Wednesday, April 6, 2022

When Autocorrect Can't Hear Your Screams

It's not a lie when I say that I kind of adore the blue-bellied lizards who frequent our back patio. It always makes me smile when they stop outside one of the open sliding glass doors and do a round of push-ups to show off their strength and ward off the threat of the two mesmerized cats on the other side of the screen. When I sit outside to work, I'll sometimes greet them with a "Hey Lizzie," as they scuttle past me. 

Lizards who do push-ups are great. Skinks, not so much. 

If you're not familiar with the skink, it's basically a snake with tiny, almost unnecessary legs—likely descended from T-Rex arms. Skinks have pointier faces than blue-belly lizards, giving them a sort of crocodilian likeness. But it is their long, serpentine tails and erratic way of moving through the world that really makes the pee start percolating in my pants. 

I don't think I've ever encountered a skink in our yard without screaming at least a little. Thankfully, I don't see them very often, but in the past two weeks, I've seen two. Monsters

Yesterday, I was taking full advantage of my hiatus from a real job and had planted myself on a towel under one of the plum trees in our garden to write in my journal. The temperature was just right. There was a gentle breeze blowing through the weed field to the south. A hummingbird was chirping out commands from the top of an apricot branch nearby. It was blissful. 

Until—out of nowhere—a skink came whipping at me at 100 mph and slither-bolted ON TO MY TOWEL RIGHT BETWEEN MY FEET. I sprang from the towel like a middle-aged ninja and sprinted across the garden, shrieking all the way. 

As I always do in times of crisis, I then texted my trusty husband who was in LA for work. He responded with "HAHAHAHAHA where did it come from?" Thanks for the sympathy. 

After gathering the courage to shake said skink from my towel, I grabbed the rest of my things and headed to the safety of our patio where I immediately discovered a 4" moth perched on my favorite chair. Remind me who signed me up for this whole country living thing again. 

Inside the critter-free living room, I received another text from my Mr. Wonderful asking what happened with the skunk. 

The Wha? 

At first I thought he'd made a typo. Then I scrolled up to my original message. Sure enough, autocorrect had adjusted my spelling so that my note said a skunk had come barreling across the garden onto my beach towel. No wonder he was confused about where it came from. 

Through much amusement, I replied and explained the whole mix-up. He told me that he'd gotten the message as he and his coordinator were walking into a meeting and they both laughed hysterically picturing me innocently journaling in the backyard and then being charged by an angry skunk. 

It's still up for debate whether I would have preferred the skunk over the skink. At least it would have had a cuter face.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

12 "Dones" of Housemas

Since we bought our house 7 years ago, we've had a running To-Do list that seems to operate a little like a starfish. You cut off one arm and another grows in its place. You cross one thing off the list and another inevitably appears—often because when one thing becomes pretty, it illuminates the ugliness of the thing beside. Like when we enclosed our breezeway with a wall of redwood planks and suddenly realized that the garage door looked so hideous next to it, we needed to buy a new one.

Thankfully, in the last year or so we've been able to successfully amputate some of the starfish arms, taking our once two-page list down to about 3/4 of one page.

I've been terrible about blogging this year, but I wanted to post a list (partly for our own selfish project-tracking reasons) chronicling the To-Dos we've turned to Dones in 2019.

1. Driveway
This was essentially a miracle. I don't know what year our crumbly old asphalt driveway was laid, but it was The. Biggest. Eyesore. It brought down the aesthetic of the entire house. And every time I swept it after gardening, it would disintegrate. I was convinced that eventually, there would be no driveway left to sweep because every crumb of it would have been pushed into the lawn and the mulched planter.

Mr. W refused to even entertain the idea of a new driveway, so I would often say things like "When I win the lottery, the first thing I'm doing is pouring concrete!" I'm still not clear on what brought him around, but in the early fall, Mr. W decided to get a quote on cement. And it was so much more affordable than we thought it would be! So we did it. And it has totally transformed the front of our house. Worth every penny.

2. Retaining wall
Along with the driveway came a new niche for our trashcans and, possibly someday in the future, a cute little trailer. The catch was that we needed to make sure our neighbor's yard didn't accidentally avalanche into our new niche. Thus, the handsome new retaining wall.

3. Fountain
I think Mr. W added "fix fountain" to the to-do list like four years ago. We've had this fountain since we lived in Hollywood and I missed looking out the kitchen window to catch hummingbirds drinking from it and mockingbirds bathing. Very excited he got this puppy back up and running.

4. Sliding glass doors
The doors in our dining room and living room were original to the house—meaning they were installed in 1959. In addition to being murder traps (there was no way they were tempered glass) they were drafty, didn't slide great, and had grime around the frames that I couldn't ever seem to get clean. We (read: Mr. W, not me...) still need to patch the stucco around the new ones, but they have made a huge difference in our ability to control temperature inside the house and they look great (especially with our new carpet).

5. Curtain Rods
This was a minor update but I'd been wanting to do it a long time and am so happy. It's the equivalent of adding eyebrows to where none used to exist on a face.

6. Carpet
Not sure when the carpet was installed in our living room, but it was in sad shape when we bought the house. We shampooed the room two or three times, but as my dad once said about my beat-up Ford Escort "You can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse." There was a thinning spot next to the slider where water seepage had destroyed the padding and rug. And when we got two kittens whose favorite game involved plucking individual fibers from the grid and tossing them like captured prey, thinning turned to bald. We needed to pull the trigger on new carpet. The room is now thick and lustrous as a Kardashian.

7.  Backyard staircase
We just checked this one off the week before Christmas and there's still much to do with it. But the stairs are framed and we can now get down to our lower yard without having to walk all the way around to the dirt path that runs between our neighbors' house and ours. It's thrilling. I plan to run up and down these suckers to get in shape like Rocky. And one day, there will be grapevines growing on the slopes that border them.

8. Wood surround on the pizza oven
We put the pizza oven in two years ago and the BBQ platform next to it had been a skeleton ever since. After finding a master carpenter to help us with the trim above our kitchen cabinets (which should be #13 on this list...) Mr. W hired him to finally put some meat on the BBQ platform bones. Now this pretty redwood matches the rest of the wood on our property and finally the pizza oven can stand in its true saucy Neapolitan glory.

9. Garden fencing and boxes
Very early in the year, Mr. W set to work installing a deer fence around all of our fruit trees. We decided this part of the yard would be a better place to plant our big garden, and that garden would need protection from the local herbivores. The fence paid off in pounds and pounds of apricots and plums in the early summer and thanks to the planter boxes Mr. W built, we were able to save most of the smaller plants from the titanium army of undestroyable gophers. We need to do some work on our soil (we didn't get a single zucchini in this garden, which is unheard of) but were happy with our tomato, basil, tomatillo, and pumpkin yields.

10. Greenhouse plants
I did find time to craft a blog post about the greenhouse we built in the spring, but sadly that beauty sat empty and unfinished most of the year. Finally in the fall, we completed the assembly of the shelves inside of it and added some plants. I'm happy to say I've been getting jalapeños all winter and we're hoping our tomato plant will fruit soon. The cauliflower plants are also coming along quite nicely. The dream is to have some semblance of produce production going all year, every year.

11. Gas line in the fire pit
In spite of my deep-rooted love of campfire smell, Mr. W insisted we put in a gas option so we could use the firepit without having to go to bed smoke-scented. I guess it's nice to have the option, but I'm likely going to lobby for real wood the next time we make 'smores.

12. Murphy bed
With six nieces between the two of us, Mr. W and I often have families of four staying in our house. Sadly, we only had one guest room and one bed, so multiple members of the fam were relegated to the couch and aerobeds if they spent the night. We had decided quite awhile ago to buy a Murphy bed for his office so we could have another guest bedroom, and this year we finally bought a kit and put one together. It's nice that we can pack it up when it's not being used. And I dig how it kinda looks like an old fashioned bar or something. Cocktail, anyone?

Monday, April 15, 2019

16 Steps I've Taken to Cut Down on Plastic and Waste

If you've been living under a rock or buried under an overstuffed landfill, you may not have heard that plastic is kinda swallowing the planet. I knew about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and that plastic was piling up in recycling storage facilities because China, who used to take a lot of cast-aside plastics, was no longer accepting recyclables. But then I watched a recorded episode of 60 Minutes where they showed the damage to nesting albatross birds on Midway Island. Baby birds are dying because their mamas are unknowingly feeding them plastic instead of food. Malnourished with plastic-packed tummies, they can't survive.


Then there were the two different stories about young whales being found with plastic in their bellies — 88 and 48 pounds to be exact.

I'll stop completely depressing you now and tell you what I've started doing to try to reduce the plastic I buy and dispose of, in hopes of making even a tiny dent in this problem. Good news—you can try doing this stuff too!

1. Switched from disposable plastic razors to a metal safety razor. 
This one, to be exact. It was scary—I was mildly convinced I might slash my achilles and never walk again. But save for a few nicks here and there when I have a brand new blade in place, it hasn't been bad to use at all!

2. Added Bee's Wrap to my kitchen drawer. 
This wonder wrap works just as well as Saran wrap but it's free of plastic, can be washed and reused 100 times, and can be cut up and composted when you're done using it. Love. Love. Love.

3. Bought silk dental floss.
This, too, can be composted when I'm done with it. And though it's not as slippery as the plasticky Glide I used before, it's soft and works great.

4. Ditched face wash in a plastic pump for bar form. 
I was worried that the bar might dry out my face (wimpy, sensitive skin) but it's been working great. I also use coconut oil (which comes in a glass jar) to take off my eye makeup at night. It's a little too greasy and comedogenic for me to use on my whole face, but the Cetaphil makes the perfect accompaniment to it.

5. Invested in bar shampoo and bodywash.
I researched options on this and ended up at Lush—where I fell in mad love with their Jason and the Argon Oil shampoo bar. I tried the Karma Komba one too but don't like it as much. And the conditioner bar really didn't work well with my hair. I do plan to try their Retread conditioner because it comes in a little pot that you can return to the store where they recycle them. Aces.

The bodywash Shower Bomb looks like it'll melt in one use, but I've used mine about 6 or 7 times now and it's only halfway gone. Works GREAT for shaving legs. It just has to be stored out of a soap dish where there's standing water. I keep it perched on top of a foot scrubby on my shower shelf.

6. Made my own lotion.
This was quite the science experiment. I Googled recipes and picked up some shea butter (in a glass container) from the local natural food store and vitamin E oil (unfortunately in plastic but it'll last a really long time) from Trader Joes'. Then it was just a matter of melting and mixing with coconut oil, some essential oil for scent, and a splash of avocado oil. The consistency is obviously oilier than regular body lotion, but I like it! It leaves my legs and feet very silky soft.

7. Sewed cloth cocktail napkins.
I know, I know—napkins are paper and can be composted. But they come packaged in plastic! And I have a ton of fabric remnants, so before the last party I hosted, I cut out some squares, sewed some quick seams and set them out as cocktail napkins. I plan to make some more out of black linen in effort to do a better job of hiding tough-to-remove stains.

8. Switched to stainless steel party cups. 
Every year, we host a Halloween party and every year we sift through the aftermath gathering plastic cups for the recycle bin. I wanted to find something that was easy and durable, and of course Amazon came through for me. After this year's Halloween shindig, I'll be washing and reusing everything!

9. Bought compostable cutlery. 
Again, we create a lot of plastic trash with the utensils we put out at our social gatherings, so I invested in some alternative compostable stuff.  I should probably use real silverware and just wash it, but I wanted to give these puppies a shot and see first. There may be a trip to IKEA in my future for the real deal though...

10. Adopted Method soap dispenser refill pouches.
The refill pouches use 80% less plastic than the dispensers themselves. EIGHTY PERCENT! I think we've been using the same dispenser for at least 5 years. I buy multipacks of the refill soap and those go a long way too, which is great. We use Method in the kitchen and in all our bathrooms. And—bonus—the soap itself is biodegradable.

11. Signed up for multiple Terracycle Brigades. 
I actually did this years ago and have been shipping my beauty waste and energy bar wrappers to them to be recycled free of charge. Such a great deal! But I also recently signed up for the Tom's of Maine Brigade since Mr. W uses Tom's deodorant and toothpaste. They make it super simple to ship your trash. I even collect beauty waste from family members, and it's all free to send every single time.

12. Invested in a Zero-Waste Box from Terracycle.
Now, this ain't exactly cheap so I know it won't be for everyone. But Terracycle does such great work that I was happy to not only send them all the bits and bobs I feel guilty about throwing in the trash—I was happy to support their business. We've had the box for over a month now and have been recycling all sorts of different things—from food wrappers to caps and lids to pieces of packaging. It feels much more responsible than tossing that stuff in the trash.

13. Turned frozen veggie bags, chip bags, and other "trash" into cat poop bags.
Now, we also use biodegradable bags for litterbox cleaning, but we've made it a habit to save anything bag-like instead of throwing it in the trash. Our recycling doesn't take plastic bags, so this seems like a simple way to at least get some sort of use out of them before throwing them away. Just gotta make sure not to put that "frozen broccoli" back in the freezer by mistake.....

14. Stopped throwing recyclables into the bin inside a bag.
I read online that plastic bags can get stuck and gum up conveyor belts at recycling facilities. Apparently the best thing to do is throw your recyclables straight into the big blue bin. So that's what we've been doing. We still line our kitchen bin with a bag (and have to replace it every couple months) but we toss its contents directly into the outdoor bin. I'm realizing as I type this that if I walked every individual piece out to the bin instead of keeping any in the house, I'd raise my daily step count. Hmm.

15. Tried ThredUp.
A friend of mine told me last summer that she was really trying to stop making fast fashion purchases. Those cheap pieces that go in and out of style are wreaking havoc on the planet, apparently. I went back and forth on how I felt buying used clothes (I was never a cool thrift store shopper in high school) but I discovered that ThredUp actually has stuff that's truly like new—some even with the tags still on it. I bought 3 sundresses and you would never know they had been worn by someone else. Also: So much cheaper than buying new clothes! And on top of that, they offer signup discounts and ongoing savings via email. I will definitely be shopping there again.

16. Started composting a whole lot more than kitchen scraps.
I've been composting for about 10 years now and will probably never stop. We have a tumbler composter, dome, and a freestanding pile down in our back forty where we throw stuff from the yard and lower garden. If you do any sort of gardening, composting is such a fruitful practice—you get great soil and you cut methane-producing waste from landfills. Win-win. Lately, I've been throwing used Kleenex, the occasional paper towel, and way more paper into the compost. Soon my dental floss and used Bee's Wrap will go in there, too. There may be a line to draw here though. When I told my dad I'd Google "compostable underwear" and that someday he might eat tomatoes that grew from my skivvies, he was horrified.

When I think about past generations, I'm inspired by what pros they were at consuming less, reusing more, and creating less waste and impact on the planet. Something to aspire to. And if you don't want to swap out your current conveniences, consider making a donation to one of the organizations fighting the rising tide of plastic around the globe. Every little bit helps!