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I'm not tracking as well as I should, but I know I am staying close to (or under) my $5 a day goal. It's relatively easy since I bought huge cuts of meat for Easter and then made soups and stews with leftovers (and still had a huge container of sliced meat). If I was really living on an Ontario Disability Allowance, or welfare, that would not be an option. Also, I'm really lucky that I like my own cooking and don't mind leftovers/casseroles/soups. mermaid_in_heels shared this link today, It points up one of the big challenges of this kind of challenge: eating rice and beans for a week is easy. It's less fun when it's for a year - and even then the emergency costs (extra daycare, snacks for cranky overtired kids) would need to come out of that rice and beans budget. OTOH, rice, beans and eggs are exactly what I would choose for inexpensive balanced proteins, supplemented by fruits and vegetables (and Gwyneth doesn't have enough of those, in my view).
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I really started to understand just how difficult eliminating plastic is this weekend. I went to the hairdresser and got doused in a variety of products to bring my hair back into condition. Usually, this is not an issue, so I think I have to lay the blame on the homemade alternatives to shampoo and conditioner. The real problem, though, was how good my hair felt. As much as I want to avoid commercial hair products, I'm pretty sure I'll be seduced by the plastic bottles of wonder goop the next time my hair feels like straw.

The grocery store was equally depressing. I avoided plastics in the vegetable section easily, and didn't buy any meat of significance. However, I stocked up on supplies of things the girl likes - various kinds of cheese, hummus, kielbasa, rice crackers, apple juice. Everything came in plastic (I could have avoided plastic juice bottles, but I can't afford to skip a sale in favour of my principles right now). Even the chocolate chips I bought to make her muffins from scratch came wrapped in plastic.

Then I bought her some ice cream. There was an entire wall of ice cream, frozen yogurts, sorbets, etc. to choose from. It's hard to believe that, less than a century ago, it was an exotic treat. I found myself singing this under my breath:

In fact, far too much of the store was filled with convenience foods. However, the reality is that, as a society, we have lost the time and skills to produce sufficient food locally, let alone survive through a long winter. Short of willingly going back to a time when we had a much lower standard of living, with most of us doing hard physical labour every day, I can't see how to eliminate this insidious product.

And the fact is, it does have some value. It keeps food more safely (and reduces smells in the fridge, as I discovered when I stored something in its earthenware pot this week). It is essential for biomedical safety (for which I was grateful as I donated blood to a health research project this morning). There may be ways to reduce plastic use in these essential areas, if we were to reintroduce latex where possible, and increase our use of glass or metal containers.

Mostly though, we need to reduce our consumption, bring our own bags to carry purchases, bring our own water bottles everywhere, cook from scratch whenever possible, recycle every scrap we can, and push for support to researchers and entrepreneurs who are working to find uses for plastics that can't be recycled now, and those who are finding biodegradable alternatives.
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The last time I bought cat food and treats, I blithely picked up my usual brands and didn't think about how they were packaged, until last week. They are bagged in plastic, of course. I have browsed around at several shops since, and pretty much all cat food is now sold in plastic bags (except the stuff in cans). Some dog food is still available in paper bags, though. The Bulk Barn does carry some pet foods and bird seeds in bulk, though I confess I forgot to look closely at all the options.

This is one area where I don't think homemade alternatives are realistic for every day. Homemade dog food is quite possible, and several of my friends do this. However, cats need taurine, which they cannot synthesize in their bodies. Without it, they suffer eye problems and blindness, among other problems. Natural sources of taurine include shellfish, salmon, dark poultry meat, eggs and dairy. Making cat food would require dinner to be prepared fresh every day, in tiny quantities, and with the assumption that my cats will turn their noses up at whatever is made at least half the time. Also, taurine is destroyed by cooking, so the ingredients will have a very short shelf life.

If I could turn my moggies out to fend for themselves by eating birds and mice, they would probably do just fine (except for the risks inherent in local traffic, skunks, and other neighborhood critters). Also, they kill a lot of birds: A LOT OF BIRDS: Stray and feral cats are among the biggest culprits, so I'm proud to say that both of my girls (like all their predecessors but one) are rescues. All have been neutered.

This Pandora, most commonly known as Dora Exploradora because she is such a snoopy kitty. She came to me after landing up at a friends house as an unwed teenaged mother. Barely past kittenhood herself, she had four kittens with her. Happily, all were adopted (and neutered). She is now two years old.


This is Gatita. She was adopted while I lived in El Salvador and she is a bit of a survivor. She had to be declawed in front because she kept escaping from the house (ripping out the heaviest screens we could buy); this was an issue because she would come home with razor wire cuts and we worried she would eventually hit one of the electrified fences. In 2007, she escaped from the house and hid during a rain storm. It kept raining for days and we couldn't find her, although we would occasionally hear her meowing. Eventually, we had to leave for a long-planned holiday to western Canada for two weeks. When we returned, there was still no news. Finally, after eight weeks, I spotted her in the neighbour's driveway. The kids and I followed her around the neighborhood for over two hours and I was finally able use tossed bits of canned salmon to coax her close enough to wrap her in a towel and carry her home. She had lost almost half her body weight, but eventually she was fine. I still have a hard time believing that she could find enough food with no claws, even though I saw her bring home birds in El Salvador. She is now 14 years old. My daughter (who is allergic to cats) will not be pleased to discover that Gatita has taken over her bathrobe.

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I caved on hair conditioner today. My hair felt like straw, so I threw on a dollop in order to be able to brush. I'll be making up some conditioner tonight.

While I have the ingredients out, I'll try making this deodorant: It won't be an antiperspirant, which will take some getting used to.
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Half way there. It hasn't been too challenging because I don't buy much. Mostly it has been about acknowledging the plastics I already have in the house, and the near impossibility of eliminating it all - even if I do still more stuff from scratch. Today's sad moment came from opening up my pantry to the many bags of spices I have stashed away. I buy them in plastic bags because they are less expensive, then transfer them to glass jars (which have plastic lids). Even if I were to buy all my spices at the Bulk Barn, I would need some sort of bag that doesn't allow all the spices to fall through the cloth. Plus, the cloth would be heavy compared to the spices, so I would end up paying a lot more. One possibility might be to bring in my own jars and ask the cashier to weigh them before I start. That would require a quiet day and a patient cashier, though.

I am thankful my kids are grown. My challenge doesn't need me to cope with disposable diapers, baby wipes, or endless plastic toys, bottles and bottle liners.
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Warming up and having a late lunch after a very cold visit to visit my horse. Lunch is ramen noodles, which come wrapped in plastic. I buy them in bulk containers (I have kids), so that means more plastic. This leads to two existential questions:
1) would it have been possible to invent and market ramen noodles without convenient plastic wrap?
2) Is life worth living without ramen noodles or other pasta? Full disclosure - pasta is my absolute favourite food.

Bulk Barn sells pasta, but I'll need to organize appropriate cloth bags. I could make pasta from scratch, as I own a pasta maker (I even have a ravioli attachment). This will add significantly to the time involved in pasta preparation. I will also need to figure out drying racks, or develop recipes that can be used up in a single dish. As much as I love pasta, there are limits to how much two people can eat when it is freshly made.

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I had to drive the girl to school this morning before going to an 8:15 doctor's appointment, so I hopped into the shower while still half asleep and before remembering to use that electric razor. Rats! I really did need it today, as I was visiting my leg doctor. I didn't end up covered in bandages today but - believe me - you don't want to be ripping of anywhere between 20 and 60 pieces of tape from hairy legs.
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This company filed for creditor protection yesterday. You can read more about it here:

This raises several issues for me, leaving aside the obvious ones related to the bankruptcy:
1) Would it ever have worked? From what I have read, breaking down plastic is really hard.
2) Do we really need fuel that much? Were any environmental implications outweighed by the benefits? I have this question largely because I haven't done sufficient homework.
3) What more could we do, as a society, to minimize use of plastics and divert more from the landfill so that such an option wouldn't be necessary?
4) Ditto the above, but for all other solid waste - especially construction waste, which is now the largest single component of our landfills.
5) How much do we value innovation and investment in social goods? This was always an enterprise that would rely on government funding because that is to whom we entrust the responsibility for waste disposal. If it had been in the business of producing something for the private sector, would it have faced equal risk aversion from investors?
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On Sunday, the engine light came on in my elderly car, so I bought some engine cleaner at the gas station. It came in a plastic bottle, like this:

engine additive

There were many more plastic bottles of various kinds of engine products. Plus windshield washer fluids. And then there were the hundreds of plastic pop and water bottles and all the bags of chips and candy and jerky treats and chocolate bars and sandwiches and and and...

I'm not sure there was a single item for sale that didn't have plastic wrap or wasn't made of plastic (sometimes both).

Since starting this project, I have become much more conscious of plastic around me. This place gave me the willies.

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I keep thinking that there must be more important things to write about than personal grooming products, but the fact is that most of my plastic seems to revolve around the bathroom. Today, for example, I am thinking about razors.

I use a disposable plastic razor for the minimal amount of body hair removal that I feel is essential. I wish I could stop shaving my legs, but I have been a little traumatized about leg hair ever since that time in university when my boss threatened to fire me from a retail job for showing up in a dress, high heels and bare, unshaven calves (my job was entirely behind a service counter). In the past, I often neglected shaving my lower legs for the whole winter, because I was wearing pants every day. I admire those who don't shave their pits, but I feel smelly if I don't shave. Besides, I'm a swimmer, and even the guys shave everything when they are serious about winning.

I re-use that razor until I get regular nicks from it. By shaving only intermittently, I can make it last far longer than the manufacturers would recommend. I have owned an electric razor since high school and should use it more often, but that will require me to rethink my morning routine. At present, I remember to shave sometime after I have staggered, bleary-eyed, into my morning shower. Using an electric razor during or immediately after that shower would be a very bad plan. For the rest of the month, however, I will use the electric razor.

Since I am not going to share a picture of my hairy legs, here is a news story a friend shared: This is why my rare fast food indulgences are usually shawarmas from an independent shop, and why I always have my Saturday coffee in the coffee shop (ceramic mug), even though the shop has only biodegradable cups and straws, plus recyclable lids.
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Cucumbers need two layers of plastic? Really??? They come with skins, fer pete's sake!

Now that I have that little rant off my chest, I can get on with things.

It took me three tries to find reasonable carrots that weren't bagged. A 3 lb bag of regular carrots cost $2.50. A skinny little bundle of organic carrots, with tops, was about $3. A slightly large bundle of unorganic carrots(five carrots with tops) was $2. Way off in the corner, I found large loose carrots for $1 a pound. That was close enough.

I was able to find all the other fruits and vegetables I wanted and avoided all bags, though the lady at the cash may have thought I was a little weird. Aside from the carrots, I had picked up no more than three of each thing, so it wasn't too bad. We could go down another ethical rabbit hole on why I bought bananas, pears and a lemon, rather than planning to cook with local ingredients, but the rest of my produce was Canadian, so we'll ignore that challenge for another day.

Cheese and meat proved much more problematic. The girl loves her soft goat cheese. I looked for Brie or another soft cheese without plastic wrapping, to no avail. Even those that use paper wraps (Oka) or look like they have wax paper covers (all the Bries and Camemberts) actually had plastic. Same problem with the meats, so I allowed another principle to kick in; food does not have to be perfect, and wasted food is an abomination. I bought ham ends from the clearance section at the deli for a ham and potato soup, plus clearance chicken (for Qabuli rice, now on the stove) and clearance ground beef (recipe to be named later).

The apple juice and soft drinks for lunches were easy because they came in tins. Some of the oils I needed for the shampoo and conditioner recipes came in glass jars with metal lids, as did my salsa. The coconut oil was in a plastic jar, though. I'm counting on the oils etc. for the shampoo and conditioner lasting much longer than a conventional bottle of hair product, since I'm not paying for bottles of water with a bit of soap/conditioner in them. I hope I'm right!

I bought butter instead of my favourite soft olive oil margarine. I'll need to find a covered plate to store it - and maybe look for a proper plate the next time I hit a pottery sale. Milk was a bust. Three plastic bags inside a plastic bag. I haven't heard back from Cochrane's Dairy yet, so getting milk delivered in glass bottles may never happen.

The Qabuli rice needed raisins, and I couldn't find any sold loose. Short of growing my own grapes and drying them myself, I'll have probably have to accept that raisins cannot be purchased any other way. Fortunately, I rarely eat them, preferring my own dried fruits.
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I tried. I really did!

I went out to look for ingredients for the homemade shampoo and conditioner. That meant a trip to Walmart, which was ok(ish) since I needed skirt hangars too.
The liquid glycerine I need for the conditioner comes in a plastic bottle. The vitamin E is in a glass bottle with a plastic lid. The soap was wrapped in plastic. The girl was with me so she "needed" pads (individually wrapped in plastic), moisturizer (plastic bottle), a new comforter (technically, a new comforter was on the list, but not one with a plastic cover - my plan was for a visit to Ikea), and a scented candle (glass container with a plastic lid). I did avoid the plastic bags at the check-out, but only because I insisted on unpacking everything and ignoring the nice cashier who was worried I would get the comforter dirty if it wasn't hermetically sealed in still more plastic.
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The girl is almost out of shampoo and conditioner. Again. Not that any of the multitude of bottles in the bathroom are completely empty! Finishing off the dregs is my job. What are my options for refilling bottles with bulk shampoo, or making my own, or finding a completely different alternative? Quick research showed that no-one offers the bottle refilling option in Ottawa any more. However, I did find these:

I have a bar of at home. I am deeply distrustful of shampoo/conditioner combinations, but I'll give it a try. suggested this:
"In keeping with my theme of evaluating a home made solution when possible I also tried washing my hair with plain old baking soda. A lot of people swear by this super cheap option. I put a few tablespoons in a little bowl and added water to make a paste. Once I had my hair wet, in it went and I scrubbed as best I could. There is no lather with this but that didn’t bother me at all. It washed out nicely and left my hair squeaky clean. I’m impressed with the result. My hair was nicer that day as though a lot of gunk had been washed out." That seems like a reasonable option.

But what about a shampoo that lathers? I turns out David Suzuki has some ideas.

Unfortunately, they require liquid Castille soap, and that seems to be sold only in plastic bottles. However, has an inexpensive alternative made with bars of Castille soap. If you're really hard-core, you can make your own bars of Castille soap. Ashley also has a recipe for shampoo that I really like (and will help me use up the xanthan gum I bought for a cooking experiment I don't intend to repeat):

Hair conditioners seem to be much more challenging. The best I could find was this: natural hair conditioner. These recipes somewhat resemble regular conditioner but getting emulsifying wax is proving to be a challenge. At best, I can order it on-line. Or, I could try mixing together a bit of beeswax and borax, and/or maybe a little xanthan gum. From this lady's instructions, something might be possible:

Much to think about and play with....

Update - a work colleague just sent me this link: One is in the Ikea mall, and the other is on Wellington West. How exciting is that?
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I am reading "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman. It's a fascinating book that imagines what would happen to the physical remnants of our civilization if all humans suddenly disappeared, and how long it would take, using the latest science. This morning's chapter was "Polymers Are Forever" and focused on plastics in our oceans. Key quotes:

"Except for a small amount that's bee incinerated, every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last 50 years or so still remains. It's somewhere in the environment."

Although plastic may photodegrade if exposed to sun on the land, it takes much longer to photodegrade in water, and it biodegrades "at such a slow rate that it is of little practical consequence". "Even though a ghost fishnet made from photodegradable plastic might disintegrate before it drowns any dolphins, its chemical nature will not change for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years".

Plastic pieces do break down to smaller and smaller pieces, and experiments have shown that bottom feeders such as barnacles and sand fleas will eat them. "When they get as small as powder, even zooplankton will swallow them".

There is a really depressing description of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). In 1998, researchers found six times as much plastic by weight as plankton on the ocean's surface. Here's a link to some pictures from this patch (one of at least six in the world):

Cleaning it up will be nearly impossible, at least until microbes evolve so they have the enzymes to handle it.

So what do we do it avoid those un-biodegradable plastics? Biodegradable plastics have been developed, but "since the idea of packaging is to protect food made from bacteria, wrapping leftovers in plastic that encourages microbes to eat it may not be the smartest thing to do". However, we could certainly go back to the days of selling non-food (and maybe even some food) items without plastic packaging - it will mean changes to how we manage inventories and prevent shoplifting. It might mean hiring more employees, or rethinking how we attach bar codes. I think it's worth considering.

Just thinking about this has reminded me to use my ceramic bowl to heat my lunch. It's not yet a habit, but looking at all those pictures of plastic trash are a wonderful reminder of why I want to reduce my plastic consumption (or maybe skip lunch altogether!)
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I have just finished reheating my lunch in a plastic container. This is stupid. I purposely bought a bowl and a plate for the office, so I could avoid heating my lunches in plastic containers. Plastic containers are very useful. They are light and sufficiently inexpensive that I can own enough to pitch them into the dishwasher rather than washing up immediately to pack tomorrow's lunch. Comparable containers range from $20-$30, and weigh almost a pound each. Some day, when I am rich, it would be lovely to have a huge collection of these:

In the meantime, I resolve to transfer my lunch to a plate or bowl before reheating it, every day for the rest of the month.
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This is going to be tough, especially since I didn't plan ahead and therefore can't cheat because I bought a house full of stuff at the end of January.

Day One wasn't too bad. I convinced the girl to buy a bar of saddle soap (in a paper wrapper) instead of a spray bottle. However, we did buy two sponges that were wrapped in plastic. I can only conclude they had plastic on them so there would be a place to attach a price tag/bar code. It's not like they would get damaged by dirt or water, or broken.

The grocery store was a bit worse. The girl had convinced me she needed potato chips, so we bought a plastic container of sour cream to make dip. I also got a plastic container filled with feta cheese to make a baked egg dish that [ profile] nusbacher had posted on FB a few weeks back. I debated getting some reusable vegetable bags, but a) they were wrapped in plastic; b) they were $5; and c) I know I have some at home (time to clean out that front hall closet again). I also bought canned tomatoes and pasta sauce (cans now have plastic liners), and the girl needed menstrual pads (plastic package, individually wrapped in plastic, and then plastic in the pads themselves: I have explored options such as menstrual cups and reusable pads, but I don't know if I could be that diligent, and I know the girl couldn't!

Now that I'm thinking about the month, I'm going to fuss about the fact that I don't have enough meat to see me through, even though I have a fair bit in the freezer. This is one way to increase my bean consumption, I guess.

In an amusing prelude to the month, the girl didn't understand why I wanted to get a replacement canister for my Sodastream machine. "Why can't you just drink plain water?", she asked. This from the girl who abandoned two/two Dasani water bottles in my living room this weekend. As I write this, I am sad that I didn't get around to refilling my Sodastream bottles; the water at my office is so heavily chlorinated that it is undrinkable, so I have taken to bringing in a bottle or two. I had a bottle for plain water in my bag, but it was almost empty (and is now completely drained).
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I posted on my resolutions a while ago, but didn't list the completed recipes as I had forgotten my list at work. It was a busy month on the cooking front, so herewith the results:

8 - General Tsao's chicken (randomly chosen recipe off the internet. The girl liked it so I'll probably make it again, even though it is messy and time-consuming - not to mention fried!)
14 - cranberry and chocolate chip scones (another random recipe from the internet, inspired by similar scones I got served at a meeting that week. I will probably make them again, when I happen to have dried cranberries and chocolate chips in the house. I was very glad to overcome my fear of making scones).
15 - rice oriental (Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery, a book I inherited from Adric, a friend who passed away more than 25 years ago. This is the first time I have used this particular cookbook. Quite a nice, spicy recipe).
16 - Bali Hai steak kew (I think I spotted this on some vintage recipe site, or maybe in one of my old cookbooks. I liked it, but the girl wasn't crazy about it)
17 - Oriental Pork (Chatelaine Quickies - this remains one of my go-to cookbooks, for good reason).
21 - potato latkes (a Jewish cookbook that came as part of a set, also from Adric, I think. Not nearly as much work as I had feared, since I broke out the food processor to grate the potatoes. I had far too many for my little family, though).
23 - onion dip from scratch (Alton Brown,, roasted chicken with preserved lemons (New York Times Cooking website). I had run out of cheap onion soup mix, and this was pretty good (especially with the latkes), but S wasn't crazy about the onion chunks. The roasted chicken was dead easy, since it was essentially "stuff the chicken with the preserved lemons your sister made as a Christmas gift last year, then bake".
24 - horse treats (from a website full of recipes for horse treats - a winner as all the horses at the barn were happy with treats made of molasses and oats), Pam Laviolette's butterscotch/peanut butter no-bake cookies (yum!), Chipits Tiger Bars (from the Chipits bag).
26 - Asian Turkey Salad (Company's Coming Recipes for Leftovers - G loved this so much he stole the container to take to Toronto, and lost the container of course)
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This came from Did You Swim Today, one of my favourite FB groups:

"Dear DYST crew. I have a request. It is a simple one but between us we can help save the planet. No, I am not mad. Please read on.

If each of us picks up 3 pieces of rubbish a day for a year we will pick up about 1200 pieces of rubbish a year. If there are over 2000 of us that is over 2,500,000 pieces of rubbish. Even if it is in the pool car park or outside your front door. Eventually it will end up in the ocean.

Do the math. Who's in?

PS Just "like" & get on with it."

I have missed two days worth, but I like this resolution a lot. I wonder if I could do it?
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Yes, I realize it is almost October, but I have been keeping busy.

I love having S here every day, even though it's a lot of work. She got a co-op placement at a vet clinic on the very south edge of town (south of South Keys), so she has to leave the house at 7 am. No more relaxing in bed and doing mending or crafts while I listen to the news in the morning - now I'm up immediately, packing lunches and making breakfasts. I do some prep the night before, but as long as she is willing to eat a thermos full of hot food involving vegetables at lunch, I'm prepared to make it.

So, back to August.
I did not get any sewing done. I didn't complete any UFOs in my crafts pile. I didn't get a recipe done every single week because I went to Cuba for a week. I did read some magazines, and did a lot of swimming, plus some casual gardening, and I did achieve eight recipes.

4 - Cajun Spice Mix (, gluten-free fortune cookies (fail - they were more like pancakes)
11 - chicken tikka, curried cauliflower (Chatelain Quickies cookbook), friend bars (somewhere on the internet). The chicken tikka was too spicy for ShuLing, and I had eaten it all before Geoff got home. I think he would have loved it. The friend bars were okay, but next time I would do them in a smaller pan so that they would be a little thicker and more bar-like.
13 - quick pickled dilly green beans ( These were an emergency preservation pickle, made up because I had foolishly purchased a bunch of beans before going on vacation. They turned out to be lovely - crisp and very dilly.
31 - five spice chicken and Asian cauliflower (more random internet recipes to use up ingredients I happened to have in the house).


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