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

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

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!

Houses Built from Plastic Water Bottles!

This guy in Panama is building a village of houses whose walls are insulated with empty plastic beverage bottles!  Click through to watch the video.  This is a really great idea for making use of garbage, reducing construction costs, and building well-insulated homes that will require less energy to cool or heat.

BUT!  This is not a reason to drink bottled water!  Don’t think that because somebody’s found a use for the empty bottles, it’s perfectly okay to buy and discard them.  Bottled water has a huge environmental impact and on average is not as clean and safe as tap water.  Drink from the sink, refill a reusable bottle when you need to carry water, and if your local tap water is not safe, keep fighting until it is!  Bottled water should be for emergencies only, not an everyday thing.

HVAC Hacks: Energy-Saving Improvements You Can Make Yourself

HVAC=Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning–the system of ducts that brings hot and/or cold air to the rooms of a building. The advice here applies to systems that deliver only heat or only AC, as well as those that do both.

This is a guest post by Ryan Martin at Home Improvement Leads, who connects quality contractors to homeowners to give them the best home improvement experience possible. They specialize in solar, roofing, and HVAC lead generation for contractors.

We all want to spend less money on energy at home, but sometimes costly HVAC updates and repairs aren’t quite worth the savings they provide over time. Thankfully, there are improvements you can complete yourself for a fraction of what it would cost to have them done professionally. Home Improvement Leads offers a few suggestions for making your home more energy efficient on a budget.

Add Insulation in the Attic

Proper insulation in the attic or the area above the garage is crucial. Since these areas are not climate-controlled, you must use a thermal barrier to stop heat transfer between the attic or crawlspace and your house. If you don’t, heat will more easily enter your home in the summer and exit your home in winter, making everyone uncomfortable and forcing your HVAC to work harder. Read more of this post

4 Eco-Friendly Modifications for Your Foreclosed Home Purchase

This is a guest post by Paul Denikin, author of DadKnowsDIY.com.  Paul began learning the ins and outs of do-it-yourself home repair while making his home better fit and more accessible for his daughter, Maggie, who has special needs. Paul wants to continue to help special needs parents like himself, and offer them a source for ideas. And that’s why he created DadKnowsDIY.com, a website that offers home improvement project how-tos and other accessibility information. When Paul isn’t being handy around the house, he likes to take Maggie to the movies on the weekends.

Image via Pixabay by OpenClipartVectors

Image via Pixabay by OpenClipartVectors

Purchasing a foreclosed home from a bank can be intimidating. The rules are slightly different, there are likely repairs to be made, and it can be risky. However, with the help of a good agent and some research, you can be the proud owner of a previously foreclosed home. Now all you have left to do is make necessary repairs. Though this too can seem challenging, think of this as an opportunity to turn your new home into a structure that is environmentally friendly. Here are a few ways you can make your new home more eco-friendly as you return it to its former glory.

1. Energy Star Appliances

If you need to replace something like a refrigerator or microwave, you should look into Energy Star appliances. Not only do they limit your energy consumption but they also dramatically lower your electric bills on top of a potential tax credit. These appliances may cost a little more but will save you money in the long run.

2. Water Conservation

One of the best things you can do to limit water waste is invest in a low-flow toilet. These toilets use less water per flush and cost about the same as any other toilet. With the modern wave of eco-friendliness, the selection of such appliances has increased dramatically.

Another beneficial and cheap way you can reduce water use is an aerated faucet. Both showerheads and sink faucets offer a variety of aerated options. Aerated faucets use both water and air to limit water but maintain water pressure. These also run at about the same cost as their less efficient counterparts. Read more of this post

National Drive Electric Week: Events Around the Country!

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos.  Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication.  She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

National Drive Electric Week is an annual event designed to educate the public about electric vehicles and the benefits of driving them. The event, taking place September 12 – 20,  2015, highlights the increasing availability of electric cars and the accompanying infrastructure. While electric vehicles, including motorcycles and trucks, face their own battery-related challenges, they are significantly better for the environment and can ultimately be less expensive, compared to their gasoline-dependent counterparts.

The concept of National Drive Electric Week originated in 2011. It was initially called National Plug-In Day, but the idea remains the same: to hold simultaneous events all over the United States to promote the use of electric vehicles. The first National Plug-In Day took place in a humble 26 cities, but come 2013, the event proved to be a monumental success.: The day’s events attracted 36,000 attendees to examine 3,000 electric vehicles in 98 cities. Inspired by the event’s success, its organizers decided to expand it, and the first National Drive Electric Week was held in 2014.

So far, over 160 events have been announced for 2015. Read more of this post

Technology to Help You Be Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly This Summer

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos, who offered to share her research on these new technologies with my readers.  I’m not a smartphone user myself and don’t carry any other high-tech device routinely, which is one way to conserve energy…but if you’re already carrying a device or you’re considering getting one for other reasons, adding energy efficiency to its tasks is a great idea!  Also, some of these products are things you set up in your home that don’t require a “smart” device to control them.  It’s interesting to learn what’s new in climate control!

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication.  She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

With summer just around the corner, many people expect to use their air conditioners heavily in order to stay cool during sweltering days. Doing so, however, traditionally consumes a lot of electricity, costing a pretty penny and harming the natural environment. This situation is changing with the development of new technological products that aim to cut energy consumption with consequent benefits both to the earth’s ecology and consumers’ pocketbooks.

The Apple Watch and HomeKit app aim to make it easy to control devices from different manufacturers from a single interface. As long as they use compatible products in their homes, people will be able to adjust their thermostats, dim and raise lighting levels and manage a lot of other functions right from their Watches. They can thus turn off appliances when they don’t need to use them, reducing energy consumption. Many smart home devices from different producers haven’t worked well together in the past, but now they’re being brought together through the HomeKit interface.

Those who are put off by the Apple Watch’s high price, starting at $349, may be interested in the Misfit Flash fitness band, which only costs $50. Although it’s primarily designed to help users exercise more efficiently, Misfit has extended its capabilities through partnerships with other companies. Users can use the Flash to control thermostat equipment from Nest, smart home systems from Logitech, and many other devices. With the right products from partner firms, users of the Flash will be able to lower their energy usage by finely controlling the performance of their home equipment. Read more…

The 4-Day Laundry Plan (How to use cloth diapers and have a job without losing your mind)

Welcome to the January 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Household Chores

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and tricks on tackling household chores. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

I have an eight-month-old daughter who wears cloth diapers all day and night.  I have a full-time job outside the home.  I’m a naturally chilly person, so I wear layers of clothes, including two to four pairs of socks, every day in the winter.  I use cloth handkerchiefs, cloth personal wipes, and cloth menstrual pads.  I hang-dry almost all my laundry instead of using the dryer.  How the heck do I get all that laundry done?!?

I worked out a good system when my first child was a baby, and I’ve been working my way toward getting back onto that system; with the addition of a few more diapers to our stash, it’s finally starting to work really smoothly.  Here are the key components of my laundry routine. Read more of this post

Flexican Cornbread Pizza

Meatless MondayTasty TuesdayHearth & Soul Blog HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

This recipe has a history.  It started with my mom’s trusty recipe for Mexican Pizza.  Then came my serendipitous discoveries that (a) it can be adapted to a non-Mexican-flavored version, which my family loves just as much as the Mexican version, and (b) it can be baked in a toaster-oven.  More than a year ago, I opened a contest to name this recipe…but none of the suggestions really grabbed me.  Meanwhile, my life-partner Daniel has referred to it at least once as Flexican Cornbread Pizza, which I think is a pretty good name, and he’s been kind of depressed lately, but he really enjoyed this meal when I made it last night, so…

THE WINNER IS DAN EFRAN, CREATOR OF COOL STUFF TO BRIGHTEN YOUR DAY!!!  YAAAYYY!!!

Absolutely no nepotism was involved.  It’s really more about my fondness for words that combine two other words.  This recipe is flexible and can be Mexican in flavor, and it’s like a pizza with a cornbread crust, so Flexican Cornbread Pizza is a perfect name.  Unless we come up with something even punnier.

This recipe can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  Here is the Mexican version, and here is an Italian version I made on a hot summer day, and below is the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on last night’s cozy January dinner.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan.  From start to finish, you can make it in 30 minutes or less, even if your onions or other vegetables are frozen shredded–they’ll thaw easily in the first stage of cooking.

These instructions are for baking in a standard oven, on a cookie sheet with sides.  See the above Italian version to adjust quantities to make a 9″ square pan to bake in the toaster-oven.

To make 6 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked and rinsed beans. I used pinto beans last night; I rinsed 2 cans, set aside 1/4 cup for the baby’s dinner (she also had black olives and Cheerios), and used the rest on the pizza.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 onion, or 1 or 2 green onions.  I used the last bits left over from a sweet white onion we’d cut up for other meals.
  • vegetables.  I used 4 big leaves of kale, 8 large white button mushrooms, and a big handful of black olives.
  • herbs, fresh or dried.  I used 1 stalk dried rosemary and 2 stalks dried thyme.  (Did you know?  Most fresh herbs will turn into dried herbs if you just put them in an open-topped plastic bag in the refrigerator and forget about them.  It doesn’t work with basil or parsley because they’re too wet and will get moldy.)
  • other seasonings to taste.  I used about 1/4 tsp. each of sea salt and white pepper.
  • Optional: 1 cup marinara sauce.  We didn’t use any this time.  Another option is to leave it off the pizza but serve it on the side.
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil.
  • Grease for the baking pan. I used coconut oil.
  • 1 cup cornmeal.
  • 1 tsp. salt.
  • 1 cup flour.  I used whole-wheat flour.
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder.
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, applesauce, or pumpkin puree. I used yogurt. (If applesauce is sweetened, omit syrup/honey.)
  • 1 Tbsp. sorghum syrup or honey.
  • Optional: 1 egg.  The crust holds together better if you use egg than if you don’t.
  • Optional: 1 cup grated cheese.  I used mozzarella.

Dice onion, any fresh herbs, and vegetables.  Saute them in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, in a skillet, for a few minutes, crumbling in any dried herbs and adding other seasonings.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the cookie sheet, bottom and sides, from one end to about 3 inches from the other end.  (If you want your crust really thin, you can grease the whole pan.  I prefer to make it thicker.)

Mix cornmeal, salt, flour, and baking powder in a bowl.  Make a well in the center and put yogurt, syrup, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and egg in it.  Mix them together and then mix with the dry ingredients; don’t mix too long or hard, just until combined.  (Over-mixing will pop the bubbles created by the baking powder, resulting in less fluffy cornbread.)

Pour the batter into the pan–start at one end and spread batter toward the other end, using a rubber scraper, until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2 inch deep.

If using sauce, spread it over the batter.  Sprinkle vegetable mixture and beans evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle optional cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into rectangles and serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  Leftover pieces easily reheat in the microwave or toaster-oven.

Is email better for the environment?

Paperless systems are very popular these days.  Paper is made from trees, and although trees are a renewable resource, they take a long time to grow compared to the amount of time we might use a sheet of paper.  Recycling paper uses a lot of chemicals, energy, and water, although it is still less wasteful than making new paper.  Getting away from all that paper use into a nice clean electronic system is better for the environment, right?

Usually, yes, it’s somewhat better.  It bothers me, though, to hear people talking virtuously about all the stuff they do on their computers or smartphones, often via Internet, as if that has no environmental impact at all.  If I nudge, usually they’ll acknowledge that their device uses electricity and therefore contributes to pollution from power plants.  For most people, though–including myself, on a typical day–the Internet is kind of magic; it’s just there, or you might be aware of connecting to it but not think of it as having any physical existence.  Dude, the Internet is an enormous collection of enormous server farms using an enormous amount of electricity!  Every time you use it, you’re zapping a little energy all around the world, not just on the device in front of you.  It’s a lot harder to see than a bag of garbage, but your paperless activities do create some waste.

The article “How Green Is Your Tech?” thoroughly explains the environmental impact of email and how you can reduce it.  Here’s the basic staggering fact:

Basically, each year the average person emails an amount of carbon equal to the exhaust of a 200-mile car ride. Looked at from a different angle, all the emails sent scurrying around the Internet in a single day generate more than 880 million lbs. (that’s 44,000 tons!) of carbon per day.

The impact of a single email is 4 grams of carbon, about as much as a sugar packet.

After reading this article, I began to visualize my emails as little black packets thrown on the grass.  It’s gotten me to send somewhat fewer emails and avoid CC-ing to people who don’t really need to be in the loop.  Learning that attachments add weight to those black packets motivated me to put documents my boss needs to see on the Local Area Network and email him the location of the document, instead of saving the document on my hard drive and attaching a copy to the email.

The bigger change I’ve made, though, is to unsubscribe from mailing lists that I wasn’t reading.  I realized I was in the habit of simply deleting, unread, the messages from that hotel “frequent guest” program I apparently joined when I stayed in their hotel once, that charity whose petition I signed four years ago but whose day-to-day activities don’t fascinate me, that blog where I posted one comment last year and it automatically started emailing me every comment on every article on her site including all the spam, and so forth.  Now that I see every one of those messages as a black packet tossed on my green grass, it feels worth the effort to scroll down to the bottom of the message and click “unsubscribe”.  Yes, that action loads a Webpage, tossing another black packet or so, but once it’s done that particular entity will stop throwing packets at me.  I was horrified by just how many sources were junking up my inbox, once I started paying attention.

And now that I’m on fewer annoying mailing lists, a larger proportion of my email is stuff I actually want to read!  That makes me happier about the email-checking experience and saves time.

As for other “paperless” things that a lot of people do by poking the PocketFox or computer, I do a lot of those things on scrap paper, giving that paper another use before it hits the recycling bin.  Unless I use tape or staples, this has zero environmental impact, and I can do my stuff during a power failure without worrying about using up my charge!

Reducing my email and thinking twice about paperless systems works for me!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more waste-reducing ideas!

Humidify Your Home the Cheap and Easy Way!

Our house has forced-air heat: The furnace blows warm air through the ducts and out through vents in most of the rooms.  Our vents are in the baseboards, so they push out the air horizontally at floor level.  This tip also would work with a wall vent that is just above a shelf or table, and would probably work with floor vents or a floor furnace as well.  (If you have ceiling vents or another type of heat, such as radiators, and have a humidifying tip, I’d love to hear it!  Please post a comment.)

The trouble with forced-air heat is that the air coming out of the ducts is very dry.  Most winters this has bothered me a bit, but this year it’s really getting to me!  Maybe I’m more delicate because I’m pregnant.  I have awakened at least once almost every night with my mouth completely dried out, and I often have a slight nosebleed in the morning.  Our whole family had viral bronchitis in January, and the dry air was making our coughing worse.  We needed more moisture!

We tried an electric humidifier.  I could see mist coming out of its spout some of the time, so I knew it was doing something, and it did seem to make the air slightly gentler.  But there were several things about it that bothered me: Read more…

My Top 3 Kitchen Time-Saving Tips

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship is asking everyone to share our top 3 kitchen time-savers this week!  I work full-time outside the home, and although my partner Daniel has been doing more than half the cooking in the past few years, I do most of the planning, shopping, and preliminary preparations.  He works from home and tries to continue getting work done after our nine-year-old comes home from school, so it’s important to him to be able to spend less than an hour making dinner.  Here are our top tips:

Prepare ingredients for multiple meals at once.

When you’re going to the trouble of cutting up some food, using cutting tools that will have to be cleaned, you may as well cut a whole lot of it!  While you’re at it, measure the portions you’ll need for several recipes, and wash the measuring cup just once.  If you preserve some of the food (we freeze any we don’t plan to use within a week), you can stock up when it’s on sale and use it over a long period of time, instead of buying smaller amounts at higher prices.  Here are some specifics: Read more…

A Laundry Line-Drying System that Will Work for YOU!

Have you been wishing you could save money, conserve resources, and make your clothes last longer by line-drying your laundry instead of machine-drying it–but you just can’t figure out how to fit a clothesline into your home configuration and weekly routine?  I am here to help!  My new guest post at Live Renewed gives you 16 questions to consider and detailed suggestions about the line-drying options that will work best for your particular situation.  Check it out!

Choosing a Clothesline that Works for You

Seeking more guidance in the art of line-drying laundry?  Here are my other articles on the subject:

Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for other ways to conserve resources!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to learn about hundreds of things that work for other writers!  Check out the Laundry Tips Linkup at Mums Make Lists!

No-Bake Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie for Summer

This is not so much a recipe as an example of how to work with the food, and the weather, that you happen to have.  Last weekend was very hot and humid, and we had some ingredients that needed to be used, including just two potatoes from our farm share–not enough to make a baked potato for each member of our 3-person family.  When I mused to Daniel about what to do with the potatoes, he suggested shepherd’s pie, which has mashed potato as the bottom layer.

The trouble was that shepherd’s pie is baked.  There was no way I was going to turn on the oven in this weather!  We don’t have air conditioning, but even in an air-conditioned house, it’s silly to use the oven in hot weather because it will make the AC work harder and waste energy.  I wondered if I could just make the mashed potatoes (only a small amount, so not too steamy) and briefly cook some other food and put it all together in a casserole dish.

It worked!  My casserole did not hold together particularly well when served, but a baked shepherd’s pie usually doesn’t, either.  All of us liked this main dish, served with a side of grapes.

Our eight-year-old Nicholas took this picture of the starting ingredients:
20130902-163958.jpg

Read more…

CONTEST: Name This Recipe!

I’ve developed a main dish that my family really likes, but we can’t figure out what to call it!  “That non-Mexican-flavored Mexican Pizza that fits in the toaster-oven” or “Beans and veggies and herbs baked on cornbread” is too cumbersome.  Surely someone on the Internet will be able to think of the perfect, short, catchy name for this delicious food!

UPDATE: The winner is Dan Efran, creator of cool stuff to brighten your day!  This dish is now called Flexican Cornbread Pizza, and if you click that link you can read another variation on this versatile recipe.

This recipe is flexible and can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  I’m writing the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on what I used the last time I made it. In an appropriate pan, it will fit into a toaster-oven, allowing you to bake it using less energy and heating up your home less than the full-size oven.  The baking time is short, which makes it ideal for warm weather and busy days.  (I’ll admit, though, that when it’s 92 degrees and humid, like it is here in Pennsylvania this week, we don’t bake anything or even make toast!)  Serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan. To make 4 main-dish servings, you will need: Read more

6 Unnecessary Types of Cell Phone Call

Three years after I explained how I survive everyday life without a cell phone, I’m still doing fine without one.  I recently took a three-day vacation by myself, and as I often do when traveling alone, I borrowed my partner Daniel’s cell phone for the trip.  However, I found that none of the times I used it was essential, and having it along was as much of an inconvenience as it was a convenience!

I’m not a Luddite who doesn’t believe in modern communication.  Not only did I use email extensively when planning this trip before I left home, but I brought my iPad with me and used it frequently, using wifi in two restaurants as well as my friends’ home, not just to communicate by email about my travel plans and to check maps but also to do unrelated emailing, maintain this site, do some Websurfing just for fun, play some music, use some other apps….  I love being able to carry my computer in my bookbag when I choose to do so (typically, I leave it at home unless I’m traveling overnight) and to do all this fun and useful stuff.  But I also appreciate that the iPad doesn’t shriek at random (to me) moments when someone contacts me, and that using email doesn’t involve shouting in a public place or trying to understand buzzy sounds that resemble a friend’s voice.  It is cell phones, specifically, and the way they are getting used in our culture, that bother me so much.

I made six cell phone calls during the three days.  Every one of them was a type of call I’ve often heard other people making on cell phones in public places.  Every one of them was unnecessary, or could be made from a land line, in the era when we all understood how to live without cell phones.

Call #1: “What do you want from the store?”

Read more…

10 Lessons Learned from Rewiring an Old House

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings, my brother, who is a permaculture gardener, home energy efficiency auditor, and owner of a curbside recycling business in Kansas.

I spent most of my spare time in 2011 rewiring our 1920 house, replacing the old knob & tube wiring with modern nonmetallic cable that meets code.  Now I’ll take a look back at what I learned from the experience, in case any of you are thinking of attempting the same thing!

1. The electrician’s bid was reasonable.

When we first bought our house and tried to insure it, we found that the insurance company we wanted to use would not insure us because of the potential safety hazards of our knob & tube wiring.  I got a bid from an electrician to rewire the house, but it seemed laughably high: US$7,000.  (That’s almost 10% the cost of the house.)  It was clear from his attitude that he didn’t want the job, so I figured the bid was inflated. Not so, it turns out.  The materials don’t cost much, but the labor is very intensive.  I know I wouldn’t take on another job like this for $7,000.  At the time we didn’t have that kind of cash on hand, but now that we do, if I had to do it again, I’d pay the electrician to have it done. Read more…

Clothesline Hangers for Basement or Porch

In my article on line-drying laundry, I verbally described these handy clothesline hangers that can be made out of scrap lumber and installed in any place that has exposed rafters/joists in the ceiling.  I finally decided to share some photos of them, since this is the kind of thing that really is easier to understand if you can see what I’m talking about–particularly if you never saw one before.  (I am sorry about the poor lighting–our basement is dim, and I made this post on a sudden inspiration, using my iPad which has no flash–but I think they’re better than no photos at all!)

20120912-074812.jpg

20120912-074828.jpg

The way to make these is Read more…