Bathroom demo…let’s talk trash…

Normally I wouldn’t devote an entire post to trash, but when you’re doing a renovation (big or small), you generate a ton of it and you really need to plan ahead about where all of it’s going to go, especially in a green city like Portland, Oregon.  Since I try to live a relatively “green” life (and believe me, it’s not easy), we tried to think ahead about reusing or repurposing as much trash as possible, but this is one of those times where a lot trash just can’t be avoided and you just need to take a dump….err…take it to the dump (oh, potty humor, you always get me!).  Our trash ended up being mostly tile, which can’t be reused or recycled (at least not without a serious amount of creativity and right now we don’t have time for that nor the storage space).  Time to take a dump!  Take it TO THE dump!  *snickers*…

Portland is one of the greenest cities in America, which means they really frown upon illegal dumping and mis-use of our dear trash overlords.  If you come here and don’t think about trash and how you’re disposing of something at least once a day, then you really don’t understand how to live like a Portlander (nor a European for that matter, but we’ll limit lecturing to the good ol’ U S of A).  Recycling programs are mandatory in Portland and you better follow it to the letter.  To paint a bit of a picture for you our trash cans are half the size of our recycling bins.  In the pic below, from left to right, it’s recycling, glass, then trash, so you can see it’s not really very generous in size.  It’s a darn good thing we’ve been recycling since age 10!

While you can ALWAYS drive things to the recycling center for free, you cannot just leave items out for the trash man to pick up close to your trash bin like you do in some cities.  Portland doesn’t have “bulk pickup” either.  In other words, if your trash doesn’t fit in your piddly little bin, then you have to find a way to dispose of it yourself and that almost always involves a trip to the dump and a price per ton.  I believe wholeheartedly that this is a wonderful thing (because look at me, I’m writing a whole damn post about TRASH so obviously it’s working!), but it does require careful planning and foresight of where to take that dump….darnit!  Potty humor AGAIN!

So rewind a few weeks/months to our “pre-planning bathroom demo/remodeling sessions” (which sound organized, but I assure you they were not) Dr. J and I started talkin’ trash before we even talked trash.  We knew right away we’d be generating a LOT of trash and as desirable of an idea as it sounds to put ONE bag in our trash bin once a week for pickup, we decided that dragging out our trash pickup over the course of six months probably wouldn’t be such a good idea when we still need to throw away other items (like food, dog poop and other gross things – hey, it’s TRASH!).  I also didn’t want to be “those” people on the block who look like the Clampetts.  Nope, we need to bring in the big guns for this job….Whoooo doggies!

One day we saw a commercial for this:

Ooooh…..yea…..whatever you can fit in the bag and then they come and haul it away.  Rather, they can hold 3300 lbs of trash, which seems like it’d be the perfect size for our job!  The bag wasn’t cheap….about $129 for a collection, but it’s just about the right size and with all of the trash we’ll be generating it seems really worth it!  We could always order a couple of them and fill those up and then they’ll haul it away whenever we’re ready.  It’s perfect!  It’s in Portland….it’s not….in the suburbs!  GAH!  Scratch that idea…back to square one.

Ok, so what about a dumpster? 

Cue the Beverly Hillbillie music and welcome Jed Clampett.  It’s definitely not a looker and probably overkill for our needs (our bathroom is less than 80 square feet), but it would solve the problem of having to drag things to and from the city dump which is on the far side of town from where we are, which is a considerable haul (pun intended).  Add to that the fact that we’re currently rocking two small-mid sized sedans between us and that dumpster is beginning to look more and more desirable.  But the price was close to $3,000 for the length of the project and that doesn’t even include the possible HOA fees, permissions and permits we would need to pay for on top of that.  Scratch THAT ridiculous idea because that just blew our whole bathroom budget.  Back to square one…AGAIN!!!

Then Dr. J was trolling Craigslist one day (I dunno how he thought of it…), but apparently with the economy being in the drink a lot of people who have trucks and no employment are making a living picking up big dumps and recycling and hauling those things away for a small fee.  I mean….small!  Like totally worth it small!  As in about the same cost of the bagster idea small and we don’t have to drag it out to the city dump and waste a whole day of renovating.  And they took everything – including our old mattress that is not donatable to Goodwill (due to beadbug fears) and not trashable either (remember, there’s no such thing as bulk pickup of trash in this city).  We had to do two major hauls (one after demo day 1 and one after demo day 2 which included our broken toilet).  And at a price of $350 total, it was completely worth it.  We’re also pretty sure we’ll have another haul before the project is over and then possibly another one after the project is totally complete, so it’ll likely end up being around $500 total for trash pickup and haul away. 

So what’s the verdict?  Never underestimate the power of Craigslist and the need to keep people employed no matter how small the job seems.  It’s certainly a job that’s worth it to me to pay somebody for.  And if you’re in the market to begin remodeling something, really stop to think about how you are going to dispose of the debris.  It’s gotta go somewhere, right?  Make sure it goes where it belongs!  And keep as much out of the dump as you can.  In fact, here is our recycling/donate list:

  • Old cabinets = new storage for our garage – well, eventually, when we actually get around to installing them
  • Old sinks = Habitat for Humanities bound
  • Old faucets/hardware = Habitat for Humanities
  • Old chandelier from our kitchen = also Habitat

All in all, we weren’t able to salvage everything (I really didn’t want to have to trash our toilet, but it was a no go), but we feel pretty good knowing that the pieces that weren’t too heavily damaged in the demolition are going to find a new life and home in a place where they will be appreciated more.  And we didn’t fill up a landfill, which makes us feel even better!!

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It’s not easy being green+saving green: Numero Uno

Observe the following conversation between myself, L-blogger extraordinaire (insert guffaw laugh here!) and one of my BFFs:

BFF: Oh, L-blogger, you’ve totally drunk the Portland Kool-Aid!

L-blogger: (*innocently*) What do you mean?

BFF: Ya know, the recycling, the composting, etc, etc.

L-blogger:…..(*tilts head to the side a la dog to think*… silence)

BFF: I just feel like being green costs so much money!  You have to pay for recycling, pay more for organic food, the cleaning supplies are so danged expensive….you should do a blog post on how to save money and be green!

L-blogger: Duuuuude…..

…and *that* is how I come up with inspiration to write.

Ok, I admit, having a proverbial “soapbox” from which to proclaim my beliefs on certain topics is kind of a double edged sword – on one hand it’s great to have a nice platform to have my voice heard – on another people think I actually know what I’m talking about….especially when it comes to green-i-ness (it’s like truthiness, only green-i-er).

Image courtesy of http://fearlessblogger.com/

And while I admit that living a green life stumps even me at times, I’m happy to share the *very*small*amount* that I’ve picked up over the years.  And as much as Portland’s city council would like to believe my BFF in saying that I’ve “drunk the Portland Kool-Aid”, I actually have to say that I’ve pretty much *always* been this way.  Now that I have a soapbox, though, that voice is actually being heard and I think it scares some people – haha!  But seriously – I established a “Green Team” when I was in Middle School (big dork right here), I forced my parents to begin recycling when I was in elementary school, and when I finally moved out on my own in the big, bad world my Condo didn’t have a recycling pick-up available, so I used to collect recycling in my garage (literally, PILES and PILES of trash) and once a month I would stuff my ol’ VW Beetle to the gills and drive to the Fire Station where they had free recycling bins available for anybody to throw their trash into.  I would constantly tell Dr. J in a funny voice, “We have to save the world.”  Now that I blog, and I read about 50 blogs/day (some have “green” topics, some don’t), I’ve gotten even more support from other people who believe as Gandhi did, “Be the change you seek in the world.”  And so I have!

But the bigger topic here is really…..can you be green/eco-conscious/environmentally friendly and not break the bank? The answer, I think, is absolutely, without a doubt, YES, YES, YES!  This is a pretty broad topic and I admit that I am *no expert*, but as a consumer, I can kind of give you an insight into how I think and how I believe it saves me money and might help you save some dinero, too.  This topic is going to spread across several different posts because it is *so* huge and, admittedly, I am probably only going to scratch the surface on each one.  Chapter Numero UNO is one we all know and love:

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE…

Ok, thanks to that late 80’s and early 90’s propaganda (back when I *really* drank the Kool-Aid and regular Kool-Aid too), I know REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE pretty dang well.  But since I’ve become a bona fide grown-up, I’ve learned there is more to it than just the three r’s.  Observe:

REDUCE: This is a pretty broad issue and one that most people don’t think of when they incorporate the three r’s into their lives, but I promise if you reduce “insert ANYthing here”, then you will save money! Here are things that will really help you save money….and they’re so darn simple, I might just win a Nobel Prize:

  1. Don’t buy “stuff”: Wait, what?!?  Stop buying things?!?  But I need food!  How am I going to live?!?!  Ok, look, drama queen, we all need stuff.  I’m not stopping you from going out and buying food and important things like socks and underwear, but we’re not talking about food or socks and underwear.  I’m talking about things like designer clothing that you can’t wear to work because you work in a T-shirt and jeans environment, shoes that don’t go with a single outfit you own (for all you Imelda Marcus types – you know who you are), accessories that don’t match, products that you can’t stand (both cosmetic and utilitarian), things-you-don’t-really-need-but-it’s-such-a-deal-why-not-buy-it-anyway, etc, etc.  It may sound crazy, but you’d be surprised how many people will shop ’til they drop and believe that buying more stuff will actually make them happier.  In fact, it has been recently proven that buying stuff doesn’t make you happy – it’s the experiences in life that actually bring you more long-term fulfilling happiness.  There is a “high” associated with buying things (and getting good deals, to boot), but that high is very short-term compared to the high one gets from imagining themselves, say, on their recent vacation.  Some of these experiences (like vacations, parties, going to college, etc.) can be pretty pricey, but if I think back to an item I have purchased which has given me as much long-term happiness as, say, my honeymoon, I really can’t think of a single thing in my household that is *worth* as much as the memories I have from my honeymoon.  Not a one.  Not even all of my beautiful wedding china, which I absolutely love and adore.  Nothing.  Not. One.  Single.  Thing.  So if you want to REDUCE/SAVE MONEY, just stop buying stuff that doesn’t buy you happiness to begin with.  Potential savings: That just depends upon your shopping style….
  2. If you bring it into your home, think about how you will use it/store it/display it: This kind of falls in line with the above, which is basically to ONLY BUY IT IF YOU LOVE IT!  I would much rather buy something I know I will use, display, absolutely adore rather than buying something I’m only slightly enamored of and once I get home realize I don’t have a single pair of shoes to go with it, a single place to display it, and/or no place to store it for later use.  Just remember, YOU bought it, now you have to live with it!  And if you can’t stand living with it, then you need to dispose of it.  But to dispose of it takes….what?  Heading to Goodwill?  Shipping it to a family member who really will love it?  Re-gifting?  Potential Savings: Again, this depends upon how you shop
  3. Just remember, the more you buy, the more you have to store/save/maintain – one of the interesting side effects of having a highly consumable society is that we feel the need to keep absolutely everything and never throw it away.  If you had a fire tomorrow in your house and you had to vacate in 15 seconds, aside from your children and pets, what would you pick up?  What’s so important to save that it can’t be replaced later?  Family photos are probably the one thing that I think most people would want to save (Dr. J and I already have a plan that if the house is on fire, we grab the iMac because all of our important pictures are there and we could just run out the door with it).  If that’s all you want to save, then what are the other things that you own that aren’t worth saving?  Just remember this: people first, things second.

As a close out on “reduction”, just remember that overall reducing everything you do (shopping, driving, consuming, turning off the TV/lights for a few hours each night, switching to CFLs or halogens, getting more energy efficient appliances, etc, etc.) will save you potentially hundreds of dollars through the course of a year.  Dr. J and I currently work in basically the same neighborhood and, when we are able, we carpool to work together to save a little bit of cash (and, to boot, it’s better for the environment!).  We may not be winning any Nobel Prizes and/or completely preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere, but I’m a firm believer that making smaller changes to your routine is better than no changes at all.

So the next time you are at the Grocery store and you look at that individually wrapped cookie that looks oh-so-good you can’t wait to rip that plastic off and eat the whole thing, think about how you’re going to dispose of that individually wrapping paper.  If you’re fortunate it will be paper (and therefore recyclable – no waste for you!).  But most times it will be plastic – sadly, not as recyclable as we would like!  Think of your paper trail and waste trail and go up to the Bakery Window and ask them, “Can I have the same cookie with no wrapper, please?!”  Small moves, kids.  That’s all it takes.

REUSE: One of the best ways to reuse is to remember the rejects!  I’m not talking about those “Revenge of the Nerds” types, but those things that might’ve been left at the side of the road and/or are headed to the junk pile.  It could be yours.  It could be your Mom’s.  Hell, it could be neighbor Bob’s!  Garage Sales, Craigslist, eBay, freecycle – they’re all really super cheap ways to score amazing things for half the price you would pay new!  Let me give you an example.

Contrary to popular belief, Dr. J and I actually have purchased very little furniture in our time together.  In fact, I would say about 50% of our furniture is hand-me-downs (which is both a blessing and a curse).  Our bedroom suite is an original art deco set from my Grandmother, same with our dining set and bar area (which you can see in great deal on our Christmas house tour by clicking here).  We did replace the chairs because the originals were long gone and the replacements were so dangerous I was afraid of somebody sitting in it, collapsing, getting sued, and then having to live the rest of my life in a cardboard box with a broken chair:

Dr. J got our black dresser in the Guest Room at a garage sale ages ago before he went to college, sanded it down, repaired it, and painted it black (wish I had a before pic for you!):

We have at least one hand-me-down mattress, two hand-me-down bookcases (one we reinvented awhile back which you can read all about by clicking here), a few hand-me-down chairs, and up until about the time we moved out to Oregon, most of our living room furniture was a mish-mash of hand-me-downs and mismatched pieces that were just plain awful – we even owned this couch up until about a year and a half ago (which of course we were very good about hiding from most people – it had a couch cover on it most of the time):

Maggie and I cuddling on the "ugly couch" after a rough day - you really don't need to see more, it was AWFUL!

Horrendous, isn’t it?  Thank God for JCPenney and couch-covers!  We even inherited a hutch that Dr. J and I lovingly rebuilt to suit our style and tastes – and Dr. J’s dad built it originally, so you gotta love a family heirloom piece like that!

So “re-using” is definitely a word that fits into our vocabulary.  While we’re not big garage sale junkies or Goodwillers, we are all about taking gently used furniture off of other peoples’ hands (namely our more-than-generous families), reinventing, repurposing, and giving it a new lease on life where none existed – and hopefully a little bit of a style improvement, too.  I can’t quite say how much we’ve saved on furniture as a result (and sacrificed on style on more than one occasion – oh, God, *that* couch!!!), but it’s fun to think that almost 50% of the pieces we own have some sort of a story and “new life” thanks to our creativity, if you will.  If you could put a price tag on those pieces, I guarantee it would number in the thousands and thousands of dollars.  So go ahead and accept that donation from your parents or scope out Craigslist, garage sales, and Goodwill for used furniture/accessories – slap a coat of paint on it, buy a couch cover, make it your own and thank your lucky stars that you saved yourself hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars reusing something that was just gonna get thrown in the trash and waste valuable landfill space to boot.  Tell your parents they can keep their grody mattress, though – yuck!

RECYCLE: Depending upon your perspective, recycling can either cost you a lot of money and time and effort, or it will cost you nothing.  Let me explain – depending upon where you live and the importance recycling and “being green” plays in your life, then you really can recycle just about anywhere in this country for free – you just have to know where to look.  And you also have to be willing to do a little legwork.

  1. Most, if not all cities, have some sort of drop-off recycling program: My brother in law lives in Salt Lake City.  SLC has a great curbside recycling program, but they don’t recycle glass.  Lord knows why, but it’s just not something you can do in the city unless you collect your glass, take it to the recycling center somewhere in the city and drop it off yourself.  Now I’m a crazy fanatic about recycling so I would actually do that and would find great joy in it as well (I like to think I’m saving the planet, even though I’m burning Carbon Dioxide to get there, but whatever).  In Columbus, Ohio, where I used to live, there was a very confusing recycling program that was practically impossible to sign up for and really expensive when you did.  But why sign up for it when every Fire Station in the city has a Recycling bin on their premises?  Anything that’s not covered by a traditional recycling bin (such as computers, hot water tanks, old mattresses, etc.) are covered by other programs in the city – believe me, when we moved to Oregon, we had mounds of trash that couldn’t just be “tossed” (old computers, monitors, cleaning supplies, old paints, toxic chemicals, etc, etc.), so we did our research to get rid of them and even though it took us a lot of driving around, I’m happy to report that we were able to safely (and legally) recycle every single piece.  Do some research, spend some time on Google, open the phone book and ask around.  Cities know that people want to recycle, but they’re too strapped for cash right now to offer it as a centralized service and you as a taxpayer are too strapped to pay for it, so look around.  It may take some driving around and dropping off, but if it means something to you, then you really can recycle for free!
  2. Can’t recycle it?  Give it to Goodwill/Have a Garage Sale/Sell it on Craigslist – I think there are three levels of “trash” in our house:
    1. Stuff we love/loved but need to get rid of,
    2. Stuff we hate/don’t need/can’t use and need to get rid of,
    3. Stuff we neither love nor hate but we’re holding onto it until Aunt Edna gets out of prison.

There’s not a whole lot you can do about the last category (and if you have an Aunt Edna who is in prison, I sincerely apologize).  But the first two categories are tricky.  Some people feel that if they spent the money on it years ago, then it’s worth getting a little something for it these days – i.e. go the garage sale/Craigslist route.  However, I fall into the former category – if I don’t want it, I *immediately* put it in a pile and run it over to Goodwill.  I almost never have things lying around that I want to sell to somebody else later – it’s just not my style, I guess – that and I have no hidden “drop zone” big enough in my house to store enough that would warrant putting an ad in the paper so that I could sell it.  But if there is a surefire way to make money off of recycling, then having a garage sale and/or selling it online is absolutely the way to go!  Pocket the change, embrace your open space, and move on!

I admit that there are probably hundreds of ways that I haven’t thought of above that you can embrace your greener side, save cash (and possibly *earn* cash) and be green and not even realize it!  I would love to hear your suggestions!  And I would love to hear, if you’re not really a “green” type because of a “cost” issue, then let me know why and I’ll see if I can address it in another post!  But remember, I can’t make these things happen magically, I can’t give you motivation, and I certainly don’t know how to make all of this easier.  Being green is a commitment and a lifelong struggle.  But if *you* think it’s worth doing, then, by all means, absolutely go ahead and do it!  If you *don’t* think it’s worth doing, then that’s a whole different topic.  There are a lot of things I don’t think are worth doing – like omitting wine from my diet – I can’t help it!  It’s amazing!  And I’m gonna keep drinkin’ it and *you* can’t stop me!!!  And by me saving green doing the above, I feel it gives me the right to indulge in a little red from time to time….

Seriously, You Tell’Us! What have we missed!  And stay tuned for the next whopper of a chapter – cleaning supplies!  UGH!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: How hard is composting…really?!

Since we planted our vegetable garden, we’ve been getting a *lot* of questions about our compost.  This is actually pretty exciting because even *we* were super surprised at how easy it ended up being and, honestly, we didn’t do half as much work as some people and we were still pleased as punch at how it turned out!  So I thought I’d take a little bit of time to address some of those questions and, maybe, it will help you better understand how to tackle something like this yourself!  After all, ’tis the season to compost!  Fa la la la la la la la la…..

Why compost? Well, composting is an age-old way for anybody to get rid of all their extra “kitchen scraps” to create uh-ma-zing dirt that is certainly a must for any would-be green-thumb-er.  It’s also a sure-fire way to help out your garden by putting nutrient rich (and free!) dirt back into your yard and it keeps more food out of your trash, which has a double bonus of being less stinky thereby causing fewer “What’s-that-smell?” trips to the curb!  It also prevents you from needing to use chemical fertilizers on your lawn since it is filled to the brim with great nutrition!  More importantly, though, it keeps rotting food out of landfills where,  horrifyingly, it doesn’t break down because there aren’t enough lifeforms to de-compose the scraps since everything is packed so tightly together.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this link to read more.  Can you say “Goo”!?!?  I knew you could…

Is composting really difficult? Hey, I am *no* expert and I am probably the world’s *worst* gardener (aloe?  Killed.  Rosemary?  Dead.  We’ve even gone through two pot-planted basil plants this season so I’m getting the feeling that plants and me go together like oil and water).  But the thing about composting is that you are better off just letting it do its thaaaaang rather than babysitting it too much – perfect for non green-thumbs like me!  In other words, dump the food in, give it a stir, cover it, wait a few months, and you are good to go.  Little “critters” like slugs and worms will naturally take root in your dirt because it feeds them, sustains them, and gives them a happy home.  So if you can handle collecting your scraps (into an airtight container, of course – everybody knows what a pain in the arse fruit flies are) and then taking a weekly trip out to the composter, then I’d say you’re pretty much ready to go.  However, I’d advise to research, research, research before taking any kind of composting plunge to be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into…

What kind of compost bin do you have? We have what is known as a Worm Bin.  It’s like “Diet Composting” or “Composting for Beginners”.  I think a lot of people have this vision of composting as a giant heap in the corner of their yard where you have to put in x amount of nitrogen rich items and y amount of carbon items and it has to be this scientifically formulated ratio whereby blah, blah, blah…..yea, we don’t do that!  We’re lightweights and those just seemed way too hardcore for us.  Not only that, but a Worm Bin is perfect for urban dwellers (or suburban) who don’t have a lot of land to spread out and can’t create a huge heap in the corner of their yard (and who wants to deal with the critters those things will attract?!?  No thank you!).  A Worm Bin is definitely something a DIY-er could attempt and if you want help on creating your own, then click here!

Our easier than cake compost bin!

What kinds of things can you put in a compost bin/heap? Interesting question, mon ami.  Since I admit to being no expert on composting, I will defer to a great resource for you to read up on your own about what can go into a compost pile/heap/bin – go ahead and click here for more information.  As I understand it, anything vegetarian can go into a compost heap (except for exceptionally acidic citrus like limes – their acids can kill the nutrient rich soil).  Anything from an animal (meat, fat, dairy, pet feces, etc.) should never go into a compost heap.  If it does, then it will rot, smell, attract critters, and make your life a living you-know-what, so just don’t do it.  You should also never put anything like salad dressing, oils, and/or fatty anythings in there for probably, I’d imagine, the same exact reasons.  But here are a few things we’ve been known to compost:

  • Paper towels (but not with any harsh cleaners/chemicals on them!)
  • Paper napkins (so long as they aren’t heavily soiled)
  • Newspaper
  • Paper bags
  • Vegetable scraps from the kitchen (onion skins, garlic skins, peppers, etc.)
  • Apple Cores
  • Peach Pits
  • Avocado skins/pits
  • Dead plants (have had a lot of those lately)
  • Used tea bags
  • Used coffee grounds (we’ve also taken to just spreading them out by hand at the base of our plants – keeps slugs away, too! A big problem here in the rainy Pac NW)
  • Egg shells (cleaned of the albumen and chopped up super fine to encourage easy break down)
  • Olive pits
  • Dust/dust bunnies/pet hair/people hair (gross, I know, but it composts!)

Believe it or not, but that’s about it.  And, honestly, I will say this again, but I AM NO EXPERT on this, but if you want soil that looks like ours did a few weeks back…

Go on....admit it! You're jealous, aren't you?!?

I’m telling you that the best way to get that kind of dirt is to compost.  There simply is no better way.  C’mon, you can do it!  You know you want to!  Join the bandwagon!  I promise this one won’t give you lung cancer or make you suffer any ill side-effects like hair loss or temper tantrums….

It’s Not Easy Being Green: The first round of changes!

OK, I admit it, I am on a green kick lately!  It may or may not have involved me accidentally mixing Ammonia and Bleach when I ran out of one toilet cleaner and swiped the next bottle in line to create some pretty noxious chlorine gas….oops!  All I can say is that it was a kick in the pants and it was all I needed to really commit us to changing our lifestyle and toxic chemical load in the house to hopefully live a cleaner (and greener) life!  So here are a few simple things we have been changing up here at Tell’er All About It to become a little more “green” and maybe it will inspire you to do the same??:

I should add, I do not work and am not sponsored or affiliated by any of the companies below.  These are just a few things that are working for us to live a “greener” life.

Disposable Wipes: What did we ever do without these things?  Do you remember?

I do!  We just used a damp rag to wipe down our counters!  These wipes are ridiculously convenient, but they also add up in our grocery bill and fill up our trash bins!  I also don’t trust using them on my granite counters, I’m 99.9% sure they don’t decompose in landfills (oh, that’s right, *nothing* decomposes in landfills) and they are not compostable (bleach+compost = dead compost = bad).  Sadly, as much as I love these little buggers, they simply have to go.  Hey, one less thing to buy and throw away!  So what do I do now?  Well, I simply use a soapy damp sponge to wipe the counter of crumbs (into my hand and then down the drain like my mom used to do back in the day) and then I purchased a more eco-friendly granite cleaner from Method:

I wipe down the counters every few days using this spray and a washable/re-usable cloth that I just throw over the top of the bottle and toss under the sink when I’m finished (and into the wash once every other week or so).  And for those grossed out by my sponge-ing down of the counter, I should just add that I throw *those* into the dishwasher once a week and run it through the sanitize cycle – good as new!  Overall, it’s better for the environment, better for our trash load, better for our sniffers (oh, it smells sooooo good!), and most importantly, better for our granite counters!

Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap: This stuff is seriously magic-in-a-bottle and will be explained in further detail at a later date, but you can basically use this stuff for everything and anything plus the kitchen sink: wash your floors, wash your wood furniture, mix it with water and vinegar for a homemade glass cleaner/all-purpose cleaner, wash your dog, shampoo your hair, wash your body, buy peppermint flavor and brush your teeth, use as body wash for you *and* baby, etc.

It’s like every camper’s dream – an all-in-one magical formula that is super concentrated and lasts for months if you let it!  Apparently this stuff has been around for decades and I am just now finding out about it and learning more about it day-by-day!  You can find it at places like Whole Foods/Paycheck, Trader Joe’s, and it might even be available in the organic aisle in some regular grocery stores.  It’s about $15/32 ounces, so it’s a great bargain since you can just keep filling it with water as it runs low (the formula is super concentrated).  It’s a little lifesaver, I’m here to tell ya!  The big bonus to using Dr. Bronner’s is that it is an all vegetable-based cleaner (as opposed to most of the cleaners I have purchased in the past which are petroleum based), so it’s super easy on the environment, super easy on your body, and super easy on your home (but not too easy – it cuts grease with the best of ’em!).  More posts on Dr. Bronner’s in the future.

Goodbye Swiffer, Hello Good Old-fashioned Mops: Ya know the commercials with Swiffer and how you’ll never go back?  Yup, I was duped.

I used to love my Swiffer WetJet, but I was never happy with how it would just kind of “move the dirt around” a la Gloria Estefan and then get pooled in the corners and just look dirty (especially in our master bathroom which has white porcelain tiles – yuck!).  We decided to go *back* to a mop that had a washable/re-usable applicator and we couldn’t be more thrilled with it!  It’s one less “disposable” item I have to buy, one less bottle to clutter up my newly cabinet-tized laundry room, and one less mop to store.  De-cluttering and cleaning all in one?!  SOLD!  One of these days I may shell out some serious bucks for one of those Shark steam mops (which basically just cleans with water), but I’d rather shell out the big bucks for a cleaning service than a cleaning implement (I hate cleaning!).

Glass over plastic: Dr. J has been on a kick lately to break our habit of disposable plastic food containers as they contain BPA which is a known carcinogen/toxin (it’s mostly toxic to infants and children, but you can’t be too careful!).  The FDA is “working on reducing the levels of BPA in food containers,” but we’re just taking the bull by the horns and slowly phasing out plastic food containers in our home altogether.  Fortunately, we had some lovely Pyrex containers with lids (that we got as a wedding present eons ago, no less) that have been carting our lunches to and fro for a few weeks now.  We still have plastic containers leftover and may continue to keep them on hand for cold food storage (leftover salads and veggies, etc.).  However, since BPA is most toxic when it is heated, we always make sure to put anything “reheatable” into a glass container for safe keeping and reheating.

You have something on your face: A friend introduced me to Neutrogena makeup remover wipes a few years back and I was in loooooooove like a teenage crush.  I’m one of those girls who kicks off her shoes, changes her clothes, and washes her face as soon as I get home from work.  Enter these disposable makeup remover wipes and, YOWZA!  A girl on the go’s best friend.

Buuuuut….they’re disposable (see disposable wipes above).  Which means I have to throw them away and after a few quick scans of the internet, I found no certifiable proof that they were either compostable *or* recyclable.  It was disappointing to be sure, but I finally had to kick the habit and I’m back to good ol’ soap and water, which is actually a good thing because it’s one less item to pack when I travel, one less thing to buy at the grocery store, and one less thing headed to the landfill (every bit helps, right?!).

Microwave Popcorn is soooo 1985: My dentist hates me for this, but there’s nothing more “comforting” to me than a night parked on the couch with a giant tub of popcorn in my lap and my fave movie in the background (throw in some cheesy Sci-Fi and I’m a happy camper!  Alas, Lost is no more – what will I do with my Tuesday nights!?!?!?).  While microwave popcorn out of a bag can make me salivate faster than a sale at Pottery Barn, I started to wonder about the “chemical-y” taste of microwave popcorn and whether it was good or bad for me:

Well, sure enough, I did a few scans of Google and found out that not only does the bag contain a pretty toxic chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been known to cause infertility in humans, the butter flavor (another chemical called diacetyl) has actually been known to cause lung disease in the factories that manufacture the popcorn bags and flavorings.  While the PFOA will be voluntarily eliminated by 2015, I thought I’d play it safe and just get rid of those disposable popcorn bags all together.  So we now just pop ours the old fashioned way on the stovetop with a little bit of veggie oil and some kernels!  And it is *so* much cheaper (and tastier!).  Our dental floss never got such a good workout before!  For more info on other foods that should never pass your lips, click here.

PFOA is also a common ingredient in Teflon and is found in everything from pizza boxes to cookware.  It’s worth doing some of your own research to determine whether or not something like this is safe for you and your household.

So there ya have it!  I’m not saying these are all changes you should run out and make, but these are just a few things we have changed around the Tell’er All About It household to hopefully be a little more eco-friendly not only to the environment, but to our bodies as well!  Hey, if I find out I can’t have kids in a few years, I’m totally blaming it on my college years and all of the microwave popcorn I lived off of at the time.  Though it’s probably sound advice to blame all of my future health problems on college, regardless!  Bad knees?  College Marching Band.  Bad back?  Carrying too many six packs books on my back.  Hacking cough?  It was probably all that time spent at the smoke-filled bars library uptown.  Ahhh….memories…

But You Tell’Us!  Is there anything else out there that we should be changing?  Is there anything you have changed after realizing it wasn’t as healthy as advertised?  Share and share alike!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Re-usable Grocery Bags

Kermit was right – it’s not easy being green!  But I’ve figured out one way that it’s *super* easy to be green!  Re-usable grocery bags!!  Yes, I have finally *finally* purchased re-usable grocery bags to cart my goodies home from the store and it’s as easy as….well….easier than being green!  I know, I know.  I’m a little late to this (hello….Louis Vuitton was creating couture re-usable canvas bags back in like 2005 – where have I been?!?!).  Honestly it was part laziness, part cheap-ness, and part convenience-ness (huh?).  So why now?  Basically I have had an “environmental epiphany” within the past few months and I’m out to do the “right” thing, which isn’t always easy, but I assure you this is as easy as it gets!  And hopefully it will help to prevent things like this from happening:

I’ve always tried to be a good person to my one and only home.  I recycle, I compost, I car-pool, and I think very seriously about the “stuff” I bring into my home and whether or not I truly need it.  I only buy things I truly need, love and cannot live without, or are necessities to living life (socks and underwear, you make the cut in good times and bad!!).  I’m not saving the world, one recyclable at a time, but I am doing my small part to make my home and my family a little bit greener and gentler to our surrounding environment!  I still have a long way to go, but I am working on it!

The problem, I admit, was that I had a drawer in my kitchen that was filled to the brim with plastic bags and they multiplied like bunnies since I wasn’t “re-using” them quickly enough to dispose of them (I use them a lot for bathroom canister liners and doggy-poop bags).  So they litterally turned into “litter” around my house and I was sick of it!  So I went through and emptied out about half of what I had and took them to the grocery store to recycle (most grocery stores will have large bins that you can dump these bags into, but if yours doesn’t, then here are a few helpful ideas to get rid of yours).   Then I took an empty Kleenex box and stuffed the extra bags in there so I can grab and go when I’m on my way out the door with the Magsters and then they are more organized and “contained” than they were before.  I also keep a few empty boxes under the bathroom sinks for fast access when I need it.

So now that one problem was tackled (organizing), I was ready to bring more “stuff” into my house.  But rather than jump at the bit and run out and purchase all new, I did the eco-friendly thing and “shopped my house” for perfectly usable (and re-usable) canvas bags and the like and here’s what I found:

All of these bags were sitting around my house and I wasn’t using them save for the occasional trip to Mt. Hood to corral miscellaneous ski gear or as a dirt collector stuffed in the corner of my kitchen.  I took about five minutes one afternoon searching down these bags and then stuffed them into a “super shopper” bag (which I got as a house-warming gift a few months back) and threw them in the back of my car.  So now whenever Dr. J and I are at the grocery, we just remember to go to the trunk and pull them out!  Couldn’t be simpler!  Not only that, but we only had to buy two extra bags and then every time we go to the grocery store, we get an extra ten cents off our purchase, which, depending upon the store, you can either add back to your tab or donate to a good cause!  Score!

In addition to getting rid of old, I also have made a concious effort to “reduce” the plastic bag clutter by abstaining from bringing any more home than I absolutely need to – i.e., cutting the Check-out person off at the pass by saying, “I can carry that in my purse, thanks!”  Most of the time I don’t need a bag and I appreciate some stores asking if I really need one to begin with.  You can tell the stores who are really conscious of their waste because the bag is an option as opposed to a hard and fast rule.  The best example I can think of is Ikea where they have *no* bags, so if you drop by, be sure to bring your super-shopper bag just in case you decide to buy a bunch of little things as opposed to the large flat-pack boxes that they love so much.

So there ya have it!  One step closer to living a little more green-ly in the Tell’er All About It household!  So You  Tell’Us!  What are you doing to green-i-fy your life?  Do you feel like choices like this make a difference or is it all hogwash?  Discuss!

Turtle photo above courtesy of environmentalcrime.com.

Adventures in Gardening, 2010

Dr. J and I love food, love to eat, love to cook, but hate gardening!  That’s kind of a problem when you figure that the very *best* vegetables don’t come from the grocery store – they come from your garden!  We are such food snobs, in fact, that I hardly ever eat tomatoes anymore that are not garden-fresh (or organic, heirloom-y or roma types of varieties) and I’ve completely sworn off tomatoes in restaurants, as condiments, even on salads because I’ve been spoiled by many-a-year’s worth of my Mother’s garden fresh tomatoes!

Up to now we have always lived in rentals and therefore couldn’t plant anything so we have tried, year after year, to do patio tomatoes, jalapeños, and herbs and we find that they just don’t do that well.  Our patio tomato ended up producing a piddly 6 tomatoes last year and we got absolutely no jalapeños!  We’re not sure if it was the extreme heat, the move or just poor soil, but it was disappointing to say the least.  So this year we were super excited to plant our first “in-ground” garden and we are chompin’ at the bit for it to grow so we can have fresh vegetables through the summer and into the fall!  But before we even considered planting a single seed, we had to come up with a plan!

Catch some rays: Before you can even think about planting a garden, you have to determine the best location!  Most vegetables require a good amount of light (at least 6 hours worth of sunlight per day), so planting your garden in full shade on the north side of your house probably isn’t going to produce what you need.  Since our yard is super duper small, we at first thought about planting our garden on the south side of the house (which happens to be the side yard).  But after surveying the sunlight at high noon…

…we realized we just weren’t going to be able to get the kind of sunlight we needed for happy vegetables.  Since we have an HOA that takes care of the front landscaping and thus, didn’t trust the landscapers with our precious veggies, we had to look to the backyard that faces East/South.  Our measly, uber-small backyard is more or less Maggie’s personal loo, but we were willing to sacrifice some precious space for some good grub!

Rasin’ the Roof: After researching online, talking to my Mom (a stellar gardener), and from my own personal experiences of trying to grow grass in our backyard, we decided to create a “raised bed” as opposed to just roughing up the dirt.  Vegetables like loose soil and our dirt in the backyard is just that – dirt.  It’s packed pretty hard and has a lot of leftover rocks and construction debris, which are really difficult to get rid of.  So a raised bed is where it’s at!  Basically, we just took 6 landscaping timbers at 8 feet apiece, cut two of them in half, and created our own little Lincoln Log garden bed!  We were instantly taken back to first grade, albeit with bigger (and louder) tools!

Maggie, inspecting our "Lincoln logs" before we built the garden

Dr. J clearing the grass to make way for our vegetable garden

Dr. J clearing the grass before we planted our logs

Taking a few garden stakes and hammering them into the log, then straight into the ground. This will ground the "bed" so that it doesn't move!

Dr. J then screwed the top log onto the bottom log for a tight fit.

Pretty cool, huh?!

Get down and dirrrrrty: I really hate dirt.  Dirt = creepy crawlies +dirty = bad combination for a clean freak like myself.  I don’t even like long fingernails because I’m paranoid about having dirt underneath them.  Yea, totally freaky right here!  But in terms of gardening, it just had to be done.  Since we had a boatload of compost from our recent composting adventure, we spread all of it (and I mean all of it!) down as the base of our garden.

We used every last ounce of our compost to build this garden! Look at how pretty it turned out!

We admit that our compost probably wasn’t as pretty as it *could* have been, but we were still really happy with it and happy to incorporate all of that nutrient rich dirt with a half dozen bags of beautiful topsoil for the perfect “all green” fertilizer.  I couldn’t get visions of hungry bunnies and slugs out of my head, so we covered it with topsoil just to be safe. You could probably cover it with mulch (or “barkdust” as they call it here in the Pacific NW), but my mom has never mulched her vegetable garden and it’s as pretty as could be!  (Side Note:  aside from worms and slugs, our compost amazingly hasn’t attracted large critters, and the slugs and worms are just a natural part of the composting process.  However, just to be safe, we are glad we stashed the bin in the far corner of our yard).

Plant on!: So we decided to go with two tomato varieties, four broccoli plants, basil, rosemary, Italian (or flat leaf) parsley, chives, jalapeños, and bell peppers.  The two pepper plants and the chives we are starting from seeds, which we have done in the past and have never had any problems with!  The great thing about growing peppers (especially jalapeños) is that all the little critters know better than to eat them – apparently humans are the only ones dumb enough to nosh on those hot babies – ha ha!

The pots hold basil and chives and the remaining veggies and herbs are in the bed.

The best part of this project is that, while the whole thing cost us around $100 for all of the plant life, soil, and the building materials, we will be able to enjoy this garden year after year!  Since we planted, we have been getting tons of rain out here, which just goes to show that our timing was perfect!  Now all we have to do is wait until July-August timeframe to start harvesting….not that we (or Maggie) are counting the days or anything ;-).

The Magsters can't wait for August either!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Earth Day, 2010!

Because we spend sooooo much time doing house projects, I don’t often have the time to really write about another passion of mine: being green!  Not green with envy.  Not green with overflowing cash in my pockets.  Green as in being environmentally friendly!  And can I just say one thing?  Kermit was right; it’s not easy being green…

In case you didn’t know, April 22nd, 2010 is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day!  I read recently somewhere that it was actually the iconic photograph “Earthrise” taken by Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders that really encouraged us earthlings to take care of our one and only home.  Who better to give us that lesson than the select few who have actually *left* home and survived to tell the tale?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org

It’s such an iconic photograph and it always sends shivers down my spine when I think of how small that little blue marble is.  Then I have a second thought, “Crap!  Ya mean this is the only planet God gave us?!?  What about the home warranty and all that jazz?!  Do I really have to be responsible for cleaning and mopping and dusting that whole marble?!  Sheesh!  That sounds like a lotta work!”  And, what’s scary, is that I’m totally correct – it *is* a lot of work!  And can I save the planet?  Hell no!  But can I do small things around my house, my home, and my life to hopefully to live a little more green-ly and hopefully impart that wisdom onto my progeny someday?  I certainly hope so!  Will it make a difference in the grand scheme of things?  Probably not, but whether or not you believe global warming is a falsehood or a truth, one thing is absolutely certain; we’ve only got one home, peeps.  And until NASA perfects that whole terraforming technology, I think we’re going to be stuck here…together…so clean up your room!

So I thought it might be good idea to start another “regular article” about green-ness and I’m titling it, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”.  Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not perfect and that sometimes I’m pretty lazy about being environmentally friendly (or just downright forgetful).  But I think striving for perfection is *never* a bad thing particularly when it’s in the pursuit of the common good. And so long as it doesn’t sacrifice your sanity, self-esteem, or health in the process, then I think striving for perfection isn’t always such a bad thing.

Now while I am not about to detail every little thing about how to green-i-fy your home, I do think that as a celebration of Earth Day, we should all try to take the tortoise over the hare approach.  Rather than running out today and buying all eco-friendly cleaning products and/or recycling everything in your house, just try to do one thing differently this week that’s a little more “green”.  It could be anything from perusing the house for re-usable bags and resolving to throw them in the back of your car and use every time you go to the grocery store (think about it, we’ve all got bags we never use – no need to buy brand new ones if you’ve already got a stash at home!).  It could also be as simple as carpooling once or twice a week to work.  Or you could drag a re-usable water bottle with you wherever you go (including to work) so that when you’re hankering for a drink, you’ll keep those empty bottles out of our landfills!

So there ya have it!  Just a little encouragement to get you going on the right track of living more green!  I don’t think everybody needs to be 100% green and organic and sustainable, etc.  But if everybody makes one small change here and there, then what the heck is wrong with that?!

By the way, this tortoise over the hare approach *also* works for dieting – only changing one habit a week so that instead of a great shock to your system, you adapt much more slowly to your new surroundings until, voila!  You’ve just made a whole lifestyle change and you didn’ t even know it!  Did somebody attend Weight Watcher’s as a kid or what?!

If you’d like to know how to build your own Worm/Composting Bin, check out this article.  Stay tuned for other Kermit-like nuggets of knowledge in the future!