Sunday, January 31, 2010

Superhero Secrets for a New Year

From the bean of Green Bean.

Photo courtesy of Jess Nichols at Sweet Eventide

Long time readers may notice that I've not posted much recently. I suppose I've been going through a little something lately. It all came spilling out the other day when I met blogger bud, Ruchi (aka Arduous) for cupcakes. Hey, a girl's gotta eat! Anywho, Ruchi, great gal that she is ended up typing up all my woes in a nifty little post that anyone who's been on this green journey for a while should read: "Is Living Sustainably Unsustainable".

It kind of reminds me of a post Burbs put up here on the Booth a few months after retiring: "To Crazy and Back Again."

And just as I'm wondering whether anyone can live the "green life" forever, real life friend and regular Booth guest poster, Jess Nichols makes her own confession about falling off the eco-wagon.

Even though many of us greenies have backslid here and there, I still think we're headed in the right direction. Indeed, some argue that we are heading into the Century of Minimalism - one where "we'll all be learning to use less, reuse more, and find greater value in the things we have close at hand." Frankly, even this burnt out eco blogger thinks that sounds pretty good.

So good in fact, I might take up a few Zen Habits and make the Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then Do Even Less.

And, on that note, I'll do less right now by signing off. Happy Sunday.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is being green a religion? Or part of it?

Going Green Mama probably needs a good confession but will save it for another day...

Confession is good for the soul. Whether it's coming clean to a person you've wronged or admitting your wrongdoings in a faith-based situation, admitting your wrongdoings is the first step towards self-forgiveness and moving on.

A number of bloggers have waxed and worried about their "transgressions" lately. Sometimes it's as simple as replacing a broken product with something new, other times, it's a self-proclaimed binge.

And then, buried in the comments yesterday, is this charge:

Sounds like living green is becoming a religion.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But for me, it's part of living out my faith. You see, I look at being green as fulfilling a couple of things:
  • caring for God's creatures.
  • being wise with your resources you've been entrusted with.

You see, if you waste what you have, buying tons of junk, you've squandered money and surrounded yourself with stuff - keeping yourself from the joy of just living. On top of that, often we buy more than we need, and that money spent on stuff could have been used to help others in need.

I'm not alone in seeing greener living as part of living out your faith. Several Protestant churches, including Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, have signed The Genesis Covenant, which calls for its churches and its members to advocate for a reduction of greenhouse gases.

Episcopal Bishops last year wrote:

God entrusted the Earth to human care, and as faithful stewards of God’s
Creation, we need to understand the devastating impacts that global climate
change will have and is already having on human communities around the world.

Interestingly, being green was part of the Pope's New Year's Day message (on what's called the "World Day of Peace") this year. According to the St. Louis Review:

The degradation of the environment is a pressing moral problem that threatens
peace and human life itself, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"We cannot remain
indifferent to what is happening around us, for the deterioration of any one
part of the planet affects us all."

What do you think? Do you think being green is a kind of religion in itself, part of living out your faith, or do you do it for other reasons?

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Confession

Thoughts from reformed Target shopper and regular guest poster, Jess Nichols of Sweet Eventide.

Forgive me Earth, for I have sinned.

Last week, on the first big rainy day of the year (and a national holiday), I started out my day with my son with great intentions. We went to a park near a local lagoon because we like rain and we like nature. I video-taped him running and splashing in ginormous puddles barefoot with big smiles. Yay for Mama! Then the splashing came to an abrupt halt. Certain little boys had to go to the bathroom...and fast. Quick, what to do? Where to go? Ah, my memory told me good old Target was only a few blocks away.

You know how the two roads diverged in the woods? Well this time I took the path heavily traveled -- by the masses, by the products, by my bank account. It seems my panic over where to find a bathroom quickly expanded once inside the dry, brightly lit shopping mecca to panic over "What else are we going to do on this rainy day off from school?"

I know! We're going to buy lots of things! We're going to buy red tea lights made with petroleum and fake coloring and the itty bit flame will warm my heart and cheer my spirits. We're going to buy Twister Hopscotch, made in China, because at least it's not battery powered or violent! We're going to buy Nerf Basketball at the low, low price of $6 and get some of that little boy energy out.

I honestly already forget what else I threw in my cart because once those items went in, I had a little free-for-all in there. $60 later and yes! Give me as many plastic bags as you want today because I am too cold, tired and frenzied by panic to carry all this in my arms (which is my usual punishment when I forget my reusable bags in my car).

Sadly, the Nerf Basketball did work like a charm. It's been the best/worst $6 I've spent lately. I also see that I'm not the only person who is wondering lately how to maintain their sustainable lifestyle changes. Oh yes, the guilt aspect is huge when you are on a path to live a more sustainable life and then you mess up in some way. Why else would I have immediately photographed the evidence of my eco sins after I got home from Target? I wanted to punish myself with that photo.

Reading that post that I linked to above was very helpful in forgiving myself. We are human, and sometimes we make mistakes or bad decisions. Target is not my lifestyle anymore. I am a reformed Target shopper like many other people. Some people still shop there with glee. So as usual, I am doing better than some folks, and worse than others. This is true of each aspect of my life that I have tried to make more sustainable. I think the point is to not let the relapse become the way of life again. And I know, for me, it won't.

Maybe next time, I'll let my kid find a tree and go au naturel, and save myself all of this heartache/earthache.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One thing leads to another...

Musings from the Greenhabilitator...

Earlier this month I traded in my {plastic} bottle of shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one for a shampoo bar. That's actually what I started writing about tonight, but things took a different turn and I put that post on hold for now.

Sometimes I think doing trivial things like trading in a bottle of shampoo for a bar is just about the lamest thing going. The words of No Impact Man, Colin Beaven, (in his interview with Beth of Fake Plastic Fish) ring in my head so often when I do things like this ~
"...there’s a meme that goes like this: If we all just do one little bit, everything will be okay. That is actually not true, and it’s dangerous. Because if we don’t stop burning coal within the next eight years we’ll hit a tipping point and the planet itself will start to warm itself up. So this meme that’s out there about if we just all do one little bit, it’s false. We actually have to look at substantial lifestyle changes. That is not to say that everybody has to be No Impact Man over night. It is to say that the changes that we make should be meaningful, right?"
Here we are on the brink of global disaster and I'm thinking about shampoo? What kind of eco-hero am I? Shouldn't I be motivating the masses...or working on environmental campaigns...or...saving the whales or something???

That's pretty much when I stopped writing my blow-by-blow about how gross my hair has been feeling to reflect on how lame I am what I should be doing instead. Beth convinced Clorox to Take Back the Filter. Crunchy Chicken motivates hundreds (thousands?) of people with her challenges about freezing your buns and using cloth wipes. What can I do?

The truth is: I work, I take care of three kids under the age of 5, I act as chief domestic goddess, bill-payer, taxi driver, lunch-packer, cleaning lady and I just have no time or energy (never mind the brain cells needed) at the end of the day to be doing things of that caliber.

So here I sat. Thinking.

I decided to look back at Colin's blog, thinking maybe something would strike me which, of course, it did. It was Colin's Top 10 Eco-Lifestyle Changes. Number 10 on his list~
"Believe with all your heart that how you live your life makes a difference to all of us. We are all interconnected. We make a difference to each other on many different levels. Every step towards living a conscious life where we consider the consequences of our actions provides support to everyone else--whether you know it or not--who is trying to do the same thing. We are the masters of our destinies. Let's act as though it is so."
While I really would love to do something huge, something just isn't the time for me. For now, I keep it simple. I teach my kids the importance of being good stewards of the earth, I act as a good steward myself, I try out silly little things and pass my ideas and support on to others. I hope that I set a good example and inspire others to tread lightly as well. For the time being at least, that is my "big thing".

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blah Blah Bottled Water

Reasons to break up with bottled water from the Conscious Shopper

While ranting to my mom about my personal peeve with the overpackaging of otherwise green products, I mentioned that I had written a letter to Seventh Generation asking why their paper towels are wrapped in plastic although their toilet paper is wrapped in paper. My mom replied, "I don't even know where to find Seventh Generation paper towels."

I thought my mom hit on a major point. Many, many Americans are in the same boat as my parents, who live in a small town in Kentucky. They want to be more environmentally conscious, but the only place to shop is Walmart, and their town doesn't even collect recycling.

Luckily, there are still things they can do, and one of the simplest green steps they can take is to break up with bottled water.

I can already hear the protests:

"But my tap water isn't clean!"

The truth is, at least 40 percent of bottled water is tap water anyway, and most tap water meets the EPA's standards for water quality. But if you're still concerned about the cleanliness of your tap water, you can always buy a filter.

"But bottled water is more convenient!"

Buy a reusable water bottle. Get a nice stainless steel model, or go the No Impact Man route: recycle a glass jar. Seriously, if my kids can learn to carry a water bottle with them when they leave the house, you can do it too.

"I already reuse my water bottle. And then I recycle it."

Kudos on the reusing and recycling. The problem here is that the plastic used to make water bottles (PET) is not meant for multiple use and can lead to nasty stuff like bacteria and chemical-leaching.

"But bottled water tastes better!"

Okay, if you really like the taste of plastic, you've got me there, but at least consider that tap water costs on average .2 cents per gallon. That's 750-2700 times cheaper than bottled water. To find out how much money you're wasting on bottled water, check out this bottled water cost calculator from the New American Dream.

Need more reasons to give up bottled water? Peruse the Break the Bottled Water Habit challenge from the New American Dream and watch the movie Tapped.


A version of this post originally appeared on my personal blog, The Conscious Shopper, on October 22, 2008. Since I wrote it, I've added another item to my list of personal peeves: Attending so-called "green" events that serve bottled water. This drives me crazy! Or going to advocacy meetings with other greenies who are drinking bottled water. I remind myself that not everyone is on the same green level as me and that I am certainly an imperfect greenie myself. But still...carrying a reusable water bottle is such a simple step. It's like Going Green 101.

If you're still drinking bottled water, please consider obtaining a stainless steel water bottle. You'll recoup the cost after 10-20 uses. Simple, green, and frugal!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why I Started Eating Meat Again after 12 Years as a Vegetarian

Getting personal with The Conscious Shopper

This post has been in the works for about six months now, but I've been dreading sitting down to write it because of the possible backlash. I know how passionate vegetarians can be - I was one for 12 years. Some of this post also touches a little bit on my religious beliefs, which I generally like to keep personal and private. So please as you read this, keep an open mind, and be kind in your comments even if you disagree.

First the backstory:

I became a vegetarian on the day I started college, a few months before my 19th birthday, but I had been transitioning into vegetarianism for several years. I first started thinking about becoming a vegetarian when I was a freshman in high school after learning about factory farms, but when I told my mom, her response was basically, "Fine, but I'm not cooking you extra meals." As in, if you don't want to eat what I cook, you can make yourself a peanut butter sandwich. So I stopped eating meat for breakfast and lunch, but I still ate it when my mom served it for dinner.

In my early years as a vegetarian, I tried explaining to people about factory farms and the mistreatment of animals, but I got a lot of disbelieving and even mean responses, and since I'm not a confrontational person, I gave up trying to spread the vegetarian gospel. When people would ask why I was a vegetarian, I always said, "I don't think it's necessary to eat meat to survive. If it ever were necessary, I would eat meat, but with all of our modern conveniences, I don't need to, so I don't." This is a true answer, but it's not the whole answer. For me, vegetarianism was always about the animals.

On the other hand, I'm not a believer in animal rights, per se. Animals are animals, not people. I believe that animals should be treated with love and respect because they are God's creation. As humans, we were given stewardship over the earth, including caring for animals, and we're doing a really crappy job of it. How can we return to our Heavenly Father and explain that we kept his animals in tiny cages, fed them food they weren't created to eat, and filled them up with antibiotics...because we really like hamburgers? Out of respect for animals, but mostly out of my love for God and his beautiful earth, I chose to opt out of that system.

Which leads me to...

Why I started eating meat again:
  • I found new options. Back when I went veggie, there weren't any other options. Or maybe it just felt that way because I was living in rural Kentucky. Either way, for me the choices were eating factory farmed meat or giving up meat entirely. But when we moved to Raleigh a year and a half ago, we discovered all sorts of ways to obtain meat without supporting factory farms. There is an amazing farmers market and several CSAs with small family farms that care for the environment and raise their animals humanely. We have access to grass fed beef, pasture raised chickens (and eggs), and free range pork. One farm even has ostriches.
  • You can blame Michael Pollan (or Joel Salatin, or my own CSA farmer, Richard Holcombe). The more I read, the more convinced I became that animals are an important, if not essential, part of agriculture. Vegetarians always make the argument about how many people could be fed if we all stopped eating meat, but the numbers they use - the amount of corn and soy that could go to people instead of animals - are based on the amount of corn and soy we're growing with conventional farming methods (think chemical fertilizer and pesticides). If we stopped feeding all that corn to cows but also stopped spraying the soil with tons of fertilizer, would we still be able to grow as much corn? I don't know the answer for sure, but I do know that when farmers rotate crops and animals, the soil is naturally fertilized. Pigs also make great rototillers, and chickens make good pesticides. I still know very little about farming, but the method that involves both animals and plants seems to me to be a very beautiful, perfectly designed system.
  • My husband never wanted to be a vegetarian. I kind of forced him into it. The compromise when we got married was that we would have some vegetarian nights and some nights with a meat option (for example, I would eat spaghetti with marinara, he would eat spaghetti with meatballs). But as the years passed and I cooked more and more of our meals, the meat option nights grew farther and farther between until finally they disappeared all together. My husband never complained, but when we moved to Raleigh and suddenly had the option to buy ethically raised meat, he started asking for it. Finally, I asked him one day, "Do you want to drink Coke or do you want to eat meat? If you'd rather eat meat, I'll stop buying Coke and we can shift that money to a meat budget." He chose the meat.
  • My iron was low. I absolutely believe that it's possible to eat a vegetarian (even a vegan) diet and be perfectly healthy. Because I was a vegetarian, I know a lot more about nutrition requirements than most people, and I was more aware of whether or not I was eating a well-rounded diet. Maybe I started slacking off, or maybe it was having three babies in five years...Either way, my iron was low. Then my kids started testing low for iron, and I think that was the last straw. I decided that we should all start eating some meat (and take multi-vitamins).
So What Now?

Americans eat too much meat. Waaaay too much meat. And our sense of entitlement for comfort and luxury at a cheap price has led to a system that mistreats living creatures to meet the demand of consumers who view the end product with tunnel vision. We need to eat less meat, we need to end the use of factory farms, and we need to make more conscious decisions about what we choose to put in our mouths.

I think that people choosing to be vegetarians and vegans is an important part of the solution, but I no longer think it's the only answer. I've decided that at least for my family, it's okay on occasion to eat ethically and humanely raised meat.

So how much is "on occasion"? We've been eating meat approximately one meal a week, or put another way: we eat vegetarian for 20 out of every 21 meals. I also buy a dozen eggs and enough milk and cheese to provide two servings a day for each member of my family. Sometimes I contemplate adding a little more meat to our diet, but the tightwad in me talks me out of that idea really fast. Beans are the perfect frugal food.

And maybe this is hypocritical of me, but I still call myself a vegetarian. It's just a lot easier to say, "I'm a vegetarian" than to say, "I eat meat sometimes, but I won't eat your meat."

For years when people would ask me if I was raising my kids to be vegetarians, I always said, "Vegetarianism is a personal choice. I would never force anyone to be a vegetarian, but I hope they'll choose to be." My answer now is a little different. I hope my boys will grow up knowing where food comes from, whether it's a carrot or a sausage. And I hope they'll have love and respect for the people who grew and raised that food, for the earth that provided it, and for their Heavenly Father who created it all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Re-calibrating your internal thermostat

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Last week I received an email from a producer at the Weather Channel. They were looking for people to participate in their "58-Degree Challenge" on the "Weekend View". While we do still keep our thermostat set low (62 day/50 night), I could not really give them what they were looking for - specifically a short video showing what we do to stay warm, "i.e. bundling up in snuggies, using the family pet as a lap-warmer, etc". You see, none of that is necessary for us to keep warm, we just are.

For the past two years I (and my family against their will) have participated in Crunchy Chicken's "Freeze Yer Buns" Challenge. After burning through exorbitant amounts of fuel oil the first year in our "new" 106-year old home with the thermostat set at only 62-degrees, the following year I cranked it down to 55 and signed on for the challenge.

That was last year and it was brutal. Spending the day at home required wearing half your wardrobe! Long underwear were a must. Top that with multiple layers of pants, t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, and it was not uncommon to see me sporting scarves and gloves in the house either. We lived in robes and slippers all hours of the day. Slippers and heavy socks were needed to keep our feet from freezing on the cold uninsulated hardwood floors. Robes added another layer of insulation to keep our core temperature from dropping. Hot chocolate, hot showers, lots of baking, anything to keep warm-ish. I add "ish" because we were never really warm. Come April 55-degrees will feel wonderfully warm, but 55-degrees inside your home in the middle of winter in Wisconsin is anything but. My palm tree died, my bread never rose, my nose always ran, my washer froze along with the clothes in it, and we froze our buns off. Last year I would have had tons of fodder for the Weather Channel's challenge!

This year, not so much. Last Fall we replaced our extremely inefficient fuel-oil furnace with a brand-spanking new high-efficiency natural gas one. Not having any experience with the cost of natural gas, I was not about to go hog-wild and crank the thermostat to 70, but a few degree increase could not hurt. We have received two full-month's heating bills thus far and the savings are considerable. Pleased with a bill one-fourth of what we were paying the previous year, I agreed to turn up the heat.

We settled on 62-degrees during the day and 50-degrees overnight. 62-degrees our first year in this home felt cold, but after enduring last year's 55-degree deep-freeze, 62 is nice and toasty. In fact, some days it feels too toasty. I cannot believe I am saying so, but it is true. Even hubby has commented on it. No long underwear, no hot chocolate, no multiple layers, and no scarves or gloves indoors! We are warm. Socks and slippers are still a must, hopefully next Fall we will be adding insulation, but life has returned to normal - for us. Guests still think our house is cold, but we really know what cold is. It is amazing what people are able to adapt to. While 70 may be comfortable for you, I think we would melt. I remember days when the temperature never dipped below 70 in our house. It was not all that long ago! Now I cannot conceive the needle rising over 64.

While I would like to participate in the Weather Channel's challenge, loafing around in normal everyday attire doing the same things that people who do use their heat, somehow does not seem news worthy. Rather unexciting news if nothing else. We are on board for this year's "Freeze Yer Buns" challenge, although it does not feel like much of a challenge anymore. I definitely do not feel like going back to 55-degrees, but maybe we could turn down a degree or two? Who knows, after 4 or 5 years of adapting to lower and lower temperatures we may be saying 55 is too toasty. Nah!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beating the Winter Blahs

Superheroes Secrets from The Conscious Shopper

Today, I was thinking back on some of my recent posts, and I noticed a trend starting in November. As soon as the weather began getting colder, many of my posts turned into one big mope fest: I'm sick, so screw the city's public transportation totally sucks...I just want to have a freakin' vacation...and I'm tired of having to try so hard.

I'm not usually so mopey - it's winter, and I suffer bad from the winter blahs. In fact, on days when the sky is grey, I have trouble getting myself out of bed at all. A few winters ago, I joked to my husband that I needed to get involved in a winter sport, reasoning that if I had a reason to enjoy winter, I wouldn't suffer through it so much. I still haven't taken up ice skating, but I have found a few other ways to beat the winter blahs:
  • Focus on indoor hobbies. I will probably never take up a winter sport, because I hate the cold. (It's 68 degrees in my house right now, and I'm wearing long johns and contemplating putting on mittens.) But winter is a great time to try out some new indoor hobbies such as knitting and sewing. The Simple, Green, Frugal Co-Op caught my attention with a tutorial for making soap in a crockpot, and I'm thinking of switching from my usual bread recipe to the no-knead method using this sandwich loaf hack from The Kitchn.
I'm trying to take these tips to heart and be a little less mopey this winter. I've also decided that I need a little more human interaction - in winter we tend to be more isolated from people than in the warmer months when we spend more time outside. So in the words of the band Nada Surf, I've decided, "Oh, f*** it. I'm gonna have a party."

How are you beating the winter blahs?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When “things” (or lack thereof) aren’t the answer: How do you parent?

Going Green Mama is thankful today that she doesn't have triplets like her friend...

I know I’m not the first parent to go to work in tears over frustrations with a child. This was my week.

After day in and day out of bedtime battles – that have now turned into morningtime battles – I have truthfully had it. Two hours each night of trying to get kids to bed has now morphed to two hours at night plus up to an hour each morning of trying to keep my oldest resting. Through in those middle hours filled with attitudes, tantrums and general “not listening moments,” and I’m a mommy on the edge.

The challenge is how to cope with it. And I’m not just talking about a bath (which is pretty unenjoyable when you have screaming kids) or a glass of wine.

Most parents I know take away the Wii or computer time when things get rough. Well, as my child gets neither, it’s more challenging finding that punishment that works.

I can take away TV, but my 4-year-old is in a phase when she’d rather do something else. (And that doesn’t bother me.)

I could be like a woman I know, who removed all of her daughter’s monkey collection, making her earn back each and every one. But taking away certain toys, even treasured ones, hasn’t been successful. In fact, we have an easel I’m about to sell to the used kids shop because it’s been in the garage as “punishment” (and since has been forgotten) for so long!

And time-outs are a struggle at best, particularly when you’re also chasing around a toddler.

So since I haven’t been feeling so hot as a parent, I’ll let you all critique. How do you parent when “things” – or lack thereof – aren’t the answer?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A whole new food challenge...

Musings from the Greenhabilitator...

2010 is already shaping up to be the Year of Food for the Greenhab family. I blogged here a few weeks ago about how we're finally buckling down and focusing on what we eat this year. Then last week I checked in to mention the Meatless Monday and Eat From Your Pantry challenges I'd joined.

We've been doing quite well with both, by the way. Mr. Greenhab has happily accepted the fact that his Mondays will be meatless. He even recorded a cooking show last weekend and asked "Mmmm...can we have this for Meatless Monday?" (I did a little happy dance in my head!) I've moved beyond my fall-back plan (pasta) and have even broken the spines on a few cookbooks I've had forever.

The Eat From Your Pantry Challenge hasn't exactly helped me to green my food routine, but it has inspired me to get all the junk out of my pantry and freezer so that we can have a fresh, healthy, sustainable, new start. I'm considering January a month of purging and planning.

And speaking of purging... We were just handed an all-new, somewhat unwelcome, challenge last week when we discovered that our 4 year old son may have a milk allergy. It's kind of a long story (which you can read about here if you're interested), but suffice it to say he has some behavior problems that don't fit neatly into any diagnosis. We randomly heard about someone else with the same issue and learned that the protein casein, found in milk, can cause this type of behavior.

We took Fletcher off of milk immediately and, within a day, we noticed a huge difference in his behavior and attitude. It honestly felt like nothing short of a miracle! I quickly adjusted a few things - switched cow's milk for soy, ditched the cheese, and found a few dairy-free snacks. So much for emptying the pantry; it was suddenly filling up again.

The more information I read and experienced people I spoke to, the more I heard that I would need to take him off of gluten as well. As you may know, GFCF (gluten free, casein free) is also known as "the Autism Diet", which has been of enormous help to some autistic children. Fletch was doing so well that we didn't think eliminating gluten was necessary. He had done a complete 180 and was such a sweet boy now! Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday all of the whining, arguing, negotiating, name-calling, and power struggles returned, so I think that we will have to eliminate gluten as well, to see if it makes a difference. After seeing a glimpse of what a sweet little boy he can be, it's worth a shot to see if we can bring that boy back.

At this point, I feel as if I've been pushed into the pool without my floaties and it's sink or swim time. I've read at least eight thousand food labels in the last two days. Because every prepackaged item at the grocery store seems to contain either gluten or milk, I've finally been forced to do some of the things I've needed to do all along -- make more from scratch, buy organics, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, read labels, and eat real food.

It might not be the "slow and easy" way I envisioned greening our food, but it could certainly be a blessing in disguise. Now to convince my 4 year old of that!

PS~ If anyone has experience going CF and/or GF, or you have experience with other food allergies, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Life without Plastic Bags

The Conscious Shopper says byebye to plastic grocery bags.

Three years ago, I decided to switch to cloth grocery bags. I didn't know anyone else who used cloth bags and I suspected that the bagboy at my grocery store would throw a fit and refuse to bag my groceries, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And that I could easily bag my own groceries.

I dived right in, collecting a huge stash of bags for my bi-weekly trips to the grocery store, and besides a few rolled eyes from the cashiers, it's been a seamless transition.

Except for one thing...remembering to take my bags.

After a few months, I got pretty good at bringing my bags to the grocery store - after emptying out the groceries, I'd stick the bags back in the car, so they'd always be there for my next trip.

The problem was those quick in-and-out kind of shopping trips - like a quick run to the drugstore or a quick pitstop at the arts and craft store or a quick pop-in to the hardware store. I'd run into the store, grab what I needed, and swing out the door with plastic bag in hand before I'd realize, "Woops! I forgot my bag!" So I got a small wallet size bag to keep in my purse. Problem solved.

But then there was my husband, who is one of those really really smart, really really spacey kind of guys who definitely doesn't have room in his brain to remember to bring his own bag. I bought him a wallet size bag to keep in his backpack. Didn't help. I nagged a lot. Didn't help. Finally I gave it time...He seems to be coming around.

And then one morning after changing my two-year-old out of his nasty, stinky, disposable nighttime diaper and into a soft cotton Chinese pre-fold daytime diaper with lime green wrap, I went searching for a plastic bag to dispose of the smelly, um, disposable...and discovered that the plastic bag dispenser was empty.

It was a total Mother Hubbard experience, except with plastic bags instead of food.

My initial thought was to blame my husband. "Whad'you do with all the bags?" I called.

"I didn't touch them!" He shouted back.

Hmmm...I turned to the kids. "Did you guys take the plastic bags?"

Blank looks. "What bags?"

"The plastic bags. The grocery bags. The one's that go in here," I said, pointing to the dispenser.

The two little ones shook their heads, but the big guy nodded. "You used them all in my Halloween costume," he reminded me.

Oh yeah, he was a cowboy, and we used the bags to stuff the head of our homemade hobby horse. I shrugged, figuring it would only take a few weeks to restock our bag stash and that I could be creative in the meantime.

That was November, and now we've gone almost three months without plastic bags. I dispose of diapers in those little rain baggies the newspaper comes in. Sometimes I use a carrot bag or an apple bag. I stopped lining our bathroom bins completely and instead periodically empty them into the big trashcan. Occasionally, my husband still brings home a plastic bag, but now he's progressed far enough to notice his mistake and apologize for it.

Which makes me smile.

Life is possible without plastic bags. In fact, I barely notice the difference...

A few weeks after we ran out of plastic bags, I reached for a paper towel and discovered that the paper towel dispenser was empty. My initial thought: "Hmmm...I wonder how long we can go without paper towels?"


As a final thought, I wanted to thank all of you for your amazing response to my questions last week. There are so many helpful comments there, and if you haven't read them, you should pop on over and check them out. I, for one, need to go back through and take notes on the snack and lunch ideas.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Designing a better world

Regular GPB contributor Karen Moser-Booth dreams about a car-less, nature-filled future for American cities.

Waiting for your town to green up can be frustrating. You want to take public transportation, but it's not a) reliable b) headed where you need to go c) convenient d) existent e) all of the above. You want your home to be off-the-grid, filled with homebaked goodies from your one-acre front-yard garden. You want a lot more green, and sometimes you just have to be patient. Or, if you're restless like me, you gotta dream.

Imagine a world filled with heirloom products, built to last. A solar-powered, whale-shaped floating garden meanders through our waterways, purify water and making it fit--and free--for all to drink. Bamboo forests filter city air. College students are encouraged to design bike-share stations. An America where it's culturally and structurally easy to be green, as Annie Leonard points out in a recent interview.

Detroit could host the world's largest urban farm, employing the thousands of laid-off automobile workers as farmers. Abandoned strip malls could be transformed into solar-energy farms. Urban planners shift their focus from suburbia to transit-oriented developments (TOD) and waste management offers shoots to pop compost down. Your neighborhood becomes dense. Net-zero-energy buildings become the norm. Toxic industrial sites become mixed-use havens that encourage an active lifestyle. Healthcare bills go down and energy levels go up. Consumption falls and happiness rises.

Does this all sound pie-in-the-sky to you? Well, you might want to whip out that ice cream and make it a la mode because these issues are real and they're already on urban designers' and architects' plates. Why? You are the reason why. How can that be? I haven't even figured out how to ditch my car/eat local year-round/garden/fill-in-the-blank.

"People are affected by what their neighbors drive, what their family thinks, what a television personality says about global warming, advertising, the attitudes of other communities and groups, and, of course, what laws are passed." Your green actions do not go unnoticed. Every time you buy local, make improvements to your neighborhood's walkability, inquire about plastic-free options, get behind bike lanes and walking trails, donate or use recycled building materials--every action causes the people who make our towns--architects, urban planners, government officials, real estate developers--to take pause and notice. Your demand for a greener lifestyle tells them to increase their supply of greener buildings, and green buildings are key to a sustainable America.

Buildings account for 38% of carbon emissions in the United States--more than either the industrial or transportation sectors--and they consume 70% of the electricity load. You can (and should) weatherize your home, use a programmable thermostat, Freeze Yer Buns Off, go manual ... and you know what else you can do? You can lower your mortgage bill by hundreds of dollars each month, practically eliminate your energy bills, and be part of the creation of 4.5 million jobs in the U.S. Huh?! Where do I sign? Online, at Architecture 2030. Architect Ed Mazria is convincing major government players to amend the Senate energy bill to include financial tax incentives for deep, major energy retrofitting in private buildings--home, sweet home!--that will actually cost the feds less and produce more jobs than what's currently on tap. If you do any online actions in 2010, let it be this one. And urge your town to adopt a greener building energy code.

This isn't just a dream--this is what we're creating. Be heard greening.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Have you heard about the new campaign on the block? I am talking about TakeOutWithOut. Launched just this month, the TakeOutWithOut (TOWO) campaign aims to reduce restaurant waste by raising awareness to the outrageous amount of unnecessary waste we create every day.

Just think about it, one meal out creates a crazy amount of waste. Whether it is the paper bag, sandwich wrappers, napkins, cup, lid, and straw from a fast-food joint or plastic plate, cup, disposable cutlery and paper napkin wrapped in plastic from a chain restaurant, eating out not only fills your stomach, but also the landfill. Even if you go to a sit-down restaurant to be served, odds are you will encounter a paper napkin or paper napkin-ring on a cloth napkin and if you are lucky enough to get an actual glass-glass it inevitably will come with a plastic straw bobbing in it. Next time you eat out count the individual pieces of waste you create. That is just one meal, one person. Multiply that by a few million Americans and you have enough paper bags, plastic cups, and disposable forks and spoons to circle the equator 300 times. Per year!

I have managed to reduce some of my restaurant waste. I carry a klean kanteen, cloth napkin, to-go ware cutlery, glass dharma glass straw, and wrap-n-mat. Even though I have a wrap-n-mat I still struggle with taking home leftovers. The wrap-n-mat is great for sandwiches and other not-too-messy food, but liquids and something oozy not so much. I have not devoted the time to finding a suitable take-home container. Instead I go through the mental struggle of choosing guilt over wasting food or guilt over wasting a disposable container. Ultimately I end up schlepping home a styrofoam container half-full of guilt.

To quote TOWO, "We can't aim for perfection, but we can aim for improvement by saying NO to unnecessary packaging and even toting our own reusables."

TakeOutWithOut's creed is three-fold:

ReFuse Unnecessary Stuff

When taking out, refuse the unnecessary packaging! Think about the spoons, forks, straws, and napkins that you get served (why do they give you enough for a family of 20 when eating alone?). Ask yourself before accepting all these items, "Do I really need all of this?", "Am I going to be eating this right away?" (If so, why take the bag or the napkins)... just enjoy your muffin - and be neat so the napkin isn't needed!

ReTakeYour Own Reusables

Bring your own reusables (BYOR) and you won't need to use the can - garbage, that is. You can bring your own containers, straws, cutlery, mugs, bottles, and even your own bag - It's so easy to find and use!

ReConsiderYour Habits

It's easy to fall into a routine, so why not choose to create a new one? Reconsider and readjust your habits and adopt healthier eating strategies - it might be challenging at first - but it will save you time, money, your health, and our world. The bonus? You'll feel like an eco-hero and will inspire others around you to follow suit.

I think this is a great campaign! I hope to one day be able to dine at a restaurant without having to remember to ask for no straw (Why do drinks automatically come with one?) and without feeling like I am stealing from the buffet when I pull a take-home container out of my purse (I do not even eat off buffets!), but most of all without waste.

You can join the TOWO campaign on Facebook, Flickr, or Twitter and of course, by adhering to the 3-Rs: ReFuse, ReTake, ReConsider.

"Food Rules" Winner

Drumroll from EnviRambo.

Last week I offered up my copy of Food Rules; An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan, to guide one lucky reader in their quest for culinary sustainability. I was amazed by the array of foods you all have taken to making your own at home! I think your comments inspired me more than my post inspired you. Bread still baffles me. I can make it, but it is always deformed and never quite right. We really want to start making our own yogurt at home. So much plastic could be avoided! I bought hubby me a food dehydrator for Christmas in hopes of being able to raise better bread in this cold house of ours, make our own yogurt, oh, and so he could dry foods of course.

Anyhoo... without further ado it is time to announce the winner of last week's drawing. I asked hubby to pick a number between 1 an 21. He chose 14 (assumably because it is my birthdate), so lucky #14 - Daisy - you are the winner!

Congratulations! Contact me at [] with your shipping information and I will send it right out.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Superhero Secrets: Green is the new Pink!

Some Valentine's ideas from the Greenhabilitator...

According to the American Greetings Corporation, around a billion Valentines are sent each year globally, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. And that doesn't even include all of those cute little Valentines that children exchange at school each year.

While some of us may be slightly sentimental, keeping all the Valentines given to us by our loves, I'd be willing to bet that most are eventually thrown away. Add to that the 36 million boxes of chocolate that are sold each year, the teddy bears, the flowers, and all the other heart shaped tchotchkes and you have yourself an enormous amount of waste!

But fear not! The Greenhabilitator is here today with some Superhero Secrets to make your Valentine's Day a little bit more sustainable.

For the Kids...

As a somewhat sneaky parent, I end up sending Fletcher's Valentines to the recycle bin a few days after he brings them home. What a waste, right? Trees are cut down, Valentines are manufactured in a pollution-spewing plant half way around the world, they're packaged in plastic, and shipped here to us only to be used and immediately tossed aside.

This year, we won't be stepping foot into a store though. Instead, we're using Green Bean's idea for recycled crayons. Last year, she and her kids fulfilled all of their green Valentine's dreams (reusing or recycling, making instead of buying, involving the children and avoiding commercial Valentines) by making adorable little heart-shaped crayons.

Not only do I have a ginormous box of mixed-and-matched, worn-down, used-up and mostly-broken crayons, I even have the exact heart-shaped mould she used that I found at Goodwill about a year ago. The kids are going to love this!

Another thing they love is using their imaginations. They like to collect all of the glue, glitter, magazines, construction paper, ribbon and fabric scraps in the house and can spend hours working on little craft projects. With some guidance and a heart-shaped stencil I'm pretty sure they'll have the most creative Valentines in their classes.

You can also use up some of those old, scratched-up CDs with these recycled CD Valentines from Fave Crafts Blog or put those tiny fingers to work folding origami heart Valentines.

For the Teacher...

If there's anyone who deserves a little rest and relaxation, it's a teacher.

Here's a tutorial for the Heat Therapy Bags that I made for my son's preschool teachers last year. These are great for sore muscles, cramps, tension headaches, or just to cuddle up with on a cold night! You can use scraps of fabric that you already have, rice or buckwheat, and a few drops of a soothing essential oil blend. A very frugal and practical gift.

This year I'm planning to enlist the kids' help in making the scented bath salts I found on Bake Space. I found a few cute little jelly jars at the thrift store that they'll fit in perfectly.

And if you like to sew, or have a budding seamstress in the house, these little Valentine's Sachets from Craft Gossip are a very sweet idea.

For the Romantic... walks you through Valentine's Day hour-by-hour with an array of things to do, sustainable gifts to give, and ways to celebrate. For example, at 7:00 am you can start the morning with coffee that is fair-trade, shade-grown, and organic, from a brewer who uses passive solar energy and wind-powered vents. At noon, swing by the farmer's market and pick up some food for a picnic lunch. And at 10:30 pm you can hit the {bamboo} sheets after sharing a bottle of organic champagne with your sweetie.

Better yet, visit to find a local (or not so local) bed and breakfast for the weekend. You'll be supporting a small, independent business while spending some alone time together.

For the Mom...

I am totally geeking out over these cutest-thing-ever Photo Blocks I saw on Little Birdie Secrets. (Photo courtesy LBS website.) I have my photos and mod podge lined up and am just waiting for the hubby to cut some of our scrap wood tomorrow. I'm making one for Macy's teacher, some for the grandmas and great grandmas and probably a few for myself as well.

Of course, if you're just not feeling up to a DIY project, you can always find fair trade, handmade or sustainable gifts on websites like Ten Thousand Villages, World of Good, Green Heart Shop, and Etsy. What mom wouldn't love a hand stamped Circle of Names necklace like this one from Etsy artist Tiny Token Designs? (Hint, hint!)

As always, I think the key to have a sustainable holiday of any sort is planning ahead. Take two minutes today to make out a list: people you can send ecards to, people you need to make cards for, how many Valentines your kids will need for school, and what kind of gifts you'll need to make or buy. A little pre-planning goes a long way and keeps you out of the store -- and away from all the mass produced crapola -- on Valentine's Eve.

Have some great green Valentines ideas of your own? Please share them with us by leaving a comment below!

This post is my submission for the January APLS Carnival entitled Greening Valentine's Day. The carnival will be hosted at Retro Housewife Goes Green on January 19th.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Helping out by doing without

Going Green Mama takes a welcome break from three kids under age 5....

Are you up for a challenge?

You know you're tempted. Clean out your pantry or freezer. Give up something for 100 days. Turn down that thermostat. You name it, there's a fiscal or environmental challenge out there.

But what if it meant something more?

The last few days, I've started thinking about how I, as one small person, could make a difference in the earthquake relief in Haiti. The situation is as traumatic as it can get - massive loss of life, electrical and water systems failing...and this is just Thursday as I'm writing this.

So what if I - or we, for that matter - did something about it?

This month, my challenge to you is to take your challenge of choice and make it mean something. Do it for a week, a month, whatever it takes, but I'm asking you to take some or all of your savings and donate it to your organization of choice. Let's make all of this mean something. Today.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Greening the Spouse: Welcome Challenge or Hopeless Cause?

This is another post asking readers for advice--I was thrilled to see so many people on Wednesday giving Erin (and me!) ideas for how to make some of those lingering areas of wanna-be-greener work out a bit better(even as it made me squirm at how not-so-green I am in a lot of areas) I'm going to throw in my deep-seated greeningprocess question.

We're working well as a family to improving our habits, reducing our trash, eating healthier food, putting on sweaters rather than cranking up the thermostat, and stuff like that. It's an ongoing process, but we're trying. The kids are pretty good at remembering to turn off their lights and shut off the water mid-toothbrushing, and they know the difference between garbage and recycling.

But...I have this husband.

Don't get me wrong--I don't want this to be a spouse-bashing post. This man is wonderful, a real partner--he and I work together on pretty much everything about our family's life including the kid-care stuff, with division of labor not establishing itself along stereotypical gender role lines, and plenty of it not divided at all but shared or alternated. We both work full time but often different hours, so when I'm working he's on for the kids and vice versa. He bathes them and feeds them and is the Get A Babysitter guy, he vacuums and does dishes and cleans up dog poop and does laundry. And doesn't ask for high praise and cookies when he does it--it's just part of life. And he thinks I'm gorgeous and sexy even though I'm carrying around a few pounds more than I should, he's my best friend, and I'm incredibly lucky.

But then there's the greening thing. If I were one of those women who basically Ran Her House, with a husband who just sort of assumes I'm going to take care of all the kid-home-food-cleaning stuff, the greenage would actually be a little easier. (Though everything else would be a lot harder!) And greening the kitchen (except for the paper towel thing) has actually been fairly easy, as that's the area that's pretty much my own domain. I make the grocery lists, mostly, and I make the homemade stuff, and he's happy that I do it but I don't think he's really committed to the why of my doing it, nor is he all that interested in inconveniencing his life to do it too. (I think he likes the idea of greening, but he also really likes Shiny And New, which two likes do not always mesh very well.) He has zero interest in bringing his own bags to the grocery store, or any other store, for that matter, which means if I want to keep the paper or plastic out of the house I have to do the shopping. If he's taking the kids somewhere around dinnertime, unless the threat of maternal ranting and raving is imminent, he's happy to take them to McDonalds or Wendys for Friednugget McPseudopoultry happy meals with cheezy plastic toys. (Though in the interest of disclosure, I don't think he's done that since seeing Food, Inc.) Our house telephones are about 7 years old and occasionally have little blurbs; he wants to throw them out and get something new and cooler. Stuff like that.

He grew up like most folks our age did (I was sort of an exception--we watched very little TV and almost never ate out)--watching commercials, exposed to incessant marketing and commercials, eating almost nothing but processed food, whether out of a can or freezer box at home or at a restaurant with his folks. He believes the ads when they tout something as the latest superfruit, or a great cleaner, or whatever, and he's incredibly susceptible to greenwashing. And he's still sort of prone to the whole "if it costs more it must be better" mentality, which is the exact opposite of mine. And then there's the "boys with toys" thing--compounded by his job as a professional techno-geek. He wants to get the Next Cool New Thing, and he always wants it to be the best and most complicated model of whatever it is. And while he's not anti green in the slightest, it's often really hard to get him on board with some of the less glamorous aspects. (I think he still thinks that ditching our aged minivan to buy a Hybrid Highlander was an environmentally responsible thing to do. Er...not so much, really. I mean, we needed a big-enough-to-schlep-kids-and-extra-grownups vehicle because the minivan was dying, but let's face it, a hybrid SUV still gets crummy mileage.)

That said, he's come about as long as way as I have so far, maybe farther. He's much better than I about remembering to turn off lights, in fact, he's better about not turning so many on to begin with. I can't get him to read articles about Green Stuff, but I can read headlines to him and sometimes he'll ask for more information on whatever it is. And over the months his inquiries have sounded more actually interested, and less humor-the-wife. And he watched Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc. and was I think about as appalled as I was about both of them. And he was open not only to composting, but to trying composting without buying a fancy expensive composter. But I came from this sort of semi-hippie background, he comes from Processed Urban Food Desert Family all the way. (No offense to any readers of Polish extraction, but the American Polish approach to a green vegetable seems to be to cook it into submission and/or cover it with a cream sauce of some kind.) He's got all this deep-seated stuff to get out of his system, and it's a much bigger jump for him than for me. Again, I'm not complaining at all. He's a fairly amazing guy. (And I still think he's gorgeous and sexy even though he's carrying around a few pounds more than he should. Hardly notice them, actually.) (His few pounds are considerably fewer than my few pounds, though.)

So this is my question: Would some of you be able to share your experiences with spouses, partners, significant others, etc and how the Green Thing has gone for you? I'd love to hear stories from men AND women, and I'd also welcome thoughts from anyone who wasn't the initial green impetus in your household/relationship.

What works? Anyone have any ongoing strategies for making the green journey a real partnered affair?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do you ever wonder...

The Greenhabilitator points out a few things she finds silly...

The past week hasn't been so great for the Greenhabilitator. Not only did I have to have some parts removed at the lady doctor (nothing serious...just preventative), but I also ended up at the dentist, getting two crowns. I've had pains from all angles, which tend to make me kvetch more than normal. It's rough getting old I tell ya!

Maybe it's the pains, or maybe I've just turned into a grumpy old lady already at the ripe age of 33, but I've noticed a few things this week that have made me think "Come on people!"

Like when we went to Costco the other day where ev.ry.thing is packaged in plastic. I feel dirty just walking through the store, even though we try to stick with the true bulk items they offer.

I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised. Costco isn't a store that sells food in bulk in order to help the planet, they do it for people who have BIG needs. It just made me throw my hands up and "Gaaaah!" because there's not much we can buy there anymore.

We do buy tortilla chips at Costco, which come in a mostly paper bag. We go through a lot of them, so I like being able to buy the ginormous bag. I was excited to see that they now carry organic tortilla chips, until I saw the packaging up close. Plastic. Really? Why put organic chips in a plastic bag? Aren't the people who are concerned about eating organic foods, the same people who prefer not to purchase plastic out of concern for the environment?

Oh - but when we used the potty I noticed that they now have more efficient toilets, with handles that pull up for liquids and down for solids.

I ran into some similar frustration at my local Vitamin Cottage store recently (it's like Whole Foods, but a lot smaller). They have a "bulk" section where they sell all of their flour, sugar, oats, herbs, spices, seeds, etc., yet it's all prepackaged in plastic. Come now, how is that bulk?

They do have a sign on the door that says "Have your bags? No bags are provided at our registers." which is pretty cool in my opinion.

Here are the Hickman's Family Farms eggs that hubby brought home recently. He was very excited that they were produced locally. On the down side, they come in a styrofoam package. Who uses styrofoam?? The ones I normally buy are produced in Ohio, but they do come in a paper carton that I can shred and throw in my compost heap.

I suppose I shouldn't complain. After all, we all started somewhere - right? I started with recycling, but I still went shopping too much, bought items overpackaged in plastic, and drove a gas-guzzler. That didn't mean that I wasn't trying. Fixing all of those things did eventually come over time.

I just wonder if companies do things like installing more efficient toilets because they care about the environment, or because they're trying to make up for other eco-sins.

For now I'll show my support for their progress, yet encourage them to do more. That and a glass of wine should go a long way.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How do you...?

Some questions from The Conscious Shopper

One of the awesome bonuses to having a blog is the amazing support group that comes with it. Have I mentioned how awesome I think you all are?

So today I want to pick your brains...

Photo by Andreanna

There are some subcategories of "going green" where my family is pretty good (like the food category), and there are some subcategories where we just plain suck but we're trying (like the transportation category). And then there are some subcategories where we're doing okay but we could do better.

I've made a goal this year to push myself a bit in those categories, but in some cases, I have some questions that are holding me back.

For example:

:: Those of you who have cut out paper towels: How do you deal with grease?

Like when you've cooked bacon and you have a pan left full of grease...I was taught that you leave the grease in the pan until it congeals, and then you wipe the grease out with a paper towel and throw the whole thing in the trash. That way, you don't get grease leaking out the bottom of the trash bag. But if you're not using paper towels, how do you clean up the grease?

Or bugs? (Doesn't everyone grab a paper towel, smoosh the bug, and toss it in the trash?)

:: Those of you who bake bread: How do you store your bread?

Once a week, I make a batch of four loaves (and it's almost always gone by the end of the week). But I'm storing them in plastic bags. I wash and reuse the bags, but eventually they wear out. Has anyone figured out how to store bread without bags?

:: Those of you who keep your house really cold in the winter: Do your houseplants survive? And how do your pets handle it?

We've been going 60 at night with a space heater in the boys' room, and my plants seem fine. But I wonder if colder would harm them. Has anyone else had trouble with that? And what do you do with your pets?

:: Those of you who go without A/C in the summer: Does it affect your food storage?

Everything I've read says you should store food at 68 to 78 degrees. I think the cold probably doesn't matter as much (?), but I can see why you wouldn't want your food storage to get too hot or humid. If I try going without A/C for a month this summer, is it going to make my wheat and oats and beans rot?

:: Those of you who have gone "no 'poo": How long did it take for your hair to adjust?

The concept of no poo fascinates me, but I've got to tell you: I'm kind of vain. I like looking nice, and the idea of weeks upon weeks of ugly hair is a total turn-off. How long did it take for you?

And here's an admission of a total eco-sin that I promise I'm going to work on eventually (see the vanity comment above): Can I go no poo if I dye my hair?

:: Those of you who have given up "convenience" foods: What kind of snacks do you give your kids?

My family is totally addicted to the humble cracker. I could start making my own crackers, but I already make my own bread, granola, yogurt, and muffins every week, tortillas, bagels, and pitas on occasion, and dinner ever night. It would be nice if I could come up with some unprocessed snack foods that my kids will eat that aren't totally dependent on me. I'm thinking dried fruits...What other suggestions do you have?

:: Those of you that pack no waste lunches: What do you pack in your kids' lunchboxes?

We are already doing no waste lunches, but I feel like my poor son's lunches reside in Boredomville. It's a cheese sandwich or quesadilla every day with a side of carrots or celery and a fruit. (He requested that we don't pack him peanut butter and jelly because then he can't sit next to his friend Lauren, and because I thought that was so darn cute and thoughtful, we complied.) Do you have any more creative suggestions that don't require heating?

I can't wait to hear your input!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Word of the Year is PATIENCE

Back from vacation with The Conscious Shopper...

Every holiday season, my family takes an insane, 2000+ mile, totally not eco-friendly roadtrip to visit our family. The typical trip involves several days cramped in the car while watching movie after movie on our portable DVD player, munching on individually wrapped snacks, and loading up on fast food. Like I said: not eco-friendly.

Last year, I decided to address our wastefulness by coming up with a plan to make our roadtrips greener. And when we took our summer roadtrip (a shorter but still insane version of our Christmas trip), I put that plan into action: we checked the air in our tires, homemade a bunch of snacks, stopped at rest stops to make sandwiches instead of fast food restaurants for burgers, and brought our own water bottles instead of buying Cokes.

But for this latest trip, I just wanted a vacation. Not just a vacation from my house, but in all honesty, a vacation from my life. I wanted to have the kind of roadtrip that most people in this country get to have - the kind where I don't have to think hard or cook in advance or plan a lot or care so much. Just for two weeks, I wanted to live like everyone else.

Except that I can't.

I think there's a point of no return when you've gone green. A point where you know too much and the whole world looks different. I see trash, and my mind immediately flashes forward to where it will end up next. I walk into Target, and my mind flashes backward to where those products began their lives. I pick up a bottle of shampoo and subconsciously twist it around to check out the ingredients. For better or worse, my outlook on everything has been changed.

And so there came a point on our "vacation" when we swung by Sonic for lunch (my favorite fast food restaurant to eat at when roadtripping). And I'm sitting there eating a toaster sandwich and mozzarella sticks and sipping a Coke (my favorite Sonic meal), and all I can think is, "Look at how much trash we produced in this one meal."

And this thought makes me angry.

I just want to have a freakin' vacation! But I can't enjoy myself because freakin' Sonic uses so much freakin' trash in their meals.

It reminded me of a scene in No Impact Man during one of the early phases of his experiment where he decides he wants a slice of pizza. Except that he's decided not to produce any trash, and he can't order a slice of pizza without the paper plate that comes with it. And he's just about ready to give up the whole experiment, because he really, really, really wants a slice of pizza.

Eventually, like Fake Plastic Fish and Envirambo and many of my green heroes, he figures out how to order a slice of pizza without a paper plate (bring your own container), but why should he have to try so hard? Why should the responsibility fall completely on him and me and you?

Why can't restaurants design their to-go packaging so it's compostable, and why can't cities everywhere have compost collection along with their recycling and trash pick-up? Why can't companies design more products to have a cradle to cradle lifecycle? Why don't more grocery stores carry more products in bulk bins?

I believe that we are definitely, unequivocally going to have to make our lives more sustainable. But I can't help but ask, "When??? How long will it take?"

Thinking about this reminded me of a comment Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse left on my blog several months ago:
As someone who has been working on these issues for 30 years, I'm really heartened by the level of discussion going on. Even though it's late, and not enough, compared to the dust-ups we generated when we started in 1970 (yes, at the first Earth Day), I feel like we're in a hurricane. It's frustrating that progress isn't smarter and faster, but it is happening, and I'm thrilled we're all a part of it.
So now my Word of the Year is PATIENCE...Change will come, even if it's eventually rather than right this second.

And until then, if I've reduced my waste and water and energy consumption, and if I'm involved in advocacy groups for transportation and community gardens, and if I'm even walking two hours several times a week to avoid driving my car three miles, I should be able to take a vacation every now and then. But maybe next time we'll go to Chipotle.

Do you have a word of the year?


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