The Universe Gave Us Garbage (and We Like It!)

Call me silly, but I have this belief that if you want something and you’re meant to have it, all you have to do is “put it out to the Universe” and 99% of the time, you’ll find it. I have done this so many times that I know there’s some truth to it, and from what I’ve seen, other folks find it true too.

I’m a huge fan of Anne-Marie at Zero Waste Chef and always marvel at the things she finds on her walks around the neighborhood. Just the other day, she needed an iron for a class she was teaching and poof! an iron appeared on the sidewalk. A few years back, she found a cast iron dutch oven.

Over the past month, we’ve had a few things on our wish list – things that we didn’t want to buy new but definitely had a use for. The biggest thing on our wish list was canning jars. With all our canning this summer, we ran out of jars! And if you’ve ever priced them in the store, you can’t help but wonder – when did food preservation turn into a hobby?? And an expensive one at that!

For weeks, Angie diligently scoured Marketplace almost every day for a good deal on jars, while also rummaging through the recycling bins on Mondays. This landed us 33 awesome Ball canning jars – most of which had been used as candle holders in a wedding. We paid $10 for 30 and found the other 3. The bonus on these jars was that they still had the candles inside and jute twine wrapped around their tops. We rolled the twine into a ball to use in the garden next summer.

On Saturday, on a whim, we decided to stop at a yard sale on our way home from my mom’s house. It was getting late in the afternoon and we only had $2 in our pocket (and a handful of change in the cup holder of our car) but we thought, what the heck, it can’t hurt to look. Thank goodness we did, because we hit the jar lottery! The lady hosting the sale had 2 boxes of jelly jars, pints, and quarts for $1 a box. She also had a sweet little Fire King 8” pie plate (another item on my wish list) for a quarter.

I can clearly see a pumpkin pie in our future.

When we got home, we found that not only had we had bought 36 canning jars for $2, but some of them were vintage.

Now I realize, the Universe did not provide all these jars free of charge, at least not directly, but I did find the quarter that I used to purchase the pie plate in the parking lot at Aldi that very same day. What the Universe did provide though was the 16 pounds of red, ripe strawberries that we used to make jam in those jars.

We found these in the dumpster, of course, and out of the 16 cartons, only 7 strawberries were bad.

We had a similar score with sweet potatoes a few days before. All of us (my mom included) had been hungry for a sweet potato (being Fall and all) but the Farmer’s Market has been slim on them this year. I’m pretty sure there’s about 20 pounds of sweet potatoes in this photo. Courtesy of the Universe (via the dumpster).

For anyone new here, you may at this point, be appalled, either by the fact that so much good food gets tossed in the dumpster or that we go in after it. Rest assured, we stand firmly with you on the first one and encourage you to read this and this for more info on the second one.

Another item on our wish list was “something to put our indoor planters on”. One afternoon, as I was heading out, I saw a blue-topped console table just sitting by the dumpster in our apartment complex. It was just the right shape and size for our small apartment, so we cleaned it and tightened it up, and now this “garbage” has new life as a plant stand.

And those planters that you see – they are made from milk cartons – from the recycling bin.

This one too.

We found it and another just like it, sitting by recycling. The price tags were still on them and no dirt had ever touched them. (By the way, I had also asked the Universe for a terra cotta pot to try making a grill sometime prior to this find. The grill is still a work in progress.)

Of course, every gift we receive this way is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we are completely grateful to find something that saves us money or provides for a need that we (or others close to us) may have. But on the other hand, it doesn’t go unnoticed that these things were in the trash and if we hadn’t come along, that’s where they would still be. We can’t rescue everything. Even with our mini army of fellow dumpster divers, tons and tons of good stuff goes to landfill every single day.

Though I do encourage you to try asking the Universe for things you might need, the bigger thing that I want to encourage you to do today is to be a good steward of our environment and a helping hand to others. Buy only what you need. Donate your unwanted items to a non-profit thrift store or homeless shelter. Our shelter even takes food that is still in date and hasn’t been opened (and fresh produce from the garden). Check with friends, family, and neighbors before tossing something out, post it for free on Marketplace or FreeCycle, or in a pinch, sit in by the curb with a sign that says free (or course, if no one picks it up, please remove it in a timely fashion).

And if you want something – particularly things that are prone to being trashed, like furniture, household goods, plastic totes, containers, flower pots, and more – don’t be afraid to do a little curbside shopping first before hitting the retail stores.

Sprouting Seeds the Easy Way

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We had a great suggestion on our Instagram from fellow bloggers, The Tin Can Travelers, about posting a how-to on growing microgreens and sunflower sprouts. We thought about doing a video but we’re still having technical difficulties with our editing software, so here goes…

Step 1: Purchase Quality Seeds

It is VIP to buy the right seeds. Though almost any seed will sprout, not all seeds are meant to be eaten as sprouts. Seeds and legumes that you purchase from the grocery store bulk bins can have harmful bacteria on them (like e.coli or salmonella) or have been irradiated to keep them from sprouting in transit (which means they will never sprout, no matter how long you wait). We use organic microgreen seeds from Seeds of Change and organic sunflower seeds from Hometown Seeds.

Step 2: Select Your Equipment

We use two wide-mouth quart jars with mesh screens – one jar for each type of seed. We purchased the screens and stands here, but you can make them yourself using a piece of cheesecloth as a screen and a bowl as a stand. We’ve tried both but find that the stands are more secure than the bowl.

Step 3: Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Place 1-2 tablespoons of seeds in your jar and cover with approximately two inches of warm water. Place the mesh screen or cheesecloth and ring on the jar. Let the seeds sit overnight.

The next morning, drain the water. Rinse the seeds by adding water to the jar, swishing the seeds around, and draining. Turn the jar upside-down on the stand to continue draining any remaining water.

Repeat this twice a day, every day until your sprouts are the desired size.

Sprouts do not need sunlight so it’s best to place your jar in a room-temperature location where there’s little sunlight. We place ours in the dining room/office area on our rolling kitchen cart.

Step 4: Eat and Enjoy!

Rinse your sprouts one final time and remove the sunflower seed shells. Store in the refrigerator in a mesh produce bag of open container. We’ve found that sprouts tend to go limp when they are in a closed container with no air circulation.

All parts of your sprouts are edible, even the hairy little roots of the sunflower seeds; but if you prefer, you can trim these off. Sprouts are especially good on salads and sandwiches.