Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Greatest Impact

Guest poster Jaime (former author of the defunct Green Resolutions blog) looks beyond her garden as she thinks about this year's resolutions.

Isn’t it funny how your perspective changes once you begin the process of greening your life?

It starts so simply: canvas grocery bags, organic labels, and baking soda and vinegar. And it leads to bigger things: a first tomato plant, an all-out garden, making your own laundry detergent, and knitting Christmas gifts. Before you know it, you’re hanging your laundry to dry, you have a compost pile and you’re striving for zero waste.

Everything about my green journey started with a goal to reduce my footprint, to make the least possible impact (on the environment).

But a funny thing happened. As I researched green options and looked for inspiration from blogs, I came across a lot of posts that inspire me to make the greatest possible impact.

In the past year, I’ve learned about programs like Kiva, World Vision, Compassion International, and Heifer International. And mostly, I’m learning about programs like these because the people who are helping me learn to make less of an impact area also called to do more.

This past year, I had a list of 52 green resolutions to help me reduce my impact. This coming year, I resolve to learn how to make the greatest impact.

I can’t start big because we’ve our own economic woes, but I won’t give up. This holiday season, we sponsored a food drive at my husband’s business. His customers brought more than 150 canned food donations. My son’s hand-me-down clothes (most of which are handed down to us) help two mothers clothe their children without robbing Peter to pay Paul. Small steps, but I hope they make a big impact for someone.

I’m looking for suggestions. How do you make an impact in your community or beyond?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do It Yourself, But Do What You Enjoy

Another recycyled post from The Conscious Shopper, who is still on vacation and is now without reliable Internet access...

There's the implication on many eco-blogs that "do it yourself" and "homemade" is the answer to all environmental conundrums. They talk about do it yourself projects with a sense of deep satisfaction, as if learning to make your own cheese will lead to life contentment.

I enjoy do it yourself projects. I really, really do. I like the feeling of independence and pride I get from making my own, and I like the savings. But there are actually very few things I do myself. And there are many things that I could do myself, but I choose not to.

For example:
  • The other day I made my own tortillas. I enjoyed it, like I always enjoy cooking from scratch. But will I do it on a regular basis? Uh, uh. Not a chance. Even though buying tortillas means excess plastic waste. Even though there are probably some suspect ingredients in my preferred brand of tortillas. The thing is, we eat a lot of burritos around here because they are so exceptionally convenient. I can get burritos on the table in ten minutes if I use store bought tortillas. I'm already making my own bread, muffins, pitas, and granola. Homemade tortillas just don't fit into my schedule.
  • I buy Charlie's Soap laundry detergent powder and Seventh Generation dishwasher powder. In theory, I could make my own, but I choose not to. When I've crunched the numbers, the savings have been minimal, and both of those products work well for me. Plus, I'm supporting two companies whose values I appreciate, and I'm sending a message to the economic market that I want to see more companies and products like Charlie's Soap and Seventh Generation.
  • I would like to learn some basic carpentry skills, but I have absolutely no interest in learning plumbing or electrical wiring. Even if it meant I would save money that I could then spend on locally made organic cotton jeans, those are just not skills that I want to acquire.
  • The Mitchum anti-perspirant that my super-sweaty husband prefers does not rate too bad on Skin Deep. I would prefer that he use a cheap homemade version, or even a brand made by a company I like. But he sweats a lot, and Mitchum keeps him from stinking. Plus, I can get it at Kroger, so it's convenient.

When Clorox first came out with their GreenWorks line of cleaners, I was annoyed that people would choose to support Clorox rather than spend the two minutes it takes to mix up some baking soda, borax, and water. But since then, I've come to realize that I can't expect everyone to make the exact same choices I do. The average person is not going to do most things themselves.

The average person is not going to start shopping at Whole Foods or another health foods store. And the average person is not going to plop down more money for a Seventh Generation product when they can buy Clorox GreenWorks at their local Walmart.

This is not a race to see who can singlehandedly save the planet through their self-sufficiency. This is not even a race to see who can be the most green. We're all in this together, and unless we all make it to the other side, none of us win.

So my point is, be as green as you possibly can, but do it your way. Be conscious about your choices, but be green in a way that makes you happy. Do it yourself, but do what you enjoy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

A recycled post from The Conscious Shopper, who is on vacation.

My kids got Mary Poppins for Christmas, and I'm enjoying re-learning all the great songs and dances from that classic musical. I've also found myself quoting her to my children many times the past few days. In her wise words...

“For every task that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and snap, the job's a game.”

I've also been applying this mantra to my own life as I've tried harder and harder to be less consumeristic. In my own home, I'm safe, but as soon as I step out into the real world, I meet a thousand enticements to slide right back in to that spend, discard, spend, discard cycle.

For example, I went to the mall last November for the first time in several months, and suddenly I was intensely aware of how drab my clothes are, how my shoes are out of style, and how I have no cool jewelry. I was feeling a little despondent about my dowdy appearance and had the impulse to spend to my heart's desire to make myself feel better.

Instead, I came up with a compromise: I could buy myself new clothes whenever I wanted as long as they came from a thrift store.

Up to that point, I had never enjoyed thrift store shopping. But as I began visiting my thrift store on a weekly basis, I began to see the fun in it. It is a challenge to find good buys. And when I do find them, I feel a victorious high that I've never felt from a shopping spree at the mall.

If you're trying to live a low-impact lifestyle, it's easy to start feeling deprived, but if you find the fun in your new way of life, it becomes a game, and it can be amazingly rewarding.

Here are some more examples:
  • I am hooked on Craigslist. Why would I ever want to buy something new again when there are so many “like new” items on Craigslist? And like shopping at thrift stores, I see Craigslist as a challenge. I have a running list of things I want, and I check it regularly. I have to be patient until just the right item at just the right price comes along. But if I put in the effort, I reap some amazing rewards.
  • In my attempt to be more frugal and buy less, I've started seeing everything in a new light. Before buying something, I ask myself, “How could I improvise and use something I already have to do this job?” Before I throw something away, I ask myself, “Is there any way I could reuse this?” When I come up with a way to solve a problem using that method, I feel creative and satisfied.
  • Trying to support my local economy, I do a lot of shopping at the farmer's market. I hate going grocery shopping, but the farmer's market is fun every time. I only take one kid with me at a time, and we make it a date, giving me a chance to teach each child on an individual basis about where our food comes from. First Son always asks, “Momma, are these eggs from happy chickens?”
  • Sometimes if you're willing to be behind the times, you can reap some great benefits. For example, we still have a VCR. I can pick up old VHS tapes, like Mary Poppins, from the thrift store for a couple dollars. The videos are getting extra use instead of heading straight to the landfill, and we get to enjoy some classic old movies without waiting for them to be released from the Disney vault.
If you're feeling deprived in your non-consumer, green lifestyle, take a note from Mary Poppins. Make it a game, and you'll be surprised at how much fun it can be.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Make your own brown sugar

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Necessity is mother the of invention. Saturday I needed brown sugar - 2 cups of brown sugar. That does not look like 2 cups to me. With relatives on the way, a house to clean, and cookies to bake, there was no time to take a break and run to the store, only to grumble all the way home about my organic brown sugar packaged in a plastic bag. I have whined about it before - organic food in plastic packaging is a major pet peeve of mine! But I digress, I was well into a batch of Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and in need of brown sugar.

I have sugar and I have molasses, so essentially I have brown sugar. That's right, brown sugar is nothing more than white sugar and molasses. Who knew? Sometimes I am so naive that I do not take time to stop and think.

To make your own brown sugar combine one cup of white sugar with one tablespoon of molasses. We use a lot of brown sugar in this household, so I made a double batch right away and still wish I had made more. A whirl in the food processor, blender, stand mixer, hand mixer, fork and bowl, what have you is all it takes.

Voila! Brown sugar. Damn that was easy. Why have I not done this sooner? And, why have I spent so much time whining about buying brown sugar packaged in plastic when the solution was this easy? If I were flexible enough I would kick my own ass! Now I can buy my organic evaporated cane juice in bulk (using my own container!) and organic molasses in glass and have my brown sugar just the way I like it - plastic-free. Whoopie!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies - with my own brown sugar

Pumpkin Cakes:
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
Vanilla Filling:
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners' (powdered) sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
For Pumpkin Cakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place oven rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a larger bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, and salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (can also use a hand mixer), beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree. Beat in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Drop heaping tablespoons (can also use a small ice cream scoop) of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. With moistened fingers or the back of a spoon, smooth the tops of the cakes.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the tops of the cookies when lightly pressed spring back. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Filling: Beat the shortening and butter until soft and creamy. With the mixer on its lowest speed, gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar. Increase the speed to high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Then, with the mixer on low speed, beat in the vanilla extract and slowly drizzle in the corn syrup. Continue to beat until the filling looks like soft mayonnaise.

To Assemble: Take one cake and spread a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the flat side of the cake. Top with another cake. The assembled cookies can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post-Christmas Superhero Secrets

Sunday link love from The Conscious Shopper

The presents have barely been unwrapped, the smell of turkey lingers in the air, the house is still swimming in Christmas decorations, and I'm already planning for next year's holidays...

Please don't misunderstand - I'm not already starting my Christmas shopping two days after Christmas. I'm not already making lists and plans of what we'll get and make and where we'll go and who we'll see. I'm an organized person, but I'm not crazy.

But after the holidays have died down, I do like to daydream a bit about what I'll do differently next year and what gifts I'd like to give and receive.

If you're also that type of person, here are some links for you:
  • We're still working our way through a giant wrap of rolling paper that my sister left at our house four years ago (it might have been five...), but when that runs out, I am absolutely switching to cloth gift wrap and tying it Japanese style. Besides being ultra cool, furoshiki is amazingly beautiful.
  • In my quest to green up my wardrobe without going broke, I've relied a lot on thrift stores. But in my experience, good shoes are hard to find at a thrift store, so I've been looking more and more at the second best option: buy quality shoes that last forever. These shoes from the Aurora Shoe Company are handmade in New York the old-fashioned way, and they have pictures on their site of 15-year-old shoes. Just what I need!
  • Stubby Pencil Studio sells eco products for creative kids. My boys are budding artists, and we go through art supplies like food. Every birthday and holiday, I beg relatives just to buy them art supplies. And I'm really diggin' these Smencils.
  • Taking a road trip? Don't leave your values behind! With Eat Well Guide's Trip Planner, you can "find local, sustainable, and organic food wherever you go."
  • Need to clear out some space for this year's Christmas stash? Earth911 has a new app that helps you find recycling locations anywhere in the U.S. Just type in what you need recycled, and it will tell you where to take it.
And finally, here's a little shameless self-promotion. Over at The Conscious Shopper, I'm going to be starting a year long challenge to go green without going broke. I hope you'll check it out!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

They like us, they really like us!

Some breaking news from the Greenhabilitator...

The Green Phone Booth has been nominated for a Homie!

If you're not familiar with the Apartment Therapy blog then shame, shame because it's one of my absolute favorites. I could seriously get lost for days just browsing through the amazing design photos and DIY ideas. Of course my house looks nothing like the photos on on their blog, but a girl can dream... Actually, even if I could afford it, I wouldn't go out and redecorate my whole pad because, let's face it, that wouldn't really be the green thing to do.

Okay, I digress.

Apartment Therapy is handing out Homies, saying...
"There are awards for all sorts of blogs, but no one ever pays enough attention to the shelter blogs, so we started The Homies. It's our way of surveying the blogosphere each year for the best new home design blogs and sharing what we find. It's not so much a competition as a celebration of the richness and awesomeness of shelter bloggers around the world. Join us, share your favorites and check out the ones you don't know."
They'll be giving out Blog of the Year awards in five categories: Home Design, Home Tech, Kids at Home, Green Home, and Home Cooking. You can help the Green Phone Booth to win Green Home Blog of the Year by voting for us HERE.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

A total rip-off of a classic Christmas poem - by Burbanmom

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
All the creatures were merry but for one little grouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney in wait,
But the grump that was grousing had a major complaint.

“The presents look festive snug under the tree,
But I can’t help but notice, there’s not much for me.”
Me in my bathrobe, and Dad in his pants,
Just stared at her blankly, as she continued her rant.
She yelled and screamed and raised such a fuss,
And pondered out loud “What’s the matter with US?”.
“My friends all have presents and presents galore.
There’s not enough here – I hope I get more!”

Dad looked at me, and I looked at Dad.
And both of us felt like we’d done something bad.
We thought we were doing our child a favor
By decreasing the volume of CRAP that we gave her.
And we tried to be kind to the planet, in fact -
By purchasing things with the smallest impact.
We bought mostly local and made our own gifts,
We purchased on e-Bay and shopped at the thrifts.

And now our small child was a panicking mess
For the lack of Barbie in a sparkly blue dress.
“I think that you’re missing the point, little one
More is not better, too much is not fun.”

But our darling young sprite would not let it go
“Santa will bring more – this I just know.”
And I looked at Dad and Dad looked at me
And I motioned in silence to meet by the tree

I whispered to him “Maybe she’s right –
What if we run out real quick tonight?”
“The mall is still open, we could get a few toys
Wrap them from Santa and give her some joy”

Dad nodded and said “It WOULD be a shame
If she thought Santa shorted her. Ok - I’m game”
So after our angel was snug in her bed,
I went to the mall, with some ideas in my head.

There wasn’t much parking, the stores were all packed
I wondered what on earth these people all lacked?
They were grumpy and rude and none of them merry
Their arms were loaded down with all the gifts they could carry.

I pushed and I shoved through the throngs in the mall
I glared at the shoppers – I hated them all.
And I’m not sure how I got caught in this last minute dash
But before I knew it – I had spent all my cash.

But I found a Barbie with a convertible car
And I got her an EasyBake, a doll and guitar.
I kept right on shopping till wee in the night
Then I went back home to wrap these delights.

But while I was wrapping things up ever-so-nimbly
I heard a strange-something come down through the chimbley.
I went to the living room, bat in my hand
Ready to pound the crap out of whatever should land
Imagine my surprise when out of the flue
Stepped a fat guy with a sack – well, I’m sure you know who

“My dear”, said the jolly, fat, elderly elf
“Put down the bat and get a hold of yourself.
I came to spread cheer, I heard the girl cry
And I had to come down to find out just why.”

“Don’t worry Santa, I’ve got it all fixed
I went out to the mall and got her more gifts.”
I tallied them up – and there’s presents a-plenty
When we add yours to these we should have more than twenty!
I’ve wrapped them up and they’re snug under the tree,
So Christmas is saved, thanks to little ol’ me.”

“You’re wrong” he said as he took off his cap.
“Christmas is not about buying them crap
Christmas is giving that comes from the heart
It’s not some hunk of plastic that came from Shop*Mart”

And with those words, he turned his fat back
And pulled one tiny present out of his sack

I looked at him and my jaw dropped a bit
“You’re leaving JUST ONE? ARE YOU KIDDING? THAT’S IT?!?!?!”
He just gave me a wink and then went to his sleigh
And I watched as the old bearded man flew away

But I heard him exclaim, as he rode away fast,
"It’s not the presents you count, it’s the blessings, you ass!"

Merry Christmas and a Bright New Year!



Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Celebrating with the Conscious Shopper

A little glimpse into our handmade holiday...

Salt dough ornament making for the boys' friends

Potato stamp Christmas cards

Holiday cookies in thrift store tins

A string of popcorn and craisins to add color to the tree

Homemade quick breads for teachers - (does anyone know of a way to deliver quick breads without using plastic wrap?)

New aprons for the boys

And new capes (both made from fabric scraps on my thrifted sewing machine)

Happy Holidays to you all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Creatures Were Stirring

From the bean of Green Bean.

'Twas three days before Christmas

And many creatures were stirring.

And baking.

And knitting.

And gluing.

And giving.

The advent calendar my 4 year old made for me and my husband.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Green Year.

- Green Bean

Monday, December 21, 2009

Semi-homemade Christmas

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I am not nearly as skilled as Green Bean (or as ambitious), but there will be one homemade gift under our tree this year - well, semi-homemade that is. Among the articles of my 13-year old's Christmas list is a new comforter cover. Specifically, a cover with a pocket for holding books and iPods that comes from PB Teen and costs $99.00. It is a nice comforter cover and I can see why she would want it. She has had the same floral and plaid comforter for the past decade. It clashes with everything in her room and is sooo not cool. That being said, the comforter she has is perfectly fine and does not cost $100. However, I understand a teen's need to express themselves as individuals and distance themselves from their childhood.

A little inspiration and a free afternoon was all it took to give her what she wants without breaking the bank. I purchased two basic sheet sets from Target and broke out my barely used sewing machine. Using the top sheets only, I laid her old comforter on top of one to make sure the size would work. Yep, good to go. Switching the sheet to the top of the comforter I planned out the pocket placement.

I wanted a pocket large enough to hold a magazine (for those Pottery Barn ones she lusts over) with an additional pocket to slip her iPod into. The pillowcase that came with the sheet set worked perfectly. I deconstructed the pillowcase to fashion two large and two small pockets. With the pocket size and placement figured out, I pinned two pockets (one large, one small) opposite each other on the right-side (top) of the sheet and sewed into place. I chose to place a pocket on either side of the sheet so no matter where she moved the bed in her room she would always have access to one of them. Today her bed butts up against one wall, tomorrow it may move to the opposite side of the room, and next week it could show up in the middle. You never know.

With the pockets on, it was time to assemble the cover. One more time I moved the sheet under the comforter with the pocket-side facing up. One top sheet, comforter, second top sheet (with the right-side facing the comforter). Before pinning the sheets together I folded the top edges over each other to encapsulate the comforter. This edge will remain open so the cover can be removed for laundering.

After pinning the three sides, I removed the comforter and sewed the three edges together. Time to test it out! Inserting the comforter while turning the cover right-side out was a breeze. I tucked the open flaps to hold the comforter in the cover.

Works for me! For $26.00 she will get a new comforter cover - with pockets(!) - two fitted sheets to match, and a pillowcase to boot! Sure beats $99.00 for the cover alone. And next year when she decides to paint her room purple instead of lime green, I will not be upset when new comforter cover appears once again on her Christmas list.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Superhero Secrets: Things to do when the gifts have been opened.

My husband has been asking me every day for a week what I want for Christmas and I can't seem to come up with anything. Especially after Compacting for a few months, I have a hard time saying "I want..."

Even though there's nothing I need or really want, I know I'll still feel that slight let-down when all the gifts have been opened, just like I did as a kid. Not because I'm still wanting more, but because it's over. All the thought and time that went into choosing -- or making -- just the right gift has been appreciated. The surprises are gone.

This year we're planning to stretch out the breakfast making, gift opening, parade watching, lunch eating and anything else we can think of. We ordered a planning DVD from Disney, so we'll watch that and talk about our summer vacation too.

Here are some other things you might want to do on Christmas day...

Curl up under a blanket and watch Christmas movies
Bake cookies and deliver them to neighbors
Bake cookies and eat them
Visit a nursing home
Organize a neighborhood parade
Have the neighbors over for some (spiked) cider
Go to church
Take a walk
Drive around and look at lights after dark
Go see a movie
Play board games
Plan your annual vacation
Talk about your New Year's resolutions
Watch football
Go ice skating
Go skiing
Christmas karaoke
Christmas charades
Write thank-you notes

Santa's Net has Christmas games and activities for kids.

Apples 4 the Teacher has tons of craft ideas and coloring pages.

If you're a sucker for baby shower type games (bwahahahaha) then you'll love some of the ideas on Holiday Games UK. From "guess what Christmas Items are in the sock" to "don't be the last one wearing a Santa hat" the games are sure to add a little more excitement (that doesn't focus on gifts) to the day for your kids.

You'll find games, crafts, decorations, carols to sing and more at All Things Christmas.

And be sure to visit Christmas Passed on Facebook and/or to read about what hundreds of other people do as tradition in their families.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The city mouse and the country mouse.

Ponderings from the Greenhabilitator...

I was planning to recycle a post today since I really should be packing for our weekend staycation, or tackling Mount Laundry, or preparing for the meeting with our social worker tomorrow morning (regular post-adoption meeting, we're not in trouble or anything), or...well, you get the point: so much to do, so little time. This little thought keeps popping into my head though, and it's getting harder and harder to suppress.

I think I want to move.


Hi, I'm the Greenhabilitator and I'm addicted to moving.

Not the physical moving part - I'm not on crack - but the new home, new location part. This is the 6th place my husband and I have lived in this decade. Some people like a good wine, or appreciate fine art. We love a dump of a house with hidden potential. We move in, fix her up, and sell for a profit. Now, don't get me wrong, we won't be getting our own reality series any time soon. But we are certain that this is only way we might even come close to paying for college for our kids or retirement for ourselves.

At any rate, we moved from downtown Denver (our party-all-night, pre-marriage, pre-kids days) to an old Dutch style home just outside of downtown. It was still urban, people got shot on our corner on occasion, but we did have a yard with a garden. From there we moved to a similar fixer-upper a few blocks away and also flipped that for a decent sum.

Along came baby and we began changing our lifestyle (in so many ways!). We wanted to live simpler and greener. We wanted to get away from the city and strip malls and all that comes with that. I wanted a real garden, maybe a greenhouse, a place where the kids could run free and I could just yell outside to call them in for dinner. We were feeling adventurous so, when we stumbled across this place in the mountains with 3 acres of land, we jumped on it.

I have to say that I love this place. We see deer, foxes, bears, mountain lions, elk and more on a regular basis. My 4 year old can tell me which one has been in the yard by the tracks -- or poop -- he sees. He's learned about erosion and pine beetles and so much more.

I drive our snowy roads each day looking out at the snow-capped Rocky Mountains thinking "Wow, I live where most people just get to vacation!" Not that I'm living like a celebrity in Aspen or anything, but our little town is a great place to be.

The kids go to a school that is one of the top 3 in the state, and it shows by how much they're learning.

I work part time from home. I don't need to get all gussied up, buy "work clothes", or impress anyone when schlepping out the compost. I have time to can vegetables and jam and cook dinner for my family.

It really is a simple life and I'm loving it.


I'm struggling with the fact that this is not really an eco-friendly lifestyle. Simple, yes. Eco-friendly, no.

First of all, my husband has a 45 minute (each way) commute to work. Sure his car gets almost 30 mpg, but driving for an hour and a half each day is not a very green thing to do.

I take the kids to school each day because the bus doesn't come all the way out to our house. It's an 18 mile round trip, which I drive twice each day.

We only have a Walmart in our town. Don't get me started there. They actually make me bag my own groceries because they hate the reusable cloth bags. So we usually end up driving down the mountain once a week to escape the clutches of Walmart. That's a 45 mile round trip.

It's hard to find truly local food here. Our farmer's market really doesn't have much in the way of produce. I can go down the mountain (about 30 miles) to a better one, but how eco-friendly is driving like that?

Living so far out, we aren't serviced by Xcel Energy - the "real" power company here. Instead we belong to a co-op that is more expensive. Not to mention that our house is old and drafty and we only have electric, no gas. Our electric bill this month was over $650. (Energy audit scheduled for Monday though!)

So I finally checked out Green Metropolis from the library and am giving author David Owen the chance to convince me why we might need to move back to the city. If you're not familiar with the book, Owen's thoughts on rural living are a bit controversial...
"The author attacks the powerful anti-urban bias of American environmentalists like Michael Pollan and Amory Lovins, whose rurally situated, auto-dependent Rocky Mountain Institute he paints as an ecological disaster area. The environmental movement's disdain for cities and fetishization of open space, backyard compost heaps, locavorism and high-tech gadgetry like solar panels and triple-paned windows is, he warns, a formula for wasteful sprawl and green-washed consumerism. Owen's lucid, biting prose crackles with striking facts that yield paradigm-shifting insights. The result is a compelling analysis of the world's environmental predicament that upends orthodox opinion and points the way to practical solutions."
If we moved back to civilization I think I'd miss my compost heap and greenhouse and wild animals and being able to take the kids on an exploration in our own backyard. Or I'd miss the thought of them.

Instead we'd strive for less food scraps and a small, indoor composter. We'd shop the good farmer's market instead of growing our own (which was all in theory last year anyway since our garden was a bust) and we'd explore the city instead of the forest. With all of the public transit we could even get rid of a car.

So that's where I am - right smack-dab in the middle, not leaning either way. Both lifestyles are appealing to me for very different reasons. I guess I'm just a girl in flux.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pet care without toxic chemicals (and rescue organizations!)

From the laptop of a wiener-dog-loving suburban greenmom...

Last June our family welcomed a new member. Not a human member--my stretch-marked belly and tired breasts have had quite enough of that, thank you--but a second dachshund to keep our 13-year-old Tristan company.

We adopted Mindy, a three-year-old miniature, through All American Dachshund Rescue, whose motto is "don't breed or buy while shelter pets die." Lots of people who have a particular breed of dog in mind when they go looking at shelters aren't aware that often when specific breeds come into shelters (from puppy mill raids and such, especially), the local (or not so local) specific breed rescue groups step in and take in these animals for fostering and eventual adoption. The whole ethos of animal rescue goes to so much of what the grassroots green movements stand for--don't go out and make/get new stuff, try to honor and care for what's here. If it's true for inanimate objects, is it not all the more true for living creatures?

I'm hugely in favor of rescue organizations and pet adoption. I know some people who have various reasons for not going through them--one reason I hear is "the rescue dogs are in secure places, I'd rather adopt through a shelter, where the dogs have less time and might be euthanized sooner." (These friends seem to inevitably not find the dog they wanted in a shelter and go buy one somewhere else.) (Okay, maybe not everyone, but about 4 of my friends have done this.) This is admirable in theory, but many people don't realize that freeing up a spot in a rescue organization foster home means that another animal from a kill shelter can move into it. These organizations have good relationships with the shelters--foster families never stay dog-less for long, and shelters place a lot of dogs in them off the bat. Another objection I hear is about how stringent some rescue groups are about letting people adopt through them, to the point of rudeness and overt suspicion, and people just don't want to deal with it. I have to say that in some cases this may be true; most of the adoption screening (with the groups I've encountered) happens via the foster families, and some of them go a little overboard sometimes in making sure the dogs go to good homes, to the extent of driving away anyone who's not the Absolute Perfect Always Home Fenced Yard Walk The Dog Every Two Hours adopter...but on the other hand, they get a lot of creepy people trying to adopt pets to send back to puppy mills, or be backyard breeders, or people who just aren't equipped for it--their job is to send the dogs to homes they'll stay in and not wind up back in the shelter system. And yes, the process was a lot more complicated than walking into a pet store and plopping down a credit card. (I needed letters of recommendation. Haven't needed those since grad school applications.) But on the other hand, I got a puppy whose veterinary care had been exemplary, who had been spayed already, who had lived with a family and not in a cage during the weeks she waited for her new home, and who had been loved and cared for and well socialized.

One of the issues that came up in Mindy's adoption is my convictions about not wanting to give heartworm preventative medications every month all year. (Now, as with everything else I say, do your own research and make your own decisions!) My reasoning: first of all, the "monthly" heartworm medications are only marketed as monthly because they think people won't be able to remember "every six weeks"--once a month is easier. (And incidentally allows them to sell 50% more pills.) But the meds are absolutely tested to only be needed every six weeks. Secondly, I live in Chicago, where everything dies off during the winter, including heartworm eggs and larvae--they need 57 degree weather to grow. For six-plus months of the year, the dogs are in absolutely no danger of catching heartworm, so there's no real reason to give the preventative except, once again, to aid in keeping the habit. Mindy came to us from North Carolina, though, and she lived outside a lot, and there it is fairly important to keep the meds I am giving her the heartworm meds through this one winter to make sure she's okay, and then next winter we'll discontinue them. Every spring we get a heartworm test, and assuming all is well, we start the dogs up with a June pill. (Again, this is going to be different depending on your climate. Do your research, talk to your vet.)

I also don't give Frontline or any of the other "preventative" monthly pest control meds. My reasons are fairly simple: these meds don't actually prevent infestation, they just keep a consistent level of insecticide in the dog's bloodstream sufficient to kill whatever larvae or eggs get in there. There are a number of holistic options for preventing fleas and ticks without toxic chemicals (I did a whole long post on it here), and for getting rid of them if an infestation does occur. Many vets believe that keeping the persistent toxicity in the dog wears down the dog's immune system and actually increases the likelihood that the dog will be infested and uncomfortable, and be prone to other health problems later in life.

As with all of these things, your mileage may vary widely--I have had dogs for 16 years and in all that time have only had two minor flea infestations and one tick. That's all. Hardly worth it to feed my dog expensive poisons every month to prevent that. (My blog post also has suggestions for how to clear up an infestation if it does happen.)

Fleas and ticks are mostly nuisances, though--heartworm, especially in a small dog (the heartworms are the same size in an Irish Wolfhound as in a Chihuahua...but a Chihuahua's heart is a lot smaller than a wolfhound's, so the damage done by the worms will be much worse), is a very very serious matter, and it's not although there are suggested holistic regimens to prevent heartworm infestations in dogs, I choose to give my dogs the meds nonetheless, every six weeks, during the at-risk months. I give them the most basic version, without other anti-parasitics combined in the same pill; again, I hold to the conviction that a healthy pet with a good immune system and a good natural diet will naturally resist infestation, and thus far in the life of all my dogs this has worked really well.

With pet care as with everything else--it pays to ask questions!

--Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Making the Oil Last

A Purloined Letter from the Raven.

image source: Jewish Review

Chanukah/Hanukkah is a beautiful holiday celebrating the universal hope for the return of the light as we approach the winter solstice.

It is also a time when Jews celebrate both the victory of the weak against the mighty, as well as the "miracle of the oil" when one day's worth of sacred olive oil in the eternal lamp stayed lit for eight days as the early Jews rededicated their temple after its desecration. This event was perhaps the world's first oil shock, and resource conservation is obviously the moral of the story. (Well, perhaps everyone doesn't read it that way.)

We are facing questions of oil again now. Again we ask ourselves: "How long will it last?" Peak Oil activists deal with this issue. And climate activists ask us to try to use less oil in order to save the planet. We have to recognize that this time, we should not expect a sequel to the Hanukkah miracle.

Thinking about the holiday from these perspectives can shake our ideas about long-celebrated traditions. Jews all over the world celebrate by eating foods cooked in oil, especially latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). As Culiblog says, "Now I don’t know why it took me so long to question the logic of this, but why do we celebrate this miracle of oil conservation by massively increasing oil consumption? Shouldn’t we be eating the opposite of oily foods? Shouldn’t Chanukkah be an oil fast, a holiday of raw and steamed vegetables and bike riding?"

* * *

There are many simple acts we can do to green our holiday: Put non-petroleum beeswax candles in our menorahs (or CFLs if you really want to go, um, whole hog) or using the traditional olive oil. Find Fair Trade gelt.

If you give presents, be mindful of giving sustainable gifts and consider any wastes you might create in the wrapping. I personally love these Hanukkah cloth wraps and these cloth bags. Or better yet (and better than we do), keep the minor holiday in perspective and don't give gifts, a "tradition" which is actually a completely new invention coming from a desire to compete with Christmas and increase the sales at the big-box stores.

If you have a holiday party, try to use reusable plates and glasses, cutlery, and napkins. And if you weren't persuaded to celebrate with raw veggies, you could even use local potatoes to make your latkes in a solar oven.

* * *

But those are just the basics.

"A Light Among the Nations," a project of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, aims to get Jews to switch to compact flourescent light bulbs during the holiday--both in their homes and in their synagogues. This guide is a fabulous way to work your way through the eight nights of CFLs, complete with a slew of lightbulb jokes.

* * *

Another proposal to make Hanukkah greener is from Green Hanukkia. They suggest that Jewish environmentalists burn one less candle this Hanukkah, saving 15 grams of carbon dioxide per person. (For those considered about keeping things kosher, the unlit candle could be the shamash, which is not required for the mitzvah.)

Says Tom Wegner, "There are many people who just light candles for the tradition and for their children," he said. "To tell a child on the eighth day that we are not lighting the last candle as a sacrifice for the environment is an act that is not only educational but also will prevent the release of a huge amount of carbon dioxide that would hurt the environment."

According to the Jerusalem Post, Green Hanukkia campaign founder Liad Ortar said, "The campaign calls for Jews around the world to save the last candle and save the planet, so we won't need another miracle. Global warming is a milestone in human evolution that requires us to rethink how we live our lives, and one of the main paradigms of that is religion and how it fits into the current situation."

* * *

My favorite proposal is Arthur Waskow's Green Menorah Covenant, which has an ultimate aim of cutting oil consumption by seven-eighths by 2020. We will quite literally live with the one day's oil and make it last for eight days. Here are a few excepts from his proposal:

I. Safe, Renewable Energy:

A) We will convert our electricity source to green power; or offset our electrical usage by buying offsets from clean energy producers

B) We will carry out an energy audit to find ways to conserve energy

II. Transportation:

A) If we have vehicles that need to be replaced, we will do so with vehicles that average at least 30mpg.

B) When attending community events, we will make every effort to take public transportation, bike, walk, or carpool.

C) We will not idle our vehicles

III. Public Policy:

We will actively advocate in the public policy debate for at least one of the following:

A) Better public transportation

B) Government investment in and conversion to clean renewable energy

C) Pushing both the government and the automobile industry to develop and make available more energy-efficient vehicles.

D) Support for an "carbon tax" on energy sources scaled according to how much CO2 they force into the atmosphere.

IV. Festival and Life-Cycle Observance:

We will use Hanukkah as a time to focus the attention on ending America’s oiloholic addiction and, by the year 2020, reducing the use of oil by American society to the 'Hanukkah Standard': One Day’s Oil for Eight Days’ Needs.

If you are interested in the a Jewish religious approach to environmentalism, check out the full Green Menorah Covenant. For more information and inspiration, be sure to check out these articles by Arthur Waskow as well.

* * *

May this be a season filled with light--but not oil--for all of us, regardless of how we celebrate it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear Friends

A moment of gratitude from The Conscious Shopper

Ever since I made my life a darker shade of green, stepping outside of my home has turned into an adventure - especially during the holiday season. There are the malls and the crowds and the enticements to buy. There's the talk of sales and deals and stuff and more stuff.

Sometimes it feels like I'm lost in a foreign country. I try asking for directions, but nobody understands anything I'm saying. And the worst part is that I can understand some of their language, but I don't know how to talk back.

Sometimes it feels like I'm an alien from another planet. Everything is strange and interesting and a little bit enticing, but very very different from home and I don't quite fit in.

Sometimes it feels like I'm a scientist, analyzing labels with a magnifying glass, designing experiments between different products, carefully weighing every option.

Sometimes it feels like I'm at a rock concert. The music is blaring, and the bass is pumping, and the lighters are waving, and the people are dancing. But it's a band I really, really don't like.

Sometimes it feels like I'm out in a thunderstorm. I've got on my raincoat and my galoshes and I'm carrying an umbrella. And everyone else is walking around in bathing suits.

Sometimes it feels like I'm a teacher who has come to class unprepared. The students keep asking me questions as if I'm an expert, and I stumble through the answers but feel that my knowledge is woefully inadequate.

Sometimes it feels like I'm stuck in that dream where you go to work but you've forgotten to put on pants. And everyone just keeps staring and pointing and laughing.

Sometimes it feels lonely.

But at night, I return home from those adventures and begin scrolling through my Google Reader. And I see that there are others who speak my language. There are other label readers. There are others who are struggling with being the resident expert. There are even others who feel like they're walking around with no pants on. And I remember that I'm not alone.

Dear Friends of the Greenosphere, you were one of the leaves on our gratitude tree this year, and I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you. I am so very, very grateful for your daily reminders that I'm not alone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Best Pumpkin Pie Ever

A recipe for holiday pie from The Conscious Shopper

A few weeks ago I shared my failed attempt at experimenting in the kitchen by making an apple pie with a cookie crust. That pie was inspired by the absolute best pumpkin pie ever. I made it for Thanksgiving, and my mom told my brother, who arrived a day later, "You've got to try the pie! I don't even like pumpkin pie, but this is so good."

I don't know if it's the cookie crust, the real pumpkin, or the cream instead of evaporated milk, but this is seriously the best pumpkin pie I've ever had, and you need to try it.

Pumpkin Gingersnap Pie
modified slightly from O Magazine

Step One: Start with fresh pumpkin.

It's kind of late in the year now to find pie pumpkins, so hopefully you stocked up your freezer back in October. Using a fresh pumpkin is very easy - you can process it in the oven using the method Kellie describes here, or you can cook it in the microwave in a shallow dish with a little water for about 20 minutes or so.

If you don't have fresh pumpkin, canned will do, or you can substitute most types of squash or sweet potatoes for the pumpkin in a pumpkin pie. In fact, most canned pumpkin is not pumpkin at all - it's squash.

Step Two: Gather your ingredients for the crust.

  • 2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 5 Tbsp. melted butter
Combine cookie crumbs, walnuts, salt, and melted butter. Press into the bottoms and sides of a 9-inch deep dish pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. Let cool completely.

Step Three: Gather your ingredients for the filling.

  • 2 cups pumpkin
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. molasses
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 3 eggs
Whisk together all of the ingredients. Pour filling into piecrust.

Step Four: Bake pie in 325 degree oven for 60 to 75 minutes. Cover edges of pie with foil during last 15 minutes of baking.

Top with whipped cream or ice cream.

(The original recipe adds a cranberry glaze, which I didn't do. If anyone tries this pie with the glaze, let me know how it turns out!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

December APLS Carnival: Green Journeys

A quick late Monday note from The Conscious Shopper

I'm hosting this month's APLS Carnival over at my personal blog, The Conscious Shopper. The topic is "green journeys:"
  • What triggered you to start trying to live a sustainable life?
  • What are the biggest changes you've made to live sustainably?
  • How far have you come since you started your green journey?
  • And what do you feel you still need to work on?
I'd love to hear about your green journey! Please post your story on your blog and email the link to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com. The carnival will go live on December 18th.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Caped Carnivore

From the bean of Green Bean.

A month or so ago, the Internet buzzed with discussions about whether true environmentalists ate meat (and other animal products) and, if they did, what kind. While everyone is in the midst of the holiday rush, I'm still thinking about what to put on the holiday table. I'm a vegetarian but do I leave out the dairy? The eggs? Or by buying sustainably am I green as gold?

Check out the links below and decide for yourself.

  • If you've not yet read Nicolette Niman's Carnivore's Dilemma - the NYT OpEd - that argues it is possible to eat meat and be an environmentalist, you should.
  • Looking for tasty meat-free (and even dairy free) recipes? Look no further than the sumptuous and seasonal fresh365 - recipes and pictures to live for.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

December APLS: Green Journeys

Musings from the Greenhabilitator...

I was so pleased to hear that the topic of this month's APLS carnival was Green Journeys. Not only because I love hearing others' green back-stories, but because it's a topic I can write about without staying up late or banging my head against the wall....something I can really use in the two weeks before Christmas!

Unfortunately, as I sat down to write this, I realized that there wasn't a spectacular answer as to why we decided to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle. I feel the same way when people ask me why we decided to adopt. There was no grand catalyst or life-changing event that caused our decision. It was just something we knew had to be done. Plain and simple.

I guess it all started when I became increasingly distressed by the amount of trash we were producing. I was taking a bag of trash out almost every day. EVERY day! I started realizing how much room I'd save if I could recycle the milk jugs and cardboard boxes...but I didn't know where or how to get recycling set up, so I let it go.

When we finally moved and I had to set up trash service at our new house I asked about recycling and, as they say, the rest is history. I became a recycling fool. Every scrap of paper and piece of plastic went into a bin. Soon I had to buy more bins just to accommodate all of it. (I guess I hadn't learned about "precycling" quite yet.)

I felt so good about cutting our landfill waste that I started to research other ways in which I could be kinder to the planet. Soon I was trading in my Windex for vinegar, fancy bath gel for bar soap, and bottled water for a SIGG (uh, back when we loved SIGG that is). I weaseled my way into working from home and we downsized our main car. We ditched paper towels, paper napkins, and plastic bags. I guess we tackled all of the typical first steps in "going green".

As we ticked the small changes off our list, we started looking at some of the bigger issues. We realized that we weren't just interested in being greener, but also in living a simpler lifestyle. We moved to the mountains, stopped spending as much, started a garden and a compost pile, built a greenhouse, and learned how to do more things for ourselves. I've become anti-plastic crap and pro homemade. I've even started cooking and baking from scratch a little bit, despite being horrid at both.

Next up for us is food. As I've mentioned here before my husband is a meat and potatoes kinda guy who hates veggies. My mother-in-law, who lives with us, is pastatarian - she doesn't eat meat, but doesn't like veggies. The kids are, well, kids.

In my perfect world, we'd cut back to eating meat maybe twice a week and base our diet more on vegetables, beans, and grains. I'd love to eat locally more often, make our garden larger (and more successful) next year, and preserve more than I have in the past two years. I'd also like to have my cupboards full of "real" food instead of boxed.

We have definitely made some progress in the area of food, but it's absolutely the least green area of our lives.

So there you have it: Our journey thus far and where we're going. It's the green rehabilitation of our lives.

This is my submission to the APLS December carnival on the subject of Green Journeys. The carnival is being hosted by the Conscious Shopper on December 18th.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to wear a sweater... on your head

In which Truffula makes short work of a new-to-her sweater by parking it on her noggin...

With the weather having taking a turn for the colder, I've been keeping a hat close at hand.  My favorite has turned out to be quite a conversation-starter.  One of the more amusing exchanges I had was on the subway platform on a commute home.  A fellow passenger wondered where I had gotten said hat; she was looking for a similar one for her son.  Little did she know that the hat had begun life as a...sweater!

It had been my sister's sweater.  After a round of closet cleanup, she gifted me with a box of her discards, which I was delighted to receive.  The sweater was the right size, only it had a number of holes in it.  Sure, I could have tried to patch the problem areas, but I was "in the market" for a wool hat.

Of course, I could have pulled out my knitting needles.  The way that would have worked, though, is that I would have obsessed over which pattern to use, and then over which yarn to buy.  I might have gotten as far as procuring the yarn, which would have then gathered its requisite layer of dust over the following months (those cold months, during which I could have used the hat).  On the hottest day of the next summer, I would have thought about coming back to the knitting project... Or, I could have used the nice, already knitted piece in front of me and repurpose it, which is exactly what I did.

My first step was to snip off the arms.  What to do with a pair of sweater arms?  When you have a then-little guy who spends a lot of time in a back carrier, which hikes up his pant legs, exposing those cute, chubby ankles and calves to the frosty air, you slip on sweater arms as leg warmers.

Time for the main event: the cutting of The Hat!   Capitalizing on the ribbed edge at the bottom of the sweater, I made that the bottom of my hat.  I measured the width needed to fit comfortablely on my head (about 22 inches), and determined how long I wanted the pointy end of the hat to be (about 20 inches), and took the scissors to the sweater's front.

Now, I needed matching "thread".  And, I knew I wanted a pom-pom on the hat's tip, also matching.  The best way to accomplish that was to recover yarn from the still unused portion of the sweater.  I started unraveling.  This is quite fun when it's not associated with pulling out work you've just spent hours on.  Because of the way the sweater was made, each row yielded one piece of yarn.  Still, it was long enough for my purposes.

I folded my cut "fabric" in half, with the wrong side facing out, and used the unraveled yarn to stitch up the cut edge.  Big, ugly stitches are fine here!  No one will see them!  Here's a closer view of part of the seam:

One step was left, and that was to make the pom-pom. There are many ways to do that.  I sort of made it up as I went along, but here is one set of pom-pom-making instructions.  (The unraveled yarn remains kinky even now.)

Here's a view of the entire hat, with the pom-pom sewed on:

The last thing to do is to plop the finished product on your head, and to head to a mirror to check out your handiwork!


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