Sunday, May 31, 2009
I'm happy to report that, although there's no runaway winner, "recycling" is leading the way with 73% of the vote. 53% of voters are tweaking the thermostat and/or walking and biking. 46% of you are switching to CFLs. Some are even bringing their own mug to Starbucks!
Though our poll ends today, it's never to late to consider how you can be more conscientious and try something—anything—to green things up a bit. See you in June!
Saturday, May 30, 2009
But there is one thing that I do enjoy about laundry, and that is when I have a free Saturday, skies are clear, the breeze is moderate, and I can hang the laundry out to dry. It's the age-old green thing to do, don't you know.
Today was the first time this year we were able to do it, and now I have fresh-smelling clothes and the sun-pinkened nose to show for it. Since permanent clotheslines are not allowed in our subdivision (unfortunately true in many suburban neighborhoods these days), and there isn't much room for one in our yard anyway, we use a handy, waist-high, foldable drying rack from Ikea (pictured left and below).
Len also set up discreet, semi-permanent bases behind my raspberry bushes for inserting taller, removable poles; whenever we need to, we bring out the poles and string some extra line between them and our fence. I had two loads of laundry out there today. Now that's a crowded yard!
Of course, we make green laundry choices even when we can't dry things outside. We have a front-loading washer, which, as you know, uses less water and less detergent than the top-loading kind. It's also supposed to be gentler on your clothes. (Maybe, but the downside is that it twists all my pants legs together into a heavy pants chain that makes it tricky to extract one pair at a time without pulling out the whole ball of wet clothes.) And, of course, we use the high-efficiency ("he") detergent meant for front-loaders, choosing a dye- and perfume-free variety.
Also, we always wash everything in cold water, unless it is absolutely necessary to bleach the whites, which we very seldom do. Some of you hot-water junkies wouldn't dare wash your bed sheets in cold because you need hot water to kill the dust mites, right? I used to do that too, but no more! I'm no expert, but I've heard two different stories about that: a) the heat from your dryer will kill the mites just as effectively as the washer, or b) the hot setting on your washing machine isn't nearly hot enough to kill dust mites anyway. Whichever is true, I figure there's no reason not to keep the washer set on cold.
If you live somewhere that forbids the use of supposedly ugly permanent clothes lines (I don't think clotheslines are eyesores, but it's the only reason I can imagine they'd be banned by home owners' associations), be bold and get a portable clothes line or set of drying racks for your backyard (or your balcony!), even if you do it for just one load every once in a while. No, it's not as convenient as tossing it all in the dryer, but it's good for your clothes (just turn things inside out if you're worried about fading) and good for the earth. Clothes dryers themselves are not enormous energy hogs, but every little bit counts, and you will notice a decrease in your energy bills—always a plus.
Now for my least favorite part, taking all the clothes down and folding them. At least I get to enjoy the fantastic weather while I work.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The point is, these inventions were practically obsolete from the get-go because there was a common-sense alternative already available. That's a good way to explain how I feel about the Hummer, which has been an environmental nuisance ever since AM General rolled them off the line in 1992 (GM would buy Hummer in '98. And you’ve probably heard the latest: they’re trying to unload the brand to regain some of their financial footing).
That's why I was so interested to hear about Raser Technologies' efforts to re-design the Hummer H3 as an electric plug-in hybrid capable of squeezing 100 miles out of every gallon of unleaded. Welcome news when you consider it'd cost you about $82 to fill the H2's 32-gallon tank (at the current, local average price of $2.59/gal). Could it be these vehicular behemoths were finally going green?
Not really, if you ask me. Granted, my B.S. detector is especially sensitive when it comes to fuel-efficient vehicles, especially those that make claims without government data backing them up. But this still feels like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound; an inadequate last-ditch effort to resuscitate a dying brand. And it's hardly a coincidence that this announcement comes at the same time President Obama is tightening the nation's fuel efficiency standards. What better way to nab some easy, pro-Hummer P.R.?
As the article points out, this 100mpg rating is a bit convoluted, relying on some sketchy math to get there (and probably also some hypermiling, but minimizing braking and rapid acceleration are driving habits most buyers will likely ignore). And, while the proposed figure of 33mpg is definitely an improvement on the accepted average of 14-17mpg for the H2 (actual figures aren’t published by the EPA), who in their right mind would fork over $55,000 (20%-30% more than the all-gas H3) when there are alternatives that do the job far better for less? That’s crazy straws!
What's more, you can load a 600-lb. lithium-ion battery into the chassis of any vehicle and improve its gas mileage, but you should at the same time consider the energy it takes to charge such a battery. Unless you’re hooking it up to a wind turbine, that voltage is likely supplied by a coal-fired power plant. That’s like trying to minimize your carbon footprint by walking around on your tip-toes; same shoes, same weight, different distribution. And, at an average curb weight of 5,000-6,000 lbs., Hummers make some deep footprints. Who said bigger was better?
I know it’s easy to attack Hummers as a symbol of irresponsibility, but it also gives me a chance to present The Golden Horse Ranch Square Dance Band and their tune, “Hummer.” Good question—what would Jesus drive?
Friday, May 22, 2009
Here's a look at the stats. In the U.S., we're real log hogs: between 1990 and 2002, paper consumption increased 15% from 84.9 million tons to 97.3 million tons. The country's ever-growing need is met by roughly 450 U.S.-based paper mills (which also produce a nice big hunk of air, water and land pollution in the process). And, despite all the computers at our disposal, paper continues to be a billion-dollar industry. That's enough to give anyone pause.
Now that we're all on the same page, here are 50 sensible (and sometimes quirky) ways to reduce, reuse and recycle paper.
- Buy in bulk to reduce paper-related packaging. When you buy, check to see if the products themselves make use of recycled paper.
- It's old-fashioned (and hard on germophobes), but a gentlemanly handkerchief offsets an infinite number of kleenex.
- Save postage, envelopes and paper checks with online billpay (often provided by your bank and utilities for free).
- Prevent junk mail from clogging your mailbox by signing up at donotmail.org.
- Save notebooks & notepads to use as scrap paper (grocery lists, kids' projects, etc.).
- At the office, don't print/fax every single memo when an electronically stored email will do.
- Reexamine your newspaper subscription; do you need a physical copy every day?
- If you have a firepit/fireplace, stop using newspaper and start your fires more efficiently with starter bricks. Or just have fewer fires.
- Save plain paper bags for carrying and storing items.
- Pieces of cardboard can also be used as backing in picture frames and even some furniture.
- Embrace the paperless world of online news and magazines.
- Minimize the use of toilet paper. Unless you've got a case of the swine flu or some other issue we don't want to know about, you probably don't need half a roll for one sitting. You might also try a bidet...
- Use a perpetual-use calendar (dry-erase, magnetic kits, etc.) or your computer/email's calendar application.
- Check with your local recycling facility for a specific list of recyclables (you might be surprised with what they'll accept).
- Instead of paper Chinet, opt for dishwasher-safe plastic tableware at your next party.
- Overpriced book-reading device that it is, the Kindle is your paper-free alternative to physical copies.
- Donate your old books to book-sharing programs such as PaperBackSwap and BookMooch.
- Libraries often accept stacks of old magazines. (you could recycle them, but consider the fuel required to haul them away).
- Save wrapping tissue and giftwrap from gifts received to use when you give a gift.
- Shredded paper waste can be used in compost bins, as packaging material when moving, and in cat litter boxes (although it does get stinkier/messier).
- Don't buy paper towels! Use rags and old t-shirts to clean up your messes. At the office, use the air hand-dryer if available.
- Some business-reply envelopes received in the mail can be saved for personal use.
- If you bought a new coffee machine requiring different-shaped filters, you can probably still use your old filters if you're careful. Or use a filter-less coffee pot. Of course, you can compost spent filters, too.
- Switch-out your post-it notes with a dry-erase board for household messages, scheduling, etc.
- Phonebooks can be recycled - just make sure to tear them up into manageable chunks before you toss them in your bin.
- If you're in the market for a house and are looking into a new construction, consider a builder that uses enviroboard - panels made from ecologically safe-sourced material.
- Natural wood flooring is nice, but laminates and bamboo have a slightly smaller environmental impact (as always, do your homework to find the right company).
- If you don't need a receipt for a given transaction, make sure to tell the clerk; they may be able to prevent the machine from printing one.
- Photo paper is still paper; consider investing in a digital camera.
- Egg cartons can be re-used to hold Christmas ornaments and plant seedlings, among other things.
- Shoe boxes also make excellent storage containers and help organize closet/shelf space and prevent the need for rubbermaid containers.
- Pizza boxes can't be recycled because of grease exposure; however, the tops, which are usually grease-free, can be cut off and binned.
- Add a footer to your outgoing email reminding recipients to minimize paper use.
- Paper of every kind is two-dimensional; we often use scrap paper from work to print mapquest directions, etc.
- Size matters: don't use a whole sheet of paper when a post-it note will do.
- Engage in environmental stewardship: when you see paper being trashed, recycle it!
- Reduce the need for paper products by sharing cookbooks, magazine subscriptions, sheet music, etc. with friends and family.
- Used paper can also be used for origami, paper mâché and other crafts.
- It sounds goofy (and it is), but hole-puncher clippings make good confetti. When you're cleaning up the day after the festivities, use either a broom or your vacuum's dirt cup so that the scraps can be emptied into the R-bin.
- After moving to a new address, don't forget to remove the packing tape from your boxes and tear them down so that they can be recycled. Or flatten and save the boxes if you'll be moving again.
- Sweat the small stuff: clothing tags, receipts and expired coupons can be recycled.
- Make recycling more convenient: when you put a tray by your desk or a paper bag in your bathroom, you're more likely to use them for the purpose.
- Use cloth napkins instead of disposable ones.
- Download music online, and you'll avoid a physical copy of the album art and liner notes (which are often included in the MP3s' ID tags, anyway).
- Another option other than post-its: use the memo function of your cell phone to store lists and messages. Just don't do it while driving.
- Bring your own washable grocery bags to the grocery store.
- Buy recycled toilet paper. It's a bit more expensive, but at least you'll have some peace of mind.
- Not to get all hippie on you, but buy hemp. An acre of hemp produces as much paper product as three acres of trees, and hemp grows faster, too.
- Bring your own mug to Starbucks; you'll get a 10-cent discount and save another paper cup from the trash.
- Plant a tree. Duh! :)
Can you think of more ways? I suppose the best advice I can give is to use less paper whenever possible, because ironically, even the recycling process involves CO2 production and pollution involved with de-inking.
I invite other suggestions and crazy ideas from our readers, as I'm sure there are many more not mentioned above. Happy recycling!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Now there's a whole subcategory of products springing up at an aisle near you: "green" cleaners like Clorox's Green Works and Sunshine Makers' Simple Green. And people are buying: sales of Simple Green's all-purpose cleaner totaled $5.7 million in 2004 alone. Advertised as non-toxic and biodegradable, sounds like the earth-friendly choice, right?
Some cleaners are—but like anything else you put in your cart, caveat emptor. Nowadays, it's pretty easy to make vague, green-sounding claims (e.g., the word "natural" doesn't come with a whole lot of regulation) that lure consumers wishing to hop on the green bandwagon. As is often the case, your best bet is to do your homework and find out if the product in question is worth your money. After all, you don't want to be taken to the cleaners, now.
To that end, I hope to make your homework a little easier. Check out goodguide.com's index of all-purpose cleaners. You can search by brand name or browse the list of products, rated by health, environmental and social performance (I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to see that the Green Works we just bought has a score of 4.4 out of 10. Ouch.).
If you want to be extra green and economical, you can also make your own cleaning solutions, as virtually every surface in your home can be made to sparkle with varying combinations of white vinegar, baking soda, soap and water. Take a look at Consumer Reports' Greener Choices for a list of household ingredients and recipes for tub and tile cleaners, furniture polishes, metal polishes, air fresheners and more.
As long as we're talking recipes, my friend Annie has suggested mixing 2 tablespoons corn starch with a quart of hot water for a sprayable window cleaner. And here's one from a friend (who used to clean houses for a living, in fact) for all-purpose cleaner:
1 gallon of distilled water (minus 2 cups)
2 cups rubbing alcohol
2 tablespoons Prell shampoo
I admit I've never tried it...but seeing as how my Green Works isn't all that special, I'll have to mix it up soon.
Remember also, being green isn't just about buying the right all-purpose cleaner, it's about adopting the right lifestyle habits...but that's another post altogether. Until then, happy spring cleaning!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is not only for people with five acres and a farmhouse but for anyone, even an apartment dweller, who desires to be more self-sufficient. You could be a full-fledged self-supporter, earning what little money you need by selling your own produce, or you might simply grow your own food and mend your own clothes. Inside the book, you'll find lots of inspiration for any degree of self-sufficiency, with plenty of illustrations to enhance the vast range of interesting topics. To name just a handful:
- Which garden tools are used for which task
- Methods of protecting your garden from pests
- When to plant and harvest each vegetable/fruit and what it's good for
- To-dos for each season to maintain your year-round self-sufficient lifestyle
- How to buy, feed, milk, and slaughter a cow (not to mention pigs, goats, sheep, ducks...)
- Keeping bees
- Making beer, wine, cider, and vinegar
- Building your own toilet
- Drying produce in a solar dryer
- Baking bread and preserving produce
- Basketry, pottery, spinning wool
- Building an all-purpose furnace/oven/water heater
- The importance of chatting with other self-supporters in the local pub
- Making the break!
My favorite part of the book, though, is the section on what you can do with however much land you have. These pages describe and even map out what can be done with a five-acre holding (pastures, animals, wheat, an orchard, farm buildings, everything), a one-acre holding (fruit trees, well-organized crops, and, surprisingly, hay and several animals), an allotment in an urban community garden (veggies and berries, making use of poles and strings for vertical growth), or an urban micro-garden (raised beds, more vertical supports—even for apples or plums!—and a beehive). Our yard most closely resembles this micro-garden, and I've taken Seymour's advice to use a combination of ground-level plants, raised beds, and vertically trained plants to maximize the three-dimensional space. Wonder if my neighbors would mind if I added a beehive?
All right, all you dreamers and realists. What kind of self-sufficient things do you dream of? What things do you already do?
Re-posted to linked up with Frugally Sustainable's Blog Hop!
Also shared at Preparedness Fair #3.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
It's not hard! My sister's boyfriend is a chef, so he had a handy collection of garnish tools that made it easy to ball the cantaloupe and to give the oranges that sunshine look by scoring the peel before slicing it, but everything else can be done with a paring knife. To make the flower-shaped pieces of cantaloupe, first trace your shape into the melon's flesh by making shallow cuts with the knife. Then cut it out for real. For the orange "blossom" at the bottom of our bouquet, cut a zigzag of wedges around an orange half (you'll see we speared some of the cut-out little wedges on the kabobs).
The strawberries and marshmallows are dipped in a chocolate ganache. Sounds like a fancy word; it's basically chocolate melted with other stuff so it will set when cooled but will remain soft. If you melt some chocolate chips with nothing else mixed in, the chocolate will harden again when cooled, and you'll be crunching through it to get to the fruit. I'd give you the recipe for the ganache we used, but the chef among us just whipped it up, so... I recommend you look up any simple chocolate ganache and start dipping! Or, if you prefer something beyond simple, look for a ganache in white chocolate, chocolate-orange, chocolate-raspberry, almond...
- Stick your skewers of fruit into a half a head of cabbage. It's sturdy, foodsafe (duh) and biodegradable.
- Remember to thread your fruit kabobs backwards, starting with whatever piece you want to be at the top of the skewer and sliding each piece up as you pierce it, leaving the pointy side of the skewer down, to be shoved into the cabbage.
- Dip your chocolate-covered items first and let them set while you work on other pieces.
- Sometimes the fruit will slide down the skewer, but grapes seem to hold their place, so slide a grape underneath pieces that won't stay put.
My next edible bouquet experiment: veggies!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
First, let's head south to balmy Mississippi, where it's spawning time. My friend's brother is the manger of the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery, which was recently featured on a local news website. He's making the world a better place for fish and fishermen both. To find out how, check out the article and video on the Clarion Ledger's Outdoors page.
Next, we'll visit London for a taste (not literally) of a chocolate-powered car, as reported by Yahoo! Green. This experimental racecar is hoped to be one the fastest biofuel vehicles out there and is even built out of biodegradable parts.
And now, something to mark on your calendar. This weekend is Mother's Day, commonly known in the midwest as the time to begin planting outdoors. The perfect way to start this gardencentric weekend? National Public Gardens Day, of course. Friday, May 8, our nation celebrates and promotes all public gardens, including botanical gardens, arboreta, farm gardens and even zoos. Visit a public garden near you to discover its unique commitment to education, research and environmental stewardship.
Last, but not least, the DIY portion of this news digest. A couple of weeks ago (on Earth Day, as a matter of fact), MSN's Slate posted this great examination of the common question (in our house, anyway): Is it cheaper to buy it or make it? And, in the case of making it, is it worth the trouble? The article does not cover the "duh" items like hamburger buns (make!) or pizza (make!), but instead tested bagels, yogurt, and cream cheese, among other staples. I'll let you read for yourself whether you should be making these things or leaving them to the pros.
Thanks for following along. See? Not all "green news" is about the ice caps melting.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
When we last visited St. Louis, my sister-in-law's boyfriend (a sous chef-in-training) let us try a bit of his homemade vanilla ice cream, made from custard. Seeing as how May is likely to bring warmer weather (which makes the ice cream taste that much better), I thought I'd take a stab at my own ice cream concoction. When I was in college I made a banana-peach ice cream using low-fat yogurt; I thought I'd try to take a general frozen custard recipe and recreate a bit of that fruity flavor...which is how I came up with this recipe for Strawberry Banana Ice Cream:
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 cup mini-marshmallows
1 cup strawberries
2 bananas, mashed
In a saucepan over low heat, whisk milk, sugar and eggs constantly for 10-20 minutes until small peaks form; set aside. When cool, whip the cream with the vanilla and lemon in a stand mixer until peaks form; fold in custard mixture and mashed banana.
For the strawberries, you can do slices if you like, but I processed them into a puree and simmered it over low heat to remove some excess moisture and give each bite more flavor. When that cooled, I added it to the ice cream mixture along with some leftover coconut we had and some not-so-fresh marshmallows (still good, just not fresh, but who can tell in ice cream?).
Anyway, just cover and refrigerate the mixture overnight. The next day, give it a turn in the stand mixer to re-whip it and stick it in the freezer. Not to brag but it came out pretty good; with a little Hershey's on top, it's like eating a banana split!
Monday, May 4, 2009
Shared on: How To Tuesday
Saturday, May 2, 2009
- weight bench
- computer desk
- floor lamp
(we had another just like it!)
- 6' bookshelf
- kids' dresser
(where I store my tools)
- 4-piece patio set
(on our front porch)
- 5-piece patio set
(in our backyard)
- wooden barrel planters
- shoe cubby
- closet shelving
- card tables
- patio umbrella
Just goes to show, so many people throw away/replace perfectly good stuff. I've said to Nicole how it'd be nice to quit my job and cruise the streets in search of big-ticket items to refurbish and sell on craigslist...but unfortunately, that wouldn't pay the bills as well as the 9-to-5 does. For now, it's just one of my crazy schemes. Then again, now that the weather's warmer and people are doing their spring cleaning, you can bet I'll be keeping an eye out. After all, you can't beat free! (Linked with Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways)
Friday, May 1, 2009
Water skiing up at my cousin's place in Silver Lake (near Kenosha) in Wisconsin. I never got out there (I'm not sure I have the balance).
Coming home from work back when we lived about 2 miles from the Rt. 59 Metra train station.
Water slide while camping at Lost Valley Lake, Missouri's Ozark region (big deal if it's not technically the Ozarks). Check out the hair!
No, she's not falling towards me...just jumping down a sand dune at Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan. Because this is a picture of a picture, you can see the faint outline of me and the camera, reflected in the glossy finish. I need a scanner!