Monday, December 9, 2013

Wardrobe Update, Part 1: Where do I start?

I've posted a few times about my weight loss and subsequent wardrobe loss.  That process has now gone on for more than a year, as I slowly ceased to fit into most of my old clothes.  Or, more accurately, I slowly stopped being able to convince myself that each piece was fitting anymore.  I've now taken at least 3 international suitcase loads of clothes to the thrift store.  There's another grocery tote full in my room right now waiting to be donated.  (I still don't know I managed to own that many clothes to begin with.)  The process has been cathartic, but also terrifying.  I've had many pieces for a long time, because my height and weight haven't changed much in ~10 years.  I had a set of conference clothes I was confident wearing.  A set of sweaters I could stand by in winter.  I don't like change.  And I don't like shopping.

Clothing and fashion frustrate me, and always have, because I don't understand the rules (and I have some, um, choice opinions about the attractiveness of many 'fashionable' styles).  I explain my lack of a fashion sense by the fact that I wore a uniform to school for 13 years of my life.  I didn't have a big social life, so after school I'd either wear my uniform to things like piano lessons or choir rehearsal, or I'd throw on a baggy t-shirt and jeans.  That slowly changed in high school, but not by much.  The t-shirts just got less baggy.  In high school, we used to joke about wearing our uniforms in college because then we wouldn't need to think about clothes in the morning.  I ended up wearing a "uniform" anyway - most days I wore sneakers, jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie.  On a SLAC campus, that worked fine for me.  It doesn't work so well for grad school in New York City, so I've worked on adapting, but I'm still mostly mystified.

The one thing I've learned in the last 5-6 years is that most current fashions do not suit a petite, pear-shaped woman whose BMI sits around the border between 'normal' and 'overweight'. Skinny jeans? Not my friend. Cropped pants? I look like a hobbit.  Loose, slouchy tops? I lose all definition on my upper half, and look bigger than I am.

So I tried to do research.  I had in my head that I wanted a capsule wardrobe.  Simple and small, right?  I spent time compiling wardrobe tips for capsule wardrobes in my size and shape.  I learned a lot about what I should and should not wear (boot cut/flared jeans! empire waist dresses! focus attention at the waist and above!), but most of those capsule wardrobes were geared towards women in business and women who already had an eye for fashion.  Plus, it involved finding 20+ pieces that were all different (2 pairs of pants, 1 skirt, 1 dress, etc) but that all magically go with everything else.  Great for those with a closet base for that wardrobe, and the eye to make the combinations work.  But the shopping and the combining were too daunting for me.

Then, I found Into Mind.  She blogs about taking "a minimalist approach to personal style", and creates a capsule wardrobe via a different method.  She mentions the "Modular Approach" described above, but she focuses her capsule wardrobe around the "Uniform Approach".   Basically, about 2/3 of the clothes in her primary wardrobe are dedicated to her 'uniform' for the season - a particular outfit outline where she owns 3-4 versions of each part of the outfit (4 pairs of shoes, 4 tops, 4 bottoms, etc, where each category contains similar items of different color and/or different style).  Most days, she mixes and matches the 'uniform' items to create her outfit for the day.  The other 1/3 of her capsule wardrobe provides variety, either through mixing with 'uniform' pieces or through a completely different look.

Hey! Sounds like the way I work! I (sort of) know what I like, I don't want to think too hard in the morning.  I like the idea of having fewer things in my closet, but knowing that what I have suits my lifestyle and my body.  I just need to update my 'uniform' to grad school life in NYC, and then maybe I can stop thinking about this quite so much.

What did I decide on for my uniform? Did I survive my shopping trip? Did I break the bank? All this and more to come...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hello there sunlight

About 2 hours ago, I submitted my NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Proposal.  I'm excited about the project, which I will actually start next week, and I have a halfway-decent chance at getting the Fellowship. 

I'm now climbing out of the hole that application made in my life - the sunlight greeting is an exaggeration, I will admit, but my life has been far more work than fun for the last few months.  The NSF hasn't been the only big work thing looming over my life, but it was the biggest deadline.  Now that it's over, I can do things like grocery shopping (not wasteless unfortunately, but now I have food in my cabinet again so I'm accepting that for the moment). 

I definitely started myself off onto the wrong foot this semester.  I've been running nonstop since I went to France for a conference in August, to the point where even taking time to have dinner with friends or cook or relax on my own felt hard.  I got a few moments - weekends or days away where I intentionally left the computer behind - but overall, I have been a little ball of stress.  And it's affected my life in a lot of ways.

For one thing, I haven't been shopping the way I want to.  In some ways, that's been good because I've been using up things in my cabinet.  On the other hand, I've had a CSA share in my fridge for 2 weeks and I should probably deal with that, but I haven't felt like cooking for a while.  I finally ran out of things in my cabinet and had to go to the neighborhood grocery store, rather than to the CoOp I'd rather shop at but which is far away.  And, particularly in the last week I've just been eating out.  My wallet's not thrilled with me, nor is my conscience. 

I also learned that when I don't get to spend time with friends, especially when I'm stressed and really do need to talk, I become a giant crankypants.  The day before a midterm several weeks ago, I nearly yelled at one of my officemates (of which I have 6, which is a whole other issue) and had to cut myself off midway through a loud, frustrated outburst in response to him.  At which point I walked to a nearby park, sat down, cried, and realized that I was not ok.  I've been spending more time with friends and with myself, but I need to give myself permission to continue doing so.

In short, I've learned that work will expand to fill the time I give it.  I'm hardly the first person to learn this lesson, I know.  But it was hard to be in the middle of it, knowing that I needed to relax and slow down but feeling trapped by the need to get everything done.  I could have asked my advisors and collaborators to give me a week or two off, but I wasn't willing to.  My classwork is mediocre, so I feel like I have to prove myself with research, but the lack of hard deadlines within that is messing with my head.  I'm impatient to get things done, and wanting to impress, but I need to stop biting off more than I can chew.  Otherwise, I'm gonna burn out. 

Anyway, that's me.  Hopefully regular posting will now resume, and there will be one less thunderous looking graduate student on campus. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I wish I was canning

At the beginning of the summer, I decided that canning was going to take up too much time, so I didn't invest in a canning kit and jars.  I figured I could freeze what I needed.

Well, I'm taking up half the freezer.  I was so used to my old roommate never using the freezer, I forgot what it would be like to seriously share it.  One of my roommates is also freezing food for the winter, and we're running out of space fast.  I'm not sure what we would do if our third roommate were using the freezer in any significant way.  She's moving in a few weeks, so she hasn't added much, but I could see it getting bad if three of us wanted to use significant amounts of space. 

But here's the problem.  I have 5 weeks left in my CSA.  In those 5 weeks, also I need to do the following things:
  1. Finish the paper from my 1st-year project.  That WILL happen by Friday.
  2. Finish the paper from my undergraduate project.  My 2nd-year project is with a group that is co-lead by of my coauthors.  She's apparently complained about this enough that my PI says my first month is just finishing this old paper.
  3. Apply for an NSF fellowship (this assumes the shutdown is resolved before that deadline).  I have no idea what my research plan will be.
  4. Grade 2 undergraduate midterm exams.
  5. Take my own midterm exam.
I really, really wish I had learned to can this summer.  I did learn that after one or two long, rough tries at a complicated recipe, I can make it pretty efficiently.  I figure canning would follow the same thing.  But I've run out of time for trials.  I'll have basically 1 evening per week to cook.  That already takes several hours, especially if I invite a friend over for dinner, and the thought of trying to learn a new skill on top of it makes my head spin.  So I'm either going to have to start giving veggies away, or figure something out to keep from wasting them.


(p.s. my CSA list is the same as it's been for weeks, so I'm just not posting it)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Summer Goals Recap

I had 5 goals for this summer. How did I do?

1. Work hard and efficiently at research.  This is why I'm here.  Subgoals:  Get the paper from my undergrad project submitted and through revisions (that depends a bit on collaborators and reviewers).   Get the paper for my current project finished by the time I go to a conference at the end of the summer (in France!)

The first half of this, I think I did alright on.  There were definitely some questionable days, but I'm overall pretty happy about how I did.

Subgoals: not met.  I mostly blame collaborators on the undergrad project, because they didn't get back to me for the entire summer until 3 days before I left for my conference.   For my current project, I'm getting close, and since I have to turn a write-up into my department next Friday, I'm pushing to finish the actual paper by then and just turn it in to the department as well.

2. Get my NY residency squared away and transfer all my mail, etc, up here.  I'm no longer a dependent on my parents for tax purposes, so I'm ready to transition away from MD being my primary residence.

Yeah, didn't happen.

3. Get my savings in order.  I set aside some money throughout this year, but didn't do anything with it besides stick it in the bank.  I have a mutual fund that is wanting for contributions, and I want to open a retirement account.  Subgoals: talk to HR since they sent me a letter about retirement plans, and research said plans.

Accomplished.  I opened a Roth IRA, and had a phone conversation with a Vanguard rep who talked over some of their offerings with me.  For the most part, it wasn't anything I hadn't seen on the internet, but it was nice to actually talk with someone and hear things laid out for me specifically.   I haven't contributed to my mutual fund, but I'm not sure whether I will, since it's not tax-deferred. 

4.  Sort some personal stuff out that's currently keeping me from dating anyone, and some other stuff that's screwing up my relationship with my parents.  These might be the same stuff; I'm not yet sure.

Sort of.  I've identified some of the issues with my parents, and I'm working on strategies for improving that relationship.  Related to dating...well, I'm making progress.  I think I'm nowhere close to getting everything sorted, but I'm starting to be ok with going forward and continuing to work on myself, rather than stall.  That could be good or bad, we'll see.

5. Eat or preserve everything in my CSA share each week.

Not perfect.  Maybe 1/3 of the weeks something's gone bad before I could eat it, but it's gone pretty well aside from that.   I've done very little preserving, but that will be changing in the fall since I plan on freezing a lot of things.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

CSA Week Something: Classes have started, but I made good pasta sauce

Argh.  Radio silence was due to vacation combined with a conference in Europe, and then having less than 24 hours between landing and my first class.  And tomorrow I start teaching!

This week, we got:
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes (1 large, 3 medium, 5 purple-y and 5 yellow plum ones)
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini/Summer Squash
  • Basil
  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Bell Peppers
  • (Chili Peppers) traded for a bell pepper and another squash
  • Edamame
  • Potatoes
 I did some major cooking last week, which made me happy.  A friend left the city semi-indefinitely and we decided to have a small get-together at my apartment, so I made lettuce soup and chicken, and she brought some food as well.  My share partner Chris took the cucumber, squash, basil, arugula, and potatoes.

After Tuesday, I made a couple big batches of food from Grandma's recipe book :)  First up was corn pudding - I boiled the corn on Wednesday, ate one ear, and sliced the kernels off the rest.  On Thursday night, I mixed the fresh corn with a can of creamed corn and made a half-size batch of corn pudding.

Also on Thursday, I made my Grandma's pasta sauce recipe.  My mom sent it to me last week, and I realized I'd gone hunting the internet and came back with a crappy sauce recipe, when I have a "Grandma's Recipe Book" sitting on my shelf from last Christmas, filled with trusted recipes.   So a much simpler recipe and 4 hours later, there's a lovely dish of pasta sauce in my freezer, ready for lasagna this winter.

I ate the tomatoes that didn't go into the sauce (the 10 smaller ones) with mozzarella cheese, basil from the plant I got from the CSA months ago, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.  So tasty, and so easy.

Finally, I started my freezer prep for the winter.  Or, well, I guess I started that before I left for vacation, but I'm now doing it consciously.  I LOVE bell peppers, and last year I learned to love chili, along with other dishes that need onions and peppers once they're gone from (or questionable at) the farmer's market.  So I freeze them.   I've got a couple containers of chopped bell peppers, and one of chopped onions, for chili and similar things.  This year I also decided to try freezing some thin strips of onions and peppers for stir-fries and omlettes, so I've got a container of those as well.  I could easily fill our entire freezer, but I think my roommates would not appreciate that.  I think the department freezer has some space, though....hmmm ;)

Monday, August 12, 2013

CSA Week 8: Saucy

No veggies from last week since I was gone!

This week, we got:
  • Tomatoes (1 large, 2 medium, and a dozen plum)
  • Potatoes
  • Rosemary
  • Onions
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer Squash
  • (Red loose leaf lettuce) Traded for Yukina Savoy
  • Bok Choy
  • Sweet peppers

I boiled the Yukina and Bok Choy for dinner last Tuesday with my share partner Chris.  He took home potatoes, a cucumber and the zucchini.  I kept the rest, most of which went into a somewhat successful attempt at making my own pasta sauce.

I think the sauce failed mostly from a lack of garlic and herbs; it came out tasting mostly tomato-y and not very spaghetti-sauce-like.  I also wonder if including the plum tomatoes had anything to do with it, since I know the medium-sized tomatoes are supposed to be better for sauce.  Aside from that, though, making the sauce turned out to be more straightforward than I had anticipated, so I think I'll try again. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

CSA Week 7: relative simplicity and late postings continue

This is actually about last week's share.   I'm at my parents' house this week, hence I'm discussing last week's veggie adventures while my friend Charity takes my half of the share this week.

Veggies from week 6 did not all get eaten.  I forgot to eat the tomatoes before they went bad.  And I hadn't eaten the lettuce, either, but I incorporated it last week.

Last week, we got:
  • Basil
  • Beets
  • 6 Cucumbers
  • 4 Squashes
  • Lettuce (Green Romaine and Green loose-leaf)
  • Swiss Chard
  • Red Onions
  • Green peppers

Lettuce soup made an appearance yet again - I had some left over from the previous week, so I made a giant batch and froze some.  I simultaneously like lettuce soup for simplicity and flexibility, but it's starting to get old, so I need to figure out something else because the lettuce just keeps coming.

I sauteed some squash, but most of the squash, cucumbers, and green peppers all got eaten raw, dipped in ranch dressing or garlic scape hummus.  It was a lazy week where veggies were concerned, and I didn't feel much like cooking.  It also helped me eat healthier at my desk, which has been a challenge lately.

My favorite dish of the week was roasted beets with ricotta cheese.  Even though the beets took much longer to roast than I had anticipated, that was a delicious lunch.  Cheese is tasty, but who knew it could be a very filling protein component to a meal? (Answer: probably half the internet, but I think the story of this blog is me figuring things out that half the world already knows).   And beets.  I've eaten beets before, all pickled, and though I liked them they were more accents.  As the center-piece to a meal?  SO. GOOD.  And super easy to cook, too. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Disposable to Reusable, Part 2: Hygiene

When I talk to people about trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, they almost always ask me for advice and/or say 'oh it must be so hard!'.  The first thing I tell them is to start where they can, and that the easiest place to start is by picking something that's supposed to be disposable and replacing it with a reusable thing.  So here are some of the ways I've switched from throwing away to reusing!

In part 1, I talked about switching from disposable bags and containers for shopping, cleaning, and food.  But what about more, um, personal areas?  Disposable products are marketed everywhere, but they aren't the only option.

An easy start is cutting tissues out of old t-shirts.  This is a great way to use old t-shirts that have gotten soft and snuggly - your nose will appreciate it!
I also have an old decorative bucket that I toss the used ones into until laundry day.

I bought some handkerchiefs at rummage sales, although some were free from my Dad.
Yes, you may object that you're putting something you've blown your nose on back into your pocket or purse, but who hasn't done that with a tissue at some point? There's a lot of cloth in these things - careful refolding prevents using the same spot twice.

Recently, I started shaving with a double-edge safety razor that belonged to my Grandfather. It works just as well as a plastic disposable or cartridge razor, although it takes some extra effort.
Going along with that, I also don't use shaving cream: I just use my regular bar of soap.

Ok, any squeamish males should stop reading now, personal details below...

For women specifically, we can cut out a significant chunk of trash and cost with reusable feminine hygiene products.  I started with a menstrual cup.
From SquawkFox, who has a list of top-10 reasons to get one
The Diva cup does come packaged in plastic, although its much less than tampon wrappers and applicators, and the hard plastic might be recyclable where you live. 

From a personal standpoint, I find the Diva cup way more comfortable and less hassle than tampons and pads.  It takes some practice to get used to inserting it and removing it, but it deals with heavy bleeding much more effectively than tampons.  Plus its made of silicon, rather than scratchy cotton.  You do have to take care of it, cleaning it with soap on a regular basis and boiling it at the beginning and end of your cycle. 

I back up my Diva cup with cloth pads.  These have more up-front cost if made by someone else, but some people do make their own.  I bought mine from Pleat and Moon Bees on Etsy.
Muffies Cloth Menstrual Pad Set: Choose Any Five Pantyliners
From Pleat on Etsy
Menstrual Pad Sampler FREE SHIPPING
From Moon Bees on Etsy

Moon Bees pads cost less because she makes hers out of undyed hemp/cotton fleece. It looks like she's only making dyed cotton pads now though.  Pleat's are prettier and her regular/overnight pads aren't as thick, but they're a little more costly.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Disposable to Reusable, Part 1: Food, Kitchen, and Shopping

When I talk to people about trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, they almost always ask me for advice and/or say 'oh it must be so hard!'.  The first thing I tell them is to start where they can, and that the easiest place to start is by picking something that's supposed to be disposable and replacing it with a reusable thing.  So here are some of the ways I've switched from throwing away to reusing!

Two of the easiest places to switch to reusable items are in the kitchen and on shopping trips.  

Reusable grocery bags are the base level.  If you do nothing else, do this.
I have more, but they're in the wash.  FYI, its a good idea to run these through the wash after every one or two uses.  It keeps bacteria from building up on the bags.  That's why I use cloth bags, instead of the plastic ones.

I made rags out of t-shirts I'd cut up for other purposes.
I also have some made from old towels.

I picked up cloth napkins from yard sales.
I actually have 6 more of these white ones, but they're stained.  Colored ones are better for hiding stains.

Then reusable produce bags and cloth bags for produce or bulk foods.  I'm actually known at my farmers' market for bringing my own produce bags all the time -  almost everyone else uses plastic ones (!!!)
The mesh bags are these from Flip & Tumble.  You could also make your own if you're savvy like that - my Grandma made my cloth ones out of her quilting scraps.  The rice bag came from a friend - I told him about my shopping habits, and he said he'd bought rice in this cloth(ish) bag, but wasn't going to reuse it.  So now it's mine!

Finally, I fill glass jars with dry goods instead of buying pre-packaged foods and spices.
Some of these jars used to hold other things, and I've reused them, while others I bought new.  Many spice jars in particular were purchased already filled, and I just refill them when I run out.

Look out for Part 2 next week!

Friday, July 19, 2013

CSA Weeks 5 & 6: Slow and Unexciting

I had little to say last week, and figured I'd have more this week, but that hasn't been the case.  Everything from the last two weeks has been eaten, and everything from this week will be eaten this weekend, but I haven't been branching out too much.

Last week's share included:
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • (Oakleaf lettuce) Traded for more turnips
  • Sweet Japanese Turnips
  • Collards
  • Chard
  • Cilantro
  • Green onions
  • A cucumber
  • Summer squashes 
I roasted the turnips with olive oil, salt, & pepper, like the kohlrabi a few weeks back, with similarly delicious results.  Lettuce soup occurred again.  Boiled chard.  The collards turned out ok - I cooked them with Trader Joe's chicken sausage because apparently adding meat helps the flavor, but I have yet to master the art of cooking greens slowly without drying them out.  My share partner Chris took the cucumber, squashes, and half the onions.

Then this week, I got:
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer Squashes
  • Japanese Turnips
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Green onions
  • An herb that I think is a form of mint
  • Tomatoes
 I say "I think" because Chris did the pickup this week, due to me being down with some weird illness, and he didn't read the list at pickup.  I say "I got" instead of "we" because he's going away, so he told me to keep everything.  Thus far, I've cooked kale with onions which took a lot of effort and water to keep from drying out while I cooked it.  And I've been snacking on the cucumbers at work.  The rest is waiting for the weekend, when I have visitors coming in.

Monday, July 15, 2013

And the winner is....


I'm disappointed, but I've given up.  I posted before about struggling to find a more eco-friendly deodorant.  Well, nothing eco-friendly was able to keep me from smelling funky by 3 pm, and one of them gave me a rash.  Here's the breakdown:

Homemade, coconut oil and baking powder

I smelled like a cookie, which I didn't mind but it was kinda strong, and I couldn't tell if other people noticed.  Nonetheless, the baking soda gave me a rash and further experimentation is on an indefinite hold.  I threw it away, which is why its not in the photo below.

I also tried 3 other semi-'natural' deodorants:

Tom's deodorant, Tom's deodorant/antiperspirant, Lush bar, standard brand-name.

Aromaco deodorant bar from Lush

Smell's good and mild, but applying it is a pain (literally, it's hard to get it to melt so it scrapes over my skin).  And doesn't really last.

Tom's of Maine, aluminum-free deodorant

Like the smell (lavender), but it fades by mid-afternoon.  And reapplication only helped for an hour or so.

Tom's of Maine, Naturally Dry Antiperspirant

Unscented.  Literally lasts about an hour.  I smelled gross.

And with that $20 spent, I decided to cut my losses and slink back to chemical, unrecyclable (but cheap!) Secret.

Although actually, with the new expansion to recycling, I might be able to recycle the container if I clean it first.  Not ideal, but better than tossing it.

*The brand is really irrelevant, it was just on sale.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Um, a Green Thumb?

Here's my burgeoning garden:

Basil & Dill, Peppermint, a currently blossomless petunia(?), and a sun-loving flower of unremembered name.  Also pictured: a window that gets direct sunlight!
I moved a month ago, from a sunless 1st floor apartment to an 8th floor apartment where the living room, at least, gets plenty of light.  So I decided the time was right to introduce some plants into my life.  My green thumb is pretty pale, so I hope they survive.  I consider this practice for a real garden someday when I'm not living in a city.  For now, I'm just excited because I have green, growing things perking up my living space :)

I initially had peppermint, cilantro, and two flowers I've forgotten the name of.  I think the one in the little pot is a petunia; the maintenance guy at my last place gave it to me when I moved out.  The tall ones I bought, but the name now escapes me.

There wasn't much rhyme or reason to my selections.  The flowers were supposedly hardy even when lacking water.  I like peppermint tea.  I make recipes that call for cilantro.  I didn't do much investigation about whether these plants survive well in an apartment.

Ultimately, the cilantro didn't survive.  Something infested the leaves, and some ants started a nest in the soil.  So out that went, and in went basil and dill from my CSA.   I think I'm due to get one or two more plants through the CSA, and those will fill out the left-most pot in the picture above.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

CSA Week 4: Socializing via vegetables

Everything from last week got cooked! Including very delicious roasted kohlrabi, thank you Miser Mom for inspiration :)

This week we got:
  • radishes
  • a cucumber
  • 3 garlic scapes
  • scallions
  • a dill plant
  • (lettuce) traded for another bunch of yukina savoy
  • choose 3 mustard greens -  I picked yukina savoy, chard and kale
This week the share didn't include as much food compared to the first three weeks.  All the bunches of greens were pretty small, and two shared meals took out almost everything for the full share.  I cooked the radishes and made garlic scape hummus again for my vegetarian friend Sloane on Tuesday night. Then my share partner Chris and I sauteed kale & scallions and boiled yukina savoy on Wednesday to go with dill & basil chicken.  The cucumber is headed for a July 4th picnic today,  the lonely chard went home with Chris, and that's the end of this week's share.

When I signed up for the CSA, I planned on cooking with Chris some weeks, but didn't really think about sharing my veggies beyond that.  In reality, it has given me so much more than vegetables.  I've fed friends at least once, and typically twice, from every delivery.  And that's been a huge blessing in my life.

There's the frugality reasoning - even when I add a protein and grain I'm coming out ahead of a restaurant meal (frequently a friend will bring one or the other, so I'm providing even less).  But the primary reason I love sharing my CSA is that inviting people over for dinner lets me spend time with them.  As a somewhat-socially-anxious introvert, it gives me an "excuse" to ask someone to come over.  Sometimes its hard to call someone and say "hey, can we hang out?" unless I know them well and have something specific to talk about.  Saying "hey, can I feed you dinner?" feels like a lower bar somehow.  Plus, acts of service is a big way that I show people I care about them, so I get to love on my friends.  In return, I typically get quality time with them, a major way that I feel loved.  So not only is the CSA good for my health, its good for my heart too.

Friday, June 28, 2013

CSA Week 3: Almost didn't happen!

Everything from last week got cooked! Yay!

I went with my friend Abigail to the Cloisters Tuesday afternoon, but when I left, both downtown trains from there were running with serious delays.  For a while I thought I wouldn't make it, and my share partner Chris was unavailable.  I'm usually one of the first to pickup at 5:30, but this week I only made it with 10 minutes to spare before it closed at 7:30!

This week's share included:
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Bok Choy
  • (One pot of cilantro) swapped for more Bok Choy
  • Kohlrabi
  • Broccoli
  • Scallions
  • Garlic scapes
Cooking occurred on Wednesday instead of Tuesday this week, both due to my train issues and because Chris and another friend, Maria, came to dinner on Wednesday. I made sauteed Kale and a new version of the lettuce soup from 2 weeks ago.

The basic lettuce soup recipe is still this one.  I used regular garlic instead of green, and scallions instead of onions.  I also cooked the rice longer, because it didn't get all the way cooked last time so the leftovers from the bottom of the pot had lots of little gritty bits.  Fully cooked rice plus less liquid in the end made for a thicker soup, but it was still really good.

My favorite recipe of the week is definitely White Bean and Garlic Scape Hummus.  Abigail pointed me towards it; it is filling and awesome.  I'm actually eating it with pita bread as I type this post. The recipe was simple and called for ingredients I had around; I used lime instead of lemon juice because my roommate left one behind when she left for the summer.

I boiled half the broccoli last night, and let the rest go.  There weren't any good specimens by the time I got to pickup, and this one was ok but wasn't going to last any longer.  Chris took bok choy and chard, and I've still got bok choy and kohlrabi to cook this weekend.  Anyone have good suggestions for Kohlrabi?  I haven't ever cooked it before.

Monday, June 24, 2013

My "No Moving Home" Fund

Despite knowing the importance of an emergency fund, and growing mine this year, I am pretty confident that I won't need it.  After all, grad school is a stable source of income and support, and I have good medical insurance (seeing as I'm still on my parents' plan for now).  So I thought of my emergency fund as a nebulous thing that I wouldn't need for 5 more years, just in case I can't find a postdoc position or there's a gap between defending and my start date.

But this semester I started thinking about whether I'm going to stick all the way to the PhD.  Maybe I'll leave and just teach? Maybe something else will come up?  Classes have sucked and I know that's a big influence, so I'm not going to make that decision until I have my Master's in hand (another 1.5 years), but the thought is there.

Simultaneously I've been thinking a lot more about my relationship with my parents lately.  And how much I do not want to move home (visiting can even be a challenge).  And then it occurred to me, that this was the reason to have an emergency fund.  So that I can continue to live on my own for several months while I transition to a new position, if my path changes that drastically.  In the same way that some folks build up an "F You" fund so they can leave their job with some security, my emergency fund is my backup plan to stay independent if I choose to pursue non-academic goals.

I feel like the money I'm socking away "just in case" has more of a purpose now, and that gives me more reason to stick money in the account. There's probably some discipline to saving with no purpose, but I'm glad to have an idea of where this might go.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

CSA Week 2: More green leafy things

Quick update from last week: I've already failed in my goal to cook everything from the CSA.  Gingery garlicy stir-fried joi choi was delicious, and made over the weekend.  The scallions and some chard stalks went into an omelet yesterday morning.  But the radishes, alas, did not make it. 

This week's share consisted of:
  • Bok Choy
  • (Green Leaf Lettuce) swapped out for more radishes
  • Green Onions
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard
  • and a little pot of Cilantro

My share partner Chris took kale, chard, and one bunch of radishes.  I kept the rest.

I have never cooked with radishes before, so the new experiences continue.  At pickup I thought I would cook 2 bunches, which is why I traded the lettuce in, but then I chickened out.   I made 'skilled-cooked radishes with pan-seared radish greens' with my bunch, which turned out to be way too tangy for my taste.  I think I could have handled either the radishes or the balsamic vinegar, but together it was a little much. 

I also made stir-fried bok choy.  One of my roommates is leaving for the summer, and she told me I could take some tofu she hadn't had time to cook.  I haven't cooked tofu before either, so I found a simple recipe for pan frying it in soy sauce.  Paired with the bok choy and some brown rice it was quite yummy. 

Green onions will go into meat sauce tomorrow.  There are probably better ways to use them, but I'm heading out of town for the weekend, so after dinner with a friend tomorrow I need something easily freezable.

Monday, June 17, 2013

That was easy.

I have a retirement fund! Registered on a whim (sorta) on a Saturday night in less time than it will take me to post about it.  Woo!

It wasn't truly on a whim because I've been thinking about getting my retirement funds off the ground for a while now. This is basically half of my summer savings goal.  For right now, the amount matters less to me than actually starting the account.  Which is a Roth IRA at Vanguard, in case you're wondering.  Their STAR fund has a $1000 minimum and waives the $20/year fee if you register for electronic statements, making it easy for me to jump in and start saving.  

Get Rich Slowly calls the STAR a "mutual fund of mutual funds, a safe choice for beginners."  Right now, I'm don't want to be hands-on with my money.  I want to set it and forget it, as much as possible, because there are so many other things going on in my life.  Plus, I have little desire to get involved with the stock market, and little knowledge* about investing. 

Opening the account was simple and straightforward.  I needed my Social Security Number and bank info (and money in said bank account).  It took me about 10 minutes.  And starting it is the thing.  It's there, its easy to access.  I can set up a regular payment, and start seriously saving.  

This feels like the first big step I've taken into adulthood.  I'm taking control of something that's not school or one of the basic needs in life.  My parents always handled savings.  I knew they were active savers - I saw them meet their financial adviser, and they talked about saving for retirement, and I heard them talk about our college funds - but I wasn't really involved.  Now I'm looking to the long term for myself, which makes me feel kinda weird, actually, because I know most other people my age aren't doing that.  But I feel good about this - I'm starting to take charge of my future and claim my independence.

*a dangerous thing, I know.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

CSA Week 1: New experiences

CSA time has finally arrived! Tuesday night was the first delivery, and I got together with my share partner Chris to cook some of our veggies (well, I cooked, anyway).  Lots of experimentation is involved - I'm not a tremendously experienced cook, and several of the items were new to my kitchen.

This week's share included:
  • Joi Choi
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Arugula
  • Scallions
  • Broccolini
  • and a little Basil plant

Lettuce soup might be the best recipe find of the week.  I strongly dislike lettuce, and typically avoid it.  It appeared in the share, though, so I looked for some way to cook up my least favorite green.  The soup turned out quite tasty: light, herby, and very summery overall.  Not fabulous as leftovers, because the bits of lettuce & garlic are a little tough after reheating in the microwave.  It's also best warm, but not hot.

I also made baked chicken and sauteed Swiss chard with mushrooms to round off dinner.  Leftovers abounded.

The joi choi and the radishes will be cooked this weekend once I've eaten tonight's remainders.   Joi choi is a new veggie to me -  it's kind of like bok choi's big brother from what I can tell.  My CSA newsletter highlighted it as the 'mystery veg' of the week, and I'll be making the gingery garlic stir fry recipe they included.  I haven't decided what I'm doing with the radishes yet.

Boiled kale and assorted leftovers went home with Chris, and he took the broccolini and half the scallions as well.  The basil will be an addition to my burgeoning window garden.

Cooking all that was definitely an adventure.  I don't think I've ever made that many dishes (4 including the kale) in one night.  It was an enjoyable challenge though, even if it did take longer than I thought it would.  I had a lot of fun searching out recipes that were within my skill-set but went beyond boiling or steaming or sauteing.  I knew the CSA would be good for getting more vegetables into my diet, but I think it's also going to be good for my widening my cooking experience. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Shaving update

Several months past the predicted trial date, I've finally tried out my safety razor.  And let me tell you, I'm a huge fan.

For starters, I had to clean the handle, as it once belonged to my grandfather.  I cycled through boiling it, soaking it in soapy water, scrubbing it with a toothpick and an old toothbrush, and soaking it in rubbing alcohol.  I went through that cycle at least twice, I think I boiled it one last time after that.  That seemed to get all the soap scum and gunk out of the crevices, and left me pretty certain that I'd killed any lingering bacteria.

Shaving with a safety razor does take some extra effort, compared to the plastic one with 3-4 blades.  I had to do two passes on my legs to get them smooth, and go more slowly.  I had to do a lot of passes under my arms, primarily because I was trying to get the blade angle right, and not doing short enough strokes.  That led to some irritation, but it faded in less than a day.  The extra time doesn't bother me much, because I shave about once a week so an extra 3-5 minutes isn't that big a deal.

I didn't use any fancy extra equipment, like brushes and special soaps, etc., that I'd read about online.  I lotioned my legs before and after, and I used my normal bar of moisturizing soap for the actual shave.  I also did my complete shower routine before I shaved, so the hair had a chance to soften up.  That system seems to have worked pretty well, in my opinion.

Some fuss, no frills: I think the safety razor is here to stay.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Goals

Classes are over; I've (mostly) recovered from the trial-by-fire final project from one of them.  After a research presentation on Wednesday and moving on Friday (!), I'll be set to roll into summer.  40 hours of research a week, and chilling out the rest of the time? Seems good to me.

Except I won't totally be chilling out.  I've got Things to do.  Here are my goals for the summer, both work and personal.  Some are lofty, some are mundane.  All are probably too general, but for now...

1. Work hard and efficiently at research.  This is why I'm here.  Subgoals:  Get the paper from my undergrad project submitted and through revisions (that depends a bit on collaborators and reviewers).   Get the paper for my current project finished by the time I go to a conference at the end of the summer (in France!)

2. Get my NY residency squared away and transfer all my mail, etc, up here.  I'm no longer a dependent on my parents for tax purposes, so I'm ready to transition away from MD being my primary residence.

3. Get my savings in order.  I set aside some money throughout this year, but didn't do anything with it besides stick it in the bank.  I have a mutual fund that is wanting for contributions, and I want to open a retirement account.  Subgoals: talk to HR since they sent me a letter about retirement plans, and research said plans.

4. Sort some personal stuff out that's currently keeping me from dating anyone, and some other stuff that's screwing up my relationship with my parents.  These might be the same stuff; I'm not yet sure.

5. Eat or preserve everything in my CSA share each week.

I plan on posting about 2, 3, & 5, for sure.  The CSA starts in 2 weeks; I'm probably most excited for that.  2, 3, & 4 are about me trying to figure out how the heck to be an adult.  Should be a fun Summer! :)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Thank You New York!

A friend just alerted me to some fabulous news that came out last week.  I'm a bit behind the times, but nonetheless I'm excited - NYC will now recycle all hard plastics!

I know recycling isn't the answer to all of our waste problems.  The cycle can only operate a few times on any one piece of plastic.  But nonetheless, for things like yogurt tubs that only come in plastic, I'm happy to at least be able to recycle them a few times around.  This will still reduce the amount of waste that's sent to landfills, and New York (and the world) need that reduction badly. 

I simultaneously worry that this recycling program will make it easier for people (including me on some days) to choose plastic packaging over metal or glass or no packaging, because the guilt over throwing the plastic away could be assuaged by being able to put it in the recycling bin.  That issue will take much more effort and education to resolve, but for now this is a step in the right direction. 

Another exciting part of that announcement, which should have been more than a blip in the middle, is that the city will also increase their composting ('organic recycling') programs at public schools.  Even less landfill waste, and more dirt.  I like it. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Food budget(ing)

At the beginning of January, I switched to an envelope system for my food spending.  I had planned to do this in the fall, but never got around to it.  I had given myself a $200/month budget for groceries and the farmer's market, and I figured I was probably in the ballpark.  At any rate, after my once-a-month grocery trip was complete I parceled out the remainder of the $200 for January into an envelope and tacked it to the wall.

And by halfway through January, I was below $20.  Oops.

I can say that I basically made it through that month without spending much more, but that's because I went on a ski trip with some other graduate students and paid for food there, not out of my 'grocery' budget.  I did commandeer all of the leftovers because no one else wanted to haul them home, but that's a small blessing.

I cut back in February and March, with ~$70-80 left over at the end of each month.  I only went to 4th St Food CoOp in February, and only to Trader Joe's in March.  Usually I go to 4th St and either TJ's or Whole Foods at the beginning of every month.  I also started out saying that I would be more careful at the market, and avoid some of the inherently expensive foods like baby spinach.

It worked, but almost too well.  The leftover budget from February and March will last me until May.  This despite buying greens frequently.  My overall market spending has gotten cut way back, which is promising from a budgetary standpoint and less-so from a health standpoint.  I really haven't been getting enough fruits and veggies.  It's getting better now as spring greens are coming in and there's a new, less-expensive greens stand at the market, but I wasn't able to motivate myself to spend a lot of time cooking winter dishes from the market. 

I got lazy about eating out, which I need to rein in for reasons both monetary and sustainable.  I also skipped meals a couple of times.  Unintentionally, but I'm still not really happy with that.  Hopefully as spring (slowly) gets in gear, I can get out of this food funk and back on the right track. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I posted a couple months ago about waffling over joining a CSA.  After talking with a couple other women in my department and doing some research, I decided that I will be part of a CSA this summer.  It's not the one I thought I'd be part of - I chose a slightly more expensive one that supposedly has better quality food.  I also joined with a friend from church - so in the end I'm paying $12/week and I figure it will even out. 

The CSA I joined is run by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.  They run several CSA sites around the city with sliding-scale membership fees based on household income.  I signed us up according to our combined stipends, which actually puts us at the top of 4 income categories.  They also offer a level for people buying shares with food stamps.

Part of the cost of membership is 4 hours of volunteer time.  I signed up to work two weeks of distribution, which will fulfill that.

The one thing that was disappointing about this CSA is that a half share means the full amount of food, delivered every other week.  You don't choose which set of weeks you're on - it's assigned by last name - and if you miss your week you can't just go the next week.  

That's actually why I scouted out a friend to split a share with.  In the end, I think it will be more fun to split with someone and share the experience.  And I think she's a better cook than me, so hopefully I'll get to learn from her too :)

Now when does my food get here?* ;)

*the first week of June. I'm just impatient ;)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I have to go shopping

For the record, this is not an I-love-shopping, closet-full-of-clothes-but-nothing-to-wear, fashionista 'have to'.  This is an oh-crap-I-don't-fit-in-my-clothes-anymore 'have to'.

Over spring break I went back to my parents house, and I cleaned out nearly everything that I had left in my closet.  I brought a few old summer clothes that still fit back to NYC, but nearly everything in the closet was dressy/business casual clothes or summer clothes.  Then, on Saturday, I partially went through my closet here.  And lo and behold, I filled another big bag with pants, sweaters, and skirts that don't fit me because I've lost 25+ pounds since the last time I wore them.  There are probably at least a dozen more items that should go, and they will when I lose a little more weight.

There's no option here - I can't just wear something a little loose or a little tight, and go on with my time.  This is skirts with waistbands that just fall from where they're supposed to sit, even with elastic.  It's shirts that hang loose where they used to skim curves.  I know enough about fashion to be embarrassed about wandering out looking baggy. 



I don't like shopping.  Fashion is mostly a mystery to me.  I feel awkward being the jeans-and-tshirts/sweaters girl everywhere I go, and I'd like to fix that, but that requires money, time, and clothing sense.

My closet is forcing me into spending that money and time.  And to spend wisely, I've somehow got to gain some clothing sense. 

I'm looking into a capsule/minimalist wardrobe.  Both for time/money/space reasons and because city living seems to have an affect on my waistline without a lot of effort on my part.  I foresee some more weight loss coming this summer and I don't want to buy a whole new wardrobe now that I might have to toss out in 6 months.  Plus, since I'm going to try to do most of the shopping at thrift stores, the fewer items I need to hunt for, the better.

So right now I'm trying to come up with an outline for my personal style (!?!) and a list of items to make up a summer wardrobe.

Then I just need to find a patient friend to keep me sane while shopping.  Hoo boy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Frustration-Filled Packaging

I was delighted to read about Amazon's 'Frustration-Free Packaging' a few months ago - I saw this video, and their website claims that works with manufacturers to box products in Certified Frustration-Free Packages, which reduces the overall amount of packing materials used.
Amazon Certified Frustration-Free packages are recyclable and come without excess packaging materials.
Combined, I assumed this meant cardboard packaging.  Imperfect? Yeah, but for something shipped to me in the mail, it seems like the best option. 

My headphones started to short out last week. I want to keep using my iPod until it dies, so the less plastic that I can involve in my headphones, the better.  I checked Amazon and found these, which are cheap as headphones go, decent reviews, and frustration-free packaged! The product page claims the following:
This item is delivered in an easy-to-open recyclable box and is free of plastic "clamshells" and wire ties
Woo! I thought.

Until they turned up at my door.  Looking like this:

I don't see how this is a significant improvement over a plastic clamshell, because I still need scissors to open it despite there being a little spot to tear the pouch.  Ok, it might be frustration-free in that sense, but that's still more work than a little cardboard box.

Also, nothing on the pouch indicates that it's recyclable.  And even if it were recyclable somewhere, New York City doesn't recycle plastic like this (they barely recycle plastics at all, but that's another post...). 

So I'm currently frustrated by Frustration-Free Packaging.  I'm torn over whether to return them.  Part of me wants to just give up and use them, and just write Amazon a letter, but at the same time...the letter will probably carry more weight if I make them give me my money back.  An infinitesimal amount of weight, given how much they make, but weight nonetheless.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Unusual Heirlooms

My parents came to visit yesterday, and brought along a package for me from my Grandma.  It contained the following items, all of which originally belonged to my Grandpa, who passed away 3 weeks into my freshman year of college.

That's two safety razors, some blades, a brush, a styptic stick, what I think is shaving soap, and Grandpa's shaving mug.

I've been wanting to try shaving with a safety razor for a while.  I ran out of disposable razor heads in November, and stopped shaving as I typically do over the winter.  I kept meaning to find a safety razor for myself, but I never got around to ordering one online. I was nervous about choosing and buying one one, and then potentially having it work out poorly.

Enter the heirlooms.  I emailed my Dad to ask if he had a safety razor, and he asked my Grandma if she still had Grandpa's.  Turns out she'd been trying to find a new home for these, so now they're mine :)  I'm really glad to have them.  It adds a new excitement for testing out a safety razor.  I get to use something that belonged to my Grandpa, even if my use is slightly different than his.  I'm not sure what he would think, but I hope he'd be proud of me for saving money by reusing something he has no use for anymore. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Countertop Compost

I've been taking my compost to the Greenmarket for nearly 6 months now, but I upgraded my home compost collection a few weeks ago.

I used to collect my compost in a brown paper bag in the freezer.  This was great for controlling the smell, but less great in terms of having useable freezer space.  And if I produced a lot of scraps that week, the bag might not fit very well.

Enter the countertop compost bin.  I found it on sale at TJ Maxx when I was home at Christmas, and got it at an even lower price because someone had stolen the charcoal filters that are supposed to come with it.  I found some cheap filters on Amazon, and set myself up a few weeks ago:

It turned out that the filters I got were the wrong size, so I just sewed one into the lid of the pail.  Thus far it's worked out pretty well, and I like having my freezer space back.

Although my goal was to stop using a brown paper bag for my compost every week, it turns out that composting in a pail still requires some extra paper.  Because I'm only taking the compost out every week or two, I have to line the bin with paper.  I use about 1/3 of a brown paper back, torn up.  Newspaper would work too.
This helps keep food from sticking to the bottom of the pail, and absorbs some of the liquid from wet food scraps and general decomposition. 

The only problem I've had so far was when I threw a couple of moldy items in, and then wasn't able to take the compost out for 2 weeks.  Everything got moldy, and the smell permeated the filter a little bit, and when I finally got to the Greenmarket, there was a fair amount of liquid in the bottom.  The compost guy told me it's not a harmful kind of mold, but it was just a little gross.  The label on the pail said only to wipe it out with a damp rag, but it got washed with dish soap that day.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Books, books, books

I wrote over the summer about how I'd purged a bunch of books that I'd bought but never read. 
So, I've been fairly restrained since the summer, but I figured I would dissect the books I've bought since then, and what my attitude was at time-of-purchase.

Books are my "Gazingus Pin", as Nicole and Maggie put it the other day: "A gazingus pin is something that you just buy.  You may not have it in that color.  You may not have quite that flavor.  You tend to have a lot of them, far more than you really need, and sometimes you may even have more than you can use...They’re tiny pleasures, but if overdone, the pleasure can be diluted because it has become a habit more than a treat."

I've tried to become more selective about shopping for and buying books, but my book purchases haven't (and pretty assuredly won't) stopped completely.  So here are the books I've bought since the summer.

Baba Yaga's Daughter and Other Tales of the Old Races, by C.E. Murphy.  I dearly adore Catie's two big series: the Old Races and the Walker Papers.  A trilogy forms the main part of the Old Races series, but she's since written a bunch of short stories taking place in the same universe, usually related to secondary characters.  My favorite dragon and vampire feature heavily in these stories, particularly in the ones in this book.  I knew I was going to purchase this at least six months before I ordered it (in July), and a year before I received and read it (in November).  That didn't make Subterranean Press's price much easier to swallow, but since I planned for it, this was my singular book purchase for the summer.

The Avengers: Fury's Big Week.  Two words: impulse. buy.  I bought this the first week I was in NYC, I think.  Maybe the second.  It's the only book in that picture that I bought from Barnes & Noble.  It was enjoyable and fun to read.  But I totally could have gotten it from the library.

Walking the Hudson From the Battery to Bear Mountain, by Cy A. Adler.  I will admit that I haven't read it cover-to-cover, but that's because it's kind of a guide-book for this trail that runs 56 miles starting from Battery Park at the southern end of Manhattan.  His outlook on cars and city living is...interesting.  He definitely writes with passion.  This was an impulse buy, though - purchased when I was Christmas shopping at the indie bookstore near me.  I had a stack full of books I was going to give away, and I decided I needed one for me.  I like having it.  I'm not convinced I needed it yet, but I like it a lot.

Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat, by Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle.  I read my library's copy between 12th grade and freshman year of college.  Moriyama's description of Japanese people's passion for freshness and movement stuck with me since that time, especially as I've been discovering those passions in my own life.  I stared at and debated buying this book the last 3 times I went to Kinokuniya in Union Square, and the first week in January I finally caved.  So...kind of planned. Also kind of regretted; I didn't remember how flowery and nostalgic her writing style is.  Part of me wishes I had checked it out from the library first.

The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground, by Chris Webb.  My church is reading this book for Lent.  This purchase wasn't planned, but wasn't really an impulse buy either.  We got a half-price deal though.  And it's a very good book.  A little touchy-feely for me, but it's meaning a lot.

There's one book not pictured because I don't have it yet, but it's on order at my local indie bookstore so I'll get it when it's released in a month: Mountain Echoes by C.E. Murphy.  It's the 8th book in Catie's Walker Paper series.  The Walker Papers are my favorite of her books, and I eagerly await each and every one as it comes out.  Books 1-7 are sitting happily on my shelf.  They aren't incredibly popular, so they aren't at the library, but I would want to own these anyway.

So that's 5 (6) books.  I am completely happy with 2 (3) of those purchases, one is a happy impulse buy and 2 are iffy.  Thankfully (I guess?) the expensive books aren't the ones I'm iffy on. 

Also, these are all new books.  For some, like Baba Yaga's Daughter and Mountain Echoes, used isn't really an option because they're from a limited-edition company or they're new.  But I've mostly stopped shopping at used bookstores because my impulse to buy is too strong there, and I wind up with more books than I have time to read.  So volume-wise, my purchasing has gone down.  Cost-wise, however...that's a different story.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Smelly experimentation

I ran out of deodorant 2 weeks ago.

I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to test out a natural deodorant.  That means going without an antiperspirant for the first time in a long time (maybe ever?).  I felt some trepidation, but I'd like to move towards less plastic and chemicals.  And less cost.  Also, apparently aluminium can be pretty nasty, but I'm still researching how much of an effect it really has.

I'm testing out two deodorants.  One is Tom's of Maine, the other is homemade deodorant.

I've mostly been using Tom's deodorant, their lavender scent.  Its not plastic free by any means, but at least they leave out that silly little cap that other antiperspirant companies put inside the main cover.   And the entire container is made of #5 plastic, recyclable through Preserve's Gimme 5 program.  Granted, based on lack of evidence on their site, I think they might use virgin plastic to make them in the first place.

After a week and a half, it's alright.  It's not perfect by any means - I'm debating buying an additional stick to keep in my office because it tends to fade mid-day.  And after a gym visit? Hoooo do I stink.

I've also experimented with making my own deodorant, inspired by Miser Mom, Dogs or Dollars, and the Clean Bin Project.  I just mixed equal parts coconut oil and baking soda to start with, and I can't say that was a success.  I got a rash under my arms, and it hurt all day.  I've heard of others having the same problem, and apparently adding cornstarch helps.  I'm going to keep experimenting on the weekends, so when I get a hold of some cornstarch we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

To CSA, or not to CSA?

My favorite farm stand at the Greenmarket had CSA sign-up sheets out this morning.  I have one sitting next to me, blank and waiting.  I have to put a deposit down on Feburary 3rd.  But I can't decide whether I actually want to do this.

I'd order a half-share.  That's $260 for 26 weeks, starting the first week of June.  I'm also debating a fruit add-on, which would cost an additional $130.  So that would be $10-15/week.  I'm spending at least that much now on produce each week, so from a money standpoint this would be a good move.

On the one hand, I like the idea of being forced to try new things by having them on hand.  Particularly in the summer, when I'll have more time to cook and experiment, I think that will be pretty exciting.  Although I can see the week that the "featured item" is eggplant or hot peppers being an unhappy one.

On the other hand, I've heard from many other folks about getting way too much produce in their CSA box each week.  I'm one person, with very little food preservation knowledge at present.  There will be additional cost and labor.  I forsee that a CSA share would also involve me buying more freezer containers (at minimum), a dehydrator (likely), and possibly canning equipment (least likely, but apparently another girl in my department knows how to can so maybe...). 

Also, I don't have a good temperature-controlled space to store food in.  Our apartment tends to be very warm, but if we live a window open overnight the temperature drops by a lot.  So storing garlic and onions will be a challenge, since they barely last a month as it is, and potatoes and carrots usually don't last a week before they get soft and start rotting.

Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Toothpaste woes, Toothbrush win?

I'm almost out of toothpaste, so I decided to try switching to Tom's of Maine.  I got the cinnamon flavor, as I dislike mint for the most part.  Unfortunately, I had a very painful few days before I gave up on it.  The toothpaste burned the inside of my mouth.

At first I thought that the cinnamon was very strong and I wasn't used to it, or just changing to a new toothpaste for the first time in years, or maybe my gums were having a sensitive day.  But it happened again, and again, and finally after 3 days of trying to use the smallest amount possible I decided it wasn't worth it any more.  Even a day after I stopped and went back to my old toothpaste, parts of my mouth are still tender.

I sent Tom's a message, asking for a refund, and they've agreed.  It's only a few dollars, but it's the principle of the thing.

I also got a new toothbrush, made by Preserve and purchased at Trader Joe's.  It's made of recycled yogurt cups, and comes in a plastic sleeve that serves as a pre-paid mailing envelope.  The idea being that once you use the toothbrush, you put it back in the package, tape the thing closed and mail it back so it can be recycled through Preserve's Gimme 5 program.  If I have to get a toothbrush, I'm a fan of this plan. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Learn to Love Interlibrary Loan

Frugality blogs always encourage using your local library rather than buying books.  However, I'm continually surprised how many people don't realize that you aren't limited to the books housed in the library building closest to you.  There are 3 different forms of interlibrary loan, or ILL, services ready to help you out. 

Well, the first form isn't really ILL, and most people do know about it.  Usually, public libraries or university libraries don't exist in isolation.  Your local library is most likely a branch: one location of many that all share a catalog.  Public universities will be linked to the other libraries in the state system.  Certain holdings technically belong to each branch, but you can order books, CDs, and DVDs from anywhere in the system, through the library's website.  It's right in the catalog page - usually its the "Place a Hold" button.  Then you select what branch you want to pick the item up at.  And voila!  3-10 days later, you've got your book. 

Then there's the do-it-yourself version of ILL.  My college was networked with about 50 other colleges and universities in our state, and in Maryland all of the county libraries are linked.  Basically, there will be a separate system that you have to log into with your library card, and you can search all the network catalogs simultaneously.  If it finds the book, you can request it to be sent to your local library.  This can take anywhere from a week to a couple of months. 

Not every library is part of one of these systems, unfortunately - NYPL doesn't have one so far as I can tell, although they're a massive library to begin with.  And even when a library is in a network, patrons might not know about it.  My college promoted the service like crazy, but it was only a few years ago that I managed to access the Maryland one, called Marina.  It can be really great though - in the three years between discovering Marina and moving away, I ordered at least 30 books through it.

Finally, traditional Interlibrary Loan service is for those hard-to-find books that aren't available through the other two methods.  Find the form (here's the one for NYPL), log in, and give all the details about what you're looking for.  That form goes to a person (or office of people) whose job is to search all the libraries in the country for that thing you're looking for.  And it doesn't matter what you want, as long as it's been in print for at least 6-12 months (most libraries won't loan out recent releases because their duty is to their own patrons first).  I used to think you could only bother the ILL people for important research materials, but then I discovered that students at my college requested everything from class textbooks to romance novels.  These people want to find books for you!

These services are there for you as long as you're a member of your local library, and they're almost always free.  You can get any book you want, as long as you're willing to wait.  Intra-system requests take about as long as standard shipping from an online seller, and I'll admit to filling my online shopping fix by "shopping" the NYPL catalog ;-)  One word of caution though: you can typically only renew ILL books once, if at all, and the fines will be higher.  So don't take out too many at once. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A New Source for Bulk Tea (and Coffee)

I've bought bulk tea in several places before: my local coffee shop, 4th St CoOp, and Teavana.  The first two have a limited selection, and the latter is very expensive.

So I've been wanting to check out McNulty's Tea & Coffee Co. for a while now, and I finally got down there before I left for Christmas.

(from the McNulty's website)

I was impressed when I walked in.  The store is small, but packed with teas.  The walls are lined with boxes of tea, but there are also dozens of glass jars filled with loose leaf teas.  It was like heaven. 

(from the McNulty's website)

Oh, and there's a ton of coffee behind the counter.

I bought a quarter of a pound of their China Keemun tea. It cost $4.  Teavana's "Capital of Heaven Keemun", which is hands-down my favorite tea, costs $18 for 2 oz.  McNulty's admittedly wasn't as good as Teavana's (it was missing the smooth sweetness that Teavana's has), but it was still alright.  For the 9x price reduction, I'm ok with it. 

While I can't personally comment on their coffee's quality, the gentleman behind the counter was very helpful in picking out some coffee to give my Mom for Christmas. I got her the El Salvador Las Colinas (fair trade) coffee, and she tells me that it's delicious.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Celebrating a Side Effect

I know I'm supposed to have made a New Year's Resolution two days ago, but I didn't.  I mostly stopped making them because like most of this country I don't actually keep them.  Nevertheless.  I'm celebrating, because I've made progress on something I'd almost stopped thinking that I could.

I've lost 20 pounds since I moved to NYC.  I've never been able to get to this weight, in all the time I've been trying - I haven't weighed this since middle school.  Early middle school. 

I'm celebrating this because it mostly happened by accident.  I haven't been to the gym since I graduated.  I didn't pick a fancy diet.  I haven't counted calories or anything. It happened because I changed my lifestyle. 

I started focusing on where my food was coming from.  Less packaged food means less snacking and less nasty things going into my body.  More Greenmarket food means more fruits and veggies and things that taste good all on their own.  Conscience-easing meat means less meat.  Seeking different proteins means more variety in my diet.

Plus, I moved to the city.  I walk everywhere (or take the subway, but still I walk a lot).  I walk at least a mile as part of my round-trip commute every day.  I try to walk beyond that whenever I can, although since it got cold and life got crazy that hasn't happened (and most of this weight loss was early in the semester, when I was making an effort to take extra walks).

Also, city food is expensive, so I don't eat out very often.  That means I haven't been eating restaurant portions every day, and I haven't eaten the meaty, often-fatty foods I have trouble resisting when I eat out.  Plus - no access to all-you-can-eat at the dining hall, and no late-night restaurant that accepts dining dollars.  Bonus. 

I've stayed steady at this weight for about a month now (I think).  Probably a combination of plateauing, eating poorly in December, and it being Winter (our bodies naturally try to store up food for the winter), so the fact that it didn't go up was a pleasant surprise.  I'm going to start going back to the gym this semester because I need some aerobics in my life again, and I'll probably start to lose again.

And my favorite part is still that this was effectively a side effect.  This happened because I wanted to go to this graduate school, because I wanted to live a more sustainable life, and because I wanted to be more careful with my finances.  When I focused on those goals, weight loss happened on its own.  Now a healthy BMI is in sight.  I'm celebrating :)