Category Archives: Disasters in Do-Gooding

When the food scraps spill on the carpet before you can get them to the compost bin.

What I finally found the courage to throw away


I spent good money on it. It was a special deal. Organic. Super-size pack. I dreamed of all the pleasure and wellness it would bring me, day by day.

It was more than four years ago, which I can only calculate because I can see in my mind’s eye having the big cardboard box of it in the apartment I haven’t lived in for over four years.

At some point, I tossed the cardboard box the fruity green Whole Foods tea came in, and I transferred the remaining plastic packets of tea bags into my catch-all tea box … where they’ve sat. And sat. And sat.

Unopened. For four years.

And last night, looking at them, trying to fit my Triple Echinacea tea into the box (stocking up for winter sniffle season!), I thought: Hmm, these are taking up a lot of space. 

And I thought: Maybe I’ll use them though. They’re still sealed in the plastic packets. Maybe I’ll want them this season. Maybe I’ll have a guest over who wants them. 

Gnawing away at my stomach, as my hand held them mid-air, frozen, was this feeling: It would be such a waste to throw them away. 

20141211-103633-38193731.jpgThen I had that vision of my old apartment, with a four years younger me, trying the tea I was so excited about, and not, to be honest, really loving the flavor. A little too fruity, a little artificial tasting. I hadn’t wanted another cup in four years. I hadn’t opened the packet to serve it to a guest. It was time to let go.

And then I remembered my loophole: my compost! Also known as the you-don’t-have-to-eat-that-shriveled-orange exemption, or the those-herbs-have-seen-better-days bin. 

Into the salad container in the freezer they go, like a limbo for sad produce and onion skins. And like that, years of letting this little mistake, this guilt-clutter, this biodegradable depravity, weigh me down like so many organic cement blocks, came to an end.

Back to the earth you go, poor little tea bags. May you come back as cherry tomatoes.



Autumn In The Garden Of The Winter Of Our Discontent

It’s December. October was really the time to put my summer vegetable garden to bed, really. To pull out the dying tomato vines, the bitter overgrown lettuce plants, the fall peas I planted that didn’t really grow in time to produce any peas. But, that didn’t happen. Who can even remember why?

So for the past week I was checking the forecast, hoping for a mild enough, dry December day where I could get to my plot and at the very least plant the bulbs I went on a shopping spree buying. Thursday it was! Low forties, no rain on the forecast, and I was going to steal a chunk of my freelancer’s lunch hour to get in, drop some bulbs, and get out.

Of course, the ground was cold and wet from all the earlier rain, and it soaked right through my gloves, and my jacket kept dragging in the dirt, and gross half-rotted fallen tomatoes were scattered around like tiny boobytraps. But, I persevered!

I just hope I did it right. Five inches down? Three? Oh who can remember! Here’s a photo of my Gypsy Princess hyacinth, Mount Hood daffodil, and Angelique, Sun Parrot, Black Parrot, and Lilac Perfection tulip bulbs all nestled in nice and cozy. (So I can refer back to this later and see where the heck I put them and if they all grew!)

That took long enough that I didn’t really have time to deal with all the dead or going-to-freeze-and-die-soon plants still in the ground, so … I just left them. But I still seemed to have un-picked carrots with healthy green leaves coming out of the soil, so I pulled them all up at once for my final harvest of the season. Pretty great because one of these is actually the biggest carrot I grew all year (maybe it needed five months to fully develop? What the heck variety did I plant?). And just one weird carrot grew a crazy beard of roots. So, that’s cool.


But back indoors, cozy and warm, are these amaryllis bulbs. They’ve been in my apartment, un-potted, for so long that they’ve started to sprout shoots anyway, even with no soil or water. Damn! That must be a good sign, right?


Tale of The Bag Lady


Every time I go to the grocery store around the corner, I bring a canvas or nylon tote with me. Because I don’t want to be this guy … And because every plastic bag I see gives me visions of a smoldering landfill in a post-apocalyptic future, bags swirling like crows in the air.

But in my effort to stay out of the cracked-up-enviro-loony bin, I let myself take home a load of groceries in a plastic bag when circumstances seem to require it. But I swear to myself: I will keep them, dammit! And I’ll reuse every one! 

My efforts are valiant: I use them to carry maybe-leaking containers of leftovers that I’ll eat for lunch. I use them to wrap my sneakers up when I pack a suitcase. I use them to carry disgusting, oozing compost from my apartment to the community garden.

Yet the bags somehow manage to outpace me. I use one as a bathroom trash can liner, and five show up in friends’ hands when they come over for a potluck. In recent months they finally filled up the bag-of-bags in my closet and began to spill onto the floor like crinkly dust bunnies.

It was time for a purge.

I remembered hearing that many stores were required by law to accept bags for recycling, and I was certain I’d seen a collection barrel at my local big chain grocery store. So for days—nay, weeks—I kept thinking in the back of mind: I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna clean out the bag mess in the closet. I’m gonna bag up all the bags and get them out of here once and for all. Bag bankruptcy. A fresh start, a new beginning! 

But you know how it goes. You’re busy. There are more urgent spring-cleaning priorities, like the stained kitchen mat or the grout in the shower. Not that I was going to get around to cleaning those, but there they were. So I set a date: the last week of May. By then I would have planted my garden (didn’t happen), celebrated my birthday (did happen), and finished a major project (phew!).

Memorial Day came and went, and it was time to Address The Bag Situation.

So you can see what I did, in that picture up at the top. See it? I bagged ’em. And I walked to the further away grocery store, because the one closest to me definitely does not offer the take-back service. But when I walked inside: no barrel. No bin. No take-backs.

What happened? I asked one of the cashiers. Didn’t you used to take back plastic bags?

“Yes,” she said, “We did. But the company who was supposed to collect them would never come. So we had to put them out by the dumpster.”

Words could not have expressed my dismay. The round-cheeked cashier with the lovely green headscarf gave me a friendly smile, and I tried to return it cheerfully. I tried not to look like a person whose dreams of spring-cleanliness and environmental heroism had just been crushed.

Those two bags-full-of-bags? They are sitting at this very moment on the floor of my kitchen, right where I photographed them, waiting for my next bright idea for their future.

Extreme Weeding

The mosquitoes are out ofcontrol this summer, and our garden operations coordinator (that’s right) sent an emergency email begging us all to tackle the tall weeds that these buggers evidently love to hang out in, swapping stories about which of us has the juiciest, most delectable blood.

So I ventured out in spite of the gloomy forecast – when does it ever really rain anyway? – and got to it. Of course about a half hour in, the heavens opened up. I played cat and mouse with the rain as it let up and then increased again because I was really in a good groove.

Here’s the view from under the fig tree, which kept me perfectly dry, where I hid when the showers got serious, until I heard thunder and threw in the trowel.
My timing was almost perfect but not quite: the rain became a downpour and then a thunderstorm as I walked home with only my sun hat – poor straw sun hat – to cover me.

Compost is gross. And beautiful.

I wake up on a hot summer morning and emerge from my bedroom. A sickly sweet smell greets me. Ah yes, it’s my food scraps again. They’ve been liquefying slowly, almost imperceptibly, for days, daring me to keep adding watery fruit bits or slimy flower stems to the festering science experiment I keep in a plastic grocery bag dangling on the outside of the cabinet door below my kitchen sink.

I notice some drips on the little floor mat beneath it, and scrounge up another plastic bag for reinforcement. I’ll have to take care of this pronto, but the first step is to get this out of here immediately, so I drop it outside my apartment door and light some incense to mask the stench. I make myself tea and fruit for breakfast.

One of my beautiful garden tomatoes turns out to be in worse shape than I thought, so I have to leave most of it sitting in sad pieces on the counter. I’ve learned to eat around the going-bad part, or the mess the bugs made, but I’ve also learned the hard way not to push my luck. It helps that I now know what I can compost. I grab my bag of rot from outside the door and add the tomato. Okay, I also throw in the half-dozen used teabags I’ve been stockpiling on the counter. (My roommate loves this.) Today must be a productive one, so I pack up my computer and head out, trying not to let the swinging the compost-bound bag at my side touch me.

The garden’s just down the street, but it’s hot, muggy, and mosquito-infested right now, so I skip weighing in the load I’m contributing to the compost bins. (We’re trying to track how much the garden composts.) I head straight for the bins and invert the bags. Something disgusting-looking always gets caught on the bag handles and won’t seem to let go, so there’s a good deal of shaking and weird arm gestures involved. Taking the cleaner outer bag as a kind of glove, I grab handfuls of “greens” and “browns” (fresh or dried out weeds and leaves, usually) from the other bins and cover the truly putrid deposit of moldy avocados, rotten tomatoes, egg shells, and hardened lemons I’ve left.

I enjoy a quick moment of pride and self-satisfaction, knowing I’ve pitched in for my garden community and diverted perfectly useful waste from a landfill. As I walk over to the garbage can to get these awful, empty wet plastic bags out of my life forever, some brownish liquid sneaks down my wrist.