Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I must say - with pride - that I did two loads of laundry yesterday, another today WITHOUT the dryer! The sun is shining here in Alaska - add a little breeze and I'm loving my clothesline.
This may seem like a silly simple thing - but that is also the JOY!
Your clothes and linens will last MUCH longer. No dryer sheets etc. No lint (which is basically your dryer shredding your clothes). I love it. PLUS - the huge bonus of the fact that I'm not using all the electricity required with a dryer. It is a simple way of reducing my impact on the earth in a way that is truly difficult to measure because there are so many advantages to add up.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I've emptied countless yogurt-encrusted sippy cups of water into the dogs' water dish.
Against my better judgment, I've spearheaded a used book sale at our church. It's the ultimate in recycling, right? We're reusing paper bags for the sale, too.
Monday, June 8, 2009
In order to truly understand my family's decision to eat organic and humanely grown food, I would highly recommend reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (reviewed here). I'm sure there are dozens of other books out there that describe the same issues, but I found these to be quite accessible, and also quite convincing. (For shorter reads about organic farming and eating, see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. But most of all, here.) Of course, just because a food has an "organic" label does not mean that it's healthy, as much as I'd like to believe that the organic pop-tarts at Costco are going to change my life. And a food does not need to be certified organic to have been grown without pesticides and other chemicals. Organic certification is an expensive, highly regulated process, and many farmers can't afford the certification. The best way to know if food from the farmers' market is organic is to get to know the growers themselves.
My interest in organic food started when I started to wean my son last summer, and started offering him solid food. Organic baby food is relatively easy to find in jars, but I wanted to make most of his food at home, both for the cost savings, but also because I like to cook. I found this list of high-pesticide foods, and made it a priority to at least use organic varieties of those foods as I introduced them to the baby's diet. Then, I learned more about how conventionally grown foods are actually nutritionally different than organically grown foods. Because organically grown plants have to fend for themselves instead of allowing pesticides to do that work for them, they are richer in nutrients as a result. The case for eating organic food ourselves became more compelling. So, this spring we signed up for our very first Community-Supported Agriculture share. Last week, we picked up our first box, and we've feasted on purple kohlrabi, blue potatoes, arugula, green lettuce, green garlic, green onions, radishes, rosemary, and the greens from the kohlrabi, onions, garlic, and radishes. Our friends who have participated in CSAs in previous years have warned us that the first year can be overwhelming, not knowing what to do with all of the veggies. I have to say, I think we did pretty well for the first week. We have two more days to eat some of the lettuce and the radishes before we get our next box, and I'm confident we would not have had any lettuce left at all by now if I hadn't foolishly purchased a gigantic container of organic spring mix from Costco last week before the CSA box arrived. (The spring mix, I swear, has grown with each salad I've eaten, instead of shrinking.) It's another small step, for sure, but we're excited to see what the rest of the summer holds.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Of course, saving paper means saving costs. These are some small ways that we reduce our paper consumption at home.
- Reuse everything. I can't remember the last time I wrote a grocery list or a phone message on a virgin sheet of paper, rather than on the back of an envelope or a piece of scratch paper.
- When paper contains confidential material, shred it and use it for kindling (for the fireplace or charcoal grill) or for mulch.
- Newspapers can be used for cleaning windows before recycling them. I'm also told that newspapers make good mulch for gardens.
- Use Catalog Choice to reduce the number of catalogs you receive in the mail.
- Sign up for electronic statements with your bank and investment services. Often, this choice comes with benefits from the bank, as they are saving printing and postage costs.
- Consider using electronic documents for household needs: recipes, budget spreadsheets, etc. I have a friend who keeps a running list of questions for her pediatrician on her Blackberry, rather than on paper.
- Use cloth napkins and reusable cloth rags for cleaning to reduce paper towel consumption.
- Purchase used books or magazines when available. Instead of sending magazines directly to the recycling bin, try selling them at a used book store, or offer them to a friend for reading before recycling.
Edited to add:
How could I forget? We get paper bags at the grocery store when we forget our reusable bags (for shame - it happens all too often!), or when our grocery order fills all the bags we have with us. I use the paper bags for recycling that does not fit into our two bins, and now I'm saving paper bags for our church book sale. Plastic shopping bags are reused as small garbage can liners and dog poop scoopers.
Monday, June 1, 2009
I think most of us agree that the world could be a better place. Of course, it would be a formidable challenge to find any two people on this planet who agree completely on how making the world a better place should be done, and whose responsibility it is to work on that.
Whatever your values, we believe that it is an important spiritual, emotional, and even financial practice to give. Recently, I've heard some wonderful ideas for encouraging family participation in giving: adopting a work project as a part of each child's birthday celebration, encouraging (or mandating!) friends to participate in work projects, or requiring that nieces/nephews/grandchildren "earn" holiday and birthday gifts through logging volunteer hours. For those unaccustomed to volunteerism as a part of family life, these practices might seem cruel or backwards. Let me suggest, however, that encouraging these acts in children and teenagers is in fact giving them the gifts of perspective, empathy, kindness, and a work ethic that may not be earned in a paying job. In addition to logging volunteer hours, we know families who encourage donations or tithing from a child's allowance income. We feel that this empowers a child to feel like an active participant in his or her community.
So, how does one choose a charity or other worthwhile cause for contributing one's time and energy? Allow us to suggest these guidelines:
- Start locally. If you know of an organization that is active in your local community, school, or house of worship, start asking questions about what exactly the group does, and how you might contribute.
- Take some time to evaluate what concerns you most. Just as there is no shortage of problems in the world, there is also no shortage of organizations that need money and volunteer hours to help alleviate those problems. If world hunger and poverty concern you, check out http://www.heifer.org/. If you have a friend or family member living with cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer's Disease, there are organizations that are raising research money to prevent and cure these diseases.
- Check out Charity Navigator and The American Institute of Philanthrophy. These websites offer search tools and ratings to investigate, among other criteria, the percentage of the charity's budget is used for operating expenses. You may wish to investigate whether a charity is linked to any particular political or ideological group. You will likely not find an organization that meshes with your values completely, but you may find your own personal red flags as you do your research.
- Don't feel limited by your current financial situation. You may be surprised at the ways you can contribute in a meaningful way as a volunteer, using your time and your unique skills.
- Learn how to vote with your wallet. There are brands and companies that donate a significant amount of their profits to charity. You may wish to shop for bananas, coffee, and chocolate that are traded fairly.
- Beware of telemarketing charity solicitations. While many of these solicitations are legitimate, the safest bet is to ask the organization to send you printed material in the mail so that you can review their practices. If the telemarketer refuses to mail materials to you, proceed with caution.