Friday, September 30, 2011

Catch up post

Busy busy busy is all I can say. And yet there is so much out there that I want to read and catch up on and learn about. In fact, I'm supposed to be reading my homework and baking brownies for a bake sale right now, but look what I'm doing instead...

I've come across a lot of interesting links and articles this week but I'm just going to share a few with you to follow up with if they interest you too. And for some reason, I ran across a bunch of articles that had to do with junk food - does this mean that there is a sudden interest in doing something about the junk food problem that our society has? Awareness is a good start at least.

This article in the New York Times questions whether or not junk food and fast food really are cheaper than healthy real food.

An article from PCC Natural Markets, a co-op out on the west coast, gives some good tips on packing kids lunches - check it out.

Check out this video by the Vegan Zombie about making almond milk, I might just give it a shot:

And since tomorrow is the start of October, which is both national co-op month and national fair trade month, I will leave you with this video:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Refuse the straw

This is my rant about plastic straws.

We went out to dinner last night and had a really unhappy waitress who let it affect her performance as a server. Being in customer service, I can see this from a mile away... and it's always too bad. Regardless, she continually forgot our request for no plastic straws for each drink that she brought to us. Look, I understand that when you are used to a certain norm, it can be irritating when customers like us come along and ask for something different, something that takes a tiny bit more effort to satisfy them. But seriously, it's just a stinkin disposable straw. We are saving you a step even.

But I digress.

The real questions are - why do people feel like they need a straw? What did we do before straws existed? Who decided that sucking was better than sipping? I understand that there are some people who might have a handicap where straws make life much easier for them, and I think those people should use straws... but the rest of us?

Here is a little bit of background on how straws came about and how they are made, if anyone is curious.

I read somewhere that straws were the most thrown away disposable item. Since I can't remember where I read that, I can't stand behind it... but as I look around at work and at restaurants, I can see how this might be true. Sometimes when I ask for no straw and the drink shows up with the straw, the server will say "oops, sorry" and remove the straw and throw it away. Talk about defeating the purpose.

Here is something that I took from the Sustainability Association of Hawaii, just to simplify the issue:

"Straws are not only made of plastic, a petroleum-based byproduct, but they are also intended for single use consumption, an extremely wasteful habit.

Think about how many fast food restaurants pop a plastic straw into your drink or bag every single day. Typically, you use it once and toss it in the garbage 20 minutes later. Do this twice a day and you use 7,300 plastic straws in a decade!

Let’s put it into perspective: the manufactured plastic straw comes in a paper wrapper from a box inside a bigger box that was unloaded from a truck that was taken off a ship that traveled from faraway lands from a factory that created pollutants to continue making more straws for disposable use.

Eliminating straws saves on:

- Energy in the production process.

- Carbon emissions during its transportation.

- Waste in the disposal process.

- Toxic Leaching from polypropylene plastic."

There are some fine alternatives to using a disposable plastic straw if you still feel like you love sipping on a straw (it's ok to feel this way by the way):

Glass Dharma makes reusable glass straws that I've only heard great things about... but I personally feel like glass straws in this house wouldn't be super smart.

I just came across these cool bamboo straws made by Kaboodle.

But my favorite are the stainless steel straws that my sister in law got us for Christmas. In fact, I think I just made the decision to start carrying one around with me for my youngest so that he doesn't feel straw deprived when we are out to eat.

Here's the things guys: the reason people feel put out by a request like "no straw please" is because they aren't used to hearing it. Even the most environmentally conscious people that I know don't bother with such a small thing like refusing a straw before it even arrives. But what if we all started doing this? Wouldn't it be great if it became common enough that a server would actually start asking people first if they wanted straws instead of automatically serving drinks with them in it? And then imagine that someday everybody would pause and think before automatically handing out anything disposable...

It's a small thing, I know... but it's yet another step in the right direction.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My day at home

Wow, life just gets busier and busier... literally every day. Things keep moving and some of it I will share in time, but meanwhile life goes on at home. We continue to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and lots of snacks as well as pick up and drop off kids, get our homework done (this includes me by the way), do the chores that are priority and still try to spend time together. Oh yeah, and work and sports and classes and all that other stuff going on.

I am happy to stay put at home for once today and I look around my house feeling happy with what we've got and what we are doing here. I only get one day a week at home, if I'm lucky, so I like to savor it.

I get to spend my Fridays off with my youngest while the older two are in school. He is quite a player and can keep himself busy for hours building these amazing... things out of the collections of random hand me down toys from his older brother and sister.

One thing that I've made routine around here is ditching the dryer. For a while that involved hauling the laundry outside and hanging it on the line (which I love to do actually) but I just got fed up with the rain always happening after I hung the laundry and then left to go to work or run an errand... only to come home to clothes that were even more wet than when I hung them up. What a waste, especially if the only option at that point is to use the dryer, which will end up using even more energy because the clothes are extra wet at that point.
So I went to a locally owned hardware store and bought a super awesome wooden jumbo drying rack. I had a small one before that didn't hold a whole load of laundry, but with the additional super awesome jumbo rack, I can easily do 2 loads of laundry and hang them in my living room and still avoid the use of the energy sucking dryer.

This will be even more fantastic once we start having fires in our fireplace because the clothes will dry super fast. And for big things like sheets, I just hang them on the curtain rod in the bathroom.

One other little random saving secret that I wanted to share, for those bacon lovers out there: I save all of my bacon grease.
We don't eat bacon a lot but when we do... I use a spatula to get all of the left over grease in a jar that we keep in the fridge. We use it for cooking eggs or adding to certain foods for that special bacon flavor. I have added it to mac and cheese and also popped popcorn in it... at least one of my kids is vegetarian, so I don't use it as much as I'd like but I'm always looking for more uses for leftover bacon grease!

Ok, that's all I've got for now. I've already made my butter for the week so now I'm off to study and organize a fundraiser! Oh yeah, and fold the laundry...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The $5 Challenge

Today is the day that tons of people have signed on to taking the challenge of eating a slow food meal for $5 or less. The idea is that we can eat fresh and healthy meals and it can cost the same or less than fast food. I think this is based on the cost of a value meal, but the truth is that I haven't been in a fast food restaurant (except for going to the bathroom at rest stops when we travel) in probably 15 or more years. My kids like to tell the story of when they once had to go to the bathroom when we were at some kind of festival in a small town in Connecticut, and the only place to go to the bathroom was a McD0nalds. They always say "yeah, we went to a McD0nalds once" and then they pause just long enough to get a reaction and then they laugh... "yeah, to go to the bathroom. It was gross."

So as you can see, I'm just going have to trust that a value meal or the like costs about $5, and that is what this challenge is based on.

The truth is, it is not hard to spend $5 or less per person in my family for a meal, due to the way I shop. If you think about it, you can choose foods that don't cost much, and then spruce them up with a little something special. If you consider the overall cost, this can be easy. It is certainly the reason that we rarely eat out at restaurants... as much as I want to support the local restaurants around here (especially some of my friends that own places), it is just so much more economical for us to eat at home.

Needless to say, it was easy enough for me to make a cheap dinner. But I do have to say that I kept it really simple, so in theory it might not be be all that interesting to someone who likes to eat value meals at fast food restaurants.

White sushi rice (we call it candy rice), fresh broccoli and carrots and fresh baked spelt bread. I'm sort of sorry that I didn't make anything more interesting to document here but oh well. It was a simple dinner tonight because we all ate a pizza and fries kind of dinner last night. We often balance like this to stay in check.

Total meal cost (this is my best guess if I had bought all of this food at full price):

-Organic white sushi rice probably cost about $.50 per person (there was also plenty left over for tomorrow's lunch)
-Organic broccoli probably cost about $1.00 per person
-Organic carrots probably cost about $.50 per person
-Freshly baked organic spelt bread (my first attempt at fresh baked non-wheat bread!) cost about $.50 per person for this loaf (but I got two loaves out of the batch)
-Homemade organic raw butter to go with the bread probably cost about less than $.25 per person.
We also used tamari on our rice, which we buy in bulk and cost probably pennies per person. And I put some tahini sauce that I made on my veggies, that also cost too little to figure out.

So all in all, this meal was easily less than $3 per person. AND there was zero packaging involved.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday (a little late)

I really meant to post this early yesterday, but it has now turned into the next day due to the fact that when I left for a meeting at 10am, I had to go straight to work for 9 or so hours... and then of course I felt that I deserved the glass of wine that was offered to me after work and suddenly it was today. But if I had gotten a chance to use my computer again yesterday, this would have been post #2 for the day.

That said, let's begin, shall we?

Besides buying new flip flops, I have been crazy busy this week. My family is in back to school mode, which includes 3 kids in 2 different schools, dance 2 times a week, drumming once a week and soccer 3 times a week for 2 different kids. I also start school this Saturday myself at Alkion. Oh and I was just elected to be on my town's Energy Committee, and I am considering being a class rep for my oldest son's class (shh, don't tell anyone about this one yet). And somewhere in the mix is my full time job.
This is just the beginning, but it's certainly enough to get the point. I am getting into the swing of organizing meals and making sure there is enough food both in the house and packed for school (and after school) that works for our attempt for a zero waste life style... as well as easy and filling for these quickly growing kids.

Here is one easy fix:
Our local bagel shop has gotten used to me and now most of the staff are confident waiting on me (instead of confused). I ask them to fill my glass pyrex container full of cream cheese and my cloth (or chico) bag full of bagels. The cloth bag that you see in this picture is one of my favorites because it's a good size and seals with velcro. Sorry you can't buy one of these because my super crafty sister in law made it for me... but you can find a similar product made by mothering mother. The bagel treat itself is really for my older kids, since my youngest is gluten free and I don't think the local shop has an alternative for that one... but they can make this one themselves whenever they need a snack - and food for kids to access easily in a zero waste home is really important.

I also continue to make butter once a week. I keep back stock in the freezer since butter freezes so well. Up until now, I have been just putting the butter right into my reused glass jars... but I found some natural wax paper in my kitchen that I wanted to use up so for my last batch of butter, I decided to make sticks and freeze them wrapped in the wax paper:
I like this solution because I can just take one out and put it on my nice glass butter dish - I got the dish for free when my friend bought a church and offered me some of the oversupply of stuff that was in the basement kitchen. A butter dish was just one of those weird luxuries that I could never justify paying for, so I was oddly excited to find a nice glass butter dish among those treasures. And now have butter in the right form to use it!

Anyhow, I owe you a couple of links for the week. Due to my newly found crazy busy life, there's not too much at the moment, but here are some of the things that caught my eye this week:

In the spirit of thinking back to school and attempting to work with my kids' school to become more environmentally friendly (to be fair, they do pretty well already, we just want to do ever better), this article caught my eye as something I might pass on to others. Some of it is obvious, but I think it's good to know that there are definitely people out there doing this!

Check out how one art student took trash found in rivers and turned them into sculptures here.

I was super excited to find this newpaper brick maker - and I am totally buying one. I love the idea of turning our paper recycling into fuel for our fireplace.

And lastly, also found at Lehman's, I am thinking of getting this salad sac. There is this customer who comes through my line at work once a week and buys a ton of fresh produce and he never puts even one thing in a bag. I really like when people do this, and this guys stands out to me because of it. One day I asked him what he does with the produce when he gets home... because I sometimes find that some things still need to be put in plastic bags when I get them home (I use recycled ones that I have piled up, but I'd rather not). He said that while he is shopping, his wife gets these special bags ready for when he returns with the produce. He didn't know what they were but went home to ask her and returned the next week telling me that they were these salad sacs. Apparently, if they are kept slightly damp, then the produce actually stays fresh longer... with no plastic bag needed. I am going to buy one and test it - anyone out there ever used this product? Maybe it can be made easily... I will keep you posted.

That's all I've got for now - I'm off to enjoy this fall like day off with my youngest.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Eco Friendly Flip Flops

2 posts today, post #1.

The time has come for some new flip flops in this house. I know it's practically fall here, but my partner has this habit of wearing his flip flops for as long as he possibly can... which sometime means wearing socks with them, which drives me nuts and he knows it and doesn't care. But it's all good. Except for when he wears through his flip flops so bad that it's time to buy new ones.
They aren't even safe to walk in, but he still wears them so I caved and started the research. I did check many thrift and second hand stores, but to no avail. He has a special size that is not easy to find... so off to the internet to search for some more of those eco-friendly products that are hidden from most of the world.

Here are just a few some of my most favorite finds:

These flip flops made by IndoSole are made from banana leaves and the soles are made from re-purposed motorbike tires. They are sweatshop free, made from recycle materials and 100% vegan. They also make a grass mat version. Unfortunately, these puppies are a little out of our price range.

These flip flops are made by Simple and are actually the ones that I ended up purchasing. I found them on sale from a decent business, and then I found the women style on sale as well and bought myself some... since my own flip flops aren't going to be around much longer either. These flops are made from recycled soda bottles, are vegan and the sole is biodegradable. They also comes in a biodegradable bag, so I don't have to stress about the packaging as much.

Just for fun, check out these flip flops made from old chopsticks, dental floss and cork board. I'm pretty sure they are not for sale, but it's pretty cool to see what you can make out of items you might have lying around your house if you need to... you know, if you are the type that collects used chopsticks and dental floss, but you get the picture.

And then the question is, what do we do with our old used flip flops that can't be donated or recycled? Well, I came across these suggestions from Green Life that I thought would be worth re-posting:

- Make a doormat from your old flip-flops.
- Decorate an ottoman with your old flip-flops.
- Use your old flip-flops to make a helicopter toy for a kid.
- Make a toy boat out of your old flip-flops.
- Create a storage container out of your old flip-flops.
- Use shredded thongs from your old flip-flops as packing materials for your next move or to ship a package.
- Shred your old flip flips and use the shredding as stuffing in cushions.
- Make fun jewelry like bracelets with old flip-flops.
- Use your old flip-flops as fishing floats.
- Cut your old flip-flops to size to be used as filling for gaps in doorways.
- Give your pets your old flips flops for them to play with.
- Cut pieces of your old flip flops to fit under large appliances or heavy furniture that sit on tile or wood flooring to prevent scratching.
- Glue a couple layers of your old flip-flops together to use as doorstops.

Ok, there might be better ideas out there, but to open our minds enough to think like this is what I'm getting at.

Here is one more way to upcycle your old flip flops, as suggested by feelgoodz, who also offer some eco-friendly flip flops. While I like their idea in general, I battle with amount of fuel used in all of the shipping involved with the plan. But that's because I over think everything, so please consider it an option for your own used flip flops.

Does anyone else have any good ideas for old flip flops?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday Links

Here are some links to some of the things I've been reading or thinking about this week:

This article from the Inspired Economist talks about whether or not fast food restaurants should offer customers a no bag option.

Consider taking this $5 challenge, where you are invited to take back the 'value meal' by getting together with family, friends and neighbors for a slow food meal that costs no more than $5 per person.

Look here, isn't it nice that target and gap have agreed to consider eliminating the toxic metal cadmium in jewelry and other accessories they sell? How nice of them.

Here is a cool little blurb talking about how some college campuses are banning bottled water. Did you know:
  • It takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That’s enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.
  • In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water; between 30 and 40 million single serve bottles went into landfills each year.
  • The United State FDA describes bottled water in this way: “Bottled water is water that is intended for human consumption and that is sealed in bottles or other containers with no added ingredients except that it may optionally contain safe and suitable antimicrobial agents. Fluoride may be optionally added within the limitations established.”

There is also more greening happening on school campuses, read about it here.

Read about some ways to make your traveling greener too.

And there is this little PBS series that I've been checking out called . It is a bit dry, but the soothing voice of Brad Pit and Morgan Freeman always helps. There is some interesting stuff in this series, consider checking it out (I am watching it on netflix streaming).

And the last thing that I want to leave you with is my solution to having too much fresh cream on my hands every week. See, I get cream once a week to make fresh butter... and while my family was blowing through it at first, it turns out that the equivalent of 2 peanut butter jars packed with butter is, in fact, too much for us to keep up with. Luckily, butter freezes well (and in glass too!), but I wanted to find something else to do with some of that fresh cream... so I'm trying my hands at making homemade ice cream without an ice cream maker. I took some advice from this blog, but I didn't load it with as much sugar as she suggested. I also added chocolate chips to it after it sat in the freezer for a few hours. Oh, and I didn't use lemon, but I did add vanilla... so I guess I didn't really follow her recipe at all actually. The end product isn't quite ice cream consistency, it's more like sweet cream... but it's really good and everyone in my family loves it. If anyone out there has some other tips for improvements, let me know!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eco Friendly Earbuds

What a funny word, earbuds.
But it's not headphones that my daughter needs to replace, it's earbuds... the ones with rubber on the tip that go in your ear. Hers broke and it's time to replace them, and I decided that we were going to do it right.

A week or so ago, when we were out and about looking for eco-friendly school supplies locally, I got this weird drive to go into staples... just to see what recycled products they could offer us. The door opened and we walked into the most plastic smelling store ever. I know that sounds crazy, but even my kids noticed how smelly it was in there. I mean, it was so bad that I was thinking that it's got to be a work hazard to have to smell plastic off gassing like that all day. The weird thing was that no one else seemed to notice.

Anyway, staples totally failed to offer us anything that we needed made from recycled product. They had a few notebooks but we didn't need a notebook. Funny, online it seems like they are kind of into offering recycled products... but I guess that's not really the case. However, my daughter did find one thing that she "needed" - a new pair of earbuds. They were packaged in tons of plastic (of course), which I pointed out, so she put them back and we quickly left the store.

I tried to forget that she needed new headphone and continued on in my life until yesterday, when she asked me if she could go back to staples and buy those earbuds. That's when I sat down and looked online for other eco-friendly options to satisfy her need. I found so many!

Stand4green earbuds were my first choice, mostly because they were the best price I could find. But there were lots of other options out there to check out.

Iwave  has a grassroots collection with some nice ones, but they don't have easy access to pricing.

Thinksound has some great looking stuff, but is really pricey.

These earbuds from the House of Marley are nice and price-wise seem reasonable enough for the quality.

Just for fun, these Aria headphones from Ashcroft Design show that things really can be recycled and turned into something awesome - these are made from wood recycled from acoustic guitars, the earcups are made from reclaimed aluminum, and the leather are reclaimed from bags, jackets and other articles of clothing from musicians.

Ok, I think I've proven my point that stuff like this is out there - and we can choose to make conscious decisions while still having our luxury items (or "necessities" for our teenagers). We just need to do a little legwork to feel good about what our hard earned cash supports.

And if you are wondering what we ended up with, check out these babies:
We found these on ebay for a mere $13. They are made from eco-friendly wood that is reclaimed from tress that have come down due to storms, urban development or insects and disease. Also, the packaging is made from 85% post consumer materials... which makes me feel SO much better than supporting that crazy plastic off gassing at staples.

Monday, September 5, 2011

On the radio... and my list of ways to make change

Last Thursday I got a phone call... someone wanted to invite me to be interviewed on a radio show about our lifestyle. I was flattered and nervous all at once - I had never been on the radio before! I quickly accepted, realizing that I couldn't let this opportunity pass to share my lifestyle with others. The show is called "From the Ground Up", and you can listen to my interview here:

In preparation for the show, I was asked to make a list of things that people can do to work towards change in their own lives/homes. I had this list ready and on hand to share, but to my (pleasant) surprise, the show went by SO FAST that I barely got to share half of what I intended to. The list never came up because we ran out of time almost immediately after we started. I decided to share the list here with you... I broke it down into 3 sections, easy, moderate and extreme. Keep in mind that these are just the things that came to my mind the night before the radio show, but there is so much room to add on to every level!

Easy steps:

- bring your own bags when you go shopping. If you have a hard time remembering to put your bags back in your car after using them, or if you forget them in the car when you go into the store, then you might want to try a bag like the ChicoBag or equivalent. Keep them in your main bag or purse, or even clip them to something. Seriously consider not using a bag when you don't really need one.

- buy local

- bring your own coffee cup

- use a reusable water bottle

- clothes: pass on clothes when done, accept clothes from others when they are done. Buy second hand when you can.

- turn off your lights, your appliances, your car. Unplug things not being used.

- eat your leftovers, don't let them go bad in the fridge

- compost

- use cloth napkins instead of disposable ones and cloth towels instead of paper towels

- refuse free things that you really don't need

- avoid buying anything unless you need it. If something is broken, consider fixing it before throwing it away and buying a new one.

- grow a garden

- ride a bike or walk instead of drive whenever you can

- pack your lunch and your kids lunches in reusable containers

- buy only natural products

Moderate level:

- bring back already used plastic bags for your produce and bulk items, no need to take new ones every time. Use cloth bags for individual items instead of just to put everything into. Bring back containers, jars, etc. to refill and reuse (just have them weighed first).

- just like the coffee cup, bring a jar or cup to put your fresh juices, smoothies or even your sodas into when you get any kind of drink to go

- take your own picnic gear to parties and potlucks that use disposable plates, utensils, napkins and cups

- bring your own containers to restaurants for leftovers

- when you need to buy a packaged item, choose glass or paper packages that can be recycled or reused, and avoid the plastic options

- use solar powered items

Extreme level:

- try to seriously minimize buying anything in packaging. Shop in the bulk department of the grocery store.

- Make it instead of buying it. If you don't know how to then learn.

- Only buy second hand items, but when you can't do that then research companies well and be sure that they have good practices to stand behind before you purchase. Try and buy these good quality products locally if you can. Vote with your dollar. If there is even one aspect of the purchase that you don't support then just don't buy it.

- invest in solar power for your home, but if that is not possible right now then invest in portable solar power to power small and medium sized appliances

- if you can't find it package free, consider eliminating it from your life. Do you really need it?

Most important step:

Don't feel guilty! If you are feeling guilty that you aren't doing something, then it's time to start doing it. If you feel guilty because you are doing something, then it's time to stop. If you don't want to change the way you are doing anything, then stop feeling guilty about it! Do what is best for you and your family.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Electric Car

I've had this song stuck in my head for days and realized that some of you out there maybe have never heard it... or maybe you haven't heard of They Might Be Giants in general, which would be a bummer since they make great music. Something for grown ups as well as kids... I used to listen to them in high school back when they put out their album "Flood". And then when my oldest was little, they put out their first kid friendly album, which to this day is really the only "kids"music that I can handle listening to more than once.
And in fact, they happen to be playing right in my town this Friday, September 9th right at the Mahaiwe... but sadly I just can't afford the tickets. I really wanted to take my kids to see them, I think they would just love it... maybe next time.
At least let me share the song that's been in my head for days (and nights) - funny enough, it happens to be relevant to my desire for simple change:

Roasted garlic

It's such a simple thing, garlic. It's so good and good for you.

But when I have too much, I sometimes stumble over what to do with it. Right now I know my family could use a healthy dose of garlic in our lives so I decided to roast it up... mmm, roasted garlic.

And then once it was roasted, I decided that adding some protein to it would be good... so I turned it into hummus. It's pretty simple and quick actually. You can find a recipe here, but really any recipe will do. The important part is that I added lots of roasted garlic to it.

On a side note, you can see in the picture that I still have a few cans of beans in my pantry to weed out. I'm using it up of course, because I certainly don't want to waste any food... however, if you are going to buy canned goods, I highly suggest buying only BPA free ones. The only company that I am aware of being truly BPA free is Eden. If I have to buy something in a can again, I will be sure to support them and anyone else who might jump on board by then.