Monthly Archives: December 2010

Have You Made Your Green New Year’s Resolutions Yet?

Here comes the New Year, so soon after Christmas. Have you started planning your resolutions for the new year. Any goals yet?

I’ll admit that I prefer to think in terms of goals rather than resolutions personally. There’s just no surprise about it when someone gives up on a New Year’s Resolution. Lots of people fail at those.

It stings a bit more, in my opinion, to drop a goal. The commitment simply feels different to me.

Whatever you want to call it, make sure you’re being realistic about it. You can’t set a goal of living in a perfectly sustainable home completely off the grid if you’re barely scraping by and haven’t made any changes yet. You have to focus on the things you can really accomplish.

That doesn’t mean give up on the idea of off grid living if that’s what you want. It simply means you should break down your goal into more manageable steps, and work toward the big goal over time.

Goals don’t have to be all that grand, of course. You can have much simpler goals if that’s what you’d prefer. The main thing is to commit to action.

Since we’re talking about green goals, this has nothing to do with your resolve to lose weight or other traditional resolutions. They’re just fine as goals, and you can combine them with your eco friendly goals. Plan to lose weight by going vegetarian or eating more vegetarian meals, for example. Eating less meat is definitely good for the environment, and a well thought out vegetarian lifestyle can help you lose weight.

Now is a good time to start thinking about it all. If there’s something that needs to be bought for your goals and someone still needs an idea for a Christmas present for you, this may help you give them ideas. Who says you have to wait until next year?

Need some ideas? Think about riding a bike for more errands or to work if that’s possible where you live. Think about other ways to drive less or use public transportation more.

Think about your garden or starting one if you don’t have a garden yet. What would you love to grow? Don’t limit yourself to vegetables or foods that have to be replanted each year. Fruit trees are a great idea. You can’t get more local than grown in your own backyard.

Think about cutting plastic out of your life as much as possible. Can you commit to using your reusable shopping bags? Where else can you quit using plastic, especially any single use plastic?

Have you been considering any volunteer opportunities? It might be the right time to quit thinking and start doing.

How good are you at the “reuse” part of “reduce, reuse, recycle?” Could this be the year you fall in love with shopping at thrift stores? Some amazing deals can be found in thrift stores.

What else would you like to do to be more eco friendly in the new year? Are you ready to start now?

Remember to Give to Charity

This is a great time of year to give to charity. Actually, any time is a great time, but this is the time of year many of us think about it. So do it.

It could be a gift to that relative who really doesn’t want anything more. If you know his or her favorite charity, make a donation in your relative’s name.

Take some time with your children and help out at a local charity. It’s a great way to show them that they can help out with a favorite cause. It may take some searching to find something age appropriate, depending on the age of your children. Many organizations have a minimum age limit for volunteers.

Then, for your own sake and to give to others, declutter your home and give the reusable items to charity. Help your children to do likewise.

It’s often hard to get kids to give up toys, even ones they no longer use, but it is possible. Here are some ways to go about it.

1. Talk about why you clean out the excess toys.

Many children these days have far more toys than they could possibly play with. Others have very few because their families can’t afford to give them much. Sending old toys to the thrift shop means that families with less money can afford to give their children something fun to play with.

That’s what works well on my kids most times. I don’t buy a lot of toys for them, but they get a lot of them as gifts.

2. Make two piles and have your child choose between them.

This works for getting rid of toys or just storing the excess away for a time. Be sure that you allow trades between the piles for particular favorites, and be very clear on what is happening to each pile. Try to keep trades even between the piles, so that the “stay” pile doesn’t keep growing.

3. Sort them out yourself.

I’m not too fond of this option personally – I like my kids to be involved in the decision. Sometimes it’s necessary when the piles of unused toys get too extreme and you aren’t getting any cooperation on getting rid of toys.

If you do this, be prepared for some anger when missing toys get noticed. Kids can come up with a reason why any toy, no matter how neglected, was important. It may help to discreetly store toys taken this way for a time before sending to your local thrift store. This allows for any serious mistakes to be corrected. Or you can be firm about the matter and point out how many other toys are still all over the house.

However you go about it, make sure your kids see you giving up things as well. Children shouldn’t feel as though they’re the only ones having to give things up for others.

4 Easy Gifts to Make for the Holidays

Homemade gifts have a lot of advantages. They’re affordable and meaningful. They’re fun. Done right, they aren’t as wasteful as other gifts. They’re a great excuse to avoid the mall crowds. Some are easy enough to do at nearly the last minute.

Here are some ideas to help you get started with homemade gifts.

Homemade Bath Salts

1 cup Epsom salts or sea salts
1 tsp glycerin
a few drops essential oil, such as lavender
few drops food coloring – optional but pretty

Mix ingredients together in a glass bowl. Store in a jar with a tight lid. Decorate jar with a ribbon around it.

You can include baking soda in the recipe as well, about the same amount or less as the other salts. Other liquid at room temperature oils can be used in place of the glycerin, just make sure they’re good for the skin.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

6 vanilla beans
2 cups vodka
Quart Mason jar and lid

Cut the beans in half lengthwise and add to the jar. Pour vodka over the beans. Store in a cool dark place for at least a month, shaking the jar every few days.

This one is great for the chef in the family. Make a label for the jar if the vanilla extract won’t be ready for use by the time you give it. The vanilla beans can stay in for longer than a month, and will continue to improve the flavor of the extract.

Chocolate Covered Pomegranate Seeds

Pomegranate seeds
Dark chocolate chips

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth. If using a microwave, take the chocolate out every 15-30 seconds to stir once it starts to melt so you don’t burn it.

Stir pomegranate seeds into melted chocolate, covering completely with the chocolate.

Spoon onto wax paper in small quantities, maybe 3-6 seeds per scoop. Cool in the refrigerator.

This treat should be made not too long before it will be eaten. The pomegranate seeds won’t stay good too long. Each treat should be small so that it fits easily in the mouth. Those seeds will squirt when you bite into them, but the combination with the dark chocolate is amazing. This is a particular favorite of mine because my mother has a pomegranate tree.

Draft Snake

Two pieces tightly woven fabric 8 inches by 41 inches or longer if for a larger door
Sewing skills
Sand, rice or dried beans for filling

Sew the fabric together to form a 41 inch long tube, leaving one of the small ends open. Turn right side out and fill, leaving room to sew the open end shut. Turn in the raw edges and sew the opening shut.

You can add a tongue, eyes and other features as you like. This gift is great if you know someone living in a drafty house.

If you’re into crafts, you can think of many more homemade gifts to make. Why not share your creativity with the ones you love this year?

How Do You Limit Your Environmental Impact at Christmas?

If there’s one problem with Christmastime, it’s the consumer feeding frenzy that happens every year. So much waste, and it’s hard to not get into it at least a little bit. Most families have a lot of Christmas traditions that are difficult to change and too much fun to easily opt out of.

How can you adapt your habits at Christmastime to limit the impact you put on the environment?

1. Talk it over with family.

Have a discussion with your family about changes you’d like to make and why. Try to make handmade, reused and Fair Trade gifts more acceptable.

My kids are getting a stack of books from our local $1 bookstore this year. They’re all used books, but in good condition. For about the price of one or two new books for each, they’re getting a bunch of books. I call that a good deal.

Trees and seeds are good gifts for those who enjoy gardening. Find out what they’d like to grow and which varieties grow well in their area. A good fruit tree is a gift that will keep on giving for years.

2. Limit spending on gifts.

There are a few ways to go about this. You can set a price limit and still all shop for the same people, or you can draw names and pool the total value given in gifts per person.

Between my sisters and I, we have an agreement on how much each of us contributes toward gifts. It’s approximate, as no money actually changes hands. Instead, names are drawn and gift values assigned to each name. Each person shops for the people they drew.

This cuts down a lot on shopping time and on the buying of obnoxious knickknacks. You can find out what the person actually wants, and it might be in the budget.

3. Reuse gift bags.

This one drives some people nuts, but it’s why I don’t like to use wrapping paper. Gift bags are very reusable if you treat them well. I keep quite a stash of them for whenever I need to give a gift.

Alternatively, use a reusable shopping bag as a gift bag. Make it a part of the gift.

4. Go easy on the lights.

Holiday light displays are beautiful, there’s no doubt about it. We’re planning a walk around our neighborhood soon to see all the holiday lights on display – my youngest just about plasters herself to the windows at night when she notices all the pretty lights outside right now.

The only problem with holiday light displays is how much energy they use. It adds a lot to your power bill, and most power generation isn’t exactly clean. Then light strands break down over time and have to be replaced. That part isn’t so pretty.

If you’re going to have holiday lights, go for LED whenever you can. They use less power, and they’ve been improving over the past few years. You should also put your lights on a time, both outside and on your Christmas tree inside, so that they don’t stay on all night long. They don’t really need to look so pretty when no one is going to see them, right?

5. Think your travel through.

The holiday season is a time to visit and enjoy being with family. If you live away from your extended family, it’s common to take a trip and go visit.

Kind of a pity about the pollution created.

Choosing the most effective and environmentally friendly form of transportation is a balancing act. A big part is how far you have to go. If you’re only a couple hours away, a car may be your one option. If you’re cross country, you may not be able to afford the time a car or train takes to cover that distance.

There are options to traveling. You can talk on the phone, of course. If both sides have a webcam, you can talk that way. Not as much fun as being together in person, but it’s kinder to the environment and the budget.

6. Think about the food.

Holiday food, oh, the holiday food! It’s no wonder many people gain weight over the holidays. There’s too much good food available this time of year at the various parties and other events you may attend.

For your own health, overeating is a bad idea, although the occasional indulgence isn’t that terrible for your health at all.

When you’re preparing food, think about where it comes from. You may not be able to get much fresh, local produce this time of year, depending on where you live, unless it was grown in a greenhouse. You can try to get organic produce. You can get free range turkey or other meats that have been treated better than the usual factory farmed stuff.

Sweet treats are the big challenge. Look for bakeries that use healthier ingredients and avoid HFCS you can buy Fair Trade candies, or you can make desserts and other treats yourself. Balancing deliciously decadent with environmentally sensitive takes some extra work, but it’s not a bad challenge if you’re up for it.

7. Think about your tree.

We have an artificial tree. Not as pretty as a real tree, but we’ve had it for a number of years now and intend to keep on using it for many more. My mother has had the same artificial tree as far back as I can remember, and it’s still going strong.

If you go artificial, that’s the thing to remember, to commit to keeping it a long time. Don’t just throw it out because you want a real tree from then on. Find someone who does want it if you’re done with it.

If you go for a real tree, make sure it was sustainably farmed. A good tree farm replants every year. Don’t flock your real tree, as that makes it unrecycleable.  Do make sure that your real tree gets recycled in whatever way is available in your local area. Many communities have places where you can drop off your real trees at the end of the season.

8. Remember your reason for the season.

Whatever holiday you’re celebrating, whatever the reason, keep it in mind as you prepare for it. There’s no religion anywhere that demands the consumer frenzy that has become so common at this time of year.

Do you have any special ways you limit your family’s impact at this time of year?

You Know You’re a Green Stay at Home Mom When

Life as an eco friendly mom takes some extra effort. Doing so as a stay at home mom has some advantages, but that still doesn’t make it all that easy.

You know you’re a green stay at home mom when…

You can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use cloth diapers on a baby. With the right ones, it’s really not that different from disposable diapers, and much less waste. Then there’s the chance you can potty train your child younger than average… freedom!

You enjoy making baby food for your little one.

Your children help you in your organic garden. Most likely you’d love to have more room for it.

If there’s any way to have free range chickens in your backyard, you’ve got them.

Making homemade bread is one of your pleasures. The time spent is well worth the effort both for the taste and the savings.

You can think of plenty of uses for empty jars.

You know how much money you’re saving by choosing eco friendly options and how much waste you’re preventing.

You walk to run errands or take the kids to school whenever possible. Possible includes wet and cold weather, so long as it’s safe to walk where you’re going. Other parents may comment on your fortitude or insanity.

You wonder if your family really needs two cars. You may have even gotten rid of the second car because you know you can live without it. There’s public transportation for those times you need to get somewhere you can’t walk to and your husband needs the one car.

You breastfeed your toddler as long as you both enjoy it.

You don’t let caring for your children keep you from caring for the world around you. You do your best to teach your kids why they should care about the environment too.

The clerks know you at the local thrift store, and you know how to find the best clothes for your kids and yourself there. Who needs new?

Most times you take your kids with you to the farmer’s market, so that they can learn about food. But it’s a nice break sometimes to go on your own for a little peace and quiet. Hopefully you won’t start looking frantically for the “missing” child you left home with daddy.

You know what the best eco friendly toys are, and your kids love them. Most of their non eco friendly toys are handed down or were bought used.

Your children know little to nothing about fast food restaurants, and especially little about toys that come with meals.

You make many of your own cleaning supplies, and check the ingredients of any you buy. Everything you clean with is so safe you can let your kids use it.