Plastic Planet (aka: Zero Waste Lifestyle)

Happy Earth Day, fellow earthlings!

Let’s celebrate with a delicious meal, shall we? How about some plastic tacos, a plastic salad, and a plastic chocolate cake for dessert? No? Not such a fan of plastic food?

Sadly, every year, an increasing number of sea mammals, fish, and birds are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Our plastic. The unfortunate meals we served them when we threw out those plastic water bottles.

According to recent studies, 8 million tons of plastic trash end up in our oceans each year. Plastic, which takes more than 400 years to decompose, is quickly on its way toward outweighing the amount of fish there are in the sea.

“What?” You say? “It’s not my fault. I always recycle our household plastics.”

I get it. So do I. I figured that those mega-packs of single plastic water bottles I kept buying for our family’s convenience were fine. After all, we were always certain to toss them in the recycle bin when they were empty, as we do with all our household plastics.

But according to a recent study, most of those plastics aren’t actually being recycled. In fact, only 90.5% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. 12% is incinerated, and 79% accumulates in landfills and the nautral environment, including our oceans. (Royal Statistical Society, 2018)

Does that mean it’s hopeless? Is our planet simply doomed to end up like a garbage-infested wasteland, like on the movie, Wall-E? Well, yes, if we earthlings don’t start making different choices. But the good news is that it may not be too late to turn this around.

Many communities and individuals are taking the concept of waste reduction to what many may consider an extreme. They are going beyond producing less waste, and instead aiming to create zero waste.

That’s right. Zero Waste. Empty trash cans. Nothing new added to the landfills and oceans to choke our sea life and pollute our planet. It is a lifestyle that requires some discipline and some participation from retailers and communities in order to be truly successful. Most of all, it requires a change in the way we choose to consume. It’s easy to use paper cups and plastic utensils, then discard them. It’s more challenging to be mindful of the effects of or choices, and to choose reusable dishes instead.

Here are the main principles of a Zero Waste lifestyle:

Reduce — Reduce the amount of waste you create. Refuse to purchase items that you don’t need, or items which may add to landfills. That means saying no to those mega-packs of plastic water bottles and using refillable containers instead. It means choosing to skip the straw in that cold drink. Or, if you can’t live without the straw, buy a set of reusable metal, bamboo, or silicone straws, such as these:

Reusable straws

Reuse — Pack your food items in reusable glass containers, drink from reusable water bottles, carry reusable shopping bags to the store. A goal of mine is to start bringing washable mesh bags to the store and farmers’ market to use instead of those plastic produce bags.

Recycle — If it can be recycled, recycle it. But try reducing and refusing first, so that you hav less waste left over to recycle.

Unsure about how to recycle some things? Try terracycle.com for free programs in your community that help you to dispose of hard-to-recycle items in an earth-friendly way. For example, did you know that you can bring your old coffee lids, snack wrappers, and coffee capsules to your local Subaru dealership for recycling? Check here for you nearest participating dealership: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/subaru#@38.53979322637243:-121.42445184328136zoom:9 .

Rot — Compost organic waste. And hey — did you know that you can now buy “plastic” eating utensils made from plants, which are 100% biodegradable and compostable? When I can’t use stainless steel utensils, these are my favorite to have on hand.

Maybe we’ll find that going Zero-Waste is just way too out-of-reach for most of us. But in the process of aiming for Zero, we may just find that we succeed in reducing our own impact on the planet.

Wild and Precious…and Lukewarm (aka: Goal-Setting)

One Wild and Precious Life

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the 5-yr. life plan I wrote several years ago. Because you know, sometimes it’s good to give your life a check-up, to see how you’re doing on achieving your goals, and to adjust them as needed. Three years into my (very sparse) plan, here’s what I’ve managed to accomplish:

Career: I graduated from college, adding two very useful Computer Information Science Degrees to my useless B.A. degree. Check! I obtained a great job doing something I actually love, which has a great salary and benefits. Check!

Future career goals: I just happen to be really good at my job, and continuing to climb the ladder is inevitable, as long as I keep learning, staying ahead of the curve, and adding value to the agency I work for. Within five years, I hope to still be doing what I love, but perhaps in the private sector, where I can make more money, travel for work, and work remotely. I’d also like to see at least one of my novels published.

Financial: I like to keep these goals private. But my plans are positive and practical.

Social: Still nada. With the exception of the wonderful man I dated just over a year ago, I have been without any friends for more than seven years.

Future social goals: I’ve given up on the idea of my anemic social life changing, and decided to just embrace the “only” life. It can be lonely, having no one to call and chat with, or invite out places, or share joys or sorrows. But this has been my life for so long now, that I figure I can survive it indefinitely. Once in a great while, I go out to a Meetup with groups of strangers, to chat in a restaurant or go for a hike, just to pretend like I have some sort of social life. Sometimes, this is even fun.

Family: Five years from now, I will officially be a single empty nester. One kid is already a young adult, with his own life. One is a high school senior, on her way to university next fall. And the youngest has begun high school. So I guess my goal is to just keep loving and supporting them until they’re on their way. After that — who knows?

Future family goals: Well, I guess five years from now, I will be my own family. I would like to have a dog, if my lifestyle allows for it then. I would also like to continue supporting my grown children from a distance, as they start their own independent lives. I can totally see myself living somewhere far away from here, too, since I will have nothing left to keep me here. Seattle, maybe? San Francisco? London? Maybe a new location every year, if my work enables that kind of mobility. But these are all desperate ideas, since I’m honestly clueless about how to plan my future family/self goals. I guess I don’t really know what I should want.

Heading somewhere maybe who knows?

Health: I’m still doing what I should. I exercise daily (running a lot, going to the gym, and occasional tennis Meetups). I eat a mostly plant-based flexitarian diet. My weight is still in the ideal range, and my clothes fit well. I sleep regularly, see the doc regularly, my iron levels are finally within normal range, so my hair is growing again. Yay! I focus on self-care. I don’t have any bad habits to break. I feel good, and content, and just happy enough, most of the time.

Future health goals: I guess I just want more of the same.

Relationship: Last year, I had a wonderful, fulfilling, far-too-short relationship with the man who was perfect for me in every possible way. I pictured a future with him. I pictured an amazing future with him.

Future relationship goals: There will never be anyone who can take his place. I have zero interest in even trying. I do not plan to ever be in any kind of romantic relationship or date anyone else ever again, so I can cross this one off for the rest of my life.

Travel: Luckily, my kids and I have been able to do a bit of fun traveling within our state within the past several years. Yosemite, Disneyland, lots of beaches, and plenty of great day trips and camping trips. I also got to travel vicariously when my daughter went to China for ten days.

Future travel goals: I hope to travel out of the country at last within the next five years. I just have to figure out how we’re paying for kids’ colleges first. I’d also like to return to New York City for a visit, hopefully with my kids. I’m also considering doing a RunDisney 1/2 marathon one day with my daughter, mostly because running in costume is more fun than no costume.

Somewhere in between the big goals, I sometimes throw in a small, short-term goal or two. But to be honest, I don’t have any tangible small goals right now. Sometimes, I feel like I’m running out of ideas. I already have plenty of hobbies — reading, hobbies, watching sports and movies, music, handicrafts…What should I do next when nothing else seems particularly interesting or fun or useful? It seems so lukewarm to me, to plan to do something just for the sake of saying, “I’ve done that.” Where is the joy or meaning in that? Is it just to make conversations more interesting for you people who have friends? Is it meaningful because you work toward these goals with people you’re close to?

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I guess I could plan to do new things just to have something to blog about, to make my blog posts more meaningful. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I blog about the goal I’ve accomplished which had great meaning to me somehow? I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, etc.

Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

One is the Onlyest Number (aka: Pathways)

Life is a maze of pathways.

When we are young, the paths seem fewer. Wider. Simpler to choose. Well duh…I choose the path with the great job, perfect spouse, 2.5 kids, and a 3-bedroom house with a picket fence. Okay, maybe not with the picket fence, because those babies require maintenance.

But as we journey forward in life, those paths begin to multiply. They are murkier, shrouded in mystery. We think we have wandered down the path leading toward our destiny, only to discover that we’ve wandered into some ghetto by mistake. Whoops. Backtrack.

So we choose new paths, with new starry-eyed goals, and new hopes for a better lives. Surely this time, we’ll get it right. Right?

I used to be so good at picking the seeming winners. I wanted to graduate from a university. Bingo! I did it. I wanted a traditional marriage to a good man, with three kids, a golden retriever, and a house in a sleepy suburb. Bingo! I got that, too. Only later, the good man turned out to be not so good, so that path grew more like the journey toward Mordor, until i worked up the courage to flee.

I chose a new path. One with just me, and three great kids. (Only no more golden retriever, because, sadly, she was stolen from us.). It turned out to be the best path yet. My kids and I make one happy family together. I have a career that I enjoy, our health is good, and I feel that I have an optimum balance of work, hobbies, and rest.

But there is only me.

I’m not completely alone. My kids and I have a terrific relationship. We talk, support each other, and laugh together. What more could I ask for? One of my sisters lives nearby, and though we rarely talk or get together, I know that I could call her in an emergency. So I guess that’s kind of a support network.

Still, there is only me. (Cue Whitesnake)

I am the only parent i our household. Which means, I get to be the nurturer, enforcer, provider, protector, teacher, and final-decision-maker. Those are my roles, as Mom. I can pretend sometimes that my kids are my friends, but truthfully, they have their own lives, with their own friends. And there are many things that I can’t share with them the way you can with another adult.

I am my only friend. I’m friendly enough with people I encounter at work or the occasional meetups I venture out to. But I do not have any close friends. If something exciting were to happen in my life, I would scream about it to No One and Everyone on Twitter and my blog. And possibly with people at work. I would not have a friend to share it with. If something bad happens in my life, well, I would probably write about it in my journal, or deal with it internally while listening to sad music. It is up to me to cheer for myself. It is up to me to comfort myself. Because, there is only me.

Luckily, I am good at being the only one. I’ve had a lot of practice. And I’m a pretty darned good friend to myself. I treat myself to an occasional chai, or glass of good wine. I know myself well, so I know just the right things to say to motivate me. I compliment myself and cheer my own accomplishments. Most importantly, I like myself. And I will never leave me.

This path of Onlyness isn’t the path I thought I would take. I thought that by now, after being single for nearly five years, my life would look a little different. I thought that I would have a couple of close friends to hang out with and chat about stupid stuff and important stuff. I thought I would have been in a serious relationship, maybe even remarried, but to someone much better for me. Why not? I’m a kind, honest, interesting, intelligent, and funny person. But neither of those paths led anywhere. They were only ever dead ends. Somehow, it always ended up with only me, standing there, wondering what went wrong.

So I chose a different path. The path of purposeful Onlyness. A path on which I no longer seek friendships or relationships to fill whatever voids I may have, as doing so only led to deeper voids, and more hurt. A path on which I allow people come and go as they choose, and not chase after them. Nor will it hurt when people go, because we will never be close to begin with. A path on which I will not ever again allow myself to be emotionally weak and vulnerable with others. I will instead hold others at a distance, safe in my aloofness.

On this path, I go out to see concerts, movies, and plays with Only Me. I try new foods. I read great books. I work hard at staying fit, advance in my career, and focus on raising my last two teens to adulthood. I do not look with envy at those who are on a different path. I instead celebrate my own path, and offer myself the love, respect, and appreciation that I know I deserve. Is the Only path a lonely path? Yes. It can be. But no lonelier that when I was on the wrong path, searching for togetherness, and only finding aloneness. Better to admire the garden from a distance than to pick the flowers and be stung by bees.

OR (a Poem)

OR

I sometimes wonder who is strongest:

those whose transparent hearts

throb in rhythm with every thought

passions paraded like petticoats

worn on the outside

sadness like cascades

spilling over rounded hills

or

those who long ago learned to staunch

the flow of blood

sit in waiting behind closed doors

and stiff smiles

smothering hope

that  someone, someday, will

pick the lock?

Then I wonder which takes more courage:

to learn, after being scalded once

by the fire

to avoid the kitchen

choosing to see deepest longing

as a lure –

the iced gingerbread that called

Hansel and Gretel

to their doom

or

To leap from one frying pan

to the next

wearing the pain

like medals

always facing the heat one more time

just one more time

to chase

a reward

like the greyhound chases the rabbit?

Kool-aid or Red Pills? (Aka: The Fountain of Youth, Revisited)

“If you could live forever, would you want to?”

Taken by surprise at the stranger’s question, I didn’t stop to think. I blurted out the usual socially-acceptable response. “No, I don’t think so. It’s difficult to imagine surviving beyond the deaths of my children and future grandchildren.” (Well, to be honest, this conversation took place during a Spanish language meetup. So what I responded was more like, “No lo pienso. Es difícil imaginar sobreviviendo mas allá que los muertos de mis hijos y nietos y todos.”)

But later, I pondered over the question. I also discussed it with my two younger kids, who, like me, love deep discussions about theoretical topics. And here is what I concluded:

Yes. I would like to live forever. As an extremely curious individual, I would love to be able to observe as the world changes over time. How will people dress in two hundred years? What sort of transportation will there be in half a century? Where will we live? What medical breakthroughs will there be? Will everyone eventually go vegan, or supplement their diets with insects instead of red meat? Will we finally colonize Mars or find intelligent life on other planets? Will Yellowstone ever erupt, filling the air with ash and plunging the planet into an instant ice age?

Inquiring minds want to know.

But if I am to drink of the fountain of youth, I have a few limits and prerequisites:

1. If I have to pull a Voldemort and create horcruxes in order to live forever, then I’m out. Huh-uh. A big, fat No-Way-José. I don’t want the snake eyes or the evil attitude.

2. Ditto for selling my soul to the devil. Renting it for awhle may be acceptable, depending on the terms of contract.

3. If the elixir of life contains the blood of young children, then I will also have to pass. Because ew. I’d prefer Kool-aid. Or like, a red pill.

4. I want to remain at my current age. If my body will continue to age and decay for the next couple hundred years, well, then that could get old. Even if I don’t. 

It’s interesting that this topic came up, since I just celebrated my 42nd birthday a few days ago. I don’t mind being middle aged. At least, not so far. I still feel like I did when I was 20. I still dance like I did when I was 20. I’m still just as flexible, can run just as fast, turn cartwheels just as well, and can still show off on roller skates. I even wear the same clothing size as I did back then. (Yes, I still own exactly one article of clothing — an expensive silk peignoir that I bought just before my 21st birthday, and it still fits well). Yes, my metabolism has slowed down a little. I have more softness around the middle. And I have (gasp!) exactly one gray hair on my head. But other than that, little has changed.

Who knows? Maybe I already stopped aging, just like Adeline, and Tuck, and Peter Pan. Maybe I already hold the key to eternal youth.


Or maybe I am just as human as everyone else, and will eventually have to come to terms with my own mortality. 

In that case, the best I can hope for, in terms of living forever beyond the misty veil of time, is to write. Perhaps I will someday pen stories that will be passed from generation to generation. Then my name and my work may continue long after I’m gone. As for those I love, well, many of you I have already written. Your faces, your quirks, the way you laugh, the way your eyes crinkle when you laugh, the way you chew the corner of your lip without realizing it, the way you walk, the lilt in your voice, the way your mouth curls when you speak, the words you say — I will capture those with my stalker writer skills of observation and memory. I will breath you to life with my fingers, and in this way, you will live forever, too.

Yes, I know. I’d rather drink from the fountain of eternal youth, too. But this is the best I can offer.


MUSIC ON MY MIND:

PoetBastille

Forever YoungAlphaville

Zzzzzzz (aka: You Really Need More Sleep)

sleeping Focus on the light. Relax your mind. You’re getting sleeeeepy…

Oh wait. Hang on. If you fall asleep, then you’ll miss reading the rest of this blog post. And you really don’t want to miss it, because today we are focusing on the most important thing in your life (whether you acknowledge it or not).

You guessed it. The most important thing in your life is sleep. And if you are like many Americans, you’re not getting enough of it. Get Some Sleep

It’s the strangest thing. From a very young age, the importance of getting good, regular sleep is drilled into our brains. Take a nap! Go to bed right now, young lady! What — are you still awake reading books with a flashlight? Ten points from Ravenclaw!

Yawn.

Sleep is such a dreadful bore, isn’t it? Especially when we have work to do, soccer games to watch, and kids to shuttle around town to activities. And then, to top it all off, we have to spend another 7-8 hours in bed, doing absolutely nothing? So unproductive!

Of course, there’s that part we like to forget about. That part in which not getting enough regular good sleep can be hazardous to our health, as well as the health of people around us. Need a reminder? Okay. Not getting enough sleep can lead to:

Weight gain

Memory difficulties

Cognitive Impair

Diminished sex life

Irritability / Mood Swings

Decreased attention span

Inability to adapt to change

Heart disease

Diabetes

Weakened immune system

Depression / apathy

Diminished decision-making ability

Higher risk of auto accidents

sleep deprivationOkay time out. This list sounds just as bad as those side-effect lists on drug commercials. Diseases! Cognitive decline! Depression! Potentially deadly auto accidents! And yet, even knowing this, many of us will push off sleep until we absolutely can’t keep our eyes open. Just one more episode. Just one more chapter. Just one more hour of this exciting video game. Just one more zzzzz….

I’d write some more about sleep, but you know what? I think I’ll just go and get some.

How much sleep do you really need

Sources:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

http://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/9-reasons-to-sleep-more

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/from/sleep.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/11/natural-sleep-aids_n_3882229.html