a zero waste practice vacation.

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At the end of February, we attempted to have a little 4 day getaway to Southern Utah, before Jonathan’s busy work season kicked in. Alas, we made it a whole 24 hours before making the 5.5 hour drive home, due to a toddler who simply WAS NOT HAVING the hotel stay (one night was enough for us, and our poor neighbors).

I was excited about the trip not only because I was looking forward to the uninterrupted family time, but also because I was really excited to implement all my new zero waste planning and knowledge into the trip. While I’m minimizing our waste really drastically in the home, being out and about is where I still struggle. So I had done a LOT of planning ahead to get ready for this trip. Leaving the house for any length of time with a toddler takes preparation, so a 12 hour round-trip drive, plus four nights in a hotel can require some effort. And you guys, I was prepared. I packed a zero waste kit for the trip that included reusable everything: containers, bamboo utensils wrapped in cloth napkins, coffee mug and water bottles, a paring knife and cutting board for fruit and a tiny bottle of Castile soap to wash things between uses, plus a few dish towels.

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Our plan was to eliminate going out to eat the majority of the time, by packing our own, and hitting the local grocery store for provisions for the remainder of the trip. I brought a cooler down and we packed plenty of bulk-bin-purchased snacks and our lunch for the drive. We stopped at a cute little park to eat and let Hannah run off some pent up energy before resuming the journey. I prepacked bagel sandwiches and fruit and we ate and played.

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I even brought a reusable grocery bag to haul home anything recyclable and a coffee can for anything we could compost! For the drive, I borrowed plenty of books from the library for Hannah to browse (she LOVES books) and brought the iPad for Curious George fixes. I borrowed a few audio books from the library for J and I to listen to, and I crocheted.

St. George is beautiful and a bit warmer than home, so the trip plans were to scope out parks, Zion National Park, go swimming, and just enjoy the sun. After a horrible night with a sad little munchkin, we decided to spend the second day at Zion National Park, driving around and hiking an easy trail, then head for home. 😦 It was a bummer, but I was glad to see a part of my state I’d not seen before, and I learned a few things for our next adventure – like that camping is really our best option for now. 😉

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zero waste shopping in the ‘burbs pt. 2

I’m still learning to navigate this zero waste grocery shopping thing. I’m lucky to have a store with a crazy huge bulk section, but some items are nearly impossible to find without driving to 4 different stores. Ain’t nobody got time for that. So, I just do what I can, and will often just not buy something rather than drive around for a better alternative. So far, the world’s continued to turn.

I already wrote some about my experience trying to do zero waste in the (non-California) suburbs and thought that maybe I’d keep posting some of the successes I’ve had in case it helps those of you who, like me, don’t live in a region with unlimited hippie options.

Sometimes, it can just be so frustrating. The store I do most of my shopping, with the great bulk section and all, had one brand of juice in glass bottles, and it happened to be organic and affordable. My girl loves her some juice, so I was super happy to find this option without going to a health food store and paying $5 for a quart. But then they stopped carrying it. In fact, they removed the tiny “natural foods” section entirely from their store because they were losing money on it (I asked).

Anyway.. this is their juice aisle:

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I walked the whole aisle, tapping on every bottle, hoping one of them was glass. Not a single one. (Some in aluminum cans, yes, but only tomato and pineapple). So many options, and yet not an option for me. I now look at the aisles of the grocery store in terms of landfill space. For those juice bottles alone, that’s a lot of planet real estate. 😦 Needless to say, I went home juice-less.

I went shopping just before lunchtime, and my growling stomach reminding me midway through that the only breakfast I had was the stuff Hannah rejected on her plate and some luke-warm coffee. I was in the bakery vicinity and saw this:

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Basically every store with a bakery has a pastry case, I think. I never get pastries, but I thought I would see if they had paper bags to grab a few bagels. Nope, just plastic. For some reason I was about to ask permission to use my own cloth bag, but then I decided to just do it. I felt so clever and rebellious. Naked bread! (Plus they sell sandwich rolls – good to know for next week). (PS the checker didn’t even care about the bagels in the cloth bag).

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When I got home, I whipped up a veggie sandwich on a bagel, and it was quick and delicious and zero waste. This seemed like such a victory because it was fairly instant gratification (admittedly the only sometimes downside of zero waste is you have to A) plan ahead, or B) fail!  It’s nice that there’s an option C) Get bagels.

Here was my grocery haul (the upper-right bag is just my bag-o-bags):

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This is pretty typical these days. I couldn’t avoid one can (condensed milk for my DIY coffee creamer). And I found organic and non-GMO seeds right there in the grocery store to finish up my spring seed buying (I got the rest yesterday at a local seed swap).

In Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson’s tip for avoiding twist ties or stickers at the bulk bins is to write the PLU code directly on the bag with a washable crayon. I’ve yet to try that, but I will try to remember that next time!

It’s hard to believe I can find so many words to say about grocery shopping; thanks for hanging in there! Feel free to comment with any other tips you may have!

zero waste shopping in the ‘burbs

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I know that availability of eco options varies greatly by region, but I thought I would write this post anyway. A lot of zero waste bloggers seem to live in big cities, where the options are just different. I live in the Utah suburbs, where bulk shopping means buying a million individually wrapped bags of chips at Costco. If you can do it here, you can do it about anywhere!

My main focus right now is cutting out the plastic packaging. So if an item comes sold in tin cans, glass, or paper, I’m not too concerned (though I’m still trying to limit other throw-away packaging where I can). If I can only find plastic, I am looking into either 1) making my own substitute (doing this with toothpaste, mayo, yogurt, and vanilla extract), 2) looking online for a better source (such as eco brands of toilet paper, made of recycled paper and wrapped in paper instead of plastic), 3) buying the local option (because at least limiting the miles on an item limits its impact on the planet) or 4) not buying it at all (cottage cheese).
It’s been a bit of a hassle, admittedly. For example, I didn’t buy ketchup, though it was on the list for 2 weeks, until I found a store selling an organic brand in a glass bottle. It was something like $4.50, which is outrageous to me, but we will just limit our consumption of that kind of thing until I have tomatoes in my garden and I can make and can my own!

For some reason, I’ve always had a hard time being *that* customer. The one with all the questions. The obscure questions. But this has been a reconnaissance month in my zero waste journey, and finding local options to meet my goals is crucial. So I’ve totally been *that* customer. And shockingly, I haven’t died of embarrassment. I have asked a LOT of questions at three different grocery stores. I realize all they can ultimately tell you is no. I mean, the funny looks or confusion on their end is slightly awkward, but not the end of the world. Here’s what I’ve found out:

  1. Can I bring my own jars for bulk foods/can you subtract the weight of the jars? Answer: 1 yes, 1 no, and 1 “I have no idea” (obviously I need to talk to someone more helpful there..)
  2. Do you have a list of all your bulk foods? Answer: 2 no, 1 yes
  3. Can customers suggest items you sell (because I want brands sold in glass instead of plastic)? Answer: 3 yes (AWESOME! I’ve not taken them up on this yet, as I’m still trying to use up plenty of pantry items I’ve already got. But it’s nice to know.)

I also emailed my local dairy, which delivers our milk in returnable plastic bottles. I said I love that they offer returnable bottles, but asked if they would consider glass because it’s so much healthier. I was told they used to use glass, but due to the weight and fact that they were breakable, they opted for plastic. They also filled me in on the plastic they chose as being the best grade of plastic with no BPA concerns. I was only a little bummed at their response. They were so nice about it, and obviously put a lot of thought into their decision. It didn’t hurt to ask, and at least now I know the plastic they are using has little concern for toxins. It’s still the best local option I have.

One thing I’ve noticed (despite the $4.50 ketchup) is I am spending far less on groceries right now. I can’t do a full assessment because we’ve been using up pantry and freezer stock pretty vigorously, but I can already tell the bulk shopping savings more than offsets the costs of the expensive ketchup. Shopping strictly from a list isn’t a radical notion, but for me it kind of is. I would easily drop $100-$150 at Target each week before zero waste. Now my weekly trips to a grocery store have been $30-$50. I’m buying less, yes, but also wasting less (food as well as packaging). In 2015 I spent a lot of time focusing on lowering our grocery budget to about $500/month. Hopefully toward the middle of this year I can do another comparison to that and see if there’s a difference in our budget.

January has been an eye-opening month for me. Every replacement for a better option is encouraging. I’m re-learning to shop, so it takes some time. I know it’s not possible to control it all, but as long as I’m diligent about good choices, it adds up.

31 Day No Spending Challenge – Challenge Recap

Wow – what a long month! The No Spending Challenge is officially over tonight and I am so glad. I will admit now that I was so far from perfect – it wasn’t the success I’d quite hoped for. But it was definitely a good exercise nonetheless. Being hyper-aware of all those little expenses and impulse buys is a good thing for the budget, even when I justified some of them. I still could not justify many, many little things I wanted to purchase, so lots of items went back on the shelf. Also, I realized I use shopping as entertainment sometimes. I never really realized that was something I could say about myself – I think of myself as someone who dislikes shopping because I avoid malls. But this month made me realize my bargain thrift shopping scores and home improvement project purchases still add up, even though they are much easier for me to justify than dropping $100 on shoes at the mall.

Disclosure time. I spent. I mean, I actually brought quite a few items into my house (and camping trailer) this month. I already disclosed the canning jar purchase, but justified it as part of grocery expense and I FILLED THEM this month. So, totally justified. But I also made THREE separate thrift store trips, spending $39 total. What did I haul home for $39? You know I’m going to list it for you 🙂thrift

  • A really great, perfectly-sized Sakroots crossbody bag for $1 (def. in my top 10 scores ever).
  • 12-15 clothing items for Hannah for fall/winter (shirts, tunics, cardigans, hat, shoes, sunglasses).
  • A few camping and road trip toys to keep Hannah busy for our Yellowstone trip (a toy car, a new baby doll, a ball, a cookie sheet for magnets and 4 books).
  • A few divided toddler plates to keep in the trailer (so I don’t have to keep bringing Hannah’s dishes back and forth between trips- not that big of a deal but for $.25 it makes a lot of sense!).
  • A few misc. baskets and bins to organize the trailer cabinets.
  • 2 tiny pieces of pottery and one pretty plant pot I absolutely did not need, but could not leave without. (I will be planting succulents in them).
  • 2 big baskets for produce-picking in the garden (these have made life so much easier!) plus a plastic basket I can rinse veggies in right over the dirt in the garden.

Continue reading “31 Day No Spending Challenge – Challenge Recap”

30 Day Challenge – Day 3

The topic for the 30 Day Blogging Challenge is “my views on drugs and alcohol.” (Some of these topics are a little random, but I’m enjoying the writing prompts that get me out of my comfort zone). So. As for drugs. I don’t do drugs, and even prescription drugs make me nervous (since an unpleasant experience with half a Vicodin in 2006, I didn’t even take the postpartum painkillers). But my stance on marijuana is a liberal one (legalize it), as is my stance on drug usage in general (addiction counseling/ rehab before criminalization). Addiction is a disease and in my opinion, prison is not the place for a first time drug offender. Help them get help. When that person is a family member or friend this will be so obvious.

As for alcohol. This image made me laugh. coffeeandwine

A good friend once gave me some great parenting advice. “A sane mommy is better than a perfect mommy.” This was in reference to the occasional glass of wine in the evenings (but applies in many other ways).

I love wine and it is absolutely one of my sanity-savers. It’s partly the substance and partly the ritual or symbol of a glass (or 4) of wine after a long day that makes the stress melt away. Whatever. I’m not ashamed of that. I’m a grown-ass woman. If you a grown up, and you aren’t going to get behind the wheel of a car after partaking, I have zero to say about someone choosing to drink.

I live in Utah and we have the world’s weirdest, most asinine alcohol laws. I think they’ve actually gotten better in recent years, but the UT legislature, with pressure from the LDS Church, continues to try to make it as inconvenient as possible for people to enjoy a legal substance. For instance; grocery stores can only sell beer (not even wine!), and the alcohol percentage is lower than the rest of the country (3.2 vs 5%+). Flavored malt beverages were recently removed from grocery stores after a new law was passed – the reasoning was that it was “tempting to kids” on grocery store shelves. Stronger beer and malt beverages can be sold in liquor stores only. The most ridiculous to me – if you are dining at a restaurant you cannot order a drink without ordering food, and they will not bring you your drink until your food is also coming out. It all seems like a push to make drinking seem inconvenient or shameful when you have every intention of being reasonable about it. No one goes to an Applebees to tear it up like a belligerent frat boy. It would be far too expensive and thus inefficient. 😉 It’s out of touch, and I dislike the moral policing on a legal activity. I love my state for many reasons, but it’s got its embarrassing and eyeroll-inducing quirks. I find that a glass of wine or two helps me feel better about them.

2012 ogden valley garden tour

Inspiration overload at yesterday’s Ogden Valley Garden Tour. This year’s tour featured homes in Eden/Huntsville/Liberty, Utah. It’s beautiful there.

A few things I found particularly inspirational:

These pretty raised beds created a mini-garden, with varieties of herbs and cherry tomatoes.

I loved this stacked-stone curbing. We are going to do something like this in our front yard eventually.

This walk-out basement was pretty. We are eventually going to do a walk-out basement under our deck. I like the idea of a retaining wall of rocks like this one.

We are talking about keeping chickens next year, so of course I had to snap a picture of this cute red coop. Seriously – how cute is this?! We’d have something way, way smaller, but I loved this.

This yard felt very broken up into individual “rooms” and I loved it. You can’t go wrong with little cozy spaces. This one incorporated veggies, herbs, flowers, cactus and succulents in a tiny area and didn’t look crowded at all.

This yard below was my favorite of the 9 homes. It’s just so pretty and layered. It’s about the depth of our backyard and they did such a good job pulling it in to make it feel cozy by putting in layers of beds and paths. This is definitely something I think we could do in our yard.

This is another view of the same yard as above. Cute little ornaments like this everywhere.

A fun feature of the tour this year was the Stonyfield Farm in Eden, which is an all-organic farm where you can go pick your own produce. I wanted to live there and hang out with chickens and bunnies all day long!

This was their pet pig, napping in the sunshine. D’ahhhhh.

So fun, seeing all those ideas and touring a new-to-me area of the state. And unlike seeing a bunch of ideas in magazines and on Pinterest, I can see what plants and trees will withstand the climate I actually live in, which is awesome for a rookie gardener like me.

13.1

In November it seemed so far away, and the idea of it was just so fun. An excuse to buy a sport watch and make color-coded Excel training schedules. The Half Marathon I insanely committed to. Starting was easy, and working up to a few miles was fun-fun-fun! And then January happened. I injured myself the week before going to Vegas for Jonathan’s 30th birthday. A minor stress injury to my foot, but I further aggravated it by hobbling around in high heels up and down the Strip because I sometimes think I’m a bad ass (but really I’m just not that bright).

It threw off my training so much I felt back at square one. I decided to at least cross train and strength train if nothing else, until the weather cooperated and I could run outside. I had a new workout space to push me along, but I still thought I had all the time in the world to be ready to face it.

It was HERE before I even knew it. I was back to only logging 3 mile runs on a treadmill, stressing from school workload and job turmoil, trying to get my garden ready and feeling guilty that I wasn’t properly training. There was this moment when I almost bailed out. Then I calmed down and thought maybe I would be ok – I was cross-training after all- and should just lower my expectations.

And so I did. I gutted it out. I completed a 13.1 mile run, hobbling in the last 4 miles because I reinjured my foot.

It may not look like much, but when the top of your foot is bruised from the impact you put on the bottom, it hurts a lot, and it still hurts a week later.

Admittedly, everything hurt the next day. EVER-y-thing. And it was slow. I finished near the last in my gender/age category. An 80 year old man passed me during the last mile while I was limping along. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it. I ruined my yoga form temporarily, lost my favorite hoodie, and limped on an injured foot for several agonizing miles (I almost cried. A few times. Really), but I’m so glad I finished it.

Don’t let the smiley photo fool you. I am in in pain here at the finish. I was just so happy it was over.

And the first several miles were great fun! There really is nothing like that race day excitement, and now I get it. (Don’t mind the watermark. The event photog wants me to pay $20 for a digital copy of this. Umyeah, no thanks.)

^Mile 3ish? Before I wanted to die.

My second biggest concern, pre-race (first being, obviously, don’t die) was.. what if I run out of things to think about? It’s not that it’s generally a problem for me (the opposite, actually) but I’m talking.. what if I ran out of ways to distract myself from the pain? What if by mile 4 I’m already hating it and can’t think of anything beyond the utter suck?

I’m happy to report it’s nothing like the training. I made so many temporary friends during the race. Everyone was so encouraging. The scenery was so pretty I got lost in it a few times. The drink stations were surrounded by spectators cheering us on. My iPod playlist had me pumped up. It’s truly a memorable experience, worth doing to say I did and to understand why people do it in the first place.

Enough to make me try again, with the knowledge of what I’m getting myself into? Maybe. Probably. (No really.. I’m not that bright).