Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm Intrigued by Sarah Palin

I had never heard Sarah Palin's name until my son's baseball practice last night. Actually, I didn't even hear her name, just the buzz that Senator McCain had chosen a 44 year old, minivan driving, mother of 5 as his running mate. 

I got excited. Not because she's a woman. Not because she's a conservative. Not because I suddenly had the clarity of knowing how I'm going to vote in the November elections.

I got excited because I thought, "I can't believe he just did that!"

In regard to politics, we often utter the phrase "I can't believe he just did that" while all along we actually do believe it was done. No one really does anything that surprises us. We have all become very jaded. When is the last time you went to vote in a gubernatorial election or a presidential election and didn't say or hear at least 5 other people say, "I wish I just wasn't voting for the lesser of two evils?" It's become common to vote for the person you believe will do the least amount of damage. 

But yesterday, I truly couldn't believe someone had "just done that." Senator McCain's choice thrills me. I feel a little less jaded this morning. 

I've read a few online articles about Governor Palin this morning. There are some things I really like about her, other things I wish were different. But so far I haven't seen anything that has put me off. Of course, since she seems to have come out of left field, there isn't much to read yet. Everyone seems to have the same information.

I certainly haven't made up my mind about November. But I have a renewed interest in this election and a renewed faith in our political system. 

Image taken from Governor Palin's Biography on the Alaska State webpage.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Time to Cancel Your Catalogs before You Get 10 of the Same One

I'm over at Sustainablog today talking about the onslaught of catalogs that are about to come between now and the holidays, the statistics about paper used for catalogs, and how to easily cancel the ones you don't want.

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Preview of the Premiere of Bill Nye's Stuff Happens

Complain and ye shall receive. 

The other day I wrote about how I was excited for the return of Stuff Happens, the environmental show hosted by Bill Nye the Science Guy, but the first show that was being aired was a rerun of the only one that has ever been aired. 

Planet Green is airing an all new episode of Stuff Happens next Tuesday night, and after I complained about having to wait a week to see, I was sent a sneak peak DVD by Reenie over at Planet Green. How cool is that?

I just finished watching the DVD with my 9-year-old and my husband. The episode, on bathrooms, was entertaining and informative. We learned about composting toilets, the importance of conserving water in the bathroom, what effect toothpaste has on orangutans, what bathroom item is related to napalm (hint: my husband is now looking into buying a shaving brush), and a lot of other interesting and green facts.

I think that the best part of this show is that it is entertaining. There are well done visual demonstrations that help explain the concepts, and Bill Nye is just a natural teacher. He also doesn't get preachy or try to lay a guilt trip on anyone. He just explains the facts. There are no scare tactics either. It's mentioned that global warming could cause water shortages to increase so conserving water is important, but it's mentioned quickly and without hysteria. 

There aren't many programs that families can all sit down and enjoy together these days. Stuff Happens is one that the whole family can enjoy together. 

The Bathroom episode will air on Tuesday, September 2 ET.

There are 12 episodes scheduled for the fall, all airing on Tuesday nights, that will focus the stuff that happens around a home.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

GreenFest Philly Eco-Exchange Fashion Show and Clothing Swap

I've already told you about GreenFest Philly that will be happening on September 7th. There is a lot going on, and over the next week, I'll be letting you know about the things that I am most looking forward to.

The GreenFest Philly Eco-Exchange Fashion Show and Clothing Exchange is definitely one thing I will be checking out. It's not so much the fashion show I'm excited about (although I am interested to see if they are actually wearable fashions or crazy things that are made from eco-friendly materials but still totally useless). It's the clothing exchange that's got me all a flutter.

See, with the exception of a new pair of sandals and one new shirt, I have been on a new clothing fast this summer. It's been hard. So the opportunity to take some of my unused clothes, and possibly exchange them for some new-to-me clothes, at a green festival is pretty exciting. Who knows if I'll find anything I like or in my size, but it will be fun just looking.

Here are the guidelines for the exchange, straight from the Philly GreenFest website:


11AM – 5PM at GreenFest Philly

It’s time to recycle and revitalize your wardrobe at the Eco Exchange clothing swap. A swap is a fun, eco-friendly way to get rid of previously loved clothing in return for new-to-you items. Swappers are stylish, kind, resourceful individuals of all ages, shapes, sizes and styles: Classic, Trendy, Vintage, Sporty and more. All unclaimed clothing will be donated.

1. Clean your closets.

2. Wash and sort your gently used clothing: women’s, men’s, kid’s; tops, sweaters, outerwear, shorts, pants, skirts, dresses, footwear and fabric. Don’t forget footwear, scarves, hats, jewelry and accessories.

3. If possible, put professional and dressy clothing on hangers; pack the rest into boxes and bags.

4. At the swap, put your items out on the tables in designated areas and scout for new clothes.

5. Be courteous and generous.
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The Greenwashed Thing That Came From the Newspaper

This was a post just waiting to happen. My neighbor asked if I wanted a book cover that had come in her newspaper for one of the boys' schoolbooks. I don't buy book covers, I use paper bags. But I said sure because it was free, and she would have just put it in the recycle bin if I hadn't taken it anyway.

Well, it was a GREEN book cover. There were tips for going green written all over it. You know who sponsored the book cover and put it in the newspaper? One of the local malls. On the side of the book cover is a perforated section of coupons for stuff in the mall - fast food, clothes, shoes, jewelry. 

At the bottom corner of the book cover is says "Please recycle this cover at the end of the school year." But you know what? No where on the book cover does it say it is made from recycled paper.

That mall really has a good greenwashing, I mean marketing, department.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Energy Audit

For someone who lives in a house or even an apartment or condo, an energy audit is a process in which you yourself or a professional auditor takes a look at all of the energy used in the home to find out if energy is being used efficiently. If it is found that energy is not being used efficiently in some areas, there are steps that can be taken to improve the situation.

An energy audit will look at simple things that can be improved easily like the type of light bulbs that you use or replacing dirty furnace filters. It will also look at bigger things like adding insulation to attics or completely replacing an outdated heating/cooling system. 

The Daily Green offers instructions and a printable checklist for a DIY energy audit. If you don't want to spend money on a professional auditor, doing an energy audit yourself can find some of the places where you are losing energy efficiency.

For a more thorough audit you can hire a professional auditor. The US Department of Energy has some tips for bringing in a professional auditor on its website.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

10 Easy Ways to Be More Sustainable During Soccer Season

It is soccer season (although this year for the first time one of my boys is playing fall baseball instead of soccer). The 6pm practices and games kill our dinner time. It's easy to fall into bad habits that lead to unsustainability when things get hectic. Here are ten easy ways to stay sustainable while you're trying to fit in soccer practice, homework and good environmentalism.
  1. Buy several reusable water bottles to take to practices and games.* Fill them with tap water. If you feel you must take sports drinks (I don't think it's very necessary for younger kids games) buy it in bigger containers and fill your bottles or buy the powdered mix and make it yourself.
  2. Ride your bikes or walk to the fields if it's possible.
  3. If you need to drive, carpool with other families in your neighborhood.
  4. Take healthy snacks of fresh fruits and homemade granola bars to avoid buying prepackaged, preservative filled, food dyed junk at the snack bar.
  5. Take home any bottles or cans you may end up using (or finding) at the fields to put in your own recycle bins if your fields don't have them.
  6. Refrain from running through the fast food drive-thru before or after your practice for dinner because "there is just no time." Sandwiches packed at home and taken to the field or eaten in the car on the way home are much better for you and the planet than a burger and fries. For a quick meal when you get home, try scrambled eggs, toast and fruit. It takes a little forethought and organization to stay away from the drive-thru, but it is well worth it.
  7. Buy your soccer balls and other necessary equipment from a second hand sports shop.
  8. If last year's stuff fits, use it again. Kids are unlikely to outgrow shin guards and soccer socks in one year. 
  9. Every once in a while, have your kids and their buddies walk around and clean up trash around the fields.
  10. For a sustainable family, say "no" when needed - like when the coach calls for an extra practice that will put your family's schedule over the edge or interfere with a planned family outing. Do not allow kids' activities to take over the family.
See. Easy.

*Write your family name on your bottles and at the end of each practice/game make sure each person has remembered to take it from the field. They aren't so sustainable if you have to keep replacing them.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Planet Green's Stuff Happens Show to Return on August 26th

I haven't watched anything on Planet Green since the week it premiered. It turned out the only show I thought worth watching was Bill Nye's Stuff Happens. It was informative and entertaining and on once. Well, it was on a couple of times but it was the same episode repeated. 

I searched for information as to why no new episodes seemed to be coming and after a while I found out that the original show was just a preview, and it's actual premiere would happen in the fall. 

Well, here's another sign that fall is upon us, because the show will once again be on at 9pm on August 26th. Unfortunately, it will be kicked off with that original episode. But, hopefully, next week we will get a brand spankin' new episode. According to Planet Green's website, a new episode, titled Bathrooms, will premiere on September 2.

Hmmm. I sense a new regular feature coming on "Last Night on Stuff Happens..." 

Image from Planet Green website.
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Green Product Review - Veev Alcoholic Spirit

Sometimes it's tough to have my job. Especially when someone e-mails me and asks if I'd like to be sent a bottle of a new spirit to sample and review. Well shoot, I guess someone has to do it.

I was sent a bottle of Veev, the world's first acai spirit. Acai, incase you've missed all the news lately, is a Brazilian fruit that is loaded with antioxidants. Veev uses the acai berries along with 100% natural ingredients and distills a fruity alcohol that can be used any way that vodka can be used.

So that's what it is, but how does it taste? The bottle arrived the day before we were having a big neighborhood party to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday so we had a little taste testing at the party. 

First we drank it straight. It definitely tasted alcoholic going down with slight burn, but then it had a nice fruity aftertaste. 4 of the 5 of us tasting thought it was pleasant and were willing to keep on experimenting.

Next, we mixed it with a little club soda and a squeeze of lime. Not too exciting. Kind of bland. Perhaps we put in a little too much club soda. I was sent some recipes for Veev, but we decided to try our own concoction.

At the beginning of summer, I had frozen some cut up strawberries in sugar that were the last of the local picking. We defrosted them and made a frozen drink. In a four cup blender, we filled the blender with ice. Then we poured Veev up to the two cup line, mixed together the strawberries and a little fruit punch Juice Juice and poured that in the blender to the top. We (and when I say we, I mean my friend Mike who was the master mind of this drink) also  squeezed a little fresh lime juice in. Blended it all together and it was good. Mike felt the need to add a little more Veev, but I thought the proportions were fine.

If you are looking to green your alcoholic beverage intake, then I suggest you give Veev a try and experiment with your own ingredients or use one of the recipes found on the website. Here are some other things from the promotional materials you might want to know about Veev:
  • $1 per bottle is donated to Rainforest preseveration
  • Veev is the industry's first certified carbon neutral spirits company
  • Veev distillers is powered by renewable energy
  • The Veev distillation process uses 200% less energy than a traditional pot still
  • It is sold nationwide at select retail locations for $35 a bottle
  • all of the promotional material I received was printed on 100% recycled paper using soy inks

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Book Review: Serve God Save the Planet

I mentioned Serve God Save the Planet by J. Matthew Sleeth in one of my posts the other day and said a review would be coming. I wrote the review for Sustainablog so you can go there if you're interested in reading about it.

I thought the book was fabulous and I was very challenged to further my green efforts not just to help the earth but to help those who live on it, too. I encourage you to take a look.
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Five Green Things To Do Before the End of Summer

I could go crazy on a night like tonight
When summers beginning to give up her fight
And every thoughts a possibility
And the voices are heard but nothing is seen

From the song Mystery by the Indigo Girls

Summer is coming to an end. Around here there is a week and a half until school starts. The boys got their classroom and teacher assignments the other day. That always signals the end is near. 

Here are five green things to think about doing before summer ends:
  1. Cook a local meal. We've talked about it quite a bit here - buying local foods and making a meal strictly from local ingredients. Even if you've already done it this summer, commit to doing it one more time before summer's abundance is gone and it becomes harder to find a variety.
  2. Go picking - in some regions there is still blueberry picking. Apple picking is beginning in many regions. Around here there are farms where you can peach pick right now. Figure out what you can pick in your area, go pick it, and then come home and make a pie or a cobbler or just shove your mouth full of fresh fruit.
  3. Take a hike in the woods with a camera. Take pictures of things that you don't know the names of then when you get home try to find out what they are.
  4. If you still have a little warm weather left, plant one last planting of lettuces or herbs to last you into the fall.
  5. Go to Catalog Choice and cancel all your unwanted catalogs before the slew of holiday catalogs inundate you mailbox. If you cancel now, you may still get the first issue of each holiday version of a catalog, but it will stop you from getting 10 more of the same catalog (with a different cover, of course) between September and December 25th.
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Philadelphia Green Festival on September 7th

If you're in the Philadelphia area, check out the Greenfest Philly on September 7th from 9am - 6pm.

From the website:

GreenFest Philly is a one-day street fair FREE to the public. Over 200 exhibitors and 20,000 people are expected at the area's largest environmental event. The event features vegetarian food, sneaker recycling, live music & entertainment, kid's activities, bicycle valet, yoga, local produce, organic pastry contest, composting and recycling, Eco Exchange Fashion Show & Clothing Swap, Water Quality Symposium and Eco-Film Forum. This year's theme is water quality so grab your reusable water containers and fill up at our no-waste drinking water stations.

I'll be there. Anyone else?
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Read This Before 2PM EST Today

My husband I caught an episode of The History Channel's program The Works this morning. It was all about garbage - how much we make, what happens to it, how it can be recycled or turned into energy...

They are rerunning the program today at 2pm EST. Watch it, tape it, DVR it. It's really interesting. According to their online schedule this is the only time this episode will be rerun within the next two weeks.
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Recycling Plastic Gift Cards (and Other Plastic Cards)

What do you do with a gift card when it's been used? Throw it in the trash? Even if you hand it to the cashier when you've used it at a store, most likely she throws it in the trash, too. They are so small that it doesn't seem like that big a deal, right? But, like all the rest of our trash, it adds up.

According to the Earthworks website, "over 75 million pounds of PVC material from plastic cards enters our waste stream every year." That's astounding! Another astounding statistic - "10 billion new gift cards are placed into circulation each year." Earthworks is a company that recycles plastic gift cards and other plastic cards into new sheets of plastic to make new gift cards or other materials.

It's not just gift cards that Earthworks can recycle - driver's licenses, student i.d. cards, library cards, credit cards, hotel card keys and shopper loyalty cards can all be recycled, too. I would hope that these cards with their sensitive information would be shredded before being sent to the facility, but there is no mention of that on the website. 

Although there is information for consumers on their site, there is no specific mailing address to send in your cards. There is contact information, though.

The site also has a page urging retailers to collect used cards and have them recycled. Just think about all those Target and Toys R Us cards that get used in the month after Christmas. If just those two retailers alone collected and recycled their cards I bet millions of pounds of cards would not end up in the trash.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Phantom Load

I read this in a book I just finished reading, Serve God Save the Planet (review coming soon).
The U.S. government reports that Americans spend more money to power audio equipment when it is off than when it is on. When stereos are off - which is most of the time - they are still using energy because they are in standby mode.
When power is drawn from a piece of electronic equipment when it is seemingly turned off, that piece of equipment is known to have a phantom load (also known as a vampire load). I spent many years under the impression that the energy drawn when electronics are not in use were so miniscule that they made no difference at all. Turns out, phantom loads are responsible for 6% of America's energy usage. That's a lot of greenhouse gases being created for literally no reason.

What are some of the specific power sucking devices in a typical home?
  • any item that can be turned on or off with a remote control, or that has an instant-on feature, is continually using energy even when turned off (just learned that from Save God Serve the Planet)
  • plugged in chargers for cell phones, mp3 players or other devices that need to be charged draw energy even when the device is removed
  • any device with an LED clock (alarm clocks, DVD players, microwave ovens, coffee makers, etc.)
  • computers, monitors, printers
  • electronic exercise equipment that has a display
  • televisions
  • stereos
How many of these items do you have in your home? We have all of them, and confession time here, it hadn't occurred to me about the exercise equipment. I have an elliptical machine that I haven't used in months that is sitting right behind me now. It's been plugged in all this time. Excuse me while I go unplug it.

Okay, I'm back.

How do you make sure that you aren't wasting energy with phantom loads? It's as easy as what I just did. Unplug the equipment when not in use. If you have a lot of the equipment centrally located, like your computer equipment or entertainment equipment, you can buy a power strip that will turn them all of with one button.

I also came across a little item called an energenie. You plug it into the wall and then you plug your equipment into it. The energenie senses when a device is in standby mode and automatically switches it off for you. I've never used one, so I can't really recommend it, but you can visit the website and check it out for yourself.

Sure, it's a bit of a hassle making sure all your equipment is truly off when not in use. But think of this. Some have estimated that the amount of phantom load energy that U.S. uses in one year would be enough to completely power the countries of Greece and Vietnam with enough left over for Peru. When you think of it that way, you've got a bit more incentive to truly turn off and unplug your devices, don't you?

Read more about saving energy:

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Understanding Beef Labels

Every once in a while I come across a post on someone else's blog that is exactly like one I've been meaning to write but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Then I point you all to it because why reinvent the wheel, right? I found one of those today. Over at Ecosalon, they have a post titled Organic, Grassfed, Humane, Free Range: Understanding Beef Labels.

The post explains what each of those labels plus a few others mean when you find them on a package of beef. It's well written and informative. Check it out.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Quote to Chew On

I read this quote by Dorothy Sayers:

A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a  society is a house built upon sand.

Think about it. Chew on it. Comment about it. 
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10 Easy Ways to Be More Sustainable in the Dining Room

Whether you have a formal dining room, a breakfast nook, or an eat-in kitchen, it's easy to get unsustainable when it comes to how you serve your meals. Here are ten easy ways to be more sustainable at your dining table.
  1. Use cloth napkins (see note below).
  2. Ditch the paper plates - use durable, washable plates.
  3. Use real utensils - never plastic.
  4. Candles are a beautiful touch for your table, but make sure your candles are all natural  - made ingredients like soy or beeswax.
  5. If you're going to have flowers on the table, make sure they are local and didn't travel hundreds of miles to get to your table. If you can't buy local, opt for a different centerpiece.
  6. Shop yard sales for fabulous vintage table clothes instead of buying new.
  7. Change out all the light bulbs in the room to CFL's.
  8. Use your chipped plates instead of going out to buy new ones. Our plates are 15 years old and very few are left unchipped. It doesn't take the enjoyment out of our meals one little bit.
  9. If you've got a formal dining room that isn't used frequently, close the curtains during the warm months to keep the sun out and open them in the winter months to let the sun in. It will help conserve energy.
  10. For a sustainable family, make sure you all sit around the dining table once a day for a meal. 
See, easy.

Note about cloth napkins: A lot of my friends ask about the difficulty of using cloth napkins - washing them, ironing them, getting out the stains. Honestly, I don't care about ironing or getting out stains. I have all white napkins, wash them each time I do a white load and hang them out to dry. If they are stained, oh well, we're only using them to wipe our mouths and hands. Wrinkles - who cares?

I do keep a set of 12 stashed away for when we have guests. They do get treated for stains after we use them, but unless it's Thanksgiving or Easter, I don't even iron them. 

I'm not trying to set a Martha Stewart table, I'm trying to set a sustainable one.

Read More

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Monday, August 18, 2008

More Back to School

Once again, I'm talking about back to school over at Sustainablog. This time it's Back to School Shopping Madness 2. The post gives some options for what a college student could take to the dorms to live more sustainably on campus.  Stumble Upon Toolbar

Lessons Learned at the Pond

My six year old and I took a walk around a beautiful, peaceful pond on Friday morning. The picture to the left isn't the exact pond, but it looks similar. Peaceful, isn't it.

Lately, when I've been out with my kids in nature, I've been paying attention to what they are discovering as well as what I am learning. I figure if I'm trying to care for this earth, I should pay attention to it, too.

Here are some things we learned:
  • Lily pads have long tails. (Are they really lily pads if they don't have lilies on them or are they something else?)
  • Ponds can be man made.
  • Trees and clouds are upside down in the water's reflection.
  • If you lean over the dock and your gum falls out of your mouth when you talk, a bunch of fish will rush at it and one will eat it.
  • We have no idea what gum does to a fish.
  • Fish can jump up out of the water.
  • Flat stones skip better than round ones.
  • Ripples are what is created when you throw a stone into the water.
  • Walking around the pond with your six year old is much better than watching TV in the morning.
How was your weekend? What did you learn?

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some of My Favorite Green(ish) Blogs

I'm taking a couple of days off and doing some fun stuff with my boys the next couple of days. So instead of actually thinking about something and then posting (I feel like some of my posts have been rather thought intensive lately), I'm going to point you to some of the blogs that I like to read daily. Here's a list of blogs that I have in my RSS feeder.

5 Minutes for Going Green
Green Bean Dreams
It's the Little Thinks
Tomato Casual

and one non-green blog for good measure
Inky Girl: Daily Diversions for Writers

Go ahead and check these out while I'm checked out for the next few days. Just promise me you'll come back on Monday morning.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Population Control

I remember the first time I read that people who have children are being selfish and hurting the environment. I thought it was just one wacky person's opinion. But, as I've spent some time reading other environmentalist's opinions, I've come to find out that there is a significant population of us treehuggers out there who think that having children is irresponsible.

Population control is lauded by some as being one of the ways to save the planet. I've read all sorts of comments about it. People should be charged for having children. Couples should only be allowed to have one child. Wanting your own biological child is something that is cultural - with so many unwanted children in the world everyone should just adopt. I even heard one commentator on the radio bemoaning the fact that he gave money to aid the starving in Africans in the 1980's because the people lived and went on to have a lot of babies. He now believes it would have been better to allow them to starve. It would have been better for the planet.

Those who look at people in this manner must only be looking at them as consumers. Not just consumers of material goods, but consumers of the precious resources that are needed to live - water and food.

This mindset is scary. Yes, our earth has environmental problems and we should be working hard to solve them. But begrudging someone's desire to be a parent, that's ludicrous. Believing that people are little more than environmental pests, that's sad. I wonder how the people who really believe these things feel about their own existence. Are they sorry for their role in the degradation of the environment simply because they exist? Do they resent their parents for being so irresponsible? I really wonder about this.

I understand that there are millions of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies that happen all over the world each year. I have no problem with those who want to get birth control to those who want it as a way to save women from unwanted pregnancies and help the earth a little along the way, too.

My problem is with those who feel that people who desire to have children are selfish and environmentally irresponsible.

Don't ever let anyone sway your decision to have children based on this logic. Go ahead and have them. Then raise them to care for the earth and to care for people, too.

What is your opinion on the subject? 
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back to School Madness

I posted a few weeks ago about sustainable back to school shopping. I've got more to say about the subject today on Sustainablog with Back to School Shopping Madness: From Kindergarten to College, It's Time to Curb the Stuff.

Don't be one of the wasteful families who spend over $550 for back to school stuff!
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Monday, August 11, 2008

10 Easy Ways to Be More Sustainable with Your Home Organizing

In September my youngest goes to school full time. With that, I will be devoting more time to freelance writing. I plan on putting in 25 hours a week actually working instead of the 10-12 I put in now. If I want to be make those 25 very efficient hours, I need to be getting my office in order over the next three weeks. It's a disaster area. So home organization is on my mind.

I'd love to hire a professional organizer, have that person come in and put in cabinets and shelves and cute little color coordinating baskets and window treatments. But that wouldn't be sustainable or affordable. I'm going to have to get organized in a sustainable way. Here are ten easy ways I could do it.

  1. The first step in organizing is always to get rid of things you don't need. Don't throw away anything usable. Donate or freecycle it.
  2. Tackle the paper monster. If your home is anything like mine there are piles of paper everywhere, not just in the office. Gather it all up and put in several piles - recycle, shred (then recycle), file, reuse (if there is still a clean side to the paper and you don't need what is on the front) and perhaps another pile or two that you deem necessary. Then tackle the piles until all paper is where it should be.
  3. Anything that is behind closet doors doesn't need to look pretty, it just needs to be organized. There's no need to buy matching boxes or baskets. Shoe boxes and other make shift organizing supplies are fine.
  4. Pens and pencils can go in mugs. You don't need a fancy desk top pencil holder.
  5. Use well washed glass jars and plastic jars to hold items.
  6. Buy used. If you need shelves or containers, hit the thrift store or yard sales.
  7. Repurpose things you already have. Do you have any unused furniture sitting in an attic or basement. Could an old chest of drawers be used to organize kids papers and craft supplies? Sometimes a fresh coat of paint and some new drawer pulls can do wonders.
  8. Use old dresser drawers underneath beds to store items. If you are worried about dust, place a beach towel over the drawer that can be easily washed. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't see someone put an old dresser out at the curb.
  9. Ask your friends, neighbors and family members for things that they aren't using. Let them know you're trying to get organized and e-mail them a list of things you'd like to have. You might be surprised at what people have stored away that they are happy to part with.
  10. Once you're organized, stay organized. If you know what you have and where it is, you'll eliminate making the mistake of buying duplicate items.
What are your sustainable home organization tips?
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Voluntary Simplicity: Memories Not Stuff

Last week, I wrote about downshifting - simplifying life so you not only live more environmentally friendly but also so you have the time to do the things you want to do. I also shared that even though I felt I was living more simply, somehow I hadn't quite made time for some of the most important thing - spending more time with my family and friends.

To that end, I chose not to work at all this weekend. I checked my e-mail a few times, but I didn't write or work at writing at all. No pre-posted blogs, no how to green... articles, no scouring the online ads for writing jobs.

Friday night I took the boys to the local park to see a free production of The Frog Prince and I met a friend and her kids there. After the play we went to the playground and the kids swung and climbed and threw rocks in the creek until dark.

Saturday, I went to the farmer's market in the morning, we got the boys to karate and art lessons, and then my husband and I spent the day working on critter proofing the garden (to only minimal success - another post). That night we cooked a (mostly) local meal and then we took the time to look at what free movies were playing on tv instead of running to the video store. Ended up watching the Val Kilmer Batman movie. Wow, was he a stiff Batman/Bruce Wayne. But the boys were thrilled they got to watch one of the real Batman movies.

Sunday, we went to church in the morning and then we drove to Atlantic City to meet friends who had been there for the weekend. We took the boys on the famous Steel Pier and walked the boards and went to dinner. Then we had to walk blocks and blocks in the pouring rain, lightning and thunder back to the car. It was a little scary, but kind of fun, too.

When we were on the Steel Pier, the boys inevitably started to ask to play the games of chance to win "stuff." I made my declaration, "All we're taking home today is good memories of being with our friends. We're not taking home any stuff."

Five minutes later, "Mom, please..."

I repeated my declaration, calmly.

After about five or six Mom, pleases, this little gem spit out between my gritted teeth,
I told you, all we're taking home today is memories, not stuff. So you can either choose to take home memories of having a good time with your friends or you can choose take home memories of mommy going ballistic on you on the boardwalk because you won't stop hounding her. It's up to you.
So here's what I'm wondering about this morning. Voluntary simplicity by definition if voluntary (duh.) I am volunteering to simplify my life. It's my choice. My boys don't particularly get the whole concept yet. At times I am forcing this voluntary action on them.

Of course, I forced massive consumption on them for years. They didn't come out of the womb asking for a nursery full of stuffed animals, board books, baby blocks and color coordinated decor. All they wanted when they were born was food, comfort, a clean diaper, and love. That's all.

The rest was given to them by those who love them, and they learned that stuff is a part of life. I basically allowed them to be trained that stuff is a right. And now, I'm trying to reverse that. So, I shouldn't be surprised when they want the stuff on the boardwalk.

For those of you who are trying to live more simply, how are you bringing your kids along with you? What have you done that has been a success? What little gems have spewed out of your mouth as you have been trying to change the habits that you've instilled in them in the first place? Tell me your stories.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Update: Envirokidz Contest Winners

I was never contacted by the two winners who didn't give me their contact information in the contest. So I choose two new winners from the people who did leave contact information.

The two new winners are allison and lorie.

I think from now on with the contests, I will not enter into the random drawings anyone who doesn't leave contact information.
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The Siemens We Can Change The World Challenge for Middle Schools

I just e-mailed the superintendent of my school system about this a program that is aimed at bringing environmental sustainability education into K-12 classrooms. The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge will start in September with a contest for middle school kids and expand over the next to years to include all students in grades K-12.

You can read more about it on my Sustainablog post -
Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge First Step of K-12 Sustainability Education Program.

I think that schools right now are looking for ways to help their students not only learn about the environment but get them involved in finding solutions for environmental problems. This looks like a great way to do it. I encourage you to contact your local school's administration and let them know about this program.
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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Recycling Yogurt Containers - What are the Options?

Yogurt containers are one of those items that are technically recyclable, but finding where to do so is often difficult. If you look on the bottom of most yogurt containers, you'll see that there is a #5 inside the recycling symbol.

First of all a word about #5 plastic, which is actually polypropylene, from the
National Geographic Green Guide

Based on current knowledge, polypropylene is one of the safer plastics. It is not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting the hormones, and it's not made with chlorine and so doesn't produce dioxin when it's made or incinerated. One of the main problems with giving any plastic a blanket "safe" recommendation is that not enough health and safety research has been conducted on chemicals that leach.
Most residential curbside recycling programs don't accept #5 plastics. The majority of them only accept #'s 1 & 2. So while technically #5 is recyclable, finding a place that will accept plastics made from it for recycling is very difficult.

So what can you do with your yogurt containers and other #5 food containers? Here are some options.

Stoneyfield Farm containers - There is an explanation on their site as to why they choose to use #5 instead of #2. It's worth a read. They realize that it's not an easily recyclable item so they offer to accept them back and recycle them for you. From their site:

if #5 plastic recycling isn't available in your community, and you can't tolerate the idea of not recycling them, you are welcome to return your CLEAN Stonyfield Farm cups and lids to us, and we'll be sure they'll get recycled.

I think that's really great.

TerraCycle - This company collects Stoneyfield Farm yogurt containers (only Stoneyfield Farm) from organizations and upcycles them. Right now there is a waiting list to get into the program, but if you know a lot of people who eat this type of yogurt, you might want to get on the waiting list.

These are really the only two recycling programs I found out there if your community recycling program doesn't take the yogurt cups. However, there are plenty of ways to reuse yogurt cups at least one more time before they hit the trash.
  1. Drinking cups - One creative mom at washes the yogurt cups with lids, cuts an X in the lid and uses them as disposable drinking cups with straws. I also grabbed a whole stack of them once (without lids) and a container of ice water to take to the park with my boys and their friends. I had enough cups for them all to drink from and other kids who came along and asked if they could have some, too.
  2. Paint cups - When the boys and I do some painting, I use the washed out yogurt cups to hold the paint and as cups for the water for the brushes.
  3. Containers to start seedlings. We started all of our seedlings for our garden this year in yogurt cups. We poked holes with a small screwdriver in the bottom, filled them with organic soil, and planted our tomatoes and herbs in them.
  4. Snack cups - Yogurt containers make great snack cups for goldfish, pretzels or dry cereal.
  5. Candle molds - Soy candle kits can be purchased at craft stores, and you can make your own candles using the cups as molds. Hint: If you buy uncolored candle wax, you can melt crayon pieces and ad it to the wax to give the candles color.
There are probably dozen of other craft type projects you can do with yogurt containers with your kids, but the problem I see with doing craft projects as a way to recycle things is that eventually the craft projects end up in the trash, too, or you'll be up to your knee caps in kids' crafts.

What do you do with your yogurt cups?

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Garden Update - It's Me Vs. The Critters

It took what seemed like forever. But the first of my tomatoes started to turn red over the weekend. This morning, I had one tomato that looked like it needed just one more day of sun before I could pick it. My first beautiful tomato from my new organic garden.

Tonight, when I went out to check on it, it was lying on the ground half-eaten. I let out a few expletives. 

I thought the critters and I respected each other. I didn't freak out when they ate all my carrots. When I put cayenne pepper around my green beans, they stayed away. Somehow, I thought they would respect the tomatoes. They hadn't touched any of the tomato plants. Until today.

I've learned a lot this first year of gardening. The biggest lesson - next year get a fence. 

As upset as I am that my first tomato went to the critters, I'm excited that red is popping up all over. A lot of my Roma tomatoes are starting to turn. I'm excited to try to make my own spaghetti sauce from them. I'm also going to try my hand at salsa. I've got peppers and cilantro growing, too.

It's taken a lot longer than expected for my garden to start producing vegetables. I've had herbs for well over a month now. The basil has just been waiting for the tomatoes. I've been taking basil bouquets every time I visit a friend. 

How is your garden coming along?
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