Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting ready for Halloween

It's that time of year again ... when the veil between the living and the dead becomes thin and spirits can be seen walking the earth. Shadows come alive and threaten to grab us ... witches fly and ghosts materialize before our very eyes.

In other words ... it's almost Halloween and time for our annual "Spooky" post!

Question: What's the ratio of a pumpkin's circumference to its diameter?

Answer: Pumpkin Pi

It's almost Halloween ... that creepy night of ghosts and ghouls. Little goblins everywhere are getting ready. Can Moms and Dads make it green? Well sure!! Here are some tricks and treats ... I mean tips:

-Are you going to carve a pumpkin ... or decorate one?
  • If you haven't grown your own, buy one from a local farm or farmer's market.
  • Use every part of the pumpkin. The seeds can be toasted and eaten as snacks ... they are healthy and taste great. One can toast them in the oven or in a dry frying pan on the stove. When they are brown, carefully remove them (they are very hot at this stage) and immediately sprinkle your favorite seasoning on them (mine is creole seasoning but kids might prefer something less spicy ... like a little salt). Not in the mood for toasting seeds? Try tossing them, either wet or dry, into the yard for birds ... they love them.
  • Use the flesh of the pumpkin to make a pie, soup, cookies or flan ... it might require a bit more sugar than the smaller, pie pumpkins.
  • After Halloween ... compost the shell instead of sending it to the landfill.

Question: How do you mend a broken Jack-O-Lantern?

Answer: With a pumpkin patch

-Are you planning a party for your little ones?
  • Send email invitations rather than the "snail mail" variety. There are a lot of seriously spooky e-cards on the Internet.
  • Use re-usable plates, cups, utensils, napkins and tablecloths. Paper party goods can be expensive and just add more clutter to our nation's landfills.
  • Serve some healthy, fun treats that aren't individually wrapped ... popcorn, apples, fruit leather (in the shape of worms and snakes) and ghostly cookie skeletons.
-Get creative with costumes.
  • Make costumes from old clothes (downsize adult suits, dresses, etc.)
  • Check your closets for "retro" clothing (got any old "hippie" duds? Cool, dude!).
  • Pull out costume jewelry ... little princesses, gypsies and pirates love "bling".
  • Hats of any kind can "top off" an outfit.
  • Shop at Goodwill ... they have not only organized merchandise into a special Halloween section but also offer some creative costumes ideas made from second-hand garb.
These are just a few ideas. I'm sure that with a little thought ... you can conjure up a few of your own.

OK ... one more ... then I'll stop ... I promise!

Question: What is a pumpkin's favorite sport?

Answer: Squash

OK ... I'm done!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Green Living With Pets

"According to an August 6th 2007 issue of Business Week magazine, we spend 41 billion dollars on our pets annually." ... from WikiAnswers

I have an adorable cat! She's also, like many pets, finicky ... she likes one kind of canned food and one kind of dry food. When I shop for her, I find myself thinking that I should buy her other things ... give her a variety of tastes (purely a "human" thing to do). And she always turns her nose up at the new offerings. But just look at those shelves filled with every kind of flavor and texture ... cans of organic food, natural food, vitamin-enriched food ... food recommended by veterinarians, food your pet will thank you for and food rated #1 by cats everywhere (hm ... my cat was never asked to vote).

As I looked around the pet store, I realized that purchasing pet products is an emotional experience ... and big business knows that. It also tends to be an area of our lives where we don't think much about the environment or green living. We see pet toys and think how Fido will love them rather than about what they are made of. We buy flea collars, sprays and drops to protect our animals without reading and understanding the ingredient list. There are cute little outfits to keep our critters warm in the winter, comfy looking beds and collars of every color and style ... and in truth, how many of us consider the "greeness" of these products?

Living with pets can be done in an Eco-friendly way. Here are some tips:

  • When buying pet food, consider packaging. Look for recyclable containers and forgo single-serving packages for bulk or large bags/cans.

  • Consider buying organic pet food and treats.

  • Choose Eco-friendly bowls and dishes for your pet's food ... glass, ceramic, stainless steel, etc.

  • To control fleas, opt for Eco-friendly methods rather than buying pet store remedies. Most pet store remedies contain a whole list of toxins which are not only bad for the environment but bad for your pet as well. Click HERE for a good article on natural, earth-friendly flea control methods.

  • Most pets enjoy toys. Choose items which are made from recycled products or ones made out of natural, sustainable materials like hemp. And don't forget that many of the items you have around the house can work as toys ... our cat's favorite toy is a shoe lace swinging from a hook under the counter.

  • Clean up after your pet. Pet waste contains parasites which can spread to other animals and humans. It also contains bacteria and nitrogen. When it rains, these components are washed into storm drains and can find their way to streams, rivers, etc. Safely dispose of pet waste by either flushing it down the toilet (sewage treatment plants effectively remove all harmful components) or bagging it (use biodegradable bags).

  • If you have a cat, choose plant-based litter. Clay litter is strip-mined ... a process which is bad for the planet. And as tempting as those self-cleaning litter boxes seem, consider the amount of energy used to run them and opt, instead, for doing it yourself ... a little more effort but much better for the earth.

  • Does your pet travel? Choose parks, vets, etc. which are close to home to minimize driving distance. Or, better yet, walk (good for you and good for your pet).

  • Choose a recycled pet ... adopt from a shelter.

  • Have your pet spayed/neutered. How is this "green"? Consider what happens if a single cat has multiple liters of kittens. Typically they become too difficult for the owner to deal with ... and often unwanted animals are released and left to fend for themselves. Populations continue to grow creating problems. For example, bird populations decrease in areas with large feral cat populations. For animals not abandoned, there are shelters ... but with growing numbers of unwanted pets, animals are being destroyed.
Having a pet is one of the pleasures of life. With a little thought, we can pamper our four-legged family members in a safe, environmentally-friendly way.

As always, I would love to hear from you!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day - Water

Today is
Blog Action Day. From the Blog Action site: "Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action."

In supportive of this movement, I've updated a post I originally published over two years ago. I think it's still applicable.

A Brilliant Smile

Every morning when I stumble into the bathroom and brush my teeth, my only concern is waking up (oh to be able to run back to a warm, comfortable bed). I don't think about the fact that my toothbrush is made of plastic or that in a lifetime, most people will go through over 1000 toothbrushes. Nor do I think about the fact that 50 million pounds of toothbrushes end up in US landfills each year.

Plastic toothbrushes in landfills are, all by themselves, a concern. Plastic anything in a landfill is a real problem. But there's more. Did you know that every year approximately 14 billion pounds of trash are dumped into the ocean ... a large percentage of which is plastic? In an article entitled "Trashed", Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation states, "... I now believe plastic debris to be the most common surface feature of the world's oceans. Because 40 percent of the oceans are classified as subtropical gyres, a fourth of the planet's surface area has become an accumulator of floating plastic debris."

Walk any beach and you're sure to see some plastic. Go out on a boat and you'll probably see some floating plastic. But, besides being an unsightly mess, what are the consequences of plastic in our oceans? Plastic is not biodegradable. It does, however, break down physically ... to very small particles. We're talking the size of a fish egg ... and even particles as small as the diameter of a human hair. These tiny particles of plastic persist in our environment for years ... maybe forever.

Perhaps at this point you're saying ... well ... so what ... it's now the size of sand. But guess what ... fish are consuming it ... and it's lethal. And ... there is now a real concern that it's getting into our food chain. Remember the warning awhile back about putting plastic water bottles in the freezer and how toxins leach out of the plastic into the water causing all kinds of health problems? Well ... those toxins are now leaching out into the ocean waters ... and into marine animals ... and plants ... and into our diets. Definitely not good!

So how does all this relate to my toothbrush? Well, plastic ends up in the oceans in many different ways. Recreational boaters, merchant ships, the military, garbage barges and our sewer systems all contribute. Some of the biggest culprits are plastic manufacturers. They use small plastic pellets in their manufacturing process and a lot of these pellets have been found in ocean waters.

So here's how it all relates to my toothbrush. If I don't buy plastic toothbrushes (demand), the manufacturers won't make as many of them (supply) which means they'll require less plastic pellets which means that there will be less opportunity for those pellets to find their way to the ocean. Whew ... we got there!

All of this is to say ... there is a better way. Instead of buying the standard plastic toothbrush, buy an Eco-friendly version from a health store. One can also buy them online through a company called Preserve. Another idea ... buy a toothbrush with a replaceable head ... yes, it's made of plastic but the body is reusable ... for a long time ... and much less plastic will get tossed out every 3 months (the recommended amount of time after which one should replace their toothbrush).

Who knew that being mindful with a toothbrush could help the world's oceans? Now that's cause for a brilliant smile!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Saving Seeds

For several years, I've been growing herbs and vegetables in containers on my apartment patio. In the beginning, I purchased bags of soil ... and for several years later, continued to buy bags of soil. Then it occurred to me that I could compost ... even in a small space. So, using a large planter, the process was started. All of our veggie peels, seeds, etc. (anything which would normally be tossed or sent down the disposal) was added to the bin. The compost did it's job, without smells, and provided us with lovely, nutrient-rich soil for the next year's planting.

An interesting "by the way" happened in the lettuce bin ... other plants were growing. Were they weeds? Nope ... they were tomato and squash plants ... volunteer plants. Evidently, some of the seeds which lay dormant in the compost bin, were now ready to grow. And grow they did! They grew and produced ... sweet tomatoes and delicious squash. They were healthy and hardy ... and better than anything we've ever eaten.

The next year, the same thing happened. Volunteer plants grew and provided us with the best produce in our garden.

So I began to think about collecting seeds. It turns out that collecting seeds is easy. When we sliced an heirloom tomato, cut into a squash or trimmed the green beans, we took some of the seeds and placed them on a paper napkin (I know ... better not to use paper napkins but read on and you'll see that even they are used). Once the seeds completely dried, they were put in envelopes (a great use for those return envelopes that come in the mail with advertisements). The seeds were then stored in a dry place for the next year.

When it was time to plant, we cut small sections of the paper napkins, with the seeds stuck to them, and planted ... seeds and paper together. The paper decomposed (wonderful recycling) and the seeds grew. And then they produced ... strong, healthy vegetables.

Collecting seeds is economical (just check the price of a small packet of seeds). It's earth-friendly because those seeds, which typically get tossed out and sent to a landfill where there isn't enough oxygen to grow, will be used. There's also something fascinating about collecting seeds ... the idea that the lineage of a plant goes on and the vegetables which we eat have a history. It's like touching the best part of the past.

So ... today's tip is easy ... save some seeds for next year's garden.

As always, I would love to hear from you!

Monday, October 4, 2010

9 Ways To Reduce Energy Use

In western North Carolina, the weather has changed a lot in the last week. We went from hot, summer-like days to don't-forget-your-jacket weather ... seemingly overnight. At a community event over the weekend, some of my neighbors and I were discussing electricity bills and ways to lower them. We shared ideas so ... I thought I might share them with you, too. Here they are:

  1. If you have an electric water heater, turn it off. As convenient as it is to have hot water ready when you want it, keeping it hot takes a lot of energy. So, to really cut usage ... beyond turning the temperature down and insulating the tank (which are both effective tools) ... try turning it off. If your water tank doesn't have an on/off switch, turn it off at the circuit box. Then, experiment with how long to keep it on to suit your needs. Keep in mind that it isn't necessary to wash your clothing or your dishes in hot water. We've found that approximately one hour a day, close to when we'll need it, is plenty for our household of two people. One note ... this is for electric water heaters only ... if you have a gas water heater, turn the thermostat down, but don't turn it off.

  2. Turn off the furnace whenever possible and when it's on, keep the thermostat set low. Put on an extra shirt or two. Use blankets while watching TV in the evening. Make use of the tips we shared in 24 Tips for Fall. Get some exercise ... yep, exercise will warm you up.

  3. Do you have rooms which you aren't using? No sense warming them along with the rest of the house. So, close the vents in those rooms and shut the door ... you'll save the cost, and energy, of heating it up.

  4. Use counter top appliances rather than the stove and oven. Items like a toaster oven, crock pot or electric skillet will save a bundle on electricity bills. If you choose to use the oven, turn it off 5 minutes before the dish is done ... there will be enough heat inside to finish cooking your food. And once the dish is removed, leave the oven door open to make use of the heat in the room.

  5. When doing laundry, plan it out so that as soon as one load is finished in the dryer, the next load is ready to go ... this will keep your dryer from cooling down which will shorten the amount of time necessary to dry the next load. And always do full loads ... partial loads are energy hogs.

  6. Open your curtains during the day and close them at night. During the day when the sun shines in, make use of the heat. At night when it gets cool, insulate the room by closing them.

  7. Unplug it when it's not in use. This applies to almost every electrical device in your home. There are some exceptions ... for example, one shouldn't turn off the refrigerator. But TVs, computers, coffee makers, etc. don't need to be plugged in ... especially the ones which have clocks and/or timers ... or anything which has a stand-by light on when the device is turned off. These "phantom" devices use a lot of energy. To make "unplugging" easy, use a power strip ... one click turns all the devices plugged into it off.

  8. Close the windows and doors. This one may seem obvious but there are many people who choose to leave a window open at all times and then compensate by turning the heat up. If having a window open is important, turn the heat off and bundle up.

  9. Do you get chilly while sleeping? Rather than using electric blankets, try using flannel sheets and extra blankets ... you'll get that warm coziness without using electricity.

Now it's your turn ... what are your favorite energy saving ideas for the cool days of fall and winter?

Need a little more incentive to cut energy use? How about this ... since we employed the energy saving methods described above, we've cut our bill by 50%. I don't know about you, but I can think of a lot of ways to use the money we save.

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

Friday, October 1, 2010

Vegan Recipe - Spinach Chick Pea Curry

When the leaves start to change color and cool, brisk breezes begin to dance through the trees, my taste buds crave curry. Perhaps it's the availability of fall produce, which lends itself well to Indian dishes. Or maybe it's the heat of the curry paste I use ... it warms me on a cool evening.

This dish is one of my new favorites ... it's easy and nutritious. I found it at ... a great site for exploring new dishes.

I hope you and your family enjoy it:

Spinach Chick Pea Curry


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 (14.75 ounce) can creamed corn (vegan version)
1 tablespoon curry paste
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 (12 ounce) package firm tofu, cubed
1 bunch fresh spinach, stems removed
1 teaspoon dried basil or to taste


1. In a large wok or skillet heat oil over medium heat; saute onions until translucent. Stir in creamed corn and curry paste. Cook, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes. As you stir, add salt, pepper and garlic.

2. Stir in garbanzo beans and gently fold in tofu. Add spinach and cover. When spinach is tender, remove from heat and stir in basil.

3. Serve with rice.


-For a discussion on why vegan meals are Eco-friendly, please click HERE.
-I was unable to find vegan creamed corn so I simply took fresh corn and ran it through the food processor to get that creamy texture.
-For variety, try adding cauliflower, potatoes or any other veggies you have on hand.

For additional vegan recipes, be sure to click on the tab at the top of the Reduce Footprints blog.