Monday, November 23, 2009

We're heading into the kitchen ...

With Thanksgiving later this week, many people are getting ready to cook a family feast. If your celebration is anything like mine, the meal will be abundant ... and that means using practically every pot and pan in the house.

Before we start stirring, simmering and baking ... let's talk about our cookware and find out which options are safe and Eco-friendly.

Non-Stick Pans (Teflon & Silverstone)

You've heard me say this before ... whenever a product offers "convenience", it bears further investigation. In this case, non-stick pans are definitely convenient ... less fat is required to cook most foods and the clean-up is easy. But, the synthetic coating used to create that slick surface (PFOA) is a known toxin and carcinogen in animals. In some studies, it has been linked to birth defects, cancer and infertility in humans. Most experts will say that, when used properly, there's no danger. So ... how many of us know what "used properly" means? I sure didn't. It means never scratching the surface because that releases the PFOA into the food. It also means never using higher than a medium heat because at higher temperatures, the PFOA releases gases into the air which causes flu-like symptoms called polymer-fume fever. My conclusion on non-stick pans is that, if possible, replace them. If you have them, be sure to read the manufacturers recommendations for use and use them properly.

Aluminum Cookware

Aluminum pans are usually inexpensive and lightweight. They are thermal responsive, meaning that they heat up fast. The problem with these pans is that they react with acidic and/or salty foods (tomatoes, sauerkraut, etc.) causing the formation of aluminum salts which get into the food (and our bodies). These salts have been associated with impaired visual motor coordination and Alzheimer’s disease (although that hasn't been definitively proven). As with non-stick pans, I would pass on these. If one wishes to use them, however, be sure that there aren't any dings or nicks in them ... the more beat up these pans are, the more chance of aluminum contamination. Don't cook acidic or highly salted foods in them and never use them as storage devices.

Anodized Aluminum

The surface coating of these pans (aluminum oxide) is very hard and non-reactive. Basically the aluminum is sealed, preventing any exposure to food. It doesn't react with acidic and/or salty foods so is considered safe to use. Calphalon is probably the best known of these pans. But, when buying them, be sure they are, indeed, anodized aluminum and not one of their non-stick varieties.

Stainless Steel

These pans are created by mixing steel, chromium and nickel. The result is a tough, corrosion resistant pan that is easy to clean. It is considered safe, however, one should not use abrasive materials to clean these pans because doing so may loosen and release small amounts of metals. While a bit of nickel is not poisonous, it can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Cast Iron

Most chefs, who have learned to cook with Cast Iron, swear by it. It holds the heat well, cooks evenly and, if cared for properly, is easy to clean. It also has an added benefit by providing us with an important nutrient ... iron. The only caution with cast iron cookware is that, if not maintained properly, rust can accumulate ... and rust is not something we want in our food. So, proper maintenance is important with these pans.

Glass and Ceramic Cookware

Glass cookware doesn't react to food and is considered safe to use. Ceramic cookware is also a good option provided that lead wasn't used in the glaze.


The general rule for most cookware is to use it according to the manufacturers directions and keep it in good shape. Doing so will provide us with cookware that lasts a long time and is safe to use!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Joyous Diversion ...

Celebration ... a joyous diversion!

Isn't that a wonderful definition? People, throughout time, have taken brief respites from their lives to celebrate ... to come together and observe something bigger than themselves. We focus on special foods and spending time with friends and family. Often there are traditional ceremonies to observe and sometimes gifts are exchanged. Typically, to further divert our attention to the joyous ... we decorate our homes.

Seasonal decorating is big business. Turn on the television and you're bound to see advertisements for holiday adornments. Walk into any store and you'll be greeted with decorations of all sorts. The trouble is, most of those things aren't very earth friendly. The unfortunate truth is that celebrations, of any kind, typically generate a lot of waste.

So, in preparation for the the upcoming holidays, here are a few ideas for decorating ... in an Eco-friendly way:

  • Use cornstalks, pumpkins and bales of hay to create a fall scene.

  • Make a scarecrow (use burlap, straw, old hats and clothes) and let him greet visitors to your home.

  • Collect colorful fall leaves to decorate a table or fill a vase.

  • Display gourds of all sizes, shapes and colors.

  • Use baskets ... fill them or simply display them at odd angles.

  • Make a cornucopia.

  • Use bunches of deep red grapes to decorate a table or place them around bottles of wine on the bar.

  • Pick beautiful apples, arrange them in your nicest bowl and use them as a centerpiece for meals with friends and family.

  • Bring colorful container plants indoors or arrange them around an entry (chrysanthemums, flowering cactus, ornamental kale, flowering cabbage, dusty miller, etc.).

  • Make a wreath from natural products (pine cones, Rosemary, thyme, sage and berries).

  • Decorate a mantle with a natural garland made from evergreens.

  • Don't forget our feathered friends ... fill the nooks and crannies of pine cones with peanut butter, press in bird seed, and hang in a tree. It'll not only make the birds happy, it'll make any tree look festive.

  • Use fresh produce from the farmer's market as decoration. Pomegranates, oranges and walnuts make lovely center pieces.

  • Does Holly grow in your area? Snip a little for mantles or to place around candles.

  • Speaking of candles, opt for soy candles which are much better for the earth.

  • For those who decorate a tree, use strings of popcorn, small pine cones and cranberries for natural beauty.

  • Make a Gingerbread House.

  • Does it snow in your area? Build a snowman.

  • Are holiday lights a must? Use LED lights. And rather than stringing lights, of any kind, on the outside of your house, string them on the inside, around windows. Any heat created by the bulbs won't be lost.

  • Let food be a decoration. Cookies, candies and holiday breads, displayed in festive dishes, add warmth to any celebration.

Being kind to the earth ... now that's truly part of a joyous diversion!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Field Trip ...

I woke up this morning to beautiful blue skies. The sun is shining and the birds are singing. It's a perfect day ... a perfect day for a field trip.

Would you like to go with me? I promise it will be fun!! I've even arranged for an Eco-friendly bus ... so you won't need to worry about driving.

Want to join me? Okay ... let's go!

Bring your things because we won't be coming back here today. And then, when you're ready, climb aboard.

We're off (click on the bus):


Friday, November 13, 2009

America Recycles Day - November 15th

November 15th is "America Recycles Day". According to the National Recycling Coalition, it "is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to encouraging Americans to recycle and to buy recycled products". While their focus is on recycling in the U.S., we at Reduce Footprints open it up and encourage everyone, worldwide, to participate.

So, to get started I have two easy tasks for you:

First, watch the video entitled "The Story of Stuff". It's a brilliant video about the lifespan of ... well ... stuff. In a very entertaining way, the video will open your eyes about how stuff is produced, how it affects the earth and what we can do. Sit back, relax and when you're ready ... click on this picture:





Wasn't that great!

Okay, on to #2:

Visit the "America Recycles Day" site and browse around. You'll find good information on recycling and there is a page where you can step up your efforts in a more formal way. Are you ready? Here you go:





Recycling is one of the cornerstones of living a green life. It saves money, it's easy ... and it's really good for the earth.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!



Monday, November 9, 2009

How To End Food Waste ...

Our current Change The World Wednesday challenge, which is still in effect and can be viewed HERE, asks us NOT to waste food. It seems easy enough but, as some of you may have already found out, we sometimes toss bits and bites of food without even thinking about it. There's the bit of food left on plates or the few leftover bites of last night's dinner ... or maybe there's the trimmed pieces of fruits and vegetables that we don't want included in the dish. They seem insignificant but ... if tossed, they add up to a lot of waste ... unnecessary waste because they can be used.

Today, as I was wandering around the Internet, I came across 50 Ways to Never Waste Food Again by Planet Green. They list some wonderful ways to eliminate food waste. For example, number 19 suggests that, rather than toss out watermelon rinds, we pickle them. Number 24 talks about the broken pieces of pasta in the bottom of the box and asks that we "collect them and mix with rice and veggies for a simple side dish". And number 41 offers a great way to freeze herbs for future use.

So my tip for today is easy ... head over to Planet Green and take a look at their suggestions. I'm sure you'll find some interesting ideas and additional ways to end food waste!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!



Friday, November 6, 2009

Vegan Recipe - Curried Lentils

Several years ago, we discovered Udipi cuisine which is vegetarian food from the Udipi (or Udupi) District in the Indian state of Karnataka. The food is spicy and delicious. Inspired by the exotic flavors, I created this lentil dish which is wonderful on cool fall evenings. I hope you and your family will enjoy it as much as we do.



Curried Lentils


Ingredients

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Onion, diced
2 Large Garlic Cloves, diced
1/2 Jalapeno Pepper, diced (remove seeds for less heat)
1/4 Green Pepper, diced
2 teaspoons Curry Powder
1/2 teaspoon Ginger
1 cup Brown Lentils (rinsed)
1/2 cup chopped Cilantro
1 can diced Tomatoes
3 cups Water
Salt & Pepper (to taste)


Method

  1. Sauté the onion, garlic, Jalapeno and green pepper in the olive oil until vegetables are translucent (about 10 minutes).

  2. Add the curry and ginger and cook for another minute (to bring out the flavors).

  3. Add all remaining ingredients, except salt and pepper, and simmer (covered) for 30-45 minutes, or until lentils are tender.

  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Notes

  • To create a lentil soup, just add more water.
  • Fresh mint works as a wonderful garnish on this dish.
  • Serve with fresh Naan Bread


As always ... I would love to hear from you!



Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh the weather outside is .... drying my skin!

I love fall and winter but as the temperature drops in my area, so does the humidity and that means dry skin. Reaching for a bottle of lotion may seem like the right solution but it can actually make the situation worse in some cases. And some lotions are full of bad-for-you ingredients. So, let's talk about some Eco-friendly ways to keep our skin supple and soft.


Begin on the Inside

  • Drink water! Yep ... good, old-fashioned water. Water keeps us healthy in many ways ... our brains function better when we're properly hydrated, our organs work efficiently and our skin stays lush and beautiful. So ... drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. What we put into bodies affects our skin so eat well-balanced meals every day. Be sure to include plenty of foods which contain the following vitamins which are particularly beneficial to skin:
C (for example, leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits)
A (carrots, spinach, dried apricots, etc.)
B (found in bananas, oatmeal, etc.)
K (try asparagus, kale, okra, etc.)
E (almonds, sweet potatoes, wheat germ oil, etc.)


On the Outside

  • Love long, hot showers or baths? While they are relaxing and luxurious, they aren't good for skin. Avoid hot water and opt for short showers (it also saves water and energy which is very Eco-friendly).

  • Use a mild soap. Harsh detergents dry out the skin.

  • Moisturize immediately after a shower when skin is most able to absorb. If you use a commercial product, look for natural, healthy ingredients (we'll talk about ingredients to avoid in a bit). Also look for third-party endorsements ... some reliable groups to look for are: Ecocert, USDA Certified Organic, BDIH and the Leaping Bunny label.

  • Consider using olive oil, almond oil, avocado and even oatmeal to naturally moisturize your skin. Oils can be rubbed onto your body and oatmeal can be placed in a mesh bag then tossed into a bath where it will sooth and moisturize.

  • Watch the temperature of your home ... keeping it too hot will dry out one's skin.

  • Cover up. When the temperature outside drops, be sure to cover your skin when going out. Use gloves, scarves, etc. and apply moisturizer before facing the elements.

Ingredients to Avoid

When buying commercial lotions and moisturizers, check the labels ... some include ingredients derived from petroleum or natural gas which have negative health effects (and, being non-renewable resources, they aren't very earth friendly). Avoid these ingredients:

  • Antibacterials
  • Coal-tars
  • Diethanolamine (DEA)
  • 1,4-dioxane
  • Formaldehyde
  • Fragrance
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Nanoparticles
  • Parabens
  • Petroleum distillates
  • p-phenylenediamine
  • Hydroquinone

Watch out for misleading terms which are not defined by the government or by independent third parties:

  • Fragrance-free
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Cruelty-free


The weather outside might be frightful ... but it doesn't mean our skin needs to be!

As always, I would love to hear from you!

Monday, October 26, 2009

A quick Monday tip ...

Yesterday we visited the recycling center. As I was tossing items into the "Mixed Paper" bin I noticed magazines ... lots of magazines ... magazines in great shape ... magazines on fitness, the home and cars. And I thought ... even though they are being recycled, what a waste that they were being taken out of circulation when they are in such good condition.

So, today's tip is quick and easy:

If you buy magazines (or books for that matter), pass them on to another before sending them to the recycle bin. And ask the lucky recipient to do the same.

Easy, right?

Yes, reading magazines and books online is more Eco-friendly than buying them but ... sometimes there's nothing better than settling in with a good "read" and relaxing.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Beautiful Falling Leaves

I love this time of year ... the air is crisp and the fall colors are lovely. Every time that the wind picks up, leaves float to the ground ... a cascade of yellow, orange and red. The ground becomes nature's patchwork quilt.

Those beautiful falling leaves bring me to today's quick tips:

  • Leaves that fall in the yard and flower beds can be left to decompose and nourish the soil. They also act as mulch, protecting plants from winter temperatures.


  • Forgo the air blower or hose for walkways and decks ... grab a broom and get busy. The only energy you'll burn is your own ... and how healthy is that!!


  • Once leaves are gathered up from the driveway, walkway or patio, add them to your compost pile ... or start one if you haven't already done so. In the spring, you'll have rich soil for your garden.


  • I don't usually give you tips that say "Don't ..." but in this case I'll offer one: Don't burn leaves as a way to dispose of them. The smoke caused by burning leaves is polluting and compromises air quality.



There you go ... easy tips ... big environmental benefits.


As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009



CLIMATE CHANGE



"Climate Change" ... "Global Warming" ... they are words that we hear a lot these days. We're told that the polar ice caps are melting and that species, like Polar Bears, will die and become extinct. Other animal and plant life ... those able to move ... are doing so, changing our ecosystems. There is evidence that our oceans are rising and some say that they will consume land at lower elevations, like parts of Florida. Weather patterns have already changed, causing extreme conditions in many parts of the world. How often, lately, have we heard of an area suffering drought one minute and floods the next?

All of these reports have a couple of things in common ... they are dramatic and they usually tell us that we must act now. But how? They don't tell us what we, individuals trying to do our best, can do to make things better.

Some climate change is part of our planet's natural life cycle. Throughout history, the earth has experienced events such as volcanic eruptions and changes in our orbit. We've gone through ice ages and long periods of warming. All of those events have had an affect on the earth's climate. But in the late 18th century, man got busy with the Industrial Revolution and became the largest contributor to global warming. Humans started burning fossil fuels (coal and oil) and started cutting down trees (deforestation). These activities kicked global warming into "over-drive" by causing a huge increase in concentrations of heat-trapping gasses in our atmosphere.

What does that mean to us? Well, when we use oil products or electricity, we release greenhouse gases. Growing food, burning wood in our fireplaces, raising livestock and tossing out garbage all release greenhouse gases. In fact, everything we do contributes, in some degree, to climate change. So, the way we can "act now" is to live "green" ... to put into action all of the ideas we've talked about in this blog and the suggestions that can be found throughout the blogosphere. We can pay attention to our every action and take the route with the least environmental impact. Every time we reduce our consumption (of everything), reuse things instead of tossing them out and recycle everything that can be recycled, we take a positive step towards slowing global warming.

I'm not a scientist or an expert on climate change. I'm just a person who wants to do the right thing. Perhaps it's true that the earth's course is set ... that there is nothing we can do to stop global warming. On the other hand, perhaps there is a lot we can do. If there is a chance ... even a small chance ... that my actions can help the earth and improve the quality of life, then ... I'm going to give it my best effort.

Won't you join me?

As always ... I would love to hear from you!



Monday, October 12, 2009

Seven Green Tips for the Kitchen

Let's think about our kitchens for a moment. They use a lot of energy ... refrigerators, stoves/ovens, counter-top appliances, etc. They are gathering places, often doubling as a recreation area (think of playing board games at the kitchen table), an office (where kids do homework, adults pay bills and often the location of a computer), and sometimes a comfortable spot to entertain guests. So, what better place to focus our "green" efforts? Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. If you use a dishwasher (other than your spouse or kids), run it at off-peak hours ... for example, at midnight. Power plants generate electricity more efficiently during off-peak hours. And here's a bonus ... they usually sell it for less so ... you'll save money as well as energy.

  2. When thawing frozen foods, consider thawing in the refrigerator rather than using a microwave or letting the item sit on a counter. It takes a bit longer but you'll save energy, both by not using an appliance and by using the item to keep the refrigerator contents cool.

  3. Thinking of buying a cutting board? Consider bamboo. Not only is it a sustainable material, it is strong, hard and resists bacteria better than wood.

  4. Rather than use ice to fill a cooler or "shock" vegetables (stop them from cooking after they've been removed from the stove), try using a freezer pack. It's reusable and you'll save water.

  5. Collect rinse water and give it to your plants. Or, leave it in the sink and use it, instead of the faucet, to wash hands.

  6. Want some fried food tonight? Consider stir frying ... since stir fried foods are typically cut into bite-sized pieces and cooked at high temperatures, they cook fast which means they use minimal energy. Here's a bonus ... stir frying uses less oil than traditional deep frying so it's also a healthier alternative.

  7. If the kitchen doubles as a computer room, remember to place the computer and any desktop lamps, etc. on a power strip ... and then, turn them off when not in use.


There are many ways to "green" a kitchen ... these seven ideas are good places to start.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Why trees are important ... by Little Miss Green

As you might remember, one of our recent Change The World Wednesday challenges was all about kids (you can read that challenge HERE). While I was impressed with all of the articles written about that challenge, I was particularly impressed by the stories of children who take it upon themselves to live a "greener" life. They are Eco-Stars and the hope for our future.

One such Eco-Star is Little Miss Green, the eight year old daughter of Mrs. Green who writes a fabulous blog called
Little Green Blog. Little Miss Green is amazing ... she seems to consider all of her actions and judges them according to what is best for the earth. So, I thought it would be fun to hear from her. She (with the approval of her mom) kindly agreed to write something for us. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:


Why trees are important

One of the things I love most in the world is trees.

I live in an area surrounded by trees and we have some in our garden too, so I'm very lucky. Trees, along with water are the most important things in the world because we need them to live.

I enjoy climbing them and if they all get cut down to make paper I won't have any to climb.

The most important thing is they give us oxygen and breathe in carbon dioxide which allows us to breathe.

Trees are houses for squirrels and birds, wasps and bees and they give us and the earth shade on sunny days.

They also provide us with food and if you're very poor this can be the only thing that keeps you alive.

If there are no trees, animals can start to die. If the bees start to die, we could start to die as well because they pollinate one third of all the food we eat.

Bees pollinate cotton too. Without cotton our clothes would have to be made from polyester. Polyester is made from oil and they cut Mother Nature's face open to get the oil.

Bees also give us beeswax. My Mummy uses beeswax to make me lipsalve to keep my lips comfy in the Winter and she adds manuka honey to make it extra special. She also uses beeswax to make creams to heal my skin if I cut it.

Trees are also very very important in floods. If we did not have trees you can have flooding when it rains. That is why there are nearly always trees around a stream. If there weren't any trees to drink the water the stream or river would flood and destroy the land.

When there is flooding and if it's on a steep hill, all the water would rush down the hill. If this kept happening, soon the soil would begin to roll down the hill too and might fall on top of houses and kill people.

I use tea tree, eucalyptus and neem oil to keep me healthy. Without these trees I would not have this special, safe medicines to use and I might have to use man made drugs instead.

Dead leaves turn into compost which makes the soil fertile. When the soil is healthy it can grow new things in it like more trees, food and pretty flowers.

I have six trees in my garden and I love them all.

Maisie lives by the side of the garage and shades my den. She blocks the entrance so no trespassers can get in. She has dark green leaves which make good collages.

Leafy is a tall sycamore tree which my tree house is built in. He is possible to climb but he is very big. I fly the helicopters which he scatters over my treehouse platform. He is the biggest of the lot. He protects me from the rain. There is a bees nest in him and whenever I go into my treehouse playing he gives off special messages because the bees never sting me.

Rose is the boss of all the trees. She is a rose tree with white flowers. Rose is unique and different from the others. She is quite stern and stubborn but as she is so different from the others I almost love her best. She is the smallest.

Maggie is a magnolia tree. She gives me lovely buds; when I was younger I used to think they were butterflies. She also gives me lovely sweet flowers and in spring until winter she is covered with lovely dark green leaves. Occasionally I pick off a small stem and it smells like lavender. I love Maggie; she is my favourite.

Buddy has lovely pink sweet-smelling flowers in the winter time. She is beautiful to look at with her dark green leaves. She is too small to climb and is more bush like. Her leaves have a red tinge to them which looks beautiful.

Apple is more difficult to climb. He gives me lots and lots of apples with red patches on which Mummy made into Apple and Blackberry pie. He has two branches leaning over my hammock which I swing on.

Grayling is a lovely tree for climbing. He's a cheerful happy lad who loves talking to me in his heart. At the very bottom of his trunk there is a branch which I get to bounce up and down on. My best friend likes him too because she learned to climb in him.

I love trees, they are beautiful to look at and give us so much. I don't like it when people cut trees down to be greedy and we should all take care of and love the trees.

Wasn't that wonderful? I don't know about you, but with the future of the earth in the hands of children, like Little Miss Green, I feel a lot better.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vegan Recipe - Artichoke Pesto Penne Pasta

One of the easiest ways to walk a little gentler on the earth is to eat meatless meals (read more about that HERE). So, once a month (on the first Friday of the month), I post a vegan recipe.

This month's recipe comes from my bloggy friend, Tracy, at Strawberry Hedgehog. Tracy is such a talented woman. I first got hooked on her blog when I saw recipes for vegan muffins, salads and even ice cream ... wonderful recipes which she shares, regularly, with her readers. As I got to know Tracy, I learned that she also makes vegan soaps ... luxurious, wonderful smelling soaps which she sells in her vegan bath and body shop. On top of all that, she's really a nice person. So, if you haven't visited Strawberry Hedgehog, I urge you to do so.

Tracy shared the following recipe with her readers a few months ago. I've made it a couple of times and we love it. I hope you and your family enjoy it, too!


Artichoke-Pesto Penne Pasta Salad



Ingredients:

1 package whole wheat penne
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pine nuts
1 handful baby spinach
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 can artichoke hearts
salt and pepper to taste




Method:

Cook the penne according to the package directions, drain, and rinse with cool water.

Saute the garlic in a bit of olive oil until it starts to brown. Turn off the heat and toss in the pine nuts for just a minute. Put the garlic, nuts, basil, spinach, nutritional yeast, and lemon into your food processor and blend until smooth.

Drain and quarter the artichokes, mix them with the penne, and pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill and enjoy!


Thanks to Tracy for this yummy dish!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The "Best" Shave (again)

Today I'm recycling an article that was posted last year ... I hope you enjoy it:

Part of my evolution in walking more gently on the earth has been to take a look at everything in my life ... the things I do, the things I buy ... and consider all the options available, with an eye to reducing my footprint. Recently, I received an email about disposable razors and how they aren't environmentally friendly. Personally, I rarely buy anything labeled "disposable". To me, it just conjures up images of landfills being filled with products that never decompose ... like plastic.

While I don't buy or use disposable razors, the subject got me thinking about the alternatives and which is the best choice. At first, I thought one of those shaving "systems" would be best ... you know the ones ... they have a plastic handle and one changes the blade every so often. But wait ... the blade is usually encased in some kind of plastic. Then I thought about an electric razor ... it lasts for a long time but ... it uses electricity. There's also the safety razor ... no plastic ... a blade made of metal that can be recycled ... but, harder to use. So which is best?

I started searching the Internet for answers and found pros and cons for each shaving method. After a lot of reading and investigating, here's how I think razors stack up:

  • The best option, of course, is not shaving at all ... no razors to even think about. This can mean becoming hairy or using a hair removal system like waxing or sugaring. A note of caution here ... some hair removal systems have a real "Ow Ow Ow" factor.

  • Next comes the Safety Razor ... no plastic, lasts practically forever and all parts can be recycled. The downside: safety razors take some practice and are harder to use (be prepared for a few nicks and cuts).

  • The third best in my list is the Electric Razor. It lasts a long time and doesn't use much energy, especially if one only charges it up as needed and doesn't leave it constantly plugged in.

  • Fourth on my list is the Razor "System" with a reusable plastic handle and blades that last quite a while. It will eventually find it's way to the landfill but it takes awhile to get there.

  • Last is the Disposable Razor which has a short life and ends up in a landfill. One note if this is your choice ... I've read that placing the head of a disposable razor in a cup of olive oil will extend it's life. After each use, clean it well, dry it and place it in the cup. Supposedly it will not only extend the life of the razor but offer a closer shave as well.

I'd love to know what choice you make and why ... so drop me a line.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009



Last year, in October, while surfing around the blogosphere, I started running into a bunch of articles about the same topic ... poverty. Each article stated that it was in support of something called Blog Action Day. Hm ... a whole bunch of people supporting one idea ... fascinating!

If you've been coming to this blog for any length of time, then you know that I really like the concept of mass participation ... whether it's turning out our lights for an hour in support of Earth Hour or a whole bunch of us doing the same green activity during the same time frame for Change The World Wednesdays.

This thing called Blog Action Day peaked my interest.

So what is it? In their words: "Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion."

Unfortunately, last year, I missed the party. But this year, I'm on top it. And guess what ... the topic of this year's event is Climate Change!

Here's how it works ... on October 15, 2009, bloggers everywhere are asked to post about Climate Change. The idea is to post about it in the context of your blog ... so, for example, if you have a photo blog, you may want to post pictures that convey climate change and why the world needs to address it. If you have a cooking blog, perhaps you want to post a recipe that supports a "green" life. We all speak about one topic in our own, unique way.

October 15th is a Thursday ... and since this sounds like a "challenge" to me ... it will be our Change The World Wednesday challenge for that week ... we'll just do it on Thursday.

So, start thinking and planning.

For more information including ideas, badges and a place to register for the event, click here:






As always, I would love to hear from you!


Monday, September 21, 2009

20 "Green" tips for Fall

Tomorrow, September 22nd, is the first day of autumn ... the Autumnal Equinox. In many areas the temperatures are beginning to drop and soon leaves will begin to fall. In a recent post we talked about fall being a perfect time for planting and landscaping. It turns out that this time of year is perfect for other Eco-friendly activities as well. Here are some ideas:

  1. Check the air pressure in your tires. Cooler temperatures lower tire pressure and that, in turn, lowers fuel efficiency. So check your tires and make sure that they are properly inflated.

  2. Clean and test the furnace. Did you know that your furnace needs cleaning? Yep ... it collects all kinds of dust and debris which not only affects it's performance but could cause a fire. Before you really need the heat, get out your owner's manual for instructions on how to clean it. No manual? Check here or call a furnace maintenance company. If you have a gas furnace, have it professionally inspected once a year.

  3. Move furniture or any obstructions from vents, baseboard heaters, registers on the floor or radiators so that air moves freely. This is also a good time to vacuum these areas to remove any dust or debris. And here's a tip if you have a radiator ... place a reflecting panel behind it ... you can purchase one at a home center or make one yourself with a plywood panel and aluminum foil.

  4. Remove window air conditioners for the winter. If they can't be removed, seal them with caulking or tape and cover them with an airtight, insulated jacket.

  5. Vacuum the refrigerator coils to keep the compressor running efficiently. It's also a good time to check that the refrigerator is level ... the door should automatically swing shut instead of staying open. Check the seal on the door ... try closing it on a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, it's time to replace the gaskets. Here's another tip for running the refrigerator efficiently ... don't over fill it. Allowing room for cool air to circulate will keep everything at the right temperature.

  6. Clean the ducts and area behind the dryer. And don't forget, clean the filter after every use and every once in awhile, give it a good wash.

  7. Check windows for proper caulking. If you have single-pane windows, add storm windows. Even a plastic film over windows will reduce heat loss.

  8. Check doors for weather stripping and replace as necessary. If drafts sneak in under exterior doors, replace the threshold or block the drafts with a rolled-up towel or blanket.

  9. Check your roof for any missing or damaged tiles or shingles.

  10. Clean the roof gutters and make sure downspouts are pointed away from the house. Now would also be a good time to install a rain barrel ... rather than allow water to drain into one spot, a rain barrel would allow you to direct the water to where it's most needed.

  11. Electrical outlets, especially on outside walls, and light fixtures are prime places for cold air to leak into your home. Add foam gaskets behind covers and switch plates, and use safety plugs in unused outlets. Be sure to shut off the power at the fuse box or circuit panel before doing this.

  12. Install foam covers over outside water spigots to prevent freezing.

  13. Check for water leaks both inside and outside.

  14. Wrap the water heater in an insulating blanket.

  15. If you have a ceiling fan, reverse the direction ... the fan should be run in a clockwise direction (stand under the fan and if you feel a breeze, reverse the direction so that air is being drawn upwards). This pushes the air up against the ceiling and down the walls, to gently re-circulate the warm air without creating a cooling "wind chill effect."

  16. Do you have a fireplace? This is a good time to have the chimney cleaned and get vent systems checked.

  17. If your home has no sidewall insulation, place heavy furniture like bookshelves, armoires and sofas along exterior walls, and use decorative quilts as wall hangings. This will help block cold air.

  18. Bring in any houseplants that have spent the summer outdoors. They'll help clean the air.

  19. As the autumn leaves begin to fall, consider raking them up rather than using a "blower". Once raked up, use them as mulch to protect plants throughout the winter or add them to a compost pile.

  20. Before packing away those summer clothes, go through them and determine which items to keep, which items to repurpose into something else (cleaning rags, craft projects, etc.) and which to donate.

A little effort in the fall will ensure that the chilly months ahead are warm and "green".

As always, I'd love to hear from you.



Friday, September 18, 2009

Tips, Facts and a Little Friday Fun ...

Here are a few tips, interesting facts ... and, a little Friday Fun!

  • Save 1,000 pounds of C02 a year by simply wrapping your water heater in an insulating blanket. It is an inexpensive way to save energy (I found one for under $20 at Amazon).

  • BPA (Bisphenol A), a hormone-disrupting chemical which leaches out of plastics (like poycarbonate water bottles) and into our bloodstream, became a household "word" when it's association with health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, became public knowledge. But did you know that many canned food containers have linings containing ... yep ... BPA? Opt for foods packaged in glass, cartons, BPA-free cans (Eden Foods makes them), or better yet ... make meals out of fresh produce.

  • Reduce packaging by not buying single-serving foods and beverages. Buy bulk items instead and then portion out servings into reusable containers.

  • Here's an interesting fact: Hard copy bills generate almost 700,000 tons of waste and almost two million tons of carbon dioxide. Wow! Opt for e-billing which is Eco-friendly and prevents ID theft.

  • Did you know that most of the cut flowers, available in the U.S., are imported from countries who use pesticides which are banned here? Rather than buy beautiful bouquets from the grocery store or a "big box" store, opt for organic blooms from local farms. Another idea ... go for lovely, organic plants ... they last longer and will provide clean air.

  • Are you into fishing? Most tackle boxes include some kind of fishing weight. Weights made from lead are toxic, poisoning wildlife such as loons and eagles. Opt for varieties made from steel, ceramic, tungsten or bismuth instead.

  • Plastic containers and plastic wrap marked "Microwave-safe" won't melt or crack in the microwave. But ... those words don't ensure that dangerous chemicals won't leach into food. So, opt for glass containers when microwaving ... and never let plastic wrap touch food directly.

  • Want to create a little ambiance with candle light? Try soy candles. They burn longer, cooler and produce 95% less soot than paraffin candles.

  • If you're thinking of replacing your carpets with flooring (which is, by the way, an Eco-friendly idea), consider a bamboo floor. It's a sustainable material, durable and as beautiful as traditional hardwood floors.

  • Need a good reason to switch from your desktop computer to a laptop? Here you go: laptops are 75% more energy efficient than desktops.

  • And finally, if you love NASCAR ... good news! NASCAR is going green:



Have a great weekend!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall planting, even if you hate gardening ...

Digging in the earth and planting things comes naturally to me. Some of my earliest memories are of my great uncle, taking me by the hand to his beautiful vegetable garden and helping me choose a perfect carrot. I have always loved the feel and smell of rich dirt and have felt a special excitement when plants first poke their little green heads out of the soil.

Typically, when we think of planting a garden or landscaping, we think of spring as the best time to get started. But fall, with it's cooler temperatures and, in most areas, increased moisture is also a prime planting season.

Trees and bushes, planted in the fall, have ample time to develop strong, deep root systems before the heat of the next summer. This increases their chances of surviving and typically means less watering during hot months. Flowers such as tulips, crocus and daffodils actually need the cold of winter as part of their growth cycle. Vegetables like kale, lettuce, spinach, and radishes do better under cooler conditions.

Successful landscaping and gardens which provide food are only two of the reasons to consider planting ... in the fall or anytime. Plants also offer many environmental benefits. Here are several:

  • Roots stabilize the soil and help prevent erosion.

  • Twigs, branches and leaves help prevent erosion by slowing down the amount of water, from rainfall, that hits the ground. This allows the ground to absorb the water rather than causing it to run off.

  • Moisture which evaporates from leaves helps to cool the air.

  • Branches and leaves provide shade and help reduce wind speed. They also absorb sound, reducing noise pollution.

  • Every part of a plant provides habitat for birds, animal and insect species.

  • And perhaps the greatest environmental benefit of a plant is it's ability to filter pollutants from the air and create oxygen. They are responsible for the very air we breathe.

Whether one loves to plant things ... or not so much ... planting is good for the environment ... and good for us.

As always ... I would love to hear from you.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Every action has a consequence ...

A couple of days ago, we went for a walk in a state park. At the entrance to one of the trails a sign had been posted informing hikers to "bee" aware. It went on to say that at this time of year, some varieties of bees nest in or near the ground and if a hiker mistakenly steps on the nest or disturbs it, a sting is likely.

A little further down the trail, a cicada sang loudly ... it sounded like it was on the ground. I had never actually seen a cicada, so we searched around and sure enough ... there it was ... on the ground ... singing and moving around. Curious (and wanting a better look), we picked it up ... and when we did, a bee flew off. Evidently the bee had stung the cicada, hoping for a meal ... but in our curiosity, we interrupted the process. The bee didn't get his lunch and the cicada died for nothing.

Later, at home, we sat on the patio (a small space) and noticed all kinds of dramas taking place. Two hummingbirds were chasing each other around the feeder ... a wasp was trapped in a spider's web, struggling to get away as the spider patiently waited nearby ... a mother sparrow was feeding a youngster who was big enough to feed itself but still wanted "mom" to do it while nearby a chipmunk was busy stuffing his cheeks full of seeds ... an ant laboriously carried a shell from a sunflower seed to an unknown location. Little dramas were being played out everywhere.

Each of these rather small events made me realize, once again, that our actions make a difference. We hear about the big actions ... removing wolves from an area and upsetting the balance of animal life or introducing a foreign plant to an area only to have it choke out the native plants ... but we don't often hear, or think about the little actions. Things like stepping on a bee's nest and destroying their world ... or letting our curiosity interrupt the natural life/death cycle of a bee and cicada. We don't really think about how killing a bunch of wasps changes the whole scheme of things or spraying ants destroys their world.

Everything we do has a consequence! Living an environmentally friendly life means understanding that fact and thinking about the consequences of our actions ... all of our actions, both big and small. It's not just using natural cleansers and recycling ... it's about paying attention to what we destroy when we leave the footpath and walk on plants ... or what we change when we try to free a struggling bug in a spider's web.

Today is a holiday in the U.S. Many people will be out enjoying the last unofficial weekend of summer. We're going to go and have a picnic in the forest. But this time, I'll walk gently and think about my actions.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Vegan Recipe - Summertime Eggplant Stew


“If 10,000 people replaced a beef meal with a vegetarian option just once a week for a year, we’d save enough water to fill roughly 605 Olympic-sized swimming pools”
Body + Soul Magazine, 2008


If you've been following this blog for any length of time, then you know that I promote meatless meals as one of the easiest ways to walk a little gentler on the earth. (Curious about why? Great ... click HERE to read an earlier post on the subject.) So, once a month (on the first Friday of each month), I post a vegan recipe for you to try. It is a fun, tasty way to reduce one's footprint on the earth.

This month's recipe comes from my bloggy friend, Amy Byrd, from The Wayland Springs Cook. In addition to writing a wonderful blog, Amy is the host of a food forum where she lists all kinds of recipes, including an entire section devoted to vegan/vegetarian dishes. If you like to cook, be sure to drop by Amy's forum.

This dish features two of my favorites ... eggplants and tomatoes. If ever a mouthful of food could epitomize summer ... then this one is it. I hope you enjoy it!



Summertime Eggplant Stew

Ingredients

1 large eggplant
4 large tomatoes chopped (use only fresh tomatoes for this recipe)
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 tbs olive oil
3 tbs capers, chopped
1/3 cup green olives, chopped
Handful of chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese**
Salt/Pepper to taste

**In many recipes, I simply leave off the cheese to make it vegan. In this one, however, the Parmesan flavor adds a delightful element to the dish. So, to make it vegan, I suggest using one of the commercial vegan "cheeses" or ... make your own faux Parmesan (2 parts nutritional yeast, 1 part nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews or even sesame seeds, and salt to taste ... grind everything in the food processor and keep unused portions in the refrigerator).

Method

Peel, seed, dice and toss eggplant with salt. Place in colander and weigh down with dish and heavy cans to extract the bitter juices for 1 hour.
Rinse and pat dry. Put aside.

In a pot place 4 tbs olive oil.
Sauté chopped onion a few minutes.
Add garlic, eggplant and tomatoes.

Cover and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat if necessary to avoid burning.

Add olives and capers and continue cooking an additional 15 minutes.
Add handful of chopped fresh basil.
Use a spoon or potato masher to crush and blend the tomatoes and eggplant.

Continue simmering, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in cheese.


My personal notes:
  • We are not at all sensitive to the bitter taste of eggplant. So, we didn't seed it or sweat it for an hour as suggested. We simply peeled it, diced it and started cooking.
  • In most recipes, one can cut down on the oil suggested. This recipe, however, benefits from the full amount of oil.
Happy eating!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sustainability and Our Role

There are a number of programs on television where the host travels the world, eating regional dishes ... favorites of the area. You know the ones ... there's a host family or chef ready to introduce us to the culinary delights of their ancestors and the proud tradition of cooking. Usually, before actually cooking up the feast, they take us on a tour of their local markets. There will be table after table of beautiful, mouth-watering produce ... and then they'll turn and enter the impressive fish market. Here, one will find every imaginable (and unimaginable) type of fish ... lots of fish .. TONS of fish.

Whenever I see these programs, I think ... it's one day, in one town, in one country ... and they have taken tons of fish from the waters. This happens every single day, year after year, in towns all over the world. It makes me wonder ... what will happen when there is nothing left?

It's the same with many of our natural resources ... we consume for the here and now without much thought about tomorrow. And quite frankly, that's exactly how advertising agencies want to keep it. Whether it's because we buy into the idea that we need more and more stuff, or because we enjoy our comforts, or because there are just so many people walking the earth ... the fact is that, for the most part, we don't live sustainably.

Sustainability, simply put, is the capacity to endure. Humans do much more than endure, however ... we over consume, we accumulate lots of stuff ... we have allowed ourselves to believe that we NEED more of everything. Commerce accommodates us ... which means we deplete natural resources ... at alarming rates. The human species is enduring and growing and thriving ... but, because of it, many plant and animal species are not. So, I ask again, what will happen when there is nothing left? What will become of humans?

My personal belief is that humans won't endure ... that if we continue to use up everything, a point will come when we don't have anything. And that particular "end" won't be pretty!

Can we stop the madness? Sure! We can do all the things that make sense ... the things that native peoples have practiced for generations ... the things that we were taught as children but have, more than likely, forgotten. Things like taking only what we need. Things like thinking about the big picture ... understanding that while one purchase by one person may not mean much, one purchase by a whole lot of people might have a big impact. All of the ideas that we've talked about in this blog ... buying local, reducing consumption, recycling ... they all contribute to a sustainable lifestyle. There are other concepts which we haven't talked about, like population control (hello Octo-mom).

The point is ... we have to think about our actions and choose those that maintain life for generations to come. If we take one fish and leave the others to propagate and grow, we'll have fish for another day. If we take all the fish ... we'll have nothing.

As always ... I would love to here from you!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

WOW ...

While I wasn't looking ...

It happened ...

300 FOLLOWERS!!

WhooHoo!

Thanks to "Art Ist" for this:

http://4oneaday.blogspot.com/2009/08/congratulations.html

And a HUGE THANKS to all of my followers ...

You make this site fun and interesting!

Hope you're having a wonderful Saturday ... you all just made mine FABULOUS!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Film Friday

Grab your popcorn ... settle back ... and enjoy an afternoon movie!





Have a great weekend, everyone!

As Always ... I would love to hear from you!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Recycling & Composting - Three Lessons Learned

This week's challenge is about reducing the size of our trash bins by composting and recycling. We've been doing both activities for awhile so ... I thought I'd share some "lessons learned".

Lesson One: It IS possible to compost and recycle while living in an apartment.

Truthfully, when I began this blog, I didn't think either activity would work in a small space. We'd need an indoor spot to put recycle bins and an outdoor spot to put a compost. As with most things in life, however, the largest hurdle was simply getting my head wrapped around the idea. Once I did, the rest was easy.

We rearranged our laundry room a bit and stacked about four grocery boxes in the corner. These became our recycle bins ... one each for plastic, aluminum, glass and metal. We put another box in our office for paper. They fill up fast ... and we don't have curbside recycling or even a convenient center in our complex ... so, every time we leave the house, we take a box with us and place it in the trunk. If we happen to be driving by the recycle center (which is basically on our way to anywhere), we stop in and unload.

The compost bin seemed to be a little more challenging ... I thought it would be messy and smelly. It can be if a little care isn't taken. In my kitchen, I have an empty coffee container with a lid ... this is where I toss veggie scraps, coffee grounds and other compostables. When the container is full, I take it out to my patio where we've dedicated a large planter as our composter. We tossed some dirt in the bottom, added our organic material, covered it with a little more dirt and then ... and this is key ... we covered the container (we used an Eco-bag). This keeps the smell down.

Before we knew it, we had a routine for both recycling and composting.

Lesson Two: Almost everything can be either recycled or composted.

When one really starts considering what is tossed out, almost everything can either be recycled or composted. It does require that we break the habit of just tossing things into the trash and entails looking at things like recycle codes. And it sometimes requires separating components like removing paper labels from cans. But ... once in the habit of doing so, almost everything we touch has a place other than the trash.

Lesson Three: "Real" trash smells.

One of the things that bothered me about this process is that the trash bin started to smell way before it was even slightly full. This is because the only things getting trashed were cooked food items (I don't put anything cooked into the compost bin and we don't use the disposal ... it uses too much water). Not a lot of food goes to waste in our house ... we try to only cook what we can eat in a reasonable amount of time but ... occasionally cooked items get tossed. So does canned pet food that doesn't get eaten in a day. These items very quickly smell. I didn't feel right, however, about wasting a trash bag (even the Eco variety) before it was reasonably full. So ... we came up with a trick. We put any tossed out, potentially smelly stuff, into a small Eco-bag and then freeze it. We keep adding to the bag until it's full and then we take it to the dumpster. No more smelly trash bin.


It turns out that recycling and composting are easy activities ... activities that help us walk a little easier on the earth. On Wednesday, I hope you'll stop in and check out the Honor Society ... I've been reading everyone's efforts and there are some great recycling/composting tips and ideas.

As always ... I would love to hear from you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Hot, Hot, Hot ...

How is everyone surviving the heat of the summer? I know that in many areas, people are struggling with triple digit temperatures which have gone on for a record number of days. Keeping cool, for some, has become a matter of health ... and not just comfort.

Last summer I wrote a piece that I'd like to share with you again ... it's all about keeping ourselves comfortable in the summer without walking too heavily on the earth. I hope you enjoy it:

Ah summertime ... outdoor activities, sunshine ... and temperatures that sometimes become stifling. It's tempting, as the temperature rises, to make ourselves comfortable by turning on the air conditioner. But wait ... don't touch that dial. Well, at least until you've considered some alternatives.

Where we live, the mornings are usually cool. So we take advantage of the refreshing air by opening all the windows. Within just a few minutes, the temperature of our apartment goes down. We have ceiling fans and they help move the cool air throughout our home. If you don't have ceiling fans, inexpensive oscillating fans work just as well.

As the sun moves around the house, we close the windows and adjust the blinds to block out as much sunlight and heat as possible. Once the sun goes down (along with the temperature), we again open the windows and the cool, night air comes in.

This method has kept our home comfortable without using air conditioning. When the temperatures got close to 90 recently, our apartment stayed nice and cool ... around 77 degrees.

We are also conscious of those sneaky little heat producers ... have you ever touched the top of your computer monitor? And how about light bulbs ... they produce a lot of heat. So, turn off any heat producers when they aren't in use.

For those of you who leave the house early and don't return until late afternoon or evening, these methods still work. Opening the windows in the morning, even for a few minutes will lower the temperature in your house. Leaving the curtains or blinds closed all day will block out a lot of heat. And here's another tip: if you find that your house is still too warm when you get home, put a box fan, or an oscillating fan, next to the window, pointing out. That's right ... turn it so that it blows the hot air from your house, outside. This works amazingly well.

Air conditioning units, even the most efficient ones, use a lot of energy ... much more than ceiling fans or a few, well placed oscillating fans. And my personal belief is that breathing "conditioned" air isn't real healthy ... have you ever noticed how there's a tendency to get congested when the A/C is on?

If, after giving these methods a try, you're still too warm and want to use the A/C, set the thermostat as high as possible ... 78 degrees or warmer.

I hope you'll try these ideas ... and ... "Be Cool, Dude".

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Friday, August 14, 2009

A bit of this and that ...

Here are a few quick tips and interesting facts:

  • Rather than buy a new vase for your beautiful summer flowers, try using an old glass or bottle.

  • Farmer's markets not only offer local, seasonal and often organic food ... there isn't any packaging involved.

  • On average, we use a plastic bag for 12 minutes ... that same plastic bag persists in a landfill for approximately 1,000 years ~ Body+Soul magazine, September 2009 issue.

  • A push mower emits 0% pollution ... and it's great exercise.

  • Thinking of purchasing a new oven? Opt for an energy efficient convection oven. It uses 20% less energy than conventional ovens.

  • Did you know that wooden chopsticks cost China about 25 million trees a year to make?

  • Use tap water instead of bottled water.

  • Did you know that you could reduce your chemical exposure by approximately 80% by choosing organic produce?

  • The perimeter of a store typically has the healthiest items (for both us and the environment).

  • For grass stains on clothing, use hydrogen peroxide ... the key to this working is speed ... don't let the stain set.

  • Use the appropriate burner on your stove. A 6 inch pot over an 8 inch burner will waste over 40 percent of the heat generated.

  • Send e-greeting cards ... save money, a stamp, paper and the earth.

  • Save trees ... read the daily newspaper online rather than having it delivered.

  • A vacation is a state of mind, not a reservation ... so try a "staycation".

  • And finally, if you're still looking for a natural cleaner for this week's challenge, try this:




Have a great weekend, everyone!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Are bugs bugging you?

For several years, our area has been on a drought list. Seasons came and seasons went with no appreciable rainfall. The forests, near our home, were dry and brown ... and water levels, in nearby lakes, were at all time lows. While this was a bad situation and communities were scrambling to make sure that households had enough water to drink, the one positive was that bug populations ... those that need water to breed and live ... were down.

Then, the rains came ... the reservoirs filled and we have officially been removed from the drought list. Great news ... except ... more rain and higher humidity means that there are also more bugs ... specifically mosquitoes which breed in water and ticks which thrive near water.

Mosquitoes and ticks, in addition to being obnoxious little creatures who bite, can carry diseases such as Yellow Fever, West Nile Encephalitis, Lyme Disease, etc. These are dangerous diseases which can be life threatening. So avoiding bites is important!

If you head out to your local market for mosquito and tick repellent, you'll probably find products containing DEET. DEET works ... no doubt. But, it is a chemical pesticide ... a solvent which can melt synthetic materials and even nail polish. It is toxic to our environment, getting into waterways and killing fish. If you've ever used a product containing it, you'll know that DEET has an unpleasant smell and doesn't feel real good on one's skin. It can cause rashes, headaches and even seizures. Personally, I'd prefer not to use the stuff.

It seems like a "no win" situation, doesn't it? I mean ... which is worse, the illness or the prevention. Well, it turns out that there are other, safe ways to keep those nasty bugs at bay. Here are some ideas:

  • Mosquitoes breed in standing water, especially the stuff that's been sitting for awhile. So, remove standing water in puddles, plant containers, etc. For things like pet bowls and bird baths, be sure to change the water frequently ... clean water isn't as appealing as dirty water. Rather than water your garden frequently, opt for watering deeply and less often.

  • Wear light colored clothing ... mosquitoes are drawn to dark colors. Ticks aren't color sensitive but, if one hitches a ride on your clothes, he'll be easier to see and remove if the clothing is white.

  • Cover up. Bugs have a hard time biting through material ... so wear long sleeved shirts and long pants to minimize skin exposure.

  • Fans are a great deterrent ... mosquitoes have a hard time negotiating through wind. So create a breeze with a floor or ceiling fan.

  • Love the scent of floral perfumes and soaps? So do mosquitoes! Opt for "fragrance free" during mosquito season.

  • Make your own repellent: 1o to 25 drops essential oil plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel (optional). Mix well and dab some on skin and clothing. Oils to try are: Rose Geranium (ticks hate this one), Pennyroyal, lemon balm, thyme, lavender, and eucalyptus. One note ... for best results, apply often ... essential oils don't repel for long durations.

  • Add some plants to your garden that naturally repel mosquitoes ... try catnip, rosemary, marigolds and lemon grass. Catnip has been shown to be 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes. And here's a tip ... one can take the leaves of these plants, crush them and rub them on skin and clothing ... no more mosquito bites.

  • Attract insect-eating birds. Set out feeders and birdhouses to attract swallows, chickadees, wrens, bluebirds, vireos, etc. They'll be fat and happy ... you'll be bug free.
With just a little care, one can enjoy the outdoors ... bug free and earth friendly.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Vegan Recipe - Cabbage Casserole

What a coincidence that our monthly vegan recipe is being posted at the same time that our "Meatless Meals" challenge is going on. Wow ... one might think that it was planned that way. :)

I'd like to share one of my favorite recipes with you. It makes use of a vegetable that seems to be abundant right now ... cabbage. It's easy to make and, to me, feels like real comfort food. It can be a side dish or the star of your meal. I hope you enjoy it!


Cabbage Casserole

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium cabbage, chopped or shredded
  • 1 cup nutritional yeast
  • Toasted/oiled bread crumbs
  • 4 Tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 - 1 onion, diced
  • Garlic (to taste), minced
  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups soymilk
  • Salt/pepper (to taste)

Method:

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Boil the cabbage in salted water until tender. Melt oil in a saucepan and saute onion and garlic. Add nutritional yeast and salt/pepper. Stir in flour. Slowly add in soymilk and stir well. Cook sauce over low heat until thick. Layer 1/2 cabbage in large oiled casserole dish. Add 1/2 of sauce, salt & pepper. Start over with layer of cabbage then sauce. Top with toasted bread crumbs. Bake covered for 30 minutes and then 10 minutes uncovered.


I'm not sure where I got this recipe ... I've been making it for years. So, if it's yours, please let me know ... I'd love to give the chef who created this one full credit. Happy eating, everyone!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Vinegar Solutions ...

Awhile back we talked about using vinegar in the house to clean (you can read that article HERE). Vinegar is an amazing product ... it's inexpensive, it kills bacteria, mold and germs ... and, it's earth friendly.

Today we're taking vinegar outside. Here are some ideas (unless otherwise specified, we're using white distilled vinegar for these tips):
  • Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Hydrangeas and Gardenias all do better in acidic soil. Rather than use harmful chemicals, water them with a solution of one cup vinegar to a gallon of water.

  • Did some of your garden tools get rusted over the winter? Soak them in undiluted vinegar overnight or for a few days ... rust will disappear and your tools will be good as new.

  • We recently talked about using weeds to make a liquid fertilizer. But how about those weeds (or grass) that grow in tight spaces ... the cracks of a walkway or driveway? Spray them with vinegar and they're gone.

  • If you have an outdoor fountain or pond that uses a pump, soak the pump in full strength vinegar to remove mineral deposits and keep it working in tip top shape.

  • Have an ant problem? Spray the area with vinegar and they'll go elsewhere.

  • Soak clay, plastic or glazed pots in a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar for at least an hour to clean out stains, mineral deposits and to kill any bacteria, germs and mold before using them for new plants.

  • Nothing is better than watching wild birds take a bath. To keep our feathered friends happy and healthy, clean out the birdbath often by scrubbing it with undiluted vinegar. Rinse it well and fill it with fresh water.

  • Having a problem with garden lime? Neutralize it by adding vinegar to the area.

  • Keep your patio furniture clean and sanitary by wiping it down with vinegar. Keep a spray bottled filled and clean away.

  • Clean the hummingbird feeder with vinegar instead of soaps and detergents ... it will kill bacteria and germs and won't leave any harmful film.

  • Bothered by mosquitoes? Drink a little apple cider vinegar each day and you'll become unattractive to them.

  • Do you have brown spots on your lawn because "Fido" uses it as his urinal? Put a little Apple Cider Vinegar in his water bowl and no more brown spots (by the way, this trick also helps keep fleas at bay. Check out this link: http://www.organic-pet-digest.com/benefits-of-apple-cider-vinegar.html for more information on vinegar and canine health).

  • Speaking of pets ... does your cat (or the neighbors) get into your garden or think your kid's sandbox is their own private litter box? Spray the area with vinegar ... they don't like the smell.

  • I have very sensitive skin and ... I don't like gloves when I work in the garden. The result is usually red, blotchy, itchy skin. To solve the problem, rinse hands in vinegar ... problem solved.

  • If your plants are being eaten by rabbits, discourage "Bugs Bunny" by putting vinegar soaked cotton balls in a 35mm film container or small pill bottle. Poke a hole in the top and place in the garden. "Bugs" will shop elsewhere.

  • Do flies like to hang around the pool? Pour vinegar around the perimeter of the pool ... not in the water ... just around the edges.

  • Have an unsightly stain on the concrete patio? Pour some vinegar on it, let it sit over night and then rinse it off. The stain will miraculously disappear.

  • Tired of scraping bugs off your windshield? Put about 3 cups of vinegar into the windshield wash reservoir ... no more problem.

  • Love to grill? Clean a cooled grill with vinegar and a brush.

  • If you have a wooden deck (sustainable, earth-friendly wood, of course) then you might be bothered with slippery mildew. Rather than use a bleach based cleaner, use vinegar.

  • Have birds used your furniture or deck for target practice? Spray down the "droppings" with vinegar, let it sit for awhile and then wash them away.

  • How about a camping trip? Vinegar cleans coolers and canvas tents. Don't forget about tarps ... stop that mold and mildew with ... yep ... vinegar. And here's a bonus ... using vinegar helps reduce the amount of dust that normally sticks to camping equipment.

So there you go ... earth-friendly, healthy ways to keep the outdoors pleasant.

As always ... I would love to hear from you.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Repurposeful Crafting


This week's challenge (which you can read HERE) asked us to get creative using repurposed items. It's something that we, in my family, do all the time. So ... in keeping with the challenge, I'm going to do a photo essay of some of our projects. I hope you enjoy them!






A wine box gets a paint job and becomes a unique planter.














A piece of scrap wallpaper is the canvas for this beautiful painting.

















Found some broken jewelry and made new earrings.




















It once held juice ... then, in the winter, it became a terrarium ... home for a small cutting of Creeping Jenny which travelled, in my pocket, from Chicago. In the summer, we opened the side ... and Jenny "creeped" out.















Coffee cans are now a home for Habanero peppers.
















The pages of a recovered book became the canvas for this delicious strawberry.


















And Mona was painted on a homemade sketch book using a recycled cover from an old book and recovered blueprint paper. Isn't she lovely?










I hope that these creations inspire you to look at common items, destined for a landfill, in a new way ... and possibly give them a new, interesting life.

As always, I would love to hear from you!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Give your garden a boost ...

If you've ever gone out and pulled weeds from your yard or garden, then you know that they are tough. They send roots down to the center of the earth ... okay, maybe that's a little dramatic but ... it sure feels like it when I'm playing a tug-of-war with an ornery Dandelion. This quality, however, means that they are drawing nutrition from deep in the ground ... from an area that is rich in nutrients.

I usually toss weeds and other plant materials into the compost bin which will create wonderful mulch for next year's garden. But what about this year's plants ... is there a way I could use those nutrient rich "greens" to help them? Sure ... make a liquid fertilizer ... a sort of "tea". And it couldn't be easier!

  • Collect a bunch of weeds, leaves, herbs, grass clippings, etc. Each type of plant offers something different. For example, grass clippings provide nitrogen ... deep rooted comfrey donates a large amount of potash as well as magnesium, iron and calcium. So collect a variety of plant materials to ensure a well-balanced fertilizer.

  • Find a container with a lid. This can be as large as you like, depending on the amount of fertilizer you'll need. Be sure to use a lid because as the "tea" matures, it will get smelly.

  • Fill the container with the plant matter.

  • Add water.
  • Put the lid on and set the container in a warm spot.

  • Shake the container every 3-4 days. If you're using a large container, give it a stir every few days.

  • After about a month, the "tea" is ready to use.

  • Strain out the solids and dilute (one part "tea" to two parts water).

  • Feed your plants.

Doesn't that sound easy? Who knew that weeds could be such a good thing!

As always, I would love to hear from you!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Backyard Swimming Pools

When I was a kid, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, the only swimming pools available were the public variety found at community centers. From the moment I touched the water, at my first swimming lesson, I was in love with it. When I was eight, my family took a vacation to California ... I remember looking down from the airplane as we descended into Los Angeles, surprised to see built-in pools in backyards. Until then, the only pools in backyards that I had seen were the small, blow-up variety, with water that went up to a kid's ankles.

Years later, I lived in Arizona and then Florida where backyard pools are a common occurrence. In fact, there are over 7 million backyard pools in America today.

The apartment complex, where I now live, has two pools. The other day, while dangling my feet in one of them, I started thinking about the environmental impact of these recreational oasis's. There's the obvious impact ... they use a lot of water. But what about the not so obvious impacts ... the chemicals used to keep the water bacteria free and the electricity used to filter the water and heaters used to keep the water at the perfect temperature? And what about jets and spas?

While I wiggled my toes in the water, I wondered if there were ways to have a pool while minimizing the energy and water usage ... to make pools a little more Eco-friendly. And, of course ... there are. Here are some ideas:

  • Install a cover. Did you know that that 30-50% of the water in a pool is lost to evaporation? A cover will save a lot of water. And, if the pool is heated, a cover will reduce the amount of energy required to keep the water at the perfect temperature by as much as 70%. Try a solar cover (also called a solar blanket) which absorbs the heat from the sun and transfers it to the water, reducing the need for a heater even further. To get the greatest benefit from pool covers, leave them on until right before the pool is to be used. And when swimming is over, put them back on. Covers keep the water cleaner, preventing leaves and other debris from falling in. An added benefit to pool covers is safety ... many covers prevent kids from falling in and some have security features such as locks.

  • If a heater is a must, consider an environmentally friendly version. Try a solar heater.

  • Turn down the temperature on the heater ... or better yet, turn it off. During hot weather, when most pools are used, there really isn't a need to heat a pool ... the sun will do a fine job. During cooler months, turn the heater down a few degrees. Just like the temperature inside a home, turning the thermostat down by even a few degrees will save a bunch of energy.

  • Be sure the water filter has a timer and run it only during off-peak hours. And, run it only for 3-6 hours ... that's enough time to do the job. During the winter, cut it down to 2 hours.

  • If a total cleaning becomes necessary, use an environmentally friendly cleaning service. Most companies will drain the pool, clean the walls with an acid base cleaner and then refill the pool. That's a lot of chemicals and a lot of water. A company in Arizona came up with a cleaning method that filters the pools contents and then pours the water back in! It takes less time and conserves a lot of water.

  • Keep the pool's cleaning and heating equipment in good working order ... it'll be more efficient and use less energy.

  • Keep the pool's water clean without using harmful chemicals. Consider non-toxic methods such as ionization. One note ... every method for keeping the water clean has it's environmental impact. So, learn about the various options and choose the one with the least impact.


Of course, the most environmentally friendly pool is no pool ... but if you're going to have one, these steps will maximize your enjoyment while minimizing the environmental impact.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Al Gore's Challenge by Elizabeth Barrette

Have you ever visited a site called Gaiatribe? How about The Wordsmith's Forge? Both sites are written by our bloggy friend, Elizabeth Barrette.

Gaiatribe is a wonderful site. In it, Elizabeth talks about all kinds of things ... from getting a green job, to observing nature with our ears ... to a regular series called "Meet and Greet" where visitors get the opportunity to meet other bloggers and visit their sites. With Gaiatribe, Elizabeth shows us that everything in life has a "green" connection.

In The Wordsmith's Forge, Elizabeth presents articles on just about everything. The subjects range from political commentary to environmental issues to the flora in her yard.

Both of Elizabeth's sites are well written and interesting ... and well worth the time to visit. Today Elizabeth has kindly agreed to talk to us about Al Gore's Energy Challenge. Enjoy ...

Today is the first anniversary of Al Gore's challenge. On July 17, 2008 he challenged America to make a complete switch to clean, renewable energy in ten years. We now have nine years left to meet that challenge.

Al Gore's Challenge

If you are not already familiar with the terms of Gore's challenge, now is a good time to review it. View the original speech on video.

Read some articles from last year that analyze and discuss the challenge:

"Al Gore lays down green challenge to America"

"Gore's Challenge" by Winston-Salem Journal staff

"Gore's Challenge" by David S. Broder

"Taking Al Gore's Challenge: A 10-Point Plan to Repower America"

What Progress Have We Made?

We have now had a full year to begin implementation of Gore's challenge to make America's power 100% green. How are we doing? Are we 1/10 there yet?

Several websites support Gore's challenge in particular or green energy in general, most notably Repower America, We Can Solve It, and Change.org.

Based on statistics from 2007, the majority of America's energy comes from fossil fuels, mainly coal (48.5%) and natural gas (21.6%) while less than 10% comes from hydroelectric (5.8%) and other renewable (2.5%) sources.

More organizations and companies are pushing the "green energy = green jobs" movement. This can help pull the economy out of its slump.

Recently, the House passed a climate change bill which makes some improvements (encouraging renewable energy and raising standards for building efficiency) but has grave flaws (including giveaways to polluters and long delays). Al Gore supported this bill.

So, we are not 1/10 of the way to a green America, but we are making some progress.

What Next?

There are many things still to be done. We need to be more careful about special-interest groups that sabotage efforts toward renewable energy, especially when they add years of delay to projects. We need to network more and connect interested people to build larger projects.

Search for a green job.

Join large activist networks and support green legislation, such as the Care2 Petition Site.

Read green blogs to connect with other people.

Visit the Gore's Challenge community on LiveJournal.

You are also welcome to use this icon:








Write about Gore's challenge in your blog; talk about the things you have done toward this goal and ask others what they are doing.

What Are You Doing?

In my household, we have reduced our car use. Now we only leave the house 2 days a week for shopping and errands (Monday and Friday) plus occasional trips for other reasons, usually on weekends. This post offers more ideas on using your car less:

http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com/698676.html

We have also started using reusable shopping bags. This reduces demand for plastics made from petroleum.

We are paying more attention to our food miles. Growing food, trading with gardener friends, and shopping at farmer's markets all help lower the use of gasoline for food transport.

What are some things that you have done, or plan to do, to move towards sustainable energy?

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Elizabeth for this wonderful, informative article.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!