Reading update – July 2018

I read quite a bit this month … but I quit most of the books that I picked up. I blame it on the summer heat. Being hot and sweaty saps joy out of curling up to read.

Also, I just didn’t have the patience for most of the books I picked up.

According to my notes, I currently have 37 unread books:

  • 21 unread paper books (read 1, removed 1, added 3)
  • 4 unread ebooks (removed/quit 5)
  • 12 unread audiobooks (no change)

I think I’ll stop tracking the numbers. I don’t have that many unread books left (compared to when I started, anyway) and I have them separated from my other books, so it’s easy to see if the pile is expanding or depleting just by looking at it. I’d still like to reduce the number down to just a handful, but I’m comfortable with my current rate of reading and I know that I’ll read more once it stops being so hot.

These are the books I read (they all have fabulous covers!):

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1. Birds Art Life – I’ve been reading this since … I dunno … January? I always wanted to wait until I had time to really focus on it, read it slowly and consider everything. You don’t need to read it like that – it’s a lovely and easy book that would be great on the beach or during those last few minutes you have before bed. The author muses on art, writing, family, birds, and life throughout the a year. It’s quietly delightful, if that makes any sense.

2. How to be an Explorer of the World – This is one of those books that presents a bunch of ideas for fostering creativity and exploring life (not just going on adventures, but also stopping to admire things in your own neighbourhood). It’s got a lot of neat ideas. And, though written for adults, many of the ideas could easily be done with kids, if you want to show your children different ways to explore their world. The ideas range from collecting treasures on a walk to considering treasures you already have (for example, comparing and contrasting all you favourite pieces of beach glass).

3. Simple Matters – This is a re-read. I bought this book when it was first published a couple of years ago and I really love. As I said on Instagram:

“Sometimes, the best way to recalibrate is to go back to the first book that brought everything together for you: simple living, eco friendly options, and a generous helping of realistic advice. Simple Matters by @readtealeaves is one of my favourite books and one of the few non-art books that I’ve kept during my simplifying journey. I’ve been following her blog for three years and her “life in a tiny apartment” series is what inspired me to move into a smaller space (about half the size of my old place). This book is lovely, encouraging and well balanced (none of that “toss everything” nonsense). I highly recommend it.”

 

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4. The Art of Frugal Hedonism – I have mixed feelings about this book – mostly positive, but with a few bits of scorn. On the whole, this is a friendly, laid back exploration of how to be frugal while still finding great pleasures in life – sunsets, long walks, good friends, savouring a juicy nectarine (what I’m doing while I write this), and so on. Most of the advice is good and realistic. The problem is that they are focused on their own reality made a couple insensitive assumptions that I just couldn’t seem to get over. I know they were just trying to be fun and jolly, but it really felt like they hadn’t considered readers who might be fat, have mental health issues, or live with people who might not support a frugal life.

I have no reading plans for August. I’m just going to keep plugging away at what I’m currently reading and whatever

 

 

 

 

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Plastic Free July – end of month check-in

Plastic Free July went as expected: not bad, but I still need to work on changing some habits.

After some adjustments to accommodate my lack of interest in taking the garbage out and the summer heat, I think that I’ve settled on a garbage bag free scheme that I can live with (see below). I just need to get better about taking the garbage out as needed instead of waiting for the garbage can to be full. I never let it get bad enough to have a smelly apartment (I live in a small space, so I refuse to live with bad smells), but there were times when I pushed the limits and ross things grew in my garbage can.

But, here’s what seems to be working:

As I mentioned in my kick-off post, my bathroom garbage doesn’t accumulate smelly or gross things. Mostly, it’s just a place to dump my dental floss and all the dust and such that I sweep up. It gets dirty from the dust, but it’s not decaying or rotting, so it’s fine and doesn’t require a garbage bag.

In my kitchen, I did have some problems with rot, decay and food sticking to the bottom of the can (which meant having to soak and wash the can before using it again). Because of this, and because it’s summer, I decided to default to freezing everything food related. It’s still been a bit annoying, I miss garbage bags, and I miss being able to just toss something in the trash instead of having to open the freezer, taking a container out, etc. But, it works.

I did try a few other options over the month:

  • I tried to convince myself to empty the garbage every couple of days (2-3), but that will require a fairly big habit shift or maybe storing my garbage bin by the door (not ideal – I prefer not having to look at it and I live in a small space). Again, I know it seems silly, but it’s not like I’m just walking to the end of the garden (I’m several floors up and have to open a dumpster, which can smell really bad in the summer).
  • I tried lining my bin with flyers to keep food from sticking to the bottom. It was certainly better, but not by much and I would still have to empty the garbage more often. Also, that still requires extra resources (flyers).
  • I considered using plastic bags I had on hand (from things like frozen foods that I could only get in plastic), but I worried that this was just one very tiny step towards spiralling back into either buying garbage bags or using it as an excuse to allow myself to buy more things in plastic. Not to say that I’m completely plastic free (I still buy frozen peas), but I’m trying to avoid plastic.

This is definitely something that I still need to work on to find a solution that works best for me, but I have some large yogurt containers that I could use for perishables. I’m considering keeping one on my counter until it’s full and allowing myself to accumulate a couple containers in the freezer before taking the garbage out. I’ll still use the garbage can for non-perishables and plastics.

Speaking of plastic, I’ve been tracking my plastic consumption these past few weeks to see where I can make improvements. It’s been an interesting project and I’m pleased to say that my plastic consumption has reduced in the past few months.I still have room to improve, but I’m happy with the progress.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of things I had:

  • Labels from jars that I wanted to save. A couple of thelabels were made of plastic. Needless to say, I’ll try to remember to always look for non-plastic containers with non-plastic labels.
  • The mesh and label from a package of garlic because I could not find it un-packaged that day, despite trying more than one store. Usually, I’m well stocked with garlic, so this is rarely a problem.
  • A chip bag (or two). I like chips on occasion, but I know I can find good enough options (like bulk pretzels or popcorn bought in bulk, made on the stovetop, and flavoured with herbs or with bulk flavouring that you can get at the Bulk Barn). This was a case of letting a bad day supercede my good intentions.
  • The packaging from frozen peas. I’m just not ready to give them up yet and bulk peas from the market are expensive, if you can find them. I do try to buy the largest bag possible (even if it means separating them out into a couple of containers in the freezer to keep them from getting too freezer burnt).
  • Odds and ends of things that were small but represented other areas I need to work on. For example, plastic from a package. I could have bought that book with less waste overall if I’d gone to the store when the book was published instead of pre-ordering it online.
  • A wrapper from a chocolate bar. It was fair trade chocolate (yay), but it still came in plastic (boo). I could stop eating chocolate (as if) or I could just get off my lazy butt and go to the grocery store that has really great bulk.

Despite not being plastic free yet, I think that the Plastic Free July challenge was incredibly helpful and a useful challenge. It allowed me to recommit to the idea of living a low-waste life and allowed me to finally give up something I’d been really resistant to giving up (who knew garbage bags were so important to me).

So, Plastic Free July was a success for me and I’m taking some new ideas and habits into August. My intention is to continue to be low-waste and work towards being as close to zero waste was I can.

Did you try giving up any plastic for July?

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Plastic Free July – bamboo toothbrushes

Lately, the big buzz has been around banning straws as if banning just one thing will make the plastic problem go away. Well, what about all the other plastics we use? Disposable utensils, to-go cups for drinks, produce bags, tooth brushes, etc.

We have a long way to go (well beyond just reducing the number of straws we use) and in some cases there are still limitations that make it difficult for some people to switch to a plastic free or reusable alternative. I’m not even going to pretend that I can speak to the needs of people who are low income or who have disabilities – we should listen to them and make sure that they are still supported in whatever way we can (including allowing them to use disposable straws). But, I can share a bit of insight from my own experience with some alternatives, like bamboo toothbrushes.

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Toothbrushes have always been an issue for me. I have gums that are prone to receding and I’m a bit heavy handed when I brush. It’s hard to break out of a lifelong habit of being heavy handed, so I’ve always bought toothbrushes with soft or (preferably) ultra soft bristles. This, of course, seems left to the brand’s imagination – what some brands call soft is what I would call medium or even hard.

When I decided to switch to bamboo toothbrushes, I knew I’d continue to have issues, but I didn’t think that it would take me 2 years to find something that worked. I have tried every brand of bamboo toothbrush that I could find, including some that I had to order from out-of-country and as many variations as I could find (soft, children’s, etc.). These four are the most recent ones that I’ve tried.

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  1. Brush with Bamboo

This is a standard, generic bamboo toothbrush. I’ve tried a couple of brands that were just like this and they typically only had one bristle option (medium to hard). Their children’s toothbrushes are the exact same, but smaller. I would rate the bristles are being equivalent to medium. If you don’t mind the standard toothbrush bristle stiffness, this would be a very good option to start with as this brand is relatively easy to find (even in Canada) and relatively affordable. They’re not perfect (the bristles are part plastic), but they are one of the better options available. In a 2016 post, Kathryn discusses some of the benefits, including the sustainable and pesticide free bamboo sourcing for the handles.

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For the record, this toothbrush looks dirty because I was trying charcoal toothpaste at the time (this Canadian made brand). It’s nice toothpaste, but it was messy and it stained the bamboo.

  1. Senzacare

I bought this one specifically because the bristles were “ultrasoft”. While softer, I don’t know that the bristles rate as ultra soft. But, it’s a good option if you like a softer toothbrush. I used this for longer than the recommended 3 months and found that it stood up well to my rough use.

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  1. Redecker

I decided to try this because it uses natural fibers (sterilized goat hair) for bristles. I should have done a bit more research before buying this one because I assumed it would be soft-ish or maybe medium stiffness. I was wrong. The bristles are hard and I found them to be painful, even after soaking them in hot water for a couple minutes. I would rate these bristles as hard or very hard. I love the idea of a fully compostable toothbrush, but I could use this to scour my grout or pots!

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  1. Truly Bamboo

This was something I found by accident and immediately went to the website when I saw the tapered shape of the bristles. The last couple of plastic toothbrushes I used had the same bristle shape and I found them to be perfect for me – they clean well without damaging my gums. I ordered a box of 4 (they had a sale at the time, but I would have purchased them for their normal price, which his still fairly affordable for a bamboo toothbrush).

They’re from a company in the States, but they do ship to Canada. The bristles are nylon free (made of activated charcoal and bamboo). The bamboo is sourced responsibly and the bamboo handles are carved (i.e., not mulched bamboo fibers glued together).

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From top to bottom: Brush with Bamboo, Redecker, Senzacare, and Truly Bamboo.

While they’re becoming more affordable, bamboo toothbrushes will continue to be unattainable for some people because of the price. If you can afford it, I highly recommend switching to bamboo to eliminate a bit more plastic in your life. In all cases, you can either compost the whole brush or at least the handle (just use some pliers to pry out the bristles). Either way, that’s still a heck of a lot less plastic.

Here are some things to consider when looking for the bamboo toothbrush:

  • What are the bristles made of? You may need to remove them before composting the handle
  • How is the handle constructed? The carved handles will last longer and have a lesser environmental impact simply because they don’t require glues. They can also be used in your garden (as plant stakes or labels) without disintegrating too fast.
  • How is the bamboo sourced? Most companies use sustainable, pesticide-free bamboo, but it’s worth checking to ensure that you’re supporting sustainable practices.
  • Can I source them locally? It’s always better for the environment if you can buy something that was shipped in bulk.
  • Does it work for me? If a particular brand isn’t working for you for any reason (ex: the bristles are too hard), find the next best option. Finding an option that’s sustainable for you is just as important as choosing an option that has a low impact on the environment.

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For the record, here is my current dental care routine and products:

  • I brush twice daily and floss a couple times a week. I also visit the dentist regularly (currently twice a year because my dental hygiene routine seems to be keeping my teeth fairly happy).
  • I’m using the Truly Bamboo toothbrush and loving it. These are supposed to last up to 6 months, but I’m really rough on toothbrushes, so I’ll be happy if it lasts 3-4 months (which is typical for me with standard toothbrushes)
  • I use silk floss (it’s expensive, but something I’ve worked into my budget). I’m currently using Senzacare floss, and I have some FlossPot floss to use next. I also have a standard nylon floss at work that I’ll use up before replacing it with silk floss.
  • I don’t use mouthwash. The advice I’ve always been given is that good brushing and flossing habits trump any benefits you might get from using mouthwash. Mind you, I’ve always lived in cities with fluoridated water (in Edmonton, it’s fluoridated to the Health Canada recommendation of 0.7ppm). If fluoride isn’t a concern for you and you still want to use a mouthwash, there are a lot of simple homemade recipes on line (most of them involve a bit of baking soda in water).
  • I’m currently using up the tail end of a somewhat-locally made toothpaste. I like it, but I found it to be fairly flavourless, so I typically add a few drops of a minty locally made tooth oil. The toothpaste is also in a plastic tube, so I won’t buy it again. I did enjoy the charcoal toothpaste I tried previously, despite the mess (bonus, it comes in a small reusable glass tub). And, I also like the tooth powder I recently purchased to replace my current toothpaste. I’ll probably switch to a homemade tooth powder eventually (like this one).
  • I always have mints on hand. I haven’t found a really great zero waste option, but I always get ones in metal tins that I can reuse. Currently, I’m loving wintergreen VerMints and I also have the Simply Gum brand mints. Both were add-ons to an online order, but I typically get something I can buy locally, like Altoids. I don’t use them daily, but they’re handy when I have a meeting after lunch.

 

If you know of any simple tooth powder recipes, please let me know. And, for the record, this post was not sponsored by any of the brands mentioned or the shops I linked to – I simply wanted to share my honest opinions and at least one option for where Canadians can buy them (but, always look for them locally to support your local businesses and economy).

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Book review – The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

22859551I read The Crossroads of Should and Must back in April, took loads of notes, had many thoughts, and then couldn’t seem to bring myself to write a review because it required doing some hard thinking about my “crossroads” and whether or not I truly believe that it’s as easy as picking a “must” over a “should”.

I’ve always struggled with the idea of something – a calling or passion – that I should be doing. It’s a thing that we’re taught in movies, books, and ads – everyone has something that they’re exceptionally good at or that will make them happy for the rest of their lives. It didn’t help that I also knew a number of people who seemed to be exceptionally good at some things and exceptionally passionate about following some areas of interest. I, on the other hand, was a generalist – I was pretty good at pretty much everything I put my mind to, but not particularly fantastic at any one thing. I wanted to be. It seemed like it would be so easy if there was some magic career or life choice that would make me eternally content. But, years of wanting to believe it and feeling that it was my own fault for not finding my “passion” nearly ruined me by making me feel like I might be a failure. There I was in a job that didn’t reflect my interests, much less my “passions” – Where did I go wrong? Did I make bad choices?

It took several years before I was able to see that life is complicated, people are complicated and some of us don’t have “passions” or the temperament to deal with the potentially unpredictable life that might come with turning our hobbies into jobs. Personally, I like having a steady paycheck with a pension, I like not having to be my own boss, and I like having hobbies that are allowed to just be for fun and not be the thing that I have to rely on for my rent.

I’ve become pretty pessimistic about the whole “find your passion” mind set, so I almost didn’t read this book. In fact, I’ve been avoiding books that try to tell us that it’s as simple as picking your passion over a boring office job because I think that it’s bullshit and an unfair dream to promote. Yes, many people have or feel that they have found their passion, but many more are people who are generalists (good at a little bit of everything) or people who need steady jobs, whether it’s because they prefer the stability or because they have a family to feed.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

All that said, I did end up reading the book because I decided that it’s useful to learn about fostering our passions, even if we don’t necessarily want to turn them into a career. You can have a boring office job while still being a passionate hobbyist!

The premise of the book is that everyone has a calling (our “musts”) and everyone also has to deal with family or social expectations (our “shoulds”). Luna argues that, where reasonable, we should choose our “musts” over our “shoulds” as much as possible. She suggests that we’re at our best and happiest when our job/career aligns with our calling, so that our work life and passions overlap and blend together. In other words, someone who’s passionate about art should be an artist or works in the arts.

One of the most useful things about this book is the discussion about our “shoulds” and how they can limit us. Luna notes that we have to understand why you aren’t free and what keeps you from being free before you can break free. If nothing else, we should be aware of any “shoulds” we have inherited so that we can keep the ones we value and discard the others. Luna suggests identifying them, asking where they come from (society, family tradition, ourselves, etc.), determining if they’re true or useful for us, and looking at if they’re holding us back.

Regardless of whether or not I believe that we all have a calling, I’m a firm believer in continually examining our lives and our beliefs as that fosters growth. Plus, I’m a bit of a rebel who likes to question cultural expectations. So, I found this part of the book to be especially interesting and useful.

I also appreciated that she was careful to note that choosing our “musts” does not mean taking risks that could harm us – uncertainty and risk are fine, but being impulsive isn’t helpful. It’s important for us to remember that life changes may not be easy for us (or other people) because we may not have the same degree of privilege as others (money, time, support) or we may need to consider other factors (like taking care of a family or our mental health). Luna explores some ways that we can make changes without necessarily taking risks. She talks about how to find and foster your passion, how to make room (physically, mentally and financially) for your passion, how to get started, and how to work through roadblocks (including fear).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I think that a lot of people would really appreciate and benefit from reading it. So, despite my pessimism about “passions”, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, especially people who feel that they do have a passion or calling that they want to pursue.

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Book review – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

24453082Big Magic has been incredibly inspirational, even “life changing,” to a lot of people, but I’m not sold. Throughout the book, I underlined a lot of good ideas and thoughts that I felt were relevant to me. But, I also skimmed over or rolled my eyes at a lot of things. This book made me think about the content well after I was finished, but not all of those thoughts were complementary.

Woowoo

I’m not really into woowoo. I used to be. Or, maybe I just wanted to be because woowoo opened the door to a lot of new, interesting, and non-traditional things for me. But, on the whole, I think woowoo stuff is nonsense: I don’t believe in spirits, I don’t believe in gods, I don’t believe in the the benefits of crystal vibrations, and I certainly don’t believe that inspirations are entities that travel around looking for someone who’s open to their idea. Gilbert does. As an example, she believes that a story she worked on but eventually ignored and lost had actually transferred to another author who nurtured that story into a published book, even though they’d never discussed the premise.

Quotable quotes

I think that one of the reasons this book is so successful is because it’s full of quotable quotes. I would often find myself drifting away from the book when I suddenly found a great line that dragged me back in. I’m pretty sure you could find a good quote on every other page, at least.

Some of these quotes ooze with that syrupy goodness we all love to hate on Instagram and Pinterest, but a lot of them are really good and/or relevant (to me, our times, our society, etc.). I don’t think that she said anything that was new to me or particularly profound, but maybe that’s just because I read and think about things like creativity fairly often.

Mixed emotions

One of the reasons I’ve struggled with how I feel about this book is because it both delighted and frustrated me. Gilbert said a lot of things that really resonated with me and even some things that made me stop, think, and get a little emotional about my own life and my relationship with creativity and art.

But, I also found a lot of her discussions to be frustrating. A good example of this is her advice to avoid fetishizing suffering. I completely agree with her on a high level – suffering is not something we should celebrate or strive for as it hurts us and hurts people who truly are suffering. But, some of her arguments made me feel that she had no understanding or respect for people who truly suffer. I struggled with how to articulate my concern because I couldn’t really pinpoint why I was concerned until I was in the middle of reading Reasons To Be Alive by Matt Haig, a book about depression and his experience living with depression and anxiety. In one section he talked a lot about famous people who’ve dealt with or continue to deal with depression, and he noted that a lot of people (himself included) use creativity as a means of dealing with or mediating their illness. For example, he writes because it helps him deal with his depression.

I think Gilbert’s intention was good and I think that she was trying to remind the reader that you don’t have to suffer in order to be able to be creative or to make things that are worthy. But, the way she did it felt like she was ignoring or possibly belittling the very real and very unavoidable suffering that some artists deal with.

So, if you read the book, remember this: you do not need to suffer to be creative, but being creative may be a good tool for dealing with or processing your experiences if you do suffer.

Confusion

One thing this book does pretty well is champion creativity: anyone can be creative, you don’t have to be “good” to be creative, etc. But, it sometimes felt a bit contradictory. For example, there were a couple of places where I felt like she was preaching that we shouldn’t bother with being professional creatives, but then spent the next several chapters providing advice that seemed geared specifically towards people who were pursuing a creative career. Taken as a whole, the book clearly supports the idea that everyone should be creative, whether you make a career out of it or not, and you don’t have to be a “professional” to share your work. But, her arguments seemed to be a bit all over the place. Maybe it’s the scientist in me, but I found the lack of structure a bit annoying and confusing.

Personally, I found Show Your Work by Austin Kleon and The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider (see my review here) to be more inspirational and motivating because they presented clear ideas in a more organized manner (read: easy to understand).

The good stuff

Despite my frustrations with the book, I did enjoy it (and, to be fair, I didn’t realize how much the book frustrated me until I thoughts about it and reviewed my notes – so, maybe don’t think too hard about the book). Gilbert said a lot of things that I need to be reminded of often and that I believe to be true:

  • Being creative doesn’t just mean being an artist
  • Your dedication to your creativity is more valuable than talent
  • You don’t need anyone’s permission to do something creative
  • Originality is over-hyped – focus on being authentic to yourself
  • Good enough is better than not at all
  • Don’t look for your passion, just be open to curiosity

You made it; you get to put it out there. Never apologize for it, never explain it away, never be ashamed of it. You did your best with what you knew, and you worked with what you had, in the time you were given. You were invited and you showed up, and you simply cannot do more than that.

I will keep my copy of the book, for now at least, because it has a lot of notes that I think might be valuable when I’m feeling frustrated with my art. But, I’m not sure if this is a good book, or just a well marketed book with great quotes. But, hey, if you get something out of a book, then it’s worth the time it took to read it. So, if the premise interests you and you feel like you could use a pep talk about creativity, then this book is worth considering. If nothing else, you can skim through to the bits that you need most.

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Plastic Free July – plastics I still own

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’ve been doing a lot of reading and lurking on zero waste and eco-living websites lately. One of my favourite resources is the Green Indy Blog, run by Polly who’s a zero-waster with a realistic view of life. She is open and honest about when plastic or waste happens and why. And, she’s unapologetically reasonable about her choices. For example, she talks a lot about how to make low to no cost changes and she admits to times when she’s allowed (not accepted, but consciously allowed) waste. She’s taken a very open and welcoming approach to zero waste that allows people to simply do their best, instead of demanding perfection.

I think that a lot of people are starting to take this approach because they recognize that demanding perfection is unhelpful – if people can’t be perfect and/or can’t sustain big changes, they’ll stop trying as hard or simply give up. If we can foster a community that shows people that it’s not about being perfect, but about being more conscious about our decisions, then we’ll make it easier for more people to start making those changes and, hopefully, keep working towards a low-impact. This means that we’ll be more successful at finding new community members or allies, and we’ll have a bigger impact.

So, to do my part, I’m going to start sharing how I’m working towards being plastic free or zero waste, where I need to make changes, and when I allow waste. I’m going to start with my farmer’s market trips simply because I happen to have a decent picture of my most recent market haul.

This is what I bought this weekend:

  • Beans
  • Raspberries
  • A dozen cookies (plus 2 bonus cookies because they were broken)
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Spinach

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Please note all the plastic. There’s loads of it! Let’s look at my haul from the perspective of packaging:

Beans, raspberries, and cookies

I bought these plastic containers about 2 years ago for market trips. I buy a fair amount and walk/bus to and from the market, so things get squished or bruised. These are cheap containers, but they’re lightweight and very useful. When not being used for the market trips, I use them to hold veggies. Ideally, I’d use something that isn’t plastic, but: (a) glass is heavy and breakable making it a difficult option for market trips, and (b) metal is expensive, so I’d need to save up for new containers.

I would like to replace these some day, but I have no problem with using them. I’d rather

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What my fridge typically looks like after groceries and market – my plastic containers are used for any and all veggies, fruit, etc. And, I do have a few glass containers that I also use, but they’re not convenient for market trips as they’re heavy.

use what I have to keep this plastic away from the landfill for as long as possible. And, if I lose or break a lid? No problem – I can either find another lid option (ex: reusable waxed cloth) or find another use (ex: using them as lidless containers in drawers or cupboards).

I can also use these for bulk or deli foods at the Planet Organic nearby.

Eggs

Stonepost Farms takes back egg cartons (theirs and others), so I return my cartons each week and will give them other cartons if I ever have to buy eggs from elsewhere.

In the winter, there’s another vendor that I can get eggs from who also takes cartons back, though I don’t think that they take cartons from other brands. But, egg cartoons are both useful (ex: crafts or sprouting seeds) and relatively easy to re-purpose (i.e., I generally don’t find it difficult to give them away – all I need is to find a parent/teacher).

Peaches

I have an abundance of re-usable produce and bulk food bags. I could easily sew my own, but I really like mesh bags and mesh is a pain to sew. The one I used for the peaches was purchased as a bundle of three years ago, but I often see them in places like Planet Organic (usually near the produce or bulk items). The mesh is quite fine, so they work for both produce and many bulk items (beans, nuts, pasta, etc.). I also own some Credo bags, which are great for produce.

Blueberries

I ran out of containers and couldn’t resist this giant box of blueberries (just $10!). I’ll find out if the vendor will take it back next week, and if they don’t, it’s compostable or I can see if I can find another use for it.

This was a “whim” purchase. If the berries had been in plastic, I wouldn’t have purchased them. But, I was close enough to home to feel confident carrying them in this open box and blueberries are awesome.

Spinach

This is one of my allowable exceptions. Finding plastic free greens is difficult for me. In grocery stores, my options are typically low-waste (a twist tie or elastic) greens, bagged greens, or greens in plastic boxes. Most of them are from California or further. In the grand scheme of things, I think that buying some spinach in a plastic bag that I can reuse (or, return, as Stonepost Farms will take them back) from a local farm is better than buying food that had to be transported from another country (remember, I’m in Canada, several hundred kilometers from the border). I spoke a bit about it that at the bottom of my post about what plastics I’m trying to avoid for July. Buying local is something that I consider to be very important. It supports local businesses/vendors and food security, and it’s often a more environmentally friendly option.

I’ve already found a use for the last bag (protecting some packages of butter that I’m storing in the freezer) and I have no doubt that I can find a use for this bag, without it going into the garbage.

This is how raspberries usually come, but with plastic bags to protect them. This photo is from 2015, before I had a large collection of re-usable produce bags and while I was still getting used to using the few I had, so I bought the peas in a plastic bag (the other items were already in plastic).

So, yes, I have and use plastic, but I’m also reducing a lot of waste: the raspberries would have come in boxes with plastic bags to protect them; the cookies would have come is special branded bags that are a weird size/shape, so hard to re-use; the peaches and beans would have come in plastic bags, and I predominantly choose plastic free options, even though there were plenty of foods I would have loved to buy if they weren’t in plastic (I really miss cucumber!).

This is real life and not perfect. This is the best that I can manage at this time and provides options that are sustainable for me (i.e., that I can sustain and that won’t make me want to quit and go back to buying things in plastic).

As I mentioned in my post about Plastic Free July, this isn’t about being perfect – it’s about making the best choices possible and trying to reduce single-use plastics over time (give up straws tomorrow, produce bags in in a couple weeks, etc. – do what you can, when you can).

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Book review – Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig

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Everyone should consider reading Reasons to Be Alive, whether you have depression, know someone who has depression, are curious about depression or might, at some point in your life, encounter depression in yourself, in a loved one, in a stranger, etc.

While not a definitive book about what depression is or how to deal with it, Haig is able to clearly express the bleakness of his depression and anxiety, and the effort he needed to work through the worst period of his life, little by little. I don’t think that I’ll ever

forget he’s anecdote about going to the store down the road and how something as seemingly harmless as a little corner store could cause so much anxiety. Those few paragraphs put a lot into perspective for me.

Despite the focus on depression and anxiety and telling the reader about his darkest days, Haig never sounds sorry for himself and never implies that we should pity him. He’s very matter of fact about his experience. As he says in the book, this isn’t about suffering with depression, it’s about learning how to live with it.

“If you have ever believed a depressive wants to be happy, you are wrong. They could not care less about the luxury of happiness. They just want to feel an absence of pain. To escape a mind on fire, where thoughts blaze and smoke like old possessions lost to arson. To be normal.”

I think that one of the most important aspects of the book for me was how he was careful to explain (and show) that mental illness isn’t a weakness or a gateway to artistic genius. It’s just a thing that some people have – a part of themselves that can affect their life both negatively and positively.

“People often use the word ‘despite’ in the context of mental illness. So-and-so did such-and-such despite having depression/anxiety/OCD/agoraphobia/whatever. But sometimes that ‘despite’ should be ‘because’.  For instance, I write because of depression.”

I read this book based on Cait Flanders recommendation last month after a couple of celebrities committed suicide. She spoke highly of it and I’m very glad that I picked it up despite thinking that it wouldn’t be for me simply because I’ve never been suicidal. It was for me because it helped me to understand depression and anxiety a little better.

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Reading update – June 2018

I hardly read at all this month because I’ve been keeping busy with a watercolour challenge and other things. Also, it’s summer. I get tired of noise when my windows are open 24/7, so I stop listening to as many audiobooks as usual.

For once, only 2 of the books I read were from the library. But, 2 were new purchases, so I didn’t remove that many from my unread shelf.

I currently have 40 unread books (less than half the number I had when I started this challenge at the end of December, woohoo!):

  • 19 unread paper books (removed 2, added 2)
  • 9 unread ebooks, 1 of which is in progress (removed 1)
  • 12 unread audiobooks, 1 of which is in progress (added 2, listened to 1, 4 unused credits)

I donated 2 books and bought 4 (2 audio and 2 paper).

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Books that I read:

1. All Our Wrong Todays – This was such a great book. I’d heard of it and even borrowed it from the library way last year, but it wasn’t until I saw Kathy’s rave review of it that I finally listened to it. It was interesting, thought provoking, full of adventure and regret, and really well performed by the author. If you like John Scalzi books, I think that you’d enjoy this.

2. Direct Watercolor – Marc Taro Holmes is a Canadian watercolour artist. His work isn’t my favourite style, but it’s gorgeous nonetheless. This book highlights some of his work (with full page, full colour images) and provides a lot of context to the paintings, as well as some helpful tips. Based on the content, I’m not sure it was worth the $30 (it’s very short), but I suspect most of that cost is associated with the really good quality printing (great colour, no pixilation in the images, etc.).

3. This Wild Road – This is a small art book by Marisa Pahl about her This Wild Road project. She talks about the concept and includes many (all?) of the paintings she did for the project. I bought it because I purchased a couple of the paintings and their accompanying abstracts, and I thought this would be a good addition as it provides context to those paintings.

4. Year-round Indoor Salad Gardening – Technically, I read this 2 or 3 years ago, but I hadn’t actually read it all the way through, so I’ve kept it on my unread shelf this whole time. It’s a good and useful book, but I’m not sure it was worth owning, so maybe look for it at your library first. It’s full of good information and tips. But, it’s pretty long winded and repetitive. Also, for most of the book I was very annoyed because he kept saying “it’s easy” and “anyone can do it” but wrote from the perspective of someone with a lot of outdoor space, a compost, the means to buy new soil regularly, etc. Thankfully, he does eventually discuss options for people who have limited resources or no easy space to dispose of and recycle used soil.

5. Reasons to Stay Alive – This is beautiful and thought provoking look at the author’s struggle with depression and anxiety. As someone who’s never experienced anything as intense as his depression and anxiety, it was also incredibly informative (he’s very clear that all people experience mental illness differently, so I know this is just his experience, but it was still informative). I highly recommend this book for anyone who has or is dealing with depression or anyone who knows someone who has or is dealing with depression.

6. The Marrow Thieves – This was such a great story and it was performed really well. It’s a dystopian novel set in Canada. Non-indigenous people stop being able to dream. So, this story focuses on Francis, a young indigenous man who’s on the run. It’s got adventure, sorrow, friendship, love (all sorts), and it’s really thought provoking. Would we murder indigenous people to save ourselves? I think a lot of people would accept it “for the greater good”, as if we (white folk) are more valuable than indigenous people. And, that’s pretty awful.

I mentioned last month that June was National Indigenous History Month. I planned to read The Marrow Thieves and 21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act. Holy smokes, 21 Things is hard to read. It’s really well written, it’s very interesting, it’s very informative, but it also makes me very angry. I know that indigenous Canadians are subject to racism, including systematic and institutionalized racism, but it’s hard reading about how awful we (settlers) were and how awful things continue to be. I have every intention of finishing this book, but it’s been a slow read.

July 1st was Canada Day, so I decided to participate in the Read-EH-Thon, which I found out about through Kathy. The readathon takes place July 1st to 8th, but I can’t finish one book in a week, much less several, so I’ll just plug away at my books until I’m done. I’m using 21 Things even though I already started the book last month, and I also picked An Unexpected Break in the Weather and Murder, eh? (one of the prompts is a book with “eh” in the title).

Happy reading.

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Plastic Free July – what I’m giving up

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’m giving up garbage bags this month, and that’s actually freaking me out a little bit

I’m participating in Plastic Free July. I wrote a bit about it and zero waste in my last post, but as a quick summary, it’s an event originating out of Australia used to encourage people to rethink their plastic use, especially with regards to single use plastics. I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics out of my life, but I know I can make some improvements with regards to garbage bags and food packaging.

Garbage bags

I currently use compostable bags for my garbage, but I had to go find them and do a bit of research to confirm that they were actually compostable and not just biodegradable. There’s a big difference – biodegradable plastics may look like they go away, but they may just break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastics (the microplastics that scientists are finding in the ocean and even in bottled water). My compostable bags are safe to put in the compost, so they probably aren’t doing that much harm (save for the resources needed to make them).

I use bags partly to avoid a gross garbage bin and partly because I typically only take trash out when I’m already heading out the door. That requires a bag or container of some sort that doesn’t need to be returned to the apartment. So, basically, I guess I’m lazy and grossed out by icky garbage.

I currently have 3 places where waste is collected: a plastic bin in my bathroom, a stainless steel bin in my kitchen, and a random (whatever I have available) bag to collect my plastic waste (I started tracking my plastic waste several weeks ago, so I’ve been separating it from everything else). I also have a large re-usable bag for recycling, but I don’t line it with a bag, so it’s irrelevant to this challenge (side note: did you know that blue bags aren’t recyclable? I learned that a year or two ago and immediately stopped using them for my recyclables).

The stainless steel bin in the kitchen can be easily washed and won’t absorb odors. It also has a handy lid with an odor neutralizing carbon filter. The plastic bin in the bathroom is the only thing I’ve ever found that fits in the narrow space, which is the only reason I put up with it being cheap plastic. I rarely put icky things in it as I only empty it as needed. In both cases, I can easily live without a garbage bag if I’m willing to wash them out as needed. And, I have some old yogurt containers that I can use to store things in the freezer temporarily (ex: organics that are wet or prone to rot/mold). I should note that I don’t eat meat, but if I did, I would try to find a re-usable container or re-usable plastic bag to store meat packing in the freezer until I was ready to take it out.

My plan for July is to not use any garbage bags at all. The cans will be emptied when convenient or as needed, and cleaned regularly to avoid bad odors or built up ickiness. And, I have an extra can that I can use for my plastic waste, so that I can avoid wasting a garbage bag to collect plastic waste.

It sounds so simple and easy now that I’ve written it down, but this is something I’ve considered and been really resistant to for a very long time. Rotting food grosses me out (just thinking about it is making me a bit queasy), so I’m not looking forward to cleaning out the bins. But, also, for some stupid reason, going down and up 6 flights in an elevator just to take the garbage out seems like a big deal in my head. But, it’s not and that’s no excuse to avoid this challenge.

Plastic wrapped foods

I’m embarrassed to admit that 5 years ago I called myself an environmentalist, but still bought tonnes of food wrapped in plastic: frozen entrees, prepacked fruit and veggies, boxed or bagged rice and pasta, packaged greens, etc. And, while I rarely ate in restaurants, I was always guaranteed to take part of the meal home in those little Styrofoam containers they provide, because I always forgot an extra container.

I justified these bahaviours in a couple ways:

  1. Most of this packaging is recyclable, so it’s not that big of a deal.
  2. Other than this, I’m low impact because I use transit, etc., so I’m still more environmentally friendly than the average Canadian.
  3. I don’t enjoy cooking and I deserve to be able to escape a chore I dislike on occasion.

The truth is that I was just being lazy. I have no children, I’m not expected to take work home at the end of the day, I have very few external responsibilities, etc. I just wanted yummy food that didn’t require any time in the kitchen.

One day I quit frozen entrees cold turkey (with the exception of the occasional frozen pizza). I just decided to quit buying them. I wish I could say it was because I realized how much plastic I was purchasing, but I think it was mostly because of how expensive they can be (I’m a picky vegetarian, so I rarely found cheap entrees). But, I still bought a fair amount of things in bulk: bags of lentils, containers of greens, bundled onions wrapped in plastic mesh, etc.

Since then, I’ve made a lot of changes in what I buy and how I buy it. One of the very few exceptions has been greens (lettuce, sprouts, spinach, etc.), which I continued to buy in plastic containers or wrapped in plastic. Part of the problem is that I haven’t found many low or no plastic options. Kale, the occasional beat-up bundle of spinach and bok choy are the only consistently low-plastic greens I’ve been able to find, even at the market. In fact, kale with minimal packaging is abundant, but I hate kale (I’m sensitive to flavours, especially bitter flavours, so kale tastes bitter and horrible to me, no matter how it’s prepared).

Other exceptions have included: cheese, the occasional bit of yogurt, the occasion frozen pizza, various nuts or grains, etc. I’ve already switched to buying as much as I can in the bulk food sections and I’m trying very hard to resist cheese. I buy yogurt very rarely and always re-use those containers multiple times over, so I may allow it as an occasional treat, but not during July (except that I already have some yogurt that I bought in June).

The last exception has been local food from the market, which often comes in plastic. This one is a hard one for me because food in my city is predominantly shipped from other countries (not as much in the summer, but even then, a lot of things are shipped from other provinces). Is it better to buy something local that’s in plastic that I can reuse, or is it better to buy something plastic free that was shipped from California or Mexico? Honestly, I’d rather buy the local foods. Plastic free isn’t the only thing I advocate for (shop local, low impact living, etc.), so sometimes I have to pick the “best” option instead of the plastic free option. This will be the one and only exception I will consider making for July.

So, my plan for this part of the challenge is to avoid plastic (with the possible exception of local produce at the market, if I can’t find a plastic free alternative). Of course, I do have some plastics that I bought before the challenge: some yogurt, some greens, two chocolate bars, a couple books that were preordered and may come in packaging with plastic, etc. So, I don’t expect my garbage to be completely plastic free in July, but I do hope to have hardly any plastic garbage and I expect to be able to account for any plastic that I’m responsible for. More importantly, I hope to both find alternatives where needed and shift my habits.

So, those are my two Plastic Free July challenges – no garbage bags and low to no plastic packaged foods. I expect it to be challenging, but not impossible.

 

Are you considering reducing plastic use in your life?

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Plastic Free July challenge

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’m participating in Plastic Free July, which is a challenge created to encourage people to reduce their use of plastics, especially single-use plastics.

I’m not plastic free or zero waste, but I would like to be, as much as possible. And, it’s something that I’ve been working towards, especially these past few months as it relates to my goal to be more eco-friendly, which is part of my slow year experiment.

What is zero waste? A lot of people assume that it means zero waste produced, which would be extremely difficult for most people, especially people who don’t have access to the types of resources needed to be zero waste (ex: a garden to grow your own food). Many also associate zero waste with tiny jars of garbage. Though it would be wonderful if we all strived to only accrue a jar of garbage each year, or even each month, this is also unrealistic for most people and it gives you a false sense of how much garbage is actually produced to support you and your lifestyle (ex: even bulk food is shipped to bulk stores in bags or boxes of some sort, so buying bulk in reusable bags or containers still creates garbage). And, then there are the zero waste lifestyle fanatics who, much like the minimalist lifestyle fanatics, portray zero waste as being a trend that requires bamboo straws and coconut shell bowls.

Zero waste doesn’t have to be any of those things. The important thing is to make as many choices as you can to reduce or eliminate waste, which is simpler, more attainable, and more useful than trying an extreme or trendy lifestyle that you can’t sustain.

Plastic Free July isn’t about being zero waste, but reduced plastic and zero waste endeavours support each other and promote similar actions. And, zero waste focuses a lot on plastic use because a lot of the garbage households produce are plastic – plastic wrappers, plastic straws, plastic containers, etc.

People are finally starting to recognize that plastic is a problem and that plastics can last for generations (that straw you used this morning? it could still be here for centuries). Worse, despite what we all think, a lot of plastic isn’t recycled or recyclable (check with your local waste management to see what’s recyclable in your area). There are also a lot of plastic sources that people aren’t aware of, such as paper to-go cups. Disposable coffee cups are often lined with a thin layer of plastic, so they aren’t recyclable or compostable.

Think of every plastic item you touch in a typical day – how much of that is recyclable and how much of the recyclable plastic do you think will find its way into a recycling bin?

I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics in my life, and I’ve continued to work on avoiding or minimizing plastics as much as possible, with the exception of plastic items that I already own (sometimes the best option is just to keep using that plastic container that you already have). But, after taking the Plastic Free July quiz and reviewing their action picker form, I realized that there were a few areas that could use improvement.

The action picker is a good tool to use to get started with the challenge. Each row includes what to avoid (ex: grocery bags), how to avoid it (ex: take a re-usable bag), and a graphical representation of how much of an impact that option makes, based on the positive impact for the ocean, landfills and global warming. Most of the actions are focused on ways to avoid plastics (food packaging, microbeads in cosmetics, plastic bottles, straws, garbage bags, litter, etc.), but they also include making sure that everything that can be recycled goes in the recycling, instead of the garbage.

I’ve decided to focus on garbage bags and food packaging, as most of the other items are irrelevant to me (my cosmetics and such are plastic free) or rare (I rarely eat out, so it’s rare that I would need to worry about plastic straws and such). I’ll talk about my plans in my next post. In the meantime, I encourage you to at least take the quiz and consider what single use plastics you might be able to reduce or eliminate, regardless of whether or not you participate in Plastic Free July.

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