Coffee woes

My favourite beverage is the source of my morning discomfort after a CBC article is blaming convenient packaging, including single use coffee pods, for the increase of curbside garbage in Canada.

Canadians produced 9.6 million tonnes of garbage in 2012. That’s up seven per cent since 2004.

That’s a lot of garbage, Canada!

There’s a way to slow down this rapidly growing issue and it involves reverting to less lazy ways. There, I said it. We’re lazy and wasteful. And it has to stop.

If we started doing things for ourselves again, we’d produce a lot less garbage and waste fewer resources.

Take coffee, for example.

A French press is a brilliant little kitchen tool. It’s the size of your outstretched hand and costs around 10$. For that price, you can have one at home and one at work.

Add two teaspoons of ground coffee and boiling water. Wait a few moments and push the grounds to the bottom of the glass carafe using the handle of the plunger and voila! A delightful cup of coffee totally adjustable to your coffee drinking preferences. Compost the grains and you’re hitting it out of the ballpark.

I know the office world is mildly obsessed with k-cups. Sure they’re convenient but it’s time we redefine convenient. Saving a minute or two a day doesn’t quantify as a significant source of time savings.

Do I really think a French press is our sole solution to excessive garbage production? No.

I think replacing a package of convenience with a sustainable product is a great place to start the long road to shedding our serious dependency on throw away goods.

Start with coffee and the next thing you know, you just might find yourself living a little more mindfully everyday.

To the garden

Stepping through the doorway towards an abundant garden screaming to be harvested is a moment filled with childlike anticipation.

What treasures await? What has grown ripe in the hours since I last wandered that way? Will there be enough to fill our bellies tonight? 

Greeted by carrots, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers ready to fill my colander, and our plates tonight, I smiled.

The seeds and seedlings have all come to their full potential. 

I’ve waited all spring and summer for these moments. And they’re finally here.

Super Duper Double Compost Fail

We operate two different compost bins and they were both absolute disasters last week.

I’m only able to write about it now because I’m finally starting to recover from the experience.

Compost bin number one, the city run compost program, gets the dirty compost — the meat, the questionable leftovers and anything that has oil and/or dairy.

It lives in the garage. Between barbecuing, toddler activities in the driveway, gardening and outdoor chores, the garage door is often open. So the flies come visit.

The bin was covered in maggots two weeks ago. Ewwwwwwww. Luckily for me, my partner put himself in charge of cleaning it up. The maggoty compost had to go somewhere so it was stuffed into two, or five, garbage bags. It’s time like these that you give up on composting THAT pile and chuck it to the trash.

With a garbage pick up every two weeks, things just got nasty in the summer heat.

My poor partner had to “deal with it” a couple more times before the garbage was finally picked up.

At the same time, compost bin number two, the outdoor compost, was exploding with fruit flies. This is the one I dealt with.

I thought I had a good ratio down but I needed much more brown material (dry leaves, shredded paper, coffee grinds, wood ash and dirt) for the amount of green material (egg shells, fruit and vegetable scraps) that I was putting in.

The fruit flies loved us.

So I remedied the issue and loaded the bin with much needed brown matter. Balance seems to be restored.

This week’s very steep learning curve made me question why I bother composting. The best answer I came up with was feeding nutritious earth to my garden and that’s only mildly motivating when dealing with two separate bug infestations.

As I heading outside with a bowl of vegetable scraps yesterday, my three year old said, “Are you going to the compost bin? Can I come see?”

And then it came back to me. I compost because I care where my food comes from and where it goes. I want my girls to care too.

****

“And remember not to over think it. Everything rots eventually!”

The Case of the Curious Skunk

That moment at dusk when you’re sitting at the kitchen table writing and out of the corner of your eye you see a skunk walk across your patio.

You send the following series of texts to your significant other: “THERE’S *#%ING SKUNK”, “DON’T COME UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW!!!!!!” and “The [patio] door is open eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.

And he comes upstairs anyways, ever so quietly, to sneak a peak.

When the skunk is finished smelling around, it turns to walk away, it’s pretty stripey tail bobbing along.

“It’s going for the compost,” he says, nodding his head.

We watch as it staunters across the yard towards the black bin.

When it gets there, he claps his hands loudly and sends it off scurrying in the bushes.

“It’s The Green Bin,” he says.

And he quietly walks away with the words “I told you so” on the tip of his tongue.

Small gesture, big ocean

I live about 14,000 kilometres (900 miles) from the Atlantic so I don’t get to inhale that raw power, endless horizon and calming breeze very often anymore.
I’ve dipped my toes (and sometimes more) in the Arctic, Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

But those places are pretty far from the place I call home.

So I was especially moved by a thoughtful act I witnessed not far from my own backyard.

I watched as a young lady plucked plastic six pack rings from a garbage bin. She cut each individual plastic circle and returned the plastic to the bin.

It was such a casual gesture that I was compelled to talk her about it.

She said she did it for the turtles and the dolphins.

She couldn’t bare the thought of potentially being responsible for the death, maiming or starvation of an ocean creature.

I found some faith in my fellow land locked man that day.

Maybe those plastic rings wouldn’t make it as far as the ocean, but if it did, no dolphin or turtle would be harmed.

Even those of us too far from the ocean can still be mindful of our impact on it. For such a small gesture, it certainly was grand.

Happy World Oceans Day,

Jill

And the garden is (almost) in

It’s been terrible spring to muster gardening inspiration and I feel like I’m terribly behind.

But fear not, dear reader! All is not lost.

Insane temperature fluctuations (we’ve hit 36°C and plunged to 0°C in the span of a week), lack of rain, heavy downpours, strong winds and frost will not keep this gardener down. It’s slowed down the planting process and stunted inspiration, but what’s the rush anyways?

I garden because I love it. Because I love being outside, having my hands (and sometimes feet) in the dirt, watching seeds find their way towards the sun, filling my watering can with the essence of life, harvesting beautiful food and connecting with the earth.

It’s the act of gardening that I love so it’s okay if I’m a little behind. I’m not paying the mortgage with my tomatoes.

And that’s a relief because most of my seeds failed this year. Despite planting seeds in March, only two crops survived the wacky weather: the beets and the lettuce. The poor baby tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, green peppers, red peppers, basil, dill and thyme didn’t make it much past a half inch of growth.

So to make up for the deficit, I had to buy a lot of plants this year. I’ll get over it……and done. I’m over it.

Between kids, a new house and trying to have a just a smidgen of a life, every gardening task seems to have taken a week to complete:

  • The raised bed structured were assembled Mother’s Day weekend.
  • The next weekend, the soil was brought in.
  • The weekend after that the plants were purchased.

And that brings us to today. I, along with my princess dress wearing toddler, managed to level the soil and and install square foot markers.

With my handy square foot gardening plan sheet nearly complete, I’m almost ready to populate my two 4×8 foot beds. I figure that I’ve got plenty of room to fail, experiment and hopefully succeed. It’s my biggest gardening project yet and I realize that I’m a little ambitious….especially for someone who is in a new house, and subsequently new yard, this year.

I’ll be planting corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, butternut squash, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, red onion, spanish onion, leeks, garlic, hot pepper, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and beets. I’m keeping my herbs in containers. And lettuce too — I’ve encountered lettuce loving chipmunks in the past and learned that bringing the container in the house is the sanest way to avoid playing head games with the greedy little vermin. Otherwise, the chipmunk always, always, wins.

I had moderate to low success with the usual suspects, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, leeks, garlic, lettuce and herbs, in my previous raised garden bed. It wasn’t in the optimal location but I had to work with what I had. In my new backyard, the beds are in a super sunny spot and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I’m just unsure what challenges the local wildlife will bring. My lettuce is doing well so it appears that the lettuce loving chipmunks don’t live nearby.

However, the tall raccoons are always around and still trying to figure out how to remove the compost bin lid. Hopefully they prefer the challenge of getting at the rotting stuff over the ease of helping themselves to everything in my garden.

Composting for Dummies

The compost bin has arrived!

I’ve been yearning for a backyard compost bin for years so this is a big thing in my life.

When I lived in an apartment, my friend suggested I put one on my 11th floor concrete balcony. I instead decided to wait until I had my own backyard.

The first house we bought was a cute townhouse with a backyard the size of a large swimming pool. It was in the middle of a suburban neighbourhood that managed to successfully ban clothes lines for a number of years. (That ban was finally overturned in 2008.)

A neighbourhood that fights against line drying isn’t going to be receptive to composting and I didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of the other homeowners.

Plus, we bought this home knowing that it was going to be a short term purchase.

Faced with three options, the choice was easy: move a big pile of rotting food, leave it for whomever buys our home or hold off on backyard composting.

So we waited.

Three years, and two babies, later we sold and moved to our forever home.

We upgraded our pool sized yard to a half acre. We ditched wall to wall neighbours for one neighbour and a farmer’s field. We moved to a place that never disallowed drying linens outside. We moved to a place where I could compost.

But we moved in November so I had to wait until spring.

Thanks in part to having months to scroll through Pinterest, I’d been secretly wanting a rustic DIY compost with two bins made of chicken wire and wood pallets. I could eventually put the chicken coop and bee hive nearby and tether the grass cutting goat on the side yard.

My husband does not share this vision. He’d be happier having nothing to with composting but he humours me.

So I was overjoyed when he went to the hardware store and picked up a compost bin.

It’s not the one from my Pinterest boards but it’s made from one hundred per cent recycled material so it’s okay by me. Compromise.

I assembled it and put it in the most compost friendly spot in the yard. It’s sunny and accessible and far away from our only adjacent neighbours.

I followed the instructions and layered twigs on the bottom to help with aeration. I then put a layer of “brown” or “dry” material, so mostly leaves. Then I layered the “green” or “wet” material, that’s where food stuff comes in.

Alternate green and brown waste. Et voilà. I’m a composting queen.

It’s pretty basic actually. We stick with the basics and only put fruit, vegetables, eggs and coffee grinds in the bin. I’m really good at the coffee grinds. Next year’s tomatoes are going to be coffee flavoured.

It’s surprisingly clean and totally odourless. It doesn’t even smell like coffee.

Despite our new found backyard composting ways, we are continuing with the city run composting program. We’ve been participating for a few years and it’s great. It takes items that are discouraged in our backyard compost: meat, oil, dairy, weeds and questionable leftovers.

We’ve been surprised by the amount of nighttime visitors our backyard receives. The local wildlife, probably raccoons, was getting the lid off the bin. I know that raccoon are clever but are they really able to lift the lid off that’s more than three feet off the ground? We must have really tall raccoons.

An impressive feat no doubt but not one that can be a regular occurrence. What raccoons don’t know is that we have an arsenal of bungee cord so I McGuyvered the lid and haven’t had an issues since.

With the pests at bay and the new routine of two separate compost bins figured out, all I have to do is wait until the old food turns to dirt. And dream about chicken coops and bee hives.

The Mystery of Unwanted Clothing

unravel

I think most of us are guilty of not giving a second thought to items we recycle, compost, sell or discard in the trash.

I certainly don’t ponder the fate of cans or boxes after they’re picked up by the recycling truck. I trust that they go off to the recycling plant and are crushed, melted or broken down before being turned into something shiny and useful.

But I am curious about the fate of textiles, particularly clothing. (And mattresses but that’s a topic for another day.)

I have a tendency to keep old ripped clothing that is unfit to be donated. I hope to do something magically crafty with it one day. I think it’s noble but apparently that makes me a bit of a hoarder.

One reason I do this is because I don’t know what else to do with it.

I won’t throw it out because it will sit in a landfill. I won’t donate it because it’s passing along broken junk that will probably get put in a landfill.

So it sits in a box in my basement next to my sewing machine that has had too little use.

I happily donate clothing that is in excellent condition. Those items will surely be sold or re-donated by the pre-loved clothing retailers or community services that receive them.

But what of the donated items that aren’t deemed good enough for that?

The old ripped shirts, sweaters with broken zippers, pants with worn pockets, socks that never found their mates and pajamas that have seen too many nights surely go somewhere.

But where?

Check out Unravel for some answers. It’s an award-winning short film about garment recycling and the workers behind the massive industry so many of us know little about.

It’s fascinating. Whether for good or bad, I’ll never think about donating clothing the same way again.

Happy viewing,

Jill

Crafts With the Power to Defy Earth Day Logic

Happy Earth Day!

It’s a day to celebrate this gorgeous rotating orb we live on and to pledge not to do anymore bad things to it.

In my quest to find a fun and eco-friendly craft for my toddler, I’ve discovered the thick irony of Earth Day crafts for toddlers and young children.

And it’s boldly written in paper and plastic.

I’m not anti-crafts, we do paper crafts at home and at playgroups. They are an easy, creative and inexpensive way for children to develop fine motor skills and develop critical thinking skills while making pretty things.

However, are paper and plastic crafts the best way to celebrate Earth Day?

Er, probably not.

Schools, daycares, nursery schools and homes around the world will be printing colouring pages and buying construction paper to educate children on the importance of Earth Day.

Sigh.

Now that the trees have been chopped down, children will be writing their eco-pledges on pieces of paper that will be glued to construction paper and taped to the wall. Egg cartons will be cut, painted and glued to cardboard in the shape of a tree. Paper plates will be coloured in the green and blue hues of the planet. Paper mâché globes will hang from ceilings.

Oh, how ironic. Paper crafts that teach the importance of conserving resources.

And now for the plastic. I have a really hard time with the plastic.

I gave up plastic bottles and their beverages years ago so you’d be hard pressed to find any in my house. So for us to do to a plastic bottle craft, I would have to get in my vehicle, drive to the store, buy a bottle of soda, sugary juice or (gasp!) water, empty it, wash it and then craft it. A lot of the plastic bottle crafts I’ve seen involve painting, filling with dirt, gluing, shredding or cementing.

Now that doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of Earth Day at all.

Dare I even wonder how many parents, caregivers or nursery schools are going to take the time to clean those bottles and put them in the recycling after Earth Day? Many of these crafts will end up directly in a landfill.

And let’s face it, plastic bottle crafts kind of suck. No one really wants a plastic bottle bird feeder hanging from a tree. Not even grandma will hang onto that for very long.

Let’s not forget how terrible those plastic bottles are. Not only are they often filled with questionable beverages with no nutritional value, the plastic itself is laden with chemicals that can leach into drinks. They’re also a nightmare for the environment.

Now I can’t totally knock plastic drinking bottles. There are places in the world that desperately need clean drinking water and bottled water saves many lives. They are a short-term solution to a very real and pressing issue: 750 million people worldwide lack clean drinking water. That’s simply unacceptable.

Celebrating Earth Day by gluing paper and painting plastic bottles isn’t good enough for our children. How can they possibly learn the value of using less plastic and paper when they’re taught from a very young age that plastic is used to celebrate Earth Day?

There are better, more permanent, ways to commemorate this significant day:

  • Planting trees and vegetable seeds in biodegradable cups
  • Bringing egg cartons to local egg farmers to be reused
  • Turning turn off the tap while brushing teeth and washing hands
  • Involving children in food buying
  • Using a rain barrel to water gardens

We won’t be crafting today, but we will be planting some tomato seeds. Earth Day isn’t just a day. It’s an opportunity to sow a project that will last well beyond April 22.

Happy Earth Day,

Jill