Archive for March 2011

Change Purse Tissues   Leave a comment

One of the waste-reduction measures that I implemented years ago was to stop carrying around the travel sized plastic tissue pouches, but instead keep a fabric pouch of tissues in my purse. It was one of those head slapper moments when I suddenly realized that a change purse is approximately the same size as a travel tissue pouch, and would work better without the plastic waste (for the pouch and the packaging for the set of tissue pouches).

When I conceived of the idea, of course, there were no change purses for sale at Whole Foods, or at the next Green Festival. Instead I settled for a Fair Trade zippered pouch sized for bills, which was twice as large as needed for the folded tissues, and slightly awkward in my purse. But a few weeks ago I saw pretty organic hemp change purses that look sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of purse life, so now my tissues are in just the right size pouch, and after a few years of making do I can say that this idea is brilliant! (As I pat myself on the back, apparently.)

To be honest, there are some drawbacks, namely that if I forget to refill it when it becomes empty, I have no tissues. While it feels faster, I’m not sure that walking to the closet and digging out a fresh plastic tissue pouch is really any faster than stepping up to the nearest tissue box, grabbing and folding a couple tissues, and stuffing them in the hemp pouch. And the reusable zippered (or snap) pouch has a big benefit: it stays closed. Never again will the little sticker meant to close the plastic pouch get linted up/torn off, thereby leaving the tissues defenseless against anything that rubs up against them. The side benefit is the fact that no matter what they print on the plastic pouch, I bet you can find a change purse that you like better; I know I did.

Posted March 28, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, frugal living, resource use, unshopping

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Lawn Weeds   Leave a comment

For someone who is not a big fan of lawns, I sure have been spending a lot of time lately maintaining ours. Specifically, as a person who likes meadows and strongly dislikes grass monoculture lawns, it seems almost incongruous how much time has been devoted lately to removing non-grass plants. First it was the catchweed bedstraw, which had me kneeling in one corner of the lawn for a few minutes every day pulling the plants out from the turf; now it is redstem filaree. It is interesting to look at my weed vs. not-a-weed decision matrix.

Some things are just plain weeds, defined as something that is invasive (non-native plant that is difficult to eradicate and disrupts the native ecology) or obnoxious. The catchweed bedstraw is obnoxious. Since the long stems and leaves are so clingy, it tends to end up in huge mats that grab onto your clothes and shoes every time you walk by it. I learned that the hard way at the old house. There was no way to prevent spreading the seeds when I removed the dead weeds this past summer, so I knew that I’d be on eradication mode this spring at the first sign of those seedlings.

Some things are most definitely not weeds to me, no matter what anyone else considers. Case in point: clover. Clover is beautiful and it is a nitrogen-fixer so it helps to provide nutrients for the other plants in the turf. I put dandelions in this category as well, actually. I’m excited this year for my spring detox to be able to walk out into my front yard and pick dandelion leaves instead of having to buy them at the grocery store.

Most other plants in the lawn have been in the lets-wait-and-see category. In the weeks after we dethatched and removed the mature weeds from the dirt/lawn area and reseeded with grass seed, the “weed seeds” outcompeted the grass seeds in some areas. I was certainly not going to pull hundreds of unidentifiable seedlings out from the dirt, so we let them grow. In most cases we really like the mix of plants, but there are a couple of areas where the non grass greatly outnumber the grass plants. That’s the case with the redstem filaree. The seedlings were these beautiful lacy plants, but in a couple of large patches they grew into a thick mat. They still looked fine, though, and we we let them be and figured that mowing would keep them from all going to seed and getting worse. Then they put out these beautiful little purple flowers, and I didn’t have the heart to mow flowers. At least until the immature seeds started popping up. So now those patches have been mowed twice in one week, and I’ve gone out with clippers a couple of times to remove the seed heads before they mature. Now that I’m seeing these plants in action I’ve decided that there’s another category of plants that can be considered weeds: anything that forms a mat. When the plants die, they leave a big hole in the ground cover, and that’s not pretty.

Posted March 25, 2011 by mayakey in environment, gardening

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Ostara Eggs   1 comment

This past weekend was the vernal equinox, and we celebrated by dying eggs. I love dying eggs, and I also have a mission to figure out several options before I have kids for how to get colorful eggs using non-toxic, natural, accessible dyes. This year we did turmeric because I am still working on the extra spice jar that I accidentally bought a couple years ago, and black beans because they have done such a good job of dying our slow cooker.

Dyed EggsThe turmeric of course does a great job, especially using a lot of it with a splash of white vinegar. The black beans didn’t work as well as we had hoped. The colors didn’t come out very well in the picture but they are mottled brown. The beans actually did a better of job of dying the underside of the shell and the membrane, which are speckled with purplish-dark brown spots. Black beans may be worth trying again, and next time I’ll completely cook the beans instead of just cooking them for a half hour before adding the eggs.

Other years I’ve had good luck with beets, grape juice (grey or purple depending on the grape I think), purple cabbage (blue), spinach (light green), and tea (light brown).

Posted March 22, 2011 by mayakey in food

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Reducing Waste By Not Using What’s Provided   1 comment

At my conference this week there was a table out all day with coffee carafes and hot water for tea. It was Starbucks’ coffee so they had the branded paper coffee cups and sleeves out, as well as the plastic lids for hot beverages. On the first day of the conference I was warding off my husband’s cold so I was using the echinacea tea that I brought with me. Since the brewing instructions for that tea are for a stronger infusion to get all of the medicinal qualities, having a covered cup to keep it warm longer is a good thing. On the first morning, therefore, I grabbed one of the plastic lids for that purpose. I did notice that while most people at the conference had lids on their coffee/tea cups, some people didn’t. At some point on the second day as I was preparing myself a cup of tea I caught myself automatically reaching for the plastic lid and realized that I was being wasteful, so I put it back. Since the lids were stacked right in front of me it had seemed perfectly natural to use one, even though I didn’t need it. There was no longer a need for a lid to help make a stronger infusion, and since the conference mostly involved sitting or casual walking between sessions there was not much of a spill risk. Not taking the lid effectively reduced the raw materials/energy/water required for my cup of tea, and also reduced the mass of waste created.

It made me think, though, about all the times that we are presented with something that is not always necessary, and how often we take the thing and use it out of habit or because we forget that we don’t actually need it at the time. Other examples that come to mind are things like straws and condiment packets. Many restaurants bring straws when they bring drinks to the table, even though the glasses had to have been sanitized, and the patrons are sitting at a table where they are unlikely to spill their drinks while drinking them. Sometimes I wonder if restaurants do that because patrons are uneasy about drinking from glasses, they want to reduce the labor for the dishwasher, or some other reason. Most of the time it seems that the straw is just a waste of paper and plastic. Condiment packets are the same sometimes where the person at the counter throws a handful of packets in the bag before handing to the customer. I know a lot of people like to save the unused packets, although I’ve never understood how that is more convenient than a bottle of ketchup, but for those of us who don’t use/save them those packets just go in the trash and constitute a waste of materials/water/energy.

Posted March 20, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, resource use

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Yeay For Unwashed Towels!   Leave a comment

Sounds funny, but this week I have been extremely happy about unwashed towels. I am at a conference, staying in a hotel, and they are actually not washing the towels. I could have done a little happy dance when I walked into the room the first day and peaked in the bathroom to see the towel still hanging where I left it. Sure it may be common now for hotels to advertise that they are “green” by not washing towels that you leave hanging, or washing sheets only every 3 days or on checkout. However, in my experience, they don’t follow through. I always hang my towels back up so that they don’t get washed, and usually come back into the room to fresh towels. It’s hotel greenwashing. I mean seriously, at home the towels get washed weekly so I think I can live without daily fresh towels at a hotel. And it’s not just about the water use, although that is significant, it is also about all the bleach used to keep them white.

I know that I’m not the only one with this gripe since I’ve had this conversation with fellow “greenies”. At least I haven’t ever gotten to the point of leaving the “Do Not Disturb” on the door all day so that housekeeping doesn’t come in at all, just so that the towels don’t get washed. Although, now that I think about it… my bathroom and floor at home get cleaned weekly so I could probably live without the daily cleaning at a hotel, too. It’s so much of a hassle to avoid housekeeping, though.

Posted March 16, 2011 by mayakey in travel

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Lenten Fasts   Leave a comment

The season of Lent is a season of sacrifice, formation, and renewal. Lenten sacrifices get a bad rap, in my opinion. It seems that it is popular for people to give up things like chocolate, wine, desserts, smoking, etc. with no intention to use this period of sacrifice to bring about personal renewal. Without a purpose, what good is sacrifice? Sacrifice for the purpose of sacrifice seems rather pointless. But last year I had the realization that those very same sacrifices, even if made only for the 40 days, can be part of a very positive spiritual experience even if they are not meant to be permanent sacrifices. It is interesting that the sacrifices that have become synonymous with Lent in popular culture are actually not explicitly a part of Catholic dogma. Catholics are called to fasting, and that fasting can include many things. For years I have been distracted by the need to come up with something to sacrifice during Lent, and as a result completely missed the point and ended up sacrificing nothing, really. This year is different. Granted, I’m not on a good start since the first week fell flat, but this is a work in progress.

By fasting instead of sacrificing, I can make a connection beyond myself, and not just stay caught up in myself. Fasting helps to reduce the distractions that keep us from truly connecting with ourselves and our spiritual nature, and provides a means for solidarity with the majority of the world that have less than ourselves.

Food related fasting has been a challenge, since I live and eat with someone who has no desire/intention to join me in the fasting. Note that I’m talking Catholic-style fasting here, which means limiting food to three simple meals on fasting days. The idea of fasting in solidarity with the third world has long held appeal to me, and has usually meant that we eat a lot of rice and beans, or just cobbled together vegetable dinners during Lent (and the rest of the year as well, really). I really need to formalize it, and I love the CRS idea this year of making a meal each week that is representative of a typical meal for a poor family in a third world country. Maybe that way I can have my sacrifice and solidarity, and my husband can avoid any fasting or abstinence, all in the same meal! Of course, I missed the first Friday, and I’ll be out of town spending time with my aunt and grandma for the second Friday so this won’t start until week 3.

In addition to attempting to do solidarity meals, I am fasting from television this year, meaning no TV on Fridays and less TV the rest of the week. The purpose is not actually to watch less TV, but to remove that distraction that keeps me from truly connecting with my own life, self, and loves. My hope is that by reducing that artificial stimulation, I can better be stimulated by the things that I really love like my mind, my husband, good food, beautiful plants, etc. With the exception of the 1 and a half TV shows that I actually enjoy watching (I miss more CSI episodes than I watch, due to choir, so it only partially counts), when the TV is on I have to admit it is usually just making my head spin and not really adding much value to my life.


Posted March 13, 2011 by mayakey in spiritual practices

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It’s Alive! The Tree Is Alive!   4 comments

(This post is part of the Down-To-Earth “On My Mind” feature.)

That was my exciting thought of this morning. I was making my breakfast smoothie, looking out the kitchen window, when I realized that there were blossoms on one of the mystery trees. We’ve got seven trees in our back yard: one jujube, one nectarine (at least I think so), one dead lemon, one living lemon (maybe), one living unknown-possibly-citrus, and two that we don’t know either what they are or whether they are really alive. Now at least we know that one of them is alive, and hopefully we’ll find out what it is. I raced out with my camera to take these photos. The white blossoms are the mystery tree, and the pink blossoms are what I think is a nectarine tree.

As I took these photos I realized that I need to spend more time looking for beauty in the back yard, it is kind of neglected. My energy has been focused on the front yard because it is easier, ready for me to create the yard I want with no jack hammer rental required. The front yard already had beautiful rose bushes to entice me out as well. And for both positive feng shui and thinking ahead to future resale, the front yard is key. So the back yard still has the old mirrored closet doors we removed from all the bedrooms, and the pile of lumber and metal from the sketchy awning the previous owners had, and the ugly storage shed, and a lot of concrete. While it really makes sense to focus on the front, I need to remember to pay attention to the back yard so that I’m ready when its turn comes.

Posted March 10, 2011 by mayakey in gardening

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IPM Disappointment   1 comment

One of my current outdoor projects right now is weeding, specifically, removing catchweed bedstraw from a patch of the front lawn, planter, and wherever else I find it. This was a project that I knew was coming since there was no way to avoid scattering the seeds as I removed the dead vegetation in the yard after we moved in. However, I forgot all about it between last summer and about a month ago when I noticed the weeds sprouting. This weed is one of the few that I am immediately inclined to eradicate, because the leaves have little hooks that catch on everything and the plant has an annoying climbing habit. I wanted to check for the best way to get rid of it before delving in because weeding the wrong way can sometimes make the problem worse, or expend great energy to make no progress at all. So I went to the University of California Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program website (and then did an internet tour of several other state/university IPM websites) to identify the weed and then find out the particulars.

Unfortunately, the websites didn’t really answer all of my questions, and I’m really disappointed by that. I am a big believer in IPM, which is an ecosystem-based approach to managing pests. That means using strategies like varietal selection, and mechanical and biological control, before resorting to pesticides. In this particular case I was worried about the “catchy” nature of the catchweed bedstraw, since it seems like most plants that develop clinging mechanisms do so to help them spread. My big questions were “does the entire root system need to be removed” and “can this weed self-propagate from pieces of leaf left behind?”

The first question was sort of answered, but second question didn’t get answered. Every website did state that it spreads through seeds, and the UC website says “Cutting catchweed bedstraw to 2 to 3 inches usually is not effective and has been reported to actually increase biomass production up to 30% compared to uncut plants.” There was no explanation as to why cutting it results in more biomass, so I can’t rule out that it might be able to propagate from the leaves even if I think it probably just means that the plant branches out more to make up for the loss of height. I was really disappointed at how sketchy the information seemed to be on these authoritative websites, and I was really disturbed by the number that seemed to skip straight from “remove it before it seeds” to “here are the pesticides that work”. IPM is supposed to reduce pesticide use, so shouldn’t there be more extensive discussion of non-toxic control methods? Or am I being too demanding?

Maybe I’m just being too demanding. In any case, these weeds will not be going into our compost until I am assured they will not resprout, but will instead go into our green waste bin since “weeds” are specifically listed as acceptable material.

Posted March 7, 2011 by mayakey in environment, gardening

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One Year Blog-iversary   2 comments

Wow, I’ve been blogging here for a whole year! I hope someone enjoyed/got something out of something that I have written here. This has been INCREDIBLY helpful for myself on my journey, and I really hope that I’m not the only one. I’ve debated stopping, but I enjoy writing and at the least I know that I get value out of it so I hope someone else does too. I still don’t feel like I’m very good at blogging, since I don’t know that I’ve really found my voice yet. Part of the problem is uncertainty about my audience. At the outset I planned for my primary audience to be family and friends with a secondary audience of people I don’t know in person. But after a year I’m not really sure who my (tiny) audience is, and that adds to the challenge of deciding what/how to write. I’d absolutely love feedback, and a hint of who actually reads this blog. My big wish for the blog would be more comments and less of me writing into a void. I would really love to eventually use the blog to help me write a treatise that I have planned on rights and responsibilities, but that would require 1-an audience and 2-commenters. I intent to continue writing, because I’m having fun and can’t keep up with all of my post ideas. Time is definitely the limiting factor here.

WordPress’ stats are helpful at knowing if people are actually reading what I write and yet not because of all of the spam referrers. The blog stats page tells me how many page hits, referrers (websites from which someone clicked to my blog), and search engine hits. Unfortunately there is a chronic problem with spammy referrers messing up the stats for small blogs like this one, so I can’t tell how many people have read a particular post. Supposedly there have been 2,663 page hits over the last year, but it looks like around 15% are completely bogus. For example:,, ??? Apparently these sites send out bots as a way to promote the websites. I have to admit that at first I did occasionally follow a link, and they’re usually an ad or a fake blog. Some people reeeeeally need to get a life, and realize that bots are a really ineffective tool for promoting a website. Spam comments at least make sense from a sleazy-person-promoting-something perspective. And while there have been 158 comments, I have deleted 1,011 spam comments. Most of those spam comments were gibberish, some were in asian or eastern european languages, and most are very obvious if only by the completely advertise-y email addresses (nothing in the spam queue right now to use as an example).

It has been very surprising how may search engine hits this blog has gotten. It still totally weirds me out that this blog shows up on a search engine, but I have no objection. The most popular search terms have by far been related to carpet recycling in Sacramento and the Bay Area. Other popular search terms that brought up posts from this blog have been related to cable boxes, marmoleum, junk food, solar gas stations, smoothies, and whether pregnant women should pump gas. It’s fun looking at the particular search terms that people use.

So, again I say I hope that you’ve enjoyed some of my writing, and I’d love to hear from you!

Posted March 2, 2011 by mayakey in mission