Monday, June 19, 2017

Hadmade Pasta-First Attempt

First batch of handmade pasta with my fancy pasta maker!

Part of attempting to achieve zero waste means doing some things from scratch.  Recently, I made my first batch of pasta from scratch! Since we've been on this zero waste journey, there have been some radical changes in how we shop, cook, and eat. For a while, we would just buy pasta and find the boxes with the smallest plastic window we could, but we finally decided to stop.  Making pasta is very easy.

This plate of pasta was for my cheeseless lasagna, which is delicious. I did not make enough.  I will need to double the recipe next time.  I also used too much water/not enough flour.  the noodles fell apart a bit and stuck together.  Most of them were fine, but I ended up with a lot of broken pieces, which I used anyway.

It was fun to try, though, and the lasagna tasted great!  It also doesn't take long at all, so I don't think I will miss buying pasta. I'm finding making food from scratch extremely rewarding, and I'm finding that the food tastes a whole lot better, too.  I especially like using non-electric, old fashioned methods.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saying Good-Bye to a Sage "Alley Cat": Musashi


Here at Sage Alley, we had eight cats, until this morning.  This morning, we said good-bye to my beautiful boy, Musashi.  Sadly, Musashi (or Mu'shi, as we used to call him) had a type of cancer that wasn't treatable and was aggressive.  (Lymphosarcoma.)  After diagnosis, poor Mu'shi only survived about a month.  Spending more money and treating it more aggressively would not have made much of a difference.  I asked.  Mu'shi spent his last weeks being loved on and eating whatever he wanted.  His brother, Sam, kept a close watch on him, just like he used to do when they were kittens.

My previous partner and I found Mu'shi and Sam at our old apartment complex in Maryland when they were kittens.  I knew who their mother was, but she was too feral and hard to catch, so she never got caught and spayed.  Her story did not end the way I'd hoped, but I believe I've posted about her in the past.  The Muffins (as I called Mu'shi and Sam as a pair, because they were fluffy and white) were part of her latest litter at the time.  We heard some kids outside saying there were kittens, so we went to investigate. I cornered Mu'shi in a bush.  He had climbed up into the highest branches of this bush, and I just reached in and plucked him like a fuzzy, little piece of fruit.  He didn't like it, but he didn't show any aggression until I handed him to my partner.  He bit the heck out of him!  Sam, meanwhile, just ran right into the carrier we'd brought outside with us.  (Mu'shi was the brains of the operations.  Sam was the brawn!)



How did they end up with such different names?  We would take turns naming our kitties, and my ex was very into Japanese culture, and especially Samurai lore.  Musashi was named for Miyamoto Musashi, a famous swordsman. (I have only two cat who he named left--Fujiko and Toranaga.) He really lived up to his name in those early days, too!  For the first year or so of his life, he had a "top knot"--a little, gray smudge on the top of his head!  He also lived up to his name when, as a kitten, he was up on top of the dresser playing one day and went after my ex's miniature katana and wakizashi!  He had the little katana partway out of its sheath before we put a stop to that!  It was pretty hilarious.

At the same time, Mu'shi was a very, very shy cat, extremely sensitive to stress.  I remember one time when we were replacing a sofa.  He was so upset, he was cringing on my lap and chirping.  I held him and rocked him for about an hour before he was finally able to calm down and adjust to the change. (It was long after everyone who didn't live there had left.) Over the years, he remained very afraid of people he did not see often.  I used to joke that he was our "invisible cat."  He was also very sweet, though. He never fought with the other cats or so much as hissed at anyone.  At the vet and groomer, he would freeze instead of fight or bolt.  I felt very sorry for him, but at home, he was a gigantic love-bug.

He loved to cuddle.  If I sat still for too long, he would climb into my lap. When I was cleaning the cat boxes, he would come up behind me as I sat on the floor and put is paws on my back and pop up and say "hi."  Then, he would curl up and roll around on the clean cardboard I would put down.  He was a very, very gentle soul.  I have never met another like him, and I doubt I ever will.  I'm just grateful that he saw fit to walk the path with me awhile.

Good night, sweet Prince.




NOTE:  I referred to my cats as "Sage 'Alley Cats' " as a play on words.  All of our cats here at Sage Alley, except for Mama Kitty, who was my mom's, are indoor cats.  Even though we live in the country on private land, I feel much safer keeping them inside.  The dangers to cats are different here, but there are still plenty of dangers.

Photo credit:  All photos in this post were taken by Rebecca Whittington, except for the first one.  Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Brick Dust: More Photos

I have been ill the past few weeks, so I have not felt up to getting deeply into any particular subject.  Sharing photos is an easy way to keep in touch and give people a taste of what life is like here at Sage Alley.  I hope you enjoy them!

Just a quick note:  I have been working on a post regarding a very important topic. I'm nearly finished; however, I am unable to share it for a few more weeks, due to the sensitivity of this particular subject.  It should be an interesting read, and--I hope--educational! Stay tuned!

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Now, on to the photos!

Peonies!  Seems to me like they bloomed early. It is also unseasonably cold right now, so I wanted to cut some before the cold kills them.  These were planted by my mom, and they make me think of her, always.  I like to always have a few in the house while they are in bloom.  (Never take all of the blooms, however!)
(That is not actually a bucket of cat litter in the corner of the photo!  LOL! It is potting soil.)


This is a view of the driveway as you head out.  The day I took this, my partner and his friend were felling a tree!  I was on my way down to check on their progress and help them load up the wood.  They didn't end up needing my help, but I always like to make myself available, when I'm feeling well enough.


The honeysuckle are also blooming early!  I have no objections, however.  :)

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I hope you've enjoyed my photos today!  I'll be back soon with some actual updates!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Brick Dust: Photos!

Spring seems to have arrived, literally, overnight!  I swear, I woke up one morning, and everything was just green!  The weather is still weird--up and down--and my partner and I are both getting over illnesses, so not much is happening this week, but he did get a few lovely shots last week.  I though I would share some.



This rock sits beside the driveway right as you come out of/enter the woods.  There are a lot of stone outcroppings on our property, and they are beautiful!

That's red bud in the foreground and our weeping willow and electric tractor. I believe all of our lawn equipment is now electric! 


We enjoy our fire pit year-round! Some nights, we even cook over the fire.


That's all I've got for now.  I'm enjoying the explosion of color we're experiencing, and I plan to get out with my own camera soon!  (Heck, I still have photos from an ice storm in December that have not been processed!)  We've got planting and some DIY projects coming up, so I'll be sure to share about those!

Happy Spring, and I'll catch you later!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The P Word-Another Update-Food

Tomato at our old place in MD.

It's been a little over two months now, since we started our plastic elimination experiment here at Sage Alley, and it's going pretty well.  I still have not transferred my animals' prescriptions to local stores, but at the moment, I don't need those foods, and the dogs have a vet appointment this week, so I will be able to ask then.  Likewise, I'll be setting up appointments for my cats at my other vet's office soon.

As for the humans in the house, it's been interesting.  Our eating habits have had to change pretty drastically (in my case, anyway,) and frankly, I'm finding it challenging.  One would not think that it would be that big a deal for vegans, but there were a lot of foods that I was eating that came packaged in plastic.  I'm no longer eating those foods, and I miss them.  My guy has always been OK with--and even preferred--eating whole foods.  The convenience foods we used to get were a treat for him, but he mostly ate whole food.  I'm the one who is having issues adjusting.  My thing has always been to take foods I've always liked and veganize them.  I like some of the meat and cheese substitutes.  I liked still making "chicken" soup, mac n cheese, etc.  Those are comfort foods for me. Now, I'm not able to make those foods, since we are eliminating plastics.  I'm learning a completely new way to eat.

I like whole foods, and I don't mind not having the mock meats and cheeses.  I'm just not used to it yet.  One thing I have tried was making lasagna.  It was a cheeseless lasagna made with tofu.  It turned out to be really good, actually.  I also have recipes for different kinds of "cheese" sauces made from tofu and nuts. I just need to change my thinking. We do have a source for bulk tofu, which really helps.  What is frustrating me right now, though, is the fact that I can't even make seitan, because it comes in plastic bags now.  Next time we are at the nearby food co-op, I need to check and see if they have vital wheat gluten in bulk. I suspect they do not.  The store back in the DC area does not.  I'm also going to look around online.  Seitan doesn't work with everything, but it works really well in the dishes for which it's appropriate.

We're making more foods at home, from scratch.  Bread and baked treats, in particular. The next thing I want to learn to do is make pasta.  We were getting pasta in boxes with no interior plastic bag, but with a small, plastic window.  We have decided to stop buying even that.  Again, this is hard for me. I really enjoy pasta.  It's extremely versatile.  Plus, I love Italian food!  I've wanted to learn to make my own pasta for years, so I'm looking at this as an opportunity.

We no longer buy the nut milks we used to keep on hand.  They come in either plastic or aseptic packages, which do not recycle where we live.  What we do now is buy canned coconut milk, blend it, dilute it, and keep the "milk" we make that way in a jar.  It's very tasty, and I don't miss the other milk substitutes at all! Breakfast hasn't changed much for us, really.  We just don't have veggie bacon or sausage any more, because they come in plastic.  Instead, we have fruit with our pancakes or potatoes or whatever. Both the hot and cold cereals that we eat are available in bulk.

So far, taking our own containers to restaurants is not a problem.  The problem has been that sometimes, we just forget. It's a matter of building habits, just like we had to do when we stopped using plastic shopping bags.  We both have a routine now before we leave the house where we gather everything we're going to need and put it in a bag and either hang it on the door to the garage or put it with my purse.

I'd have to say food has been the biggest challenge for me in cutting out plastic from our home.  I'm a foodie, and I have foods that I have always liked and looked to for comfort.  Learning this new way of eating is challenging for me.  My partner is much calmer than I am.  Change is easier for him.  The good news, though, is I am always open to learning.  As a foodie, the idea of trying new foods is exciting for me. It's just the cold-turkey nature of our changes that has kind of thrown me off. I'll get there, and in the meantime, I comfort myself with the knowledge that we are reducing our footprint on the planet.  That alone makes up for all of the mac n cheese that I can't eat right now!

Have a great week!



Brick Dust: Late Winter/Early Spring

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As of this writing, all of that lovely snow has melted, and we are officially in Spring.  This was the only "big" snow we got this year.  our Winter here in WV was unusually warm.  Scarily so, really.  This snow was 12", and we did get to try out our new plow!  Plowing was the easy part.  Getting the plow on and off the truck is another matter entirely! We only needed to plow, because my primary car, while it probably handles snow very well, rides very low to the ground, so I was concerned about getting stuck on our long driveway.  So that was fun.  Unfortunately, we are stuck with the plow on the truck a little while longer, because the truck's battery is dead.  Go figure.
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My partner took full advantage of the unusually warm days and has completed our garden fence! It ended up looking almost exactly like the dog pen, and the garden is almost as big.  He is now in the process of moving some bushes from right around the house to the outer border of the garden.  We had a really bad deer problem last year, so we've been researching ways to deter them this year.  They did a lot of damage, despite the fence we had up and the cages we had around some of the plants. Aside from the thorny bushes he put there this week, we are also going to be putting in sage and marigolds, and we're planning to move a very large rose bush from the same area next to the house out to the outer border of the garden. Seems the deer are getting more determined each year.
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We currently have seeds started all over the first floor of our house. Thanks to the grow lights my partner has installed above our kitchen cabinets, I haven't had to turn a light on in the kitchen, for the most part, in weeks! So far, he has started tomatoes, peppers, and marigolds.  He's planning to start the tilling in the next few days, and planting, of course, will start soon after that.  Here's hoping it doesn't get cold again!

As for me, if I can help with the tilling, I will.  I'm not afraid of good, hard work.  The problem is that my fibromyalgia has gotten a little bit worse.  I may end up helping with lighter work, like the planting, caging, and things like that.  I have to take it day by day and week by week. That's just how things go sometimes!
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On the inside of the house, we are starting to pick our redecorating projects back up.  I'm in the process of preparing the dining room for painting, and then we will be focusing on our kitchen.  We're doing all of the work ourselves, and we're making some pretty bold choices.  The kitchen, for instance, is going to be red! I mean, red-red.  We've tested the color we chose, and it will work.  It's just going to be kind of unusual.  I can't wait! The dining room is going to be gray, and the office and my temple are going to be a creamy off-white.  This will all take some time, but the nice thing about the process is it's also forcing me to do some massive decluttering.  I'm very excited to see what the house will look like when we are finished with it!
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I think this is enough of an update for now, folks!  I will share some photos from around "The Alley" soon!

Happy Spring!

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

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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?