Got Rid Of My Bookshelf

02.13.2018

0600

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Since I was 9 years old, I’ve always had a bookshelves. These bookshelves were used to store games, books, stuffed animals, my old boombox and a number of other odd items. I’ve had all different kinds of bookshelves, but now I was down to one. When I really started to minimize my possessions and pare down my physical objects, I wanted to get rid of my bookshelf.

However, I didn’t feel ready to make that decision. When you get rid of stuff, you’re also eliminating surface area for the other physical objects associated with that item. By getting rid of my bookshelf, I didn’t know where to store the items that were sitting on it. The only solution I could find was to donate my items or somehow find a new home for the item.

This didn’t mean I was going to shuffle my items around my space. Clutter is still clutter even when you move it around a space; you simply distributed it instead of grouping it in one location.

It meant that I had to really want to minimize the number of items and ONLY keep what I needed. It took a little bit of time, but slowly, my bookcase started to look more and more bare. I’m lucky that it’s a fold up bookcase, so I knew I could tuck it away easily.

My bookcase is simple piece of furniture. It folds up, it’s made of birch wood and was pretty cheap when I bought it.  However, my profession requires books and I still have some books from college. Even when you flip through most architecture magazines, you’ll see some type of shelf that displays reading material or other items in the living space. It seemed that for me to get rid of my bookshelf, was me breaking standard design rules.

My other worry was, “What if I need it in the future?” That question comes up quite a bit when I declutter. I’ve learned to answer that question with, “I’ll find a way”. Since I do have extra room in my living space, finding room for storage isn’t the problem.

The journey to living a curated minimalist life is a flexible path with a bunch of turns. I’m not sure if there is an end. As our lives change, we will too. Over time, we’ll need items we’ve never needed before, so we adapt. It also takes work to let go of what you “think” is normal, and consciously choose to live with less. Breaking away from what you’ve always known and accepting it is an important step in this process.

A lot pf people struggle in this area. To break away from what we’ve envisioned our lives to be and what our standard of “normal” is, can be a mental exercise. Some people are more comfortable with change, some are not. I’m a creature of habit, so perhaps that’s why this was a victory for me. Owning a bookcase was normal for me, until I decided it wasn’t.

If you’re conscious about the amount of clutter you have, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. Being conscious of your actions means you’re holding yourself accountable and that’s a part of this lifestyle. It’s also easier said than done.

So farewell to my bookshelf, you’ve served me well. But I no longer need your services. May you find a new home with a new owner.

Where did my books on my bookshelf go?

I donated my old textbooks back to my alum colleges (including art materials as well). I also donated some books to a few Little Free Libraries, and the rest to my local library. If you don’t know about what these Little Free Libraries are, check them out at Little Free Library Organization, and you might be able to locate one near you. I now keep the very few books I have left in my ottoman.

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Garbage Patches of Our Oceans

08.29.2017

0600

 

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Our trash never goes away. What we produce, purchase and consume, never really goes away. Unless we truly understand the consequences of our actions, we won’t understand the trap we’ve set up for ourselves. Our relationship with plastic bags only started in 1950 and now it’s increased 620% since 1975.

There are five main ocean gyres on our earth. These gyres follow a circular path which converge ocean pollution. This isn’t a solid convergence being that plastics go through photodegradation and bits and pieces are strewn about around the patches. But there is an estimated size for each garbage ocean patch.

  • The Indian Ocean Garbage Patch and was discovered in 2010, is a gyre of marine litter suspended in the upper water column of the central Indian Ocean, specifically the Indian Ocean Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres.The patch does not appear as a continuous debris field. As with other patches in each of the five oceanic gyres, the plastics in it break down to even smaller particles, and to constituent polymers. As with the other patches, the field constitutes an elevated level of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris; primarily particles that are invisible to the naked eye.
  • North Atlantic Gyre, which contains the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, equal to the North Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of man-made marine debris found floating within the North Atlantic Gyre, originally documented in 1972.The patch is estimated to be hundreds of kilometres across in size, with a density of over 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometer. The debris zone shifts by as much as 1,600 km (990 mi) north and south seasonally, and drifts even farther south during the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.
  • North Pacific Gyre, which contains The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific trash vortex, which was discovered between 1985 and 1988. It is located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area of widely varying range depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.
    • The Great Pacific garbage patch has one of the highest levels known of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photodegradation in the neustonic layer of water. Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level. As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean’s surface. In this way, plastic may become concentrated in neuston, thereby entering the food chain.
    • The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Its low density (4 particles per cubic meter) prevents detection by satellite photography, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. It consists primarily of a small increase in suspended, often microscopic, particles in the upper water column.
  • South Atlantic Gyre,  which  is the subtropical gyre in the south Atlantic Ocean. In the southern portion of the gyre, northwesterly (or southeastward-flowing) winds drive eastward-flowing currents that are difficult to distinguish from the northern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Like other oceanic gyres, it collects vast amounts of floating debris.
  • South Pacific Gyre, which is part of the Earth’s system of rotating ocean currents, bounded by the Equator to the north, Australia to the west, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to the south, and South America to the east. The center of the South Pacific Gyre is the site on Earth farthest from any continents and productive ocean regions and is regarded as Earth’s largest oceanic desert.

Consequences

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine animals, and their young, including sea turtles and the black-footed albatross. Midway Atoll receives substantial amounts of marine debris from the patch. Of the 1.5 million Laysan albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are likely to have plastic in their digestive system. Approximately one-third of their chicks die, and many of those deaths are due to being fed plastic from their parents. Twenty tons of plastic debris washes up on Midway every year with five tons of that debris being fed to albatross chicks.

Besides the particles’ danger to wildlife, on the microscopic level the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs. Aside from toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by fish.

Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals. While eating their normal sources of food, plastic ingestion can be unavoidable or the animal may mistake the plastic as a food source.

Marine plastics also facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems. Research has shown that this plastic marine debris affects at least 267 species worldwide.

Research

Charles J. Moore is an oceanographer and racing boat captain known for articles that recently brought attention to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. He founded the Algalita Marine Research and Education and in 2008, the foundation organized the JUNK Raft project, to “creatively raise awareness about plastic debris and pollution in the ocean”, and specifically the Great Pacific Garbage Patch trapped in the North Pacific Gyre, by sailing 2,600 miles across the Pacific Ocean on a 30-foot-long (9.1 m) raft made from an old Cessna 310 aircraft fuselage and six pontoons filled with 15,000 old plastic bottles.

The JUNK Raft Project was organized by Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Joel Paschal and Anna Cummins in Long Beach, California in 2008, to bring attention to the issue of plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The project was launched with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, after founder Charles J. Moore encountered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997. Organizers hoped to “creatively raise awareness about plastic debris and pollution in the ocean,” specifically the Great Pacific Garbage Patch trapped in the North Pacific Gyre.

There are many more organizations set up doing research to solve the plastic pollution problem in our oceans, but the main solution starts at the top with the banning of plastics from large corporate companies. When you make a purchase, you are voting with your consumer goods. Corporations do listen, we just need to tell them what we will not tolerate and what we need from them.

Other  products are being tested on the market such as biodegradable plastics and even plastics made from food, so that when they enter back into nature, the animals won’t suffer when accidentally consuming them. I hope that this post helps in the understanding of why being consciously aware and responsible for our trash is a crucial role for the future of our planet. It can feel overwhelming and although a small change in your daily routine may not feel like an impact among the current issues we have, it does help. Make small changes first, then move towards bigger changes. It all adds up.

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Happy Independence Day 2017

07.04.2017

0600

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Independence Day, also referred to as the Fourth of July or July Fourth, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago on July 4, 1776. The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and were no longer part of the British Empire.

Independence day was always a special holiday for me. It marked the existence of summer and it came with barbecued food, swimming and fun with friends and family. The days were longer and the nights were warm. As a kid, July was a particularly a fond month for me to remember, the smell of summer in the air and the empty school playgrounds allowed us to use the basketball courts and soccer fields freely. School life had come to a halt for a few months and you knew you would run into your classmates outside of school. It was a chance to interact with them in a different environment. It was a welcomed break for a daily school routine.

Although now that I’m an adult, the smell of summer still brings back great memories, but there is no break in the daily work routine. I still love the smell of summer but it passes by quickly. I still go and watch fireworks, and I reflect on how lucky I am.

This holiday also marks that the year is halfway over. Time passes by so fast when you’re busy, although being unproductive is also not a good habit. Finding that balance as an adult is critical. We work our entire lives to go to school so that we can be successful in our careers, so we can have enough income that would support a comfortable life, and before we know it were inching towards retirement.

That reality is why I make it a routine to enjoy my evenings each night. Even if it’s only an hour, I work at shaping my daily routine around a simplistic schedule. This leaves time for me to just sit back and relax for the evening. Even on the weekends I have routines that help me enjoy each morning. During these mornings I usually reflect on what I’ve accomplished during the year and what I still want to accomplish.
Even though July marks the halfway point of the year, it also means that we can all take advantage of the rest of the year.

I think about what goals I’d still like to accomplish and set up a plan to follow though. Goals are like meetings, prepare for the meeting, be on time and be ready to interact and engage. You can’t postpone these meetings, set up those goals and get them done- no more excuses.

So my questions to you are:

What goals did you set out for yourself that you haven’t started or finished?
What projects do you have left to do?

What have you been “meaning to get done, but haven’t had the time”?

 

Adopted 16 Acres Of Wildlife Land

05.30.2017

0700

Who knew that when I joined TerraCycle, that I would end up adopting and protecting 16 acres of land. Let me start from the beginning…

I first joined TerraCycle in an attempt to recycle my beauty products, this included my makeup and bathroom product bottles. They offer programs that will collect certain kinds of trash and recycle them. They have free recycling programs, large scale recycling programs as well as zero waste boxes, which are not free.

There were about 28 free recycling programs when I first joined in 2015 and they now they have about 36 free recycling programs. The programs all have a different point reward system for how much trash you’re able to return to the program. They also offer a variety of contests and promotions for different programs at different times.

You can collect points and either receive a cash reward, collect point for a specific school or organization or donate the points to a good cause.  The organizations can provide resources such as clean drinking water, provide a meals, adopt wildlife land, reduce two pounds of carbon from the atmosphere, provide education or even help disaster victims.

As for me, I donated my points to adopting 1,800 square feet of wildlife land and I wanted to know more about the program so I visited National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt a Wildlife Acre Program.

Here is the conflict:

Yellowstone is home to the most diverse assortment of wildlife found anywhere in North America. But once these iconic species leave the protected borders of the park—they are often at odds with neighboring ranchers who utilize public lands for livestock grazing. Grizzly bears and wolves are often killed or relocated when they attack livestock on National Forest lands where ranchers hold grazing privileges.

National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt a Wildlife Acre program addresses the conflicts between livestock and wildlife with a voluntary, market-based approach. We offer ranchers a fair price in exchange for their agreement to retire their public land grazing leases.

In most cases, livestock producers use our funds to relocate their livestock to areas without conflict. Wildlife has secure habitat, and rancher’s cattle can graze in an area with fewer problems.

It’s an interesting program and I really liked contributing to it. I initially donated my points to towards this program but then, decided to make a donation to cover more of how much I was helping protect the wildlife land.

This goes without saying, but there are many different organizations to donate to and it’s up to you to decide how much you want to participate in each. I wanted to share what the decision of joining a recycling program lead me to.  I never thought I’d adopt 16 acres of wildlife land. This has been an amazing journey and I’m so glad I took a chance to start with this organization.

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The Concept of Collecting

03.14.2017

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Collecting is for some people a childhood hobby, but for others a lifelong pursuit or one that begins in adulthood. Collectors who begin early in life often modify their aims when they get older. Some novice collectors start purchasing items that appeal to them then slowly work at learning how to build a collection, while others prefer to develop some background in the field before starting to buy items. The hobby of collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever items are of interest to the individual collector. The scope of collecting is unlimited, which is expressed in the hyperbolic expression: “If something exists, somebody somewhere collects them.”

The concept of collecting items became an odd concept to me as I moved closer to a minimalistic lifestyle in my adulthood. As a child I had started collecting items made by the Japanese company Sanrio. I specifically collected items with the character Hello Kitty printed or embedded on them. These items include pencils, pens, notebooks, plush toys, erasers, stickers, sticker books, etc. I started collecting these items because a close friend of mine had her own collection, and she frequently traveled to Japan, so she had access to rare items with Sanrio characters printed on them. I remember as I child, Sanrio had many characters, which in turn, produced many product items for each character. There always seemed to be an endless supply of designs, items, and apparently, extended family members of those characters that would pop up. There was no end to the Sanrio empire. For this reason, I stopped collecting these items. There was never a cap on anything. I could never own a set collection of anything with my love of the Hello Kitty character. I realized that had collected and created my Hello Kitty collection to look at. It was there to be admired of its perfection, but was never to be used. The perfection of the product was so valuable to me, that the items had to stay in mint condition; just sitting on my desk or in my drawer, but never used and taking up space.

When I finally made the decision to actually use what I had bought over the years, it literally took me two years to finish using all of the erasers I had collected, and it took me another three years to use up all of the pencils I had collected. I honestly couldn’t believe that I had a large enough pencil supply to last that long. I realized how much money I had wasted in my love for this character. I tried to use up all of my stickers and even that task took years to finish. I had to decorate a lot of handwritten letters, birthday cards and Christmas cards with those stickers.

Fast forward to my college years, and you’d find me collecting pressed pennies. Now I thought the idea of pressed pennies was such a cute concept. I only paid $0.51 for each souvenir, which was two quarters and a penny. Each time I went to any vacation around the United States, I would seek out these Penny Souvenir machines and pick my design, and there it was. A quick freshly pressed penny with a design I had chosen from the three options that the machine allowed.  It was cheap, quick and easy to find, or so I thought.

Then, I took a vacation to Vietnam during my college years, and there were no penny souvenir machines over there. What was I to do? Start a new type of collection- so that this vacation was still documented by some arbitrary object? Does this penny souvenir collection count if it doesn’t include this international vacation? Should it be a “Vacations in the United States where I technically could find a Penny Souvenir machine collection?” It was absurd. Was there even a reason for me to not include this vacation, because technically I was forced to exclude it. My penny souvenir collection seemed pointless at that point. I knew my tiny little collection of pressed pennies had no value, it was an interesting concept, and it was cute, but beyond that, it held no value in my life. None of my collections that I’ve ever had in my life held any value. At one point during high school, I collected pins, and also badges, and again- no value. With all of these collections, I did have photos attached to those memories, and those photos I did keep. Over the years, I got rid of my pins, badges, and gave away my Hello Kitty collection to a young girl who, like myself, was fascinated with the cute character.

Jump four years and digital photos became more common. I wanted to photograph everything. I wanted to buy a terabyte external hard drive just so I could collect and keep all of these photos. The more I became concerned about documenting everything, the more I realized I was always pulling myself away from the valuable moments in my life. I would digitally archive everything I could find, that included articles and photos. As a college student, I think you’re trained to document almost all of your work, whether it’s for a portfolio, referencing papers, memories or ‘just in case I spill soda all over my laptop, because I stayed up all night writing this essay and yet- I’m still not finished’ scenarios. I have been guilty of that too.

After college though, I started to slowly pull away from the habit of documenting everything. It just wasn’t necessary for me anymore. As long as I had the correct information for my resume and my portfolio was intact, I was set.

Some people collect items that can gain monetary value as years pass. From antiques to creating a collection of rare items. Some of those may pay out in the long run. Some people make a living collecting rare paintings and antiques, but even then, each item is a rare and unique piece. To put the time and effort into a valuable collection is a art form in itself. Mine were not any of those qualities.

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Fast forward seven years out of college, and you’ll see me rarely take a picture anymore. I’ll take pictures for my blog, and instagram images, but you’ll rarely see me take a picture otherwise. I don’t take selfies. I don’t care much to document my face, for me or anyone else. I do like to document events with my family or gatherings with my friends, but you’ll see me take maybe three pictures for each event. If anything, the title sequence to The Wonder Years, really left a lasting impression. I prefer to take a video now more than ever, but just one for each event. It won’t be too long, just long enough to capture the sounds and the voices, in that space and at that time. They’re videos that are just enough of that memory.

I’m learning to be completely 100% present, whether it’s in the conversations I interact with, the people I listen to, watching the next generation play on the playground, or simply knowing that I’m being present with the minutes passing by. This is my approach to collecting now. I collect memories and moments. I try to pay attention to everything my brain handle remembering. Being present is so important in my life, caring about people in my life and spending time with them. I’ve lost people over the years, as many of us have, and I know that all I can hang onto are my memories. Time passes us by so quickly, and life catches up with us easily. We all grow up, time marches on and just knowing that simple realization, makes me want to be more present with those around me. Maybe a picture or two will suffice, but honestly, I’ll take my memories with me wherever I go.

If I leave you with anything from this post, be present. Be present in the moment, with the people you’re with and engage your mind with everything around you. Let yourself remember the colors, smells, voices and sounds. You’d be surprised how easily we will forget those details as time marches on.

 

 

The Dangers Of Microfiber Cloths

03.07.2017

0600

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You know when a new product comes out, and it promises to eliminate chemicals and cut down on the process of cleaning, and then we wait ten years or so, and figure out the drawbacks from this said new product? Yeah, that’s what this post is about. So when microfiber cloths hit mainstream media, I purchased a set just to try it out. They worked as the company had stated, they worked efficiently and I never had to use any chemicals ever again. They seemed like the perfect clean up rags for tile surfaces, mirrors and I even tested it out on some pen marks on room walls.

Because I used these rags mostly for cleaning up and wiping down surfaces that were wet from water, I washed them when it was necessary. The first time I washed them, they stuck to the rest of the rags in the load so after that, I used a laundry dedicates wash bag to contain them.

Then more research started popping up, and here’s what was discovered…

What are microfiber cloths?
Microfiber cleaning cloths are made of microfiber fabric comprised of polyester and nylon. Microfibers are much thinner in diameter than human hair. Those used in cleaning textiles are split in a way that creates spaces within each fiber. Regular microfiber, such as Split microfiber vs cotton that used on furniture or in clothing, is soft but not useful for cleaning because it is not absorbent. Conversely, the spaces within the split fibers in split microfiber can absorb up to 8 times their weight in liquid and trap dust and germs so they are not spread around or released into the air. Studies have found split microfiber products can reduce the bacteria count on surfaces much more effectively than cotton. Check a product’s packaging to determine if it is split microfiber or not. If it’s not labeled, you can check by running your hand over the cloth. If it doesn’t grab at the imperfections of your skin, then it’s not split microfiber.

Uses for microfiber cloths

  • Dusting surfaces. Simply wipe the surfaces with a dry cloth. No sprays are needed because a static electric charge that attracts and traps dust develops when the cloths are moved across a surface.
  • Cleaning mirrors and glass. Slightly dampen a portion of a cloth and rub the glass surface with it. Once you’ve removed any spots or smudges, use the dry portion of the cloth to dry and polish the surface.
  • Cleaning counters. To superficially clean counters, use dry cloths to pick up surface dust, dirt, and hair. To deeply clean counters, slightly dampen a cloth and use your usual cleaning spray.
  • Washing dishes. Use just as you would any other dishcloth.
  • Mopping floors. You can use a dry cloth to pick up surface dust, dirt, and hair or a slightly damp cloth to wipe down your floors with your usual cleaning solution. You can also purchase mop heads made of microfiber fabrics. Many people who own Swiffer-type mops designed for disposable mopping pads simple attach a microfiber cloth to the mop instead of a disposable pad.

Cleaning microfiber cloths

If you take good care of your microfiber cloths, they should continue to perform at their peak for years.

  • Remove trapped dust, dirt, and hair by pre-soaking the cloths in water and a mild detergent.
  • Wash the cloths in cold water (hot water damages the fabric so it is no longer effective). Only wash the cloths with similar fabrics because they will pull lint out of cotton or other materials during the washing process. Bleach and fabric softeners shouldn’t be used (bleach deteriorates the fabric and fabric softeners clog the spaces in the microfibers so they are no longer absorbent).
  • Line dry the cloths or use the lowest heat setting on your dryer and do not iron them. This prevents heat damage to the microfibers.

Environmental ramifications
There is debate over the extent to which microfiber cloths are environmentally friendly. They are beneficial to the environment in that they aren’t tossed out in the trash after each use like paper towels, nor do they need replaced as frequently as cotton cloths. Moreover, they significantly reduce the amount of water and cleaning products needed when cleaning.

Despite these advantages, microfiber cloths are made from nonrenewable resources and are not biodegradable. There is also concern about their role in microplastic pollution. This sort of pollution occurs when tiny bits of polyester and acrylic rinse off of fabrics during washing and end up collecting on the coastlines of densely populated areas. Fish can ingest the harmful debris, as can humans when they eat affected fish.

Inevitably, choose your products wisely. There are positive aspects and negative aspects of every product you purchase. I’ll probably keep my microfiber cloths to wipe down mirrors still, but I’ll switch out for cotton rags to wipe down my surfaces instead. I would like to get rid of them, but that would also mean that because these are not recyclable, they would inevitably go to the landfill. I have used them to protect my glassware and dishware when I was moving, so that seemed fine. Pick and choose how you want to use these cloths depending on your lifestyle and routines. Micro plastic pollution is everywhere and it’s up to us to change our thinking habits about the products we use and how we go about discarding them. Maybe we will not be able to eliminate the pollution, but we can certainly reduce. Also, sometimes a new product, isn’t as great as it will seem to portray; if they system isn’t broke- don’t fix it.

 

 

 

Proper Disposal Of Razor Blades

 

01.04.2016

0800

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Razor blades are made from recyclable metals,  but you cannot recycle them. In fact, in some places it’s actually illegal to recycle razor blades!This is because razors can harm the sanitation workers and animals that come into contact with them. They are also very thin, so they easily get caught in recycling equipment and cause damage.

You can’t recycle razor blades, but you can’t just toss them in the regular trash either. So how do you dispose of them safely?

Find an empty glass jar with a lid and when you’re done with your razor blades, keep them in there. Check with your local recycling center about how to dispose of blades properly, perhaps they have a “sharps disposal program” for your county. I’m lucky enough that in my county, my recycling center actually has a medical waste disposal bin so I usually will drop it off in there.

Most of my blades are replacement blades for my Economy Cutter H-595 by Uline, my Fromm Shaper Replacement Blades and my Astra Platinum Double Edge Safety Razor Blades. I use a glass jar because it’s easier to see among the trash pile and the blades will definitely not penetrate the glass jar. This is a simple solution to what can become a disastrous situation for sanitation workers. Please, please take proper precautions and dispose of your blades in a safe manner, for all of the people involved in the long and complicated process of  discarding your trash.

I have yet to fill up an entire glass jar. Oh and if your county doesn’t have a ‘sharps recycling program’ just pawn it off on someone else who lives in a county which does have one. As for me, I’ve become a razor blade mule among my acquaintances… but you know… I don’t actually carry them IN me. I’m more like the mule who carries around a shopping bag and a sign around my neck. (Mules don’t have arms- stop it.)

Yea, I’m that guy.

End of the Vietnam War

 

04.30.2016

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Horst Faas/Associated Press. A farmer helplessly held the body of his dead child as South Vietnamese troops looked on. March 19, 1964. The child had been killed as government forces pursued guerrillas into a village near the Cambodian border. Lens Blog, New York Times

Vietnam War November 1, 1955 – April 30, 1975 (19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks, 1 day)

There’s so much history involved with this was that it’s too much to write about in one blog post. My family is from South Vietnam and my father was drafted into the South Vietnam Army. He was also held captive for 3 years by the Viet Cong after the Fall of Saigon. He escaped and was deemed a POW. He doesn’t speak much of his experience either, I think most POWs don’t. It was a rough time in history, for everyone. There were protests in the United States, families were torn apart, and refugees fled seeking asylum in the US. There was so much chaos and pain- it’s unimaginable.

It wasn’t until the age of 14 when my mom started revealing to me the details of our family members, including her escape from the Viet Cong.  She told me “You would run until your feet would bleed. You can see bodies dropping around you as the Viet Cong shot the refugees trying to escape. They didn’t care. You ran because your life depended on it and you hoped the next bullet wouldn’t hit you. Each time you ran from them, you would lose track of your loved ones because running in a group just means you’re a larger target. You had to disperse, to create the illusion of smaller moving targets. Dispersing meant you would be alone, but you could save your life as well as the others.” She attempted to escape 4 times because during the first 3 times, someone had informed the Viet Cong and the location to meet up was compromised.

I have an aunt, who always stood out in my mind. She was so sweet and doted on the kids when we would visit. She made you feel like you were the #1 kid in the whole wide world. During this conversation, I asked my mom why she never had kids, she was loving and kind and seemed to have so much love to give. My mom revealed to me that she once had two young boys and a husband when she was on the boat that was headed to the US. On the boat, the men were on the top deck and the women and children stayed on the bottom deck. The boat had approached a Korean oil tanker and the captain asked if they could board the tanker. It didn’t make any sense that he wanted the passengers to board the tanker because the refuges were not allowed into Korea, they were not granted sanction in Korea. For whatever reason, the captain made his decision. Unfortunately, as the boat got closer to the oil tanker, the wave that it had created while cutting through the ocean water, rocked the boat and shook it. The wave was strong enough that people were thrown overboard and injuries were sustained on the top and bottom decks. At the exact same time, my aunt was climbing the access ladder, with one of her boys in her arms, the other was ahead of her on the ladder. They were trying to get to the top level to be with her husband so they could be ready to board the oil tanker.

When the wave had hit the boat, she was knocked off of the ladder and so were her boys. When she woke up, she was on the lower level of the boat again, lying next to other victims who were recovering from injuries attained during the shake up. Another refugee informed her that they were rolling the deceased bodies into the ocean. They couldn’t carry the dead across the Pacific Ocean because they would rot horribly and the damage they sustained from the wave was already an issue. She informed my aunt, that my aunt had been placed with the dead bodies, because they thought she had died, but after another check, they realized she was breathing- so they brought her downstairs to recover. When my aunt got to the top level, she saw that her husband and her two sons were among those who were deceased. When the time came for her husband and sons to be rolled into the ocean, she helped roll them off of the boat. And that was it, they were gone.

When she arrived in the US, she was alone, and didn’t know any English. Inevitably, she was placed in a psychiatric facility for some time. So many had passed during that event, I’m not sure she ever recovered from the incident. I don’t know if she had time to mourn the loss of her family, or time to heal from the emotional scars, but I do know that she felt lost and alone in a strange land. She eventually met my uncle whom is now her current husband and they’ve been married ever since- but behind her smiles, she was never the same again.

The reason why I tell this story, is that there are so, so many stories such as that one, which have never been told. As first generation American, I have no idea what it took for my relatives to come here. Guerrilla warfare is hand to hand combat and  if you couldn’t stand your ground- you would easily be killed by the hands of the other. I look at my relatives now, and I wonder what stories they have not told. I wonder what life was like, the fear they felt as they watched their country collapsing, their homes being destroyed and the future filling up with unknown endings.

I have a deep respect for life and people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a past. Please ask, learn and spread that knowledge. Every single one of us has a story, perhaps not about war, maybe trauma, maybe a moment that changed our lives- but every single person has a story. I always knew war was bad, and it took 14 years to finally hear the details of how bad it was through my  mom’s eyes. Some stories are so painful they they can’t be repeated, but for the stories that can, I hope each person takes something away from it.

130831192539-17-iconic-vietnam-napalm---restricted-horizontal-large-gallery

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) CNN, 25 of The Most Iconic Photographs

Tết 2016- The Set Up and Food

02.08.2016

0800

So I just wanted to share the set up that my family uses for Tết. We use the alter, entryway dresser and dining table as our platforms. The alter is for Buddha (bàn thờ Phật), the entryway dresser is used for the Saint of the Property (Đức Đai) and the dining table is used for my ancestors (ông, bà).

Before the Tết ceremony begins: (Day 1)

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During the Tết ceremony: (Day 1)

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On the alter sits a bowl of dry rice in which we have placed many incense sticks (cây nhang) over the years during each Tết celebration. On the entryway table is the set up for the Saint of the Property (Đức Đai), which includes a small bowl of dry rice for the incense sticks, water glasses, a variety of foods such as soup (Canh), Vietnamese braised pork with eggs (thịt kho), Vegetarian stir fry egg noodles (mì xào chay), shrimp salad (gỏi tôm), and fresh fruit. On the dining table, there is a small bowl of dry rice for the incense sticks, three bowls of rice for my ancestors (one for my dad’s side, one for my mom’s side and the third is for all other ancestors), water glasses, candles and the same variety of foods as on the entryway table but in addition, there are also Vietnamese mung bean dumplings (bánh ít trần).

Tradition goes that when ceremony starts, each person always prays and greets Buddha first with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy) at the alter, then we move over to the entryway table and ask the Saint of the Property, permission (xin phép) to invite our ancestors to come and celebrate Tết with us with 2 bows (hai xá) and 2 prayers (hai lạy). Then at the dining table, we invite our ancestors to come and celebrate with us with 2 bows (hai xá) and 2 prayers (hai lạy). After each request, we each place one incense (cây nhang) into the designated dry rice bowl. At the end of the first round of bows, each person will visit each table again to ask permission to leave the ceremony, but using the same amount of bows and prayers per table that was used in the first round. This second round of bows and prayers will release the person to go on with their day as they please.

After the Tết ceremony: (Day 1)

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The bows, prayers and the placing of the incense sticks are repeated each morning for three days (ba ngày Tết), during the three day celebration. At the end of the three day celebration, there will be another feast that will be the same set up on each table and on the alter in which we bid farewell (tiễn đưa) to our ancestors.

In the late evening (close to midnight): (Day 1)

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In the late evening, we celebrate the New Years Eve (Cúng giao thừa) by lighting the alter candles and  welcoming the new year. This ceremony includes three separate steps by the owner of the home. The first prayer (lạy Phật) takes place at the alter to Buddha with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy). Then the owner will step outside on the front porch of the home and prays to Heaven and Earth (cúng trời đất) with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy) The owner will then come inside to the alter and will pray to the lord of Heaven and Earth (lạy trời đất) with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy). The owner of the home will then place three incense into the rice bowl at the alter after these last three bows are completed. This last set of bows will end the ceremony of welcoming the new year.

 This is an overview of what the set up is for my family for this year. There are traditional baked goods missing from this set up such as Bánh chưng (Vietnamese rice cake which is made from glutinous rice, mung beans, pork and other ingredients) and  Bánh tét (savoury but sometimes sweetened cake, made from mung bean or mung bean and pork filling), as well as tea in addition to the water glasses. Each family has their own variation of what foods they cook or how they set up their ceremonies, this is just my family’s set up for this year.

So,  Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! (Happy New Year) I wish you all a healthy and happy new year with plenty of wealth and triumphs throughout the year 🙂

Recipe – (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs)

Thit kho with hard-boiled eggs (Vietnamese braised pork) - great with rice and popular on Lunar New Years!

This thịt kho recipe is a low and slow braise so the meat is going to be reeeeally tender. In this recipe we’re going to use pork belly because the fat on the meat tastes awesome! If you can get pork belly with the bones, you’ll have even better results. My ideal ratio of pork for this dish is actually 1/2 pork belly and 1/2 of a leaner cut like shoulder.

Hard-boiled eggs for thit kho - boil and peel them first!

Near me in Southern California’s Little Saigon, I hear you can get a higher quality of pork belly at Quang Minh Mini Market. It costs more for the belly, but there seems to be a consensus that its worth the cost–something I need to check out soon!

Here are the brands I use for the seasoning: Rico coconut soda, Kikkoman soy sauce, and Three Crabs Brand fish sauce. The thick soy sauce brand is Koon Chun, to be used in a pinch.

thit kho seasoning

As a kid I enjoyed mashing the yolk with the rice and spooning sauce over it–it’s fun! This dish is commonly eaten with a side of dua chua (pickled mustard greens) which provides a fresh and crunchy balance.

Chopped yellow onions for thit kho, to add another layer of flavorNotes:
I have tried adding slices of yellow onion too and it adds a nice layer of flavor to this dish. You can remove the onion at the end of the braise if you prefer since it will have given up all its flavor to the broth. For the seasoning in this thịt kho recipe: tinker with the soy sauce, fish sauce, and salt after the liquid has finished reducing, to taste.

Thit kho with hard-boiled eggs and pickled mustard greens

5.0 from 2 reviews
Thịt Kho – Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs
Prep time
10 mins
Cook time
2 hours
Total time
2 hours 10 mins
Author: Hungry Huy
Serves: 5-6
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds of pork belly, cut into 1.5″ cubes
  • 8 hard-boiled eggs
  • 6 ounces coconut soda (I use Rico brand)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (or replace this with fish sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into large pieces (6-8 will be fine)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar for the caramel color (nuoc mau). This is to deepen the color of the dish. Depending on how dark your caramel sauce gets, you may not need to use all of it. In a pinch, you can use about ⅕ teaspoon of thick soy sauce instead, but the caramel sauce will tastes better.
Instructions
  1. Cut the pork into smaller pieces. I like 1.5″ cubes so it cooks slightly faster.
  2. Bring 2-3 quarts of water boiling on high, or enough to fully submerge the pork.When the water’s boiling, add the pork for 1-2 minutes just to clean it. Drain then rinse the pork under running water until the water is clear.
  3. Add the coconut soda, soy sauce, fish sauce and salt to the pot.
  4. Fill up the pot until the water just covers the pork. Turn the heat to high.
  5. When it hits a boil, drop the heat until you still see a slight boil, maybe about about 25% heat and let it simmer uncovered for about 1.5 to 2 hours. Check and stir the pot every 20 minutes. The longer you cook it, the softer the pork gets. Leaving it slightly uncovered lets the liquid reduce so you get a nice concentrated sauce later.
  6. Make the caramel color and add it to the pot.
  7. Make the hard-boiled eggs: add to a pot and cover the eggs with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and let it sit for 8 minutes. Cool in water then peel. Add the hard boiled eggs to the pot of pork in the last ~30-40 minutes of cooking.
  8. When there are about 30 minutes left on the timer, add the eggs. Eventually we want the liquid to reduce to about ⅓ or ¼ of the original.
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Comments

  1. SK says:

    Good job :) A good food in Tet’s Days at Vietnam, however, eating it in normal days is ok ! ^^

    • Huy says:

      Year round is definitely okay with me too :)

  2. Huy Vu says:

    Thanks! Just wish I had some Dua Cai Chua to go with this. =]

  3. daisy says:

    its so hard to find vietnamese recipes i understand and use online. more more more.

  4. Huy Vu says:

    =] sure thing.

  5. Jessica says:

    This reminds me of a Korean side dish called “Jang Joh Rim.” I wonder if they taste similar!

    • Huy says:

      Yeah it seems a lot of Asians share a similar variation of this dish!

  6. jason says:

    Huy, do i cover the pot with a lid? or leave it open?

    • Huy says:

      You only need to cover it slightly at the start so the liquid can reduce. Towards the end you can probably remove the lid entirely–adjust as needed.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Really great recipe, the step by step pictures are really appreciated. Thank you for sharing, and keep them coming!

  8. Jen says:

    Similar to adobo in the philippines:) ill try this recipe..

  9. Shay says:

    A friend made this as a comfort meal for me once and I loved it!
    Now I can try making it for my family. Wondering if this needs to be simmered covered with a lid or left open to boil? Thanks

    • Huy says:

      Lid open mostly, to reduce. If the meat is still tough you can add water as needed and continue to boil uncovered until it reaches a sauce thickness you like.

  10. LT says:

    This is way better than the Filipinos’ adobo.

  11. Eric says:

    looks similar to adobo but taste way different to adobo trust me this dish is heaps tastier

  12. steve says:

    make sure you use good fish sauce, like the one pictured above.

  13. Linda says:

    I love the pictures and the steps are very similar to my notes from my mom’s cooking lesson to me. The only thing is I just cooked it today with the country style boneless ribs and I compared it to the pork belly meat. Somehow the rib meat was more tough. Is there a way to make it more tender? I cooked 2hrs as your recipe dictates.

    Also, many people asked & I wonder also, do you cook your pot covered or uncovered?

    • Huy says:

      I cook it uncovered so the liquid can reduce (evaporate) to an amount I like. If you see it reduces too much you can put the lid back on or add some water.

      As for toughness of the meat, different cuts will vary in amount of connective tissue. Just cook it longer if its still too tough. At first I was afraid to overcook it, but giving it more time has always resulted in tender results. Just check it every 15 minutes or so.

  14. Tracy Le says:

    Just tried your recipe. Turned out so awesome. Thanks!!! :)

  15. foodiegal says:

    Is that a typo? This doesn’t take 20 hours does it? If so, can we cook this in a crock pot?

    By the way, I’ve had this dish many times at parties and IT IS TO DIE FOR! I love that the ingredients are simple and so are the directions. Is there a substitute for the coconut soda, if I’m not able to find it? Thanks!

    • Huy says:

      I’m DYING, that’s hilarious!! Yeah I meant to say 2 hours–oops, that’s been updated and thanks!

      The best thing you can use is fresh coconut juice, coco soda 2nd, then 3rd is cola or lemon-lime soda. Hope that helps.

  16. TrinityTrinh says:

    Can you substitute chicken or beef? I do not eat Pork. I’m sure it won’t taste the same but thought I would ask

  17. Trinity trinh says:

    Have you or can you substitute chicken or beef. I have taken pork out of my diet.

    • Huy says:

      Hey Trinity, I personally haven’t tried it but I bet it would be pretty good too. I’ve had this with tofu instead of meat and really enjoy that version too!

  18. Amy says:

    Super easy recipe to follow, and ended up delicious! I used pork shoulder only because the local grocery store didn’t have any pork belly left, and the end product was still absolutely delicious! The meat was so tender and flavorful without being too salty. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    • Huy says:

      Hey Amy glad to hear you liked it! Yeah you can really use any cut of pork you want and it still turns out pretty well :)

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Tết 2016- Lunar New Year

02.03.2016

0800

DSC_3535Tết is the most important celebration in the Vietnamese culture.

It is also, one of my favorite holidays, Christmas being the other. I love Christmas because it marks the end of the year and that the new year that’s about to come. A new year brings new beginnings, new experiences and new challenges.

Tết derives from a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Sino-Vietnamese and it means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day” and it also marks the arrival of the spring season, based on the Vietnamese variation of the Chinese Lunar calendar. (The Chinese Lunar Calendar is four hours ahead of the Vietnamese Lunar Calendar.)

It is a time when families reunite and visit one another. Some may even go to temple and start letting go of their troubles from the last year. It is a time when customs such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year, ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people and even opening a shop.

As a child, I really loved this holiday. It was the only time when certain special dishes, desserts, and snacks were made and consumed. I also loved receiving money because… who doesn’t love that. Heading south to meet up at my aunts house was a thrill. I knew I would get to see all of my cousins and her little Chihuahuas. Although, the house had to fit up to 6 families which included, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, the food and the room to be able to move around the food table. In total, there was always about 12 kids at these gatherings. It was still awesome, we would always gather in one room to play a board game and we’d somehow would get into arguments about it. The boys never wanted to loose and I (being 1 of the 3 girls there) never really cared. After the arguments, we would all go to the nearby park and play as we waited for to hear the jingle of the local ice cream truck.  Then we’d all bombard our parents for ice cream money. It was a great time, and by the end of the party, the cousins seemed to part ways as best friends. We always knew we’d have to wait another year to do it all over again, and it never felt fair.

Now that I’m older, and I’m on the giving end of the crisp red envelopes filled with money, I’m realizing now, that working during the year means that I have to save up for Christmas and Tết because NOW I’m realizing how much money my relatives forked out for each kid. I’m impressed that they did that for all 12 of us- EACH YEAR.

Truth be told, I don’t spend a lot of money, and the joy of receiving money and eating food as a kid is a wonderful memory that I still hold dear. Also, kids stop receiving money when they start working, so you’re really looking at forking out those red envelopes from ages 5-16- not too bad right? And now the time of the year has come again, to celebrate the new Lunar calendar and new beginnings.