Closing the Cycle – Composting

A few weeks ago while at the gym, I happened to catch a small portion of a morning news clip. That clip talked about a new statewide initiative to reduce food waste. Most of the details escape me save one. Each year, on average, South Carolinians throw out 640,000 pounds of food.

One person has difficulty comprehending the amount described by such a large number. The mind gets blown when one thinks about the fact that that number describes one state out of fifty in one country out of 196.

I have long been incredibly driven to make good use out of every piece of food I am given to eat. Part of that started when I was young. I remember one time at my grandparents’ house I had finished a bowl of cereal, all save the leftover milk. As I got up to dump out the milk and rinse my bowl, my grandpa asked me where I thought I was going. He made me sit back down and drink that milk before I could leave the table. Nothing went to waste in that house, a byproduct of growing up in the Depression. If a spoonful of vegetables remained in a serving dish at the end of a meal, someone transferred it to a smaller dish to put in the fridge. When we headed to the family beach vacations, any leftovers were bagged up and brought along. Today, even the leavings on the plates are put to use as expected treats for my aunt’s two dogs.

Personally, I have always been reluctant to throw out anything that I have spent time and/or money on. I hate the idea of needless waste, especially when I know that there are many others less fortunate than me. My problem stems directly from my tendency towards procrastination and also a little bit overambitious. I tend to waste food most often in one of the following two scenarios. Either I keep putting off using my perishables or preserving them or I see an interesting product at Costco and create grand plans on how I will use it before expiration. Either way, I end up wasting a lot more food than I am comfortable with.

How does this all tie in with composting? Well, it goes back to that original number in this post, 640,000 pounds of food thrown away. While the number is staggering for sure, it does not surprise me. I witness the food waste first hand at work.

Greenville County Schools offers free breakfast to every student. This is a fantastic initiative. It does, however, lead to additional waste. Many students grab the bags of free food for a single item and then after consuming said item would throw the remainder away. It pained me to see perfectly good apples or unopened cartons of milk and juice head into the trash. A few months ago I started encouraging the students to place any unwanted, unopened items on the corner of my desk. Any other student was then welcome to come take an item. Now a healthy exchange market has developed in my room. It’s rare to have anything left on the corner of my desk after breakfast in the classroom concludes.

My awareness expanded to the lunchroom and the federally mandated fruit portion. I wholeheartedly support the goal of increasing the nutritional quality of students’ diets. It is a long road to haul, however. Change like this takes time which unfortunately leads to hundreds of apples, oranges and other fruit tossed in the garbage. When students have additional money to buy the available sugary “fruit” drinks, the mandatory milks sit unopened or are the tools for ad hoc lunchroom experiments. The amount of fruit left over when students receive an ice cream reward after a good day of testing testifies to the enviable power that sugar holds.

When we are able to, another teacher and I collect the unopened milk cartons, uneaten and un-mutilated (a lot of our fruit suffer fatal straw or fork puncture wounds) fruit. After the first few times, students began asking if they could have various items in the bag as I passed by their table. If I have it, I always give the item to them. Many days this results in only a few items remaining. Those items are consumed as well. Students are welcome to come by my room before or after school. If any remain after this, one of the teachers takes the fruit out to leave for the deer.

Now, after that explanation of the background, I finally come to the specifics of composting. I have considered composting before but never managed to get past the initial hurdle of setting up the compost pile or bin. To say that I am not the best gardener would be a euphemism extraordinaire. My mother and stepfather, however, love plants, are growing a vegetable garden and have started a compost pile. I kept thinking about saving my food waste to add to their pile; eventually that thought got pushed aside by others until I saw that number.

I could not stop thinking about that number and steps that I could take to do my part to decrease it. I started thinking about compost once again and realized that I could collect the unfortunate two-bite apples thrown away in my room from the leftovers. Instead of throwing these apples into the trash can, I now have a separate bag for kids to toss them into so that the waste could be composted.

Many of them started asking why I was doing that so I took the opportunity to show a short video about composting. (That is one upside to completing state testing first.) I watched this video with each class and even got to have an excellent discussion on the why behind so much waste with one of my classes. By the end of the day I had also purchased a 1.3 gallon bin to place on my countertop so that I can place my food scraps and coffee grounds there and have something with which to transport them to Mom and Ellis.

While searching for videos I cam across one produced by a middle school somewhere in the US. This school had separate, student-decorated bins int he cafeteria to collect all of the waste. They had two separate bins for composting, one with worms for dairy and meat products and one without worms for all the other edible scraps. They also had a recycling bin and trash can. Beyond that, the school also had two large compost bins outside to hold the schools leftovers. The students then demonstrated the completion of the cycle where they took some of their own compost to serve as fertilizer for the greenery areas of their school. After I watched this video, I became aware again of just how much food is thrown away even when I collect the uneaten fruit and unopened milks. My dream would be to be able to start such a program at my school. I believe that this could be invaluable for these students. Such a process could help teach them to be better stewards of the resources that they have which could potentially help, among other factors, break the cycle of poverty.

Right now, the political climate at the school, district, and county level is not amenable to the changes that would be required to implement such a system. In the face of such overwhelming odds, what can be done?

It starts with me. If I compared the amount of food I am keeping from the landfill to the total disposed of each year in my state, the depressing odds would quickly disillusion. If I instead celebrate each success no matter how small, the motivation will become infectious. One person cannot change the world and would be foolish to try to do so. Thus, going forward, I will take the small steps that I can like minimizing my own food waste by judicial purchases and composting the leftovers. I will also do what I can at school like collecting and redistributing the extra fruit while explaining the reasons to any who ask.

Sugar vs. the Budget

I have known for a while that my sweet tooth has teetered on the edge of out of control. As a child I drank a minimum of a can of soda a day. I loved fruity candy like Twizzlers and Starbust and once filled up the center portion of my Trapper Keeper notebook with Starburst wrappers in less than a month.

I loved sweets so much I could fill several paragraphs with examples. That, however, is not the point.

Over the years I have started to wean myself off of the sugar overload. First, the summer before my senior year of college I decided to challenge myself to cut soda out of my diet, at first for 30 days and then extended indefinitely. Two years later, I started actively trying to lose weight using sparkpeople and calorie counting. Turns out, those sugar laden drinks and foods weren’t all that healthy. (No duh, right?)

The sweet tooth persisted. Just this year, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it has come to something like a head. I decided to wean myself off of sugar starting with the little candy I keep in my desk for student rewards. Then I watched “Fed UP,” an excellent documentary about childhood obesity and sugar’s toxicity. I didn’t learn anything new, really, but the presentation pushed me in a direction I was already leaning.

Since the end of February, I have been working on weaning myself off added sugar. (I plan to dedicate an entire post to this some time in the future.) Here’s where the budget part comes in.

For as long as I have been on this journey towards greater frugality and minimalism, I have been working diligently at lowering the grocery line item in my budget. I’ve cut out the weekly treat item that I used to put o=in my cart back when shopping at Trader Joe’s wasn’t like getting a piece of legislation through Congress. (Trader Joe’s is still awesome; Woodruff Road is not.) I batch cook my meals to save both on cost and tiem so that my meals are ready to throw in my lunch bag each day. I buy bigger portions of commodities, like a 20lb bag of rice, than is normal for a single girl.

All these tweaks have been beneficial to my budget. In February I notched the lowest monthly grocery total I can remember, $107. I knew that wouldn’t last. This month? $210

Yes, it hurt just a little to see my monthly spending nearly double month to month and increase $60 from normal. Yes, I bought some bulk household items like dishwasher pods. That was only part. The biggest reason for the increased cost came from my attempt to find suitable, convenient snacks without added sugar.

I have started to add back apples to my daily diet. I also now try to have some oranges on hand to satisfy my sweet craving in the evening when I get home from work. I purchased a bag of unsulfered dried apricots as a possible alternative for school day snacks. (This does not seem to work for my “runger” on speedwork days.) I purchased blueberries so that I could start adding flavor to plain Greek Yogurt. (There is a ridiculous amount of added sugar in flavored yogurt.)

This is still a work in progress. I keep coming across staples in my diet, staples that provide an immense amount of convenience to my fully-packed teacher’s schedule. So far, the convenient, healthy options appear to have the ability to put a serious hurt on my budget.

As of right now, I do not have any clear answers; no winner has been decided. In one corner sits a determination to clean up my diet from sugar’s toxicity. The other corner holds the frugal minimalist coached by the time-sucking teacher schedule. Hopefully I will soon be able to transform this from a fight to cooperative teamwork.

Reviewed and Renewed Intentions

A quick note to address the vocabulary choice in the title and throughout the rest of this entry: from here on out, instead of using the word “goal(s),” I plan to use the word “intention(s).” This is to align my actions this year with my overall focus of intentionality. These “intentions” all serve a specific purpose in helping me advance closer to achieving intentionality overall in my life.

Now to the meat of the post

Running
Right now I am still focusing on rebuilding. I noticed almost right away that once I made the goal of completing the daily exercises at least four days a week, it became even easier to find excuses to postpone or skip. That first week I found myself over at Mom and Ellis’ having forgotten the resistance band that I use for some of the exercises and a bunch of snow outside making me stay put. I ended up skipping five days in a row. Not cool. I started noting on my calendar each time I actually got it done. I’ve been more consistent but there is still considerable room for improvement.

I also learned a lot about just how much I need to do before Chicago but that’s for a soon to come marathon reflection post.

Health and Nutrition
For the month of January I will consider the intention of drinking two water bottles a day a success. I think there may have been a handful of days where I drank only a little over one bottle a day but overall I achieve this intention. I have also successfully made brining my water bottle with me to lunch a habit. I do plan to keep this on as an intention because the habit is not quite ingrained.

February rolled around. I failed to set “official” health and nutrition intentions for the month. I no longer had the water drinking intention hanging over my head. I found myself slipping back into old habits.

Before I get to my February/March intentions, I will briefly mention that I successfully achieved my maximum two Ghiradelli peppermint bark bar per day goal. On only two days with the second falling on the last day of the challenge, did I eat more than two.

I have three intentions for February/March: one old and two new. The old is the two water bottles drunk per day. The first new goal has to do with sugar consumption with an added (marginal) financial benefit. Every Friday I have “retro Friday” with my students. I used to give them bite sized candy every time they used the word of the day in a sentence but to keep myself from going broke I retooled it and made it once a week. That means that there is always candy easy at hand, the delicious kind like Twix and Milky Way. As marathon training ramped up I found myself hungry all the time. For someone with a propensity for a sweet tooth that does not make for a good combination. So, I have made this intention as follows. I will not snack on the bite sized candy I have available; I will make sure to have something else handy. (The financial benefit will come with the fact that I will be able to use that candy for the purpose I intended.)

The second new intention has to do with sleep. A big part of health has to do with being able to get regular sleep. While I think my sleep habits are much healthier than my sweet tooth tendencies, there’s room for improvement. I will admit that I almost made this goal two fold but thought better of it. One step at a time. For years, I have gotten away with letting myself push right up until “bedtime” and ended up getting to bed 15, 20 minutes after the time I said I would go to bed. This specific intention is as follows. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (not finishing a journal entry is not one) I will start the process of getting to bed at 9:55 on “school nights” and 10:55 on weekends so that I’m in bed on the hour.

Reading and Writing
According to goodreads, I am six books ahead of goal pace to read 100 books this year. I want to build a little more of a cushion because I am not bringing books to read on my UK trip and probably won’t bring any on the road trip either. Reading for 15 minutes each weekday is one of the four things I added to my new to do section of my day planner. I think under most circumstances 15 minutes is doable.

The writing intention has been a little more difficult to prioritize. As hard as I tried, life has has gotten in the way a few times and I have not been able to journal every day. When I have been able to write, the quality and quantity far surpasses what I used to write as a general habit. I am still working towards accomplishing this intention.

Photography
So far, so good. When an unexpected snow fall changed plans, I made sure to have my camera with me so I could get out and take a bunch of pictures. I have also posted to Instagram every single day except for one Sunday when it completely slipped my mind.

Teaching
This one is hard to quantify. So far I have said yes to all opportunities that have come my way. That means that even recently I have had to pray for a heart change. I have the opportunity to meet one on one for a coaching cycle with the district Title 1 ELA specialists. I won’t get into the details here but I will summarize my initial feeling, dread. No, that will not be my approach. This is a new opportunity that with God’s help, I will embrace.

Phew! That was a lot but so much fun to dig into. I can’t wait to see what the next 6 weeks will bring.

The Rest of the Goals

I am a goals oriented person. I derive immense satisfaction from making lists and then crossing through each line. I become giddy when I set goals and surpass them handily. (I should remember this for those many times I attempt to shoot for the moon.)

Instead of devoting a separate post to each of these other goals since that would push non-goal oriented posts until some time around my birthday in July, I will lump them together in this post. There are a few categories.

Health and Nutrition
This ties directly to running. However, running is not the only thing that affects my overall fitness.

Overall, I want to clean up my diet. I have been trying to work on this for years. I think that I lacked specificity and staying power. So, I am going to focus on one or two habits each month. Hopefully by the end of each month I will have acquired a new healthy habit that will stick for the long term.

For January, I have been (since this post will be published mid month) focusing on drinking at least two full water bottles each day including weekends and limiting myself to two Ghirardelli peppermint bark squares (or four mini squares) each day.

As to the specificity of the latter goal, I have discovered in recent years a distinct weakness for this deliciousness. Once I open one, I have a hard time not opening three or four more. Since I think I should cut back on sugar overall, this is a specific goal that I will have, hopefully, until the end of February since for Christmas I received three bags of the regular sized squares and two of the minis.

As to the water goal, I noticed very early on when I started back teaching that the water I took to school in my water bottle often came right back home with me as well. Regular water drinking became an early casualty of my resumed teaching career. I used to drink three bottles minimum a day during the work week although my weekend water drinking has always been less than stellar. It’s all about building a habit through. I have started making sure to bring my water bottle down to lunch with me. It’s still a bit challenging on days when I have duty and have to roam the cafeteria but one step at a time. I also now try to make sure to drink another bottle after school while I work. If I do not finish before I leave, I try to finish on the way home.

Reading and Writing
These two things have been loves of mine for as long as I can remember. Once I started teaching the first time back in 2009 they started slipping away. Other newer, shinier things attracted my attention. When things reached a tipping point early this semester God used the pressure to show me what gave me true joy. I never thought that I would give up keeping up with an insane number of TV shoes but I have not regretted a thing. Back on topic though.

These two things bring me pure pleasure. Thus, I want to prioritize them. First I will name the goals and then the method I plan to use to achieve them.

I want to read at least a hundred books this year. Those golden years back in 2009 and 2009 when I read over 300 books in a single year may be long in the past but I can still cross that century mark.

This is the plan. First, I want to adopt a habit I learned from my sister’s boyfriend and carry a book with me at all times. I would much rather read a good book when stuck waiting on something (like a meeting to start) than scroll mindlessly through the internet.

Second, I want to set aside fifteen minutes each day, minimum, for reading. Except on very rare occasions, even with the highest work load, fifteen minutes is a reasonably manageable amount of time.

Third, I will read for at least 40 minutes each Saturday and Sunday. I will also do this before I start work so that I don’t get wrapped up in something and run out of time. Priorities. This will also apply to days off and vacation except my international trip on which I will not be taking any books aside from my journal.

Speaking of my journal (and writing)…

I want to journal every day and write at least one blog post a week, two on race weeks. Long term, I hope to get back into fiction writing but for now I am focused on getting the tap repaired and functioning again.

First, I will journal before I settle in to cross stitch at the end of the night. I will also write without any other distractions present like a podcast or TV show. Of course, if I am somewhere other than home, I will do my best in whatever circumstances are present.

Second, I will not time myself. This means I will not, for example, start writing at 8:40pm with the goal of finishing by 9. Instead, as long as the words flow, I will write.

Third, I will keep my composition notebook with me at all times so that passing brilliances can be captured and remembered. I may not be able to expound on all of them but it’s better to have an abundance from which to choose.

Fourth, I will establish a dedicated time on the weekend in which to write a post for the blog. Snow the first weekend of the year has delayed this a little but I need to make this a priority. Ideally, I would like to work up to writing at least two posts, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Depending on the nature of the post, one of those days may be devoted to research and preparation.

Photography
Although this is not quite as much a passion of mine as reading and writing, it is not far behind. While I would love to have more time for all three, I will take what God has given me.

This goal is simple. I want to resume my habit of daily Instagram posting. Just like so many other things, this one quickly fell by the wayside when I resumed teaching. From mid-September until December 31st, I posted nothing.

Part of how I will achieve this goal will depend simply on making the act of publishing the photo a habit. There are, however, a few things that will help me reach this goal.

First, when I have time, I will edit and name the photos in Flickr so that all i have to do on the day of, is download the photo, post and add the appropriate tags.

Second, when I sort anything into the appropriate Flickr album, I will go ahead and name and edit them.

Third, I will seize every available opportunity to take as many photographs as possible. I had the opportunity to do this back at the beginning of January when South Carolina got one of the most beautiful snowfalls. SO often we get a little bit of snow and a lot of ice. This time we got a lot of snow that held off becoming ice until we had time to tramp around and marvel in the beauty while snapping hundreds of photos, 300 to be exact. This will also be very easy to do with my summer of travel upcoming.

Fourth, I need to learn how to operate my camera better to improve the quality. Either that or I need to research a potential purchase of a better camera. This may not happen in the time frame that I would like but if a magical few extra moments materialize, I will make the most of them.

Teaching
My overall goal is very broad: become a better teacher. The how becomes even more important for a goal like this.

First, I want to stay on top of daily maintenance items like the tardy log and behavior log. Since I now use google classroom for the bellringers, I also plan to get them graded right away each day. I have made peace with the fact that this may mean that I stay later than most other teachers but I will arrive home without schoolwork hanging over my head. That is at trade off that I am willing to make.

Second, I want to fully engage with all of the PD (professional development) sessions that we have no matter what I think about their appropriateness or effectiveness. I might learn just one thing but is one thing that I did not know before. Plus, this presents an excellent forum for increasing my writing volume and my skills because the tool I intend to implement is note-taking. I have used it once this year so far and am surprised at how much I remember from that meeting.

Three, I want to incorporate more reflection on my teaching into my daily practice. I am not sure what that will look like quite yet. This might be something that I need to develop over the summer and implement next year as I undergo the ADEPT evaluation process once more.

Fourth, amongst all my travel next summer, I plan to set aside a chunk of time to do some focused reflection on the previous year and make intentions for the coming year. I will return to this goal sometime in the summer to update/adjust the method.

Although this entry turned out to be longer than I expected, it helped clarify my thinking on a few areas. I hope you will continue to join me as I share my thoughts.