Stories that are so important I almost forgot about them

I’m writing this in a rather noisy gym, keeping half an eye on Johanna and her teammates as they go through basketball drills at practice. I’m not necessarily feeling antisocial, but I also learned last month that if I pull out my laptop and start typing, everyone assumes I’m writing a newspaper article and they leave me alone.

And it’s too convenient not to utilize. It’s been a long day.

Anyway, now that I’ve shown what a jerk I am, let me tell you a couple of minimalist / zero waste stories that I forgot to write about earlier.

Story one: Bulk aisle connection

Once upon a time, I was in the bulk aisle of my favorite grocery store. It was, I will admit, an unplanned trip, so I didn’t have any of my jars with me. I was purchasing items in paper bags, as paper can be reused, recycled AND composted. The only downside: They’re made from trees.

Anyway, OF COURSE I noticed someone filling their jars. A man had several that he was systematically filling and putting into his cart. On one hand, I was so jacked — seeing another kindred soul was rather thrilling. On the other, I’d forgotten my jars, which made me feeling like a failing failure.

Still, I couldn’t help but talk to him a bit about zero waste. I told him I was happy to see him filling his jars because usually it is only me with mine, even though I’d forgotten mine that day. He was grinning, so I decided I wasn’t being too weird. (Yes, I get the irony that I am the sort of person who will talk to a stranger in the bulk aisle, but here at basketball practice surrounded by friends, I am pretending to be working. I’m a complicated woman.)

He said that what he liked most about bringing reusables to the grocery store is that, when he gets home, he just has to put them in the cupboard — there’s no decanting. I agreed. That is definitely the best part about the whole ordeal. No packaging to deal with later is another big plus.

Spoiler alert: Just as I wrote “I agreed” above, a friend came over and told me to quit working and be social. That made me laugh. Anyway, now I’m back at home to finish this thing up.

Story two: New old dish towels

When Eric and I got married … 23 years ago … my great-aunt gave us a set of seven hand-embroidered dish towels that she’d purchased from a craft sale. They were adorable (kittens!) and I was young, so instead of using them, I stuck them in my cedar chest and forgot about them.

Last month, though, when I took all the crap out of my chest and made it into blanket storage (a dream come true, I’m still thrilled with myself, post HERE), I found those towels. And I washed them and put them in a drawer in the kitchen and we’ve been using them ever since.

A couple of them are already stained by paint because my artist in residence, aka Johanna, would apparently rather use a pristine towel than one of the thousands of rags we have when she’s creating her masterpieces. Well, kids are terrible. I’m trying to remember that we live in a house, not a museum, so who cares anyway.

Story three: Goodwill, bad vibes

Forty-six going on … 55, apparently.

I took January 2 off from work to eat up one of the vacation days I’m about to lose. I’d planned to hang out with my girls, but instead I found myself at home alone and decided what I really wanted to do was take a trip to the next town over and check out their Goodwill.

I’ve been wanting another pullover sweater because DAMN this winter has been cold. I also wanted to see what they had in the way of standing light fixtures, as I am looking to add a reading light to the living room. I never have complete luck when I go to Goodwill — I think it takes a patience and perseverance that I lack — but I was exited to try.

And lo and behold, I found a pretty awesome gray pullover that fit well and rocked my world. Feeling rather cocky with my sweater success, I took a spin around the furniture section to see if I could find a suitable lamp (and then the houseware aisles … all those homeless coffee pots make me so sad). I did not, so I made my way to the checkout line.

The girl behind the counter thanked me for my patience (the line was looooong) and asked if I’d found what I was looking for. Then our conversation took a rather interesting turn:

Checker: So do you qualify for our 55 and older discount today?

Me: Um … no.

Checker: Not yet, huh?

Me: I’m … 46.

Checker: …

Me: …

Me: … I don’t need a bag, incidentally.

Oh, lord, it was so awkward. She had no idea what to say to me after that, and it was all I could do to keep it together — not because I was angry, but because I was afraid I’d start laughing and that would make it worse. Well, that answers THAT question, I said to myself as I got into the car, and then I really did let myself laugh it out. Ah, I needed that.

Look, I do not dye my hair, so my bad, really. And I had a great time relaying that story to my coworkers, especially since I had JUST had a conversation with two of them about how, despite my graying hair, I do not look “old.”

Uh, apparently I do …

And that concludes our three thrilling tales of awe and wonder. I know. Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life, either.

The end.

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Decision fatigue

I just want some peace.

That’s what I wrote way back in September 2012 when I came out as a minimalist on Pointless Ramble. Back then, I was struggling — I was paring down my kitchen, but was frustrated because it took a long time to actually get the items I’d culled out of the house, I was bringing new stuff in even though I was trying to purge, and while minimalism sounded promising, I was nowhere near achieving anything close to it (and being in flux has never been my strong point).

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I don’t really have art for this post, so here’s a photo I took for The Simple Year when my Lush order came.

So yeah, when I hold up THAT yardstick, I’m doing pretty well now. I have plenty of time to read on the deck with a cup of coffee, which was my (weirdly specific) dream when I first started.

(Bonus: Hell yeah!)

One area I still struggle with: Decision fatigue. Although it literally just occurred to me that’s what it is — thanks, Nourished Planner!*

Being a minimalist isn’t really exhausting, not at the stage I’m at now. What’s exhausting has been adding the zero waste element to this whole ordeal — not that I regret it, just that I’m trying to be honest — and the decisions that come daily from trying to pick the least worst thing.

Take, for example, the task of purchasing makeup and the thought process involved:

  • I need to zero waste my makeup.
  • What options are out there?
  • Too many options! What do I really want in my makeup?
  • Too many options! Let’s cut it down to cruelty-free, recyclable and all-natural.
  • What brands meet that criteria?
  • Still too many options! Man, I hate research.
  • Screw it. I’ll just start with foundation and mascara in glass.
  • Do I like these products?
  • Since the mascara is terrible, now what?
  • Guess I’m starting the process over again.
  • Oh man, I haven’t even tried to figure out eyeshadow yet …

Okay, for starters, the easiest thing to do would be to just give makeup up, I know this. The problem with that is I’m vain and I don’t want to.

Well, bummer for me, because I’ve dedicated a lot of time — since last year! — to this stupid quandary. I had a momentary reprieve when I bit the bullet and ordered a foundation and mascara from Lush,** but I seriously hate that mascara. I despise the tiny little applicator brush and that every time I see myself in the mirror, it looks like my eyelashes are melting.

The other day on my lunch break, I headed downtown to one of our little boutiques that sells RMS products. The manager came over when she saw me checking out the display, and I told her I was looking for a zero waste (or recyclable, really) and cruelty-free mascara, that my Lush brand wasn’t doing the trick, and (because I was already rambling, why not go full throttle?) I’d read about people making their own out of charcoal and, like, soap, but how was THAT really a good option?

To her credit, she did not laugh.

But she did have a ramble of her own: We don’t have to compromise on most of our face — our eyelids, cheeks, and lips — but if you want a mascara that actually works, you are going to need to.

Then she told me how the RMS mascara won an award and she was required to purchase it for the shop, but she thinks it’s so terrible that she tossed it all in the trash. (Please don’t sue me, RMS. I’m sure there are plenty of people who swear by this stuff. Maybe Lush shouldn’t sue me either for the same reason.) I appreciated her honesty, and I also felt better about my quest.

Because … I mean, I’m trying. I’ve tried. And, quite frankly, I’m tired. So I walked out of there feeling free, somehow. I don’t have to think about this anymore. YES!

The next time Abby hit The Store That Must Not Be Named, I had her pick me up my old mascara brand. And that’s what’s living in my makeup bag right now.

What this has taught me: I get so wrapped up in the details, of trying to do the right thing, that I lose sight of the real goal, which is, I mean, sure, to reduce my trash output, but also to bring peace into my life. Into my family’s lives. There are a certain amount of decisions that have to be made each day, and that’s fine, but for something like this, the continuous search for “better” is counterproductive. I have three pieces in my bag, two of which are zero/minimal waste (foundation and eyeshadow) and one that is landfill fodder (mascara). It’s time to move on.

To the next thing, I guess, although I like to think I’ve at least learned a thing or two from this whole ordeal. Unfortunately, as we’ve established numerous times, I’m a slow learner.

*

If you want to read about my early battles with minimalism, click the link above — that was my first minimalism post — or HERE, HERE and HERE. There’s more, but let’s not get carried away.

*Disclaimer: I don’t have a Nourished Planner, but I follow this blog because they have some great reminders about taking time to live life as opposed to living by your to-do list, which I find helpful.

**Not an endorsement of any kind! Do not buy anything on my account!

Also, you guys know that I chose the free blog option, so any ads you see here have nothing to do with me, right? And that I encourage you not to click anything? I was slightly shocked when I was bookmarking my blog for my mother a while ago and saw ads in her feed — talk about irony. Also, I guess I should have paid attention to the fine print. 😉

When good reusables go bad

Here’s a problem I didn’t see coming: Some of the items I bought to replace disposables are beginning to wear out.

Uh, so now what?

My biggest concern: My reusable menstrual pads. I’ve got a fairly minimal set (six liners, six regular, three heavy) and they have been in constant rotation since I made the switch over two years ago. Some of the fabric is beginning to show holes, but the real issue is the snap closures on the “wings” that are starting to literally tear off.

Not gonna post photos to show what I’m talking about. We’re close, you guys, but we’re not THAT close. Here’s a photo of our precious Beanie instead:

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He’s a sweet little guy.

My sewing skills are only so-so (sew-sew? HA HA HA. Sorry, I need more coffee), but I think I could fix the tears on the pads, either by running another seam around the whole ordeal or cutting a new top piece to cover. But I have no idea how to fix a snap. The material is tearing away from the snap itself, so adding a patch isn’t going to help.

Anyway, I’m just pondering my options at this point. I guess the easiest thing to do would be to order individual pads in the sizes of the ones that are showing the most wear. I just don’t know if I want to do that. I had it in my mind that when I bought these pads, they would be what I used until the end of my cycle (I don’t know, I planned on hitting menopause early, I guess), and it takes me a ridiculously long time to retrench when things don’t go as planned.

Another item that’s starting to show signs of giving up: The pump on one of my foaming soap dispensers. I bought three of these plastic things years and years ago — before I was an aspiring zero waster, but maybe not long after I found minimalism, so we’ll say in the 3-5 year range — and again, I thought this would be a relationship to last forever. I’ve got one in the girls’ bathroom, one in ours, and one in the kitchen, and I love how they make my bulk castile last.

I CAN show a photo of this part. See how the one pump makes a watery mess while the other makes a nice foam ball?

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Probably the most thrilling photo I’ve posted to date.

This isn’t really much of an issue at this point because watery soap, who cares?, but I’m wondering if this is a precursor to this thing eventually breaking completely. Soap pumps can’t be recycled, so while the container can, replacing it will mean buying a new one. I mean, $3 or whatever, not a problem, but again the thing is that I wanted this to be the last soap dispenser I purchased and that’s not happening.

Anyone else struggling with good reusables gone bad? What’s your solution? Do we just toss and feel good that we’re only adding one item to the landfill instead of a thousand over the lifespan of that product? Or do we try to keep it creeping along?

P.S. Pearl is feeling left out, so here’s a photo of that gorgeous girl too:

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Pearly has a new favorite water dish.

Checking in

You guys, I meant to sit down and write last night about Abby’s graduation party on Sunday (we survived! We even had fun!) and then this evening I’ve been thinking about how I’d craft that post, and yet, here I am and I have no desire to actually do so.

Here’s what I want to write about today. The words, I tell you, they do what they want:

Coffee

Today I stopped by my favorite coffee roasters for some decaf in my jar. I haven’t been in months because I realized that I could get cheaper, organic coffee in bulk from the grocery store. Then I realized there’s a reason that coffee is cheaper — it’s kind of terrible.

I have very few food pleasures in life (thanks, jerky stomach!), and good coffee is just … I need that. Cost be damned.

There was a new, older gentleman in the shop today. I tried to show him how to tare it on the scale, and he was totally excited about trying something new, but he couldn’t quite get the buttons right. So my jar was tared and filled, then emptied, then tared, then filled again, times two. It made me laugh — I want to be low maintenance, but if there’s ever going to be an issue, it’s going to be because of me. It’s just my lot in life.

Anyway, when it was all over and I gladly forked over my $21.24 for a pound and a half of delicious whole bean goodness (I’ll be back when my crappy caffeinated coffee is gone), I thanked him for being willing to fill my jar. I’ve never done that before! Thank you, he said, and he was so thrilled about it that I wanted to give him a hug.

If only everyone was as enthusiastic about my jars. (Looking at you, Mr. Plastic.)

New jars

I may be a minimalist, but I have a soft spot for jars — particularly those in sizes I do not already possess.

So imagine my joy when I found these cuties at The Store That Must Not Be Named:

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SO CUTE.

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To give you an idea of the size we’re talking about here.

They’re 1/2 cup-size, and I’ve used them to hold hummus and salad dressing. Johanna has used them to hold chocolate chips. They are adorable. The top lid is not dishwasher-safe, but I’m okay with that.

I found those beauties a couple of weeks ago; today I was visiting Abby at her place of employment and noticed half-gallon jars on sale:

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We’re all about extremes today.

I haven’t unwrapped them yet, so yeah, look at the plastic … but using these jars will save plastic later. (And life is not perfect. I find a lot of my zero waste purchases are really just a choice between the lesser of two evils.) I already have six in my pantry and I use them for everything from storing flour to cut up carrots. Right now I have a jar filled with leftover punch from Abby’s party in the fridge. Having another six of this size is going to really expand my world. Not to mention that I ended up getting a discount just for giving birth to a kid who happens to work there. So instead of $12, which I thought was amazing, I paid $9.

I came this close to purchasing individual half-gallon jars at a craft store a couple of months ago for $5 each. So yeah, I’m kind of happy right now for a variety of reasons.

eBooks

In February I went to our library’s eBook lending site and reserved six titles. And wouldn’t you know it, but four of the six all came up at the same time — about a week and a half ago. I read “A God In Ruins” first (oh, wait, I already mentioned that), then went in to “Dad is Fat” (well, sometimes you want to read and not think) and just finished “1984.” Literally, like an hour ago. I have no idea why I insist on reading classics; I have a terrible attitude when it comes to books everyone says are “great.” I did not enjoy it at all — it felt very heavy handed and it was, frankly, kind of boring. I was talking to the guys at work about it yesterday (we’re all English majors and therefore all posers) and they were all, I liked it, and I was like, um, now we can’t be friends because you guys have terrible taste in literature.

Anyway, whatever. I’ve never read it before, so now I can say I have. It’s probably good to read stuff you don’t like anyway, just to stretch the ol’ mind. (I’m trying to justify the wasted hours on that thing. How am I doing?)

Next up is “Paper Towns.” I’ve got my fingers crossed. I just need something entertaining after “1984.” Come on, John Green!

I don’t have a lot to say about eBooks and the library other than it’s pretty typical in my experience to have to wait months for a book I want to finally be available. I’m actually debating whether or not I want to just buy a couple of the books I still have on hold. I guess that depends on how bored I get.

Now: Distract me with what you’ve been up to. Minimalism, zero waste, books, parties, whatever. I’ll be back next week and we can talk about Abby’s party details.

Zero waste (-ish) party: From dream to reality

How long has it been since we’ve been thinking about Abby’s graduation party and how to make it as zero waste / minimal waste as possible?

Huh, about two months. Well, time flies when you’re having an emotional breakdown fun!

I guess the good news is that, since we’ve been planning this for so long, things are actually coming together for Sunday’s gathering. This week, I talked to the church secretary about renting dishes from the kitchen, and was told to just take whatever I needed. That’s how I ended up with approximately 100 large and small plates in our basement for “a donation.”

My sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law are all going out of their way to supplement the deficiencies of my minimalist kitchen. I’ve never actually had to borrow anything before, and they’re letting us take everything from silverware and glasses to platters and pitchers to table cloths and cloth napkins to patio furniture.

I mean, how awesome is that?

It would be slightly easier if we’d have had people RSVP for Abby’s party so we actually knew how many plates, etc., we need, but eh, what could happen? We could have 25 people … or 125. Who doesn’t like surprises?! (Well, me, but …)

Well, anyway, all of that is just to say that I’m feeling solid on the kitchenware front. That’s really the easy part of this whole ordeal. The harder part has been the food.

Harder, because trying to feed however many people (details, so boring) without any packaging is, frankly, impossible. We’ve decided on a very simple menu … and are kind of hoping for the best:

Sandwiches (ham — one big package, Eric will carve; cheese — packaged, Eric will slice; tomatoes, lettuce, onion — whew, unpackaged; condiments — packaged; pickles — glass jar at least; rolls — ordered from the bakery, probably will come in a plastic bag)

Chips (Four big packages)

Pasta salad (pasta — cardboard box; tomato, basil, zucchini, sweet onion — unpackaged; cheese — packaged; Eric’s homemade salad dressing — oil in a container but everything else from bulk bins)

Potato salad (my mother-in-law is bringing this so that’s her problem 😉 )

Veggie tray (all unpackaged)

Homemade hummus and ranch (some packages, but all will be recyclable)

Fruit slices (unpackaged)

Various desserts (most of this is my usual minimal waste baking preferences, but I did get a package of chocolate chips for cookies and some “If You Care” muffin liners; we’ll have brownies, cupcakes, several kinds of cookies, lemon tarts and individual blueberry buckles — kind of a cross between a cake and a muffin)

To drink: Pop (broke down, decided cans would cut down on our need for glasses), ice tea (homemade), water (thanks, nature!), and some beer (bottles, and hidden in a cooler away from the high schoolers)

I feel like the food part is just okay, waste-wise. I’m totally going for convenience here — I’ve got too much to deal with and I don’t want to be chained to my kitchen for the duration of the party. I want stuff I can make ahead of time and can replenish as needed. Eric basically just wants it not to cost a million dollars.

I don’t know, is this a cop out or just embracing reality?

Hey, though! I made a list of spring cleaning chores and started that whole ordeal in late May, and I have to say my house is looking awesome. I mean, I’ve even cleaned out the coat closet and detailed the stove. Probably the first time I’ve done either in the 14 years we’ve lived here.

So in conclusion, there’s nothing like throwing a party to remind you why you don’t throw parties. Abby, however, is excited … and I can do anything for four hours, right?

No prep photos, sorry, but I’ll take some on Sunday for an “after” post.

T-minus a week and counting

I’m writing this Thursday evening. Eric and I just got back from a walk. Abby is out with friends. Johanna is attempting cartwheels in the living room. Tall people can’t do cartwheels, FYI. Too much to balance. But I admire her optimism. And, to her credit, she hasn’t knocked anything over yet.

*

With graduation upon us — next Friday, holy crap — I’ve had to give up some of our minimalist and zero waste preferences. Well, I mean, we have to have a cap and gown — that’s non-negotiable. And we have to do announcements and party invites and senior pictures. Because the grandmas would never forgive us if we didn’t. 😉

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While there’s nothing minimalist or zero waste about the cap and gown — and to be honest, I’m cool with that, let’s pick our battles — I am pretty pleased with our announcement/ invitation/ picture situation. It’s a lot different in 2017 than it was in 1990. I had to order my announcements — and name cards, why did we even have those? — from a certain company, and photos entailed two sessions plus a huge print package.

Abby’s photos were a morning out in some park, and for a flat fee, we just bought the entire ordeal on a CD. Her announcements are from an online company — very simple, but very Abby — and we bought some colored cardstock downtown at the stationary store, which sells it in individual sheets, for her party invites. The cards we ordered came in a box — no plastic anywhere, that was a bonus I did not expect — as did the photos. We printed business-card sized invites on the ol’ personal printer at home, and I had Eric cut them out because things like straight lines are kind of beyond my natural abilities.

Everything about these announcements et al can be recycled, although I have no actual control of how people dispose of them. And I’ve got a carbon footprint going on with the photos and announcements coming in the mail.

But all in all, I’m happy with how this turned out. And so is Abby, which is mostly what I care about at the moment.

*

This doesn’t have anything to do with minimalism or zero waste, but it does have to do with cats, which I think is just as important a topic. I went to a dog shelter this morning to take photos for an upcoming story, and lo and behold, two kittens had been dropped off sometime during the night.

Who drops off kittens at a dog shelter, that was my first question, but actually, that’s better than just abandoning the dears in the woods or something, so never mind.

So my tour guide asks if we have a dog — I think she was trying to feel me out for a possible adoption — and I was like, oh, no, I don’t even have plants. We’re cat people, and she was like, ahhhh, I see. Hey, wanna see some kittens?

Why, yes I did!

My heart was not prepared for what I was about to see: Two black kittens, one who looked just like Bear, crazy fur and all. This one had a shorter tail, but it did the same excited shake that Bear’s used to, and I stuck my hand through the bars and this kitten started purring and licking me and was basically my new best friend.

Oh my God. Bear incarnate?

So I was like, I think I love this cat. And the tour guide was all like, well, it’s belongs to animal control now, but it will end up with cat rescue, so what you need to do is let them give it its shots and tests and get it spade or neutered and then adopt it via their website.

Talk about a cold shower. Although in retrospect, probably a good thing. I couldn’t take a cat just that second anyway — I had to go to work, I didn’t have a cat carrier, and I couldn’t just toss it in the house with Pearl and walk away for 8 hours.

So instead I walked away from my new kitten friend. Being an adult is really boring.

The end, I guess. Well, maybe. It’s kind of funny that with Skilly, I wanted to just give up after he died, but with Bear, I’m ready to jump back on that wagon. Maybe it’s because Abby is leaving and I’m trying to soothe my soul with purrs.

Not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

(Pearl is not the kind of cat that purrs or cuddles. She’s doing so much better than when we first got her, but the trust still isn’t completely there. Eh, it’s only been 8 months.)

P.S. With graduation on Friday, I’m going to take next week off from blogging. I’ll let you know how it goes the week after next and we can talk about party details.

The continuing saga of Mr. Plastic

Those of you who followed my zero waste Simple Year are well versed in my continuing fight with Mr. Plastic at my favorite grocery store’s meat counter. I wrote about him a lot. (A lot. Too much, probably.)

A general recap is probably in order: Last year, in an effort to cut down on our trash output, I started getting our meat from the counter in my own container instead of prepackaged in the meat case.

Every single person behind the counter has been more than happy to fill my jars — every single person, that is, except Mr. Plastic. Thus the nickname.

Mr. Plastic simply refuses. Or rather, he will, but he has to put everything in a plastic bag first and then decant THAT into my jars, and usually makes a big slimy mess in the process because he always overshoots what will fit inside and then has to cram it all in. I have tried so many times to explain that I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just trying to reduce my trash (and very nicely too, since I need him on my side) and he either isn’t listening or simply doesn’t care. And that’s frustrating, especially when I know that literally anyone else behind that counter would comply.

Yadda yadda yadda, so last weekend Johanna and I were doing our regular shopping trip, and meat was on the list — Eric had volunteered to barbecue All The Things Sunday night so we could just eat off that the rest of the week (uh, awesome). As we approached the meat counter, my stomach dropped. The only person there was Mr. Plastic.

So I decided to try a different approach. I put my containers away in my bags and asked for four pounds of chicken and a couple pounds of ground beef. He pointed to the meat cases and told me they were already packaged.

I don’t like the plastic, I said, and he gave me a long suffering sigh and was like, alright, four pounds of chicken? And I was like, yes, please, in paper.

So what do you think he did?

Yep, pulled out a plastic bag (hidden behind the counter so I couldn’t see what he was doing at first) and filled it up, then weighed it and wrapped THAT in paper. To be fair, he wrapped my ground beef only in paper.

One out of two, I guess, but still …  I just … I did not come unglued, although I felt like it. Well, Johanna was there so I was trying to set a good example. 😉 I am at the end of my patience with him, though. I don’t have to deal with him very often because we don’t buy a lot of meat, and if I must, I just wait it out until I can get someone else to help me. But obviously this weekend proves that this isn’t always possible.

My choices are thus: I can base my purchases on who is behind the counter and do without if he’s the only one there; I can complain to the manager (although I’d have to learn his real name); or I can write a complementary letter about everyone else and add that only one person refuses to fill my jars.

Huh. That last option just occurred to me. I kind of like it. Though I doubt it will help besides making me feel better.

The thing is that we live in a small town, and you can’t get away from anyone here. The minute I go postal is the minute I will see that guy everywhere. And I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. So I don’t want to be rude, or aggressive, or even have another conversation. He’s not going to change. I either need to accept that and be okay with a periodic plastic bag, or change on my end.

Blerg. I think what annoys me the most is that it doesn’t have to be this hard.

Anyway, so that’s were we stand on that front. I guess the good news is that I’m so used to  asking for my jars to be filled that it’s no longer a source of stress. Well, usually. (Ha.)