Let’s talk side dishes

I am having, shall we say, a bit of a crisis in the kitchen. Part of it is because, yeah, I don’t have an oven (my bad), but most of it is just that I am over it. I want to eat but I do not want to cook.

I can’t blame the new lack of oven for an apathy that goes back years.

Well, planning is half the battle. I asked Eric for side dish ideas before my weekly shopping extravaganza and his response was to ask Johanna. She’s pickier because she’s got textural issues and, as Eric pointed out, he will eat anything. So I was like, Hey Jo, what kind of side dishes would you like this week? and she was all, What do you mean, “side dish?” and I was all, Uh, like rice or rice and beans or mashed potatoes or green beans? and she was all, I like all of those.

I mean, okay.

Also, the fact that she had to clarify what I meant by “side dishes” should tell you something about how long it’s been since I planned an actual menu.

Eric amended that he also is a fan of salads; Johanna likes raw veggies not in salad form (usually). Well, that’s easy enough, we always have that kind of stuff in the fridge. Add to that we are in a ridiculously awesome time for fresh fruit grown in our area — Asian pears (HERE), apples of all kinds, plums, Jupiter grapes, peaches and pears — and it’s almost to many riches.

So I made all those things: Rice for me, rice and beans for Jo and Eric, mashed potatoes for them, mashed sweet potatoes for me, and green beans for all of us (in a can, I just like them better that way. Recyclable, yay). I washed the grapes and plums; Eric cut up zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and peppers. All pretty basic, but they are getting the job done.*

There’s not really a point to this except to say wow, mealtimes are boring and I’m struggling. And that I’m still doing the Sunday night Prep All the Things that I started back during my Simple Year. I took it a step further last weekend in that I made myself a couple of complete freezer meals for those times I need something fast (we get invited out for pizza at someone’s house, for example, or Eric and Jo are in the mood for spaghetti). That has saved my life more than once and I’ve gotten out of the habit of creating them this summer.

P.S. The millet is still in the cupboard untouched. I know, it’s not the millet’s fault that it’s birdseed, but I just can’t make myself try it again. I will. Not yet.

P.P.S. On my last trip to the grocery store, I made an actual list and figured out how many jars I would need for certain items. I’ve been sort of lax with that lately — relying on paper bags available in the bulk aisle if I don’t have enough jars. But the point, as Plastic Free September is reminding me, is to eliminate waste where I can. And jars are so easy to do, really. This is why I have a quart of store brand organic decaf coffee beans in my cupboard right now. NOT my preference, but they get the job done.

And P.P.P.S., having a menu / ideas for side dishes meant that I could go through my big freezer and get rid of a few things in there, like pinto beans and onion. I also found jars of shredded turnip greens from 2017. I believe I had plans to add those to frittatas. They are now on the compost heap. Sorry, greens. Note to self: Be realistic about what you save.

*Yes, what I’m saying is that I make everything on Sunday and then, during the week, the counter is littered with jars and containers of items at dinnertime. Everyone takes what they want and warms it in the microwave as needed. I’ve let go of the idea of perfect mealtimes with freshly prepared food. We need to eat; how we get there is up for grabs.

Yep, I’m a minimalist

I can go months and months and months without talking about minimalism in real life. But it seems like when I finally do talk about it, it keeps coming up.

Which is fine. I like a soapbox. Especially when I’m the one who’s on it. 😉

I’ve noticed that I have two conversations about minimalism these days: Those who know about my tendencies and want to talk about their own journeys, and those who bring it up as “This is something I’ve been thinking about” and are excited when I tell them I am one.

When I first started my journey, I had to answer questions like, “Do you have furniture?” or “Sure, you’re doing it, but what does your FAMILY think?” It didn’t seem very mysterious to me — less stuff, yay! — but it apparently struck everyone else as an enigmatic exercise in futility.

I mean, I get it. It was 2012. It was a fringe movement. There’s been a lot more focus on the minimalist and zero waste fronts in the past couple of years and that’s made it a lot less scary to the general public, I think. People have at least heard about it now. The logistics of the thing aren’t really what I’m being asked about anymore.

Now, it’s people telling me how they shop secondhand or bring a water bottle when they go out or how frustrating decluttering a room can be. And I get to say, yeah, I hear you.

It’s a nice change of pace.

A list of recent conversations: One at the grocery store with Johanna’s seventh grade robotics coach; another at a picnic with someone I’ve known since I was 9; at the dentist office; and a rare fact-to-face visit with my dear friend Shannon (hi Shannon!).

The robotics coach was frustrated with her decluttering efforts (“Have you heard of KonMarie?” she asked) and we talked about how it takes years to accumulate, but we think we can somehow get rid of a houseful of belongings in an afternoon. I told her the difficulty in removing items is actually an important part of the process — it means you’ll think about how you’re going to get rid of any new items you bring in on the front end. She was not excited to hear that but said it made sense.

We also talked the Minimalists (“What do you think of those guys?” she asked). I’m a fan of anyone who helps bring the gospel of minimalism to the people and make it palatable (whether or not their style is my jam).

I told the family friend that Eric was actually the one who packed the reusable plates, cutlery and napkins for the picnic we were attending (I made my own lunch in my own container, as per usual), that I’d made myself an iced coffee before we came and yes, this glass is specially for that purpose, and that it’s easy to get used to carrying around a water bottle. She asked a few questions and made a few comments and seemed intrigued. (Progress, since she’s one of the ones who tried to talk me out of it years ago.)

I told the hygienist how I’d found some bamboo “perio sticks” that are not only Trisha-friendly on the diet front but also compostable with a recyclable or reusable tin container. She told me that was my best appointment ever and my gums looked amazing. I told her that I was inspired by her telling me not flossing ever was “not ideal.” That made her laugh. And then she was like, You want a plastic toothbrush? and I was like, Nah, and she nodded like she expected as much and then I left. P.S. She thought the perio sticks were a scam when I first told her about them; my mouth made her a believer. Eventually the dentist came in, said he’d tell patients about the perio sticks as an alternative to floss and said, “Hey, did you know you can get bamboo toothbrushes now?!” and he was so excited about sharing that information that I kind of felt bad that I had to tell him I’ve been using such a toothbrush for years.

And Shannon told my mom and me how, in honor of my birthday month last year, she gave up disposable grocery bags in favor of reusable — and that when she forgot them, she’d put single items back into the cart after checkout and bag them herself at the car. I was touched by her dedication. Then we talked about Market of Choice. What I could do with a store like that in my hometown! (Bulk apple cider vinegar? Are you kidding me? I WANT THAT.)

Anyway, what I’ve noticed with these conversations is that people are doing their best (even me, hashtag perio sticks) (hashtag yeah I know it’s supposed to be # but you guys, that’s really called the pound key and I can’t.) Sometimes it’s easier to be a minimalist than others. Sometimes it’s a matter of making up your mind and then following through. Sometimes it’s doing the best you can with a bunch of really terrible options.

Sometimes it’s about not buying that thing in the first place.

P.P.S. I know I’m talking about minimalism and zero waste as if they were interchangeable, because that’s how I think of them: Two sides of the same coin. That’s my preference; it’s okay if it isn’t yours. I am not the boss of you.

More updates: Plastic Free September, output vs. input, etc. etc. etc.

I’m out on the deck this morning. We had a rare Oregon thunderstorm last night (I should probably mention I’m writing this on Sunday), which knocked the power out for a few hours. We lit a few candles and it was all terribly romantic. Just kidding, it was dark and loud. All I could think about was Laura Ingalls Wilder trying to read or darn or whatever the hell they did back then by candlelight (well, kerosene lamp, I guess) — how hard that must have been on her eyes.

But the upshot: The air is clean and crisp. And it feels like autumn.

Plastic Free September continues. I was thinking earlier about how much packaged and processed foods we used to buy when we were newlyweds and how much we’ve stopped buying in those intervening years — mostly for health reasons, like forgoing packaged lunchmeat for actual chicken or roasts or whatever. But also because of environmental reasons, like buying bulk carrots (now at my favorite farm stand and they are delicious) instead of packaged carrots. It didn’t even occur to me back then that bulk was an option. Progress!

(Now it’s Monday morning, back out on the deck — Abby Facetimed and that put an end to my thought process; air is cooler still, but I know my days writing out here are numbered so what’s numb feet?)

Anyway, I have had a couple of challenges on the challenge front: The first was last Friday. I’d planned on taking a nice lunch break with my favorite salad and an Americano at a coffee shop; instead, I found myself the only member of the newsroom in the office with a breaking news story (or is that a heartbreaking news story?) and a loose 22-page paper to fill. Because I was planning on eating my salad at the coffee shop, I did not bring any containers — and this was an eat at your desk kind of day — but I did have a cloth napkin and fork hidden in a drawer, so while I my to-go order was in a paper box (lined in plastic, trash), I was able to save on the plastic fork and paper napkin (when I placed my order, I asked for no utensils). I always have my coffee mug, so while that was technically a win, it wasn’t really — I do that anyway.

The next was on our Saturday grocery trip. I needed coffee and forgot to bring a jar. I used one of their paper bags — again, lined in plastic. I can save it and reuse it, and that will be my punishment for the rest of the month. This is slightly better, plastic aside, than the packages of coffee I’ve been getting at the coffee shops lately (Stumptown! Ammiright?!) because those packages are immediate trash; there’s no reuse possibilities there. And also, the coffee I purchased Saturday was roasted right here in town.

Note to self: I need to start stopping by that particular coffee roasters again with my jars. They totally know how to fill them. I’ve gotten out of the habit.

(The clouds have parted just enough that I can see Mount Hood has a fresh layer — albeit slight — of snow this morning. That is awesome. Poor thing looks so bare by this time of year. Our glaciers are toast.)

Output vs. input

I came across an interesting online article by Ryan Holiday with tips on spending less time with your phone. Besides the usual (turn off all alerts, remove social media apps, don’t use for entertainment), he had a couple that struck me as so obvious but so genius: Start your mornings phone free; use the do not disturb setting; and whenever possible, replace your phone with another solution.

Oh, Ryan Holiday, have you been reading my diary? That is advice I can use.

NOT grabbing my phone first thing each morning is slightly difficult because I tend to fall asleep using a white noise app (it also serves as my alarm), but I can click those buttons, shut the app off and then place my phone face down on the dresser and go about my morning.

I’ve got the do not disturb setting on from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.; I may lengthen that time. I’ve got it set so family members can get through. Everyone else can wait. (Fact: No one really calls me anyway so.)

As for finding other solutions to the phone, that is interesting as heck. Instead of using my phone to check headlines, I can read a paper (or fire up Freida the Laptop, which I’m not as apt to do). Instead of using my phone for entertainment (looking at you, word games), I can play Uno with Johanna, who LOVES that kind of thing. Instead of using my phone to numb my feelings or help when I feel bored or anxious, I can … well, I’m trying to figure that one out.

My phone helps me connect with my kids, create paperless lists, fall asleep, listen to music. FIND WHERE I’M GOING. (All caps because wow, I am terrible with direction.) That’s amazing. Everything else is just noise.

Etc. etc. etc.

Back to my Friday from hell and no lunch break — basically a seven hour day at my desk wanting to cry: This week I have been working on taking breaks. Setting boundaries. Not killing myself. It’s hard because at the time, it seems so important to push through and crank out pages / stories / web updates / insert whatever here, but I think it’s also important to recognize that there is only so much I can do as a human, that I am not perfect, and that all I can do is make the best of the circumstances in which I have been given (small staff, big needs).

I can’t say I’ve been great about it, but it’s on my radar, which is half the battle, anyway. I think technically, just in my line of work, I need to be aware of the fact that there are days I am not going to leave the office for seven straight hours. But on the days I can, I need to take full advantage.

Because I’ve noticed that my stomach / anxiety is acting up these days as I head into the office. I dread it. That can’t be good.

Victories this week

I took everyone to a coffee shop for our weekly staff meeting Tuesday, and everyone got their orders in regular mugs. We talked about paper stuff, but we also just decompressed and messed around and had fun. I think that’s important. (And also I could do that because our editor was on vacation and I had no adult supervision. That’s what you get for leaving me in charge, corporate!)

Our publisher came in on Monday and asked if anyone wanted coffee. Hello! Yes I do! She pointed to my travel mug before I could even hand it to her. It’s nice to be understood.

(And now it’s Wednesday morning as I finish this post — just to keep you in the loop about my deck time. I did not expect this post to take so long to write, but here we are.)

No Plastic September

YOU GUYS.

No Plastic September just crept up on my radar. It was mentioned on a blog … I decided to do a little research into what I thought was an established September movement … and have found really nothing of substance to define what this even is, let alone whether or not it’s a real thing.

It might be a no plastic straw movement? Or it might be, like, do not use or purchase anything in plastic for 30 days?

I’m intrigued. By all of it. And I like a challenge.

So here’s what I’m going to focus on this No Plastic September (which I have decided to make a real thing):

Eliminating single use plastics. I take this to mean things like paper coffee cups (which are coated on the inside with plastic) and their corresponding plastic paraphanelia (lids, straws), plastic bags at the market, to-go containers, plastic silverware, and products that are wrapped in, lined with or are entirely made of plastic (yogurt containers, potato chip bags, cereal).

Full disclosure: I am going into this knowing full well that because of my stomach issues, there will be some plastic coming into the house on this front. I mean, my alternative for bread is a rice and sesame cracker that I eat daily. But I can up my game in other areas. One strike does not lose a battle.

Take my own silverware, napkins and cups. I do a lot of this already — it became a habit after our Zero Waste year. So I have a reusable water bottle, coffee canteen and even a glass to-go cup for iced coffee emergencies that go with me everywhere.

I am not always great about planning ahead with napkins and silverware. I mean, yes, I am fantastic about that when I’m packing a lunch in my reusable containers. I am not so great about it when I get snacky and end up at the store. I’m also not great at making sure Johanna has her reusables — she’s also got cups and straws and the whole works … at home. And she, too, has coffee emergencies. We can do better.

Focus on food storage. I don’t have many plastic containers left in our house — there are a few that have survived years of being packed in the girls’ lunches, and Eric has a set that he packs his lunches in every day. Most of our leftovers are stored in jars (Abby said her college friends who visited this summer were fascinated by all of our jars. That made me laugh. Apparently that’s not typical storage behavior?), and I’m not above putting a plate over a bowl and sticking that in the fridge. But because these behaviors are automated, I don’t tend to notice when plastic sneaks in. So for this one, I’m going to notice.

For those also intrigued but maybe don’t have the running start that we do,* some ideas:

Refuse straws. Just say no to plastic straws. Why? READ THIS.

Avoid fast food. It’s all single use containers, and all coated in plastic.

BYOC. Bring your own cup. Or mug. It’s astounding how much waste goes into that daily cup of coffee (HERE). Bottled water is also a scam and is also dripping in plastic (HERE). This is actually a fairly easy habit to get into — and honestly, just doing this all September if it’s not something you’ve ever done before would be amazing.

BYOB. Bring your own bag. I’ve been jacked to see more people with cloth produce bags lately — but just bringing a cloth bag to the grocery store and eliminating all of that plastic? That would also be amazing (HERE).

And just to get it out there, I realize that sometimes, you really do need plastic, like with patient care. When my father-in-law was in the ICU, that whole place was dripping with plastic.

I am pro plastic in these instances. It’s for the safety of everyone. What I’m talking about eliminating here are household plastics, coffee shop plastics, that kind of thing. We don’t need to be perfect; we just need to be better. I’ve talked with a lot of people who get caught up on doing things perfectly and then, when they mess up (as we all do), they get discouraged and just quit.

Did you learn to walk in a day? No.

From mistakes comes growth. That’s cheesy as hell, you guys, but it’s so true: Every failure is a learning experience. You’ll be more aware next time.

Okay, who’s with me?!

*We did a zero waste year, for crying out loud. I’ve elimiated most disposables and replaced them already with reusables — over time. I don’t think the point of this exercise is to toss all your plastic, run to the store and purchase new stuff. DO NOT BUY NEW STUFF. Or rather, yeah, you might need to buy new stuff (may I recommend a coffee canteen?) but you won’t know what you need for a while. I made the mistake of buying into the idea that to be zero waste — to eliminate the plastic — I needed to get “zero waste stuff.” What I really should have done was waited; I’d have made much better purchases if I had.

Learn from my mistakes!

Dear everyone,

Hey there! I did not mean to take a break from blogging — the words were there, but not the time. I like writing, so that was not an easy decision (and it forced me to do other things that weren’t as fun), but it was the right one.

I’ve learned to allow myself the gift of saying no. I’m trying to learn not to feel guilty when I do.

First things first: We took Abby back to school a couple of weekends ago and the Walker Four is again settling into its Walker Three Plus One Out of Town routine. Not my favorite, but I’ve got two years of this under my belt so essentially I’m a pro. Back to school is such an intense time, with its excitement and anxiety. What makes it easier is that she was ready to move into her new place, to see her friends and start classes. (Clinicals this year! We got her a stethoscope for her birthday. Wild.) Uh, and it also helps that we have Snapchat, Instagram, texting, FaceTime and emails to keep in touch.

We had a lovely summer. It’s time for the next step. I’ll quit crying eventually.

Johanna has wanted to get her ears pierced for several months now, and a trip to the big city with Abby in July seemed just the time to do it. That’s when we all learned you need a parent physically present if you’re a minor. Good to know. Anyway, we had some errands to run for Abby’s move-in weekend, so we hit the mall for that sole reason. The short story is that Jo got her ears pierced and I learned that the holes I let grow in when I was 14 were still viable — so I ended up with earrings too. It always surprises me when I see Johanna and her pierced ears, and then myself with mine.

We’re so punk!

Also: Johanna is a freshman in high school this year. I can’t even, except I have no choice.

One project I’m getting ready to launch (that sounds too high tech for what I’m planning) is a weekly quote from a woman on this very blog. Without getting up TOO high on my soapbox, I’ve noticed that most of the quotes I’ve collected over the years are attributed to men. I mean, that’s fine, but where are the women? You can’t tell me that we don’t have just as much to say. I think it’s more an exposure thing, or maybe a “who can yell the loudest” thing. Yeah, I said it. Nothing like having daughters to make you a feminist.

So that’s coming. Eventually. I haven’t figured out formatting yet.

Another project: The Simple Year anthology is now just me and Kerry (Year 1). No one else has time. I’m learning to use Google Docs. I wish I wasn’t.

But it’s fun to have projects going on that I’m excited about. Work has been kind of rough — we don’t need to rehash all that garbage, I’ll just leave it with this: Sometimes I really think about whether or not I want to continue being a journalist.

I think I still do. I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out, though.

One story I just covered that I was jacked about as a person interested in zero waste and social justice: A local church held a free clothing event where everyone was welcome to come and outfit their kids with whatever they needed. Church pews were sorted by boy and girl items, and then by size. The parishioners even made sure everything was cleaned beforehand.

They have a partnership with the school district and items unclaimed at the lost and found at the end of the year made up the bulk of the items offered, but parishioners also supplied brand new blue jeans because that’s what is generally most in demand.

With all the shitty news out there, this was a breath of fresh air. People helping people, no questions asked, no agendas. The whole ordeal was heartwarming and affirming.

Anyway, my dear internet friends: Off I go. I hope you are all well. Let me know what’s on your radar at the moment. I can’t be the only one with stories.

— TW

In which I try a shampoo bar

One of my consistent inconsistencies, as Eric calls them, is my willingness to try something new based on its weirdness factor. I like routine, I’m happy with my established likes and dislikes, I don’t need to go chasing the next big thing. Um, except when I do.

While in Banff last month, we happened into the Rocky Mountain Soap Company shop. Never heard of it, but this place was right up my alley — minimally packaged soaps of all description that weren’t overpowering (I kind of hate smells. Also, there were plenty of packaged items, but I wasn’t in the market for lotion).

As I looked around the shop for the lavender bar that had been supplied at the condo we were staying at — I wanted to get a couple of gifts — I spotted a rosemary shampoo bar.

You know, I’ve always wanted to try a shampoo bar. Back during my Simple Year/zero waste year, I thought a shampoo bar would be the answer to all my packaging problems. I was following a couple of zero waste boards at the time, and everyone seemed quite excited about their own shampoo bars. But, living in a small town with limited options, I never did find one.

And here was whole stack!

So I bought one. I talked to one of the shopkeepers and she suggested cutting it into pieces so I wouldn’t have an entire bar to contend with in the shower AND because it would help on the lather front. I took note and gleefully made my purchases.

Here’s what I didn’t think about before actually hopping into the shower with a shampoo bar: I have thick hair. We’re talking enough hair for three people, and I wish that was hyperbole, but it’s the truth. Ask the darling woman who cuts and thins it every three months so I can keep this mop under control. I lathered my piece of shampoo bar — wow, very nice lather! — and then … tried to figure out how to translate that to my entire head. I concentrated on my scalp. I tried my best. And overall, my hair did feel clean. It just that it did not feel like my hair. The texture was off.

I was ready to try again. And again.

By the third try, I decided that what I really needed to do was lather up in my hands AND rub the bar all over my scalp for maximum suds. And that was the best hair wash I’d had up to that point. But while my hair definitely felt and looked clean, the texture was still off.

The next time I washed my hair, I used Eric’s packaged shampoo and conditioner. And breathed a sign of relief. And then I sat down to write a post about my shampoo bar failures.

But as I was writing, it occurred to me that there was a possibility it wasn’t the bar, but my lack of experience / knowledge of how to properly use one. I did a quick search and found the following advice:

Rub the bar up and down your hair to work up a lather, rinse and repeat — and then rinse and repeat again for a total of three times, followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse.

Bonus weird round! I was on it!

So that’s what I did. I rubbed the bar on my hair in sections, and lo and behold, I got an amazing lather that translated quite nicely to my scalp. I repeated the process until I’d washed my hair a total of three times. By the third time, I felt like I had really gotten somewhere with the bar — my head felt clean.

Then it was time for the apple cider vinegar rinse. I have a squirt-type bottle I use for the bulk bins (bulk jugs, I guess) at the grocery store, so I filled that with a little ACV, topped it off with water (um, maybe a cup total?) and rinsed my hair all over with that. I used the whole thing because why the heck not? The site said that the ACV helps restore the pH balance. I could tell it worked right away as I was rinsing it out. (Um, wow, that hurts when it gets in your eyeballs.) I could tell it worked as I brushed my hair. I could tell it worked as I watched it dry.

My hair felt soft! It was manageable! There was a slight apple smell from the vinegar, but I didn’t mind. It’s the manufactured smells that make me feel slightly ill.

I will be darned. I guess I’m a fan after all. Good thing this Canadian company does mail order. 😉

That ended up being a really good stop.

A modest proposal

This Fourth of July, I’d like to propose that we ban over the counter fireworks in the United States.

My reasons are thus:

From an environmental standpoint, over the counter fireworks are wasteful. Most are not disposed of properly and can be seen littering the streets and sidewalks for days after they’ve been used.

Environmental standpoint II: This is fire season. Fireworks pose a risk of setting fires. And fires can be deadly and devastating.

From a pet owner’s standpoint, over the counter fireworks cause a great deal of unnecessary alarm. The kittens do not understand what these loud noises are, just that they are loud. I’ve written articles about pet safety for the Fourth, and dogs and horses are also at risk for running away or harming themselves as they attempt to flee the noise.

From a mother’s standpoint, getting a kid to bed when the neighbors are shooting off fireworks at midnight? Yeah, impossible.

I know that there will be those who disagree. Over the counter fireworks are fun, the booths provide fundraiser opportunities and it’s a once a year treat.

My answers to these arguments: There are city-funded fireworks on the evening of the Fourth (that could most likely benefit from a donation of whatever you would have spent on over the counter fireworks — I know our city would — and are more satisfying to watch then tiny sprays of fire), my favorite fundraisers are those where I give you money and you give me nothing, and it’s never once a year — it’s the week before and the week after, and then you have to deal with the noise again for some reason on New Year’s.

In conclusion, over the counter fireworks are an environmental hazard and can potentially cause unnecessary harm to children and pets. If the U.S. won’t ban them, then I’d settle for Oregon. Hell, I’d settle for just my city.

*Unlike my buddy Jonathan Swift, I am serious.