Saturday, December 31, 2011

Taking charge of piles

I'm on the (slow) mission to eliminate unneeded things in this house and each day it's a step by step process. My older kids are on the mission to get rid of a minimum of one-third of what they own and it's going remarkably well (more on that another time). But it's true that once the ball gets rolling, it's contagious. They have the incentive of new beds once they complete their task, and I have the incentive of a simplified living space once I complete mine.

By the way, I came across this great article about the benefits of simplifying and minimizing our children's toys, but I think we should all consider applying it to all of the "stuff" that we have. It's true that as my kids (who share a room) have been getting rid of stuff and cleaning up their space, they have started getting along more! It was kind of amazing to watch (or "hear" since I was in the other room not willing to jinx the good fortune of kids getting along so well).

Anyhow, back to my own decluttering.

One of the things that can take over in this house is stacks of paperwork and magazines (a.k.a. "piles"). We have subscriptions to some things (that I hope to turn into e-subscriptions somehow) and I get tons of free magazines from work once they are out of date. Yes, I can choose not to take them, and often I do... but sometimes there is something that I want to read or learn about in one of those magazines, so I bring it home. Eventually it gets added to a pile - come on, most of us have them... whether they are in the bathroom or on the side table, the pile is there. I hate the piles in my house, they are truly my worst enemies. In the past I have left the piles until they get out of control and I freak out and get stressed about them and my partner "deals" with them when I am out. I'm sure there have been tons of "important" stuff in those piles, but when it gets to that point I just don't care. Good riddance!

It's time that I take charge of this situation and keep piles from forming in the first place. So today, I found three piles of magazines from various locations around the house, and I dealt with them. See, some of that stuff I wanted to keep, but not much of it. Some recipes, a few inspiring pictures or writings or tidbits of info.
So I found a folder that my kids were done with and I started organizing. Recipes on the right, "other" on the left.
There, I had all of the info that I needed and recycled the rest of it.
It has been a while since the recycling bin filled up this quickly, but it had to be done. This picture barely shows you how many magazines are really in there.

And to tell the absolute truth, I'm no where near done. We have two bathrooms and I only tackled the magazine pile from one of them (as well as the living room pile). Oh, but the national geographics we are saving... for now. I don't want to get into any habits of collecting things at this point, but my older two kids are just getting to the age where those particular magazines could be a valuable resource for school, etc. I'm also in the process of looking for the "right" bookshelf to put in our living room for family books and games so I think I will make a row of these magazines on it. However, I do reserve the right to get rid of them at any point if I can't deal with them any more.

Meanwhile, I feel a little bit better. It's not THAT different around here just yet, but some cleared up space for the new year will do us good.

Happy New Year to everyone! Here's to a more simplified life in the new year...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

America's food waste

I think that I have posted about this before, but I finally just got the chance to watch the documentary Dive! Living Off America's Waste. I highly recommend that you check it out (it's on netflix on demand if you've got it).

It reminded me that there was once a time not that long ago when wasting food not only didn't happen, but it was totally looked down on.

So think about buying less and eating more of what you've got already. Finish up those leftovers and don't let your food rot. It's actually ok to see the back of your pantry every now and then. Get creative! Find a way to use up the rest of something instead of having to throw it away.

As for me, well one of the reasons that I had time to watch this documentary finally is because I was home sick today. I decided last night to indulge myself and eat a burger when I haven't eaten beef in 20 years. (Seriously, what was I thinking??) I'll leave out the gory details and just say that my body was angry with my impulsive decision. I think it's time for me to seriously consider cutting meat out of my diet again - sorry in advance to my meat eating family members, but you won't be seeing much in the house anymore.

(However, I do reserve the right to enjoy some local bacon or chicken every now and then, but only if I know the farmer personally.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Focusing on the positive

Some of you might know this, but I go to school. Here is proof, my school gear:

My recycled notebook paper, a pink argyle folder scavenged from my kids room (they were done with it), my current study book (found on the book swap at my co-op!), my water bottle, my coffee cup (you can't see that) and a tin cup for snack time so that I don't have to use the paper cups to put my snack in (yes, we have snack time.) I found the bag at a thrift store, but it's made by this awesome local company called Blue Q and made mostly of post consumer recycled waste. 

I'm sure you could really care less about my thoughtfully waste free school gear, I bet you are wondering what I'm doing going to school if I really claim to be as busy as I am. Well, I go to a place called Alkion and I'm studying to be a Waldorf teacher. Now, I know that there are some of you that feel one way or another about Waldorf education, just know that I am not here to talk you into it. (However, I would be happy to talk to someone interested in learning more on the side - email me directly.) I am halfway through my second year of the foundation program at the school and currently plan on doing the teacher training year next year. I am not really sure what I'm going to do with the training - I might pursue becoming a class teacher... but the more I do the training, the more I want to pursue art again... and maybe being as art teacher at a Waldorf school would be ideal. Who knows. But the good thing is, I don't have to decide now so I can just go with the flow and enjoy what I am learning.

Ok, so what the heck does this have to do with focusing on the positive? Well, I'm getting there.

One of the classes that I am currently taking is called "Inner Practice". It's really a great class that focuses on the six basic meditations taught by Rudolf Steiner to help gain more control over your thoughts, feelings and actions.

The six exercises

1. Control of thought aims to gain control over what you think.

2. Control of will aims to gain control over your actions.

3. Equanimity - the exercise of feeling - aims to be aware of
your feelings, to weaken strong feelings and strengthen weak
ones and to balance them.

4. Positivity aims to see the positive in addition to the bad and
the ugly. In this exercise thinking and feeling are combined.

5. Open-mindedness aims to be always open to new
experiences. In this exercise feeling and willing are

6. Inner harmony: the sixth, in which the previous exercises
need to be practised in order to create harmony between
thinking, feeling and willing.

(To learn more about each exercise, check out this blog that I just found that has a brief description of each.)

Yesterday, we learned about the forth exercise. I have been thinking about this quite a bit because out of all of the exercises that we have learned so far, this is one that I wish more people around me would work on (disclaimer: I work with the public and interact with hundreds of people everyday, so you can imagine how different things would be if everyone tried this more frequently).

"In many situations you encounter, you see the negative and ugly
aspects quite clearly. In this exercise the aim is that you always see
something positive, too, without denying the negative. When
something is negative, you can emphasize the positive within or
besides that. There is always something beautiful or good that lies
concealed in everything. The exercise should not lead to an uncritical
attitude and a vague "everything is good and beautiful" or to denying
the negative.

During and after this exercise you still see the negative, but you try
to find something positive in it. Sometimes this only succeeds when
you look back, which may be days or even years later. As you
observe more and see the situation from different angles, you will
restrain your opinion at first and you become more open and will
observe more comprehensively. Therefore the exercise leads to
greater tolerance. Ultimately, there is almost nothing that does not
have something positive in it."

I am going to leave you with that, and those of you that can take from it, please do. Those of you that think I'm crazy... well, I hope you will hang in there for my next blog post. I will try not to make it so heavy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christams tree solution

I know that some of you have been curious about what we ended doing for a Christmas tree this year. I was so into the idea of doing something different and getting away from the traditional tree idea... and then I was excited about not having pine needles all over the floor for once. But, once I got better from being sick, there was suddenly no time again. My idea of making a tree obviously didn't happen. So then I thought I liked the idea of a live tree (still less needles!)... but I wasn't so keen on the price tag that came with the live tree. It was back to the drawing board again - which in this case meant going to the local tree farm to get a cut tree.

Yesterday we were getting ready to go to Seekon Tree Farm and get a cut tree when our friend showed up with the perfect solution - he had been trimming pine trees (I think - I'm actually not sure what he was doing) and he had chopped off the top of a tree and brought it to us knowing that we were looking for a tree still. It was perfect!
We thought it would be too charlie brown like, but it's totally not. I'm really into this tree actually.
The kids really liked it too. I think they were starting to get worried that we might not have a tree this year since Christmas is just a little more than a week away.
I have been thinking about this tradition of having a tree in the house... and I realize that I have had a hand in making it part of what my kids expect, but mostly because I have always had a Christmas tree in my life every year and couldn't really imagine a holiday season without one. This isn't such a bad thing, but I want to work towards changing the idea of what a tree needs to look like. I think with better planning for next year, we might just yet be able to build our own creatively fantastic tree.

But for now, while turning the top of a pine tree into a Christmas tree may not be traditional, we pretty much have a normal tree this year.
My youngest of course loves the nutcracker ornament.
And I still love these handmade sweater ornaments made by my sister in law last year (or possibly before then). Maybe if she reads this she might post the pattern (hint hint)... but since I can't follow a pattern to save my life, I will not be duplicating these anytime soon.
My youngest set up the traditional wooden train track around the base of the tree. The tree skirt I am really not a fan of, but we have had it forever and there is no reason to get a new one. It was actually once a woman's skirt that I turned into a tree skirt - it was really easy actually. I'm pretty sure that I just cut off the top and cut it open to wrap around the tree. I don't even think I hemmed it.

Now that the tree is up, I'm finally starting to think about gifts. I am working hard to keep the gifts small, thoughtful and with the thought of zero waste in mind. I obviously can't tell you some of the stuff we are giving because a few of you out there might be recipients... but I do want to touch on the wrapping of those gifts.
Without giving too much away, here is a little sample of what I am doing. I have been collecting any funnies from the paper that I can get my hands on at work, but otherwise, I will just use any newspaper really. I have so much scrap cloth in my life that I decided to use some as wrapping - I just tied some spare yarn around the top. (If you have the time and energy to sew some cloth into bags as wrapping, then you will have two gifts in one!)

This year, for the first time, we have requested from family that any gifts to us or the kids be kept minimal and second hand if possible. We also requested that as little disposable stuff as possible come our way - considering that we have no trash pick up and are still using the same trash bag from 2 or 3 months ago, we don't want to have to throw things away. I suggested wrapping paper that could easily be thrown in the fireplace on Christmas morning (you cannot do this with regular wrapping paper!) like newspaper, etc. I was so pleased when the first package from family arrived today and I opened it to see what was inside:

Good job mom!

I would love to tell you all more about my ideas for my family as we spend our first Christmas cutting back on holiday craziness, but I will have to save that for after Christmas (just in case)...

Until then I hope everyone has a great holiday!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Clothes clothes everywhere

Seriously. Look around you... do you have a lot of clothes in your house? I certainly do.

I've been able to finally spend a little bit of time focusing on going through all of my clothes and getting rid of stuff that I don't need or want anymore. This is not easy, as some of you may know. I had to be honest - had I worn it in the past 6 months? 3 months? If not, get rid of it. I successfully was able to eliminate about 1/3 of my wardrobe... it's a start for sure but I'm still not satisfied. I want less.

One question that comes up is what to do with the clothes that we get rid of. I quickly realized that this made a huge difference on whether or not I could actually let something go! The idea of just taking a big bag of clothes and dropping them in a bin was ok for some stuff, but we all have our favorites that are hard to let go of. I was able to weed out so much more if I knew it might end up with someone that I knew, or someone in the community who might love it and wear it more than me.

Here are some of the clothes that I took to a clothing swap. There was more not shown in this picture that I opted to take to a local consignment shop, but only about one bag.

Let's talk about clothing swaps for a moment, for those of you who might not be familiar with them.

First off, they rock.

And they are fun.

And you can get rid of your stuff and feel good about it. Sometimes you can find a real gem for yourself in the piles of clothing and shoes that others are done wearing. It's exciting!
It's like show and tell with clothes. You can invite all of your friends, no matter what their size... the more the merrier! You can go to a clothing swap even if you have no clothes or accessories to swap - most of the time people are happy to have others there to TAKE stuff. We usually have women only swaps (since there aren't changing rooms, no kids or guys just works better for us), but we bring clothes to swap for everyone. At the one that I just went to, I come home with something for myself and all of my kids, including a killer snowsuit for my youngest.
We eat and drink and hang out... and sometimes we might even end up in another room dancing!

Have I convinced you yet? Clothing swaps rock. Try hosting one! (and invite me please)

So the other thing that I want to convince you to do is to support your local consignment shop.

In my town, there is a really nice shop here that I just started going to that has quickly become my favorite place to shop for myself. It is called Renee's Boutique and if you live anywhere near southern Berkshire county, please go there and check it out. The whole idea of consignment is perfect: passing on clothes, etc. that we are no longer wearing while supporting a local business that supports buying second hand and keeping clothes in circulation so that we don't need to buy any new ones. At this store, there is a 60/40 split (the store makes 60% obviously) and my 40% is given to me as store credit. I really like this because it means that I can go in there, ask how much in credit I have and then see if there is anything that I like. My plan moving forward is to take something out of circulation in my wardrobe whenever I add something new. Today, I added a pair of jeans and removed two sweaters and a pair of jeans that I wasn't really wearing enough.

As I was leaving the consignment shop today, I asked the owner how it was going. She looked at me and said that it wasn't going well. She said fall went well but right now is super slow. Why would that be? I would think that people could be buying Christmas gifts there... I know the store is just for women, but there is more than just clothes - there are shoes, scarves, jewelry, bags and wallets there too. This place is set up with quality products... and while it could seem a bit pricey to some, just remember that it's not a thrift store, it's a consignment shop. When you shop there, you are still paying less than you would be if you had bought it new, meanwhile supporting a local business. She sells brand name stuff there too, so you can find a little bit of everything.

Ok, ok I'll stop. But please consider supporting a local consignment shop before you buy something new from a big store. You will feel better about, I promise.

As for kids clothes, my favorite thing to do is to find someone with a child that would fit into the clothes that we are ready to pass on and ask them if they want them. I personally love when people ask if they can give me clothes for my kids, so I just assume that others feel the same way. Don't forget to pass on those shoes and boots too! You could also set up a kids clothing swap - it can still be a fun night just for the parents, but you could be swapping kids clothes instead of clothes for yourselves.

And now, I am off to do laundry.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some electronic waste knowledge

Well, the one good thing about being stuck at home sick is that I get to write more posts again... there is so much out there to share!

Like this video called "the Story of Electronics" that was put out by the fabulous people from the Story of Stuff Project:

If you get a chance, all of their videos are totally worth watching so please try and check them out (you can do so by going to their website).

And just in case you were wondering, this is the other thing that I have been watching while I lay on the couch all day:
This ninja warrior has also been home sick with me, but he has quite a bit more energy than I do, as you can see.

Ok, back to sleep.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thinking about Christmas trees

It's that time of year where we start seeing cars driving down the street with Christmas trees on the roof of their cars. I don't dare buy a tree this early in the game, not after that Christmas when I was pregnant with my youngest... I was so into the holiday season during my last trimester of pregnancy that year that we got a Christmas tree the week after Thanksgiving. I'm not sure why it happened, but the tree was so dead by Christmas morning that we had to be careful not to touch it because all of the needles would fall off. In fact, we took it outside the day after Christmas and gave it one solid shake and POOF it was a skeleton of a tree. So, long story short, we now wait until a few weeks before Christmas to get a tree.
Sad tree, Christmas 2006
(I can't believe I found this photo!)

Anyway, the tree brings up yet another environmental issue for us all - is it better to cut down a tree (or purchase a pre-cut tree) or to have a fake tree? Well, for me it is a no brainer - we live in New England and I can drive just 10 minutes to support a local family that makes their living off of their Christmas tree farm. But for others who don't live in a geographical location that Christmas tree type trees grow naturally, then this is a real debate.

This article from our friends over at in.gredients got me thinking about the tree topic yesterday, as I sat (and continue to sit) on the couch bored from being home sick. As stated in the article, the National Christmas Tree Association does make a decent argument for real trees. And for one more read about the topic, here is another article from Green Options to check out.

The thing about the fake trees, even if you can find a second hand one, is that it will eventually end up in a landfill. That plastic isn't going anywhere... and when I start thinking about new ones being produced, my head just hurts.

And while I do like supporting a local family by getting a real tree, I was thinking that this year we might try something different. Certainly we will miss the sweet smell of Christmas that comes with the real tree, but we certainly WON'T miss the needles all over the floor. In fact, I think that alone might have made my decision for me.

So then what? Make a tree of course! There are many different good (and not so good) ideas out there, but I think my favorite comes from the good people over at instructables:

This tree is made from branches found out in the woods, which would be a fun thing to do with the family.
Check out the full instructions here.

This one was my second favorite, if we wanted a smaller tree. We would have to purchase the wire, which doesn't appeal to me as much, but we could always support our local hardware store if needed.
For instructions on this tree, go here

And definitely worth checking out is the blog that I came across called One Hundred Christmas Trees. If you've got a few minutes, there are some very enjoyable trees there!

Lastly, I will leave you with this fun video that my mother in law sent me when she heard I was researching Christmas tree ideas:

If you are the Christmas tree type, what are your plans this year??

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Traveling detour at Thanksgiving time

Oh I have waited days to write about this and I hope that intensity of my experience hasn't faded too much in that time... because truly, the detour that we had to take on our way to visit family for Thanksgiving was a crazy experience for me.

But let me start at the beginning.

We traveled to visit family for Thanksgiving. Like usual, we left after a long day of work for me, after many long days of work in fact. Needless to say, it was dark and we were tired. I was a little bummed that my older to kids opted to stay at home with their dad to celebrate Thanksgiving with him (only bummed because they missed a chance to see family), but once we were on the road for a bit, I was certainly glad that we didn't have two more bodies in the car. Don't you want to know why?? Well, let me tell you.

If you have ever traveled on the Taconic State Parkway, then you know that there is nowhere to pull off except for a random road every now and then. Well, we were cruising through one of those no pull off areas when our dog got sick... not the throw up kind of sick either. It was so awful and we had to wait for a road to appear before we could pull over. Meanwhile, the dog was trying to get away from the mess, spreading it further in the process. It truly was a moment that I never want to repeat... but wait, there is more.

We had very little in the car for clean up except an old box of baby wipes from back when we had a kid in diapers. The wipes were just for emergencies and totally dried up, but I always thought that someday they might come in handy. I was right - it was all we had to clean with. Really gross. We let the dog out (there happened to be a stream and he got in it - serious luck!) and did our best to clean and then went on our way to quickly find a store to buy something (anything!) to finish the cleaning job. Oh the smell!

We drove and drove until we finally found a pull off with somewhere to go and wash our hands and buy cleaner. I really didn't want to buy some chemical cleaner from a gas station so we decided to look for baking soda - cheap and excellent at killing odors... which was our biggest concern at that point. We thought about going into a restaurant and asking for some baking soda, but we didn't think anyone would give us any from the string of chain restaurants around us.

And then we saw it, our only option - a w@lmart. I do not think I have ever gone in one before (if I have, I've blocked it from my memory), but I swallowed my pride and walked through the doors. Oh what an experience! That place is insane, I walked around dodging shopping carts like I was crossing a busy street. I felt invisible as I hunted for a few cloth towels and a box of baking soda. I wondered why they people shopping there weren't all super fit (to be fair, I'm sure some where very fit) since I felt like I was getting a serious work out with the amount of walking I had to do in that gigantic place. It was daunting! I also noticed that they have super sized shopping carts so that people can buy even MORE stuff - those carts are big enough to fit two kids side by side, kids that looked too big to sitting in shopping carts in the first place.

Anyway, I found what I needed in record time (if there had been a race for people to find things in a gigantic store that they had never been in, I would have totally won) and headed to the registers. The 20 items or less was considered "express" - yet another plot to buy more in my opinion. The cashier at the register that I was waiting in line for didn't look well. She was telling the women in front of me about how sick she was and the women were outraged! They started ranting about how awful they thought that the way the workers in that store were treated - meanwhile, they were unloading their shopping cart to buy things to support the business they were badmouthing! I so badly wanted to suggest to them that they take their business elsewhere if they felt that strongly, but I kept my mouth shut and waited patiently. Then the cashier said "oh no, they treat us very well here... they feed us." And she succeeded in convincing the ladies that she was actually treated well (even if she had to work with pneumonia).

Finally it was my turn to check out and the cashier was so busy talking to someone else that when she tried to grab my towels and scan them, I had to put my hand on the stuff and waited for her to actually give me attention. It startled her so much, but I smiled and looked her in the eye and said "I don't need a bag, thank you". She seemed a bit shaken that I would be so direct, but she said ok and then gave me her attention for the one minute that our transaction lasted. I gave $4 and some change of my hard earned cash to that place, grabbed my goods and split. I passed a mcd0nalds on the way out, that was weird for me too - I had no idea they put them in stores!

Ok, enough of that, here are the lessons that I learned from this long story:
- Always keep a spare cloth in your car (I have two now).
- Baking soda kicks butts in killing odors, and I might just have to keep some of that in the car too.
- I never want to go into that store again.

Luckily the rest of our trip went well, here are a few pictures that I took along the way:
 Thankful for food and family to eat it with.
Vintage toys for grandkids to play with - in this one, the playmobile man seems to have conquered a cart full of superheroes...
 Lots of recycled art at the grandparent's house, very cool.
My youngest has wanted a nutcracker SO BAD since his older sister performed in the performance with the Moscow ballet a few weeks ago... luckily he has a grandmother who had a collection in her attic!
 We took a trip to the zoo.
 The tigers got really close.
 Attic fun.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New shoes

My son needs new shoes. Not the little one, the 14 year old one. The one that happens to currently wear the same size shoe as me. The one who, if I am lucky, will pass down some cool shoes to me when he moves into the next size. So, I have some interest in being involved with the process of buying his next shoe...

We started the new shoe hunt online, looking for eco-friendly sneakers. He is quite obviously into how the shoe looks, and at first that was all that he cared about and we were kind of butting heads... so I dropped the whole thing and forgot about it.

But then he came to me yesterday and said that he had been thinking about it and he actually did care about the quality of the shoe and that it was eco friendly. He doesn't like the idea of workers being treated unfairly to make the products that he buys, and he doesn't like seeing overflowing landfills, so we went back to the computer again.
Check out what we found.

Oat shoes were our favorite find, but they are totally out of our price range:
These shoes are biodegradable and you can apparently grow plants out of them when you are done wearing them. Pretty cool.

Well, I certainly don't want to advertise for n1ke, but they have a shoe that is made from recycled newspaper:
(I obviously didn't take these pictures, I'm sure you all realize that)
When we came across this shoe, my son said something to the effect of: I wonder how long it took the kids in the shoe factories to make those shoes. We moved on.

And then we came across other cool biodegradable footwear:
Afterheels are little compact shoes sold in vending machines in the UK. They are designed for when your feet hurt after wearing heels all night. The shoes are biodegradable and sold for pretty cheap.
A very interesting idea.

Then I found an article about how someone made a stormtrooper helmet from recycled adidas shoes.

And some vegan heels that are made from recycled tvs.

Ok, ok... I was having fun but enough about shoes that my son would never wear - this is what we found for him:
Simple shoes make some nice shoes from recycled material. I think they will be one of our new default shoes to buy when we need to buy "new". This particular shoe is made from hemp and organic cotton as well as recycled materials. The outsole is made from 40% recycled car tires and 60% natural rubber with biodegradable materials. The insole is also biodegradable, designed to break down within 20 years. And the really nice thing about them? I would say it's the elastic laces... my son currently wheres his laces super loose and not tied at all... and of course there's that little parent gene that I acquired when I had kids that ensures that this behavior drives me nuts. And then I feel old (but that's another blog post).
Oh, and I would wear these shoes... which brings us back to the beginning of this post.

Ok, I'm going to tell you all something else.

I have a little dirty secret. I love shoes. I know, I know... most women do. But I don't really like women shoes much since my wide feet don't often fit in them. But I like looking feminine sometimes so I don't always want to wear mens shoes. So shoe shopping is very difficult, especially when looking for second hand like I try to. I can't buy second hand online for shoes unless I've tried on the shoe and know it's the right fit. And I don't ever want to spend a lot of money on shoes because it makes me feel guilty. But yesterday, I did.

Every time I look for shoes for myself, I spend hours online hunting for the best shoe for the best price, never being able to try the shoe on. Once I make a decision, I'm always disappointed for some reason.

But I finally decided to treat myself to a really good pair of shoes, made by a good company and purchased from a local business. And you know what? I don't even feel guilty.

Keen shoes have always been my favorite. The company is decent and they fit my feet just right. No pointy toes, no heel, just total comfort... and this just might be the boot that I've been looking for forever. I bought them locally on a day that encouraged local buying in my town by offering 20% coupons for some of the stores... so I took advantage and saved a little money. Considering that I have never spent this much on shoes, anything helped!

Phew, I feel better now that I've told you.

I guess maybe I was feeling a tiny bit guilty...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bulk excitement

It's true, I get excited when I find new things in bulk.

This week when I did my "big shop", I think my family was just as excited as I was that my co-op now carries some new items in the bulk department.
Yes, that is cereal my friends. My kids have been deprived of cereal for 6 months now, since we started this package free adventure. And cereal is just one thing that I refused to cave on - a cardboard box is one things, but that plastic bag liner with almost no cereal inside is another thing altogether.
But now, cereal in bulk.

Also shown in this picture is a jar of honey roasted peanuts... a delicious new snack in our house. And let's not forget those all natural jelly beans...totally unnecessary but oh so good. If you like to bribe your kids with candy (which I do not by the way), bulk jelly beans would totally work.

And in the background (but difficult to see) are the counter top staples, bulk style of course: honey, pink himala salt and black pepper, both in refillable glass grinder jars.

One other thing in this picture, very difficult to see, is my wine carafe. And while I don't currently have a good source for buying local and/or bulk wine, I do have an idea in the works. Stay tuned for how that turns out...

One more thing, not bulk related but something I think is worth giving attention to.
My co-op is launching a new program that is pretty cool - local frozen veggies for sale.
While I would debate over this item for a while due to the plastic packaging that it come in, I think that this is a fantastic idea! Kudos to all involved.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In.gredients links, Honda, shopping locally and reusable pizza boxes

Ok, here's the deal.
I have lots to share but no time to create some well written blog post to make it all come together.

So here goes... just check out these links because I promise that they are interesting enough.

I've been following what the store (to be) in.gredients has been sharing - lots of good info! I am excited for this store to open, but it is taking some time. Once open, they will be the first no package, zero waste store... too bad they will be very far away from me. But I can still support them and look to them for ideas on how a business can do this, and hopefully help encourage zero waste even more around me.

Anyway, they have been posting lots of interesting articles, and I'm just going to share my favorites:

This article is taken from the daily green called "10 ways to green your pantry".

This article is called "reducing waste: do it for your community". And by the way, I love the pictures in this article and the one before - mostly because it is what I see in my own pantry and it's what I wish other pantries looked like!

Check out this video that they posted on their blog, it makes me feel better about owning a Honda:

Ok, ok... onto something else altogether. Check out my friend's article that she wrote about five reasons to shop locally. And if any of you are near Media, PA - that's the town she speaks of. Though I will say, that is not her in the picture and she does not regularly balance presents on her head.

And for those of you who are trying to figure out what to do with your pizza box after you get take out, check this link out. Sorry to all of you out there putting that grease covered cardboard box in the recycling bin... it does require a little more thought than that. My friend has mentioned that she wishes there was a stainless steel pizza box that she could buy and take to pizza places for to go pizza... anyone out there ready to make one?? Wait, check this out:
 What do you think? I would totally buy one and use it myself...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A little more on plastic bags

I guess all this time while I was off not blogging, I was still collecting info. Recently, there has been a little more info on plastic bags that I wanted to share with you all. Mostly I wanted to share this clip that aired on CNN:
The video features the Bag Monster, who I try to follow when I can.

I also thought this was a good article for dog owners who want to rid their lives of plastic bags. What do you pick the dog poop up with? Check out the article for some good suggestions.

Gift giving

I know I've been MIA and I apologize... life has been so busy!

As some of you may know, we got hit with a freak snowstorm a few days before Halloween. It was a lot of snow.
There are actually 2 cars in this picture, believe it or not. And since both have bald tires, we were pretty much stuck at home. So much for our night out.

But the snow definitely made me start thinking about Christmas and gift giving (already!)... and I decided that it was time to brief my family on how we would be handling the holidays and general gift giving from now on. I sent my closest family an email explaining about how we are trying to only support the purchase of previously owned items and how we don't get trash pick up so we would like to avoid anything coming into the home that creates any trash. This also includes wrapping paper, which generally is not recyclable. Not only that, but second hand items are cheaper!

Yesterday was my oldest son's 14th birthday (even though I'm not really old enough to have a child that age), and I simply wrapped his gifts in newspaper:
Why not? There is tons of it all around us and it's free and recyclable. And as they say, it's what's inside that counts.

As for the gift... well, I finally caved and decided it was time for my electronic device deprived teenager to have a little fun so I got him a sony PSP. I found it used on ebay and 2 used games to go with it. He was more than thrilled and could have cared less if there are a few little scratches on it. Not only that, but I probably saved $100 or so.

Anyhow, I'm sure that I will have much to share with you as we actually get closer to the gift giving season. And since the snow is melting and we are returning to fall again, I will put this thinking on hold for now.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Eco friendly Halloween (again)

I'm trying to get over my issues with consumerism connected with holidays and I figure the best thing I can do is to encourage others to celebrate in the most eco friendly way possible. So, this is my follow up Halloween post... this time with less ranting and a few more good ideas.

I have come across a lot of great info to share about being eco friendly at Halloween time.

Here are some good basic tips for an eco friendly Halloween from Earth 911.

Check out some great ideas for eco themed costumes. I was considering one for myself, but I'm already enough of a freak about this stuff that I think I'll go for something more "normal" (made from current or borrowed items of course).

Here are a few ideas for DIY costumes, they are for adults but ideas can be altered for kids. The options for DIY kids costumes didn't seem as exciting to me.

This blog post on nature moms blog has some great tips for all things Halloween, with really good suggestions for better candy to give away. I would feel better if my kids got stuff like that when they went trick or treating.

And I know I implied that I was going to be more positive and everything, but PLEASE PLEASE read about why we need to make informed decisions when buying candy, and why buying fair trade chocolate is so important.

As for trick or treat bags, when we were kids we just used pillow cases. I think party we wanted to get as much candy as possible, but it certainly was an easy and eco friendly solution. Nowadays, people buy those plastic pumpkin buckets and other plastic candy holding things - do they buy them new every year? I don't understand why they would... anyhow, most of you know about my love for chicobags, and it just so happened that we were selling their new halloween bags at our co-op. I know I didn't need to, but I bought one for each kid as a treat. The cool thing about them is that they can be added to our bag collection and/or the kids can keep them on hand for when they need an extra bag for school or sports stuff. I do like them to keep a chicobag in their backpacks for that reason, but I think over the summer they stopped carrying one. Now they will have one again (after Halloween).
One of the cool thing about buying these particular bags is that 10% of the sale of each bag will go to Green Halloween. And while I was checking out their website, I found even more good ideas for what to pass out on Halloween. if you check no other links on this blog post, at least look at this one.

So, dress up and have fun this Halloween... but think before you buy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Protesting and the economy

It's not that I am against protesting, it's just that it's not my style. Everyone keeps asking me if I'm going to "occupy wall street" and I just say "no". They all assume that's my style, but the truth is... I would rather spend my time trying to make change in other ways. I'm certainly not criticizing anyone who is into protesting - because the truth is, we need those people (perhaps even you) to do their thing and help make change in that way. I fully support (and encourage) the protesting, but I'm just not interested in being involved. I also look forward to a positive outcome from the protesting that can help us all... one that can hopefully make it even easier to make change in other ways.

This is really the first time that I've posted or even written anything about occupy wall street, that is how removed I've been. However, there is a very important connection that I have to all of this - I work at a co-op. This video says it all:
I really want point out the importance of supporting co-ops. I know sometimes you can find more or better deals at your local wh0le foods market and trader j0es... but your money is still going to big business. Vote with your dollar! Keep your money local!

And while we are watching videos, check out this one about visualizing a plenitude economy:
Everyone should watch this.


For those of you who are tech savvy and into apps, please check out this free app called climate counts - this app will help you chose wisely who you want to give your hard earned money to based on the environmental impact that the company has. Help fight climate change! Check out the climate count website here.

And on the DIY tip, I came across a few recipes for health and beauty products that I wanted to share. I haven't tried any yet, but I plan on needing more toothpaste soon and using the recipe shown. I'm also going to try the deodorant. I will let you know how it goes!

Monday, October 10, 2011


We went camping yesterday.

We went to a campground that was about 1/2 hour away. It was packed since this was the last real camping weekend of the season... and what a beautiful weekend it was. I took 4 vacation days and I think the weather gods took pity on me and my overwhelming schedule, so they blessed us with amazing weather on my days off.

We stayed in the tent section with our pop up camper because our friends had tents. Since there were no other tenters, we had the whole section to ourselves - it was perfect.
We only stayed one night, but it was still fun.

I had this whole dilemma about all of our dishes, etc. that we keep stocked in the camper - they are so plastic. When we got the camper a year and a half ago, I went to the dollar store and bought all the stuff to stock it - plates, cups, bowls, silverware, etc... and I'm kicking myself now. I was conscious then, but I still made that excuse for myself without even realizing it - the one about how you know you shouldn't be supporting something (like the dollar store), but you really don't have a lot of money and it's so much more affordable.

So now I am stuck with all of this plastic stuff that I don't want to just throw away, but I don't want to use. I mean, we only go camping a few times a year, it can't hurt us. But I really want to switch over at some point to thrift store finds... later.

Anyway, the campgrounds are fun with lots of stuff to do. There are often organized events, and last night there happened to be trick or treating.
It was fun to have a chance to walk around the RV campground and check out all of the campers... but the trash issue came up and inside I was quietly freaking out. So much trash with trick or treating!! It's not even just the wrappers, it's the little plastic toys, the plastic ziplock bags that people put the already wrapped in plastic candy... even the plastic lawn ornaments.

Yes, people even decorated their camper plots for this event. It was a tiny bit surreal if you haven't been to campgrounds like this. Ok, even if you have been to them.

It got really cold at night, but we brought plenty of blankets and dressed warm.
In the morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast together.
And we only fought over the camping chairs a few times.

We were able to keep this trip almost waste free. There was this plastic that we had to throw away that was wrapped around the wood that we had to buy at the camp store - there is a law that you can't bring firewood in to campgrounds. Some of our friends had some trash from wrappers for some food, but that is unavoidable unless you are specifically having a zero waste camping trip (which isn't a bad idea).
The kids had fun on the playground while the older kids played basketball on the basketball court.
There was even this really cool giant checkerboard even.

It was a good little overnight that I plan on doing more often in the spring. 

We packed up this afternoon and headed back home.
But the day was so beautiful that I just couldn't let it slip by. And although I did take a nap that was really difficult to wake up from (I took a nap!), we still took a walk and got a little fishing in.
Somehow, the leaves are all little more colorful than they were before we went camping yesterday. It's always amazing how that happens so suddenly every year...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Halloween and thoughts on consumerism

It's fall here.
The leaves are all starting to change and the nights are getting colder. School is going in full swing and we are adjusting to the next season.

And with this season comes a real challenge for our waste free lifestyle with kids: Halloween.

For years when my kids were younger, I was able to keep them away from trick or treating. We would have parties with friends and dress up and eat treats... but those years are behind us now (if you have young ones - it's not too late). At a certain point, they just can't deny that urge to go trick or treating - and I don't really want to deny them of the fun of going from house to house and being a part of a mob of dressed up kids.

Last year one thing that stood out in my memory was how consumed the children have become with getting as much candy as then can, as quickly as possible. I was noticing that other kids weren't even saying "trick or treat", let alone "please" or "thank you". In this age of staring at electronic devices all day and not having to look eye to eye with others, so many kids have lost their manners. I mean come on - these people are giving you free candy - at least look at them and thank them!

Anyhow, there are many aspects of Halloween that make me think. There are the costumes, the purchasing of unhealthy and over packaged sugar treats made by large corporations that do little good for our environment, and then there is the trash.

But let's start with the costumes.

I generally try to get creative with helping my kids pull together costumes. I've made some from scratch in the past, used things from the dress up box, shopped at thrift stores and even bought new over the years. If I had been thinking more creatively, I probably could have even avoided buying the new costume (I feel like this has maybe only even happened once).
Last year my youngest wanted to be a knight so bad... and while this looks like a store bought Halloween costume, it's actually a hand me down dress up outfit from his big brother - straight out of the dress up box. What a great opportunity to wear dress up clothes outside of the house!

This year is proving to be a bit trickier for him... especially since he changes his mind once a week. Last week he was going to be a ninja, so I was scoping out black shirts and pants and looking for some nice black cloth to turn into a ninja mask. But this week he wants to be Han Solo. Stay tuned for this exciting decision.

I wish I had a picture of what my oldest son was last year, I'm kicking myself for not documenting that one. He and two of his friends decided to be consumerism kids... I can't remember what they called themselves exactly, but they covered white t-shirts with every logo that they could find (all hand drawn) and handed out old monopoly money with the following printed on the back: "We are yet 3 more kids on an already overpopulated planet manipulated by huge corporations to make our peers and ourselves the cynical and alienated youth of today".
He hasn't decided what he's going to be this year, I guess it's hard to top that.
My daughter, however, collaborated with a friend and made a cool costume out of an old shirt and some other supplies. Her costumer was pretty creative as well (she was Thing 2).

I just heard about this really cool idea that I would totally take part in if I was the type to buy Halloween costumes, it's called national costume swap day and it happens to be tomorrow! Have you heard of this? It's a great idea... but why not create a costume swap with some friends any time? I encourage everyone to think like this regularly.

Ok, let's move on now to the candy and the trash. The truth is, I don't have enough energy to go into the issue of small individually wrapped sugar snacks that we all know we shouldn't be giving to kids. Don't get me wrong, I love good chocolate just as much as the next person (except my oldest child, who doesn't really like chocolate at all...) but I am really struggling with the waste that this holiday produces. I'm certainly not going to deprive my kids of their trick or treat experience... but I'm on the fence still about what to do about all of the trash that will come of it! If anyone has ANY suggestions out there (other than banning trick or treating), I'm all ears. Meanwhile, my best plan of action so far is this:
This year, I want my kids to save every single wrapper and every piece of trash from their Halloween candy. I want them first to recognize how much waste this holiday produces, and then I want them to find something creative to do with the trash instead of just throwing it away.

Sadly (and luckily), we don't get any trick or treaters at our house, so we won't have to worry about handing anything out... but what if we did? What are the best waste free options out there? There are always apples... or fresh baked mini muffins... worse case scenario, I would maybe (MAYBE) buy some all natural candies or lollipops made by a company that I feel good supporting and hand those out...

What are your thoughts on this holiday?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Zero waste at festivals

Today we went to the harvest festival at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. I have been going to this festival as long as I've lived in the Berkshires (about 15 years) and the weather is totally different every year  -  this year it was just cold. Luckily it wasn't as wet as had been predicted... but I remember that one year it snowed and another year I got a sunburn.

This time our visit to the festival was a little bit different. This time we came with everything that we would need to have a zero waste experience there... with the exception of the fuel needed to travel. Oh, and the fuel for the tractor that pulled us on a hay ride (I guess there is a chance that they used biodiesel though).

We usually just carry one backpack with everything we might need and my partner and I take turns carrying it. Today we packed a plate (which falafel later ended up on), utensils, chico bags (later filled with 2nd hand loot), family sized water bottle, my insulated klean kanteen (which was later filled with local beer that had been brewed by solar power), cloth napkins (which some fresh local soft pretzel ended up wrapped in), a tin container just in case and some snack taxis (one filled with popcorn and one empty). There was also an empty coffee cup for my partner, but the line was so long because it was so cold that we didn't end up using it.

Even though there were tons of vendors and crafters, we found our loot at the second hand booths. We found books ($6 for 7), picture frames ($9 for a 8), a photo album ($.50) and a metal firetruck ($1) that made my youngest very happy. We ate good food and grabbed some to go on the way out - soft pretzels and a bunch or our most favorite carrots grown by our friends at woven roots farm. We used most of the stuff we carried, including our chico bags which we needed to carry the extra stuff that we ended up with.

All in all we had a good time even if it the weather wasn't ideal. We successfully avoided creating or contributing to any waste... and you know what? It was really easy to do.