Posts Tagged ‘sustainable’

We’ve been struggling with random glasses all over the kitchen (and house as well), so, out of necessity comes invention:

A quick little whipped up place mat with a place for every person’s cup.

This way, we are limited to one cup each, and there’s no confusion about which cup belongs to each of us.  Sweet!


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Sorry about my little impromptu break!  Things around here have been a bit more hectic around here with the advent of summer, the end of school and nicer weather!  But, I’ve been busy!  I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, but more about that later; there have been many changes around here that I think are worth mentioning.

I started writing this blog in January.  It was then that we started ramping up on getting our house in the city ready for selling and waiting to close on 7 acres of woods, just 10 miles out of town.  We made lists of projects for the house and did research about green and sustainable building.  We looked up techniques to collect maple sap for syrup, what would be the best wood stove for our uses, and how to manage a small bit of land responsibly, while keeping ourselves stocked with wood for the stove.  Oh!  The lists were plentiful! (Perhaps, if there were such a thing, making lists would be the best career for me…)

We closed on the land in February (after waiting a painstaking 4 months) and put the house up for sale at the end of March.  We were inundated with prospective buyers for the house, and we continued to do more research, knowing we would be in temporary housing in the city for at least 6-12 months while we developed the site and built our eco-dream.

Well, we didn’t get any offers for the house, we didn’t aggressively market it after the initial market-watchers passed us by, we stopped cleaning the house every night in case another would show up, BP’s oil started spewing all over (this is important later), estimates to prep the land started climbing with the mercury, the sun came out, neighborhood kids started coming out of their homes after a hard winter, and our kids (and their other mommy) got out the scooters, bikes, balls, water toys…and started falling in love with our current home all over again.  I started to make different lists and examine the old lists.  My whole family seemed to be happy, connected and peaceful right where we were, despite all the reasons we wanted to move out to the country.  But, after examining the list (and taking into consideration all the law-breakers who have chickens in the wide open in the city), it turns out that

most of what I want to accomplish in life are
skills and a way of life
that can be achieved right here in the heart of the city.

We aren’t going anywhere.  I conceded that we would give it another shot for a year at least.  I looked around this 140-year-old house.  There are a lot of things I can’t change about it, but it suits us, it’s in a great location and, as it turns out, the kids couldn’t be happier anywhere else. 

The problem?  We’ve outgrown our britches here in this money-sucking house.  We’ve lived larger than we could, and part of selling and moving was to achieve financial sustainability as well as ecological sustainability.  Just as we started to look realistically at staying and the possibility of still having to leave to save our financial selves, a few things started to come into the mix.  I was offered a part-time job that would feed my soul, require no scheduling changes for the household, and provide a little bit of reliable breathing room in the checkbook.  Our local doulas  available started dwindling and I was asked to step up and start taking births to help meet the need for doulas in our area–so I did.  My partner came home one day after listening to the radio about the BP oil spill and suggested we get rid of our perfectly comfortable and convenient minivan and get a hybrid (which would cost a lot less)–so we did. 

Now I’m making new lists. 

And reorienting my attitude about life in this city to achieve the eco-dream. 

And, I’m getting a little closer everyday.

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Water is the most precious resource we have on this lonely planet, and we’re squandering it away.

Nothing exists without water, either directly or indirectly.

A while back, I put together a post about saving paper here, and now thought I’d post something about saving water, as it has been on my mind a lot lately.  We are a culture that, some say, is incredibly arrogant and wasteful.  When it comes to water, I emphatically agree.  One of my favorite new paradigm shifts came recently from the Organic Sister blog, where she shares a favorite idea:

There are two kinds of people in the world. 

People who shit in clean drinking water


those who don’t. 

It reads funny, but, if you truly think about it, it’s profound.  It’s safe to say that the majority of the Western world falls in the latter category, but it is also safe to ask: “When’s the last time you thought about where your water comes from?”  “Does it make sense to shit in the same kind of water that we drink?”  Or, should we get over our phobias about human waste and get real while we still have a planet?  I dream of the simplicity of 5-gallon-bucket composting sawdust toilets, but back here in semi-urban reality, we have two decently-water-efficient toilets (1.6 gpf).  So, what more can we do while we are here in this house and not dreaming up big plans for all the water-saving features we could do if we were, say, building a new home?  Water-saving ideas are relevant for everyone–particularly the 99% of households who are living in older homes, or have no intention of moving, for whatever reason. 

On that note, here are a few things we do in our home:

Since I cannot shower in 5 minutes, I take a shower every other day.  Shortening your shower time and using a low-flow shower head also helps.

When we had to replace our tub, we replaced a gigantic claw foot tub with a 4′ tub instead of the standard 5′.  When the children get baths, this saves quite a bit of water.

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow,” is a great saying for a reason.  Don’t flush unless you have to!  But, be careful if you have really old pipes–there’s only so much toilet paper (if you use it) that they can take per flush.

Turn off the tap while humming toothbrushing tunes.

Water used to cook food (i.e. pasta, grains, corn, etc…) should be used to water plants.  Pouring water down the sink only wastes water!!   Water that is enriched by cooking food is good for your plants and causes you to use less to water those plants…(not to mention lower your water bill).

In the same vein, water leftover in drinking glasses are used to water plants.  I swear this is the only way plants get watered around here!

Made our own rain-catchment barrels.  Those things can cost well over $100 for half-barrels!  I built mine (with help) out of $12 55-gallon food-grade barrels purchased from an outdoor store.  Your local junkyard, grain store or grocery might have them too.  I went to the local hardware shop and purchased a couple of pieces to install a spigot at the bottom (though you can siphon the water out manually) for less than $15.  I now have a fully-functioning rain-catchment barrel (55 gallons!) for less than $30, installed.  Here’s an even simpler way to do it.  While you’re at it, get a couple of concrete blocks to elevate your rain barrel, please don’t spend $30 or more just for the “stand” they sell at those Big Box Home Improvement stores.  Take that, Home Depot.  Don’t forget: use rainwater only for plants–it’s not potable!

Use an energy-efficient dishwasher.  There’s a controversy about whether dishwashers actually save or waste water, and it mostly depends on your dish-washing style.  I waste a ton of water by running the tap while washing, because I can’t stand the idea of using a tub of dirty water to wash dishes.  For me, the dishwasher saves water and my relationship (I h-a-t-e washing dishes).  Win-Win.

Only wash laundry when there’s a full load.  Enough said.  Be sure to replace any old or broken washing machines with Energy Star appliances.


If you want to take dramatic steps, try:

Using a solar shower outside.  A finite amount of water significantly restricts your ability to use a ton of water.

Replacing your flush-toilet with a composting toilet.  Composting toilets, whether incinerating or sawdust, use no water.

Take a sauna instead of a shower.  It’s not unheard of for people to use a sauna in the same way most would use a shower.  And, apparently, just as effective.

Install a greywater system (used tap or well water from dishes, etc…) for garden irrigation, flushing toilets and anywhere else it doesn’t matter if the water is really clean.  (Note: Make sure dishwashing soap is biodegradable and non-toxic or plants will be contaminated quickly.)

Do you have any crazy or wacky ideas about reducing or eliminating clean water usage?

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So, in my efforts to be green on a shoestring, it turns out that there are so many things that can be done around the house to help out the earth, our bodies, AND our wallets.  It doesn’t all have to be fancy, expensive accessories!  Although there is always room for improvement (and I expect to hear from you about other improvements), here are a few tips I can offer to get started on Green-ing the paper trail on your home.  

First Action: Always reduce the amount you use.  This includes less toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, facial tissues, computer paper (remember to use BOTH sides always!), junk mail, etc… 

A few words about junk mail: I spent many minutes on the phone calling catalog companies and asking them to stop sending me catalogs.  This has helped my want for things I don’t need and since I’m computer savvy, I can browse the entire “store” online when I do need something.   I also called people I do business with (credit card companies) to stop sending me solicitations and statements.  There are also do-not-mail lists that actually work (Warning: some require your Social Security Number, but they’re generally legit–be savvy.). 

I am proud to be a two-rolls-of-paper-towels-per-year kind of lady.  How?  Read on, my friends.

Second Action: Use 100% post-consumer recycled paper only (or as close as you can get).  This can actually drive up the cost of one’s household expenses, but if rule #1 above is applied, it can even out or be cheaper.  Half the consumption for less than twice the price makes it cheaper.  Also, when combined with coupons, wholesale clubs and price comparisons, it can be as cheap or cheaper than the non-recycled/less-recycled, virgin wood paper–even if you haven’t reduced your consumption.  In our house, paper towels, toilet paper and computer paper falls into this category. 

Third Action: STOP USING PAPER!  Okay, this can be difficult when you need to print out your plane tickets and such (see Second Action), but there are ways to totally eliminate other paper streams:

USE TOWELS.  FOR EVERYTHING.  I actually forgot to mention paper napkins in my riff above.  We’ve used cloth napkins for so long, I forgot that they even made paper ones.  Cloth napkins (C’mon folks, 50c at the thrift shop will pay back in a month), rags and dish towels can solve any clean-up you have in the kitchen.  (True Confession: I do use paper towels for one thing only–cracking and peeling a boiled egg.  I guess we all have our vice, but being able to crack and peel an egg, rinse it off and then pat it dry with the same paper towel is very satisfying and easy clean-up.  Then I can stuff the whole thing (sans egg, of course) into the compost bucket, something which always is in need of brown matter).  Do not fool yourself into thinking that the extra laundry (soap and water) will negate the green-ness of using towels and cloth napkins.  Nice try.

Our family’s stash of not-so-fancy facial tissues.

The other thing I forgot to mention at the beginning (and had to go back and insert it) was facial tissues.  I only remember these when I visit other people’s homes.  While we use these for everyday use as well, when you have a dastardly cold, cloth tissues will save your face (and your wallet).  They are so much more soft!  And easy!  All you need to do is take a pair of pinking shears to flannel from anywhere (your fabric cabinet, your old pj bottoms, your partner’s favourite shirt…) and cut approx. 6″ x 6″ squares.  Done!  find an unused basket or other storage receptacle and make it kid-accessible.  When we’re sick, we keep a special bin on the washer for “snot rags” and throw them into a hot, hot wash to make sure they don’t actually pass germs around.  Otherwise, they get tossed in with all the other laundry.  Ditto on passing the buck with the “extra” laundry.

An additional, and perhaps more radical solution: The Family Cloth.  Many of you know about the FC, perhaps some of you use it.  It takes a strong will and certain brashness to do the FC.  Lost?  A brief explanation: replace your disposable and flush-able toilet paper with reusable cloth.  (And, though the term insinuates it, there isn’t just one, you can have many family cloths.)  Just like the facial tissue I just mentioned.  They can be made in the same way (perhaps a wee bit bigger), or you can purchase inexpensive ones like these from my favorite retailer.  If you cloth diaper, it’s a logical next step, especially if you use cloth wipes.  Just throw a wet bag next to the toilet and throw the contents into a diaper wash (or the cycle you used for diapers if they are no longer a part of your life–lucky you!).  If you’re worried about odor, put a wet bag in a step-lid trash can with a charcoal filter (available in most places that sell trash cans) and take it out when the bag is full or you’re ready to do laundry.  That’s it!  Imagine if you had a stash of these in your car and had them available for unanticipated field potty breaks!  No more foliage identification crash courses! 
This is actually something that my family hasn’t signed onto yet, but a few times when the toilet paper has run out and I’ve refused to buy the cheap virgin bleached stuff, we’ve re-appropriated my youngest’s wipes for our toilet use and it was just fine and there were actually no complaints….hmmm, makes me wonder why I haven’t switched before now!  Perhaps that’s our next step.  A little closer every day. 

What’s your next step?

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Projects in Progress

We have been battling the winter demons: sick germs. Our house has been riddled with colds, pneumonia and all sorts of sickness that has taken out 3 of 4 occupants, including me. However, because it has been so long since the last post and because sleeping children make for more mama-crafting time, I have pictures to show you about my latest projects:

These are the fabrics I chose to make my daughter Em’s lap quilt.  I was hoping to inspire a feeling of oldness, to capture a simpler time when the quilt of one’s grandmother felt like hugs from generations past and was so helpful in times of illness.


G got a new pair of soft wool leggings, repurposed out of a thrifted wool sweater that I felted.


Em and I sat down to make some paper heartstrings and talked about the kind of people and things we hold in our hearts.  Some of the hearts are named after family, friends, teachers at school, and the elements like Sun, Snow and Rainbows.

Having Em home from school all week because of illness gave me a newfound wish to keep her home and homeschool her.  It might have been that sickness made her physical needs less, or maybe it was that she’s getting closer to being 5 years old, but it was delightful to have her around to talk to and project with, even though we were all sick.  It was such a nice change from the daily battles I seem to have with her.

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Yearning is ingrained in my personality. No matter how much I try to take time to live in the moment, appreciate what I have or smell the proverbial and literal roses, I yearn for more and better.  Sometimes I can justify this constant yearning by thinking that those things for which I yearn are worth yearning for: peace, quietude of soul, independent gardening to feed our family, better playthings for my children, time to learn a new craft (time to craft at all), most of all “time”.  However, after pouring over beautiful Waldorf-inspired mama blogs, I find that I spend more time reading about the life I want than living the life I want, and all that time goes away.

I’m a lifelong learner.  I suck up information and try to keep it all at a convenient place in my brain to be called up at the perfect time.  Like parenting advice when I’ve locked horns with Em and haven’t found a way out yet.  Or, when I have some spare time and need the perfect little craft to start with her.  But, by nature, I’m also not so creative or resourceful, so I blank until the next time I read something that’s inspiring and file it away again.

So, I have amassed the resources to be creative and join in with imaginative play.  I have saved the websites so I can peruse them at a different time and use the good times to do productive things.  We are putting together plans to move out of the heart of our small city and on to  7 acres of woods that we will have to work for years to fine-tune our homestead.  And, because it’s still winter and the magic of the holidays is long past, we fantasize about moving to coastal california.  Since the rest of it isn’t enough to preoccupy my stay-at-home-with-two-children self. (I’m hoping the sarcasm was obvious there.)

However, despite all my hopes and dreams and plans for the future, I did manage to capture a moment of peace and happy reading: 

And I also repurposed my mother-in-law’s discarded skirt into a “wedding dress” that Em has been clamoring for for ages.  I simply cut off the elastic waist, corrected the height, sewed in a little pink and green ribbon accent at the top and used the elastic waist to fashion straps.  Ta-Da.  Wedding dress.

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I find New Year’s resolutions trite.  They usually involve frivolous things such as weight loss and vacation time.  I’m not interested in that type of resolution.  However, it happened that I found inspiration and motivation at this time of year, so I’m going with it.  I find myself resenting some of my personality traits as I navigate being a stay-at-home mama, attachment parent and wannabe home- and unschooler.  I want more things for myself, my family and our life.  Such as limitless time and patience.  That’s an easy order, right?  Well, armed with a couple of new books and a list of more I’d like to consult, I’m embarking on a way to be more and better.  More disciplined with money and sustainability.  More patient and creative.  More present.  More easygoing.  A better mama, partner, community member and activist.  I’m excited to share ideas and thoughts with you and am even more excited to hear from you.  Here we go!

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