How to Reduce Your Home’s Carbon Footprint

This is a guest post by Justin Havre, a Calgary native and owner of Justin Havre & Associates.

A home’s carbon footprint is its impact on the environment, measured in the amount of carbon dioxide released in the process of operating that home. Excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere traps heat, accelerating the process of global climate change.

Reducing the carbon footprint of your property is good for the community, for the world, and even for your pocketbook. Improving sustainability can also make a house more desirable to home buyers in the event the home goes up for sale. Knowing how to reduce your carbon footprint can help make your home a better and more functional place to live.

Insulate

Many older homes had adequate insulation at the time of construction but are no longer up to our standards. You can determine whether or not your home has adequate insulation by going into the attic and checking whether or not the insulation is above the floor joists. If the floor joists are visible, adding more insulation will make your home more energy-efficient.

Insulating pipes is another good way to save money and energy. Insulating the hot-water pipes helps keep the water in the pipes warmer for longer, reducing wear and tear on your water heater. For this task, simply purchase long lengths of self-adhesive pipe insulation that’s the right size for your home’s plumbing, then cut down the insulation to the right size and apply it to the exposed pipes in your home.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats ensure that your home’s HVAC system will only run as much as needed. Program the thermostat to turn down the heat (or to allow a warmer temperature before the AC comes on) when people are sleeping or not at home. This will save money and improve the efficiency of your furnace and air conditioner. Read more of this post

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub review

This is an honest review.  I received a discount on this product, and if you join Grove Collaborative using my affiliate link I will receive a discount on my future purchases there, but I was not paid to promote this product.  All opinions stated here are my own.

For the past two years, I’ve been buying some of my environmentally friendly household products through Grove Collaborative, formerly known as ePantry, a subscription service that sends your selected supplies as scheduled but allows you to adjust or cancel any order if you don’t need that stuff right now.  Here’s how to decide if a subscription service is right for you, and here are my honest reviews of 11 products Grove carries.  If you’d like to try it, please click here to get a $10 discount and get me credit for referring you!

Grove Collaborative often offers me a discount on a new product to entice me to try it.  That’s how I got Acure Brightening Facial Scrub.  This exfoliating cleanser is an alternative to those that contain environmentally damaging plastic microbeads and/or hazardous chemicals.

It has “argan extract + chlorella growth factor,” which does not sound appealing to me.  It also has “lemon peel granules,” which presumably contain the fruit acids that are supposed to be good for making skin look younger, as well as being a constructive use for lemon peels that would otherwise be compost or garbage.  “Walnut shell flour” similarly makes use of unwanted natural packaging, and it sounded good for exfoliating.  Overall, the list of ingredients didn’t contain anything objectionable, and I always appreciate when products disclose all of their ingredients.  (If you’re wondering about potassium sorbate, it’s natural and considered pretty safe.)

When I opened the tube, I was surprised to find that this facial scrub is black.  Well, dark greenish-gray, maybe.  How was rubbing this dark goo into my pores going to “brighten” my face?  I said to myself in a chipper voice, “That’s the argan and chlorella!” but this did not reassure me.  I pictured Argan and Chlorella terrorizing Tokyo.  I toned it down to a vision of earnestly-raised young vegan siblings named Argan and Chlorella.  I sniffed the open tube and realized that the scrub had a pleasant lemon scent.

That’s important.  Stuff I’m going to rub onto my face needs to smell good or at least not bad.  It’s right on and next to my nose, first thing in the morning!

So, I squeezed out a bit of the lemony-smelling stuff that looked like wet sand from a black-sand beach, and I gently scrubbed it on my forehead, nose, and chin.  (My cheeks are more sensitive, so I never try an exfoliant there until I’ve seen its effect on the rest of my face.)  It felt good!  Invigorating!  After rinsing, I felt much smoother.

After getting out of the shower, I looked in the mirror for evidence of “brightening.”  I actually saw a difference!  My pores were smaller–even after a steamy shower–and I looked a little younger and more awake than usual.

With subsequent uses, I’ve continued to be happy with the effect on my appearance and the way my skin feels.  I’m now using it every other day on my face, neck, and elbows.

The downside is that, because of the dark color, every bit of the scrub that rinses off me is highly visible, and it looks a lot like dirt or mildew.  I’m trying to be careful to get it all to go down the drain instead of onto the shower curtain or wall.  This also is a reason to make sure you rinse it thoroughly off your skin.  I’m finding that easy to do in the shower, but if you use it to wash your face over the sink, make sure you’re not leaving bits of black grit along your hairline!

Overall, I recommend this product if you want a facial scrub in a tube.  It’s convenient, but the tube will not be accepted by most recycling programs, and the stuff costs about $2 an ounce.  When I finish it, I’ll probably go back to using my very affordable, low-waste homemade facial scrub most of the time.  (I wonder if adding some kind of citrus oil would give me that pore-tightening effect?)  I might buy another tube of Acure Brightening Facial Scrub for special occasions and travel.

Here are all my favorite Earth-friendly hygiene products!

Visit Waste Less Wednesday and To Grandma’s House We Go for more environmentally friendly tips!

Recycling Coffee Bags with TerraCycle

We save money on fair-trade organic coffee by buying five-pound bags.  Larger bags also mean less garbage per pound of coffee, but those metallized plastic bags are still an environmental problem: Most recycling programs won’t take them, and they’re not biodegradable.

For several years, I collected coffee bags—our own and those discarded by friends, co-workers, my church, and people attending various events at church who saw my flyer on the bulletin board and tacked their bags to it—until I had enough to pack a box very full, and then I mailed it to the Netherlands, to a company that was making tote bags out of coffee bags.

That was pretty cool, but trans-Atlantic postage is expensive, and then the company began struggling economically, reduced production, and told me they didn’t need more bags.  I’m not sure if they’re still in business now.  But I never stopped collecting bags.  I needed another way to recycle them.

TerraCycle specializes in recycling unusual items that are difficult to recycle because of the multiple materials used in one item—things like juice pouches, toothpaste tubes, and three-ring binders.  Read more of this post

Why My 12-year-old Is Riding Public Transit Alone

I’m nervous posting this because of the freakout when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride public transit alone.  I don’t want to be the next “America’s Worst Mom”!  But I think it’s important to talk about how to approach children’s independence safely and gradually so that they learn the skills they’ll need as adults.

Nicholas is 12 now.  He was 11 last summer when he started riding Pittsburgh city buses by himself.  His father and I think he could have handled it just fine when he was 10, too, but his day camp required that an adult sign him in and out every day until age 11.

Nicholas has been attending this day camp at the Carnegie Museum of Art & Natural History since he was 5.  He used to go every week as his summer childcare while we were working.  Now that he’s old enough to keep himself occupied while his father works from home, he only signs up for the week-long camp sessions that interest him most.

I used to work 4 blocks away from the museum, taking public transit to/from the bus stop right outside the museum.  It was easy for me to drop off Nicholas on my way to work and pick him up on my way home.  But the summer he was 9, I was on maternity leave until late July, and he wanted to attend some weeks of camp anyway.  Baby Lydia and I got an early start practicing getting out of the house on time, in order to drop off Nicholas by 9:00 each morning and pick him up at 3:00!  (When I wasn’t working, he didn’t stay for the optional “post-camp” until 6:00.)  We enjoyed the daily outings and sometimes did other things before heading home.

Last summer, I was between jobs.  My feelings about time were very different from maternity leave; I felt constantly busy and stressed about job-searching and trying to catch up on all those projects that are hard to do while working full-time.  It was a great relief to hear that Nicholas was excited about finally being old enough to sign himself in and out of camp!

We prepared carefully for his first solo bus trip.  Here are the details to consider and the ways they worked out for us: Read more of this post

That Time I Bought Ladybugs by Mail

Years ago, Daniel and I made friends with this guy named Vinnie who lived in one of the apartments over the garages behind the cluster of rowhouses where we were living at the time.  His apartment was small and shabby, but he’d chosen it because it had a large yard, and he loved gardening.  In the winter, he brought a lot of his plants indoors in pots.

Unfortunately, one winter his plants became infested with aphids and scale insects simultaneously.  Vinnie tried spraying them with various homemade concoctions, but nothing was working well enough, and the plants were dying.  Somehow a farm-supply catalog had made its way into his urban home, and he noticed that the catalog said ladybugs would eat these pests.  You could buy them by the pint.

Vinnie is a person who stubbornly resists The System: He likes to work informally as a landscaper rather than having a “real job,” he’s often lived without a telephone or a bank account, and he’s never had a credit card.  That’s why he asked me to order his ladybugs from the catalog.  I used my phone, my credit card, and my address, figuring I would take the bugs to Vinnie when they arrived.

A week or so later, I came home from work, and my housemate said, “You got a package.  Why is it labeled LIVESTOCK?  It’s not very big.”  The package was a small wooden crate containing a canvas sack.  When I held it up to my ear, I could hear tiny moving noises.  I explained to my housemate, and we speculated about how many ladybugs are in a pint–that crate might be small by human standards, but it was very much larger than a ladybug; there must be hundreds in there or thousands….

After dinner, I took the crate up to Vinnie’s place.  He was excited.  He immediately got some tools to pry open the crate.  Then he lifted out the bag, ignoring some folded papers that were underneath it in the crate.  One end of the bag was bunched together and secured with a twist-tie.

Naturally, Vinnie untwisted the twist-tie to take a look at his new beneficial insects. Read more of this post

A Look At Climate Change And The Questions That Surround It

This is a guest post by Neil Stawski of ClimateWise.co . Mr. Stawski believes we aren’t doing enough to protect our planet. He created ClimateWise.co to educate the public and encourage people to take action.

High water!

image via Pixabay by Hermann

Global warming, climate change, fossil fuels, and greenhouse gases: all things you’ve probably heard about in the news in recent years, and all things that are extremely complicated and hard to understand, especially when there is so much information–and misinformation–spread.

Among the many questions surrounding these topics is the question of what we can do to help stop these changes, and whether or not we can reverse them. Unfortunately, because there is such a gap between what we do and when we feel the effects, it’s nearly impossible to reverse climate change. We can only hope to slow it down.

What we can do, however, is educate ourselves about climate change, learn how to suss out the facts from the opinions, and implement some changes in our own lives that will benefit the Earth for future generations.

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding climate change, as well as answers agreed upon by some of the most experienced scientists in the world.

What is the difference between “global warming” and “climate change”?

Global warming is a term used to indicate the massive rise in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere over the last several decades due to the increasing use of fossil fuels, which contain carbon dioxide that traps heat. Global warming is a symptom of climate change, which encompasses all the global issues affected by the rising temperatures. These issues include melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and the possible extinction of many plant and animal species.

If global warming exists, why do we still have cold winters?

Global warming is taking place over a period of time, across the entire planet. Although the average temperature of our atmosphere is rising, we will still have cold winters and even snow and ice storms due to changing weather patterns.

Becca says: Check out this cartoon explaining why “what used to be normal now feels too cold.” Read more of this post

Compost Blanketing the Sahara

Last night, Daniel and I were talking about what might happen with Africa in this century.  It’s an interesting question, considering that Africa has an unusually young population, many unstable governments, metals that are hard to find anywhere else on Earth, significant presence of both Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, and very uneven distribution of resources.  All kinds of things could happen there!

Daniel had an idea that had never occurred to me before, which I think is fabulous!  We haven’t fully explored the science behind it (and we can see some potential pitfalls) but as an idea for what Earthlings could achieve if we tried, I think this is really inspiring.

The Sahara Desert covers almost as much land as the United States but is habitable to less than 1% as many people.  “Huge areas are wholly empty,” says the Encyclopedia Brittanica, but there is archaeological evidence that more people lived there in prehistoric times.  The Sahara has grown over the course of human history, partly because of climate change and partly because of unsustainable agricultural practices.  This is the region of Earth where human beings first developed agriculture.  This land fed people for thousands of years, but now it is used up, dried out, blowing away.

Is that just what happens?  Do we live in a place until we use it all up and then move on?  What will happen when we run out of places? Read more of this post

The Dishwasher Ladybug

Many things in our home previously belonged to our relatives.  I claimed many books, dishes, pieces of furniture, and framed artwork from my grandparents’ homes after they died.  Daniel’s parents and grandparents have given us household items that they don’t need anymore but that are still useful.  Making use of these things in our home is a way of running them into the ground while also triggering memories of old times in another house and, in some cases, of people who aren’t with us anymore.

Daniel’s cousin Mike and his wife Barbara hosted the extended family for Thanksgiving for many years.  Barbara had a flair for decorating and a fondness for ladybugs.  In the breakfast nook of her red-and-black kitchen were shelves displaying the ladybug-themed gifts people kept giving her.  After Barbara died, Mike offered us our choice of ladybug stuff.

One of the items we brought home was a plush ladybug with a magnet in its belly.  It’s cute, but we found it didn’t work very well for holding shopping lists and so forth because it covers such a large area that you can’t see the paper.  It was just a decoration hanging on the side of our refrigerator for several months.

Meanwhile, we were using our dishwasher, which has an LED that illuminates when the cycle is complete and stays lit until you turn it off or you open and close the door.  It’s a convenient reminder that the dishes in the dishwasher are clean and need to be put away.  If we opened the dishwasher to grab just one spoon or something, we’d carefully push it almost closed but not latch the door, so the LED would stay lit.

This worked just fine until our daughter Lydia started walking.  She would grab the edge of the dishwasher door as a handhold, and if it wasn’t latched, it would swing down and bop her on the head!

ladybug magnetNow we needed a different visual cue to show us that the dishes were clean.  Many people use a magnet…and we happened to have this magnet that needed a useful role!

Over the past two years, Daniel and I and our 12-year-old son have adapted to this new house rule: When you open the dishwasher to take out a clean dish but not put away all the dishes, put the ladybug on the door.  When you have put away the clean dishes and the dishwasher is ready to collect dirty dishes again, move the ladybug back to the refrigerator.  Simple!

Of course, the plush ladybug hanging near floor level proved irresistible to our toddler sometimes.  We had to teach Lydia that it’s okay to play with the ladybug, but you need to put her back in place when you are done, because she is doing her job.  She is a helpful insect, not unlike the real ladybugs we see in the garden.  Lydia gradually became so responsible about keeping the ladybug on duty that I can’t recall when I last reminded her.

Using a cue like this helps us conserve water, energy, and money by running the dishwasher only when it’s full.  Because we eat different things from day to day, we have different amounts of dishes, so it’s hard to predict when the dishwasher will be full.  Many people have told me they run the dishwasher every night after dinner so that they can put away the dishes before bed and always have clean dishes in the morning and no confusion about what’s clean or dirty–but that’s so wasteful!  It’s also more total work to put away a smallish number of dishes every day than to put away a larger number of dishes every three days or so.

(I’d just like to mention that last summer, I proved to myself that I usually do, too, have time to empty the dishwasher now and get it over with: I put on the Genesis song “Abacab” and emptied the fully-packed dishwasher and even scrubbed that one dish that didn’t get clean before the song was over = 7 minutes, 2 seconds!)

Lydia just turned 3 years old.  The evening after her birthday, I filled up the dishwasher after dinner and turned it on.  Daniel told me that when he and Lydia came into the kitchen a while later, she immediately noticed the sound and said, “The dishwasher is washing.”  Then she took the ladybug from the refrigerator and put it onto the dishwasher.  She has learned the rule!

Our ladybug is very helpful in the household routine, and it also brings a little bit of Barbara’s ladybug-loving legacy into our daily lives so that we remember her fondly.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party and To Grandma’s House We Go! for more home tips!  Visit Be Clean Be Green With Kids for more ideas for family cooperation to save the Earth!

Go Green in 2017: Clean Up Your Hygiene Routine!

Happy Earth Day!  What is your Earth Day Resolution?

I hope you’ve already switched to greener cleaners and started drinking better milk, and now you’re ready for something new!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  Let’s talk about the stuff you use to clean and care for your body.

You might think that the Food & Drug Administration is responsible for making sure (in the United States) that any product marketed for putting on or in your body is safe.  Unfortunately, that’s totally false.  The FDA does no pre-market testing of personal hygiene products and does not require full disclosure of ingredients!  (The term “cosmetics” used in that article does not mean just lipstick and nail polish; it includes more necessary products like shampoo, deodorant, and sunscreen.)  Even when a product causes serious injury to consumers and the FDA does intervene, it’s not allowed to issue a recall (that’s a voluntary action by the manufacturer), and other products using the same dangerous ingredients can remain on the market.  Cosmetic companies aren’t required to tell the FDA if consumers report that a product hurt them.

This means that when you buy, say, baby wipes for your newborn, they can contain just about anything, and the package may not tell you what fibers are in that soft towelette or what chemicals are in that sweet-smelling liquid.  The same is true of most personal hygiene products that don’t make enough medical claims to be classified as drugs.

Not only are your personal health and safety at risk, but many hygiene products also are bad for the environment.  Some of the chemicals common in body wash, deodorant, moisturizers, makeup, perfume, and nail polish are known to cause cancer or disrupt hormone production even in people or animals who don’t use them directly but consume water or air polluted with these chemicals by the user or by the factory.  A common ingredient in sunscreen washes off swimmers and kills coral reefs.  Here are 7 ingredients to avoid.

One of the most horrifying hazards found in hygiene products is microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic that increase the scrubbing effect of a facial cleanser or toothpaste.  They are too small to be filtered out of water, which means that plastic microbeads accumulate in our oceans and in the bodies of fish, and we’re drinking them ourselves, with unknown effects.  The environmental audit committee of the British parliament estimated that a person who eats six oysters has also eaten 50 particles of microplastics.

A great reference for checking the safety and environmental impact of your favorite products is the Environmental Working Group’s database.  It’s not perfect–they’re excessively worried about natural fragrant oils, in my opinion–but it gives you a lot of information to help make your decisions.  If you’re curious about a product that’s not in the database but that lists its ingredients on the label, you can search the ingredients in the database.

My family has been moving toward safer, more natural, less Earth-destroying, affordable options in hygiene products for about 20 years now.  Here’s what we recommend for many commonly-used types of products.  Many of our favorites (as well as other green options we haven’t tried) are available from Grove Collaborative; click here for $10 off your first order! Read more of this post

Why we had Banana Bread and Black Bean Soup for Easter dinner

We’ve never established a traditional Easter dinner for our family.  Partly it’s because we don’t eat lamb or ham, but the biggest reason is that for the past 15 years I’ve been heavily involved in the Easter celebrations at church.  The Easter Vigil service is late Saturday night, followed by a festive reception, and then there’s the Sunday morning service, followed by another festive reception!  As hospitality chairperson, I’m in charge of recruiting people to bring food for the receptions, organizing the array of food, setting up, and cleaning up.  Also, I’ve often read one of the scriptures in the Easter Vigil service, and this year I was a chalice-bearer (serving the Communion wine and, unexpectedly, lighting 14 candles–but that’s another story).

After all that, not only am I tired and burned-out on food management, but we’re not coming home hungry after church!  We eat during the reception, and then there are always some odds and ends left on the serving platters that are easier to eat than put away.  We don’t need another meal until Sunday evening.

We do have to eat then, though.  The extent to which I had planned that meal was thinking, “I’ll bake the last two sweet potatoes, and we’ll eat them with…something….”

I ended up not baking the sweet potatoes. Read more of this post

Darwinian Gardening

Tomato plant and squash plant in a pot, in the garden among morning glories, irises, spearmint, etc.

I’m writing a 3-part series on composting over at Kitchen Stewardship; here’s how to get started with my composting system using 3 ordinary flowerpots, and I also mention two FREE composting systems my family members have used. Here, I’m explaining my general approach to the garden I nourish with my compost.

The idea and the name of Darwinian Gardening come from my mom, who devotes a section of her large garden to “the survival of the fittest,” with lovely and sometimes surprising results.

You could just fertilize some soil and then see what grows there, being totally hands-off about it.  Mom and I intervene a little.  The basic idea is to plant the seeds you have and encourage the plants you like, to grow a uniquely beautiful garden that’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and low-maintenance.

I don’t have a big garden like my parents do.  My front yard is about 12 feet square.  My back yard (not shown in these photos) is on a cliff and very shady, so we struggle to keep anything growing there to control erosion.  One of my favorite things about Darwinian Gardening is that many species of plants intertwine, creating lots of variety in a small area.  My garden may be tiny, but there’s a lot to see here!

Morning glories, lamb’s ears, and purple vine working together to choke out “weeds.”

My garden combines things I planted on purpose with things that just showed up. Every spring, I plant whatever seeds I have, root cuttings from my potted plants, and maybe buy a few bulbs or seeds or seedlings.

A lot of my plants “grow like weeds” and are essentially invasive species, but I don’t consider them “weeds” because I like them!  I only pull up plants I truly don’t want, like poison ivy and burrs.

However, my most enthusiastic plants sometimes choke out other plants that I want to grow, so I intervene by digging them up and moving them to a bare spot.  Morning glory vines twine around other plants and block the sunlight; while I’m supervising my kids playing outdoors, I patrol the garden and carefully unwind morning glories from the other plants and wind them onto things I don’t mind them growing on. Read more of this post

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion review

I received a free sample of Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion to review.  This is an honest review of my family’s experience with this product, which we probably wouldn’t have tried if we hadn’t been offered a free sample.

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion is a gentle moisturizing lotion made without mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, phthalates, or formaldehyde.  It’s made from 98% natural ingredients, including organic coconut oil that is harvested without damaging orangutan habitat.  All ingredients are listed on the label.

My daughter Lydia is the youngest in the family, at two and a half, so she was the first to try this lotion.  After her bath, I rubbed it into her arms and legs, which tend to get dry and flakey in the winter. Read more of this post

Public Transit and Convenient Commuting

It’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that the majority of Americans who work outside the home commute by car.

I understand that many small towns and suburban and rural areas have no public transit at all, and that many cities have inadequate public transit providing infrequent service to just a few neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why so many people put up with it!  Of course there are situations in which people have good reasons for living and/or working in remote areas.  But there are millions more who just seem to be taking for granted that, as a grown-up, every day you get into your car.  It hasn’t occurred to them to try their local public transit or to ask why there isn’t any.

What really staggers me is when I hear people who live and/or work in the very same neighborhoods I do, talking about driving to and from work–especially if they’re employed by one of the local universities whose every employee/student ID card functions as a bus pass!  Seriously!  You don’t need a special card; you don’t need to sign up for the transit program; as soon as you get your ID, you can hop on a bus, tap it against the card reader, and get a free ride to anywhere in Allegheny County the transit authority goes, any time buses (or light-rail trains or inclines) are running!  You can use it all weekend, not just for commuting!

Pardon all the exclamation points, but I’m excited to be working for the University of Pittsburgh now.  None of my previous employers offered free transit, so I’m accustomed to paying slightly over $1,000 per year for an annual bus pass giving me unlimited rides all year.  It was convenient even when it was a series of monthly passes arriving by mail, even more convenient with the ConnectCard that lasted all year.  It cost much less than paying cash fare for my workday commute, with the additional bonus of free rides for other travel.  But it was a substantial expense each year, which I don’t have now, whee!

It took me until last week, my fourth week at the new job, to realize just how staggeringly convenient my new commute is: Read more of this post

Become a Temporary Vegetarian!

This is one of the easiest things you can do to make a positive difference in the world.  Every time you choose a vegetarian meal instead of meat, you conserve some resources.  You don’t have to be vegetarian full-time or forever to make a difference.

Meat production has a huge environmental impact.  Growing plants and feeding them to meat animals uses more water, fuel, pesticide, and fertilizer, per calorie of person-food, than just eating the plants ourselves.  The waste products of meat animals pollute our drinking water.  The use of antibiotics on meat animals contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can kill people.

Lent begins this Wednesday, March 1.  Whether you’re a Christian or not, you can use Lent as a 40-day free trial period to make the small sacrifice of changing one habit to a less wasteful habit.  You will make a difference, and you will learn something.  After Easter, you can reflect on what you learned and decide whether to keep the new habit permanently, modify it, or go back to your old ways and try making a different change next Lent.

Daniel and I gave up meat (including fish) for Lent 15 years ago.  It led to a permanent change in our eating habits.  We’re really glad we tried it!

Click here to read my article at Kitchen Stewardship with lots of advice on trying a less-meat or no-meat diet!  I’m always available for tech support on this topic, so please feel free to ask me about your specific meat-replacing questions.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party for more great food-related articles!

lessmeat

6 book reviews and Peyton Place GIVEAWAY!!!

p1040349I thought it was time to reread Peyton Place because I hadn’t read it in years–I couldn’t remember how long.  But I found that I remembered it too well to thoroughly enjoy it again, and that’s why I decided to give away this book, which I read 3 or 4 times years ago.  This is a Book-of-the-Month Club facsimile of the first edition of this classic novel of scandalous secrets.  It looks great on the shelf but is lightweight for carrying around with you.

Giveaway is open to anyone with a United States mailing address.  To enter, leave a comment on this article.  One entry per reader, even if you have multiple comments.  Winner will be selected by a random drawing on March 1, 2017.

Peyton Place is the story of a small New England town and dozens of its inhabitants, many of whom have secrets: past decisions they regret, plots to deceive each other, or unacceptable yearnings.  Set in the late 1930s through the 1940s, published in 1956, it vividly evokes a society with strict taboos and enormous fear of gossip.  The character development and dialogue are excellent, and the scene-setting prose really pulls you into each moment.  The book became famous because it was so shocking by 1950s standards, but it’s become a classic because it’s really a compelling story!

Trigger warnings: Murder. Incest. Abortion. Gruesome poverty. Profanity and hostile language. Sexy teenagers. Lewd jokes.

Now, on to the six new books I’ve read in the past few months!

The Bronze King by Suzy McKee Charnas

Tina is on her way to school in Manhattan when she hears an explosion in the subway station.  She decides to take a bus instead.  Nobody’s heard anything about any explosion, and she wouldn’t think any more of it, except that her tuna sandwich is mysteriously missing.  Next day, her sneakers are missing.  Then it’s a statue in the park, then her bathroom medicine cabinet–and then she’s assaulted by a guy on a skateboard whose jacket says Prince of Darkness.  Tina remembers her grandmother’s advice to “make a wish by running water and seal it with silver,” and she wishes the statue would come back and set things right.  Then she meets a mysterious subway fiddler and a semi-annoying boy, and together they save the world from doom!

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

I’ve now fulfilled my pledge not to read this book until I could get a used copy for free–thus, no impact.  I heard about Colin Beavan’s attempt to change his family’s lifestyle to zero environmental impact when he was doing it in 2007, but because I’d been on the greener-living journey for about 17 years at that point, I figured there would be no surprises for me in his blog or the book he wrote after completing the year.  I was wrong.

You see, I was raised in a family (and Girl Scout movement) that valued “using resources wisely,” so I always was thinking about it to some extent, and then I started gradually trying one thing after another to conserve more and produce less waste.  It’s been a very gradual and mostly comfortable journey.  Colin Beavan, and even more so his high-fashion, grew-up-rich wife Michelle, started with a carelessly wasteful lifestyle and suddenly tried to change everything really quickly.  They tried things I never have, like living without electricity.  They had to learn skills I picked up as a child and have never set aside for any length of time, like cooking from raw ingredients.  Their insights and personal growth are really impressive.

The experiment began with Colin waking up in the morning and realizing that he couldn’t blow his nose on a disposable paper product.  He eventually realized the answer was handkerchiefs and that he could use cloths he already had.  But by the time he figured that out, he’d realized that he’d been thinking of this project as a battle against his “selfish” needs and desires, but it was really about learning new habits that fulfill the same needs and desires.

What’s most remarkable about this story is the changes in what Colin and Michelle began to think of as rewarding, fun, and normal, especially those that came from tuning in to what their toddler was doing or from listening to their own minds instead of television.  Although they didn’t continue the most extreme of their changes after the year ended, they made many permanent changes.  Can one family’s choices really make a difference toward slowing global climate change?  Here’s one of my favorite passages:

Just because our individual actions are not remembered doesn’t mean they’re not crucial.  The straw that breaks the back requires all the rest of us straws.  The domino that begins the domino effect requires each of us to be in line for the chain reaction to take place.

The one thing I don’t get about this book is the author’s hostility toward the many people who asked him what he used instead of toilet paper and his refusal to answer that question.  He seems to think people were asking with intent to portray his project as disgusting and crazy.  Gosh, isn’t it possible that they were asking so that they could switch to this greener habit themselves?  They can’t do that if you won’t tell them how!  Well, don’t worry: I will tell you.  (I’ll also tell you what his daughter used instead of disposable diapers and what his wife used instead of tampons.  He didn’t mind putting those facts in the book….)

The Survivalist’s Daughter by Hazel Hart

Kindra is the sixteen-year-old daughter of homesteaders who live in an isolated mountain cabin, home-school her, and attend a very conservative church.  She’s restless and wants to see more of the world, but her parents barely allow her to talk to the guy working at the general store.  Suddenly, one morning, federal agents raid their home, kill her mother, arrest her father, separate Kindra from her one-year-old brother, and take her in for questioning about her father’s illegal gun sales.  The grieving teenager so sheltered she’s never eaten fast food is suddenly plunged into the real world and the custody of relatives she never knew she had.  The adults want to integrate her into the family’s everyday life by pretending everything’s normal and there’s no time to talk, but Kindra wants to understand why her father lied about her family and to find her brother and take care of him.  She and her newfound sister hatch a plot that ends up having unintended consequences.

This exciting story really pulled me along, and many of the details were well-written and realistic.  But some of the dialogue and characterization and plot points felt amateurish.  The author teaches community college, and this book reads a lot like something somebody wrote for school–but an A+ effort!

Trigger warnings: Violent death of a parent.  Otherwise, this is a surprisingly tame story considering the plot–scary ideas more than graphic scary action.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

This interesting set of essays on Christianity comes from the perspective of a guy from Texas who barely knew his father and barely knew God, despite lifelong church attendance, but slowly things started to change, and now he’s been on a long road trip and lived in the woods with hippies and ended up in Portland, Oregon, where he spends a lot of time at the famously liberal Reed College.  He’s become a Christian in a whole different way than he was before, and he’s still learning.

Throughout the book, I wondered how old the author is, because he writes in an innocent way that sounds young, yet he’s clearly had a lot of experiences.  One of my favorite parts is the story of how he started tithing, giving 10% of his income to the church.  It’s so much like my “magic penny” experience of quadrupling my contribution that it gave me chills.  He does a great job of explaining the weird feelings of being a Christian “outside the safe cocoon of big Christianity” so that you find yourself explaining your beliefs, like this:

I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out that the show isn’t real.

Wolfy & the Strudelbakers by Zvi Jagendorf

Wolfy Helfgott is a little boy when he and his parents, uncle, aunt, and cousin flee Nazi-occupied Vienna and settle in London–only to be bombed out in the Blitz and evacuated to a little seaside village.  They return to London after the war, and Wolfy grows into a teenager juggling British everyday life with the demands of Orthodox Judaism and the eccentric customs of his family.  Some of the chapters are from the perspective of other family members.  As an adult, Wolfy–who’s now changed his name to Will Halfgo–travels to Israel to meet the other part of the extended family who fled Vienna, and he repeats the traditional cemetery visit that connects to so many threads of his past.

This book combines zany humor and eccentricity with deep grief and worry in the way only twentieth-century Jewish stories can.  I’ll be thinking about these characters for a long time.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Korobi Roy is a college student in Kolkata, India, raised by her grandparents after both parents died.  She’s engaged to marry her true love, Rajat Bose, whose parents own an art distribution business with a New York City gallery that’s struggling in the aftermath of 9/11.  Everything seems perfect as Korobi and Rajat prepare to marry–but then Korobi has an argument with her grandfather, and later that night he suffers a fatal heart attack.  Her grandmother now feels released from her grandfather’s insistence that they keep secret from Korobi the truth about her parents.  When Korobi learns that her father is not Indian and may still be alive in the United States, she feels compelled to travel to find him.  While she’s away, things go wrong for both the Roy and Bose families, both Korobi and Rajat are tempted by other people, and then Korobi discovers a terrible secret about the New York gallery and then learns that even her grandparents didn’t know all the truth about her parents.

I love this tensely plotted novel, thick with descriptions of Indian life both traditional and modern.  It has so many plot twists yet never seems over-the-top.

Visit the Quick Lit linkup for more book reviews!

10 Links for Greening Your Lifestyle

This is a guest post by Michelle Peng, who collected these resources on realistic ways to go green in everyday life.

Save About $600 per Year by Switching to Solar Energy

Financial Incentives for Green Home Improvements

18 Green Business Ideas for Eco-Minded Entrepreneurs

Home Energy Conservation for Kids

5 Unique Ways to Go Green if You’re Living in a Dorm  [EDITOR’S NOTE: I laughed out loud at the idea that “It might be more expensive . . . buying a small set of dishes, bowls, and silverware instead of paper goods.”  I still have more than half of the dollar-store dishes I bought when I started college in 1991!!!  Imagine how much money I’ve saved and how much garbage I’ve prevented!]

Harness The Power Of The Sun: The Complete Guide To Using Solar Energy

21 Easy, Life-Changing Home Improvement Tips for Greener Seniors

A Guide to Becoming a Tree Hugger: 40 Resources for Green Living

10 Painless Ways to Go Green with Your Pet  [EDITOR’S NOTE: These are focused on dogs and cats.  If you’re choosing a new pet, a smaller animal has a smaller environmental footprint and may even protect you from identity theft!]

Tips for Hosting a Sustainable Sporting Event

Feel free to share more helpful links in the comments!

Go Green in 2017: Drink Better Milk

Did you make a new year’s resolution to “eat better” without defining specifically what you meant? or did you try to start the new year choosing all the healthiest, most responsible foods, and now you’re reeling at the difficulty of changing too many habits at once?

Sometimes it’s best to make one change at a time so you can focus on getting it right.  (To make more changes in a year, try a new month’s resolution each month, or give up something for Lent.)  One change you might make is choosing milk that’s better for your health and the environment.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Where does the milk come from?  Where do the cows live, and where is the milk processed and packaged?  Milk that travels a shorter distance from farm to packaging plant to store is better for the environment because less fuel is burned to transport it.  Here’s a handy online tool for finding your milk’s source.
  • Are hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides involved in the production of the milk?  Did the cows eat grass in a pasture or eat genetically-modified corn or even gummy worms in a crowded barn?  Grass is what cows are made to eat, and the milk of grass-fed cows contains more conjugated linoleic acid, which is good for the heart.  Grassy pastures are better for the environment than concentrated animal feeding operationsCertified organic milk comes from cows who were not treated with hormones or antibiotics, ate food that was not treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and got at least some outdoor grazing time eating fresh grass.  Many small farmers that can’t afford every detail of organic certification still manage to meet most of these standards.
  • How is the milk packaged?  Milk stored in light-permeable containers loses riboflavin and Vitamin A.  If your milk containers are recyclable, will you actually recycle them?  If you won’t recycle, do you have a second use for those empty containers?  If you’re able to buy milk in returnable, refillable containers, that is the option with the lowest environmental impact: Washing and sterilizing a bottle uses much less energy than making a new bottle even from recycled material.
  • Where can you buy the milk?  If the milk that’s best according to all the other criteria is available only from a store that you otherwise wouldn’t visit, and you have to drive to get there, your car is burning fuel, which might be enough to offset the environmental benefits of that milk.  Also, if buying better milk is inconvenient and time-consuming, you’re unlikely to keep up the habit.  Aim to buy the best milk you can get at stores where you’re going anyway, where you can easily stop on your way home from somewhere, or within walking/biking distance (so you can double up with that resolution about exercise!).

I wrote about my family’s milk choices in 2012–check out that article for more detail.  Since then, the milk that used to be our #1 choice is no longer available, but we’ve found a new favorite milk. Read more of this post

Go Green in 2017: How to Clean

Photographs by Nicholas Efran.

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  One change you could make is replacing cleansers that harm the environment with cleaning products or cleaning methods that are safer for your family as well as the wider world.

rubbing alcohol, peroxide, baking soda, vinegarWhat’s wrong with conventional cleaning products?

These health risks don’t affect only people who are in direct contact with the cleanser; many cleansers leave a residue on the surface or in the air that can be absorbed through our skin and/or lungs, and some of these chemicals are bioaccumulative–our bodies can’t get rid of them, so over time our repeated exposures can build up to toxic levels.

p1040148Here’s our complete guide to cleaning a typical Earth dwelling.  We’ve tried many environmentally-friendly products over the past 20 years and have found more good ones than duds.  Here, we recommend some brand-name products that work especially well and some inexpensive basic materials that are great for various cleaning projects. Yes, it is possible to make more homemade cleaning products than we do.  We’ve struck a balance between purchased and homemade products that works well with our cleaning habits and the amount of spare time we have.  If you use an awesome homemade cleanser, feel free to share details or a link in the comments!

For basic home cleaning, you will need:

  • dish detergent
  • laundry detergent
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • toilet bowl cleaner
  • all-purpose cleaner

Other items we use regularly that you may or may not need, depending on your home furnishings and cleaning standards, are:

  • dishwasher detergent
  • hardwood floor cleaner
  • furniture polish
  • antibacterial spray
  • rubbing alcohol

Look for these items in your local stores where you shop regularly. If you can’t find them there, encourage your stores to make them available; meanwhile, order online. Many of the brand-name products are available from Grove Collaborative–click here for a $10 discount on your first order!  Here is more information about Grove (formerly known as ePantry).

Here are the details on how to use each type of cleanser. Read more of this post

3 DIY Repairs to Eliminate Health Risks in Your Home

This is a guest post by Charlotte Meier.  Ms. Meier operates Home Safety Hub, which provides resources on preventing injury and property loss.

People don’t like to think that their homes are responsible for their illnesses, but if you feel worse when you are at home and better when you are not, there is a good chance that something in your house is making you sick. If you suspect that your home is making you sick, there are repairs you can make to reduce the health risks found in your home.

Install Water Filters

If your family has stomach pain or unexplained bouts of diarrhea, you may have an issue with your water. Whether you have well water or municipal water, there may be impurities, toxic chemicals, and carcinogens in it that can harm your health. Water filters reduce and remove the impurities, making your water cleaner, better tasting, and better for your skin and overall health.

Some people opt for whole-house water filters that deliver clean, odor-free water to the whole home. By removing chlorine, chloramines, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, and herbicides, these filters improve the taste and odor of your water. Whole-house water filters improve the appearance of skin by eliminating chlorine and reduce stains in tubs, sinks, and toilets. Other people opt for point-of-use water filters to get clean, delicious, odor-free water from the sink. Point-of-use filters are known to block more impurities than whole-house systems and provide better-tasting water. Read more of this post

How to Save the Earth from Donald Trump and the Republican Congressional Majority

I was devastated by last Tuesday’s election results.  There are many reasons I object to Donald Trump (like his racist lies about crime) and many reasons I hoped for a Democratic majority in Congress, but what I’m writing about here is our environment.  Even if you voted Republican, you may not want to live in a polluted wasteland that’s getting hotter every decade, so while this government is advancing the parts of its agenda that won your vote, you’ll want to take action to keep Earth habitable. What can we do?

First, it is not too late to stop Trump from taking office!  It’s possible for the Electoral College to vote for the winner of the popular vote (Hillary Clinton) so that she becomes President instead.  This probably won’t happen, but it’s worthwhile to speak up if you support the idea.  (A more realistic goal is to abolish the Electoral College before the next election.  How is it fair that a Wyoming resident’s vote counts 4 times as much as a Texas resident’s vote?!?  We the people should get one vote each!  Here’s more about what’s wrong with the Electoral College, and here’s what we wrote about it before the 2000 election disaster.)  We’d still have the Republicans in Congress, but they can do less harm with a Democratic President.

Next, start now stuffing Trump’s suggestion box with pleas for environmental protection!  Especially, oppose his absurd goal of abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency–it will be bad enough if he appoints someone blatantly anti-environment to head the EPA, but if he manages to get rid of it entirely, we’ll really be at the mercy of big polluters as our state governments scrabble to protect us (or don’t even try, as is likely in some states).  This action plan for slowing global warming includes many good ideas to advocate.  Will Trump’s administration really heed the input of ordinary Americans?  The fact that they’re asking for it means it’s worth a try.

Also, start now making contributions to organizations that lobby for the environment and/or sue polluters.  My favorites are Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund and Union of Concerned Scientists.  It’s easiest to set up a monthly donation (put it on the credit card whose rewards scheme is most useful to you!) so that you donate consistently and kind of painlessly; this also minimizes the nagging emails you’ll get, and I’ve found that environmental organizations are better than other charities at reducing paper mail when you ask them.  Think you can’t afford to donate?  Look for changes you can make to save money and the environment, and put aside the difference.  Another option is to make something environmentally friendly that you can sell (for example, root cuttings from your plants and pot them in repurposed containers that you decorate) and donate the profits.

As issues come up affecting the environment, contact your senator and congressional representative encouraging them to vote for a clean and healthy world.  Phone calls may be more effective than email or paper letters, but if you aren’t able to call during office hours, emailing is better than doing nothing–staffers often count the pro and con emails received about an issue, even if they don’t have time to read each one in full.

Vote with your purchases.  The main reason Republicans in general oppose environmental regulations is not that they want all living things to be poisoned and fried to a crisp, but that they want businesses to make as much money as possible.  One thing that is giving me hope is that during the George W. Bush administration, 2001-2009, despite the anti-environmental attitude and actions of the President and Congress, ordinary citizens’ interest in being more “green” surged, making environmentally friendly options far more available than they had been.  Trend analysts pay a lot of attention to this kind of thing, and businesses respond.  That’s why they took the genetically-modified organisms out of Cheerios and Grape-nuts, for example.  Consumer pressure works!  Do your best to show corporate America that we want less packaging, fewer harmful chemicals, more organic and vegetarian foods, more reusable products, more renewable energy, more fuel-efficient engines, more public transit, and so forth.

Get ready for 2018!  Check out your representatives’ environmental scorecards, and if they’re not doing their jobs protecting Earth, get ready to throw the bums out and elect someone greener!  Every representative in the House and 1/3 of the Senate will be up for re-election in 2018.

What else can we do?  Did I miss anything?

I’m still appalled by the election results, but doing what I can to work toward making the world a better place works for me!  Just in case I sound too chirpy here, let me add: I’ve been working on this for a long time.  Not only did I slog onward in my ever-greener lifestyle throughout the George W. Bush administration, but I was dodging excess packaging and picking up recyclables and line-drying laundry during the first George Bush administration and on through the Clinton years.  It isn’t always easy, but I’m truly speaking from experience when I tell you that trying to do the right thing has always been worth it.