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 :)