smaller than the one we are using--and it was only about 1/3 full. They said it was what her family of four throws away in one year!  Now, with our having multiple pets, I don't think we'll be able to pull that off, but the jar will let us see how we're doing.  We just thought it would be a neat idea to track it.

To recap, as of right now, the major area where I need to work on eliminating plastic packaging is pet care products.  Because we have multiple pets with multiple feeding needs, I usually order online when I need more than one item.  It's cheaper.  Unfortunately, the canned food comes in cardboard trays (OK) wrapped in plastic (not OK.) What this means is that I need to get copies of my animals' prescriptions from their respective vets and take them to a local pet store, where I can just buy the cans unwrapped and forgo the plastic.  In the meantime, I need to place an order, so that plastic will be coming in at least one more time.  I also have two cases of food in the pantry, which are wrapped in plastic.  The other area, as I have mentioned, is pet waste.  I'm learning about ways to get rid of it without the need for plastic bags, but it will take time to decide on a method and get set up with it.  I have found there is almost no quality dry food for dogs that does not come in plastic, and all of the prescription foods for the cats comes in plastic, too.  A bag of such food (cat or dog) will last me about a month, and the best I can do is to reuse said bag as a trash bag.

I have about 1/3 of a roll of plastic kitchen trash bags left. I plan to use them up and then only use the reclaimed bags from pet food, litter, water softener salt, etc. and stop buying trash bags.  I have a nearly full box of contractor bags in the garage.  Those will last a very long time, because unless there's a major, major mess or clean-up, the garage trash only goes down for pick up about every two months, if that. I'm not worried about that at the moment, but I think that once those do run out, I'll do the same thing I'm doing in the house:  Only use recycled bags.  If we did not have pets, we would probably take months to fill a kitchen trash bag!  (That's not an option, though, because I can't imagine my life without animals.)

Finally, we have started to ask the local restaurants we frequent if we can bring in our own containers for leftovers.  So far, no one has had any objections to that.

Personally, I think we're doing pretty well, considering. We're not going to get it right 100% of the time.  There will be times when convenience wins out or when we are stuck somewhere without alternatives, and we just have to suck it up. When that sort of thing happens, I tend to take anything recyclable home with me and...recycle it.

It's been a really interesting process, to say the least.  I'm happy to take some extra steps and even a little added expense to do this, because plastic has become a really, really big problem, and I want to do my part to try and mitigate the damage we humans are causing.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Accepting What Is

It's February.  It should be a lot colder than it is.  The past three months should have been colder. It should be snowing.  I bought a snow plow, for goodness' sake! It feels too warm out.  I'm worried about the ecosystem.  I didn't get to play in the snow this year or watch the dogs do it.

These are the types of thoughts that have been running through my head this winter.  It's a little depressing that we have not had a normal winter (for our region.)  I hate the fact that we haven't had any measurable snow.  The snow plow is not a big deal, because it is something we have needed, because of where we live.  (This has been proven over and over in the past.)

A few weeks ago, I decided to just stop.  Stop lamenting over what winter is supposed to be and just accept what is.  I have been taking each day as it comes, and if it's a nice day--even if it's a nice day for April and not for January or February--enjoying the day for what it is.  We've been getting things done here at Sage Alley:  Gathering firewood for the cold, cold nights.  Replenishing the indoor wood pile.  Preparing to re-do the fencing around our garden.  Cleaning up the dog pen...Just whatever needs doing.  I've been going out with friends and having a good time, giving thanks for the fact that there was not ice on the road or snow to contend with on my long drive home from DC to West Virginia.  We've been opening the windows on especially warm days, even if just for a couple of hours, and airing the house out.

Lamenting or stressing over what should be drains our energy and keeps us from being productive, and if others are like I am, we later beat ourselves up over what we didn't get done.  I, for one, don't want to walk down that path anymore, so I'm not!

Happy Almost-Spring!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The P Word

My actual trash (I tried to hide the gross stuff!)

We buy stuff wrapped in plastic, and then we dispose of the plastic in plastic. Then, we dispose of all of that plastic in a hole in the ground, or a field, or whatever our local landfill consists of. Then, we despair over the loss of about 200 species per day.

We are no better, here at  Sage Alley.  I'm sorry to admit that my guy and I recently disposed of an embarrassing amount of plastic.  It started out as an experiment in DIY:  We would save up plastic bags, wraps, coverings, etc., and we would try and make something out of all of that plastic (after cleaning it, of course.)  We saved for a couple of months, and just never got around to doing anything about it. One day, in a fit of frustration, it got put out with our weekly trash.  We were both devastated.  I felt that we had failed.

We have decided to try a different approach:  We are simply trying to shop more consciously and to bring less plastic home to begin with. We also reuse what we can.  The occasional plastic shopping bag that comes home gets reused as a trash can liner and for cleaning the litter boxes.  (I'm also trying to get better at remembering to take a reusable bag with me when I know I need to run an errand!)

Any bag with a zip closure gets washed and reused for storage.  We reuse them until they wear out.  We also reuse plastic wrap--which I will no longer be buying when we run out.  I'm going to buy waxed paper or just use foil instead.  Now, there's a caveat to reusing plastic bags and wrap:  Sometimes, they can't be cleaned well enough to reuse.  There are some substances that don't come off easily or thoroughly, even with vinegar and/or a good soap.  You should use your best judgment and follow your intuition on this.  Since we are vegans, this is rarely a concern for us.  Also--and I probably don't have to say this--plastics used for non-food purposes should only be reused for non-food purposes.

We have two health food stores we frequent, both of which sell items in bulk.  Another step I am taking is to shop there for our dry goods.  We have a few plastic containers we have washed and saved for this purpose.  If we can't get there, we look for paper packaging, or we buy the item canned (beans.)  Growing our own food will also help with this.  I also may finally get off my you-know-what and learn to make my own pasta.  We get pasta in boxes; however, most of the time, the pasta is WRAPPED IN PLASTIC.  It's very frustrating.

I get dry dog food and cat litter in plastic bags.  Once those bags are emptied, they are the perfect size for our kitchen and workshop trash cans, so we recycle them once, for that.  We also use them as small drop cloths.  We figure if it's going in the trash eventually, we might as well use it as much as we can first.

Finally, we are working on learning to can, dehydrate, and freeze food on our own, so that we don't need to buy these items in plastic, either.  We probably will not eradicate plastic altogether, but I am confident we can greatly reduce it.  I'd love to hear from others who are trying to do this, as well.  What are some methods you are using?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Brick Dust: Late Fall, Health, Holidays

We are having the weirdest fall!  It's very, very cold at night, but it's still getting up into the 70s some days!  I'll tell you:  My body is not liking it much!  I was just diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and the erratic weather almost always sends me into a flare.  No good!


As  Autumn moves toward Winter, we're just taking advantage of the good weather days and putting by as much wood as we can--and by "we," I really mean "he."  We've fallen into a good rhythm, one that works for us. Due to my limited energy and random aches and pains, I tend to take care of the inside of the house while he takes care of most of the yard work.  I do get out there once in a while, but it's been a few weeks.

We are almost completely unpacked and moved in, and we've gotten rid of most of the junk we needed to clear out of the house.  We have about a truck load left in the garage to take to the local thrift shop.  I hope to do that in the next few days. Cleaning is becoming a less daunting task, as I get used to my "new normal" and build my routines.  I'm on a weekly schedule of sorts, but I don't yet have a cleaning schedule made. I just fit it in where I can. 

One thing that really helps, though, is cleaning as I go.  Most tasks, when you break them down, only take a few minutes. If I'm doing one thing and see that another, small thing also needs doing, I go ahead and take care of it.  Overall, our house is very clean.  I usually only need to deep clean about once a month, and it's never the whole house at once, unless we're throwing a party or something.


The garden is not yet finished for the season, thanks to the unnaturally warm weather.  We are finished with peppers and tomatoes, but we got a huge harvest this year!  We have jalapenos hanging from the catwalk over the living room to dry, and we still have a few baby bells in the bottom of the crisper.  We've only had to start buying tomatoes again in the past two weeks, and I think that's only because our last batch has not ripened yet.

We now have arugula growing, and it's the best arugula I have ever tasted! He is hoping to put some garlic in, and while the weather is mild, he's getting the holes dug for the garden gate.  The fencing is not all the way up yet.  I imagine we'll make progress on that as we can.

I wanted to till in my beds for the corn I want to plan in Spring, but he said to wait, as I'd just have to do it all over again when Spring comes.  I don't know that I agree, but based on how my health is right now, waiting might be my best option, anyway.


We aren't planning for the holidays.  Part of it is that neither of us celebrates the traditional holidays that most Americans do, and part of it is that it's just going to be the two of us. For us, the usual Winter holidays are just regular days.  We do usually decorate, but not a lot, and I still like to send out cards.  We had our "traditional Thanksgiving dinner" (the vegan version) last night, because we like the food.  I give thanks in August.  This is also going to be my first year celebrating as an orphan.  It's up to me now to plan holidays, and I just don't know what that's going to look like yet.

We'll probably spend time with friends, and his family has a standing invitation to come and visit whenever they want (and vice versa.) I'll be honest:  It' strange being on my own and having to make up my own traditions.


As for the election here in the US, I will just say this:  The election did not go my way.  It  stopped going my way long before we went to the voting booth.  The aftermath has been very emotional for everyone, and I'm trying not to let myself get caught up in some of the negativity.  I plan to speak out when I see things going wrong, but I really don't want to get into the whole "X voters are bad/stupid/evil" ugliness.  I'm trying to keep a positive outlook, but I am not going to bury my head in the sand when things are scary, and I am not going to pretend that everything is OK.  I feel that things are very precarious right now.

All of that just strengthens my resolve to continue to learn how to be self-sufficient and live more simply.  Most importantly, I am determined to treat people with respect and kindness.  I hope that everyone else will do the same.

Happy Fall!

Friday, September 16, 2016

DIY: Personal Wipes


I've never liked the idea of disposable anything, and until recently, I found the idea of "wipes"--wipes for any purpose--to be, frankly, stupid.  My line of thinking was that you put a plethora of chemicals on your skin, and then you just throw away the pad.  I thought the concept was wasteful and harmful to the environment and our bodies.

Now that I am getting older and dealing with some health issues, however, I have come to appreciate the idea of having something on hand to give my hygiene regimen a boost.  Today, I decided to make my own wipes.  At home, I can clean myself up just fine. I wanted the wipes for days when I am out and about, when I don't have easy access to extra water, for instance.  When I travel, if it's just quick and overnight, I'll use them for that, as well. For longer trips, I'll opt for other methods, in order to keep things simple.

Most sites recommend using a roll of paper towels cut in half, but if you've been reading Sage Alley for any length of time or you know me personally, then you know that I just have to add my own eco edge to it and go with reusable.  For reusable wipes, you want fabric that is not stiff, but soft.  You don't want anything too thick.  Most people use flannel (recycled from old shirts, pjs, sheets, etc.)  I chose towels, because:  1) We have a huge surplus of towels in a range of colors and patterns, and we are giving away a lot of them, 2) I like something thick and absorbent--I like a good barrier between my hand and any messes (believe it or not, as much as I talk about recycling, scavenging, animals, and the like, I'm squeamish and don't like to get my hands gooey-dirty,) and 3) they will last a long, long time.  Terry cloth is very tough.  The downside to terry cloth is that it soaks up a lot of the liquid I'm using for my wipes.  (More on my "road test" later.) What you want to look for is soft, absorbent, and all-natural fibers, like cotton. If you are someone who is squeamish about reusing things, then by all means, go with the paper towel method.

My own wipes are a variation on this recipe.  Scroll down to the Baby Wipes recipe. That's the one I modified. To clean the wipes, I use the same method I use to wash my reusable menstrual pads. (I recommend always rinsing pads or wipes before cleaning them, putting some sort of non-chlorine bleach in your soaking bucket--I use hydrogen peroxide if I'm out of my favorite bleach alternative- and I recommend washing them in hot water.  If your washing machine has a "sanitize" cycle like mine does, use that.) I also transport them the same way, except that, instead of one zipper-type plastic bag, I will have two: One for the unused ones, and one in which to bring used ones home and wash them. (Unused pads are dry.  Wipes, however, are never dry.)  I have a waterproof zipper pouch I use for this.  It keeps everything discreet.

My wipes are the terry, cut into roughly 4" x 4" squares (again--I like good hand coverage.  You may not need them to be that size. It's a matter of comfort.)  Since my partner is not on board with any of my reusable hygiene ideas, I wanted to make absolutely sure to use colors and patterns that could not possibly be mistaken for any other type of rag we use (we use rags for just about everything now.)  I will even be washing them separately from any of the other laundry, just like I do for the pet rags/beds/etc. (I realize brown is an ironic choice, and I did not do that to be funny, but there it is!) If you find that you have other household or family members who are on board with this, make sure everyone stores their personal wipes separately, and make sure that everyone has their own signature colors.  In our house, any rag that is  brightly colored or that has flowers on it is one of mine.

For storage, I keep the dry wipes--my little squares of cloth--put away until I know I'm going somewhere. The day before, I'll soak 2-3 of them, so that they will be ready to pack up in the morning.  The reason I'm choosing to do this is to avoid mold.  There is no need for me to have wipes soaking all the time, if I'm just going to be at home.  This will help the liquid to last longer, and it will keep everything clean.

I did a first run today, and here are some things I have learned:  1.  I used too much soap.  I did not monitor how much I was putting into the mixture, and I ended up with a product that left too much residue on my skin.  As my liquid runs out, I will water it down.  2. I won't be using peppermint oil next time.  While my mixture left me feeling clean, it was also a little uncomfortable.  I will either try lavender instead or just skip the second oil and stick with the tea tree only. 3. I may need to leave out the rubbing alcohol.  I used very little, but it may have contributed to my irritation.  The reason I changed up the recipe to which I linked is I wanted to use only what I had on hand here at home and to avoid spending any money on this.  I was successful in that sense--I just need to tweak my recipe. 4.  Terry cloth absorbs a whole lot of liquid.  When I pulled out my wipe, I wrung it out a lot, but I still ended up with a little too much.  There's not much I can do about that.  Since I have already cut up my squares, I'll just stick with using them.  I just need to work on wringing them out better, but hopefully this information will help you to decide whether or not you want to use terry cloth (we all have different needs and different preferences.)

Whether you use reusable wipes or not, making your own liquid will take you a long way toward cutting household costs and waste and toward taking better control of your home environment and your health. Industry has so many people believing that we need chemicals in everything in order to be clean and healthy, but the truth is, we only need the right chemicals, nutrients, etc.  If you can't pronounce it or if it smells like nothing you would find in nature, then it's pretty likely you don't need it.  That is the truth.

***CAVEATS: I urge caution if you are sensitive:  Do a spot test for the tea tree and peppermint oils.  Dab a tiny, tiny bit on your inner arm, right near your elbow.  If either or both burn or tingle, do not use them.  Do not use rubbing alcohol if you are sensitive, either.  If you are someone who is super-sensitive, stick with the Xovain recipe for adult "baby" wipes.  I know my own body, so I am OK with experimenting with my own variation, but I am not comfortable posting my recipe. Finally, if you have serious health issues, I don't recommend doing this without talking to your doctor.  While I advocate for minimizing chemicals in the home environment, I would never recommend doing anything that would harm anyone's health!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Garden Update: Late Summer 2016

Photo courtesy of my partner.

We've had some challenges this year, but our garden is coming along really well.  We don't even have half the beds tilled in yet, either.  I think this garden will produce really well, and I don't know what we will do with the excess yet!

The kale and collards we initially planted did not make it.  They were ravaged--I mean destroyed--by insects, mostly Japanese beetles. We have multiple traps hanging around the yard, but I guess that wasn't sufficient. We got a few meals out of them, but my partner ended up digging up what was left and planting carrots in that plot.  That was a few weeks ago.  They are slow to come up.

He has replanted some greens in different beds, and he no longer has the beds planted side by side. He's mixed up the crops in the hopes that maybe that will help with the problem.  He also has started using a jalepeno pepper spray on the plants, which seems to be keeping most beasties at bay...for now.

The tomatoes are doing very well.  We have been having a problem with stink bugs eating them and causing them to rot on the vine. Our solution--besides the spray--has been to pick them early. We pick them when they are just starting to turn yellow, and we are ripening them in bowls in the house. They are yellow Best Boys, and they are delicious!

We messed up at first with the okra.  We didn't know when to harvest it, so the first harvest was a little late.  Only a few pods were edible, but we got some seeds from them.  The plants are very prolific, though, so now that we know what we're doing, we'll have plenty, and it's also delicious!

Today, we had a huge harvest of jalepenos and bell peppers.  My partner's been pickling the jalepenos, but we'll probably dry some, too.  He isn't growing other chiles right now.  We harvested our first bells today and had one for lunch.  Yummy!

Today, I am focusing on weeding around the outside of the house.  It's a huge job, and some areas are going to have to be completely tilled under and replanted.  Right now, I'm trying to save what's left of the fern bed along the west side of the house.  I want to preserve that in my mom's memory.  We're also planning to plant herbs in these beds.  In the process, I'm also rescuing, repurposing, or getting rid of various garden ornaments my mom had.  There's a bird bath at the base of the porch steps, which will get moved out to the edge of the garden.  The birds will use it more there, I think.  A large piece of quartz I brought from Maryland and a rabbit statue will decorate the southwest corner of the house.

I have finally started to research the process of growing corn, and I've learned that it's pretty involved.  I'm planning to start my corn in the spring.  My partner and I are going back and forth on whether I should till in the beds before Winter or wait until Spring.  I'm inclined to get the beds laid out now and maybe mix in some compost, so that the soil can season a bit.  I also want to make sure I have enough energy to follow through on the plantings, because it's something that requires a lot of attention.  With my health issues, it's better for me to do things in smaller pieces.  If I lay in the beds now, sure, I'll have to clean them up in the Spring, but that much more work will already be done.

We are now producing our own mulch, as well as our own compost. If our harvests keep to our current levels, we'll be well stocked for Winter!  :)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Dog You Want VS the Dog You Get

OK.  I admit it:  The little one is my favorite!

When I inherited Sage Alley, I also inherited my mom's pets:  Two dogs, pictured above, and a cat.  The cat is a piece of cake.  We came here with seven of our own.  I've been a cat lady for decades.  I know what I'm doing here.

The dogs are another matter.  Over the years as I've visited and stayed with my parents, of course, I've been around and handled numerous dogs.  I've trained dogs.  What I have not done in over twenty years, however, is lived with dogs.  I like to believe that, way back when when I was a dog owner (I still miss my Charlie!) I was a good one.  I was always very attentive to my dogs' needs and to the dogs themselves.  I trained them and housebroke them and took them everywhere with me (that I was allowed to, anyway!)  I know dogs, but over the years I had gotten used to not having dogs.

These dogs are--how can I put this?--a special case.  Living with them has been a challenge.  They are senior dogs, but they are not housebroken. We have to have baby gates in place all over the house, or they will soil the carpets.  I have to put puppy pads down at night in the area they live in, because otherwise, they will ruin the hardwood floors. They respond to their names and come when they are called (most of the time,) but they have NO obedience training--at least none that has stuck.  The big one doesn't even have appropriate boundaries. He's not content to just get attention.  He has to be the center of attention.

We are at the point now where we are trying to start to introduce our cats (one at a time) to the dogs and to my mom's cat. These dogs behave as if they've never been around cats, even though they have lived with one all of their lives.

In short, adjusting to being dog owners and of these dogs in particular is requiring a lot of patience on my part, and I admit I struggle.  My mom's last words to me that I remember were "Take care of my dogs," and I intend to honor that.  I will not let any harm come to these dogs, and I have even upgraded them to better food.  They also have a large, beautiful dog pen now, so that they no longer run loose and put themselves in potential danger (this was a problem when my parents were both still around--they let them run free, which I always objected to.)

These dogs have a good life, but I can't say that I love them.  Most days, I don't really even like the larger of the two dogs.  I have to work very hard to be even handed with him and to make sure I'm giving him equal attention (equal to the little dog, whom I adore, and equal to the cats.)  This dog is very socially anxious and extremely needy.  He can't handle anything, really.  I feel badly for him, and I keep his challenges, as well as his recent stressors in mind, but I'll be darned if he doesn't do something each and every day to irritate me!

All I can really do about this is take each day one at a time, as well as each situation that comes up.  I need to keep in mind that it is not the dogs' fault that they are not trained, and it's not the big dog's fault that he has issues. As they are both senior dogs, training them has been difficult, but I need to slow down and build consistency.  If they never fully "get it"--and I don't think they will--I need to be thankful for the small victories along the way.  I need to work at loving this dog (and I do! I work really hard at it) and to try and remember that I'm doing this for my mom.

One day, we will have the dog(s) that we want,  but right now, I had a duty to the dogs that we have, and I will do my very best not to let them or my mother down.