Sunday, December 27, 2015

Recycling in Natrona Heights Pittsburgh

One of my New Year's resolutions is to recycle more.  I'm glad there are some recycling facilities here in Harrison Township (here's their Welcome Packet).

  • Curbside recycling is OK, but could be better. Morrow Refuse takes the usual glass and metal, but only Plastics #1 and #2 (no plastics #3 through #7, polystyrene), and only newpapers, inserts and magazines (no phone books, hardcover books or junk mail).  
  • The Harrison Township Municipal building has 24 hr drop off recycling containers that take some things Morrow won't: Cardboard (no paper board or pizza boxes), phone books, office paper (no plastic bags).
  • There are a few recycling collection containers that I know of - I think the one outside the Community Library of Allegheny County accepts junk mail. 
  • The Bureau of Environmental Services at the Strip District is one of the several drop off centers in Pittsburgh - closest to me, 24 hrs - and it takes everything listed for other recycling facilities above, PLUS Plastics #1 through #5 & #7, Paperboard (food & drink cartons), Paperback & Hard cover books, Mixed/colored paper/junk mail (no plastic bags).
  • Walmart and other grocery stores take plastic bags (#2 & #4, bread bags, newspaper bags, outer wrapping from bulk beverages, BUT no food/cling wrap/frozen food bags bags, prewashed salad bags)
  • Batteries are accepted at PA Resources Council & Batteries Plus (Ross, Monroeville, etc)
  • Compact fluorescent bulbs at Home Depot and Lowes & PA Resources Council South Side.
  • Packing peanuts at the UPS store. 
A somewhat useful searchable database for recycling facilities is found at the Pennsylvania DEP that allows you to search by Material, by Location or by Organization. 
According to this site:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Abe's Market: Mindful Value for Money

I just ordered a huge 88 oz (2.5 L) tin of Zoe's Extra Virgin Organic Olive Oil at an unbeatable price of $37.99 from Abe's Market. I usually get this off Amazon, which usually offers really good pricing, but even their best price of $42.97 couldn't beat Abe's this time.

In addition, I got the Dr Bronner's 18-in-1 Peppermint Castille Soap 1 gallon for $55.99. This is an okay price - Amazon's price was $52. BUT, I also had a coupon code for 20% off at Abe's.

So definitely cheaper getting from Abe's for these two items. The coupon saved me $19!

I wish I'd heard of Abe's Market earlier. I love their website and the whole 'mindfulness' approach. And that 20% discount helps too! If that expires, there's also the FREESHIP coupon code that could come in handy.

Check out Abe's Market ya!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chicken Dumping Epidemic - Only in the USA

This morning's breaking news: chickens are being abandoned by their hipster owners disillusioned by notions of homesteading and self sufficiency. And a chicken shelter - who even knew there were such things?! - currently holds a couple hundred of these chooks awaiting rehoming to families around the country who wish to have themselves a pet chicken. 

My first thought was 'Food...'

I'm the go to gal in my family whenever a chicken needs putting down. So far it's been Opie, an alpha rooster who was terrorizing the kids and who also left some huge bruises on my back (but I assure you it wasn't revenge on my part I adore animals really). 

You'd never see this in China or Vietnam or Laos or well you get the idea. Places where chickens are viewed as food and not pet stock :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Campaign against Basa Fish from Vietnam: Protectionist?

Today I watched a 2010 video depicting in the most awful light, basa fish aquaculture in Vietnam. This video has had over 50,000 views on Youtube, and most of the comments slam farmed fish from Asian countries.

What piqued my curiosity however, was who would post such a video?

The poster was 'Safecatfish' who has so far posted eight videos. is "committed to supporting laws that protect the health and safety of the American consumer". While most of Safecatfish's videos draw attention to the hazards of eating fish imported from Asian countries such as China, Vietnam and Thailand, there was one entitled 'Catfish Imports Worry U.S. Fish Farmers' that said foreign catfish is 'suspect' and 'unhealthy' and want the USDA to inspect foreign fish. Interestingly not edited out of that video was a remark by John Connelly of the National Fisheries Institute that these claims were put out by 'special interest groups' to cause a 'safety scare'.

Question of the day
Is farm-raised fish from Asia being wrongfully slandered? Is there any truth in the 'Dirty Waters, Dangerous Fish' documentary (which was likely sponsored and produced by Safecatfish).

Gracie's take
I did study some aquaculture back in university as part of my first agriculture degree, and have visited numerous fish and shrimp / prawn farms around Malaysia. Overcrowding is definitely a problem, and with overcrowding comes stress-related diseases, and administration of antibiotics to keep fish alive. Farmers of these 'chicken of the sea' face similar problems as farmers of land chickens, in my opinion. Overcrowding and all the resultant issues are found everywhere in the world where animals are raised on a large scale (commercially). The situation tends to be better in developed countries - regulation and enforcement tend to be lax (or non-existent) in developing countries.

I personally try to avoid buying seafood raised on farms, unless these farms have been certified as sustainable. Which I think is an oxymoron since farmed salmon eat three pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of salmon (read the New Republic's 'Aquacalypse Now'). Buying farm-raised fish and shrimp could be contributing to environmental damage. Mangroves, which are important ecological areas and natural nurseries for fish and myriad other wildlife, are cleared to make way for fish farms. The intensive production of fish also produces a lot of waste (fish poop too) that pollute the water. Farm-raised fish not be free of mercury and other pollutants (read Scientific American's article HERE).

Is wild-caught best? Sorry, but no. Wild caught salmon and wild caught shrimp is better than farmed (for most part), but there's no guarantee that they are free from pollutants and heavy metal either. They swim in the same big sea that their farmed kin, raised in huge numbers, are pooping into. Also, wild populations are severely overfished due to our massive appetite for seafood, so it would be nice to give them a break and give them a chance to make some fish babies, no?

On the occasion that I eat fish, I would pick wild-caught fish, preferably 'sustainably caught' (fish troll or pole caught, as opposed to dredging and trawling, read more HERE). And if I were to take fish oil, it would be from wild caught fish too, preferably distilled, to remove heavy metals like mercury.

That's my two cents. Would love to hear yours!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review of Composters: Bin, Tumbler or Build your Own?

Summary of Post
I review the options available to would-be purchasers of composters, compare prices and suitability. Which bins are built to last? Which ones have glowing reviews? Which one offers a 25 year warranty? These reviews are based on feedback from heaps of composter owners, and my own opinions where relevant.

Compost Crazy
I love composting. I've always been enthralled by the idea of it and everywhere I lived, have left little piles of well rotten plant material as my legacy. I in fact wrote and presented a paper on Composting back in university where I studied agriculture. I could go on about the science of composting but I'll summarize it into one para below.

The Science of Composting: Optimum Compost Composition = Rapid Decomposition
Compost comprises a mix of carbonaceous stuff (like dry leaves, straw, wood chips), nitrogenous stuff (like fresh grass clippings, vegetable peels, juicier plant parts, chicken or horse poop), and some soil. My first compost pile, built on my tiny patch of yard in 1994, measured 3 x 3 feet and was layered with 3 parts dry leaves to 2 part horse manure, then sprinkled with a few handfuls of good rich earth. I added layers to reach a height of 3 feet. Good topsoil contains heaps of bacteria and other microbes that will greatly speed up decomposition. Like all living things, these microbes need air and sufficient water to digest the mix into compost. The dry layer provides air pockets, the nitrogenous stuff provides lots of protein for the lil microbes to make more microbe babies with, and a generous sprinkling of water keeps the babies hydrated. How much water? Well, enough that you could pick up a handful and it would feel moist, and if you squeezed, some juice would drip off. Not so much that it would be soggy and sodden - remember, the aerobic microbes need to breathe! If you drown these ones, then the anaerobic decomposers take over, producing extremely malodorous gunk that will make you very unpopular with your neighbors.

What I look for in a composter
Cold composting is fine by me. That's where I dump kitchen scraps as and when, and let it do its thing over a period of 6 months or more, then harvest the compost. If you wanted compost faster, you could get the tumbling composters (see left for an example of what a tumbling composter looks like). I've read rave reviews about them, and I've also read no-so-hawt reviews. Some say that once the tumbling composter is fully loaded, it becomes really heavy and difficult to turn (turning aerates it and speeds up decomposition). Also, you'll need to collect enough material to load it up with, and let it compost at one go. Otherwise you'll end up with a load in all different stages of decomposition.
I also wanted something that would keep out the critters. I don't want to be responsible for an epidemic of obesity amongst our neighborhood squirrels, groundhogs, mice, raccoons and what have you. Plus they are very messy eaters and have horrible table manners. In my previous compost piles, they would drag out choice pieces (they seem to really enjoy pineapple tops), and leave everything strewn all over my yard. Maybe that's why my neighbors give me dirty looks. :p

Build Your Own?
I long debated the proposition of building my own. Afterall, I do have a little know-how. But after calculating the cost of the wood needed to build it (no access to free wood pallets), and weighing it against its portability (it wouldn't be lightweight like plastic), and lifespan (wood would eventually rot, what more when used to contain compost, even more so those wood pallets), and so forth. I decided to purchase a plastic composting bin instead. I do feel kinda bad - I really don't like to buy something if I can make it myself, but I just haven't been very successful keeping out critters from my home-made composters. The wood falls apart after one or two seasons, and the bins aren't pretty. So for now I'll invest in a manufactured one. If that doesn't work out, I'll go back to the drawing board, maybe pick up Storey's Country Wisdom's pamphlet Easy Composters You Can Build.

Composting Bins: What did Gracie Pick?
When I shop online, I sort my search by popularity plus high ratings. Geobin by Presto was wildly popular as far as composting bins go (87 reviews). I wasn't too keen on the Geobin because it has no lid. My friendly neighborhood critters would go to town on my kitchen scraps every night if I got this composter. So I had to pass, even though it was attractively priced at $30. Besides, one reviewer rightly pointed out that $10 worth of wire fencing wrapped round in bin-like fashion a couple times would achieve the same result. I guess if you wanted a cheap composting bin and were willing to put some care into assembly, this would suit the purpose just fine. 

The second most popular composting bin was the Soilsaver Classic (65 reviews), and from what I see, this is a sturdily built bin - not flimsy plastic that reviewers of some other bins mentioned. It has a lid that really locks and it has a 25 year manufacturer's warranty. (Who the heck gives out 25 year warranties nowadays anyway?) 

I guess the warranty sold me, and I now own one of these things! I dump kitchen scraps in there daily, and it keeps things tidy. Whenever it starts to look too wet, I throw in a bunch of dry leaves to help aerate it. I don't bother turning the pile, but I read that some people do. Oh ya, I should mention that I lined the bottom of the bin with chicken wire mesh so Rats & Co wouldn't be able to dig in and get at the goodies. :)

If I hadn't gotten this Soilsaver Classic, I might just have shelled out $40 more and bought the Bosmere K676 11 Cubic Foot Composter instead. This was one of the highly rated (although only 9 reviews) composters. A reviewer, who signed off as 'David, Master Composter 25 yrs' said that this was the best of more than 50 composters he had owned and used. If that isn't a glowing testimonial, I don't know what is. :p

Well, we'll see how well the Soilsaver works for me. Stay tuned for my update!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review of Line-Drying Contraptions and the Household Essentials 3-Arm Portable Umbrella Clothes Dryer Hanger: Easy Energy Savings!

Nothing beats the fresh scent of sun-kissed and breeze-dried laundry on the line, and the old-fashioned clothesline is the preferred method of getting clothes dry for many green-minded folks out there. It doesn't consume electricity or gas (like a dryer does) and is green as green can be. Clothes last longer as they don't get beat up in the tumble dryer, although direct sunlight does fade colors.

Growing up in tropical sunshine-y Malaysia, line-drying was all I knew. When I studied in the US, I lived in a small apartment, so I had a small stainless steel clothes dryer ($20, Walmart) that I used indoors that worked great. When I married and moved in our new home, I put up a line between two sturdy poles first chance I got. (Actually I instructed my DH in this operation hehe - see detailed instructions on Mother Earth News' how-to-guide). It didn't make sense using a dryer and wasting all that lovely sunshine! I guess the only thing I didn't like about this clothesline was the mad scramble to harvest laundry whenever a sudden downpour caught me by surprise. I fantasized about erecting a transparent shade awning over the clothesline but it was too expensive.

I believe I have now found the best set up for me. It is a fabulous contraption called the Household Essentials 3-Arm Portable Umbrella-Style Clothes Dryer that easily accomodates a load and a half of laundry, even king sized sheets and comforters in a compact space-saving 15 square feet (52" across). It is portable and can be moved about - the tripod legs ensure that the dryer stays upright and stable (except in exxxxtreme wind gusts, more on that below). I positioned it on my patio, under the steel awning - so the heat from the sun 'cooks' the laundry wonderfully yet does not fade colors. And best of all, I don't have to worry about rain, hail, snow or any other inclement weather. Or bird poop even. As you can see below, I have a small load of laundry on the dryer. I hang the small items (underwear and such) on the inner lines, out of sight. Note, I don't need clothes pins!

Add caption
The dryer has toppled over in very strong winds out in my yard, but under the awning, has stayed put nicely. It looks like it is built to last, although made from aluminum, it seems like a quality grade of aluminum. It weighs about 5 lbs.

I picked this brand of dryer (Household Essentials) over the other ones as it had garnered over 100 reviews (mostly positive) on Amazon. There are so many options for line dryers one can be spoilt for choice or overwhelmed. There are retractable line dryers, portable, fixed, three or four arm,  drying racks, wall-mounted dryers and the list seems neverending (search for line clothes dryers on I usually go with what's proven popular with fellow shoppers, that's within my budget. In this case I paid less than $50, with free shipping. This thing has paid for itself in energy savings, twice over! Happy shopping!


P.S. Hey it would be awesome if you could click on any ad here and I'll get 1 cent per click from the advertisers. Thanks!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Chilly Ride

Today we rode from Freeport to Cabot and back for about 20 miles total. It was 50°F but much colder with the wind chill and in the shade. Brrr! I was glad I overdressed with my usual Pearl Izumi getup plus my black diamond fleece jacket on top. Spencer on the other hand was severely under dressed.

I stopped a couple times to take photos of the flowers. The gorgeous trillium are blooming! The colors are exquisite white red and pink types. They only lost for a short while so I'm glad to have caught them flowering.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The first asparagus spear

Hello hello what have we here?

The weather here in PA has been just bonkers but I guess this asparagus couldn't wait any longer. Seeing this spear poke it's head out of the crusty Earth somehow makes me feel so excited. It's a new beginning! We've been through a lot these past few years, and not all of it good but this year is going to be the best year ever ... I can feel it in my bones.

Here's to life and living to the max!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How to Choose and Open Durian

Summary of Post
Proven tips on choosing the meatiest and tastiest durian for your durian party, and how to easily open this thorny fruit without bloodshed! A perfect raw food, with a pungent aroma (some say odor or stink but what do they know :p) and exotic flavor unlike any other, it stirs the deepest, most primal instinct in one's self. I love this King of Fruits!

The creamy sweet fleshy meat of durian awaits thou who learns the art of opening the fruit
Choosing Durian
Taking orders
What little I know about the fine art of choosing durian was acquired from my Pa who is the go-to guy whenever a durian feast is to be held. His skill in picking out the best durians from the piles of durian at the stall is legendary.

Before he goes to the durian stall, we put in our orders/requests. It goes something like this:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Puppies need a home!

Let me introduce you to Prim, Que Que, Reena, Nee Nee and their little Bro Pup. This litter of puppies was recently rescued (found abandoned in the FRIM forest) by a kind jogger who is providing temporary shelter until homes can be found for them. She cannot take them on permanently. If a home cannot be found for them by the end of this month, I am told that they will be put back in the FRIM forest, probably end up caught by the dog-catchers there and then killed.

Nee Nee