Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Little Less Impact

Obligatory opening post: Yes, I'm reviving this blog. No, I'm not sure why. Maybe I'll have more than one entry, maybe I'll stop at this. Who knows.
With that out of the way, let's get down to business.


This year I decided that one of my goals was to have a greener household. Not that we weren't before. We were already doing the usual: we minimized wasting water, we didn't litter on the streets, we used energy-efficient bulbs, we switched off lights not in use and we went to the supermarket with our reusable bags. Like I said, the usual. 

But I wanted to do more. So slowly, we made some changes. 

Some were easy: say no to straws, bring your own water bottle, use rechargeable batteries, send our recyclable trash to the recycling centers. Done. 

Others, required a little more effort. In 5 months, these were our changes:

1. Composting
The start of my bin in mid-Jan
I spent weeks obsessing and stressing out over starting a compost bin. I not only read articles and watched YouTube videos, I actually emailed a US-based expert just to give me confidence to start this. Even now when I'm worried that my compost isn't doing what I think it should be doing, I email him for advice. He's been incredibly patient and helpful with my never-ending questions. 

Thank you, Tyler.  

The contents after about 3 months.
I think it's doing well.
I should also thank my husband who was very supportive of this little backyard project. He not only encouraged me, he helped me set it up and always reminds me to not stress my bin out and just let nature take its course. 

My bin is about 4 months old now and is almost full. Once it is, I think it'll need to cook for a few months. Hopefully, I can start a second bin so we don't have to stop composting at all. 

2. Refills

Their fully-stocked refill center
My greatest discovery this year was BYOB  (Bring Your Own Bottle) Detergent Refill Center. Before I found them, I was already considering making my own cleaning materials from scratch. But this is so much more convenient. 

The great thing is that they not only make biodegradable cleaning materials, they let you refill your own bottles or, if you forgot one or didn't bring enough, you can buy their detergents in pre-used (but cleaned!) bottles. 

my happy-filled bottles
Thanks to them, I've managed to switch over most of my household cleaners: bleach, floor cleaner, fabric softener, hand wash and dish washing liquid. I want to try their hand sanitizers, glass cleaners and vegetable wash next. At the moment I'm having a little trouble with their laundry detergent but they've been very helpful trying to help me through it. I'd hate to go back to commercial detergents if this doesn't work out. 

Cost-wise it's not that always significantly cheaper, especially if you're like me and tend to hoard on cleaners when they're on sale. But I'm willing to trade a few sens for less plastic use. 

3. Plastic-free vegetables
A week's worth of veggies, plastic-free

It was only after I became more plastic-conscious that I realized how much plastic you can accumulate on a trip to the supermarket. Particularly when buying vegetables. If they weren't already pre-packed in plastic, you had to get a piece of plastic to put your veggies in so they can get weighed. 

My first step was buying reusable produce bags made from up-cycled curtain fabric. It worked to reduce my plastic consumption by a total of 5 pieces (I had only bought 5 reusable bags). Given how much vegetables I bought in a week, 5 felt like it was barely a dent. 

Then I found Everfresh Food Mart, where produce is sold in bulk, mostly packaging free. While they do have some pre-packed, they're willing to let you transfer them to your own bag and return the plastic to them for their re-use. Now am sure most people would probably say I could have easily gotten this from my neighborhood wet market, but let's face it, I don't have wet market skills. Don't judge me. Hahaha... 

4. Cloth Napkins
Plastic-free feminine hygiene
Ok, this one... this took me a while. I once believed that sanitary napkins were the 20th century's greatest invention. Unfortunately, they also turned out to be terrible for the environment. One of my friends has been using them for years now but every time I thought about it I kept coming back to the same question: how do you clean it? So I thought I'd start with panty-liners. They seemed easier. Then I found the In Between Cultura stall at the Zero Waste Fest. Although they had run out of panty-liners, the nice lady at the booth talked me through the use of cloth napkins. What I really appreciated though was that she actually recommended I only buy one as a first step. She said it was best that I try it out, see if it worked for me and only then invest in more. So that's what I did. Now, two cycles in, I have to say I'm happy with cloth napkins and am ready to get more. As for the panty-liners, I found those care of Athena Empowers, also a discovery made at the Zero Waste Fest

5. Ecobricks

It's hard to eliminate plastic entirely. Nearly everything is wrapped in it. And even though I have taken steps to reduce it, there are some that I haven't quite gotten rid of yet. So what do I do with those? It seemed wrong to just throw them away. Enter, the ecobrick. 

our family's first ecobrick in the making
The concept of the ecobrick is to stuff PET plastic containers (soft drinks, water bottles, etc) with as much non-biodegradable items as possible. Stuff like wrappers for chips, noodles, cheese slices, even plastic labels. Basically everything non-organic (except glass and metal) can go into a bottle. Once that's stuffed full and tight (there's a minimum density it needs to meet to be considered good quality), it can then be used as a building block material. Thankfully, there are organizations in Malaysia that take ecobricks so I don't have to use them myself. While it's a great, immediate option to deal with the overwhelming plastic we produce, it is by no means an excuse to just continue consuming plastic. But for now, this will do. 

You can read about ecobricks here: Check with your local communities about the use of ecobricks. 

6. Bioenzymes
Made: May 10, 2018
This is my most recent project. Now technically, I could just throw my orange peels into the compost and not generate any waste. But I've been reading about bioenzymes and since I had some citrus peels, I thought I'd give it a try. Bioezymes are supposed to be a great multipurpose cleaning product. You can use it anywhere from floor cleaning to washing vegetables. I haven't quite figured out what do with it, but I have 3 months of fermenting before I need to decide. 

In the meantime, if I do intend to keep creating bioenzymes, I need to have a better strategy. Using individual bottles to make batches can be wasteful as I don't think I can easily get the peels out from small-mouthed opening or re-use the bottle. 

Lastly, I have made a very minor habit change.

7. Dishcloth at work

Every morning I wash my water bottle at work and use at least 2 paper towels to dry it. Then I use another 2 to dry my hands. When I wash my lunch box, I use 2 towels to dry them, and another two for my hands. So far, that's 8 towels. Not counting the 2 towels I use each time I wash my hands in the bathroom. All in just one day.

It seemed like an awful lot going into the trash bin. And yes, paper towels are paper and they're biodegradable. But it's still ending up in a landfill somewhere. So, I just started bringing a dish cloth to work. One towel a week to be used on just my stuff. 

a simple change for a bigger cause
And while washing the dish cloth needs water, detergent and electricity, I figured that the energy produced for an item inside a large laundry load, is less than the energy used to produce, pack and dispose of paper towels. So I think I'm still carbon positive there. 

The more I do to be greener, the more I realize there is still so much to be done. And each change requires an adjustment. For example, BYOB and the veggie shop are completely separate trips from my regular supermarket visit. So to get that done, I have to make an errand run over my lunch hour. Thankfully, both are incredibly near my office so it's not terribly out of the way. But yes, it means I have to drive, which means an increase in my carbon footprint. But I'm weighing that against the plastic I save and I've decided I'm going to err on the side of reducing plastic. 

 There are 3 mains reasons all this has worked so far. 

  1. The aforementioned supportive husband. These changes impact him too, but he's okay with it, because he knows it's for a greater good.
  2. Zero Waste Malaysia. Both inspiring and informative, this FB group has introduced me to ways of reducing waste, and to stores that support that idea. 
  3. Household help. I'm blessed enough to have someone at home who helps run the household full time. Her help in implementing these changes makes all the difference. 
I'm far from being a Zero Waster and I don't now if I'll ever really be one. But in the grand scheme of things, I'm happy with the changes we've made.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Survival skill: dish washing with limited water

I promised myself at the beginning of the year that I would blog at least once month. Hello, it's already Q2 of 2014 and I'm only writing my first entry. I have about 4 or 5 topics in my head that I've been wanting to write about. But as usual, it is staying mostly in my head. If you want to know what they were, kwentuhan na lang tayo (let's just talk).

Sometime in the 1980's I remember the Philippines going through a period of El Nino. Rain was scarce and water was a precious commodity. I remember public service announcements on TV giving people tips on how to maximize and save water. I remember large water pails in the bathroom and smaller water pails in the kitchen. I remember my father making trips to the deep well hand pump in our back yard and my waiting for him by the door so I could take the bucket he just filled, empty it into a bigger pail, and give it back to him to fill again. It was a task we would keep doing until the big pail was full.

Now, almost 30 years later, I find myself once again in a similar situation. For the last few weeks, every 2 days, for 2 days each, our taps run dry. My life is once again all about big pails, small pails and water scoopers.

The good thing about having faced water rationing before is that I feel incredibly equipped to deal with its challenges. No hot water showers? No problem. Inconsistent laundry days? I'm flexible. Too much hassle to cook during no-water days? Prepare dishes in advance. But what I am most proud of is that even with no running water, I can wash the dishes.

Say what?

Alright, let me explain. We're used to washing dishes by rinsing them in water that runs from the tap. So, when the tap is dry, the immediate recourse some people take is to scoop up some water and pour it out in a steady stream, just like a tap, and rinse as usual. Sure, it's doable. But it's also wasteful. What I learned almost 30 years ago is a dish washing method that is much more economical.

Introducing: The Basin.

In what will be probably one of the weirdest, most random blog posts you will ever read, I pass on to you the life skill my dear mother taught me, and for which I will forever be grateful.

Step 1: build your pile. This method is time consuming and is more efficient when you have plenty to wash. This was breakfast and lunch dishes combined.
Step 2: get a basin and fill it with water. It doesn't need to be full. I only fill mine up to half or maybe even less.
Step 3: start rinsing your dishes, one by one, in the basin. This lets you can get rid of any food pieces, oil or any other dirt on the dish. Start off with the cleanest / most delicate ones. I have a 1yo son so I normally rinse his things first, followed by our drinking glasses. By the time you finish rinsing and discard the water, your basin may also be a little grimy from the dirt and the oil, especially if it's plastic. Give it a nice, simple cleansing with some soap and fresh water.

Step 4: soap your dishes.

Step 5: fill up your now-clean basin with water again, and start rinsing your dishes. As before, start with the delicate items first. In this case, I started with my son's milk bottle. Once you've done all the dishes, give your basin another once over to clean it.

On another note, I like to separate the washing of large pots and pans because they're a lot dirtier than plates and glasses. In those instances, I use the water here for their pre-soap rinse (step #1).

Step 6: Finally, give all your dishes a final wash by filling up the basin again and repeating the rinsing process. At this point your dishes will be ready to put away. In case you have any stubborn item, just set it aside and give it a third washing later.

Extra: I consider the water from the final rinse to be considerably clean so I try not to just discard it. I usually use it to soak the cleaning rags I use to wipe down the table or the kitchen sink. Or use it to give my pots and pans a good first rinse.

So there you have it. It's not the sexiest survival skill to know, but hey, it sure is useful.


Thursday, August 15, 2013


A week ago I was optimistic about finally being able to regain some control of my life. Since moving, getting married and giving birth, my lifestyle has not exactly been the same. That is not to say that I am worse off than before. It is just to say that now I am different.

Everyday I am learning to live with and embrace that difference. Some days are harder than others but most days are peaceful days, love-filled days, memory-making days. Even if those days are sandwiched in the middle of dirty diapers, laundry, spit up, washing dishes, cooking dishes, a crying infant and the daily trash.

On occasion a part of me will yearn for something that is just for me. A little reminder of the casual freedom of a previous life. So, thinking that somehow I had the time for it, I finally opened up an oDesk account. I was going to be a freelancer, part-time employee, worker-from-home and an income-generator for my family. I was going to matter again.

Sure I'm alone at home with the baby all day every day and I have a house to maintain and a husband to care for but there must be a space in there somewhere for me, right? If I look closely at the rhythm of the day for me and my son, I can probably find the extra 2 or 4 hours I needed to be socially productive. 2 or 4 hours out of 24 hours is such a small thing to ask.

Or is it?

Yesterday my son and I couldn't get through his bath in peace. Wet and wailing, I was forced to scoop him up in my arms in an attempt to calm him. I struggled to towel him down but ended up probably drying him mostly with my shirt. And at night he spent so much time crying in my arms, I started crying too. I made my husband skip gym because I needed someone to relieve me of baby duty.

Then there is today. Today he is quiet. At the moment he is asleep. My household is at peace and I have time to sit at my computer and write. Maybe I do have my window of productivity. But this morning, he gave me a gummy smile as his tiny little hands reached for my face. Today I watched him crawl, stare and intently study the world around him, infinitely curious about all he could hear and see. Today I sang nursery rhymes to a lone audience member who doesn't mind that at most times mommy is out of tune.

And I think to myself, "maybe it can wait... maybe the job can wait..."


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Work-Life Balance

Early this year, after almost 15 years of running the rat race, and climbing up the corporate ladder, I jumped off the ladder altogether. My title changed from "Senior Manager" to "Home Manager" and eventually got promoted to "Stay-at-Home Mom".

Despite what it sounds like, staying at home does not equate to bumming around. There is always, always, something that needs to be done. The dishes, the meals, the laundry, the cleaning, the organizing, the washing... add to that the baby's bathing, feeding, changing, burping, cuddling & carrying. I realize that keeping house is just as busy and just as time-consuming as a regular 9-to-5 job.

A lot of mothering books tell you that it's easy to lose yourself in the routine of caring for a home and a child. They remind mothers to take time off for themselves, to be the women they were before this other calling took hold of them. To nurture themselves as much as they nurture their family.

In that sense, even SAHM's need work-life balance. Sure, the work is slightly different now, but the need for a life doesn't change.

It doesn't even have to come in the form of anything grand, like vacations, or causes or altruistic projects. Anything new and different can be refreshing.

In my case, it was just being able to try a new recipe.

With a 2-mo. old around, it's hard to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Prep work takes more time now as I do it in between looking after my son. (Dinner preps start as early as 3pm and can end as late as 6pm, with everything getting done in stages.) But thankfully, I have a mother who moonlights as Mary Poppins. After a 2-week hiatus in the Philippines, she heard my distress call and is back to spend (another) 2-months with us. By being able to share baby duties, I have a little more time to experiment with dinner.

After months of wanting to, I got to revisit my recipe/scrap book. By no means was I making a gourmet meal. But it  is certainly liberating to cook with the peace of mind of knowing my son wouldn't be neglected and dinner didn't have to take a whole day to make.

Presenting... Thai Chicken Bites. (Thank you Wenkgirl for the recipe.)

Step 1: dredge
Fully coated and ready for frying
The final product.
At this point, it's not even about the taste, just about the fact that I can.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Slow progress

One week after my last post, even with my mom now around helping me out, finding time to sit down and write has not gotten easier.

Just goes to show that I am living on borrowed time. Borrowed from a tiny little emperor that packs a powerful pair of lungs, a demanding feeding schedule and loves being held to sleep.

Sige na baby, pagbigyan mo naman si mommy....



Friday, June 14, 2013

A mommy tale

I am willing to bet that there are days in every mother's life when the responsibility of motherhood becomes a heavy burden to bear. I have only been a mother for a little over 9wks and I've had those moments already.

Two nights ago was one of them.

It was late, I hadn't showered or eaten and my son was having a cling-y moment, refusing to be put down in his crib, his rocker, the bed, the floor or on the sofa. He wanted to be carried, he wanted to be rocked, he wanted mommy to dance with him around the room non-stop. In fact, he wouldn't even let mommy sit down. Because the moment she did, he would scrunch up his face and whimper. A tell-tale sign that crying was soon to follow.

Hungry, tired and at the edge of my patience, I put him down on his crib despite his protests. I made sure there was nothing nearby he could grab or could hurt him and then I did what no mommy wants to do, I left him. I went downstairs, prepared my dinner plate and I started to eat.

I ate to the sound of my son's escalating cries. From the baby monitor, I could see that he was safe. I knew he wasn't hungry (we had just finished nursing), he wasn't cold or too warm, and he hadn't soiled himself. But I could also see that he was unhappy being up there alone. To be honest, I wasn't happy downstairs either. But it was either be unhappy eating, or be driven mad with the crying.

My husband was out late that night and I ate while constantly looking at the driveway willing him to finally come home. I needed someone to either take baby and stop his crying, or at least tell me that I wasn't being a bad mommy for wanting 15mins of relative peace.

By the time I was done and took him again, he had tears in his eyes and sipon running down his nose. Sigh.

A few minutes of soothing, kisses, rocking and singing later he had fallen asleep, head against my chest, his favorite position with me. I like to think it's because he can listen to my heartbeat.

A few more minutes later, daddy comes home and takes him from me. Finally I could shower.

One day down. A lifetime ahead.

Hello, Stacey. Welcome to motherhood.