Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Greenhabilitator Takes on Her Family First

Musings from The Greenhabilitator...

As I step out of the Booth for the first time, wearing my hand sewn cape made from a thrift store table cloth, I debate what the topic of my first post here should be.

I could tell you how sublimely green I am -- like how I can my own vegetables, or how my husband built our greenhouse this Spring from scrap lumber. But the truth is things never go quite according to plan in our household. You see, said greenhouse wasn't built with proper ventilation. The inside has been about eight thousand degrees all summer long, so we haven't actually been able to use it. Duh. And the animals ate our entire garden not once, but TWO times this summer. (I hope all of those hot peppers burned a hole right through them!) So my "harvest" thus far has consisted of one single green bean. The vegetables I've been canning are actually from the farmer's market.

Yes, even green superheroes fail sometimes. We get offtrack. We get busy and pick up GoGurt for our kids at the grocery store, because it's so darn convenient. We see something so stinkin' cute and buy it just because we want it! You gotta problem with that?

I've never completely fallen off the green wagon. You won't catch me guzzling bottled water or using pesticides in my garden or driving a Hummer. As people who have been through some sort of rehab will tell you though, you have to keep working at it. There's never a point where you stop and say "I'm cured!" Sometimes you even go back into rehab just to solidify your direction when you feel you might be going astray.

The same is true for the greenhabilitation of our lives. And what better way to get back to basics than with a compact? I feel as if a compact (that's not buying new things, if you're not familiar) is sort of a fast for environmentalists. Or what we used to call a "revival" when I was growing up in the bible belt. It can be almost painful at times, but it reminds you of what is really important in life, what is needed versus wanted, and it stimulates your creativity as well.

Call me crazy for doing this as we enter the holiday season but if anyone can do it it's The Greenhabilitator!

Will our superhero be able to resist the Target clearance rack? Will she plan far enough ahead to make Christmas gifts for everyone on her list? Stay tuned as The Greenhabilitator embarks on this restorative process.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Plastic Pollution

From Jess of Sweet Eventide.

I am truly honored to share a personal story and some photos with you all today. I heard the story last Christmas, but it wasn't until last week that I saw the photos. Immediately I sent them over to Green Bean and she asked me to share them with Green Phone Booth readers.

The background story: my oldest and best friend's (creative, talented and all-around great) boyfriend Sean surprised her last Christmas with a photo book called, "Plastic Pollution."

They had been having a conversation about plastic vs. paper grocery bags and Sean told me it made him notice plastic pollution "EVERYWHERE.""


Like railways....

...and beautiful rural areas...

...and sadly, in beautiful blue waters...

Now, most everyone these days knows that plastic bags are bad. But a picture really is worth a thousand words, isn't it? These photographs simultaneously break my heart and fill me with awe. If there is someone you know still nonchalantly using plastic bags, perhaps you'll share this link to more of Sean's photos of plastic pollution.

photo credits: Sean Green

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Welcome a New Eco Hero

A big Green Phone Booth welcome to our newest eco hero, Kellie from Greenhab: The Browns Go Green, also known as The Greenhabilitator. You can read about her caped (hand made of course!) adventures here every Saturday. Please join me in welcoming Kellie!

At home, her children call her a green momster, but when she steps into the phone booth, this mom of three becomes.....the Greenhabilitator!

On a never-ending quest to diminish her footprint, the Greenhabilitator looks at everything that passes through her hands and asks one question: "How can this be done in a more eco-friendly way?"

Wielding a sewing machine and a sharp tongue, the Greenhabilitator fights back against consumerism and planned obsolescence. She holds the power to whip up hand made gifts at a moment's notice and pack waste-free lunches every day of the year.

Follow along as the Grenhabilitator works to brings back a simpler way of life for herself and her family.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Future Gardener Seeks Guidance

The Conscious Shopper dreams about her future garden.

This post is basically the exact opposite of Green Bean's post where she included all those amazing pictures of her yard. Here's Green Bean's yard. Here's mine:

We just moved into this house two months ago, and although we're renting, our wonderful landlords said, "Go right ahead," when we asked if we could plant a garden. I'm a serious plan-ahead kind of girl, so okay, okay, I know its months away from Spring, but I've got to be ready!

A Few Things to Consider


Since we're renting, our housing situation is not permanent. We're not planning on moving for at least five years, but there's no guarantee our landlords won't decide to sell the place out from under us. And I can't say for sure that our own plans are set in stone. (Remember, we've already moved six times in seven years.)

So that puts some limits on our landscaping plans. I read a fabulous book called Landscaping with Fruit that suggested using blueberry bushes in a foundation planting (the area in front of a house by the front door). Great idea!...Until I discovered how many years it takes before blueberry bushes produce fruit. I need to stick with fruits and vegetables that produce within a season.


Also because we're renters, we don't want to invest too much money on the landscaping. I admit that because I love landscaping and gardening, we will probably end up spending more on the yard than smart spenders would recommend. But I'm going to try to keep it within reason.


We have the smallest yard in the history of backyards. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but not by far. Our lot is .09 acres, and most of that is taken up by the house. I want to have a pretty sizable garden, but I also need to leave space in the backyard for the boys to play.

The Plan

The top picture is where I plan to put the garden beds because it's the sunniest part of our lot. I'm thinking three beds that measure 2' X 8' - is two feet too narrow? I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture, but our backyard is a small hill, so the beds will have to be terraced with space between for standing. I can also put in some plants close to the fence, but that spot gets a little less sun because of the shade from the fence.

There's a lot of space on the front steps for some containers, and I could add some hooks to the porch roof for hanging plants. Has anyone tried those Topsy Turvy tomatoes?

I thought this side yard would make a good spot for a fruit bed, but it's a secondary priority to getting the backyard garden in. Our landlords used this spot for extra parking space, so I'm sure the soil needs lots of work.

This is the other side of our backyard. It gets less sun because of two trees in our neighbor's yard that pleasantly shade the house. I'm thinking flowers and grasses around the porch, but this is also less of a priority than the garden beds.

Your Turn

Okay, all you gardeners out there. Please help! If this was your yard, what would you do? What plants would you choose? Where would you put them? How can I make my yard pretty but still functional?

I need your guidance!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Growing in America

From the bean of Green Bean.

by Ima Greenie, reporter at The Daily Planet

The importance of volunteerism was a recurring theme in Barack Obama's campaign last fall. As President Elect, he and his wife, Michelle Obama, participated in a National Day of Service and planted the seed for more active participation by America's citizens. Since taking office, the President has also launched in the hope of spurring the country's couch potatoes to rise up and give back.

One local woman claims that the President's efforts have born fruit, and vegetables, in her own neighborhood. Ms. Green Bean invited us into her front yard to discuss the growing volunteer movement. As we walked through her front yard garden, Ms. Bean pointed to a spot of purple flowers brewing with bumble bees. "This would not have been here but for the budding volunteer movement," she confided. Ms. Bean explained that she and her young sons had endeavored to plant a sunflower house but that the house never came into being. Apparently, a hoard of pests devoured the sunflower and bean seeds as they sprouted and left Ms. Bean with a large empty patch of soil.

"Someone must have heard our call for volunteers," she hypothesized, "because, before we knew it, all this sprang up to take the place of the sunflower house. Were it not for the borage and Queen Anne's Lace, well, this would just be bare land."

Ms. Bean says that volunteers have also risen up on the sidewalk strip in front of her house. Hulking sunflowers the size of basketball players, California poppies and flirty Cosmos. She even indicated that a sungold tomato plant - one which she assures us she did not plant - emerged in her back yard.

But others say that Ms. Bean's yard is not proof of any budding movement. Rather, they say, volunteering has always been alive and well in this neck of the woods for many years. "You reap what you sew," said Ms. Bean's neighbor who noted that Ms. Bean had let her Cosmos and borage go to seed last year.

Tell that to Ms. Green Bean though, as she walks amongst her borage and sunflowers, and thanks all those volunteers who made her front yard possible.

If the growing volunteer movement has impacted you personally, please contact this reporter. with details.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Life - The longest running infomercial.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Something strange has happened to me. Last week my daughter and I headed to the Mall of America for some back to school shopping and this past weekend the kids and I went to Six Flags for a last hurrah before school starts. Either situation thrust me amongst more people than I have been around in a long time, but the two combined was sensory overload. I did not realize how commercial the world was until I removed myself from it. I am not saying that I have become a hermit. I was all over this summer... weekly trips to the farmers' market, cooking demonstrations, organic farm tours, thrift store shopping, the library, a play, organic milk rally, town hall meeting with Secretary of Agriculture - Tom Vilsack, rides on the bike trail, charity events, screening of Food Inc, the list goes on and on. I think I have been in ignorant bliss, living in an alternative world where there are no commercials or advertisements, free from the marketing onslaught of reality.

These past few weeks have been an eye opener. I used to love the mall - I worked there for six years. The sights, sounds, and smells were of comfort, like a second home. Now they make me want to run for the exit to breathe fresh air and clear my head. All those people milling about... like rats in cage. The salespeople either ignore you, are disgruntled that they have to deal with you, or cling to you like a cheap suit. It made me miss the farmers' market where the "salespeople" greet me by name and always have a smile. It is a different kind of familiarity that I am accustomed to, unlike the chatter of the mall. I am dreading the month of November when my farmers' market shuts down for the year and I have to return to the supermarket for food. The cold aisles, bright lights, tinny music, and beep beep beep of the checkout scanner do not appeal to me at all.

Then there was our trip to Six Flags this weekend. That was a marketing slap in the face er, punch in the gut. I felt like a prisoner undergoing a brainwashing experiment. Everywhere I turned was an advertisement of one sort or another. Giant banners everywhere with brands emblazoned on them. Commercials blasted over the airwaves. Multiple televisions positioned at every angle to assault you while waiting in line - Have you ever tried watching nothing but commercials for an hour? Even the rides themselves were sponsored by a product - Do I really need to read about ketchup while on The Demon? At one point while waiting in line I noticed a girl using sign language and thought how lucky she was to be deaf. Terrible, I know! Even the gas station on the way home had a television atop each pump. I purposely pay at the pump to avoid the store and all the products in it, now I cannot even do that. At least when they were static signs I could choose to look the other way. It is harder to ignore when it is blasting in your ear. I felt completely violated.

Returning home I breathed a sigh of relief like no other. Ahhhh..... Quiet. The occasional commercial may drift in during an episode of 'Drop Dead Diva' or in-between songs on the radio, but only because I choose to allow it. I am in control of my home. I have stopped nearly all junk mail, removed myself from all catalog mailing lists, signed up for the no-call registry, and know how to use the power button on the remote control. As far as the outside world, the best I can do is choose to not put myself in those situations. Pay at the pump, shop locally-owned boutiques, become a thrifter, use the library, meet the people who grow your food at the farmers' market, let nature be your entertainment, and so on.

I was happy in my ignorant bliss, as people usually are, only this time a dose of reality was a different kind of wake up call. One that had me craving more of the same, reaffirming my alternative lifestyle. Obviously marketing cannot be avoided - life is like the longest running infomercial. What is featured in yours?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

End of Summer Secrets

The Conscious Shopper shares some link love.

It is so freakin' hot here in North Carolina right now, so I thought I'd devote this week's Superheroes Secrets to the dog days of summer.

Thirsty? Eco Child's Play reveals that SIGG has fessed up: their "water-based epoxy liner, long rumored (but never confirmed) to contain BPA, indeed had BPA all along." They've since switched to a BPA-free liner, but it's oh so frustrating to find out that even the "good" companies lie.

Fight the heat with 32 Unique Homemade Popsicle Recipes from Tree Hugging Family (from the traditional like "fudge pops" to the I'm-not-sure-my-kids-would-eat-that like "sweet potato pops"). Or work with the heat to make fruit leather on the dashboard of your car with this recipe from Bring on the Lloyds.

My favorite way to combat the heat is to grab a good book and get comfy in the rocking chair under the ceiling fan on my screened-in porch. Note that if you try this, make sure that your children are napping or properly supervised by someone else as the humidity is likely to induce a mid-afternoon siesta. But if you can keep yourself awake, you might want to give one of the new books on my to-read list a try:
And lastly, here are some lovely pictures to inspire you to enjoy the outdoors during these last few weeks of summer.

Photo by lepiaf.geo

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Big Green Move Checklist

The Conscious Shopper hopes this checklist will make her next move easier.

My husband and I have moved six times in the seven and a half years of our marriage, and I'm sick, sick, sick of moving. Every move has its annoying qualities, but this one has been particularly annoying because I focused so much during the last year on greening our life, and I feel like in many ways I'm starting all over. Except that I can't remember what it was I did in the first place.

I'm a big fan of itemized lists with little boxes for checking, so I decided that what I need is a "green moving list." And since JessTrev is in the middle of a move and a Green Phone Booth reader (Cath) commented on my last post that she will be moving soon also, I thought I'd make this list available to all of you as well.

The list here includes comments and tips, but you can also click on the title below to get to a printable Google doc version.

Big Green Move Checklist

Before Moving

___Declutter. (Don't wait until the last minute to do this or you'll just end up tossing everything in the trash can. Plan ahead and you can unload most of your unwanted belongings on Craigslist, Freecycle, the thrift store, and lucky friends. Dispose of what's left responsibly at your recycling center and hazardous waste site.)
___Locate sources of boxes and packing supplies. (Did you know you can find listings for used boxes on Craigslist and Freecycle? Uhaul also has a Box Exchange forum, or you could rent plastic bins from a green moving company such as this.)
___Hire an eco-friendly mover if using one.
___Clean old place with nontoxic cleaners.

After Moving

Junk Mail:
___Register with the Direct Market Association's Mail Preference Service.
___Opt-out of credit card mailing lists by calling 1-888-567-8688.
___Register with Catalog Choice.
___Register with ProQuo.

___Give away your used boxes or recycle them if they're too far gone.
___Set up a recycling center in your new house.
___Start a compost pile or bin.
___Check your new area's recycling guidelines.
___Locate your recycling center, yard waste center, and hazardous waste drop-off location.

___Check out the farmer's market. (Look on Local Harvest.)
___Find local sources of humanely raised, hormone-free beef, pork, chicken, eggs, and dairy. (Try Eat Wild.)
___Locate the nearest eco-friendly grocery store or co-op. (Check the Eat Well Guide.)
___Research CSAs. (Look on Local Harvest.)
___Locate restaurants that use locally grown foods. (Check the Eat Well Guide.)
___Map out a spot for your vegetable garden.

___Put up a clothesline if you don't already have one.
___Set up power strips to keep your vampires under control.
___Put in CFLs and/or LEDs.
___Install a programmable thermostat if you don't have one.
___Check for and seal air leaks around windows, doors, outlets, entrances to attics and crawlspaces, and in attics and basements.
___Add insulation where necessary.


___Put a bottle in the toilet.
___Replace showerheads with low-flow varieties.
___Install aerators in your faucets.
___Install water barrels.

___Look up your new house on Walk Score.
___Check out your new city's public transportation options.

___Meet your neighbors.
___Start a swap network.
___Locate your thrift stores and consignment stores.
___Join Freecycle in your new area.
___Locate your parks, libraries, and museums.
___Locate your local green groups and get involved.

If you have any other suggestions, be sure to let me know, and I'll add them to the Google doc.

photo by NeitherFanboy

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In the Mix

From the bean of Green Bean.

My eyes flicker open.

I hear voices, muffled by closed doors and 6 year old effort. Footsteps run back and forth from bedroom to bedroom, no doubt dragging a blanket full of stuffed animals or the fireman costume behind them.

Summer draws to a close and soon, mornings will be filled with frantically packed lunch boxes, congealed cereal that didn't get eaten before the carpool arrived, and mismatched socks that are "close enough." Until then, though, I've got a week's worth of mornings. Of dutch baby pancakes and clafouti for breakfast. Of trying new recipes and fiddling with eggs and flour and a smidge of honey. After that, it's all about mixes.

Oh, not Bisquick or some fancy Whole Foods brand that costs $6 to make four pancakes. My own mix. Made from ingredients I've chosen, purchased for a fair price and ready at my convenience without a shred of packaging. Convenience without the inconvenience.

Here's the recipe for a DIY pancake/waffle mix that I love (adapted from Country Living):

7 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
8 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt

Place ingredients in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly. Transfer to air tight canister and store for up to 3 months.

For pancakes: Put 2 cups of mix in a medium mixing bowl and add 2 egg, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 cup milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir until just combined. Make pancakes on a medium hot griddle.

For waffles: Put 2 cups mix in a medium mixing bowl and add 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 1/2 cup milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir until just combined. Make waffles on preheated waffle iron.


Turns out I'm not the only one thinking of saving time, money and packaging. Check out Small Notebook for a Simple Home for DIY bread mixes. Do you have any DIY mixes you love?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to Eww! School

Bleatings from EnviRambo

As my now 13 year old daughter - who outgrew everything she owns over the summer - and I head off into the land of consumerism in search of a whole new wardrobe, I will have this post on the forefront of my mind. I originally wrote this last year on my personal blog Greeen Sheeep as my submission to the Green Moms Carnival: Back to School Edition.

WSMS Supply List - Grade 7
  • 1 large zippered 3-ring binder
  • 1 3-ring 1" binder (for reading class)
  • 1 3-ring 1" soft cover binder (for science)
  • 1 pencil pouch
  • 9 spiral notebooks
  • 1 3 subject notebook with pocket dividers (for English)
  • 1 ruler with centimeters & inches
  • 1 box of colored pencils or markers
  • 1 compass
  • 4 plain blue pocket folders
  • 1 protractor
  • 2 black pens
  • 1 pair scissors
  • 2 blue pens
  • 1 eraser
  • 2 fine point black markers
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 1 box of regular pencils
  • 1 calculator
  • 2 large boxes of Kleenex
  • 2 highlighters - different colors
  • 1 plain green pocket folder - choir
  • 1 plain pocket folder - general music
  • 1 roll 3/4" Scotch tape
  • 1 pad of 100 Post-it notes 3"x3"
  • 1 3 subject notebook for both years of Spanish
In our blended family of two children (five, if you count the Ex-wife's other three) and four parents back to school shopping is split. Ew (Ex-wife) buys the school supplies and Hubby I buy the clothes.

I cringe when the chitlins return home from the summer with their new backpacks stuffed to the gills with all new supplies. The contents of their cheap crappy ass backpacks (that never last past the first week without some major malfunction) never coincide with the list put out by the school. The list is available online, the school mails it out, and every store known to man has it prominently displayed as soon as you walk in the door. She can read, can't she? Come on!! Could you get it right just for one year, please?! After nine years you think one would get the hang of it. Geesh.

As if that is not irking enough, the amount of resources being wasted drives me up the wall! Every time I hear the zipper on that backpack open for the first time it's like fingernails on a chalkboard. *shivering*

There are so many supplies from previous years stashed in totes in the basement that I could start my own Back to School store. I have stocked my craft room completely from purchases made by Ew, created a kids craft/activity area in the basement from other Ew leftovers, and still have totes full of Ew's wasted money. She is always complaining they do not have any money. Why then does she spend needlessly?

The chitlins both have large zippered 3-ring binders from last year and previous years that are well enough to reuse this year. We have amassed a pile of half used notebooks. We even have notebooks that are untouched from previous years! I have used all the folders I can for household organizing and still have enough to supply the chitlins for the school year.

One shelf in my workroom contains nothing but 3-ring binders. There are no less than half a dozen plastic rulers floating around the house. The markers/ colored pencils/ crayons got so out of control I started giving them to the school art room and daycares. Pens and pencils. Oy ve! Do we really need to buy more pens and pencils?! I think I can find two black and two blue in there somewhere. A protractor is a protractor; as a compass is a compass. Do you really need a new one every year? Same with calculators. I have yet to see one go bad in a year. In fact, I have yet to see one quit, period.

Why, why, WHY are we bringing more of this stuff into our house? Why is Ew spending money that she does not have on stuff the chitlins already own? It just does not make sense. Never mind the fact that half this crap is plastic and made from virgin materials. What lesson are we teaching our children?

As adults we do not go out and buy all new office supplies just because it is a new year. So, why then with our children? When will it become acceptable to wear the same clothes as last year? Use all of the paper in a notebook before starting another one? Reuse a backpack/binder/folder? Keep the same protractor/compass/calculator throughout your school career? Use markers/colored pencils/crayons until they are gone? These things should be encouraged not looked down upon.

People are quick to judge and have tendencies to slap on the poor label if someone buys secondhand, mends, repurposes, doesn't have the new latest and greatest. I will revel the day when it is thought shameful to show up for the first day of class wearing the fashions of the moment, sporting a new backpack chock full of pristine bleached white paper, plastic mechanical pencils, a cool new calculator with whatever cartoon/pop star is hot at the moment sprawled across it, glossy folders touting the same, pens, fresh post it notes, and a pvc lunchbox containing a disposable prepackaged lunchable.

My dream school supply list:
For more Back to School musings check out the Green Mom's Carnival that was hosted at Organic Mania on August 11.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Make Your Own Secrets

"The greenest thing you buy is the thing you don't buy." Or at least that's the hot topic over at Mother Nature Network. Check out Old Is the New Green to see how long greenies across the Web use things.

If the greenest thing is what we don't buy, how green are the things we make on our own? I'm thinking pretty green.

A Sonoma Garden offers up detailed instructions on how to make your own deodorant. I'm using up the last of my LUSH deodorant and then it's back to the drawing board on the deodorant. I'm thinking this homemade deodorant is on that drawing board.

Another DIY comes from the personal blog of our very own The Conscious Shopper. Want fresh Febreezy-scent without the synthetic chemicals? Try her recipe for all natural, eco-friendly air freshener.

What is greener DIY than when it comes to repurposing? Check out these "Franken Fixes" or DIY Gone Wild over at Mother Nature Network and never look at a soda bottle or power drill the same way again.

What about cutting costs and waste by making your own bagels? I've tried it and it was pretty fun if a little time consuming. Towards Sustainability, though, offers a quicker and easier way to make bagels using a bread machine.

Speaking of eating on the cheap, anyone checked out 30 Bucks a Week? It is a blog about a couple that aims to live on, well, thirty bucks a week. I assumed it would be all bargain Ritz crackers and Happy Meals but not so! These guys have a CSA, shop a coop and more.

Turns out, eating inexpensively is all about cooking from scratch - the way our grandmothers did. Here's a review of a delightful and informative cookbook circa WWII - The Victory Cookbook.

As I finish up this post, I'm feeling pretty happy. What's the reason? I'm headed out to the garden and, well, I just feel better out there. Is it the fresh air, the gentle breezes, the bountiful tomato plants or the buzzing bees? One study suggests it is none of those things but actually the dirt under my fingernails. This study finds that soil bacteria makes us feel better and may actually be the cure for depression. Another reason to get out there and grow something. (Thanks to tweet-buddy, BasilLeaf for pointing this study out to me.)

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Birds of a feather flock... in the rose bush

In which Chez Truffula finds room for one, two, three, nope, four more.

Especially in the afternoon, our front porch is a major thoroughfare. We've got little people coming and going, and coming, and going. First a friend comes to angle for playmates, then said playmates dash out. They pop back in, first for bikes, then for water because they are thirsty, then for walkie-talkies because they are heading farther afield... It's not a quiet place. No, not at all.

On one of the TruffulaBoyz forays back outside, Mr. Truffula noticed a bird, disturbed by the commotion, fluttering away. On closer inspection, he saw that the bird, a female robin, had come from on top of the lattice which hides our electric meter, and supports the rose (which blooms so beautifully and fragrantly each Spring). Not only that, but she had some long, dry grass dangling from her beak. That's because she was in the process of building a nest.

A nest?! Good heavens! What a location! Cozy, yes. Protected, yes (thorns, anyone?). Secluded, not so much.

Frau Robin kept building, and we, now aware of her presence and important task, kept observing. She finished her construction project. We noticed the addition of one egg, perfect in shape and color. And then, there was another, just like it.

The next day, the two eggs were joined by a third, and incubation began in earnest. We watched her sit, tucked into her nest, patiently warming the eggs beneath her. She flew off at every human arrival and departure, of which there were many. We tried to slip quickly and quietly past her, so as to disturb as minimally as possible, to little avail. Sometimes, we used an alternate door; those were, of course, the times when young friends trotted up to the front door nevertheless.

Over the course of the passing days, Frau Robin grew on us, as we became increasingly mindful of her vigilant presence. And, apparently, we grew on her. Sudden movements continued to startle her, but we began to be able to walk past her without her flying away. Maybe she knew how much we were rooting for her, hoping that all of her eggs would hatch out successfully, unhampered by two- or four-legged disturbances.

Two weeks later, we spied two eggs... and a newly minted hatchling, so small, delicate, and vulnerable in appearance. Over the next day, the other two birdies hatched out, too. Whew! Another milestone reached!

Frau Robin's mission changed dramatically. She stopped sitting, and started gathering food for her babies. Lots of it. We now saw her out and about in the yard, looking for goodies to bring back. I thought selfishly of my ripening blackberries, but under the circumstances of hungry mouths to feed, I put on a more generous attitude. The nestlings didn't discriminate. In their minds, anything hovering near the nest = FOOD DELIVERY. That included us, as we respectfully came to visit. Their necks started craning, and we could hear their beaks clapping as they opened and closed their mouths in anticipation of tasty morsels.
One evening, we all sat just inside the open front door, waiting to catch sight of a feeding session. As we waited, one son was engrossed in his Harry Potter book. The other demonstrated exactly how much energy bubbles out of a 5-year-old, especially when trying to sit still in anticipation. Our patience was rewarded, to our delight, and that of the babies, who welcomed their mama with eager peeps.

A week later, the offspring had already grown considerably, and they were now covered with dark feathers:

And then, they were gone. All four of them. Just as suddenly as Frau Robin had entered our lives, she and her new family parted ways with us.

I miss them. During the month they were there, checking on the bird and its eggs became a habit. What a privilege to have such a front-row seat for this miraculous process! The now-empty nest remains sitting on top of the trellis, and none of us have sighted our guests since they left the nest. I can hear the many birds in the yard, and like to think that "our" feathered friends are among them. Frau Robin, I'll leave a blackberry on the vine for you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Overcoming Green Envy

The Conscious Shopper preaches on her favorite subject, "Green on the Cheap," for this month's APLS Carnival. Learn more about living environmentally friendly on a budget on August 19 at Going Green Mama.

The day I discovered green blogs, I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me. Here were people who were working on the same goals and were passionate about the same subjects as I was! I felt so lucky to have found them and so grateful that they were sharing their lives online.

But after a few months of reading, I began to feel a new, uncomfortable feeling: green envy. Those bloggers seemed to have all the latest green technologies and toys. Their houses were decorated with beautiful sustainable materials. They wore eco-friendly clothing and drove energy efficient cars. Their children played with handmade toys made from natural materials, and they would have never let their babies drink from a plastic bottle.

I began to feel like an olive green gal blogging in a crayon box filled with forest greens. I can't afford all that stuff - green or not! And if I'm not buying all those "green" products, does that make me less green?

Maybe not.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away millions of tons of trash a year, including 71.6 million tons of paper, 31.6 million tons of yard waste, 15.3 million tons of metal, 14.4 million tons of plastic, and 13.2 million tons of food scraps, 12.5 million tons of glass, and 20.8 million tons of miscellaneous items.

And that's just the end result of all of our waste. Annie Leonard reminds us in The Story of Stuff that "for every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream just to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb. So even if we could recycle 100 percent of the waste coming out of our households, it doesn’t get to the core of the problem."

So maybe I can't afford all those shiny new green toys. But by making do with what I have, I prevent more waste from being produced during manufacturing, and I avoid adding something else to the landfill.

Going green can be expensive - at least in some ways - but sometimes the greenest path is also the cheapest. And once I realized that, my green envy subsided, and I was able to get creative with what I have.

Here are some of the ways I'm making do:

If I were a gazillionaire environmentalist, I would drive a Tesla. Oh, beautiful, beautiful car, why do you tease me with your sleek design and fuel efficiency? Alas, I will never be able to afford a Tesla, and it will be awhile before we can buy a Prius, so for now I'm making do by driving less and walking more.

I'm renting, so I can't upgrade my appliances to the Energy Star variety (not that I could afford to anyway), so I'm making do with my energy sucker of a dryer by line drying all of our clothes. And since we don't have a clothesline outdoors, I make do by line drying our clothes on hangers hung on shower rods. It's not the most attractive method, but it gets the job done.

Someday, I'd love a house with solar panels and one of those miniature wind turbines on my roof. But for now, I'm making do by slaying our vampires, being conscious of our overall energy use, and using less A/C and more ceiling fans.

Since we just moved to this house a month ago, I've had the golden opportunity to design without a dime. Instead of buying new stuff to fit the house, I'm making do by decorating with what I have. And honestly, seeing how great all my stuff looks in this new location has made me fall in love with old purchases all over again.

I'd love to toss out all of those plastic electronic toys we've picked up over the years and replace them with some beautiful wood and handmade options. But since my kids can't understand the concept of "taking care of your things" and therefore cannot be the owners of expensive toys, we're making do by getting crafty with our garbage. So far we've made castles out of plastic flower pots and some cereal box houses to go with the wooden little people we painted.

I could go on and on here. Our computer needs replacing. Our couches are wearing thin. We've had the same towels since we got married. And I can't count how many times I've been asked, "When are you going to get a new TV?" I would love to upgrade my entire home to a newer, greener model with a beautiful sustainable garden, a hybrid in the driveway, and solar panels on the roof, and maybe eventually, over time, I will. But for now, I'm making do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Grow, Therefore I Am

From the bean of Green Bean.

Last week, when I posted about my front yard garden, I mean, farm, a number of you asked for more information. For photos, directions, and step by step details on how my front yard went from suburbarama to Michelle Obama.

I can't say what works for everyone but I can say what worked for us. Here's how we did it.


Start monitoring your space. Where is the sun and when. Any pockets of shade. Particularly warm spots. Get to know the mini microsystems of your yard.

I'm a fan of front yard farming but frankly, if my front yard didn't get full sun, I wouldn't have as much planted out there as I do. Amongst, the ornamentals, I'd stick in some blueberry bushes, some strawberry plants and whatever else can tolerate shade or part sun. Fortunately, we're full sun in the front yard so its full farm.

If your front yard ends up being a hospital place for edibles, the next step is to find out (a) what kind of garden you want and (b) what you want to plant in it.

For (a), I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of an edible anywhere. I ogled. I took photos. I stalked the Path to Freedom web site. I decided what I liked and what I didn't. Check out my Edible Exhibitionism post for a number of photos of front yard farming to get an idea of the different styles of Victory Gardens. Envirorambo's post on Day with a Chef has some lovely photos of a kitchen garden as well.

I finally decided I wanted a garden where flowers and edibles intermingled rather than in rows or raised beds. I invested in a two hour consultation with a local landscaper who specializes in edibles. We talked about my front yard, the fact that I have occasional hooved guests meander through, that I needed to protect my plants against the deer but that I also wanted something attractive that wouldn't stand out as an obvious vegetable garden in the middle of a dense suburban neighborhood.


The consultant suggested a low fence with deer resistant plants tucked in along the edges so that my visitors would hopefully stick their heads over the fence and be deterred by the Shasta daisies, yarrow and sage growing there. I've always wanted an arbor so we decided to break up the fence (opted for white picket because it's just so, well, you know, white picket) and stick a gate and arbor in the middle. I have a flagstone path along the side of my house and we decided to have it meander through the front yard, forking mid-garden to lead under the arbor with one path and to the front door with the other.

The path helped to break up the yard into manageable planting beds. By curving the planting beds and the path, the yard appeared a bit more traditional and a little less, well, "farm-ish". The arbor provided a vertical growing surface.

We also have a patch of dirt between that side of the yard and the driveway as well as a thick sidewalk strip of land in between the sidewalk and the street. We put in matching flagstone paths in both of those areas to tie them together with the "main farm" directly in front of the house and under the arbor.


Over the last two years, we've slowly de-lawned the front yard. First extending the flower beds and then ripping out patches (e.g., the sidewalk strip and the driveway patch). Our soil here is clay and leaves much to be desired.

In each place we've taken away lawn, we've replaced it with a sheet mulch - alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen. That's a fancy way of saying, poke some holes in the ground, put down some black and white newspaper, then manure, then leaves or straw, then manure or compost, then finish it off with some wood chips or something similar to make it look nice and cut down on the smell. For a great how to on lasagna or sheet mulching, check out One Straw Revolution or get Gaia's Garden from the library.

Sheet mulching works by encouraging the critters in the soil to break down the materials you've laid down and increases biodiversity - always a good thing in the garden. It is a no till method of improving soil. You'll need at least six months for sheet mulch to break down. You can plant right in the sheet mulch but be prepared for what bugs that are part of the decompostition process can do to seedlings. It's not pretty.

Planting cover crop in sheet mulch, though, has worked nicely for me. It has helped improve the soil fertility while keeping weeds and pests at bay. Cover crop also often gives good bugs a place to overwinter. Heck, we even had a toad overwinter in our cover crop one year which is saying something given that I've never otherwise seen or heard a toad in the five years we've lived here. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply offers a fantastic mix of cover crop or you can plant favas and peas and harvest some of them. You do have to pull out the cover crop before most is ready to eat.

In my opinion, the sheet mulch is so worth it. Our soil has gone from yucky clay to a delightful loam full of microorganisms and fertility.


Even though my edible garden takes up most of my front yard, my front yard is pretty small. All of my edibles are squeezed in close together so I've had to pay close attention to putting plants together than like each other and keep edible enemies away. Carrots Love Tomatoes is a great guide to companion planting. Check out A Sonoma Garden for a handy chart of veggie friend and enemies. I just sketched out my yard, decided what had to go in what side and worked from there.

Having an arbor opened up a lot of space for me. I put in a grape on one side which is a perennial and will be there year after year. On the other side, I could have done squash, beans, or gourds. I opted for an Armenian cucumber but will likely put some peas there in the fall.

A cucumber growing on the arbor. On the other side is a grape vine.

View of the arbor and two of the front beds. Borage overgrew and
closed the path. On the left are potato runner beans and on the
right are Early Girl tomatoes, cayenne peppers and collard greens.
They are interplanted with penstemon, cosmos, borage, and
zinnias as well as various herbs.

I didn't want a lot of fruit trees in my small but sunny garden but I did stick an espaliered 5 in 1 pear tree along the wall of the house where it won't bother any one. In addition, I put a pomegranate in the corner near the fence. Pomegranates and pineapple guavas are not much loved by deer and I felt that, in addition to providing lovely fruit some fall, it will help keep the deer out of the garden.

I heavily interplanted flowers with my edibles. First and foremost, it looks pretty. Second, I have zero pollination problems in my garden. It buzzes and undulates with bees and butterflies which pop around from squash blossom to zinnia with ease. (I also have a pollinator garden on the sidewalk strip which helps.) Third, interplanting keeps pests at bay. Many bugs are repelled by marigolds and various flowering plants. Deer dislike herbs such as borage and lavender. The sunflowers in the pollinator garden keep the squirrels busy. And, as I said before, the variety of plants makes it less likely that I'll have a swarm of any one pest as beneficial insects are likely also hanging out somewhere in the garden. Monoculture = bad. My busy, crazy garden = polyculture = good! :)

The zinnias were an Easter gift for my boys from my sister.
If you look closely, you can see the watermelon and sage
tucked behind them. The only other edibles in this bed
are chammoile and rosemary and a grape vine.

I also spent a fair amount of time figuring out what grows best in my neck of the woods. Some of it was based on past experience. I've been gardening for several years but mostly flowers up until two years ago. I live on the cool San Francisco Bay Area peninsula. That means it rarely gets really really hot. "Early" varieties are nice because I don't have a 120 day growing season of hot weather. I opted for cherry tomatoes and Early Girls after years of watching my heirloom tomatoes throw off only a couple sickly looking tomatoes here and there. An early watermelon offered by a Pacific Northwest seed catalog is doing nicely in my yard.

Big is also better here in the Bay Area. That way, even if a particular variety does not grow to full size, at least I end up with something. The giant pumpkins currently looming in the front yard are an example of that as are last year's Jumbo Banana Squash. We're still eating frozen puree from the latter.

Here are two of our giant pumpkins. They reside just outside our
front door and are interplanted with zinnias and borage.

This is where research in the form of paying attention to microclimates pays off. Sunny spots along a wall - where sun might bounce off - are great for heat loving veggies. Winter squash with their enormous leaves can help shade another plant. Think three sisters. Cooler pockets might be nice for herbs or berries.

Finally, as common advice goes, I only plant things I like to eat. I hate eggplant. Sorry, but I do. And therefore you won't find any growing here.


What I've described is just where most of the edibles congregate. I've got a few peppers and raspberries tucked in the pollinator garden. In the backyard, where it's much shader, blueberries, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, strawberries and herbs share space with flowers. Two baby apple trees, a mature orange and a mature lemon tree poke out of the corners. I also have two raised beds for lettuce, onions, carrots, radishes and other root crops.

Pollinator garden on the sidewalk strip.

Other side of the sidewalk strip pollinator garden.


Pick your tomatoes, ogle your melons, nibble your grapes and enjoy the fruits of your labor. I love my front yard garden and all the wonderful things that comes with it: the harvest, the community, the peace, and the beauty.

Our harvest of flame seedless grapes. We got one bunch from
a bareroot plant I stuck in the ground in February.


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