Feb 27, 2017

SkipTheBag Month: March

Are you tired of dealing with a mountain of plastic bags after your grocery shop? Do you feel guilty about the fact that the plastic bag you just used for 10 minutes will never degrade and could harm wildlife? Do you want to switch to reusable bags, but feel like you are the only person doing it?

Well you are in luck. March 2017 has been declared #SkipTheBag Month! For this month the goal is to refuse all single use plastic bags. No more bags at the grocery store, farmer's market, clothing store, hardware store, home store, restaurant take out, or anywhere else where plastic bags are lurking.

Together we will help make an environmental impact on reducing plastic consumption and by sharing on social media we will encourage others to make the change too.

They say it takes 21 days to change a habit, so by the end of March we should have ended our plastic bag consumption for good!

How to participate in #SkipTheBag Month?

  1. Sign up for emails. I will be sending out articles and tips once a week during the month to help motivate and encourage you. 
  2. Follow @SkipTheBag on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook 
  3. Skip the bag! When you are out don’t accept plastic bag. Use a reusable bag, paper bag, pillowcase or just hand carry the items. How you transport the items is less important than refusing the plastic bag. 
  4. Spread the word. Share your achievements and challenges using the hashtag #SkipTheBag. 
  5. Feel great knowing you did something good for the environment and entered to win some great products. 

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Feb 24, 2017

We Should See THIS More Often

beach clean up litter

"Well, you don't see that very often," the man in the beach chair said to me as I passed with a handful of garbage. "We should see it more often," I muttered mostly to myself. 

Hubby and I went to the beach Saturday night to enjoy the warm weather and check out the sunset. We walked over to one of the beach side restaurants and got a table right at the edge of the restaurant open to the sand. It was a pleasant evening just starting to get chilly as the sun went down, and not too windy. We sat there enjoying the view of the beach, the sunset, and the tourists.

We ordered some oysters, I got a glass of wine and Hubby had a beer. I also ordered a water and made a point to request it without a straw. It was outside of this very restaurant I found so many straws earlier.

To go with the plate of oysters the waitress also brought a basket of saltine crackers, some cocktail sauce, and horseradish. The saltines were wrapped in plastic and they didn't have a good place for us to put the plastic wrappers so it they could have easily blown away in the wind to the ocean. I ended up tucking them back in the basket and under some of the crackers, but I wonder how many plastic wrappers, straws, or napkins end up scattered along the beach in a given day.

After eating we decided to go for a walk along the beach. There was a ton of trash. I couldn't just walk by and not pick it up. So I found a large fountain drink container which I was able to open and fill with a straw, an umbrella tag, and some napkins. I turned around and saw an empty plastic bag so I picked it up and proceeded to collect several bottles of water, other plastic bags and even some caution tape. In another area there was what looked like 4 plastic bags full of beer bottles and styrofoam from lunch. There were still people around the area, so I think it belonged to them, but I can't say for certain. I hope someone came back for it or cleaned it up! 

The crazy part about all this trash is Pensacola Beach has many trash cans right on the beach. They are located about halfway between the boardwalk and the waterline and lined up about every 30 yards or so. It's not like they are hidden away. 

Some of what I saw was blatant littering (packed up bags of trash), but a lot was sort of incidental littering. The plastic ring from a drink container, the label of a bottle, the plastic bag that probably blew away once it was empty, the tag on the brand new beach chair. Unfortunately it all could end up in the ocean and out to sea where it can harm wildlife. I mean it was there, just feet away from the ocean and people still weren't picking up after themselves. 

It was then as I was walking with a bag filled to brim with other people's trash that the man said to me that he didn't see people picking up trash very often. I argue that we should see it more frequently AND do our part to limit that trash to begin with. 

Where have you been where you have seen the most litter?

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beach cleanup litter

Feb 20, 2017

Less Waste Car Travel

Zero Waste Car Travel

We needed gas, had to go to the bathroom, and were hungry. Naturally, the gas station is the place to stop. Unfortunately the gas station can also be the source of a lot of garbage. They have walls of plastic bottles filled with every color liquid imaginable. There are aisles upon aisles of packaged junk food. The fountain drink stations have cups, lids, and straws. Everything in the gas station is meant to cater to convenience. To be consumed and discarded. What is someone who is trying to minimize her waste supposed to do? 

Thanks to the Navy I've been on my fair share of road trips. Primarily it has been called "moving" rather than "vacation," but those are technically just semantics. We drove from Oregon to Florida, from Florida to Maine, from Texas to Florida, and the length of the Florida Panhandle more times than I can count. 

Looking back on those pre-zero waste days I can see how much waste was created without even realizing it. However now I've got some tricks that would help minimize the amount of waste created. Typically you have a lot more space and fewer restrictions when traveling by car then you by traveling by air

Water and Drinks:

  • Bring your own water. Bring a reusable water bottle (or multiples if it is a long trip). You can refill it from water fountains or in restaurants. 
  • Bring a large water jug. I know sometimes the water in other places tastes weird or there isn't easy access to water fountains, so by carrying a large supply of water you can easily refill your water bottle. 
  • Buy glass. If you must buy water (or any drink) be sure to buy it in glass and not plastic. Remember glass is fully recyclable whereas plastic can only be downcycled.  
  • Use a reusable coffee mug.  At the gas station fill up your own mug rather than use one of their own. When passing through a town local coffee shops may be more willing to let you use your own mug rather than a disposable one. 

Snacks and food:

  • Buy unpackaged food. The last time we were on a trip the gas station they had apples and bananas available. 
  • Pack a cooler. If you've got room you can bring all sorts of food from home or get some along the way.
  • Shop at grocery stores not gas stations. The grocery store is far more likely to have package free good. 
  • Hit the bulk food section. The bulk food section is usually perfect for road trip snacks: nuts, yogurt covered pretzels, trail mix and candies all come to mind.
  • Bring your own silverware and straw. When eating out many places want you to have disposable silverware. By bringing your own you can refuse them.
  • Eat at a local restaurant not fast food. Sit down restaurants are more likely to serve food on plates with real silverware. Fast food restaurants tend to give disposables. 

Planning ahead, by bringing your reusable products will help eliminate a lot of waste, but even if you end up on an impromptu car trip there are choices you can make that will limit the environmental impact.

So the next time you end up hungry, thirsty and out of gas look to see what choices you can make to limit the trash that is created. 

How do you limit waste on car trips?

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Feb 17, 2017

February Garden Update

Ever have plans that go awry? 

Ha! Who am I kidding?  A more impressive feat would be if someone had a project go totally and completely according to plan.

My goal for the garden this month was simple: to lay down cardboard and mulch again. To perform a reboot of the garden space since we had let it go and weeds were the only thing growing. But that simple desire meant we had three major problems: no mulch, no cardboard, and huge stumps. 

As you recall from the January update, we dug one stump out of the ground and were working on burning down the other. We ended up burning it down in stages as our first couple attempts didn't work out quite as well as we hoped, but we learned some tricks.

Tips for burning a stump:
  1. Pile up the charcoal. It works best when the pile is at least two briquettes deep. It allows the top to ash over and keep the ones underneath still red hot and burning down through the wood.
  2. If you have the ability, drill air holes. We would drill in from the side and then down from the top making sure the two tunnels met up. This helps provide oxygen for the fire so it keeps burning faster and longer. 
  3. Combining these methods are effective, but can be dangerous. We ended up with a fire that stayed lit for 3 days. Hubby went out the second day and took his blower to scatter the ash build up to start again on fresh wood. Well the wood was still burning and it immediately turned to flame. He used that to his advantage by throwing more briquettes on the stump, but it could have been dangerous if it wasn't in a protected area of our yard. 
  4. Between fires if there will be multiple take the time to blow away the ash, and take an axe to try and increase surface area and break away the stump. Remember the goal is to have the stump gone, not necessarily to burn the stump away. (Unless of course you have some marshmallows that need eating!)

I thought people were crazy when they warned about stumps catching on fire, burning below ground and spreading fire through the roots. Now I can see how that could happen, so do take precautions. Our stump had chicken wire wrapped around it to contain the charcoal and prevent things from falling into it. It also was in a remote area of our yard with little risk of things falling into it. So be careful. 

We had plans for the stump removal, so that left cardboard and mulch. Surprisingly finding the cardboard was the easiest part of the whole ordeal. The first time we did this we had to scramble from store to store to find the cardboard and ended up with a few mattress boxes (which are ideal), but mostly used large and medium boxes from retailers. But a few weeks ago I had a work event around the corner from a mattress store. I decided to take a detour and saw that they had a bunch of boxes in their dumpster. I was going to impress Hubby by returning home with a full car, but the boxes were to big to fit. He was nice enough to come and help me load up the trailer.

The mulch might be a little more time consuming. The straw will be easy, just a quick trip to the feed store to buy some bales. It's the wood chips will be more challenging. Last time we had a local tree company deliver a huge pile. It was too much really. There was enough to lay it around the coop, house AND the garden. I'm guessing we will have to drive to the tree lot and fill the trailer. Thankfully it is free, but it does mean moving yards and yards of wood chips on our own. 

So instead of having a garden ready to plant all I have is a whole in the ground, a fire hazard, a stack of cardboard, and no plants. Here's hoping the March update will be more fruitful and go according to plan!

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Feb 13, 2017

When The Urge Strikes: No-Bake Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Ever have one of those days when you just want to make cookies? Well I have them all the time, but thankfully I rarely do anything about that urge. I'm pretty sure it would mean I would only eat cookies. Well yesterday was different; I wanted to actually make them (it would help with my green resolutions!). But I didn't want to go to the store it was raining and I'm lazy.

Chocolate chip cookies? No chips. No cookie mix-ins at all, actually. Oatmeal cookies? I had some oatmeal from my recent trip to the bulk store, but I didn't have any raisins (and you can't have oatmeal cookies without raisins!). Peanut butter cookies cookies? I'm hesitant, because I don't always love the taste of peanut butter.  

But wait! Surely there would be a recipe that would combine oatmeal and peanut butter, that would be delicious! So I took to the internet and found this delicious recipe. It was no-bake to boot, which means I could start enjoying the cookies that much sooner.

And enjoy them I have. I'll fully admit that I ate my fair share of these over the past two days. So if you don't have plans to share it with a group of people, I suggest a half batch...or a quarter batch, because you WILL be tempted to eat them all. Although they are probably healthy since they are made with oatmeal and peanut butter. 

1- 1/2 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup peanut butter
2- 1/4 cup quick cooking oats

Makes 24 cookies

In a large saucepan over medium heat combine sugar, butter and milk. Bring to a rapid boil and boil for one full minute. 
Butter sugar milk mixture first step for cookies

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and peanut butter. Mix in the oats, stirring until the mixture begins to cool. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet, waxed paper, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. Let cool until set.

Then try not to eat them all in one sitting. Do you ever get cookie cravings?

Feb 10, 2017

Basics Of Cast Iron

Cast Iron Skillet

I'm terrified of cast iron.

Ok, that might be a little strong. It's not like I'm worried it's going to jump off the stove and get me like a spider would. But it's heavy, the handle gets hot, and Hubby says there are particular ways of cleaning it. So I just don't tend to cook with it. And when I do, I usually leave the cleaning to Hubby.

I secretly thinks he prefers this so I won't mess up his perfect seasoning. Cast iron is a great thing to cook with and you can find it in thrift stores or in the back of barns. So it is definitely an addition to a zero waste home. I'm just not the one to tell you about it. So I got the best expert I know: My husband. So here he goes with his first ever guest post on SkipTheBag. (Be kind and give him lots of love!)

So hi, I’m the husband. I can honestly say I never thought I’d be writing a blog post here but I got the call from the bullpen to write about something near and dear to my heart: cast iron cookware. I’ll preface the rest of this by saying I’m a tool guy. By that I don’t just mean wood working and home improvement stuff. I like having things that make it easier or better to do or make other things. So that’s led to having an inordinate number of power tools in my garage, but that’s also extended into the kitchen because one of the things I like to make most is food.

Over the years my progression toward the use of cast iron cookware has taken a not uncommon path. Immediately out of college I used non-stick cookware because it was cheap. As we started to replace the non-stick pans as they wore out, we got a decent set of stainless steel pots and pans. I still have them by the way, and I love them, but around the same time I discovered the joy of cast iron. Over time my collection has grown to include five pans of different sizes, a Dutch oven, and a stove top griddle.

What is cast iron? 

Well the name pretty much says it all. It’s pots and pans, or really anything, made by pouring molten iron into a mold (or cast), letting it cool, then seasoning the iron with oil or grease to prevent the outer surface from rusting. Over time, as the pans are used, fats and oils are cooked into the surface creating a slick, black, glossy surface. As cookware goes it’s been in use since the Iron Age. Which also seems obvious now that I type it. If taken care of, they can last well over a hundred years as useful cooking implements.

What are the benefits? 

From a cook’s perspective they heat up, distribute and hold heat very effectively. Additionally, a well seasoned cast iron pan is also nearly as slick as a non-stick pan. With just a little cooking spray I can cook eggs over-easy and not have any of the egg stick to the cooking surface. Because the cooking surface is carbonized oil and fat it’s also relatively chemical free, unlike non-stick. I tend not to be someone who believes that all chemicals are bad but after researching what goes into Teflon, I’d just as soon not be eating it when I accidentally scratch a pan. Unlike non-stick pans, which once scratched are permanently ruined, if the seasoned surface of a cast iron pan gets scratched, it doesn’t really change the effectiveness of the pan. If it really gets bad the pan can always be stripped down and reseasoned. It’s even possible to take a rusted pan that has been sitting outside and strip it to bare metal and reseason it as long as it’s only rust and not corroded. Finally, if taken care of, as I said above, they can last a very, very long time. It’s not unusual to come across cast iron pans and Dutch ovens that were made in the 1800s.

What are the down sides to cast iron? 

Most all cast iron cookware is made as a single piece of metal, heat get transferred easily to all parts of the pan, including the handle. The longer a pan sits on a heat source, the more the handle will heat up, necessitating the use of a pot holder or oven mitt to pick them up. Next, you really don’t want to boil water in them. For one, boiling water tends to strip away the outer layers of seasoning. Second, if that seasoning layer isn’t particularly thick water can get into contact with the raw iron underneath and cause the pan to rust if it isn’t appropriately dried out and oiled. Any time I have to boil water I break out the stainless steel pots or pans.

How do I care for cast iron?

Cast iron also takes a little more work to care for. You can’t just throw them in the dishwasher at the end of the night. They have to be cleaned by hand, without soap, to prevent damage to the seasoning layer, then thoroughly dried and a light layer of cooking oil applied. Some people don’t like the thought of a “greasy” pan being put away in their cupboard. Finally, because the exterior surfaces of the pans are cast iron and slightly rough they can scratch surfaces they come into contact with, especially glass range cook tops.

Update: Hubby wrote another post about cleaning and care of cast iron. It has tons of great information. Go check it out!

I have learned so much about cast iron from Hubby over the years and have really grown to appreciate it. Although I still let him wash it, because I'm afraid I'll ruin the seasoning! We currently have a cast iron skillets in 3 different sizes, cast iron dutch oven, cast iron cornbread cast, and griddle.

Do you love your cast iron as much as Hubby does?

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Feb 6, 2017

Homemade Soft Pretzels

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to make a food product each month. So for January while my sister-in-law was visiting we decided to tackle pretzels. She had made them before, but I never had. We ended up trying two different pretzel recipes to try and get it right! The first ones we made didn't use yeast (because I didn't have any on hand) and they ended up tasting more like biscuits than pretzels. It was a good learning attempt on how to roll and make the pretzels, but we knew we wanted to tackle it again.

So a few days later we went out, got some yeast, and tried again. This time we were far more successful using Allrecipe's Buttery Soft Pretzels. Oddly enough the recipe doesn't use butter, but I guess that can be a technicality.

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Gather the ingredients:

2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
3/4 cup warm water (~110 degrees F)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/8 cup kosher salt for topping

Makes 6 pretzels

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in 3/4 cup warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center; add the oil and yeast mixture. Mix and form into a dough. If the mixture is dry add 1-2 more tablespoons of water. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7-8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a reusable napkin or towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat to 450, grease baking sheets.

When risen, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. This will be the most difficult part. I found it helpful to act like you are folding it in half, then switch the ends as you bring it back to the center. Don't worry, they taste the same even if they don't look perfect.

In a large bowl dissolve baking soda in 3 cups hot water. Make sure the water is really hot, not quite boiling. Once all of the dough is shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda-hot water solution and place pretzels on baking sheets. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake in preheated over until browned, about 8 minutes.

Some thoughts: I would make sure that the water is really hot. The original recipe has you dissolve the baking soda into the hot water and then form the pretzels. This made our water not be very warm and it didn't harden the outsides as much as I would have liked.

These were yummy, and I think with tweak I suggested they will be amazing. But if you have a perfect pretzel recipe let me know!

Feb 3, 2017

All About Safety Razors

I feel like safety razors are becoming all the rage and I couldn't be happier! I switched over to mine several months ago and I wonder why I didn't do it years ago. I'm sick to think about all the plastic handles and money I could have saved. 

I've known about safety razors for almost a decade because that's when Hubby first got his (Remember he had me beat in the zero waste bathroom!). So when I was first looking for one he generously allowed me to try his (with a new blade of course!).

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He has a short handled safety razor and after a few strokes I immediately knew I wanted a longer handled one. I could have adapted to the shorter handle, but I felt like a longer handle would mimic the disposable razors I was used to, and that was the case. I got a Merkur brand, because that's what Hubby had been using so I knew how durable it was. 

There are three main designs of safety razors: one piece (also known as butterfly or twist to open), two piece and three piece design. The one piece you twist the handle, the top of the razor opens to expose the blade. I was afraid that those moving parts might break or be harder to clean. The middle bar you see there is what the blade is placed over horizontally and then twisting the handle closes the top over the blade.  

WEISHI Long Handle Version Butterfly Open Double Edge Safety Razor*

The two piece and three piece designs are nearly identical. The main difference is that in the two piece design the base of the cutting head is attached and in the three piece it is not. For both you twist the handle and the top comes off and the blade is released. In the three piece design, since the base is not attached it can make blade alignment more difficult and the entire process more cumbersome as there are now 4 parts (with the blade) to contend with. However cleaning can be easier as the pieces come apart. I got a three piece and Hubby's is a two pieces. They both seem essentially equivalent. 

Concord Double Edge DE Safety Razor 3-piece model*

I went with the Merkur long handled MK 23C* which is a three piece razor. Hubby's is a two piece. It had a longer handle, was a brand I was familiar with, and it was one of Amazon's best sellers. It really has been great. Don't want to buy from Amazon? Check out Tiny Yellow Bungalow's Merkur safety razor and razor blades

Merkur Long Handled Safety Razor (MK 23C)
Merkur Long Handled Safety Razor (MK 23C)*
This is the razor I got and it has been great!

I was nervous about using a safety razor. For some reason there is all these horror stories about people getting cut with safety razors. So I read all I could about reviews on various safety razors for ladies shaving. But really I haven't found it to be a whole lot different than using a disposable razor. 

Here are some tips to remember when using a safety razor:

  • Don't push the blade against the skin. Use the weight of the head to be the friction to shave. 
  • Maintain a 30 degree angle. Any more and the blade might not contact the skin, any less and the blade may skip or you may cut yourself.
  • Use short strokes. (I haven't found that as important with the shin and calf, but imperative for the knee and armpit.)
  • Exfoliate to get a closer shave.
  • Pull the skin to make sure it it taught before running the blade over.

And I watched videos on techniques particularly about shaving around the knee and armpit areas. I got the following tips from the videos: 

For the knee:

First shave around the knee itself. It may help to think of it as a diamond shape where the "top" of the diamond is on the shin just below the knee and the "bottom" of the diamond is above the knee on the thigh. Keep the knee bent to keep skin taught in those areas. Use very short strokes to get the actual top of the knee. 

For the armpit: 

I can go against the grain and make multiple passes without any issues. However the woman in one of the videos was far more sensitive and wasn't able to do that. She recommended going with the grain and only making three passes. Once down the middle, then from one side across and down and another from the other side going down. So I recommend seeing what works for you. The grain in the armpit can go several different directions so you may need to shave different directions to get it all. 

How long do blades last?

This I think is entirely up to you. Hubby has really course hair and shaves regularly. He swaps his blade weekly. He says it gets dull. He doesn't specifically dry his blade after shaving, but it doesn't stay in a wet environment. I keep my razor in the shower, but use it and change it far less frequently and have much finer hair. The best way to preserve the length of the blade is to keep it dry after use. Some people even put oil on it. I have heard some who take good care of their blades can have them last on the order of 6 months. But you will just have to see for yourself.

Where can I get blades?

While I have yet to really see a safety razor for sale at a major retailer (like CVS or Walmart), the blades can usually be found there. They come in tiny packaging, usually on the bottom corner of the men's razor section, so you've just probably never noticed them. However they are generally very inexpensive. When Hubby first got his razor he got a sampler pack of 100 blades from various brands. He is now using the Astra brand blade and I'd love to try these Merkur blades

Can you recycle the blades?

Some municipalities do allow for people to recycle the blades. Check for local regulations, because they can vary widely. Also since the blades are a "sharp" they probably shouldn't just be put in your curbside recycling or trash. 

Can I buy used?

I didn't, but mostly because I was early on my journey and it didn't cross my mind. Some are against buying a used razor due to safety concerns of infection. This could be a potential concern however you should be using new blades, the razor is metal. It can be boiled, it can be soaked with alcohol or bleach without concern for damage. Viruses and bacteria cannot live outside of the human body for very long. One person trying to turn people away from buying used stated a study where hepatitis C was found to live in the syringes of IV drug abusers for up to a month. To that I say, it will likely not live as long on the surface of the razor and then to  protect yourself ask the last time the razor was used. Chances are if they are selling it, it wasn't a razor they were using that morning, so you should be far out of that time frame. And then clean it anyway. :)

Want some more tips on how to use a safety razor and not get cut? Check out this post.

Looking to make more changes in the bathroom? Check out 5 Simple Plastic Free Swaps For The Bathroom.

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