Alaska or Bust??

I read The Box-car Children when I was in 3rd grade and decided then and there that I wanted to live in a boxcar. To my 9-year-old self, stealing milk off doorsteps and sleeping on a straw mat seemed an adventurous and independent thing to do. Then I read Where the Red Fern Grows and instead of boxcars, I wanted two little puppies to hunt with. Mind you, I never wanted to actually kill anything; just go out at night with my pups and a lantern…maybe steal some milk off a doorstep and sleep on a straw mat. Even now, I still read every day and I still want to go, see, and do the things that I read about.

A few months ago, Angie and I were on an Alaska kick. My mom had gotten us hooked on Alaskan Bush People and we had each picked up a few books about folks living in remote Alaskan villages (like If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende and Forty Years in the Wilderness by Dolly Faulkner). As always happens, we started daydreaming about going there and even looked into Alaskan cruises. We both told our parents that “our next big trip would probably be to Alaska”. And it probably will be. But when we say the words “our next big trip”, we don’t exactly mean the next time we pack up the car and pull out of the driveway. It could be a few years before we make it to The Last Frontier. In the meantime, we have other plans, though none of those plans included hurting the feelings of someone we love. Yet, it seems that we did.

Angie’s mom said she wanted to go with us if we went on a cruise to Alaska. We said that sounded great, and we moved on without much of a second thought. Why? Because my mom always says that she wants to go with us to Hawaii the next time we go. My nephew tells us every time that he sees us that he wants to tag along if we ever go to Ireland. Angie’s aunt and uncle said once that we should all plan a road trip together and my niece mentioned at Christmas that we should go with them to Florida this summer. It’s something people say and sometimes it turns into a real plan, but more often than not, it’s just a way to daydream about a vacation together. But Angie’s mom was serious, and it seems she was expecting us to go this spring.

Of course, now we feel terrible. So terrible in fact that we considered hastily putting together a trip just so we wouldn’t let anyone down or make anyone mad or cause anyone to miss out on such an opportunity. Thank goodness we came to our senses, because we are in no way ready for such an undertaking!

And honestly, most folks aren’t either. Did you know:

  • 75% of Americans have gone into debt to pay for a vacation at some point in their lifetime,
  • 23% did so in the past 12 months,
  • 55% don’t budget for vacations (or factor them into their annual expenses), and
  • Over the past year, Americans borrowed $12.64 billion for vacations, racking up $778.77 million in interest and other charges?

Have you ever heard the term “debt-lag”? It’s what happens when you return from a vacation with debt. We’ve only ever had it once – when we hit a few snags on our 2014 trip to California and Hawaii – and we decided then and there, we would not have it again. Not for any reason. If we couldn’t completely pay for a certain vacation destination, we would simply not go there. There are way too many other, cheaper places to go when the “exotic” or “once in a lifetime” locales are not [yet] within reach.

Our plan for Alaska (or any other big destination) is to save up before we set off. Looking at cruises, lodging and activities gives us an idea of how much we need to add to our vacation fund and how long we need to save. You might say, a lot of dreaming and scheming goes into our travel planning process. I get that it’s not the same for everyone, and that’s okay. If you are ready for and able to take a big vacation, like an Alaskan cruise, and that’s what you have your heart set on doing, then that’s what you should do. We just aren’t there yet.

We gently and lovingly tried to explain our position to Angie’s mom. She was disappointed, but I’d like to believe she respects our decision to avoid debt. More importantly, I hope she understands that though we might not be going to Alaska this year, she is always welcome to go with us wherever we may roam…even if it’s just to the park. (We have plenty of hammocks, by the way 😊)

Why We Still Use [Some] Plastics

As we were browsing YouTube to find a few new exercise videos, we happened across about a million other interesting videos we wanted to watch – like a whole collection of ones on food and sustainability from CBC Marketplace. So, instead of ogling Tiny Houses, we’ve been watching things like “Food Waste: How much food do supermarkets throw away” and “Why buying plastic free groceries is so hard” during our lunch breaks this week. The videos have been enlightening, but more importantly, they have served as a great reminder to get back on track with some of our own lapsed sustainability efforts – like remembering to bring our cloth bags to the store and reducing the amount of single-use plastic we purchase.

I’d love to be able to purchase zero plastic but sadly, a lot of our store-bought produce comes in a clamshell or overwrap and 100% of the produce on the clearance rack is bagged in plastic mesh. I hate it but I hate the alternative even more. Yes, we could (and often do) purchases loose apples, oranges, peppers, and other produce using our own reusable mesh bags but our first choice is always going to be the plastic bag of 6 apples on the clearance rack for 99 cents that is 2 steps away from becoming food waste. To us, saving the food trumps avoiding the plastic. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still feel bad about it. I mean, there’s absolutely no way to reuse or recycle those plastic mesh bags. Or is there?

Enter YouTube for the save! I’m definitely going to try some of these this week.

In addition, I also found that some communities allow these mesh bags to be placed in the recycling bin. Though they aren’t usually labeled with recycling symbols, the bags are generally made from polyethylene plastics No. 1, 2 and 4 or polypropylene plastic No. 5, which are recyclable materials.

Along with the mesh bags, we also use some plastic in our kitchen. If you came to our kitchen, you’d probably be in shock at the number of plastic lunch meat containers that we actually have in the cabinet. See?

And that doesn’t include the ones you can’t see.

We do not eat lunch meat. Neither does my mom, but one of her work friends feeds her dog deli chicken and saves the containers. A few years ago, she brought us an entire garbage bag full of them. We saved them for a while and then last April, we purged our kitchen of plastic and sent them to recycling (they are labeled as No. 5 plastic). A month later, she brought us another bag of them. This time, we decided to use them as freezer cups. We’ve been using this same set of containers in the freezer almost a year now. They work great for sauces, homemade veggie broth, and portioning servings of desserts (cakes and cookies freeze very well, by the way). As the containers break, we do take them to recycling but only after extending their life many, many times over.

Then, there are the Glad containers.

We bought these divided plates several years ago when we were travelling more often. They made it easy to take meals with us, saving us money on dining out. When we decluttered the kitchen a few months ago, we thought about donating them to Goodwill as part of our continued “plastic purge”. But…for as much as I’d like to believe that someone would scoop them up and use them every day, there’s a chance that no one would want them, or Goodwill would deem them unfit for resale. Do you know what happens to items that Goodwill can’t sell? They throw them away. Yes, there are some stores that attempt to recycle what they can, but the fact remains – somewhere between 25-65% of all donations end up in the landfill anyway. I can’t, in good conscience, leave the fate of the plates in the hands of a stranger. I bought them. I’m responsible for them. I will continue to use them until they wear out and then I will recycle them. They are also No. 5 plastics.

Oh, and the Ziploc bags.

We stopped purchasing these things about a year ago but sometimes, we still end up with one. Our apartment manager loves to fill them with candy and leave them on the door for holidays. It’s a thoughtful gesture but it leaves us with a bag that can’t be recycled. So, we wash and reuse them…until they are beyond dead. These two have been around for about 4 months now.

The best course of action is to never buy plastic in the first place, but until manufacturers drastically change their packaging, this is unrealistic for most of us. We’re inevitably going to end up with something made of plastic in our grocery cart – whether it’s a milk jug or a mesh bag. The second-best course of action then is to repurpose those single-use plastics. From pot scrubbers to freezer containers, there are many creative ways to extend their life, even if it’s only a few extra uses. And when their lives really are over, recycle.

Do you have any creative uses for single-use plastic?