Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Heating with Wood Q&A

Fellow blogger, Mavis Butterfield, is moving to New England. 

Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while now, Mavis had some questions about heating during the winter.  She states that when she was looking for her new home here on the right coast, she made sure to find a place that already had a wood stove, or that at least had a chimney that would allow for the installation of a wood stove.  Smart girl.  Honestly, I can't imagine living here without a wood stove.  I know people do it, but I don't know how.

Since New England gets a lot colder than over there on the other side of the continent during the winter, she had a few questions about heating with wood.  As a decade-long veteran of heating and living with wood heat, I (naturally) had some answers.

Mavis:  Is it really practical to heat an entire home with wood heat?Surviving the Suburbs (STS):  We have been heating our home, exclusively, with wood for ten years. I say exclusively with the caveat that we do have a forced hot (ha!) air oil burning furnace, and over that 10 year period, when it has gotten extremely cold (double digits below zero) at night, the furnace has kicked on a few times, but we keep the furnace at its lowest setting (50°), and haven’t had an oil delivery since 2008. And it has to be REALLY cold for the house to cool off enough for the furnace to kick-on. The ONLY time it comes on is in the middle of the night when the fire burns too low and we’re asleep.
Mavis:  I’m assuming we’ll need some sort of steamer/humidifier to place on top of the wood stove. Can you recommend one?
STS:  We have never used any sort of steamer or humidifier in our house. We do keep a kettle of water on the wood stove for making coffee and tea, and I don’t have a clothes dryer. We hang our wet clothes on a drying rack, which probably adds humidity to the air.
Mavis:  Do I need some sort of fan to circulate the heat?
STS:  We do not have a fan. I suppose this would depend on the layout of your house. We have a single- story house with a, kind of, open floor plan. Some rooms are cooler than others, especially if doors are left closed.
Mavis:  How about a tea kettle? I have visions of heating my water for my afternoon cuppa on the wood stove. Do you do this? Do I need a special kettle? Do you have any tips I should know about?
STS:  We just have a regular old metal tea kettle. I also do a lot of cooking of soups and stews and things other people would put in a crockpot (I don’t have a crockpot). I use my dutch oven filled with whatever I’m going to cook. The key is to ensure that there’s plenty of liquid … I guess, just like with a crock pot. We also fry foods in the cast iron skillet on the wood stove, and I toast bread or make flat bread right on the surface of the wood stove.
Mavis:  How many cords of wood do you think someone in the NE would need during a typical winter? 
STS: We use 5 to 7 cords of mixed hard and soft woods (lots of pine up here in Maine). We have a 1500 sq ft house.
Mavis:  We plan on buying our first winter’s worth of wood, but hoping to harvest our own in later years. What kind of wood should we be buying/looking for? 
STS:  Most people will tell you to buy only hardwood. We burn a mix of hard and soft woods. Hardwood is best for night time, as it burns slow. The soft woods burn hotter and faster, and we like that for during the day, when we’re home, and for cooking, as the stove gets much hotter much faster. Whatever you get, the most important thing is to make sure it is well seasoned. Hardwood needs a good year to season. So, an oak that was cut down in April is probably not ready to burn by winter. If you decide to burn pine, which most people advise against, because of “creosote” concerns and chimney fires, the pine is well seasoned in less than six months. Any green wood can cause creosote build-up, which can result in a chimney fire. Just make sure your wood is well seasoned. Seasoned wood isn’t as heavy had green wood.
Mavis: What is a fair price for a cord of seasoned, cut firewood these days? 
STS:  So, it's been a while since we purchased cordwood, but from what I remember, here, a delivery of split wood will cost $200 a cord (minimum) during the spring and summer. Sometimes you’ll tell them you want seasoned wood, but what they deliver is not what you ordered. In the winter, you’ll pay $300 for a cord of green wood. If you can cut and split it yourself, you can get tree-sized logs delivered for half that price. Pro Tip: Find a tree service and inquire about removing tree trimmings. Sometimes you can get free wood that way, but you have to cut it to length and split it. My husband has a chainsaw and we bought a manual woodsplitter, which is easy to use (although time-consuming) and doesn’t require any gasoline.
After having spent the last decade with wood heat, and having survived several day-long power outages, during which we stayed comfortable and warm and were able to cook and heat up water for baths and other cleaning, I wouldn’t live without a wood stove. In fact, the power outages turned out to be a lot like regular days, because we didn't have to change a lot.  
Having a wood stove has allowed us to save a great deal of money on heating costs (we have been getting free firewood from a family member’s wood lot for the last few years). We also save money on electricity by cooking on the wood stove. And the warmth of the wood stove and the ambiance of the flames … there’s just nothing like it. I love my wood stove. I can’t imagine life without it.
Thanks for asking the questions, Mavis ;).  

Monday, February 26, 2018

Store More Than You Think You'll Need

A few years ago, Deus Ex Machina and I watched the historical reenactment reality television series Frontier House.

The useful thing - for Preppers - about this sort of show is that it can give us an idea of ways we can make our lives more low-impact and less dependent.  Back in those days, for instance, there were no grocery stores to fall back on.  There was no heating oil truck to deliver one's winter's supply of heating fuel.  There was no electricity to provide lighting for evening tasks or Yankee Candle in the mall.  There was no mall.

Given people's attitudes when the electricity is interrupted during bad weather, it's kind of amazing that humans managed to survive without modern amenities.

But we did.

These days, though, we really don't have much of a clue as to what it takes to really survive for the long haul without all of those safety nets.


As I've mentioned, probably a billion times, we heat with wood.  The last heating oil delivery we had was almost ten years ago - in the early spring 2008.  There have been times over the years when the night-time temperatures plummeted and the furnace (set at its lowest setting - 50°) kicked on in the middle of that cold, COLD night.  This year was the first year that the furnace never kicked on.  In fact, I'm not sure the furnace even works anymore, although the oil tank reads that there's still a little oil in there.

Two years ago, we were very fortunate when a family member allowed us access to his property to harvest our wood supply - for free.  So, while in the previous years, we spent a lot of our summers finding free wood on Craigslist, and such, from people who had, what they believed to be, a substantial amount of firewood, but which, almost invariably, ended up being, maybe, a week's worth of heat for us, we also ended up having to purchase a cord here or a cord there.  This year, we didn't buy any.



In fact, luckily for us, we also harvested enough of what Deus Ex Machina calls "early season wood" to do our sugaring.  The early season stuff is mostly dead fall - branches or standing dead wood, little saplings that were competed out and died still standing.  We still have a third of what we originally harvested - enough to boil another quart or two of maple sap to syrup.

The thing is, though, that we're nearly out of wood.  We may have enough to get us through the rest of the cold days, but we'll be cutting it close.

Back to that documentary ... when those families were out in that wilderness, their goal was to discover how it would have been to live on the Montana Frontier - basically, without any help.  They, also, heated (and cooked) with wood, and the experts told them that whenever they had any free time, they should be chopping wood - that the amount of wood they would need for heating and cooking through the winter would be more than they could imagine.  It might look like a lot - all stacked neat in perfect cords at the end of the summer, but they would be surprised at how fast it went when it was too snowy to get more.

Last fall, when we were still harvesting our winter supply, one bright, sunny day, Deus Ex Machina and I were out in the yard stacking and splitting wood.  A stranger walked up to us and expressed his awe at how much wood we had.  We mentioned that we heated with wood.  To which he replied, "You won't use all of that, though?"



Well, actually, yes, depending on how cold it gets, we'll use nearly every stick of that impressive amount of heating fuel, and unfortunately, maybe even a little more.  Finding dry firewood in February ... yeah, not happening.

It's interesting, to me, how little we modern folk understand of how much it takes to keep us alive and comfortable.

Deus Ex Machina knows.  And this summer, when he's pushing me and the girls to work harder at harvesting our winter fuel supply, I'll try to remember that it always takes more than we think it will.  Better to have too much than too little.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pickles, Syrup, and Pot Pie

I did something today that I don't normally do.  Today, I made pickles.

I really love to eat pickles - especially this time of year, but really, any time.  My favorite pickles are sour pickles, which are fermented and usually cucumber.  I REALLY love hot dilly beans.  I also adore pickled beets, both sweet and spicy.  I've even pickled garlic, which is pretty awesome.  A friend gave me some pickled carrots once.  I didn't know if I'd like them.  I did.

And pickled eggs!  Those are SO good.  I love to pickle eggs in leftover pickled beet juice, because pink eggs.  Right?  So yummy for both the eyes and the palate.

I make a lot of pickles.  In fact, if I can pickle it, I will.  It's one of my favorite preservation methods.  Over the years I've amassed a great many books on fermenting and pickling.  Making pickles is not the unusual part,
 
The unusual part about today's activity, at least for me, is that I don't normally make pickles this time of year.  The only thing I can this time of year is syrup, and today, I did that, too.

Yesterday was our first boil of the season.  We ended up with two pint jars of sweet, amber syrup.  We're hoping that we get at least six times that much.  Last year, we only boiled once.  It was a bad sugaring year. 

Given the amount of work and time involved, and the fact that each year we've ended up with less and less of this ambrosia, for us, the maple syrup is like gold.  It's precious, and we do everything we can to make sure that it will last.

As such, after we boil the sap to syrup and filter it into a jar, we water bath the jars to ensure that they seal properly.  With only two pints, what we would have is a lot of energy and a lot of water used just to seal those two jars.

Several weeks ago, we visited the winter store at a local farm.  During the winter, they have, mostly, long storage crops, like carrots and onions, and of course, I picked up some of both that day.  The carrots were a mix of different colored carrots, mostly purple.  I bought 10 lbs.

Unfortunately, I found that I don't like adding the purple carrots to stews and stir-fries.  Purple carrots are a little like beets.  I'm typing this with purple-stained hands from cutting up 3 lbs of purple carrots.  When they're used in cooking, they color the food.  Purple beef stew was a bit much for my aesthetic enjoyment.

So, I had all of these purple carrots, and while carrots store well in the refrigerator, they don't last forever.  I decided I would make some pickled carrots (I used this recipe), and then, I would water bath the carrots and the maple syrup at the same time.

Today, I made pickled carrots ... and then, I made a chicken pot pie with leftover stew from last night's dinner, which is something else I love.  Unfortunately, when we stopped eating wheat, I also stopped making pies, because gluten-free flour doesn't work as well as wheat flour - for me - when making pastry doughs.  For the crust, I used a biscuit recipe and just made it as thin as I could.  It's crumbly, like any baked good that is made with gluten-free flour, but it was tasty ... and just what I wanted.

Pickles.  Syrup.  Pot pie. 

It was a good day. 

 


Monday, February 12, 2018

Surviving Emergencies


Yep.  That's a picture of a newspaper article.

I was out and about the other day running a few errands while my daughters had dance class.  We've changed dance schools this year.

Long story.

Not going to share it.

The gist is that we're closer to home - so less driving, less wear-and-tear on the car, and less gasoline (yay!) - but also that their dance schedule has changed.  So, instead of three days of dancing for three to six consecutive hours, they dance four days a week, but two of those days they only have one hour-long class.  It doesn't make sense to drop them off, drive back home, and then, essentially, turn around and go back.

So, I hang-out, and when I can, I combine trips to the dance school with other errands, like going to the post office.

That's what I was doing on the day I found that article.  I was at the post office, and on the way out, I noted the time.  I still had forty-five minutes to wait.  Luckily, for me, there was a box of free newspapers and so I grabbed one to give myself something to read while I waited.

The paper is the Portland Phoenix.  It's a community-based paper, mostly full of news about the Art Scene in Portland, Maine.  I guess they have a bit of a reputation of being, kind of, edgy.

Even so, to be quite honest, I never expect to see articles, like that one, in newspapers - even the "rags", that aren't specific to us prepper types.  I certainly never expected to see an article, like that one, in a mainstream, edgy newspaper.

Unfortunately, those who live in Hawaii, recently, had a real-life half-hour-of-terror after a warning about an impeding Nuclear bomb was accidentally released to the masses.  For a half hour, Hawaii's residents scrambled to get ready for a bomb they thought was on its way.  It was a mistake, and not quickly enough, the public learned there was not bomb, but for those thirty-eight minutes ....

It's hard to know what one would do in that situation, which is why preparedness is so important.

The good news, as I discovered in the article, is that there are, in fact, bomb shelters near me.

The bad news is that traffic in that area is bad on a good day, which means there's little chance that I'll be trying to buy my way in with my stored water and home-canned goodies - all in carcinogenic-free glass jars.

I would definitely be bugging in at my house.  Since I will be bugging in, in the event of a nuclear blast, what can I do to protect myself, my family, and our livestock?

According to FEMA, we should:

1. Get underground, if possible.  If not, go to an inner room or a room with thick walls.

We have one inner room in our house that has a single, north-facing window.  Our best defense would be to put our king-sized mattress in front of those windows, and then, using duct-tape and plastic, seal all of the doors going into other rooms.

2.  Have a plan for how to contact loved ones.  Cell phones will, likely, be useless.

3.  As always, before the emergency, have a few supplies on hand that will allow you to hunker in place for at least forty-eight hours.

There are no recommendations for supplies that are specifically for surviving Nuclear fall-out, but a general list of emergency supplies as recommended by FEMA includes:

1.  One gallon of water per person per day for three days.
2.  Three days of food, per person.
3.  Battery operated or hand-crank radio, and extra batteries.
4.  Flashlight and extra batteries.
5.  First-aid kit.
6.  Whistle to signal for help.
7.  Dust mask to filter contaminated air; plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal off rooms.
8.  Baby wipes and garbage bags (for personal hygiene, as there may not be water for cleaning).
9.  Tools to turn off utilities.
10.  Local area maps.

The following supplies are also recommended: 

11.  Prescription medications and glasses.
12.  Extra supplies for babies and feminine hygiene products, if applicable.
13.  Pet food and extra water.
14.  Important documents in a waterproof and portable container.
15.  Cash or Traveler's checks.
16.  A good first-aid book and other emergency reference materials.
17.  Water purification, like standard household chlorine bleach.
18.  Matches in a waterproof container.
19.  Disposable plates and eating utensils, in case dishes can't be washed.
20.  Games, books, puzzles, and other activities to keep oneself entertained.


For us Preppers, that's the short list.  We have all of those things, and a whole lot more, generally.

In all of the years that I've been prepping, the threat of Nuclear War has always been way down on my list of possible scenarios, but I suppose the recent events in Hawaii, plus some blustery political posturing, have me reconsidering that threat.  I still think it's far-fetched, but it pays to consider it a possibility - even a very remote one.

The point of prepping is not to fear-monger and get us all terrified and on a frenzy to buy a bunch of stuff so that we're ready, but rather to empower us by giving us the tools and skills to handle whatever may happen.

Puerto Rico is still without power on much of the island.  According to this article, there was an explosion at one of their power plants.   My guess is that the folks on Puerto Rico must have been pretty prepared, because they're still there, and while it's not easy, they're still surviving.  Some may even be living.

My guess is that the rest of us will learn a lot from those who survived Hurricane Irma and its aftermath.

And that the people in Hawaii aren't taking the threat of a nuclear bomb as cavalierly as they might once have.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Randomness of my World

I just finished reading Agenda 21.  I won't give it a full review.  I will say that it was clearly a book with an agenda (ha! ha!).  The goal of the book was to draw attention to the UN initiative (called Agenda 21) that will substantially limit individual freedoms, especially with regard to private ownership of land.

Then, FB gave me this gem. 

Not all of it is true.  Permission means that we are required to be given consent to act.  Many of the items on that list require no consent.  

For example, here in Maine, I am still able to own land (not without government involvement, which isn't the same as granting permission.  If I have the money to pay for it, I can call it mine), and with only a few exceptions, I can do what I want with my land.  

I can drive my unregistered car as an unlicensed driver on my own property - without permission.  I just can't drive an unregistered, uninsured car as an unlicensed driver on government-built roads.  That's fair.  

If I own enough of it, I can hunt on my land without a license.  If I hunt with a bow, I don't even have to tell anyone that I'm hunting.  It's no one's business.  Likewise, if I have a stocked pond on my land, I can go fishing ... without a license.   If I'm not, yet, 16, I don't even need a pond to fish without a license.

Depending on the business and where it is located, one does not need permission.  I owned and operated a virtual office service for eighteen years.  I didn't need a license.  

I have never asked for nor been given permission to cross the road.

I do not need permission to collect rainwater.

The fact is that we don't need "permission" for several of the items listed.  Like getting married.  In order to have one's "marriage" recognized by the State for the purposes of filing taxes, receiving social security for dependents, or being eligible for spousal employer benefits, we need to file a legal document called a marriage license, but I can live with someone, in the way that a husband and wife live together (share a house and a bed, have children, adopt dogs, grocery shop together, and essentially build a life as a couple), and it's not illegal.  I won't go to jail.  So, in that respect, I don't need permission.  I only need a license when it comes to receiving support and benefits from the government.  I'm completely free to not accept those benefits and completely free to live with anyone I wish as that person's "wife."  In fact, in some States, the permission thing is so *not* needed that if one can prove that one lived with another person for a specified period of time as a spouse, there's no marriage ceremony or license required.  It's called "Common Law Marriage."  

Memes like the one pictured might be helpful to point out that the government is pretty pervasive and invasive in our lives, but there's also some degree of fear-mongering propaganda - which is not usually very useful.

We have a great deal of freedom, but with that freedom also comes responsibility.  We can't demand that we be allowed to do what we wish, but then require that the government fix it for us when things go bad. We don't get it both ways.

The Maine legislature introduced a bill to prohibit any laws being passed, here in Maine, that supported the Agenda 21 initiative.  That's interesting. 

***************************

Today, here in the US, millions of people will be watching a football game.  I've been asked several times this week about my intentions regarding the game.  I actually thought it had already been played.  Isn't the Super Bowl on Thanksgiving weekend?  Apparently, not.

Twice this weekend, when someone asked me about watching something, I was able to give my stock answer, "I don't have a television."  

I've read dozens of articles recently about how millennials are getting rid of their cable bills and their televisions, and I have so many regular readers who've been TV-Free longer than I have.  So it still surprises me when people are surprised that I don't have a television.

Like this:

Guy:  Hey did you see that commercial with the guy that looks like your husband?
Me:  I don't have a television.
Guy (visibly shaken):  You ... don't have a TV?  How ...?  What ...?  I don't have cable, but I couldn't ... no TV?
Me:  I have Netflix ... and Amazon Prime.  It's not like I live in a cave.

And then:

Guy:  So are you ready for the Super Bowl?
Me:  I don't have a television.
Guy:  *stunned silence*

I sure know how to kill a conversation.  

**********************

I was reading an article this morning about a kid in Puerto Rico who started a campaign to provide solar lighting to people who are still without electricity after Hurricane Harvey last fall.  

 My first thought is that it's a cool thing this kid is doing.

But ....

When we had our very-short-by-comparison, power outage last year, my area of least preparedness turned out to be lighting.  I fixed that.  We have all sorts of solar lights, now, and solar chargers for our electronics.  

And I was annoyed that it is so important to us to have lights.  

My second reaction is to be disappointed with the tone of the article, which implies that people can't survive without electricity.

Millions of years of human evolution.  Less than two centuries of having electricity.  How did we grow so weak that we can't survive without lights at night time and access to ice cream whenever we want it?    

The reality is that they have survived - for FOUR months - without electricity.  They've survived.  They're living.

I hope one of the "survivors" will write a book ... or at least a few great articles ... about how to survive for the long-haul after a major disaster.

******************

I found this book at the library.   For those who don't want to click-through to the Amazon link, it's called "Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes."   The story of Cassandra is that she was both gifted with the ability to see into the future and know what would happen, but she was cursed with the inability to get people to listen to her.  So, she was a prophet to which no one cared to listen, and her warnings went unheeded.

The authors of the linked book state that we have modern Cassandras.  People who know what is about to happen, but fail to convince the masses about what's coming, and it's always too late.  

The book is divided into two sections.  Section One discusses the catastrophes in the past that could have been avoided, if we had listened to our Cassandra.

Section two outlines the possible events in our near future and the Cassandras who are trying to warn us.  This is the section I'm most interested in reading.  What does this author believe are the REAL threats to our safety and personal freedom?  A quick scan of the table of contents was interesting.  Anthrax and AIs are two of the first topics. 

***************************

It's a rainy, cold day here in Maine.  I'm slow-cooking a pork roast in the Dutch Oven on the top of the wood stove.  When it's done, I may make it into pulled pork sandwiches.

Deus Ex Machina and I split some wood earlier, and he's now a nap in the wing-backed chair.  I hear music practice from somewhere in my house.  It's a lazy afternoon.

I'll bet pulled pork sandwiches are considered Super Bowl food.  

Five Ways to Get Out of the Plastic Habit

I've been working on reducing the amount of plastic we depend on in our daily lives for a long time.  It's a process, because plastic is pervasive in our culture.  It's in everything.  The keyboard I'm typing on has plastic keys.  Nearly everything that comes in the mail is packaged in plastic.  Most of the items in the grocery store are, at least, partially, wrapped in plastic.

So, while I would love nothing more than to completely eliminate using all plastic, ever, it's not a cold-turkey kind of thing. Sometimes, we have to pick our battles and make the choice that does the least harm, because all of the choices do some harm.

And sometimes, we have to start with one thing, make it a habit, and then, pick the next thing.

That's what this article is about - showing you what we did to get the plastic out.


1.  Cloth is Reusable

Many years ago when my youngest was still a baby, we helped organize a Spiral Scouts troop in our homeschool community.  For those, who don't know, Spiral Scouts offers an alternative to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that is co-ed.  Its earth-centric ideology appealed to us and most of the badges were focused on living more lightly on the earth.

One of my family's personal badge projects was to make reusable cloth bags to take to the grocery store instead of using the plastic bags provided at the store ("Paper or plastic?"  You know?).  Just so that you can understand how long ago this was, the grocery store wasn't selling reusable bags, yet, and we were quirky.  It was before South Portland charged extra for plastic bags, and before there was a sign out in front of the local Hannaford asking, "Did you remember your reusable bags?"  These days reusable bags are de rigueur.  Back then, most of the baggers had no idea what to do with our reusable bags.

It was our very first, little baby step toward getting the plastic out, and while we still end up with a few plastic bags (there's one bagger who insists on using plastic, usually without asking us.  We pick our battles, and usually reuse those plastic bags for garbage anyway), mostly, we don't have very many plastic bags in our house.  If I forget my bags, and I can get away with it, I just walk out with my purchases in hand, rather than in a bag.  I get some strange looks, but whatever.


2.  Reduce rather than Recycle

Back during those Spiral Scouts days, as a troop we talked a lot about recycling.  One of our leaders spent a lot of time trying to drum into my brain that *not* using plastic in the first place was far better than recycling it.  It took me a few listens to really understand what she was saying, because in my mind, since there was a solution for using the plastic, rather than wasting it, one was just like the other.

I was likening it to food waste.  If I grow a pumpkin in my garden, but we don't eat it, I will throw the pumpkin in my compost pile.  It becomes the dirt that I add to next year's garden in which I grow more pumpkins.  There's not waste, and it is recycling ... ish.

Unfortunately, plastic isn't pumpkin, and the recycling of plastic is not nearly as neat and eco-friendly as composting uneaten food.  Plastic can not be composted, first.  It doesn't breakdown the way organic matter does.  We all know that, right?

My mistake was in thinking that the plastic was fully reusable.  It's not.  In fact, not all plastics can be reused at all.  Some plastics are single use. Period.  But they don't breakdown.  So, then what?   What happens to the millions ... billions ... [----]llions of pounds of plastic material that is used once and then discarded?

Some of it finds a really cool life as countertops or building materials.

But too much of it ends up being shipped somewhere else and then just dumped or buried in a landfill.

WE don't have to see it or worry about it or think about it, because we put it in our little blue (plastic) bins by the curb, and it gets whisked away (by a gasoline-guzzling garbage truck), and we get to feel good that our recycling bin is more full than our garbage can.  Yay me!  Ouch on the breaking of my arm patting myself on the back.

I have to thank my old friend, LML, for working so hard to drive this point home.  It took me a while to have the Aha! moment, but I did.  Thanks for steering me in the right direction.

So, what do I do?  I make more conscious decisions when I decide to make a purchase, because recycling it isn't the same as not using it in the first place.


3.  Imagine a New Life Before You Take It

What are you going to do with that tiny yogurt container that doesn't have a lid? 

I'll be honest.  We used to like Chinese take-out.  I know.  Plastic.  But .... 

Those plastic take-out containers were reusable.  Deus Ex Machina would pack leftovers in them to take to work. 

We don't do Chinese take-out anymore, because of food sensitivities (which is a different story altogether), but I still look closely at what we're purchasing for ideas about the next life that product will have after I bring it home. 

Paperboard is burnable.

Plastic containers with lids can be reused for a variety of storage needs.  We can also use them as a scoop for our chicken and rabbit feed.  They're great as seed starting pots or for growing herbs.  The goal is to figure out what one plans to do with the container once it's finished holding whatever item it held when it was brought into the house - and the ultimate goal would be to find a use for it that doesn't include the garbage (unless turning it into a garbage receptacle is the plan.


4.  Creative Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic are Pretty Cool

I loved the Tightwad Gazette.  I have all three volumes of the compiled newsletters, PLUS I have the 2 1/2" compilation volume.  I didn't live in Maine when Amy first started her newsletter, but I really wish I had found her (or other frugalistas) back in the day.  I'd have saved a ton of money and really enjoyed using my creative brain to imagine new ways to not spend more than I had to. 

The one thing that I could never quite get on board with was the reuse of ziplock plastic baggies.  First of all, they're pretty cheap cheap to begin with.  I know.  It all adds up, but pennies to wash a bag or pennies spent on hot water and soap.  It's a trade-off, to me. 

Second, those washed bags are just ... I don't know ... ew!  If I've stored cheese in the bag, and the cheese gets moldy, I'm not really thinking I want to wash and keep that bag. 

Then, there's the fact that most of the time, the cheese already comes wrapped in plastic.  It was a total "duh" moment for me.  If I'm careful when I open the packaging, and then, I carefully wrap the plastic back around the cheese and use a rubber band to hold it closed, I don't need plastic ziplock bags. 

Sometimes I'm a little slow.  I'm sure all of you were already doing that - you know, reusing the packaging the product came in, rather than repackaging it in ziplock storage bags.

I've stopped purchasing ziplock bags, and I'm having a hard time remembering what all I used to need them for. 

The second half to this option is to consider how we purchase things. 

Instead of single-serve yogurt, can you make your own ...?  If that's too much of a learning curve, what about purchasing the big container of yogurt and portioning it into little jelly jars?

For us, we discovered it's possible to still have the convenience for most things and to avoid the waste.  We just have to make conscious and thoughtful choices.


5.  Try an Almost-Plastic-Free Option 

I've been trying to cut the soda habit here at Chez Brown for YEARS!  First, I was successful in eliminating the really bad stuff - the stuff that contains high fructose corn syrup, because we started buying only local sodas (which are a lot more expensive than the other stuff).  These are made with only real cane sugar AND they're almost invariably packaged in glass bottles.

So, woot!

But then, we had this financial snag, and we needed to cut down on what we spent at the grocery store, and so the high priced sodas were no longer an option.

We discovered seltzer water.  It's cheaper than soda, mostly, and doesn't have high fructose corn syrup, but ... darn it all, it comes in plastic bottles.

A friend turned me on to the SodaStream, and THAT solved both problems.  We can mix our own syrup, for those who want it, with just sugar and water.  I like mine straight-up.  Just carbonated water.

So, my family is okay with making our own seltzer water here at home using tap water from the kitchen sink.  We're saving a lot of money, AND there's no plastic ... well, except the SodaStream case is plastic, and the bottles we use to make the seltzer water are plastic, but all of that stays in my kitchen.  There is no plastic waste.

It was nice to find a compromise solution that made everyone happy, and that was a more eco-friendly choice.  The SodaStream is even more eco-friendly than the local sodas in glass bottles, because the glass still needs to be recycled, which takes energy.  With the SodaStream, we reuse the bottles for carbonating the tap water, and we drink the water out of a repurposed glass jar.

Repurpose and reuse?  Whoa, wait!  I've come a long way since that first cloth bag!

We still have a lot of plastic in our lives, but contrary to what the deniers claim, every little action does - or can - make a difference ... even if the difference is only in helping us find a more personally satisfying way to spend our time and money.