June 30, 2011

Backyard Makeover event at the Oregon Zoo

I will be at the Oregon Zoo’s Backyard Makeover exhibit tomorrow, Friday July 1, 10am-2pm. We’ll be on hand to answer questions and talk about composting, ways to increase wildlife habitat in your yard (birds, butterflies, & such), how to decrease use of toxic chemicals (fertilizers & pesticides), and generally find ways to enjoy your yard even more. Bring your questions, bring your stories, and check out the exhibit!

Regular zoo admission and $2 parking, or take the MAX!

Come by and say hi! Get your picture taking with me and win a prize! (I don’t know what the prizes are yet, but I’ll come up with something!)

June 23, 2011


Today we had some yard work done here at the secret lair of the Trashmaster. We had some guys take out 88 feet of arbor vitae. They were all sorts of efficient, using pickup truck to pull out the trees, then digging the remaining roots out by hand, with occasional use of a chainsaw for who knows what all. I was impressed with how quickly they worked. I was even more impressed that as two guys were removing the arbor vitae, another guy was sweeping up behind them. I wasn’t too crazy about the leaf-blower they used to finish cleaning up the driveway and sidewalk, but okay. The yard looks all kinds of awesome with all the additional light. It may change what sorts of fruit & veg we can grow in the garden, and where the arbor vitae was, we’re eventually putting in a new fence to replace the 60-some year old chain link fence, with an eye towards growing grapes along it.

Tomorrow is garbage & recycling pick up. I cleaned up the kitchen a little bit and took out the last couple of cans to the recycling bin. Where the yard work guys had thrown all of their trash. Not just their pop cans and Gatorade bottles and cigarette butts and fast food lunch wrappers. That would have been understandable.

No, they picked up all the trash that had gotten caught or been thrown into the arbor vitae. Mind you, we’re on a busy street in a not-at-all-fancy part of town, next door to an intersection with no less than three mini-marts, two fast food spots and a taco cart. There was a lot of trash in there. I do appreciate that the guys picked it all up. I do appreciate that they went to throw it out. But into the big, bold blue recycling bin? The one up against the house that says “mixed recycling” all over it? When the garbage can was right up against the arbor vitae, where they’d have had to move it three times just to do their work? Really?

It frustrates me on a variety of levels: If they’d just thrown it all in the garbage, then a handful of recyclables wouldn’t have made it into the recycle/reuse stream. That would have been frustrating enough. And probably not terribly difficult for me to pick them out and put them in the right bin. Dirty, icky, but not terribly difficult. But because so much garbage is in the recycling bin, now a much larger volume of stuff won’t get into the recycle/reuse stream. Unless I dump the entire bin and pick through it by hand, which, yes, I like to pretend I’m the Trashmaster, but I’m really not inclined to go to this effort. So now I’m frustrated and mad, but I’m also lazy and a hypocrite.

-~deep breath~-

I have personal boundaries. I don’t mind separating a handful of recyclable objects from a mass of other recyclable objects. But I draw the line at digging through or dumping out a 60-gallon sticky, dusty, stinky bin for what will probably result in a whole bunch of small bits of garbage (and dust and dirt and branches of holly and cat poop…). Clearly, for the yard work guys, their boundaries included not looking too hard for the garbage can, much less separating recylables from the trash.

We all have boundaries, and our boundaries are in different places for each of us. I am annoyed at being confronted with my boundary and knowing how arbitrary it really is. Given how much we recycle in our household, and given how dirty I’m willing to get while gardening, how much more work is it really to dump out the bin and sort out the recyclables, and sweep up the rest for the garbage? Today, for me, apparently it’s insurmountable. Complaining is easier. Tomorrow morning I will let the recycling collectors take whatever is in the blue bin. Tomorrow afternoon, I will start again.

What is one of your reducing/reusing/recycling boundaries? What would it take to get you past it?

June 19, 2011

Easy summer projects for kids

I've been looking around online for ideas for making puppet theaters for my kids at work. I ran across this page by California Mandarins with some neat ideas for reusing the boxes as children's toys & crafts. If you're not into logos, you can always cover the boxes with paper or paint. Of course, you can use just about any kind of box to make these projects too, like for this puppet theater.

If I had a doorway I could use safely and easily, I'd just put up a tension rod with fabric draped over it, but I pretty much need a tabletop model. The puppet theaters I'm trying to decide between right now are this one from Pink and Green Mama and a version of this Shoebox theater. I also like that they are easy to pack up and store, which is a major plus for my classroom/office.

June 12, 2011


Hey all ~

I thought I’d share a recent find. I just discovered Diggerslist. They’re like Craigslist, except for home and yard improvement only. They take posts on everything from lighting to doors to concrete pavers to old tubs to heavy equipment to hand tools. You can buy, sell, find stuff for free or donate items to Habitat for Humanity. You’ll need an account to make your transactions, but accounts are free. What a great way to rehome items from a remodeling job! Or find items for it! I suspect we’ll be looking here first before buying much for the yard. We’ll probably try posting things here before taking them to Goodwill too.

I have no connection to this organization. I just think it’s a spiffy idea

June 11, 2011

Reusable Sandwich Bags

A while ago, I mentioned I’d bought myself a Snack Taxi.

hedgehog snack taxi

I’ve really been liking it, but sometimes I don’t have a chance to clean it out before I need to pack the next lunch. The universe must have noticed my little dilemma, because just a week or so ago, I came across a Groupon for ReUsies. How could I pass this up? So I bought a couple.

green reusie

purple reusie
blue stone reusie 2pack

Sure, if you’re at all crafty, the reusable sandwich bags aren’t hard to make. You can find all sorts of patterns on the internet. As my sewing machine is still packed away at the moment (and my sewing skills questionable at best anyhow), I went ahead and bought the bags.

This one is one of my favorites – I have an apron I made in a “learn how to sew” class made out of the same sushi fabric, and another 3-4 yards of it waiting to become a skirt.

sushi reusie

I love that the bags are all large enough to accomodate a wide range of sizes and shapes of bread. I also love that the bags can go straight into the washer (inside out, and on cold/gentle, please!).

I will admit: I do use plastics to transport some lunch items. I know some of you have switched to glass containers. This is a bad idea for me – I am a wee bit on the clumsy side, I throw everything in my backpack which ends up on the floor and bumped around on the bus, and I work in a small room with lots of little kids in and out all day. Having glass in this sort of situation is just asking for bad things to happen. Plus, I already own the plastic and it’s still in good shape, so there’s no reason to throw it out just yet. So, when I take messy stuff, such as the tuna & miracle whip mix that will become my sandwich, I put the tuna mix in a plastic and the bread in a reusable bag, and just make up the sandwich when it’s time to eat. Sandwiches that are less squishy, like PB&J, goes whole into the bag. I haven’t had any problems wiping the PB&J part off the bags yet, or any issues with them staining. The bags have also been great for crackers and chips. Throw in a cloth napkin, some durable tableware and a reusable water bottle, and you are set!

What do you use for packing your lunch?
What are your favorite lunches to pack?
Need some encouragement to take pack your lunch more often? Check out Lunch It, Punch It!
Tons more reusable snack & sandwich bags

June 9, 2011

Why I garden

It’s come that time of year for the requisite garden posts. Which is fine with me - it means I can put off weeding for another day in order to write.

Why do you garden?

Our garden is an endless series of science demos. Watching the garden grow, trying to figure out what’s going on in it, trying to achieve certain outcomes, we have learned about biology, chemistry, the odd bit of physics, meteorology, climatology, geology, entomology and more than a little about human physiology.

Our garden is entertainment. We don’t just work in the garden then pick the produce. We also walk amongst the beds just to look. Sometimes I get down on the ground to watch the bugs or to get a closer look at the flowers. We sit outside to watch the birds, to watch the cats stretch on the grass, to see the butterflies dart and dip through the branches. In nicer weather we’ll sit outside to watch the sun set. We have important and heartfelt discussions, we have silly chats, sometimes we don’t say anything. We like showing off the garden. We like sharing it with people who garden and with people who’ve never seen an artichoke outside of a restaurant before. We have parties under the spring dogwood flowers and we have parties to harvest the horseradish.

Our garden allows us, asks us to learn new skills. I picked up a power drill for the first time to make my first raised garden beds. I’m learning to can, freeze, dehydrate and pickle some of what we grow in the garden so that it will last past the season. I’m learning about composting by doing, and about worm bins and raising chickens in anticipation of doing.

Our garden is great therapy. I’ve got a family history of cyclic depression. Getting outside in the sunshine, moving around, watching things grow helps me be a happier, healthier, functional me. It helps get me off my butt, out of the house, away from the TV. The garden has become one of my Happy Places. It’s exercise too. Digging around in the dirt, clipping tree branches, walking the compost from the bin to each of the plants, hauling around new plants and moving older plants. The garden gives us reasons to look forward – planning the new seed list, the first green sprouts and buds of the year, picking all the fabulous fruits & veggies, waiting for the mason bees to hatch from their eggs, looking in spring for all the birds who’d left us for the winter. The garden also gives us reasons to look back – the blueberries we ate as soon as they were ripe, discovering not just the pea pods and mustard leaves were tasty but so were the pea shoots and mustard flowers, how maybe we can make changes to how we grow the pumpkins so we can get a few more of them.

Our garden teaches us patience. Even if we wanted to do it all at once, we can’t afford to replace the rusted busted fence and arbor vitae with the nice new pretty fence and grape vines at the same time as we’re laying down the hazelnut shells for garden paths along with paying someone to dig out the blackberry infestation in the backyard (as well as next door and in the property behind us…). Nor can we do all the weeding and pruning and mowing and planting at once as it’s just not physically possible for either of us. Our wallets and bodies have limitations that require us to prioritize our projects. What do we need done right now? What do we want done right now? What do we need to drop everything for because the weather is only going to be good for two more days before the rain sets back in?

Our garden is full of satisfaction. There’s nothing quite like digging up potatoes with your own hands. Making carrot pickles that come out just right. Cooking up pasta sauce with your own tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs. Watching the flowers open just a little bit more each day of the week until they’re a riot of bloom. Knowing we’ve kept the garden organic – no pesticides, no artificial fertilizers. Knowing it’s okay for the little kids to roll around face-first in the grass and for friends to try a huckleberry straight off the bush.

Our garden is a pretty good place to be.

Why do you garden?

June 4, 2011

Curbside: Paper

“Trashmaster”, you say, “I read your post about where my curbside recycling goes. I even read about putting my glass out on the curb.”
Awesome! I say. Thanks for reading!
“Trashmaster,” you say, “I’m ready for something more.”

Today’s feature: Paper

Paper is crazy-easy to recycle. You can use your junk mail, some water, some old screen door mesh and a blender to make new paper right now. Try this site or this one.

Using recycled paper to make new paper products uses only about 60% of the energy it takes using virgin materials. That means less air pollution, less water pollution, less energy used, and fewer trees cut down.

Right. First things first. What does your hauler say about recycling paper? Not your neighbor, not your co-worker, not your brother’s wife’s weird cousin Larry, but your hauler. (Don’t know who that is? Type “recycling in [your city]” into a search engine. Go ahead. It’s okay - I’ll wait.) Find out if your hauler requires you to separate types of paper products or accepts “mixed paper”. This is important.

Got your local recycling info? Fantastic! If your local hauler requires you to separate your paper products, PLEASE DO THAT. It makes life simpler for the hauler, it makes life simpler for the paper mill, and it means more of your waste products will get recycled.

Here’s what you need to know about recycling “mixed paper”:

-any color of paper can go in. Seriously. For reals. I know, there used to be restrictions like “no goldenrod”. Not anymore.

-you don’t need to remove labels or staples or the spirals from notebooks or paper clips (though paper clips are easy to remove – and reuse)

-you don’t need to remove the ‘windows’ from envelopes

YES: paper bags (no food stains!), cereal and cracker boxes, junk mail (remove free samples and sample credit cards first), cardboard, toilet paper and paper towel tubes, telephone books, catalogs, magazines, newspapers and their inserts, copier paper, greeting cards, wrapping paper (as long as it doesn’t have foil!), milk and juice cartons (even if they feel waxy - they're a weird exception).

CHECK FIRST: corrugated cardboard. Some haulers are fine with mixing it, others want it separate. Also, if you have a lot of shredded paper (like, from a home or small business) – check with your hauler about the size of the shreds and how much the hauler will accept curbside.

NO: Do not put these in your recycling cart. These materials often have chemicals in the paperboard, food residue or other icky chemicals that get in the way of making new paper products.
-paper plates & cups (food residue, and they are often waxed), wrapping paper with foil, carbon paper, tissues, takeout food containers, hardback books (adhesives in the covers and spine), pizza boxes (these usually have food residue)

Freezer food boxes – if the box is at all waxy, DO NOT PLACE IT IN THE RECYCLING BIN. Even if it says “recycle me” on it, just throw it out. There’s a very good chance it has chemicals in it to protect the food inside, and those chemicals are NO GOOD for the paper recycling process. Hopefully this will change soon.

Don’t shred all your paper! Some folks worry about sensitive documents being harvested by icky people. Fair enough. But just shred the stuff with actual personal information. You don’t need to shred the entire contents of the envelope to keep someone from gathering your account number.

The problem with shredding is that it cuts the reusable life of the paper down. Paper can be recycled 4-7 times before the fibers are too short to bind together and form new sheets. Shredding paper means the fibers are cut shorter that much sooner, making for more waste sloughed off in the paper-making process.

More fun facts about paper recycling:

About 1/3 of all papermaking materials in the US comes from recycled paper products.

Recycled paper fibers get made into new products such as new office and notebook paper, egg cartons, corrugated cardboard, paper money, coffee filters, fiber pots for seedlings, bandages, insulation, and much more.

According to the Paper Industry Association Council, “every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space”. That’s a lot! Want more paper recycling statistics? (and really, who doesn’t?) Read this.

*Consider reading:
Promoting office recycling
Materials for elementary school teachers (or parents)
Paper (and other) recycling facts
Lots of paper recycling info from the EPA

Consider reading the rest of the "curbside" series. Just click on the “curbside” tag just underneath this post