A record of my efforts to live a more sustainable life.

U.S. Climate Bill Dies

The United States isn't going to have climate legislation any time soon. So much for Obama and his lofty promises of all kinds of nice things.

Well, this brings up a useful point, anyway. Yes, legislation is important. It is a necessary part of our efforts to fight climate change and pollution. World governments need to be in on this.

But we can't wait for them.

Legislation is slow. That is being constantly demonstrated to us. Each of us can make change now. Don't want another oil spill? Stop driving a car and cut way back on disposable plastic. Each one of us that makes these efforts decreases the amount of oil that needs to be drilled in the first place. These are the changes that add up. These are the changes that are necessary if we want to end our dependence on oil.

We are facing some huge, scary problems. They can't be solved by any one approach alone. We have to come at them from every angle. That includes legislation. But most importantly, it includes each of us.

Show Us Your Plastic Challenge - July 18 - July 24, 2010

Recyclable Items (3):
  • 1 chocolate ice cream tub (HDPE 2)
  • 1 envelope with window
  • 1 soap box with plastic window (I actually bought this in France 4 years ago and am finally using it.)

Non-Recyclable Items (9):
  • 1 bag from grapes
  • 1 bread bag
  • 1 cereal bag
  • 1 veggie ground round package
  • 1 soft tortilla bag
  • 1 yeast envelope (I need to find a store that sells yeast in larger quantities.)
  • 1 Taco Bell mild sauce packet (I need to find a sauce this delicious that comes in a jar.)
  • 1 mint wrapper
  • 1 pre-paid cell phone minutes card wrapped in plastic (MTS just changed to this from a printed out piece of paper. I am not impressed. I will be complaining, and figuring out how to switch to buying minutes online.)

Total Items: 12 (The week started out so well, and then the last few days suddenly ruined it. Darn.)

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

I nearly didn't have a post this week that wasn't a plastic tally! Luckily, today I heard about the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. And, before my neighbours to the south (and elsewhere in the world) stop reading this post, this is actually the Canadian part of a worldwide effort organised by the Ocean Conservancy.

Basically, every September (this year it's September 18-26), people all across Canada, and whatever other countries participate in this, get together in groups at locations organised by a cleanup supervisor. Anyone can sign up as a supervisor, or as a participant (but a cleanup has to have a supervisor before people can sign up for it as participants). The location can be anywhere that land meets water, including the shorelines of oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes, and so forth.

Interesting fact: I've been looking at the report from the 2009 cleanup, and the number one type of litter that was picked up overall across Canada was cigarette butts and filters. So that's just one more reason on the huge list of reasons you should stop smoking!

I am very excited about this event. I can't believe I'd never heard of it before. So far, the locations I've looked at don't have supervisors yet, so I may consider signing up as one. I'm not generally the leadership role kind of person, but I'm sure it would be a good experience. Wherever you are, I'm sure you live near some kind of water, so get out there this September and make it look pretty, the way shorelines should! You'll be doing the wildlife a huge favour.

Just make sure you remember that the best thing you can do to fight litter and pollution is to stop the use of disposables in the first place, starting with your own daily habits.

Show Us Your Plastic Challenge - July 11 - July 17, 2010

Recyclable Items (1):
  • 1 FedEx envelope with plastic layer on the front (HDPE 2)

Non-Recyclable Items (15):
  • 1 vegetable radiatori bag
  • 1 ice cream tub seal
    • I don't normally buy ice cream with such superfluous packing. My mom got it free from a sale.
  • 1 wrapper from an earring I ordered online
  • 4 tiny bags for 4 tiny pins that I ordered online, which were ridiculously packaged
  • 2 CD wrappers
  • 1 soy milk seal
  • 1 pill package
  • 1 tea bag wrapper
    • I didn't know when I bought these assorted fruit teas in a box that each flavour would be contained in a plastic package. *sigh*
  • 1 spaghetti bag
    • I have informed my mom that spaghetti is available at the Bulk Barn, and that I have a reusable bulk bag that's big enough for it, so we'll be switching to that.
  • 2 old swipe cards
    • I cleaned my room and found an old recreation services card from the University of Manitoba, and my employee discount card from when I worked at Extra Foods.

Reused (1):
  • 1 USPS envelope with bubble wrap padding

Total Items: 17 (Not so good!)

A Bicycle Adventure

I went on a bike adventure on Sunday, with my boyfriend, Jonathon. It was partly just for fun, partly to prove that you don't need a car to have a lovely day of adventuring, and partly for the challenge of biking clear across the city, from Transcona to Assiniboine Park, which is about twice as far as I bike to work (Transcona to the Exchange District). I estimate that it's about an hour's steady ride. It took us two hours, because we stopped for lunch, to buy used books, and to take a picture of this dumpster because it is now officially my favourite piece of graffiti in Winnipeg:

We ate lunch at Boon Burger, which is "Canada's first all vegetarian burger cafe!" I am very excited that this place exists, so if you live in Winnipeg, or ever visit here, I must insist that you try it. It did not disappoint. Jonathon had the Boon Burger, which has a mushroom and rice patty, and is topped with mayo, dijon, peachy chutney, onion, cucumber, tomato, and lettuce. I had a Salsa Burger, which also has the mushroom-rice patty, but is topped with salsa, avocado, swiss cheese, red onion, and lettuce. Oh my goodness, yum. And all their burgers can be made vegan! I forgot to take a picture of my meal before I started eating it (I was really hungry!), so this is the closest I have to a picture of the food (please excuse the helmet hair; this was a bike adventure after all):
As you can see, the burgers are pretty big! I was full all afternoon.

Once we got to the park, we played catch and frisbee and enjoyed the sun. It was like a mini-staycation! We also went to the ice cream shop and the conservatory, and enjoyed some of the great trails Winnipeg has around its rivers. If only the whole city had trails like those! I'd bike everywhere!

On the way back, we stopped to cool off by the fountain at the Legislative Building, and we got candy at the Forks (I bought a box of Nerds, since pretty much everything else was wrapped in plastic).

So, I had a wonderful day of fun, and it was totally carbon-neutral! Well, I'm not sure what it takes for food to be actually "carbon-neutral," but the food was vegetarian, Boon Burger makes everything from scratch, and they use "a wide variety of organics," according to their menu. So that sounds good to me!

Making No-Cook Jam

I went strawberry picking on Saturday, for the first time since I was a little kid going berry-picking with my grandma. I picked four pails of strawberries, and decided to try my hand at jam-making. Through much asking of questions, I learned that there is a type of jam called freezer jam (or no-cook jam), which is like regular jam, but way easier to make! It doesn't involve any sterilising of jars or cooking of fruit. The trade-off is that it only lasts a few weeks in the fridge, or up to 8 months in the freezer, as opposed to the years you get with cooked jam.

So, when I got home, I went to the grocery store and bought some pectin. It came with detailed instructions. In less than an hour, I had six jars and two plastic containers full of strawberry jam sitting on the kitchen table to set before being put in the freezer. To show you how easy it was, I'll share the process I used, though the specifics may vary with the brand of pectin you buy.

First, you wash the strawberries and cut off the tops. That's the biggest part of the work. Luckily, my mom did it for me. Yay moms!

Next, it's time to mash the strawberries! This is the fun part. It works best in a really big, wide bowl, like this popcorn bowl I used.

Then you mix the fruit with the sugar. In the recipe I used, it was two cups of mashed strawberries and four cups of sugar. I think those measurements are fairly constant across recipes, or at least the proportion is. Once this is thoroughly mixed, let it stand for 10 minutes.

The pectin I bought was in crystal form, so it had to be mixed with water and boiled, stirring constantly, for one minute. Pectin can also be bought in liquid form. In that case, I'm not sure what happens here. I imagine it would still need to be heated up, anyway.

The hot pectin is then poured into the fruit and sugar mixture. Stir for three minutes, and voila! The jam is ready to be poured into jars or other freezer-safe containers! Then, it needs to sit out at room temperature for 24 hours to set. Here's my final product:

Overall, it was a pretty fun experience! I'll definitely be making jam on a yearly basis now. Of all the foods you can make at home to avoid the packaging and the carbon footprint caused by the food's travel, freezer jam has to be one of the easiest.

Show Us Your Plastic Challenge - July 4 - July 10, 2010

Recyclable Items (3):
  • 1 paper bread bag with plastic window
  • 1 USPS envelope with a plastic protective covering on the front
  • 1 soy milk carton

Non-Recyclable Items (10):
  • 1 caramel apple pop wrapper
  • 1 bread bag
  • 1 cereal bag
  • 1 magazine wrapper
  • 1 Bits & Bites bag
  • 1 icing tub from cinnamon buns
  • 1 little ziploc bag from a sample tea bag
  • 1 mesh garlic wrapper
  • 1 Swedish Berries bag (I bought them in a cardboard box, saying "Ooh! No plastic!" When I opened the box, it contained a plastic bag! Ugh.)
  • 1 microwave popcorn wrapper

Total Items: 13

My Backyard Gardens

I've been meaning to write about my gardens. After a couple summers of gardening I'm still definitely a beginner, and I make a lot of mistakes. So hopefully if I point out my own mistakes here, someone will learn from them. And maybe you can teach me some stuff along the way too!

So, for today, I'll just show/tell you what I'm growing (or trying to grow) this summer. Tomatoes are something I can always grow. They're nice and easy. In the picture above you can see the beginnings of my cherry tomatoes, which are grown in a pot on the patio. I've never grown cherry tomatoes before, so I'm excited to see how they turn out. They seem to be doing well, so yay! The specific variety of these is Tiny Tim.

To the right is a picture of the garden behind my house. In it, I grow raspberries (though I just bought the bush, so I don't think it'll have fruit for awhile), cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, chamomile, Swiss chard, and some watermelon seeds that don't seem to be doing anything. We also have a big rhubarb plant, and my mom has some flowers. I don't know what the flowers are, since I only really like growing things I can eat. The garden looks a little bigger in real life than it does in this picture, it seems to me.

This is my chamomile! This is the one plant that's really been thriving this summer. I actually planted it last year, but then never got around to learning how to harvest it to make tea, so it just stayed there. Normally chamomile is considered an annual, but I guess if you don't harvest the seeds it spreads and comes back the next year. So that was an exciting discovery in the spring! Now I just have to learn to harvest it before I miss my opportunity again this summer.

Now, I have a question for any knowledgeable gardeners that might read my blog. This is the area in which I planted Swiss chard seeds. I've never tried to grow that before, and while I've seen a picture or two of the fully grown plant, I don't know what to look for as it's poking out of the ground. Can anyone tell me if there's any Swiss chard amongst this patch of what are probably weeds? That would be awesome.

On a more successful note, this is my new garden! It's on the other end of my backyard, right by the back lane. It was supposed to be a raised garden, since the ground sort of slopes down in that area, and the soil is really dense. However, instead of wood, I ended up just bordering it with hammer-in edging. So it's only "raised" a couple of inches. It seems to be doing well, though. In it, I planted sunflowers, turnips, green onions, parsnips, and carrots. I planted sunflowers in four spots along the back, with two seeds in each spot, but unfortunately the bunny that frequents my yard ate almost all of them when they were seedlings. Only two are left now, and they were planted in the same spot, so I'm hoping they won't get in each other's way.

Now, here's another problem area. This is where I planted the parsnips. I'm not sure if any of this is anything but weeds. Therefore, I can't pull any weeds, because for all I know, they're parsnips! If/when I figure that out, I'll let you know. Hopefully some rows will emerge and it will become clear.

And finally, to end on a happy note, look how well my carrots are doing! I love carrots fresh from the garden. They're one of my favourite things to grow, along with tomatoes.

I also have a plot at a community garden, so as soon as I find the time to get out there to work I'll take some pictures and write a bit about how that's going. At some point I'll also write some more informative posts about gardening. Are there any specific topics you'd be interested in reading about? If so, let me know in the comments!

Show Us Your Plastic Challenge - June 27 - July 3, 2010

Recyclable Items (3):
  • 1 soy milk carton (plastic spout and lid)
  • 2 envelopes with plastic windows

Non-Recyclable Items (9):
  • 2 granola bar wrappers (I was at a dance festival, so I was living on granola bars. I was ill-prepared.)
  • 1 microwave popcorn wrapper
  • 4 zip ties (used to attach some chicken wire to my bike)
  • 1 soy milk seal
  • 1 spice jar seal

Total Items: 12