The Green Frugal Divas Mid Century Modern Bedroom

On a daily basis I am a jeans and t-shirt girl; however, were I to come into a glut of time, money, and fashion awareness, I would gladly dress and decorate like a diva. And, so I am pleased to announce that we (the husband and I) have a matching and decorated room (just like grown ups and real divas as shown on TV).

Thanks to my desire to be frugally green (that means saving the planet and saving money) the entire project cost about $260. That is $160 for designer organic sheets and an organic duvet cover with matching shams, and just under $100 on fabric and supplies for curtains, pillows, and recovering our lamp shades. Up front that may not seem cheap (and I am sure someone could do it for less!), but I could have easily spent that much on 4 miss sized curtains from Target or JC Penny and still been left with my old and worn duvet cover that Ive had for over a dozen years!

First I found the duvet cover and sheets. I tried to buy them locally and failed. I considered buying the organic sheets sold by Target, but wed bought a set when our son was born two years ago and they became holey (filled with holes, not religious) after a year and a half. My previous sheets (that are still in great shape, but fit a full and not our queen bed) were hand-me-downs from my mom and are over 10 years old. And, they have yet to acquire any holes! I was insistent on organic given that we spend a good 8 hours per night in our bed and cotton is one of the most pesticide intensive crops. Eventually, I found a designer set (whatever that means) at a discount price on Amazon, so I bought them.

Next, I checked out a few local fabric stores and finally found a striped pattern that matched the duvet cover and would both warm-up and brighten our bedroom. I used these for window curtains and two European Shams (this is a term I just learned, so I couldnt pass it up, Google it if you are unsure). I also bought a simple chocolate brown fabric that matched our sheets to make into closet door curtains and to recover our lamp shades. We have Asian style bedside lamps that we found about 4 years ago and whose lampshades were damaged (bent and smudged) in our move this summer.

The curtains were pretty simple: just measure your window, measure your fabric, hem on all four sides, leave an opening for the curtain rod and ta-da! you are done! The pillow inserts I repurposed from some old fleece couch pillows, so I just lay the fleece covers on the fabric to use as a pattern, sewed three sides shut and left a third open for stuffing in the pillow (I plan to seal the 4th side with Velcro or a zipper, but have yet to do so).

The lampshades were a little more complex and scared me half to death in the making, but turned out really well!

  • First, I lay one side of the lamp shade on a piece of paper and traced the outline. I cut out the pattern and compared it to all 8 sides of the lamps (two shades with 4 sides each).
  • Next, I used chalk (from my sons chalk board) to trace the pattern on my brown fabric and cut out the pieces. As I cut out the pattern I cut down the chalk line with the knowledge that my fabric pieces would end up slightly larger than my lamp shade. This was intentional, so that I could wrap the fabric pieces around the edge of the shade to the interior for a more finished look.
  • With all my fabric cut out I laid a shade on its side, spread sewing glue (not basting glue) on the side facing up and placed the fabric on top. At first I was terrified that this would not work as the fabric glue (white) showed through my brown fabric, but it dried clean and with out a trace!
  • Once I had applied all 8 sides I cut 1 inch wide strips of matching fabric from my pillow/curtain fabric. I measured the length of each ridge/corner on the lamp and cut the strips with about an inch of extra length on each end. I then folded the strips in half long wise, so they were 1/2 inch wide and ironed them to make a crease. Next I laid the strips open and folded in the raw edges to meet in the middle at the ironed crease to finish or hem with the iron my strips.
  • I then used a paint brush to spread fabric glue on the ridges/corners of the lamps and applied the fabric strips to create coordinating trim.
  • Lastly, I realize that this would make a real tutorial with pictures, but I didnt plan for this project to work, so I did not document each step. If I had any more lamp shades to cover Id cover one just to show you want I did step by step. Perhaps Kellie (whos eternal craftiness served as inspiration) will cover some lamps and make a proper tutorial!

I can however provide pictures of the final product!

Curtains for our walk in closet that lacks a door:

 

 

I chose this angle for the lamp shade, because on a few sides I did an S pattern with the glue. When the lamp is on you can see the S. Fortunately, on most of the shades I smeared the glue around and the smeared glue does not show through the shade!

 

Inside the shade: note that the edges are not perfect and see the bent/crumpled spot in the corner? This used to be visible on the outside of the shade!

 

The whole Shebang:

 

Last, but not least, I should mention that all the colors, patterns, themes in this room came from my desire to use this picture frame that I painted during a get-together at a paint your own pottery store last December! It is hard to see in our bedroom lighting, but the blue, brown and red in the frame are repeated in the curtains, the sheets, and the pillows!

Satisfaction: Gardens, Humingbirds, and Strawberries

We bought our house in late May (3 years ago) when the foliage and flowers were at their best. We were thrilled in our dry Colorado climate that the back yard had been xeriscaped and would thus require little or no water or so we thought! Sadly, the former owners had not done their research and many of the plants required constant water or they died! They had also over landscaped and so there were clusters of trees and strange combinations of plants that looked odd in the off season.

To start we practiced elimination clearing out some unnecessary and or water hungry plants. Then we slowly started replanting with species better suited to our climate, such as yucca, pampass grass and succulents. We also chose to keep the two apple trees, which only require occasional watering, and we added a strawberry garden.

Most recently we switched out our dangerous and ugly metal edging that didnt really provide a barrier between bark and rocks and replaced it with a cedar edging that matches our fence and which according to the package was from sustainably harvested cedar and made in the USA. (We passed the old edging along via Freecycle to be used again.) And, we are very pleased with the results! I will have to water the strawberries and my small two vegetable plots (tomatoes, an eggplant, brussel sprouts, peas, a pepper, carrots, butternut squash and pie pumpkins), but everything else should be self sufficient during the summer months!

As part of our yard project I fixed up a humming bird feeder that Id bought on a whim a few years back. The flowers had faded and were no longer pink, so I took my single bottle of water based non-toxic nail polish and painted the petals the color of Desire otherwise known as a pinkish red. I then made some humming bird nectar with water and sugar (1/3 cup sugar, 2 cups boiled water) and a splash of India Tree natural food coloring. I’ve read that humming birds don’t really care if the nectar is red, but it looks so much prettier to ME. And, it is my yard after all! This time I placed the feeder in the middle of my strawberry bed and away from the window where my cat likes to drool and dream about eating birds.

I am also preparing for a bumper crop of strawberries as you can see from the below picture. Nearly every plant is covered in blooms and many are already growing fruit! This will be the third year for my patch and looks to be the best yet! Hopefully, we will have plenty to eat and bake into strawberry rhubarb pie (my rhubarb not pictured, is also huge) and some left over to make into jam!

Now, the only thing that is missing from our lovely yard is a couple of chickens

Something to Yolk About

As a kid we had chickens and we had fresh eggs. As far as I can remember, I always liked eating eggs, whether they be scrambled, poached, soft boiled, hard boiled, they were (and are) a tasty food. My grandmother also raised chickens from which she made the best scrambled eggs in the world. They were always a bright yellow and tasted oh so creamy.

Over the years I became accustomed to grocery store eggs. They seemed perfectly good, although my omelets and scrambled dishes never tasted quite as good as I remembered. For many years I attributed this to the superior cooking skills of my mom and my grandmother. And, then I came across local farm fresh eggs just a few miles from our home.

The eggs on the left have been marked with a V and are Cage Free Large Brown Eggs from Organic Valley. Prior to coming across Ollin Farms these are the eggs that my family bought and ate every week. The eggs on the right are from Ollin Farms and marked with an O. As egg companies go, Nest Fresh is pretty close to ideal. They are Certified Humane and fed a vegetarian and organic diet; however, from this comparison it is clear their eggs continue to miss something in the diet of real farm eggs (and Backyard Eggs).

The first time I cracked open an egg from Ollin Farms, I was in awe of its rich golden (in fact deep orange) hue. I scrambled a few up for the best omelet in ages. I was hooked and so was my toddler son! Not only are Ollins eggs very tasty, but I have also visited their hens, which have a large outside enclosure. I know that for a fact that their chickens are happy with space to run, forage, eat a grub or two and some grass, in addition to their carefully selected chicken feed.

Over the last few months I’ve mentioned the difference in color to many people. Unfortunately, everyone except my grandmother, who has almost 90 years of hen raising experience, looks at me in disbelief when I mention the rich yellow orange color of Ollins eggs, so I decided to document the difference.

Pictured above you see on the left a Cage Free Organic Egg provided by Organic Valley. On the right you see an almost urban egg farm egg from Ollin. You’ll note that the yolk from the Ollin egg is not only deeper in color, it is also much larger.

In this last photo the Ollin eggs are on the right and the Organic Valley on the left. You’ll again note the difference in color and the increased size of the yolks in the Ollin Eggs. The Organic Valley eggs are much more uniform in size and they just don’t measure up to old fashioned free roaming eggs raised on a small scale!

With access to locally raised eggs, such as those from Ollin, you might wonder why I or anyone else might want to raise his or her own backyard hens. For one, raising several hens can be pleasurable work as the hens, like many pets, often become part of the family! Furthermore, here in Longmont we have very alkaline and clay soil. Folks who like to keep hens also often like to garden. Personally, I would be thrilled to have access to a regular supply of free Chick a Poo fertilizer to compost and add to my soil!

Lastly, although there are several local purveyors of farm fresh eggs, supply cannot keep up with demand. Over the summer months I have access to at least 3 different options for egg buying, but only on certain days and they all sell out within a few hours of opening. In the winter months Ollin is the only place I know of to get eggs, but Mark himself has said he could probably run a business on eggs alone and still not keep up with demand!

In conclusion, there are those of us who appreciate nutritious and good tasting food and the welfare of animals, while also desiring to increase our self-sufficiency and shorten the distance of our food from farm to table. With this in mind, we ask you to attend Eggs on the Table this Thursday at the Longmont Public Library. And (or) seek us out to sign the petition showing your support to the Longmont City Council.

This post is cross posted at the Longmont Urban Hen Blog.

Eco Mom Series #4: Use non toxic products

Concern for the products that enter our bodies through our mouths is pretty straightforward. No one in his or her right mind would willingly drink a bottle of chlorine or munch a handful of lead. Indeed, humans and animals alike can very easily be poisoned and or affected in a multitude of ways if we ingest something toxic to our system. However, we are often in denial of the fact that products that touch our skin or that create vapors can be just as toxic.

Indeed it is commonplace for our society to overlook the fact that human skin is a living organ, which makes what we put on or next to our skin seriously important. Somehow, we think that our skin acts as a barrier, when in fact it can absorb toxins and environmental irritants just as easily as our digestive system. And, products that are absorbed through our skin can be especially dangerous because they go straight into our blood stream. At the least, toxins ingested through the mouth if they dont kill us first have the opportunity to be cleaned out of our system through the digestive process. This is why alcoholics get cirrhosis of the liver. The body works so hard at clearing the alcohol out of their bodies’ that it eventually cant keep up.

Similarly, the lung is a working organ and the only way for humans to get oxygen into our blood stream. Every time we inhale a chemical irritant we damage our lungs. Enough damage and the lungs start to lose their ability to repair themselves. Furthermore airborne irritants and toxins can aggravate the lungs for folks who already have breathing problems, such as asthma, even worse they can induce asthma in folks who were previously not at risk. Smoking may be the most common cause of lung cancer but it is not the only cause.

According to research collected by the Eco-Mom Alliance over 150 toxic chemicals are common to the average household. What is really bad news, is that many of these chemicals have been connected to increased incidence of asthma, allergies, cancers, and behavioral disorders.

Chemicals to avoid (more info at the Environmental Working Group):

  • Triclosan – antibacterial agent in soap. Reacts with chlorine to create chloroform a known carcinogen and it is showing up in water sources, humans and animals in unprecedented levels.
  • BPA – Is found in hard clear plastics, such as baby bottles, old Nalgene bottles, your Cuisinart food processor and more. BPA is more likely to leach when heated or in contact with fatty or acidic foods.
  • Fragrance (pththaltes) this includes perfumes, but also extends to baby lotions and all sorts of bath and body products.
  • Oxybenzone – chemical blocker in sunscreen is a photo carcinogen itself, as well as, highly allergic to certain people. And, in Sweden they have recommended that at the least it should never be used on children under the age of two, because they dont have adequate enzymes to eliminate in from their system.
  • PBDE and other fire retardants Bad, bad, bad. Bad for you, bad for me, bad for baby, bad for fish, bad for everyone.
  • Lead We’ve known about lead poisoning for eons. Why is this still a problem?
  • Chlorine is a lung irritant and also toxic to aquatic systems

Non-toxic replacements:

  • Antibacterial soaps and wipes: warm water and hand soap; alcohol, thyme or tea tree oil based wipes. I am very fond of these non-toxic wipes by CleanWell. Be cautious with alcohol gels and wipes around toddlers and pre-school age kids – the concentration of alcohol can be toxic.
  • Buy glass or BPA free baby bottles & sippy cups; glass food storage containers and the like.
  • For sunscreen look for physical blockers (like Zinc) versus chemical blockers. Checkout how your favorite sunscreen (or body product) rates at the Skin Dip Cosmetic Database.
  • Filter tap water to reduce exposure to lead, chlorine and other water contaminates (most filters cannot remove Fluoride).
  • Cook with stainless steel pans and a little healthy olive or canola oil or use a seasoned cast iron skillet.
  • Use green cleaners, but watch out for preservatives (which can still be skin and lung irritants.
  • Eat your omega 3 fats and fish that are low in mercury; breastfeed your baby!
  • Use a sprig of pine; baking soda in the fridge or freezer; orange rind or lemon in your garbage disposal; bake a fresh pie or cookies; or a soy or beeswax candle to freshen your air!
  • Make your own non-toxic cleaners with baking soda, vinegar, borax and more!

Also, don’t immediately trust a product because it calls itself GREEN. For example, Clorox Green Works, which has received lots of positive reviews contains preservatives that are potentially toxic to aquatic life and are most definitely potential skin and lung irritants. Specifically in question is the Kathalon biocide preservative and isothiazol. I have not yet fully researched these components and the claims against them; however, in the meantime if you have breathing problems or other chemical sensitivities I would steer clear of the Clorox Green Works line.

***Update***

When I posted this earlier today I forgot to mention two very important messages from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice:

  1. The Disney Go Green Campaign: Disney is participating in Florida’s Green Building program and they have committed to using non-toxic cleaning products in their zoos/animal enclosures. However, they still use over 80 highly toxic cleaners in areas where children play, bathe and sleep! Please join the campaign to ask Disney to Go Green! Follow this link to take action!
  2. The Non Toxic Home Cleaning Guide (down loadable PDF)

Life without paper towels

I enjoy challenges. Perhaps that makes me the perfect candidate for just about any green living experiment. On the other hand, I believe that it is inaccurate to say that green living is a challenge. Certainly our disposable life has become a life of unmindful convenience, but is it really easier for us than it was for previous generations? Has our quality of life improved over that of our great-grandmothers simply because we have, for example, super-absorbent paper towels?

Ive never lived in a home in which the residents (my parents, roommates, etc.) were willing to pony up for the spendiest name-brand absorbent towels, but Ive always had paper towels. Perhaps the ease with which I have transitioned away from paper is the result of never having lived with the Bounty. On the other hand, paper towels of any quality are deceptively convenient, so I have tallied up my fair share of paper usage over the years. The key word here is deceptively convenient, because I can honestly say that I dont miss my inexpensive recycled paper towels one bit. Cloth does it better every time!

I dont remember the exact day that we stopped using towels. Nor did I record the date that we finally moved the now empty paper towel rack (counter top) to the laundry closet. We have held onto a single roll of paper towels stashed away that allow Mr. Green Me to sleep at night without fear of disaster and maybe someday will come upon a situation in which nothing else will do. Perhaps a winter day without any electricity and not a clean towel to be found?

By now if you are a paper towel devotee you are probably wondering if our house is a complete disaster and whether we are wading around in muck and dried messes. In fact we are not our house is clean (at least once per day while Baby Green Me naps) and at times even sparkling with shine.

 

The Green Me Family anti-paper towel stash:

  1. Regular old dish towels: there are a variety of dish towels with different uses and strengths, so if your current towels dont do the job maybe you need a different variety. Here is what I have found: terry towels are great for messes and moisture but sometimes leave behind lint; waffle weave towels are great for drying dishes or wiping ups spills; flour sack towels are perfect for drying dishes and hands.
  2. The European Sponge cloth is perfect for wiping up spills, wiping down the counter, and washing up spots on the floor. It is highly absorbent and highly wring-able. You can sanitize it in the dishwasher, laundry, or microwave and they are biodegradable at the end (think compost pile) when they’re through. If your cat (or other pets) like to leave you presents get a cloth damp, wipe up the mess, shake it in the trash, rinse off the cloth, spray on some enzyme wash pat clean the mess spot, and toss your cloth in the wash. Ta da! No mess, no towels, no waste!
  3. The Bamboo Sponge cloth is excellent for drying dishes or wiping up spills. This baby is seriously absorbent! After a run through the wash it is also soft and delicate for dusting your china or furniture, but still powerful enough to wipe up your toughest messes! (Think of that commercial with the kiddo and cupcakes you dont need a paper towel you need a Bamboo Sponge Cloth!)
  4. Microfiber towels: A spray bottle with 50/50 water and vinegar and a few clean and dry microfiber towels will have your windows, mirrors, and stainless appliances sparkling in no time at all! Newspaper works great, but it gets your hands all messy. Vinegar and microfiber is the clean, green, and simple solution! Microfiber is also great for wiping down furniture and dusting. But my all time favorite use for microfiber? Soaking up bacon grease!!! The Green Me Family has a somewhat illicit love affair with bacon, but we dont love extra grease. In the past I have wasted 10 or more paper towels trying to degrease my bacon. One microfiber towel does the trick sucking up the grease until my bacon is dry! I keep a few microfiber towels with my dish cloths (dont get them confused with ones for cleaning house) and when washed with a little baking soda and vinegar I never have any greasy residue left behind.
  5. Cloth Napkins: In a pinch a napkin makes for the perfect single use clean-up. I use the single use swipe washing up Baby Green Me after his meal or to pick up something squishy that Ive just dropped on the floor. (Floor towels of any kind go straight to the wash and not back into use!) Cloth napkins are of course also great to use with meals paper napkins are also out!

 

Energy Saving Tips (for you and your dryer):

  • Keep a small basket on the washing machine for soiled towels so you always have a safe receptacle for grimy, wet, or otherwise soiled towels. I line mine with cotton bag, so if it gets dirty I can wash it with out any fuss.
  • Wash your towels on hot if you must, but to save energy wash on cold. To deodorize the towels and your wash use baking soda with the detergent and vinegar instead of fabric softener.
  • If the towels are really stinky or they have been used to clean up pet stains or they are starting to mildew start the wash before bed and use an enzyme wash. Let the enzyme wash soak over night and complete the cycle in the morning.
  • Hang your towels to dry, but fold them how you like them first, this way they will hang dry, but appear to have been ironed and or expertly folded! (See photo above!)
  • Even the youngest among us can be trained to use cloth! Baby Green Me knows to pat his mouth with a napkin and he occasionally tries to wipe down his high chair tray after a meal.

 

The bottom line folks (repeat after me): I DO NOT NEED paper towels!

I DO NOT NEED paper towels!

EcoMom Challenge #2: Drive More Efficiently

As an EcoMom Leader and green blogger I am writing a ten part series covering the 10 Steps to a Sustainable Future recommended by the EcoMom Alliance. This week the topic is how to Drive Efficiently and cut down on your green house gas emissions.

1) Drive a more fuel efficient vehicle: for many of us this is often a difficult choice to make. In the Green Me Household, we may not drive a Prius or an electric car (yet!), but both of our cars are fairly fuel efficient compared to similar cars in their class. In our case our vehicles fuel efficiency is not an accident, but a significant factor in our decision to buy both vehicles. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, definitely make fuel efficiency a top consideration!

The car that my husband generally uses to commute to work is a 2005 Toyota Corolla, which averages about 33 miles to the gallon. His commute is often stop and go, so this mileage is worse than it was when I used the same car to commute a different route a few years back. At that time the Corolla usually maintained at least 35 miles to the gallon.

Our second car is a 2007 RAV4 that gets about 23 miles to the gallon. This is clearly worse than the Corolla, but better than similar cars in its class, so it is not too shabby. At the same time, since we have become more fuel conscious we tend to take the RAV4 less and drive the Corolla to run family errands on the weekends and in the evenings. If you have two cars and one is more fuel efficient you can save money and pollution by planning trips around using the more efficient vehicle. Ideally, wed be a one car family   wed love to see a Prius Wagon with room for storage, optional all-wheel-drive and great fuel efficiency!

2) Avoid short trips: Did you know that 90% of emissions come from the first mile of travel? Wow. If you didnt have a good reason to avoid short trips before, you do now!  However, if you are like the Green Me family this is one of the more difficult steps to take, even though it is easy to walk or bike to the Grocery Store, Target or Home Depot. Part of the challenge (at least in our case) is psychological, because these stores are so close by we tend not to feel bad if we need to pop over for some extra eggs, a different kind of screw or the prescription that we forgot to pick up earlier. Even the phrase pop over implies that a short trip is no big deal, but the fact that 90% of emissions come from the first mile of travel means that the pop over is indeed a big deal!

One way that we are working to avoid short trips is by combining multiple trips into one. For example, on Saturday we needed to hit the grocery store to pick up a few extra items for a brunch we were hosting on Sunday. We also wanted to attend the wine tasting at the liquor store next door that was between 4 and 7 pm. We almost went to the store after lunch, but instead we held off until wine tasting time, so that wed only have to make one trip. Ideally, we would have even walked or taken the bikes and bike trailer, but unfortunately between baby naps and dinner plans, we didnt have the time.

Another way we reduce pop overs and multiple trips is by planning errand circles. For example, on Friday evening or Saturday morning well make a list of all our wants and needs on a to-do list. Then we will map it and decide that we will start on the south side of town, making our first stop at the Human Society Thrift Shop (drop off goods), this might be followed by a run to the recycling center (drop of sticks/weeds at the tree limb center and corrugated cardboard and other stuff not taken at the curb). Next we will head north and return some books to the Library, maybe taking some time to stroll down Main Street. Well finish up our trip with a visit to the Natural Grocers and the hardware store next door. Combining our trips like this not only saves gas, but it also saves time and money, and makes running errands more fun sort of a family adventure!

3) Use Public Transportation: Depending on where you live this may or may not be a good option. In my hometown the bus system was awesome and I had an EcoPass (free bus-pass through work), so riding was essentially free. Between my EcoPass, my bike, and my two feet, I got around fabulously for many years sans a gas guzzling car. Now I live in a town with a miserable bus system and it is expensive – last I checked a ride was $1.25 each way. Now gas has gone up, but not enough to spend $2.50 and precious time (time is money) walking to and from the bus stop, and waiting at the various transfer centers to actually get where I want to go.

Now, the first thing I should really do here is admit that my harsh criticism of our local public transportation system is based on theory, as I have yet to actually try it out. Back on Earth Day, I in fact pledged to try the bus system out one time per month for the rest of the year, but to-date I have avoided trying the bus out. So, Ill make a deal with you – this Thursday (when Baby Green Me goes to daycare). I will run an errand by bus and report back on Friday.

Have you tried your local public transportation out or are you like me? Do you keep putting it off, making the argument that it is just too darn inconvenient? If so, why dont you take the time to give it a try this week? If you have older kids (or no kids), a husband or significant other, why dont you make it an adventure? In other words, rather than having your first experience be a stressful run to work, just go for a ride and see how the system works. Maybe stop somewhere to have coffee or lunch and then come home.

4) Carpool: This is also an option that has been difficult for our family. As single (or at the least childless) folks this was much easier, but now that we and many of our friends have small munchkins in car seats, this is more difficult for us. 4 adults and 2 babies in car seats dont fit in the average car and definitely not in either of ours!

On the other hand, my husband would carpool to work, except that weve had trouble finding him a carpool partner. However, this may be changing soon as we just learned that a neighbor got a job at the company across the street from my husbands office. Hopefully, in the next week or so they should be able to work themselves out a carpool arrangement, at least a few days per week!

If you drive to work carpooling is a great way to save gas, save pollution and build community. Earlier this year I wrote a post highlighting benefits of carpooling and listing links to carpool databases around the country.

5) Dont idle (ever!): If you drop kids off at school or pick them up or if you wait for someone to run into the store, the post office, or the dry cleaners – dont idle! Idling creates more pollution and cause engines to run less efficiently than stopping and starting your car. In addition, new cars dont need to warm up prior to driving off and in fact it can be bad for your car to sit and idle. Furthermore, studies show that idling to warm a car up on a cold morning actually takes longer to warm the engine than starting cold and driving off.

Along these same lines, be careful of your acceleration/deceleration habits being first off the line at the stop light, and the first to arrive at the next light will not get you anywhere faster, but it will cost you more gas and create more air pollution than starting off slowly! If you are up for a challenge and your really want to learn to drive more efficiently, perhaps you are a good candidate for Hypermiling!

6) Keep Your Tires Inflated: Properly inflated tires help your vehicle to get better gas mileage thus improving your cars fuel efficiency. Period. Check one-time per month (or at the least at every oil change).

7) Bike and or Walk: These two options of course save fuel and thus reduce pollution. Most importantly, when you walk or bike you are not only helping to keep the planet healthy, but also your own body and that of your children! A little extra exercise is great for your heart, your spirit, and your cholesterol levels!

You may not be able to walk or bike everywhere, but you can probably do more than you think.  Start small and continue to expand your trips. Walk to the park instead of driving. Make some short trips into bike rides. And, on nice days get out and exercise outside instead of driving to the gym. The fall is a great time for outdoor exercise!

If you live near to your kids school and you’d like to walk, but don’t have the time every day, maybe you could start a Walking School Bus with other parents. This way a few parents could take turns each day getting a gaggle of kids to and from school. My son is not yet old enough for school, but this would work really well in our neighborhood, because there is a bike path that goes from the neighborhood park all the way to the nearest elementary, middle and high schools!

In conclusion, ways to drive more efficiently include: driving your most fuel efficient vehicle; combining trips; planning ahead; hypermiling; and, eliminating car trips by using public transportation, walking or biking!

EcoMom Challenge Step #1: Change a light

CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs) have been in the news for the last few years. In fact there is a good chance that you already have a few in your house or you’ve at least considered making the switch. Hopefully after reading this post you will take the time to budget and plan your way into eliminating all incandescent lights in your home and replacing them with CFLs and possibly an LED or two!

Some folks are turned off by the word fluorescent and wary of buying a light that they think will flicker, hum or give off a glaringly white light. Other folks are concerned about the upfront expense of a CFL bulb, which can cost several dollars more than an out dated incandescent. And a few are concerned about the mercury content of CFL bulbs. I will address all of these concerns below, as well as, giving you some facts and tips on energy usage, buying less expensive CFLs and even info on LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights, which use even less energy and have a longer life span than a CFL! And, lest you think that Green Me only talks the talk, but doesnt walk the walk, I finish up with a complete summary the Green Me household light bulb situation!

Decreased Energy Usage: Incandescent & CFL Facts:

  • Lighting is responsible for 5% to 10% of home energy usage.
  • 90% of the energy used by an incandescent light is lost as heat!
  • A CFL bulb uses 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb and thus saves $30 in energy costs (on average) over its lifetime. (Update: according to this post a CFL may save you much more than $30, especially if you switch out a bushel of them!)
  • The average CFL bulb lasts 10 times longer (or 10,000 hours longer) than an incandescent bulb.
  • The cost of a CFL bulb averages about $3 more than an incandescent bulb, but it lasts 10x longer, so over its lifetime you have to buy fewer lights, and it use less energy, so you pay less to operate the bulb!
  • If a CFL bulb stops working in a few months you can often return it as a faulty bulb weve done this a couple times with good results.

CFL Concerns ( the first 4 items have been gratuitously cut and pasted from US News):

  1. Ive heard that CFLs dont really last as long as they say.
    Turning a CFL on and off frequently shortens its life, which is why the governments Energy Star program says to leave them on for at least 15 minutes at a time. Also, if you have dimmable light fixtures, make sure to buy CFLs labeled dimmable. All CFLs that carry the governments Energy Star label are required to carry a two-year limited warranty, so contact the manufacturer if your bulb burns out prematurely. The Energy Star website has a good FAQ on CFLs. (Keep track of where you buy your CFLs, several of the bulbs we bought early on at Costco & Home Depot burned out in a few months, my husband was on top of this and took them in to complain, both times they gave us a replacement bulb, no questions asked.)
  2. I dont think that I like the color of the light from CFLs.
    When they first hit the market, CFLs had a limited range of tones. Now, manufacturers offer a wider variety, but there is not an agreed-upon labeling standard. The Energy Star program is working to change that. But for now, look for lower Kelvin temperatures like 2,700 to 3,000 for redder light, closer to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, while bulbs with Kelvin temperatures of 5,000 and 6,500 provide more blue and intense light. A good photograph illustrating the difference is shown here.
  3. Ive heard that CFLs have mercury in them—isnt that bad?
    Consumers are rightly concerned about the toxic substance mercury that helps CFLs produce light. Even though the amount sealed in each bulb is small—one old-fashioned thermometer had about 100 times as much mercury—contact local trash collection for disposal instructions. Environmentalists agree that more work must be done on bulb recycling programs. Right now, you can return any CFL to any Ikea store for recycling, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Earth911 have sites you can search for other recycling programs near your home.
  4. But if you break a CFL, youll have a toxic spill in your home.
    Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection has developed the best advice on the procedures to follow if a CFL breaks. Don’t use a vacuum. Maine officials studied the issue because of a homeowner in that state who received a $2,000 light bulb clean-up bill from an environmental hazards company—a story that has circulated around the country and increased consumer concerns about CFLs. It turns out that the company’s advice was overkill, and a subsequent analysis showed no hazard in the home. But the bulbs must be handled with caution. Using a drop cloth might be a good new routine to develop when screwing in a light bulb, to make the clean-up of any breaks easier.
  5. If I cant toss it in the trash, what do I do with a used bulb? Ikea, Ace Hardware and Home Depot now accept used (not broken) CFL bulbs for recycling. Many cities either take CFLs at their drop off centers and or they have hazardous waste drop off centers that are open daily or on specific days where you can take whole and or broken CFLs. If you are concerned, collect broken bulbs in a large zip-lock bag until you have a few for recycling.
  6. They are expensive to buy, especially the dimmable kind! Check and see if your city or region has a partnership with local businesses to discount the price of CFLs. For example, in Longmont, CO where we live, the City subsidizes CFLs thus reducing their cost to a dollar or two for a two pack. They are also sold in bulk discount packs at warehouse retailers such as Costco and Sams Club. And, keep in mind that a dimmable bulb may cost you $10 today, but it may save you $30 dollars or more in future energy costs! Think of buying CFLs as an investment in your future and the planets health!

Green Me Light Bulbs

Weve lived in our home for just over two years and over time as our bulbs burn out weve replaced them with CFL lights. So far weve made the following changes:

  1. Kitchen: In our kitchen we have 7 recessed canned lights, all of which weve changed out for CFLs.
  2. Family Room: We have 4 dimmable recessed canned lights in this room and weve changed out 2 for CFLs. Note that in the pictures our regular CFLs are spiraled and the dimmables are 3 pronged.
  3. Entrance & Hallways: We have 8 recessed canned lights, of which we’ve changed out 3 for CFLs. The 3 that we’ve changed are in our laundry/garage hallway that we use on a daily basis. The other 4 are in our main hall, which gets excellent day lighting and night time lighting from other locations, so we rarely use these lights.
  4. Living & Dining Room: We have 9 light bulbs in three separate fixtures in these rooms. Our dining room chandilier takes an odd size dimmable bulb, for which we’ve been unable to find replacement CFLs, so these 5 bulbs remain energy sucking incandescents. Someday we may change out the fixture, but for now we try not to use the chandelier unless absolutely necessary. Our other two fixtures contain CFLs, which are now over 2 years old and still burning bright (these were our first CFLs, bought at our old home).
  5. Bedroom: We have two standalone lights and one ceiling fixture making up 4 lights, all of which have been changed to CFLs. Two of these lights came with us from our former home and so are also over 2 years old. The bedside table lights are also CFLs of the warmer spectrum, which makes reading in bed more cozy and less bright as day.
  6. Master bath and Closet: We have 9 lights in these two rooms, none of which are CFLs, and all of which we should really make an effort to change over. The thing is we dont run these lights very often, so they are being buggers about dying!
  7. The rest of the house: We have 24 more lights in the basement, office, my sons room and 1.5 baths 5 of these are CFLs. Most of them are recessed canned lights and about 50% of them dimmable. These other lights are not used very often, but we are currently working on switching all of our dimmables (10 of these lights) to CFLs.

Total bulbs in our house: 72 (Wow!!! Have you ever counted all of the individual light bulbs in your house!?!)

Total CFL bulbs in our house: 38

So, just over half of our bulbs are CFLs, although all of our most commonly used fixtures (kitchen, bedroom, and living room) are CFLs. Our house may have more lights than the average house as the previous owners were apparently canned lighting fiends and had finished the basement themselves.

And, remember this tip from the EcoMom Alliance if every household in the United States changed out just 5 incandescent bulbs with CFLs the energy (and pollution) saved would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road!!! Imagine if every house in the US changed out 35 bulbs for CFLs that would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road!

LEDs

Last but not least, I wanted to touch on LED lights as they are 6 times more efficient than even CFLs although at present they are still quite price prohibitive and difficult to come by; however, by 2012 when the US (by government regulation) begins to phase out incandescent bulbs, I imagine that LEDs will have hit the mainstream consumer market. The best and brightest (pun intended) aspect of LED lights is that they are meant to lastas in once you buy and LED light it should (almost) never burn out! And, they dont waste energy by creating heat and they dont heat up your room with their energy either. Talk about resource efficient!

Read more about LEDs behind this wikipedia link!

Party In Style: Zero Waste!

I love parties, but I hate waste. Even before I was cognizant of the environmental impact of party waste, it still bothered me that so many decorations, plates, etc. were single use and destined to an afterlife at the dump. So, when I learned that Ecocycle had made it possible for the average Joe (or Jane) to host her own Zero Waste party I was sold. The deal was sealed when I realized that zero waste (and industrial composting) meant that I didn’t have to do any dishes (that is once the food was served)! A birthday party has multiple aspects that can contribute to waste which I’ve broken down into three categories: decorations; food & drink; and gifts.

Before the party, however, comes the invitation! I am a romantic and I know a few people in this day and age that don’t use (or like) Evite, so I sent real invitations via snail mail 3 weeks before the party date. The invitations were made from 100% post consumer paper (all 3 pieces), which I ordered through Formal Invitations, an online green stationary company. For less than $25 I made my own formal Birthday Invitations, which were not fancy, but got rave reviews all the same! Hopefully, folks recycled or kept their invites (rather than tossing them in the trash). I meant to put a recycle me! sign on the back of the card, but I forgot!

Decorations: Parties with a theme always seem a little more cohesive, so I thought long and hard on what I could do for my sons first birthday. Id already decided to bake him an airplane cake because we live in the flight path of a municipal airport and get to see little planes fly by day in and day out. Airplanes seemed lacking on their own, so I decided to combine that with the Little Prince.

To decorate I bought a small pink rose which I planted in a beautiful painted blue terracotta pot that we already owned. I then found an expired (2004) Little Prince calendar through Free-cycle, which I cut up to make hanging decorations and little place cards. Id hoped to reuse the cards, but most of them became stained with food or bent, so they moved on to my paperboard recycling container. I used the cardboard in the calendar (inserted to keep it flat) to make a little box, such as the pilot drew for the little prince when he first asked him for a sheep. I then put a small stuffed animal sheep on the box just in case my guests missed the reference! I placed these center pieces on black tablecloths (standard fair in our home) over the picnic tables in the gazebo.

Food & Drink: The biggest challenge in hosting a zero waste party is the food and drink. Especially when hosting the party in a park, which disallows the use of glass, and on a day that was forecast to be in the 80s. Our solution? Compostable tree-free plates, cups and tableware, made from either sugar cane fiber or corn, and reusable plastic and stainless steel serving dishes, trays and spoons. The food was very summer like with a bean and corn salad, a macaroni and edamame salad, a fruit salad, hummus & pita chips, and Applegate farms Organic beef hot dogs.

You cant really see it in the above picture, but the gazebo is home to a small charcoal grill which I was sure would be a source of waste. Fortunately while at Whole Foods we discovered these little charcoal bags that are non toxic and waste free. The entire little bag is burned, the wood is coated with paraffin (to help it burn) and the ashes can be added to your compost! I am sure that no charcoal at all would have been the greenest option, but then I’m not one for raw hot dogs!

We ate our hot dogs on whole wheat buns from Rudi’s Bakery, which is local to us (yipee!) and we chilled our drinks with ice from the near by grocery store. We had nearly 40 guests, so we did collect a fair amount of plastic waste from the hot dogs, buns, and 3 bags of ice. Nonetheless, in the spirit of zero waste we collected all the plastic for recycling.

For drink we provided Izzes (also local), water in compostable corn bottles (it is debatable how green and how compostable they really are), and a selection of other canned sodas nothing containing HFCS but that is my personal pet peeve! We set our two composting containers and one recycling can up surrounding the single trash can and we politely educated our guests on what to compost and what to recycle. Hopefully, nothing got tossed in the trash! Everyone seemed really pleased by the Zero Waste aspect of the party, so hopefully well be seeing a few more in the near future!

The cake I made myself (as you should already know!) and it was served on a simple cardboard tray which went into the compost at the end. I started to recycle the tray, but my husband pointed out that with all the cake and frosting remnants that it would be better served to go in the compost. I covered the cake with the tasty cream cheese frosting recipe that was given to me by my kind reader Maranda, but I decorated the cake with the Wilton decorating icing recipe.

To color the frosting and icing I used the India Tree colors, which ended up working out okay. I recycled the cream cheese and butter boxes, as well as the foil cream cheese liners. I tossed paper that they wrap the butter in, but I would guess that butter is wrapped with wax paper, so if Id been thinking ahead, I should have been able to add them to the party compost. As for the rest of the cake, I used local Ollin Farms eggs and recycled the egg carton! Egg cartons, can either be recycled and or composted if you toss one in your home (versus commercial compost) bin, beware that it may take a few months for the carton to decompose.

Gifts: After cake comes the presents! Many folks consider this to be the best part of the party, although I personally would be happy for more time to converse. I’ve attended and heard about many kids parties of late that are gift free. I considered that option for this party, but I also know (and understand) that most folks like to give gifts, and some even feel compelled to give. And, since it was Baby Green Mes first Birthday with grandparents and other relatives in attendance, I made no restrictions or suggestions in regards to gift giving. Incidentally, nearly all of his gifts came in gift bags, and few even came in reusable cloth gift bags. Woohoo!

The end result of our party is that we collected a large bag of compost, some compost for my home pile, some smaller collections of recyclables, and a very small wad of wrapping paper for the trash (see here for more on the gifts and wrapping). And, in case you are wondering, the zero waste aspect was 100% easy to implement, made for an easy clean-up and will definitely be repeated by our household in the future!

Being green can mean dirty business

I challenge YOU to take a hit for the Earth and use recycled toilet paper (no not the kind someone else has already used). Everyday millions of Americans wipe their tushes with paper that has been bleached and quilted to a fluffy white perfection. The paper toilet industry has led a massive and misleading campaign over the decades to convince you, the hapless buyer, that you need to wipe your butt with something so soft you could use it for a pillow. Personally I don’t buy their advertising my butt does not need quadruple quilted TP and neither does yours. According to the National Resource Defense Council: If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees. According to Charmin customers, the average household uses a roll of TP every five days, so if every home home in the US switched to recycled TP for a single year that would save (365 divided by 5 times 423,900 trees) nearly 31 million trees!

I must confess that despite last weeks post on Green Envy, I am very smug about my toilet paper. I am so smug that I will recommend my favorite brand, in hopes that you will take the challenge and switch. Over the years I have tested several brands of recycled TP and I have come to prefer Earth First. I may not require quadruple quilting, but I do require paper that holds up under normal use and is decently soft. If I didnt care about those things, I might as well use a ball of wool or some old newsprint! There are brands of recycled TP that dont do the job and, there are brands that are softer or if you prefer, more quilted than others. Earth First falls into the category of softer and quilted, which is reason number one that I recommend their bath tissue.

Most importantly our family has found that Earth First Bath Tissue holds up on the job while boasting high post consumer recycled content. Earth First TP is made of 100 % Recycled Paper Content AND 80% Post Consumer Recycled Paper. Unlike some recycled paper TP the color is a bright white (versus gray) that has been obtained in an eco-friendly process rather than using chlorine bleach.

In our area Earth First Bath Tissue is sold through Costco at a very competitive price. Regular grocery stores, such as Kroger, often carry Seventh Generation, which is a good substitute, but tends to cost more. And, just in case you are wondering, I have not been paid, bribed or gifted into writing this review. My motivation simply stems from the fact that I see TP as one modern invention that I couldnt comfortably live without and I dont think that you should have to either. Fortunately post consumer content TP gives paper a second life and cuts down on the destruction of virgin forests. So, save a tree (or 31 million) and switch to recycled TP today!

BTW in researching this article I came across some comments claiming that recycled TP is unnecessary, because so much TP is made from managed forests. Then Life Goggles published this story today indicating that in fact much of our paper products (Kleenex and TP alike) are in fact made from virgin forests. Follow the link above to Life Goggles and further your resolve to use recycled!

A great resource from the National Resource Defense Council with information on all sorts of recycled paper products.

Living local: what does it really mean?

Recently the NY Times and the Guardian (UK) have published articles purporting that locally grown foods are often worse, or at the least no better, for the environment than ones flown in from places like Kenya. Frankly, I don’t really think their argument holds water other than pointing out that nothing in life is black and white. Nonetheless, these naysayers have given me pause, pause to think about why my family has chosen to live the way we do and what it has done for us. When it comes down to it, the changes that we’ve made (or are working on) have served to connect us to our community and build relationships (including our marital one). We’ve become more mindful of what we spend our money on, what we bring home and what we put in our mouths. Perhaps we have failed to reduce our carbon imprint as much as wed like, but we have lived a richer and fuller life.

There is no denying that our initial motivation was to save the planet. However, planet saving is a non-scientific, non-measurable goal without any prizes for the diligent. And so, there must be some other reward to keep us (and others like us) on track. In fact, these little changes have resulted in an ever growing pile of locally grown organic carrots, while the imported stick market has crashed. Our family doesnt just buy local and or organic food or locally made goods because we want to save the planet, but because when we buy local we feel connected to our community. We feel part of a larger plan and we like it that way.

Local food: This category has probably been the most rewarding. My husband and I first signed up for a CSA when we lived in a Condo in the middle of a smallish city that was big enough to make us feel cut off from our food. Our weekly ventures to the farmers market to pick up our box of produce made us feel like we belonged to a community. We chit-chatted with the farmers, shared their recipes, and generally ate healthier than we would have otherwise. We also expanded our horizons, learning how to cook fennel and fava beans. Unfortunately, despite force feeding myself kale numerous times, I still think the stuff is wretched (although not as bad as cilantro) how do I wish that kale was not a CSA staple. My husband continues to enjoy the home-cooked meals that I prepare (and he has even ventured to cook a few of his own) and an unintended bonus, is that eating all that fresh produce, he has lost weight gained during his Lean Cuisine bachelorhood.

Two years ago we moved to a town of about 80,000 with a lingering connection to its agricultural roots. Our home is less than a mile from the Boulder County Fair Grounds and the Longmont Farmers Market. In nice weather we ride our bikes or walk, returning home loaded with fresh food and good spirits. My favorite farmer to buy from is an elderly man who runs a very small scale operation. While some tables are covered by tents and sell rows of food, this man has an umbrella and bar table with a few baskets of strawberries, tomatoes, bundles of lettuce and so on. He reuses containers and charges very fair prices. His success reminds me of my own efforts as a pre-teen selling bags of lettuce to the neighbors for a $1.

If youve been reading Green Me for long you already know that I think goats are fantastic. Thankfully, we live just a few miles from the Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy. When I buy goat cheese, I buy Haystack, and I get a warm and fuzzy feeling because I can picture the baby goats romping. Plus, I know that this is a small local operation run by folks with big warm hearts. Ive also recently found a REALLY small scale goat dairy that sells milk which I will be buying for my son to drink as he nears the weaning age. He doesnt seem to have any problem with cow milk, but the two milks do have different nutritional profiles and since he wont be getting the benefit of his own mamas milk, I figure it is good to diversify. I might even try to make my own goat yogurt, sweetened with local honey. Yum!

One of the easiest foods to find locally is honey. Despite the national decline in the honey bee population our local bees and beekeepers appear to be prodigious. Weve got numerous apiaries in our neck of the woods, some of which border local organic farms and or open space land. Our favorite can only be found in the early fall and is made in south Longmont, not far from where we live. Ichiban honey is raw and so delightfully creamy that you might think there is butter mixed in, but it is simply pure honey. Nectar of the Gods may be a reference to mead, but I think that it should extend to honey. My husband would probably do anything for a slice of warm baked bread, slathered with butter and honey. Really, it is the simple pleasures in life that make it so sweet. And, for our family, those simple pleasures dont come in boxes imported from China or India or just about anywhere else. (Although after reading Three Cups of Tea, the next time I eat apricots, I will think fondly of the apricot farmers in the highlands of Pakistan.)

Artesian made goods: My husbands family lives in Michigan and we make an annual pilgrimage around the holidays to visit the Michigan folk. For the last few years weve been making and sending along Colorado gift baskets. This past Christmas we came across mini cheese trays. The trays were handmade locally from reclaimed hickory with beautiful variations in color and grain. So often in my life have I purchased presents, simply because I felt that it was the socially responsible thing to do, but the purchases never set right with my conscience. However, over the last few years I have found that buying local gives me the sense of supporting my neighbors. Sharing goods made in my hometown gives me the sense of sharing my life with friends and family. So, on our holiday trip to Michigan, we took along gifts of local goat cheese, handmade cheese trays and other locally made treats. I am not sure these gifts are better received than any other, but it certainly feels better to me to give items that I personally would use and cherish.

Normally, I wouldnt quantify myself as an artesian, but for our wedding in 2005, I made several hundred paper cranes to use as decorations and party favors. I wanted to do something beautiful and I wanted to create a keepsake, that wasnt sold for cheep and made in China. Ill admit to using real Japanese origami paper, but in such a situation, I believe that being authentic is just as important as being local. There are certain things in this world that are identified with particular cultures or regions of the world, and I think that the beauty of our modern world, is that we can all share in these experiences. I like to think of it as taking the local and sharing it on an international level. Origami paper falls into this category. Childrens books written in English, but printed in China do not. Back to the cranes, my original goal was to be genuine, cheap, and pretty, but in the end it turned into much more. Our upstairs neighbor had made Peace Cranes at the start of the Iraq war, and she gave us these to add to our mix. My hands started to give out and a dear friend came over and helped for a few hours even the cat got involved in the funbirds? Many of the cranes went home with guests, but we kept a collection that we now use as Christmas Tree ornaments. And, to this day I have fond memories of the experience.

Craigslist: Our household is addicted to Craigslist, so much so that our friends and relatives probably dread the stories. I think my favorite all-time Craigslist purchase is my food processor, which was 8 years old, but came packaged in a never opened box. More recently Ive been selling off baby items, such as a Svan Bouncer, that Id picked up used on eBay. Just yesterday I purchased two soccer balls for $5 (I joined a womens soccer league and severely need to practice). When I buy off of Craigslist, I get the same rush as I would bargaining in a foreign bazaar. Plus, I get to buy things from real people, some of whom seem a lot like me and others who are quite different. Either way, a Craigslist purchase is ultimately way more satisfying than a trip to a big box or the mall.

Natural Toys: When it comes to plastic, I was among the first in my social circles to push the panic button when it comes to toxins in kids toys. I am genuinely concerned about PVC leaching dioxins, BPA and phthalates, but I must also admit that I also fall into the snooty camp that thinks plastic toys are simply ugly junk. And, although I love my son, I also love to keep ugly junk out of my house (that exersaucer you see, is not really there). So far, my son seems to enjoy his hand made rattles from Vermont, his wooden blocks, and other not-plastic toys. On the other hand, yesterday we went on a play date to a friends house that has a 2 year old little girl. Their play area is filled with plastic toys that have flashing lights and make noise. And, although it was my sons grumpy time of day, he was in heaven. You dont believe me? When was the last time you saw a 9 month old with separation anxiety crawl around for over an hour with ZERO adult interaction exploring plastic toys, pushing buttons, chewing on plastic apples and banging plastic toys? Maybe it was because these were different toys than the ones he has at home, but maybe it is because they are made out of brightly colored plastic that DOES stuff. I mean if kids didnt like the stuff, people wouldnt buy it, would they?

So, although non-plastic toys make me FEEL good, I am not sure that they really make me a better parent or improve our quality of life, other than keeping our aesthetics in place. However, I will say that petroleum based goods, imported from overseas, should cost more. As the Story of Stuff relates, the actual cost to the planet and society, is not reflected in the price paid to bring these cheep and non-durable goods home.

Composting: Like you, I was raised to abhor waste. And so, I always feel guilty, when I waste produce. To make things worse, I am a bit of a health nut, so I am always trying new things or buying produce (like kale) for its nutritional virtues, even though I know its likely to never make it in my pot. In the past, Id let unwanted produce sit in the produce drawer until it was slimy and most definitely not edible. There is no way to rescue produce that has hit the slime stage, but yet I always felt guilty on the trip to the garbage pail. With a compost bin, I realized that I have the freedom to send unloved produce back to its maker, before it gets to the slimy stage and be guilt free. Sure Ive wasted another kind of green, but that grows on trees, ne? I may not live on a farm, but the compost bin (our house came with two) makes me feel like I am part of the system. Another bonus to composting? Supposedly a huge percentage of the landfill is filled with food scraps, but ours is not. At this point, we often dont fill a medium sized kitchen bag in a week, but every other day (or more often) I empty a full compost pail outside. Chock another one up for improved quality of life.

Walking to the store: Big deal you say? Well, clearly YOU do not live in a state that is about the size of Great Britain, in which sprawl is the answer to everything and cities actually have rules about how tall you can build. Where we live, the few people who walk or bike to the store only do so because their car has broken down or they are unfortunate enough to not to own a car. So, when we show up at our local Super Box (a mere 4 blocks from our home) and push our mega jog stroller through the aisles we get looks. In reality, it is smaller than those shopping carts with the plastic car on front for kids to drive. However, in our car dominated world, we feel twice as good when we walk to the store. We feel even better when we hit three stores (Big Box, Grocery, and the corner Liquor Store) and we load up with much more than the clerk thought we could fit inside. When we walk to the store, we also have time to talk, breathe some fresh air, and get a little exercise. All around, a better experience than driving, and a definite quality of life improvement. My only regret is that we dont live walking (or even biking) distance to my husbands office, my school or the library. Someday.

Reusable Bags: Ive used reusable bags on and off for years. As a college student and in my early twenties, I was a bike commuter, so I crammed what I could in a backpack or messenger bag. When I lived in Boston, I shopped at Trader Joes and used two of their canvass bags (that was all I could carry on the T). Somewhere along the line I also picked up a Whole Foods mega canvass bag an invincible bag that could hold at least 3 paper bags worth of groceries, and had an extra long reinforced strap. The negative aspect of this bag was its ability to be filled so full (and heavy) that it became a hazard to my health. I remember slinging it across my shoulders and trying to bike homethe thing nearly got me killed! Eventually, my canvass bag collection became smaller (read shrunk, because I washed them) and funky with strange colors and stains. Then came the Chico bag. At the time we were still shopping at the Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers in Boulder. They are staffed by a healthy percentage of earth lovers, so when I offered up my canvass bags for free, I was mobbed with takers. Free from the canvass, I was able to buy a few Chico bags guilt free, and I am never going back. They are actually fun to use (seriously!) and I can fit 3 or 4 in my little purse, in addition to my wallet, shades, and phone. And, that is exactly what I need to do our weekly food shop. Over time we have picked up a few more, so we can do multiple errands in a row and never need a plastic or paper bag. This year we gave them as Christmas gifts and we had a great response. For me using reusable bags starts out as a challenge, but eventually it has become an obsession. I might forget to wear mascara 3 days out of 5, but I dont forget my Chico bag. And, I am proud of it!

Ultimately, all the green things we do on a regular basis are easy to do, because they improve our quality of life. If you are like me, you are willing to pay a little more in some instances, because you’d rather have a quality experience than a cheap experience. And, other times you’d rather save a few pennies or maybe a wad of cash to buy something used, when you really don’t need it to be shiny and new. So, I ask you, would you rather shop at your local big box retailer or your local farmers market? Would you rather shop at the same big box or your local artsy thrift shop? Would you rather your trash can be half empty or overflowing? In life, it is the small things that count and the experiences that add up to a lifetime. We only live once, so make the best of your time here on Earth and leave it a better place than you found it.