Monday, September 28, 2020

How to Build a Perfect Cardboard Shoe Rack on the Cheap

Living during a pandemic means suddenly acquiring more boxes than you used to. Rather than going out to a physical store, you simply order what you want or need. Now add an infant into the picture. 

Big boxes. 

Little boxes. 

Boxes on the floor, under the table, even on an exercise bike.

multiple cardboard boxes surrounding a vintage exercise bike

The apartment is clogged with boxes, and the apartment community's recycling containers are always full, because everyone else has a cardboard clogged apartment, as well.

So what in the heck do you do?!

You build an architectural masterpiece... or, at least a much-needed shoe rack.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Can You Believe What California Just Did for the World?

plastic bottles, yogurt containers, bags
Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

 "Hey, check this out." My boyfriend began reading to me from across the room. "California passes first in nation plastic recyc-"

"And?" I rolled my eyes. I was still disgusted, because plastic recycling isn't nearly as helpful as we've all been led to believe. "Unless we force companies to use recycled plastic at a decent rate, it won't really matter how much we throw into the recycling bin."

"'...requiring plastic beverage containers to contain an increasing amount of recycled material.'" He plodded on, ever patient.

"Wait, what?!"

It turns out that he was reading about recycling legislation that truly is first-in-the-nation. 

On September 24, 2020 Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill No. 793 into law. It states that beverages sold in plastic containers must contain a specified amount of post-consumer material, effective January 1, 2022.

What are those specified amounts? There are actually a few different levels that will be added to the Public Resources Code, increasing by date.

  • January1, 2020 - December 31, 2024: at least 15% 
  • January1, 2025 - December 31, 2029: at least 25%
  • January 1, 2030: at least 50%
An overwhelming amount of plastic is ending up in our waterways. The knowledge that one state is demanding that companies do something to curb that devastating waste makes me feel hopeful about plastic recycling yet again. 

California is the first state to do this, but many more may follow in its footsteps. Which do you think will be next?

Monday, September 21, 2020

How to Stop Wasting So Much Energy + Save Time and Money

steaming pot on a stovetop
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Whether anybody likes to admit it or not, we Americans are energy hogs. As a maintenance tech, it seemed like every apartment I walked into had every electrical outlet in use, complete with surge protectors. 

I've lost count of how many times I had to explain that there was nothing wrong with a person's electrical lines. They were simply drawing more power from a single circuit than it could handle. When that happens- Zzzt! The power goes out.

Quit overloading the circuits!

Obviously, the above situation costs a great deal when energy bills come around, but that's not where you find a home's worst energy consumption. And don't worry, I'm not going to tell you to wrap up your water heater, or buy a new one, either... even though it would help.

Instead, let's talk about the kitchen.

In particular, I want to talk about how we prepare food. Since gas stoves/ovens use natural gas to heat, I'm not going to talk about them... it's pretty obvious that they're not doing the Earth any favors. Plus, my professional and personal experience mostly deals with electric.

Electric kitchen ranges draw insane amounts of power to do simple tasks like boiling water for ramen. Now, I haven't gotten rid of my oven, and I still use it sometimes. I've simply reduced my usage. 


So how did I reduce my own electric bill, thereby saving money and reducing my carbon footprint at the same time?

It was easier than you think, and I'll tell you how (and why) to do it.

Use a modern pressure cooker.

Don't go and grab the pressure cooker that your grandfather stored in the garage 2 decades ago. Those old ones are dangerous.

Instead, get a modern pressure cooker. While I have an Instant Pot, there are many others that are just as good. These modern beauties reduce cooking time and consume less energy than an oven or stovetop. Sometimes they even produce better results for those of us don't have a culinary degree.

Their energy savings are pretty significant. As an example, I'll do the math for both an electric oven and my 6-quart Instant Pot. The calculation is as follows:

(Appliance wattage) / (number of hours in use) = watt hours per day

(watt hours per day) / 1000 = Kilowatt hours per day, or kWh

If we want the monthly amount of energy used, though, we must take it one step further.

kWh * 30days in a month = kWh per month

In an oven, it takes me an hour to bake a 5 pound chicken, plus an extra 15 minutes for pre-heating. 

With my pressure cooker, the same chicken cooks for 25 minutes with a 15 minute pressure build-up time. There's also a 5 minute quick-release of pressure (I get impatient).

Roast chicken sitting on a bare wooden surface with a spoon and fork on either side
Photo by Lukas from Pexels

To do the calculations, I'll use the average oven wattage of 2400 watts. My Instant Pot uses 1000 watts. I'll also assume that my cook times are the same every day for a full month for both devices.

When plugging all of these numbers into the equation, we get a total of 57.6 kWh when using the oven for a full month. The pressure cooker uses only 40 kWh each month. 

As you can see, this is an energy savings of roughly 31%.

Or even better, use a microwave.

I know what you're thinking... microwaves are for reheating, or for quick, tiny, pre-packaged foods. You used to be right.

But not anymore.

Today you can find countless microwave recipes that are both tasty and healthy. The microwave is faster than either the oven or the pressure cooker. In fact, a small one uses approximately 600watts, so you're talking about mega-savings.

Of course, a small microwave won't cook a chicken, but you win some and lose some, right?


Perhaps you're really not interested in changing your cooking method.

No worries. you can still save energy and money by taking a few more quick steps.

Quit opening that oven door!

I know how difficult this can be, especially if you don't have a window on your oven. My own is like this. But try to hold back. 

You see, every time you open that oven door, you decrease the oven temperature. This decrease can be as much as 150 degrees! That means you need to wait even longer to eat, because the oven needs to get back up to the proper temperature.

So please, for the sake of your hungry family, just leave it closed.

A worn, off-white, vintage oven with the door half open

Clean your oven.

A clean oven is a happy oven. No, really! Cleaning an oven makes the heat distribute more evenly. The result? Better energy efficiency. 

And while you're at it, keep the burner pans clean, as well. They reflect heat back at your pan, helping your food cook faster. Score!

Match the proper pan size to the correct burner on your stovetop.

This is a big one that many people never consider. If you use a large burner to heat a small pan, you're wasting more energy than necessary. Much of the heat goes out into the surrounding air, rather than just the pan.

Use your lids.

While you can't really do this if you're frying up something crispy, using the lid helps you build up heat faster, and retain that heat, as well. In fact, I'm always able to keep water boiling after placing a lid on a pot and reducing the heat to medium. Think about what that means for energy reduction!

Reducing our personal carbon footprint is so easy!

Not only are these all simple tasks, they also save you a great deal of money in the long run. Some even save you a significant amount of time. 

Of course, there are many more ways to reduce our energy consumption in the kitchen. I've only listed a fragment of them. Add your own in the comments below and help make us all a little greener!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Save Money and the Environment by Spicing Up Your Garden


single large leaf holding water, potted taro plant

"Ask your uncle if you need any oregano. I've got too much over here." I smiled at the neighbor's nephew and waved while holding a few sprigs of the aforementioned herb.

"Ok, I will. It's like you have a whole big garden over there, or something!" He responded with amazement.

As I looked back at all my plants, I understood what he meant. He didn't actually mean a garden. It doesn't take many plants to call something a garden. What he meant was that it was like I have a whole farm on my balcony.

And he's not wrong. My apartment balcony is home to 25 different plants. All of them are edible, with the exception of one. Don't worry - nobody wants to eat my tiny azalea bush. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs transform my balcony into a mini forest, complete with its own pint-sized eco-system.

What we're focusing on today, though, is the herbs.

At first, gardening doesn't seem like a process that would save you money. Seeds sometimes cost more than the produce that you buy in the grocery store. I'm talking about you, Mr. Bell Pepper Seed that only gave me 2 ping ping ball sized fruits! 

And buying young plants at a nursery? You can spend less by getting your herbs in bulk at the grocery, depending on the variety.


If you do it right, you become victorious.

One corner of a balcony garden overflowing with plants

Welcome to the Jungle!

Ok, not all of that is herbs. You get the point, though. A small amount can transform your garden into a chef's dream, with perfectly grown spices just waiting to be plucked for your next meal.

How does this save money, you ask? The trick is to choose the right herbs. 

Only Plant What You Plan on Using

Yes, I know this seems obvious, but you'd be surprised just how often you go to buy basil, but come out with chives, peppermint, stevia... and basil... in 3 different varieties. It's important to think about what you use. Don't distract yourself with all the other seeds that are calling out to you in their sweet, dulcet tones.

Choose Perennials When Possible

These herbs are the givers of the plant world. Every year you prune then, snip them, constantly remove sprig after sprig, and they keep coming back for more. They're a one-time expense, which means that even if you spend a decent amount of money on one, it'll pay for itself after a season or two.

Only Pick Annuals if Saving Their Seeds is Easy

A good annual for your herb garden is one that enjoys spreading its seeds all over its pot. Plants with this characteristic ensure you have a good supply growing every season. 

Most basils are annuals. So are cilantro and dill. The hardest part of caring for these herbs is having the patience to wait for a sprig or two to go to seed.

Growing your own herbs is a small step toward protecting our environment, as well.

How, you ask?

Think about how many miles the herbs you buy in the store have to travel. Most dried (and even fresh) herbs aren't sourced locally. The gas (or diesel) used to get them to your table weighs on the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. That's not all, though. 

Consider the packaging. Most of the time, herbs are packaged in plastic containers, or glass containers with plastic lids. I don't think you need to be reminded about the many problems associated with plastic production, or plastic waste.

plastic bottle on beach. Photo from Catherine Sheila, Pexels
...but I did it, anyway.

By planting your own herb garden, you not only save money over time, but do your part to save the Earth in the process. What could be better than that?

Plant that garden, and let me know what you plan to put in it. You may give me an idea for expanding mine in the future!

Monday, September 7, 2020

How Broken Glass Made Me More Eco-Friendly

broken wine glass on bare tabletop
Image via Pixabay

In less than 24 hours, everything was moved out of my old apartment and into the new. The move was exhausting, and we didn't get much sleep, but it was done.

In fact, I was proud of myself this time. You see, I managed to get every box labeled by room, even though I wasn't the only one packing. It was the move to end all moves. Fast. Organized. Perfect.

But then I opened that box.

When I lifted the box labeled "KITCHEN: glasses and bowls", I heard an ominous




and I knew I was in trouble. I opened a box and lifted a towel to find glass fragments twinkling up at me. Half of my drinking glasses were broken.

Well, so much for a perfect move!

At the time, I was having some money issues, so buying a brand new set of drinking glasses wasn't an option.

I stared at the bottle of coffee on the counter.

You know the type of bottle I'm talking about: the prepackaged, pre-mixed coffee sold by companies like Starbucks. This particular brand had an easy to remove label. That wasn't the only part of it that made me smile, however. I also realized that it held the same amount of liquid as my broken glasses were created to hold.

I loved this cold coffee, which meant that I occasionally bought it for myself as a special treat. Now, though, it was useful as well.

I collected all the glass coffee bottles I bought, removed their labels, and washed them. Within a few months, I had a full set of drinking glasses, again. I continued, saving other glass containers that held food or drink products. Finally, I was able to store most of my leftovers in glass, rather than plastic.

Tube shaped glass of milk on left, standard wide bottle on right, also holding milk
Rice seasoning container on left, coffee on right

Plastic is made using petrochemicals, and has a very high chance of releasing toxins into your body if it becomes unstable through overuse or overheating. Glass, though, remains safe and non-toxic. That's not all, however.

Choosing to re-use your glass containers is both eco-friendly and frugal.

Take my forced re-usage as an example. 

Glass containers can be re-used and repurposed in multiple ways.

You see the photo of my new drinking glasses above. However, I also have a half-gallon milk jug that I use for iced tea, a salsa bottle that holds half & half, a chili oil jar containing pens and pencils, and so much more. 

If you imagine a new purpose for your glass, you can bring that vision to life.

It's not only cheap, but saves money, as well.

Think about it. Yes, you do have to buy the container, but you're not going out to buy some glass. You're buying pizza sauce, or salsa, or something else. It just happens to have a glass container. This means that many of your home purchases are non-existent.

Food grade glass is stronger than you think.

That's probably the one thing I constantly hear about from people. 

"It's so strong!" "This is stronger than my glasses at home!"

These containers withstand constant movement. They are stocked and re-stocked, customers pick them up, put them down, pick them up again, and drop them into their carts. They take a serious beating.

glass bottle holding a green smoothie with a red and white straw
Photo by Alisha Mishra via Pexels

It's guilt free.

You're not contributing to the plastic islands floating around our ocean. If your glass container breaks, you can throw it out without fear of putting toxins into our environment. 

Not only that, but if you simply get tired of it and dump it into your recycling bin, there's no guilt. Not only are you recycling it, you've also re-used and repurposed an item. Talk about eco-friendly!

You have a great conversation starter.

Whenever someone comes to my home for the first time, they'll hold up the glass bottle of water that I hand to them, and examine it with curiosity. They always want to know more about it, and many start re-using their own glass containers. Some talk about ways that they or a family member have repurposed glass in the past.

With so many ways to both save money and be eco-friendly simply by choosing not to throw out a few used food containers, everybody should want to. In what ways have you repurposed glass containers?