Hacks Around the House

I don’t have a lot of them, but I do enjoy having a vase of faux greens or flowers here and there. Because I don’t have a creative eye, I’m never pleased with my arrangement. Someone suggested I buy a toothbrush holder and use the (usually 4) openings to add the stems. This gives me an easy way to pull out stems and rearrange them without a struggle!

To properly build a fire, you need to have tinder (easy-lighting material), kindling (finger-size sticks) and fuel (logs). We all have a readily available supply of tinder: dryer lint! To make fire starters, just stuff empty toilet paper tubes with dryer lint. Dryer lint “logs” light quickly and easily burn long enough to light up the kindling. And you don’t have to resort to lighter fluid!

The last time I moved (and I hope it’s the last time I move!), I didn’t have an excess of bubble wrap and knew I’d be using a lot of newspaper. The ink from newspaper can smear against things, especially dishes and glassware for the kitchen. So, I went to my local Dollar Tree and bought several rolls of clear plastic wrap. I didn’t care about its strength, so buying a less expensive brand was fine with me. I wrapped each of my breakable glasses and mugs in plastic wrap, and I placed a piece of plastic wrap between each plate or bowl I stacked up for packing. Let me tell you what a relief it was to unpack those items and not feel the need to wash each item before I could use it again. Not only that, but the poor handling of the moving company ended up with several boxes loaded into the truck on their sides and, as a result, one of my wine glasses had gotten broken. What I found was, because I had wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap, all of the pieces it broke into stayed inside the plastic wrap (the glass kept its shape in the plastic wrap even after being broken). I’m sure you can imagine what it is like to clean up anything made of glass when it shatters, and I’d have had to take a lot of time to be careful reaching into the box because of lose shards of glass. Nope! I threw the entire broken glass, still inside the plastic wrap, into the trash and moved on with my unpacking.

I am a fan of Sharpie pens. I use them mostly to mark plastic zipper bags to fill and put in the freezer, but I also use them to label large envelopes when mailing a book or similar material. However, if you’ve used Sharpie pens, you know that they are called “permanent markers” for a reason! But… there are some hacks to get away from that permanency when you’ve gotten the ink in a place you didn’t want it. Here is what I’ve learned: CLOTHES – Use hand sanitizer; WALLS – Use toothpaste or hairspray; WOOD – Use rubbing alcohol; CARPET – Use white vinegar; FURNITURE – Use milk; CERAMIC OR GLASS – Use equal parts toothpaste and baking soda. I haven’t had need to try all of these, but I do know that the last one, for ceramic or glass, works (don’t ask!).

For many of us, although we’re still enjoying nice warm weather, the cold and often frigid temperatures of winter are not that far around the corner. For me, that means nesting (stocking pantry and paper goods supplies, mostly) and not making any unnecessary plans to go anywhere because I never know what the weather will be like. However, some people do have to go out and go to work unless the government declares a ban on travel (it’s only happened once that I can remember, and it was a 16+ inch blizzard). Here is my piece of advice, and something I’ve always practiced: Put a blanket or sleeping bag in the trunk/back of your vehicle. Twice in the last several years, traffic has come to a standstill on a major highway, due to an accident and the inability for the rescue personnel to easily get to the scene because the shoulders of the road were piled with the snow plowed off of the highway, and traffic was completely at a stand-still for many, many hours. The last time I remember seeing it on the news, the traffic was stuck in place for 14 hours. Survival mode meant running your car to warm the inside and then turning it off again to save on gas. As the gas gauge showed lower and lower amounts of fuel in the tank, people suffered more periods of cold for fear of an empty tank. A warm blanket or sleeping bag can wrap around you and help keep your body heat close to you. I hope you never need to use it, but you will thank me if you ever do. And it doesn’t take up that much space. And a pack of snack crackers in your glove compartment, no matter how old and/or stale, can still put food in your stomach to keep you from having hunger pains. A pack of gum or hard candies come in useful as well, as both promote saliva when you don’t have anything to drink (unless you brought something on the start of your trip). Simple proactive steps – like having car insurance – that you never want to have to use but are grateful to have in place – – just in case…

Angry Birds-Black Birds-Squirrels

Angry Birds: I wrote a post a long while back now about my neighbors next door who, not knowing their names, I call Mr. and Mrs. Elderly. In that post I talked about their affinity for feeding the birds and the multiple bird feeders that they have hanging where I can see them from my kitchen window. I enjoy watching the birds if they are feeding when I’m at the sink doing dishes, etc. Recently, Mr. Elderly bought three new birdfeeders that are very different than the long vertical tubes he has always had. These look like little houses and have multiple feeding ‘stations’ along each of the sides. Now I get to watch my own version of Angry Birds, because several of the regulars come down from the pine tree and use their wings in a flapping motion to make a bird already there feeding move away. What’s weird to me is that it isn’t because that bird wants that feeding spot as, more often than not, they just sit there until that bird has gone back into the tree and then they take off again. I’ve made up the story in my head when I see it happen now that the flapping bird is the grown-up and they are making a fuss much like a parent would say, “Get out of the fridge! It’s not time to eat yet!”

Plenty of room for everyone to share!

Black Birds: There are a few larger, black birds who enjoy the feed that is provided in this area. Their bodies are much too large for them to comfortably perch on the feeders and eat, but they seem quite content with the amount of birdseed on the ground underneath the feeders. It seems like they always arrive between 3 PM and 4 PM, so I’ve determined that they must be senior citizens, choosing to arrive for the “early bird special”. (Yes, pun intended!)

Only 3 and 20 more and I’ll have enough for a pie!

Squirrels: The squirrels who live in that tree (I’ve only seen two at the most at the same time) are very unhappy about these new birdfeeders. They’d found a way, with energy and effort, to get themselves up to one of the vertical feeders and prop themselves in a way that allowed them to partake of the offerings within. They have not yet figured out how to scale these new feeders, and so they have had to settle for the birdfeed that has dropped to the ground. Every so often, one of them tries some amazing acrobatic twists of the body to try and get into a position where it can access the feed. It makes me wish that I was technologically savvy enough to use my phone and record a video – a picture is worth a thousand words. Even after the black birds have had their fill, there is still plenty of birdseed on the ground, and I wonder why the squirrels work so hard to get at the feeders when they could easily eat from the seed on the ground. I can only assume that they want their meals “fresh from the feeder”. Picky eaters!!!

Stretching is always supposed to do a body good, after all!

Many of the birds do not ‘fly south’ for the winter, so there is activity to be seen at these feeders all year. I’ve watched them in all kinds of weather, and it seems like they like the hot weather the least, since most of them are at the feeders early and don’t spend time there otherwise. But you know what? It’s actually quite a pretty picture when you stand still and watch snowflakes fall on the birds while they partake of some food.

Family Loyalty

This post comes from an ‘event’ that happened over 7 years ago. I don’t think of it often, but when I do, I’m still neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with how things played out and question if I had done things differently had I known that outcome.

I don’t write often about my older brother, Mark. Mark and I were 12 days short of being born a year apart. Brad didn’t come along until 6 years later. Obviously, the earliest years of my life were spent with Mark being very much sharing the spotlight with me. That is true, in some instances, through high school. Our birthdays, less than 12 days apart, were in July, and birthday parties were always cookouts with a few of the neighbors invited, but not with our friends as part of the festivities (I did get a separate party for my sweet 16 and got to invite a few of the girls around my age from church) instead of a neighborhood event.

Mark and I, for being so close in age, were very different back then, and grew even more different the older we got. As adults, we saw each other when the family got together, i.e., holidays and parental visits when they’d travel north once they’d moved to Florida. We did exchange birthday cards annually – never mushy, meaningful ones – but that was our interaction beyond the times as a family unit.

Mark had a heart incident and found out that he was in heart failure. I don’t know much of the actual medical details, only that he was given 2 months to 5 years to live, that the disease would progress in its own time, that he was put on a lot of different medications, and that he retired from his state government job on disability. (He did end up living an additional 5-1/2 years from diagnosis, and he didn’t follow all of the things his doctors wanted him to do, so there’s that).

All of this happened not that long after he and his wife of over 20 years divorced. I actually grieved this divorce… I enjoyed my time with Sally far more than with my brother. Sally and Mark always “hosted” family gatherings once the parents had moved to Florida, and the true only time I enjoyed those gatherings was when I was in the kitchen, alone with Sally, cleaning up after whatever we had snacked or dined on. Feeling like it was still necessary for me to wear the mask of what I thought my parents wanted to see me be, alone in the kitchen meant a reprieve. And as I got to know Sally in those interludes, I began to enjoy her company.

When Mark and Sally split, we heard Mark’s version of the story. Out of what I can only call “Family Loyalty”, we had no contact with Sally. I often thought about her and missed her, but her name was never mentioned, and then Mark ended up marrying another woman for whom I saw red flags upon my first meeting with her.

When Mark passed away, Sally, and all of her siblings as well, attended the memorial service. They were there largely in support of Emily – Mark and Sally’s daughter. The moment I saw Sally, I made a beeline for her and wrapped her up in a tight hug from which I didn’t let go quickly. I asked her, “Are you happy?” and she responded that she was, and my heart felt lighter.

Once all of the craziness of Mark’s wife and his will finally settled, I asked Sally to meet me for lunch. I had no intent other than to hopefully get to hear her side of what happened. Her story was very, very different than the one given by Mark, and it made much more sense to me.

All of that is background information… One of the things Sally said to me was that she and Mark had divorced, but she was made to feel as though she was divorced from our whole family. And that was tough for me to swallow, considering the grieving process I went through when she no longer had a place in my life.

I thought about that for a long time and questioned myself about why I didn’t choose to keep in contact with her. I mean, we weren’t super close friends, only seeing each other at my family’s events and gatherings, but I did think of her as a friend. And then, I stretched the idea out further… I had two ex-husbands and I wondered how I’d have felt if either of my brothers had decided to continue to have friendships with them after we were divorced. Honestly, I don’t think I’d have liked that, and it would have made me question my brothers’ loyalty to me.

If I’d have consciously thought about all of that back when they first divorced, I’d have had difficulty if I’d have been called on to make a choice. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending upon your thought process – we had stay in touch after that time, largely through social media and came to a head-butting bit of different political beliefs, and I finally said I needed to back away from all of that because I was tired of feeling like she was determined to make me see it her way no matter what. She did admit to that, because she felt that her way was truly the correct and only way. Now, I occasionally make a one- or two-word comment on the rare posts she puts on social media (she has never made a comment on any of mine). Brad goes out on a motorcycle ride with Sally and her brother Rick when time and weather cooperate, and he enjoys her company and knows not to bring up anything political.

I’m sure I’m not the first person who has ever been faced with the issue of family loyalty when a divorce happens with in that family. I guess I’ve always thought that “blood is thicker than water”, but now I’m curious how other people think about it. So please, share your thoughts with me!

Is this 100% true?

Hacks from my Happy Place – XXIV

Here are my tips of the month: #1) Chill cookie dough before baking – allowing the butter to resolidify in the dough will make for thicker cookies because it first has to ‘melt’ in the hot oven before it can spread out. #2) Consider using day-old glazed donuts to make French toast. It will have an extra sweetness and a lighter and airier consistency than bread. Old glazed donuts are also a great substitute when making bread pudding (for those of you who know what that is).

Actually, I have a few other tips as well. These are things NOT to do based on my own experiences. You see, there is seldom a day that goes by where I’m not using the internet to look up recipes or ways to ‘spice up’ recipes I already have. The thing is, I always experiment with new recipes or ideas or even hacks before I will recommend them in my blog. So, let me tell you about two recipes and a hack I’ve recently tried which are all going in the column marked “Don’t Do That Again”.

Someone gave me a box of oven-ready lasagna noodles. Now, because I always make lasagna roll-ups instead of a layered casserole, I always need to precook my noodles so they are malleable and can be rolled. I looked at this box of noodles for quite a few days, trying to figure out how to use them. I finally decided that I would try making a chicken alfredo lasagna. I mean, I can whip up chicken alfredo pretty easily, so it’s just adding layers of the cheese mixture. So, I got all of the ingredients I needed and set out with high hopes. I cooked the casserole according to the package directions. It looked okay, considering that it was pretty much all one color. I sprinkled some basil across the top just to make it not look so bland. Once it was cool enough that I didn’t have to worry about the cheese running, I cut a hunk out and put it on a plate. It didn’t look any more enticing on the plate as it did in the pan. Nonetheless, I cut into it and took a bite.

The good news is that it was edible. The bad news is that the noodles had the consistency of what I would expect well-soaked cardboard would have. They were soft – not hard and brittle as if they weren’t completely cooked – but the pasta had no give to it. Because that was to be my dinner, I ate what was on my plate. Sadly, the rest went into the trash (even though I hate to waste food). So, my hack based on this recipe experiment is: do NOT use oven-ready lasagna noodles or, if you buy them by mistake, cook them as you would any other lasagna noodle.

But, since “bad news always comes in threes”, I have two more blunders to share with you. Do NOT believe in the idea that you can freeze eggs individually in ice cube trays to save and use later. I had 4 eggs that were coming close to their “use by” date and, although I needed those 4 eggs for recipes I planned to make in the near future, I wasn’t sure they would be made before the expiration date. I’ve read and heard numerous times that you can freeze raw eggs by cracking the shell and pouring the entire egg into one section of an ice cube tray. So, I thought I’d try it and save having to toss the eggs into the trash. Definitely easy to do. And then came the day, soon afterward, when it was time to thaw and use the eggs. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but somehow, it still wasn’t what I expected. The “whites” of the eggs were not ‘goopy‘ like they are when you crack a raw egg; I would have been hard-pressed to try to separate the white from the yolk. And the yolk… it was still bright yellow, and round, and looked like an ordinary egg yolk. However, the egg yolk reminded me why you don’t judge a book by its cover. I tossed the entire ‘egg’ back and forth from one hand to another, tossing it harder and harder as time went on. I did manage then to separate the white from the yolk, but the yolk remained whole, without breaking. In the end, I decided that I was just going to end up chucking them all into the trash and use new ones. A waste, but at least I knew now that the only way to save an old egg was to hard-boil it as soon as possible.

Blunder number 3 was probably the most devastating to me. While I’m not a big dessert eater, there are a few that I enjoy and will choose to “save room for”. One of them is pineapple upside down cake, and I’d had the makings for one in my cabinet for a long while. Scrolling through recipes, I found one for making this delight in the crock pot. Middle of summer and no need to use the oven? I decided it was time to make this cake! I followed the recipe exactly. It smelled delicious as I turned off the crock pot and removed the inner liner to allow the cake to start cooling. After letting it cool for 20 minutes as instructed, I managed to cover the top with my cutting board and somehow flip over the very heavy combination of cutting board, ceramic crock pot liner and cake. The cake did not slide out as it was supposed to. It was not moving in any way. I turned the liner upright, ran a knife carefully around the edges, repeated the process to no avail. Upright again, I tried cutting through the cake into fourths and inverted again. Eventually, I had to use a spoon to dig the first piece out and then a spatula to lift the remaining three sections. Not only was that a failure, but the cake was super heavy and dense, and I ended up cutting off the bottom half and tossing it in the trash because it was so dry.

If you were raised as I was, being told to eat something I didn’t like that was on my plate because there were “starving children in the world who would be glad to eat that and ask for more” then you know how difficult it is for me to throw food away. After these 3 fiascos, which came in quick succession of each other, I was put off from trying anything new for a while and went back to my tried-and-true recipes.

I hope I haven’t disappointed any of my readers that I’m not always perfect in the kitchen!!!?? Now, with having to get through the remainder of the hot, hot days of summer, I’m seldom cooking. I’ve eaten more lunch meat sandwiches this summer than I’ve probably eaten in total the past two years. And I’ve made a couple of fresh fruit mix-ups with whatever is in season and enjoying that as a light meal. When I do cook, it is with the toaster oven, and I make enough of whatever I’m making to get another two meals out of it that just need reheated. But I will leave you with one really ‘weird’ hack that I tried that was successful…

Mashed Potato Chips: Yes, you read that right, and I probably made a similar face to the one you just made as you read that. Here’s the thing – I eat very few potato chips anymore, and my taste buds have changed, so none of the ones I used to like taste all that great anymore. I’ve been trying other brands and other flavors as well. Fortunately, my bestie’s son will gladly take any snack-type things off my hands if I discover I don’t care for them (at least it beats not throwing food away!). Well, I heard about this idea of being able to make mashed potatoes out of potato chips, and I had to try it. To make them, you boil a pan of water and then dump potato chips into it. Let it boil for about 10 minutes, stirring very occasionally. Use a fork (just like you would if you were boiling potatoes) to check if the chips are cooked to a soft consistency. Drain and mash, adding butter (or whatever else you might add to your mashed potatoes). I had some bacon and cheddar kettle-cooked chips here that I’d tried and didn’t like, so I tried this hack. I did let them boil for about 15 minutes because they were ‘kettle-cooked’, and I could mash them easily with a fork once they were drained. I added sour cream and some real bacon bits (for texture) and they were pretty good! I mean, it won’t become a staple in my cooking, but the taste was better than even the best instant potatoes I’ve tried, and I can make enough for just one serving as well. I’m intrigued enough that I may have to try some other flavored chips now when I want some mashed potatoes!

Waste not, want not, right?

news about the cycle of life!

I think those folks in Turkmenistan have some good ideas!

I didn't have my glasses on....

according to turkmenistanian math

i am in the ‘inspirational’ cycle of my life

 heading toward ‘wise’

so i had better get on it!

if i was in the wise cycle

i would have

read all the way to the bottom

to see these cycles

only apply to turkmenistanians

so the pressure is off

now i can comfortably return 

to my blissfully unaware/immature cycle. 

“there is a savor of life and immortality in substantial fare. like balloons, we are nothing till filled.”

– herman melville

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Random Memes – 8/08

It seems like there is an almost endless supply of memes available these days to deal with our mental health in some way. It’s time for me to share some more:

I need to work on apologizing FOR my feelings when they hurt other’s feelings!
Anyone figured out the balance yet?
Especially negatives like hate and racism.
Life would be much sweeter if we could just accomplish this!
I always try to be a fixer because of my empathy and also feeling the feelings of the other.
Another ka-boom!

I intentionally saved this last one to be the last one. I’ve been feeling very much like this lately. Physically (and a little bit mentally), I have no energy to go and do. I even look at household chores and think to myself, “Why does it matter if my house is dusty or not?” So this meme truly speaks personally to me:

Obscure Musical Instruments

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, or know me, you know that music plays an existential part of my life and being. I was raised by a mother who majored in music education in college and actually taught music in elementary school when she first started her teaching career (moving a few short years later to teach 3rd grade for 17 years and remedial reading for the remainder of her career). Mom’s children were all “strongly encouraged” to learn a musical instrument and sing in choruses and choirs. My older brother played trumpet, I learned piano and my younger brother played drums for a year or two and tinkered with a guitar. My older brother and I both sang in church choirs. I sang in school choirs starting in 3rd grade and all the way through my time at college. I also pretended to learn to play the French horn so I could be in band in high school. Lyrics of songs I know stick in my head like toothpaste on a toothbrush. Suffice it to say that much of my life has a musical base, and I am grateful to have it. I’m even more grateful that, in what was often a difficult parent-child relationship, my mother passed down the legacy of music and books to me.

Nonetheless, I recently came upon a musical instrument whose name was new to me. I posted it on social media in order to share it with my friends, many of whom I know from our shared time in band and/or choir during my high school year. One of those long-time friends commented and shared with me the names of two other instruments of which I was not aware. I checked them out on the Internet, and I thought it would be fun to share with any of you who either might have a musical thirst or merely wants to know something obscure for future trivia nights with your friends! So here you go!

Waterphone: A waterphone (also ocean harp) is a type of inharmonic acoustic tuned idiophone consisting of a stainless-steel resonator bowl or pan with a cylindrical neck and bronze rods of different lengths and diameters around the rim of the bowl. The resonator may contain a small amount of water giving the waterphone a vibrant ethereal sound that has appeared in movie soundtracks, record albums, and live performances. The instrument was invented, developed and manufactured by American Richard Waters (1935-2013). It looks something like this:


And is sounds something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vpix1v2BikQ The next time you’re listening to the music in a scary or horror movie, you may notice this kind of music – and now you’ll know how it’s created!

Glass Armonica (No, that’s not a typo – this is the correct spelling of the name!): The glass armonica is a type of musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls or goblets graduated in size to produce musical tones by means of friction. It was invented in 1761 by Benjamin Franklin. In its ‘simplest’, if you saw the movie Miss Congeniality, you saw Gracie Lou (aka Sandra Bullock) play a series of glasses filled with different amounts of water by rubbing her finger over the rims to create different notes/tones. The more complicated glass armonica looks like this:

Imagine trying to get off all the water spots after use!

This photo does not show it, but the performer keeps a bowl of water nearby if it’s necessary to remoisten their fingertips while playing. And it sounds something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LP8QFR9Qvc

Theremin: While this sounds like a really good name for some kind of prescription medication, a theremin is an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact. When you read those words, you might think it’s something magical and when you hear how the instrument is played, you might well think the performer is, indeed, a musician!

The performer stands in front of the instrument and moves their hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. The distance from one antenna determines frequency (pitch), and the distance from the other controls amplitude (volume). Higher notes are played by moving the hand closer to the pitch antenna. Louder notes are played by moving the hand away from the volume antenna. Most frequently, the right hand controls the pitch and the left controls the volume, although some performers reverse this arrangement. Some low-cost theremins use a conventional, knob operated volume control and have only the pitch antenna. While commonly called antennas, they are not used for receiving or broadcasting radio waves, but act as plates of capacitors.

Don’t worry if you’re creasing your forehead and thinking, “Huh?” I only understand it in the most basic of concepts. Even with just those basic concepts, I honestly can’t believe why anyone would want to learn how to actually play this instrument.

The instrument was created by Russian Leon Theremin and was later pushed into the spotlight by Robert Moog’s creation of the modern synthesizer.

It looks simple in its structure, like this:

Looking at it, it doesn’t seem like much!

As I said, looking at it, it doesn’t seem like much. But when you listen to how it sounds and watch the performer’s movements… Well… this is what it’s like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjnaciNT-wQ

Clair de Lune is my favorite ‘classical’ piece of music, so I didn’t mind watching this over and over and over, etc. But I’m still as clueless about how it works, and I still think there must be some kind of magic involved. I’m not sure I know anyone with enough patience to learn to play this instrument!

So now you know about three obscure musical instruments! Doing my research, I discovered names of other musical instruments I’ve not heard of, but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone’s brain – including my own (I’m still trying to figure out the theremin!).

Different Versions of Me

What I’ve copied below was recently posted by a friend on a social media site, and as I got to the end of reading it, I had a moment where life just literally stopped. My mind was blown by the simple truth in these words. I commented on the post that I didn’t know whether to give it the love (heart) emoji or the sad (crying face) emoji. The words were so powerful that they instantly made me see myself in a different light, and that deserved a “love” response. And the words were so powerful that they instantly made me realize how many years I’ve wasted of my life trying to be who I thought others wanted me to be based on my own perception of how they saw me.

I struggle more than I care to admit with trying to reason why anyone would want to choose me as a friend. This goes all the way back to my high-school years, and it exists usually within relationships where I perceive the other person in a way that, for me, makes them well above “average” and, thus, puts them on some kind of pedestal. Of course, that means I’m always below/beneath them, and from there comes my reasoning or lack thereof.

As I’m thinking through this process and typing these words, a comment given (and forgotten) a long, long time ago from a mentor told me that I didn’t get to choose who someone else can and cannot like, and if that person chooses to like me, that’s his/her right and privilege.

I really need to do some more introspection on this and make it a priority to focus on. I’ve started making a list of little quotes and goodies that I need to have in the forefront of my brain (you know, being ‘older’ means it’s time to start making lists to remember things). My plan is to add to the list as needed, and to review that list at least once daily to keep those thoughts in my focus.

This will be a constant work in progress, I’m sure.

And they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…

The Three Rs

When I was growing up, the “Three Rs” were known as: reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic. These were considered the ‘important’ things we needed to learn in our schooling. Obviously, two of the three of them have been antiquated by technology, and I suspect that, at some time in the not-so-far future, reading won’t be necessary since everything will be converted to audio (like is already done with books).

These days, we still use the phrase the “Three Rs” but now they mean: reuse, repurpose, recycle. Actually, there is an even newer meaning to the acronym – it’s now reduce, reuse, recycle.

I have long been an avid recycler. I have not let the articles about how less than 50% of the recyclable items we place out for that purpose actually get recycled dissuade me. I have used reusable bags for my grocery shopping for many years; in fact, I had to buy additional bags because I gave some of mine away to my brother to use since he has a lot of steps involved in getting his groceries inside! I often grab one or two of those bags if I’m going into a place other than the grocery store, like a big box store or a thrift store.

About a month ago, I caught part of a news clip about how the state of New Jersey (which borders PA, where I live) was banning the use of plastic bags in stores. Customers had to either bring their own shopping bags or pay a nominal amount for paper bags. In theory, I fully support this idea. However, I’m old enough to remember a time when everyone used paper bags (without paying for them) and plastic bags were invented to replace paper as they were much more economical and saved in the cutting down of trees.

I also saw a headline about California getting on the bandwagon to reduce plastic usage. And I’m all for anything we can do.

And yet, there was a big noise made about single-use plastic straws; just days ago, I was voluntarily presented with a plastic straw in a paper wrapper with the glass of water I ordered. It ended up becoming waste, just as it would have if I had used it, even though it sat unopened on the table the entire time it was there. If I had been asked if I wanted a straw, I would have said “no” and saved the earth – and the restaurant – the result of using one.

After the ban on plastic bags in New Jersey, I asked someone who lives there how they will clean up after their dog while on walks. Instead of ‘reusing’ a store plastic bag to pick up the solids to be disposed in the trash, this person bought the most inexpensive box of plastic zipper bags that could be found and will now use them. So, my question becomes, “If all we are doing is replacing one kind of plastic bag with another that still ends up as plastic waste, what are we accomplishing?”

Bear with me on this… What are our trash bags made of? What is the wrap we put over food made of? What are wrappers for bags of bread, muffins, etc. made of? What are the bags available in the produce aisle for putting our produce into made of? What is the film over so many frozen items in trays made of? What is the film that covers the meat on styrofoam trays in the meat section made of? What wraps up most of the pre-packaged lunchmeats and cheeses available to purchase? What do things like cooking oils and peanut butter come in? What is the band that holds together that 6-or 8-pack of soda bottles made of?

And that is why I can only say that, in theory, banning plastic shopping bags is a good idea. But honestly, to me it feels like using your toothbrush and toothpaste to brush the top 4 center teeth in your mouth while not cleaning the remaining teeth.

I know there are mesh-type bags that can be purchased to be used for when you purchase produce. Use, wash, reuse. But we as a society are all about convenience. That’s why disposable diapers were invented. That’s why we use paper towels and paper napkins. We are still making tons and tons of trash that ends up in landfills because we want the fastest way to get something done, and wipe and toss sure beats wipe and wash, dry, fold, put away to reuse.

As I said, I am doing everything I can to recycle – approved glass, plastic, aluminum, paper and cardboard, etc. But to be honest, I’m quick to grab a paper towel to wipe up a small mess rather than dirty a cloth. And I’m not really sure I’m ready to go back to those days long ago where both women and men used cloth hankies, washed, dried, ironed and the reused. And trust me, I use up, on average, three to four boxes of tissues a month (I do break down the sides of the empty box, remove the plastic around the opening, and put the box in recycling. Oh, but there is more plastic I’m throwing into the trash, darnit!).

I applaud New Jersey for its efforts – after all, you need to start somewhere. But if our government wants to make it easy on the consumers, why not provide a certain number of reusable bags, based on the size of the family per the recent census, complimentary? Then, if persons don’t choose to use them – or forget them – or whatever other excuse that can be made – the onus is on that consumer. I believe the law in New Jersey states that people can bring their own reusable bags or pay a nominal fee for paper bags. (I’ve already been to a grocery store that charges 3 cents for each plastic bag used if you didn’t bring your own with you.)

Let’s face it – the fastest way to get someone to change is to make them financially responsible if they choose not to! So that should be in the beginning of this desire for overall change. And then, at least in my opinion, government should be willing to work on finding ways to make wrappings of plastic somehow biodegradable (some smaller companies already do) so that whatever does end up in the trash eventually dissolves. We also need to make it mandatory nationwide that all residential buildings must recycle. We need to find out why less than 50% of the materials set out to be recycled actually become recycled. We need to make it cost effective to companies – and to consumers – to use recycled products, maybe even save them a penny or two for choosing recycled materials.

So, while I appreciate the start on this issue being made by New Jersey and talked about in California, unless the federal government gets involved, there is not going to be a major impact on the problem.

Maybe the Supreme Court should be looking at how this problem has a negative effect on many, MANY lives and quit trying to allegedly save one!

And that is all I’m going to say about that!

We need to do MORE of this!

I Did Not Write This…

I did not write what I’m about to include here. What is stated here is not something I believe is true across the board but does, in fact, speak clearly about many who are a part of the larger group.

An open letter to white evangelicals: We’re done with you.

By North Carolina Pastor John Pavlovitz

Dear White Evangelicals,

I need to tell you something: People have had it with you. They’re done. They want nothing to do with you any longer, and here’s why: They see your hypocrisy, your inconsistency, your incredibly selective mercy, and your thinly veiled supremacy.

For eight years they watched you relentlessly demonize a Black President; a man faithfully married for 26 years; a doting father and husband without a hint of moral scandal or the slightest whiff of infidelity. They watched you deny his personal faith convictions, argue his birthplace, and assail his character—all without cause or evidence.

They saw you brandish Scriptures to malign him and use the laziest of racial stereotypes in criticizing him. And through it all, White Evangelicals—you never once suggested that God placed him where he was, you never publicly offered prayers for him and his family, you never welcomed him to your Christian Universities, you never gave him the benefit of the doubt in any instance, you never spoke of offering him forgiveness or mercy, your evangelists never publicly thanked God for his leadership, your pastors never took to the pulpit to offer solidarity with him, you never made any effort to affirm his humanity or show the love of Jesus to him in any quantifiable measure.

You violently opposed him at every single turn—without offering a single ounce of the grace you claim as the heart of your faith tradition. You jettisoned Jesus as you dispensed damnation on him.

And yet you give carte blanche to a white Republican man so riddled with depravity, so littered with extramarital affairs, so unapologetically vile, with such a vast resume of moral filth—that the mind boggles.

And the change in you is unmistakable. It has been an astonishing conversion to behold: a being born again.

With him, you suddenly find religion. With him, you’re now willing to offer full absolution. With him, all is forgiven without repentance or admission. With him, you’re suddenly able to see some invisible, deeply buried heart. With him, sin has become unimportant, and compassion no longer a requirement. With him, you see only Providence.

And White Evangelicals, all those people who have had it with you—they see it all clearly. They recognize the toxic source of your inconsistency.

They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities. They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus. They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, or to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbors as yourself.

They see that all you’re really interested in doing is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it. They recognize this all about white, Republican Jesus—not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth.

And I know you don’t realize it, but you’re digging your own grave these days; the grave of your very faith tradition.

Your willingness to align yourself with cruelty is a costly marriage. Yes, you’ve gained a Supreme Court seat, a few months with the Presidency as a mouthpiece, and the cheap high of temporary power—but you’ve lost a whole lot more.

You’ve lost an audience with millions of wise, decent, good-hearted, faithful people with eyes to see this ugliness. You’ve lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation. You’ve lost any semblance of Christlikeness. You’ve lost the plot. And most of all you’ve lost your soul.

I know it’s likely you’ll dismiss these words. The fact that you’ve even made your bed with such malevolence, shows how far gone you are and how insulated you are from the reality in front of you. But I had to at least try to reach you. It’s what Jesus would do.