Monday, March 30, 2009

Unemployment Olympics in NYC Tomorrow

Ever wanted to “Pin the Blame on Your Boss”? How about “Toss the Fax Machine” when it was giving you grief? Well if you are unemployed, can prove it and collect benefits from the state of New York, head on down to Tompkins Square Park tomorrow to compete in the first annual Unemployment Olympics!

In addition to the games above, contestants will also take part in smashing of piƱatas and the “You’re Fired” race. The event will be held on the corner of East 10th and A beginning at 1:30 in the afternoon. Local businesses have donated fabulous prizes to the cause which is being held by Nick Goddard, an out of work computer programmer.

Sounds like a great way to not only get off the couch and get some fresh air but also network with people and enjoy some laughs, which could be seriously lacking in a time like this. Never hurts to have a little fun and make the best of any situation!

I would like to point out that I do believe this is legitimate as I heard an advertisement for it on the radio this morning. If the fun flyer below does not give enough information, more details of the event can be found here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Its Time to Celebrate Earth Hour Everyone!

Yahoo is reporting that hundreds of cities in time zones ahead of us (beginning with the anchor locations of Australia and New Zealand) have begun making the commitment to lights out at 8:30 PM local time. Buildings in Sydney and Paris, Germany and Dallas, TX have all agreed to turn out and unplug.

I encourage everyone to make the commitment even if you have not yet taken the pledge.

In our house we will be doing the following:

Living room & bedroom lamps (3)
The laptop
DVD player
Sewing machine

Shutting Down
The desktop PC

It is just an hour and such a simple thing to show support for the planet.

What are your plans to turn off for the short sixty minutes?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Free energy audit provides the info to go greener

Hey all, Melissa here. Jenn's painting today (for me, no less), so I'm blogging for her...nice trade, eh?

About a month ago, in what I like to refer to as one my “get off the fence moments,” I finally signed myself up for a free home energy audit. I'd heard or read countless times in recent months and years that this was an option, and, after checking out a seminar in my town on ways to save energy, I decided, what the heck? I figured it would be a good reality check to see how we're doing around the house, and where there might be room to do better.

I'd been warned that Conservation Services Group (CSG, which performs this service for MassSAVE, the group that conducted the energy-savings workshop I went to) has been swamped with audit requests, especially since our recent brush with upward-spiraling oil prices. But since I'm a stay-homer anyway, the flexibility in my schedule meant I only had to wait a few weeks.

My auditor, Jim, started off with a few questions about the size of my house, the type of heat we had and how we heated our hot water. He also looked over last month's electric bill to see what we were spending. Then, he began his circuit of the house.

Good news, bad news

Well, the bad news came first. When we recently replaced our old furnace as part of our basement-finishing project, we were told we could no longer have a tankless hot water heater because it wouldn't work with the furnace the HVAC contractor recommended. So instead, he installed a hot water heater – an electric one. At the time, a little voice in my head said, “Electric? Isn't that going to be pricey to run?” But because I am no expert (not to mention happily related to my general contractor), I told the voice to pipe down. Not, apparently, a good move.

“What did they do that for?” Jim asked, and then enumerated several other possibilities that would have worked as well or better and for less long-term cost. Right off the bat, Jim observed, my electric bill is going to be on the high side in every season, even when it would have previously gone down (in the summer), because we are now using electricity to heat water. Alas, that ship has sailed, so we moved on.

One thing he noted was that a few feet of pipe wrap insulation on about the first six feet of pipe coming out of the water heater would help maintain water temperature longer. (I knew pipe wrap was a good idea, but having him show me exactly where it would be most beneficial was probably just what I needed to get me moving on installing it.)

At 87 percent efficiency, the new oil burner itself was a piece of good news. If you've got to burn oil, 87 percent is pretty nearly as good as it gets. It was definitely an improvement over our 12-year-old model, which had dropped to between 79 and 81 percent efficiency and would not have supported another zone (hence the replacement).

I had expected to get some grief about our “beer fridge” downstairs (chock full at all times with my husband Jeff's home brews), since second fridges are notorious power suckers. But it turns out that our downstairs model is actually newer and more efficient than our main refrigerator (which Jim also told me wasn't as inefficient as I feared...though it's getting closer by the day!).
If we didn't need both, I would contemplate ditching my main fridge for the basement one! Jim also pointed out that the downstairs model actually has an energy-saving setting (to which it was already set) – something I had never noticed.

Attic time

Here's where Jim found some real opportunity for us to save some energy and some funds. He noted that the insulation in our attic is R30, which is adequate, but that today, professionals use R38 or better. He suggested blowing in another four inches of cellulose to give us better insulation, and thought we should be able to save as much as $300 to $400 a year by doing so.

Part and parcel of that process would be sealing cracks in the attic with expandable foam – and when my eyebrows went up at the suggestion that I had cracks in my attic, Jim assured me that everyone does...just one of those things you can chalk up to settling.

I should point out that Jim asked up front if I had any particular areas of concern, so as we walked and talked our way around the house, he was great about fielding my random questions.

A couple of other checks he made: verifying that our bathroom fans vent properly, instead of directly into our attic, which can cause moisture problems, and doing a carbon-monoxide test to ensure that the furnace is venting properly, as well.

Bring on the free bulbs

As we passed by our newly finished basement, Jim gave us props for lighting it with compact fluorescents throughout.

Then, after having gone through most of his checkpoints, Jim broke out a bag loaded with CFLs and to my surprise began replacing the bulbs I hadn't yet gotten around to changing out. He had a supply of multiple style bulbs – everything from regular spirals to dimmable CFLs, even the small bulbs for the kind of reading lamp where the shade clips directly to a bulb! When he was done, we had replaced more than 15 bulbs – for free!

I don't know if he intended to wind up doing all of them, but every time I thought of another one that hadn't been changed yet, he cheerfully handed me another. It was, er, illuminating to see how many incandescents I had left!

Results in writing

To conclude the audit, Jim sat me down and went through his written report (of which I have a copy to refer back to – very helpful in relaying all this to Jeff), detailing things we could do to save energy, including the cost, the potential amount per year we could save, and the amount of time it would take to recoup the expenditure. He also pointed out a couple of incentive programs available to help cover the cost.

Two examples are a 75 percent instant rebate on work to help reduce energy consumption, up to a cost of $2000, and the HEAT loan program, a 0 percent interest loan for up to seven years to help finance updates to heat and hot water systems that will result in greater energy efficiency.

MassSAVE Home Energy Solutions – the group that did the energy-saving seminar that got me moving on this – is a public/private partnership that was created to help Massachusetts residents save money through energy conservation. You can reach them at 800-632-8300 to make an appointment for your free audit.
Or if you live elsewhere, a little online research might reveal that your state is running a similar program.

Jim says he's been doing these audits for four years, and works with people who've been doing it for much longer. He says auditors usually do three audits a day, five days a week, and sometimes more. And it seems like a sign of good things to come when he notes that CSG, the company he works for, recently hired 10 new people to help meet the demand for audits.

Jeff and I still have to decide when is the best time to go ahead with the insulation project, but I feel like this audit gave us a great mix of practical tips, free stuff and even recognition for what we've done right so far. That makes them five-leafers, in my book!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amazing News and a Huge Eco Step Forward

Although we do not generally like to reprint news stories around these parts, this one is just too perfect not to. Not to mention I am too busy doing the happy dance to rewrite it; the EPA just gained a few coolness points in my book. The original article location is linked to the title. How do you feel about this?

EPA review of mining permits signals policy shift

By DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writer Dina Cappiello, Associated Press Writer – Wed Mar 25, 4:07 am ET

WASHINGTON – Breaking with the policies of the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency is sharpening its oversight of mountaintop coal mining to ensure projects do not harm streams and wetlands.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson on Tuesday directed the agency staff to review 150 to 200 applications for new or expanded surface coal mines, many mountaintop removal operations, pending before the federal government.

The agency also objected to two permits slated for approval by the Army Corps of Engineers because the companies had not done enough to avoid and minimize damage to water quality and stream channels.

The permits authorize mining companies that blast away mountaintops to access coal to dump the waste into streams and wetlands.

The actions "reflect EPA's considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams," Jackson said in a statement.

Environmentalists hailed the decision as a sea change in policy. The EPA has always had the authority to review and veto permits issued by the Corps of Engineers, but it rarely did so during the Bush administration.

The Corps has long been criticized by environmental and community groups and has been sued for failing to thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of mountaintop removal.

Under the Clean Water Act, companies cannot discharge rock, dirt and other debris into streams unless they can show they will not cause permanent damage to waterways or the fish and other wildlife that live in them.

Last month, a three-judge appeals panel in Richmond, VA, overturned a lower court's ruling that would have required the Corps to conduct more extensive reviews. The appeals court decision cleared the way for a backlog of permits that had been delayed until the lawsuit was resolved.

The EPA's action on Tuesday could leave those permit requests in limbo a little longer.

Ginger Mullins, regulatory branch chief for the Corps' Huntington District, which covers portions of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, said the EPA reviews will delay approval of projects.

"It will take more time," said Mullins.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fun and Funky Jewelry from Artwork by KD

Recently I chatted a bit with Kathy DellaValle, fellow Team Eco Etsy member and owner of Artwork by KD located in Susquehanna, PA, because her super funky jewelry really caught my eye as a fun and fresh approach to a hip retro style. Her use of bold colors and large shapes seem to scream hey check me out! Oh and did I mention all the materials used in her fashions are completely recycled or upcycled? She was willing to share a little bit of what encouraged her to pursue a career with an eye on both the planet and funky fashion.

How long have you been creating jewelry from recycled/upcycled materials?

A little over 1 year.

Where do you acquire the materials that go into your pieces?

I collect on a daily basis in my house (some kind of container is always being emptied) and I also receive lots of donations from friends and family!

What inspires you to create a piece?

I am inspired by colors big time!! They are usually my first inspiration. I love creating color combos that just make you stop in your tracks. Or a really rich color all on its own! Colors make me happy! Shape/texture come next.

Do you wear your own jewelry? What kind of reactions do you get from people on the street?

I wear my jewelry all the time! I had a post mistress that would order just about every pair of earrings I wore to the post office! It's great to get compliments from people in public. It makes me morph from artist to business woman; I then flash a business card and a smile ;-)

When did you become interested in protecting the environment?

Ever since I could walk! I always wanted to reuse things; it made me feel like I was hurting it's feelings to throw something away. Here's an embarrassing fact: When I was a little girl, after using a paper napkin I would keep it in my hand and call it my little napkin dog (I also did that with small brown paper bags too!). You can imagine the sadness when little paper dog went in the trash!

Are there other ways you are Green?

I recycle everything I can. Even tiny pieces left over from making things are sent to the recycle bin. I'm also a big conserver of water and electricity (I don't let the water run, I turn off lights when I'm not in a room, etc.). I enjoy picking wild apples and berries when they're around and making things from scratch. I park in a central location and walk to where I have to go and I also plan errands on the same day to avoid driving to town every single day.

What is one thing you do everyday that is considered Green?

Making wearable art from disposable objects and containers!

Do you have a tip for artists that are new to their industry?

Live by the 3 P's:
Passion - Love what you make/do so much that even if you don't make a dime for 3 months you still can't wait to wake up in the morning to get to work again.
Patience - Typically a successful business does not happen over night, maybe not even in a year! But you get what you put into things, so be patient and know success does not come fast or easy.
Lastly, Persistence. You need to have a daily plan and be aggressive every single day. Persistence in promotion, and in art making. Constantly try and make your work better, and think how you can reach more people. Sell at lots of shows. Don't give up! Everyday is a new chance.

Where can we find your items?

Artwork by KD Etsy Shop
Artwork by KD Artfire Shop

Brick and Mortar Locations:
Greenbeing in Scranton, PA
Earth and Wears in Dallas, PA
Pure Pennsylvania in Great Bend, PA
L'aveggio Roasteria in Binghamton, NY
Sea Hag Soaps and Art Mercantile in Brackney, PA

To keep up with the happenings of Kathy and her latest creations or show appearances you can also stop by her Artwork by KD blog which she updates frequently. She is running featured artist spots as well (I will be one of them in a few days too, thanks Kathy!).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Living Vegan -- Keepin’ It Real (and Simple!) With Ginger Cooke

Greenies may have noticed her lurking around these parts. The clever may have spotted her logo (Vegan With A Purpose) over on the sidebar and gone ahead and clicked. Still, many of you might be asking -- who is Ginger Cooke? She writes a fantastically fun page full of recipes, hints, tips (even some poetry and real life stories) of being a vegan** gal living in Colorado. Her approach is always ‘fun meets function’ as she shares the best ways to create meals that she has tried, many of which she created. She asks her readers to give feedback, share stories and let her know what they think after they have made the yummy goodness she has shared. Ginger has set herself apart in the world of foodie bloggers by providing those of us who are “afraid” to give up meat with some amazingly simple, truly delicious and hilarious ways to make a meal.

I have personally been reading her for quite some time and have made many of her recipes for no other reason than they sounded completely fantastic…and they were! Ginger is honest, open and shares her experiences as if we were pals chatting on the phone -- through humorous wit and trial and error. I asked her to share some additional guidance for those of us Greenies who might be considering venturing into the world of vegan (or are at least interested to hear what it is all about), but are too shy to ask for directions.

How long have you been a vegan?

I've been a vegan for about 3 years. I was a vegetarian for a year before that, but I still ate eggs and dairy.

What made you decide to stop eating meat and other animal by-products?

My transition to a vegetarian diet happened gradually as I began to lose my appetite for meat products. Not because I didn't like the taste of meat anymore, but I began to see the meat on my plate as more than a food product. I began to see it as butchered, dead animal flesh and it really began to make me ill just to think about it. I stopped eating eggs and dairy a year later by accident. My sister, who eats a vegan diet for different reasons, was visiting from out of state. I realized, after a week of hanging out with her, that I had been eating a vegan diet without intending to and I felt great. After that, I'd decided to become a vegan.

Do you find it difficult to eat at restaurants?

Not really. While more and more restaurants are offering vegan options due to popular demand, some haven't quite gotten the message yet. Still, they usually at least offer a few vegetarian options and I can just ask for the cheese to be left off. They are normally very accommodating and will substitute marinara sauce for cream sauce, artichoke hearts for chicken and so on and so forth. Some restaurants even go so far as to offer vegan boca burgers or tofu as substitutions in meat dishes. The ones that aren't so easy usually at least have a good a la carte menu that a meal can be built from. Basically, I never go hungry with a salad in a restaurant while my friends feast.

Do you have to shop in multiple places to acquire all your groceries? If so do you find it is less expensive to shop in specialty stores?

I do the majority of my grocery shopping in my regular, neighborhood grocery store. Local stores are carrying more and more specialty items that used to only be available in health food stores. However, these items do tend to be a little expensive in the grocery store so I usually still buy those items at my favorite, locally owned health food store. After a couple of shopping trips you tend to figure out what items you need to buy at which location and you can do all of your shopping in one trip with no confusion. There's also online vegan stores like, which are very convenient.

How long does it take on average to prepare a typical meal?

No time at all...less, actually. Vegetables cook up a lot faster than meat and I don't have to worry about overcooking them to kill any parasites or bacteria as long as I properly wash them. I'd say an average meal, with preparation time, usually takes about 30 minutes. If I'm playing with a good recipe it does take longer though.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you have gone back to over and over?

I have so many favorite recipes that I love to make when I'm in the mood for them. My top 3 current favorites are pancakes, seitan stew and veggie-tofu stir fry...The thing I'm in to right now is veganizing traditional recipes so I can expand my horizons and enjoy some childhood favorites.

Is it possible to veganize just about any recipe?

Mostly, I'd say. There are so many creative vegan substitutes these days that a good vegan alternative can usually be created with some patience and research. I love cooking and creating new recipes so this is half the fun for me.

What common misconception about living a vegan lifestyle do you want to clear up?

There seems to be an assumption among people I'm introduced to that vegans are generally anemic, malnourished and angry at anyone else who chooses to eat or use animal products. First, if anyone reading this has met an angry vegan and felt judged, they probably just met a zealot who would most likely be angry no matter what their lifestyle...most of us just want to make friends over a plate of sweet potato fries, I promise! ;) Second, the misconception that we suffer from poor nutrition really should be cleared up. Most vegans are well educated about their diet and nutrition and actually get more protein, iron and calcium than is required. They usually live longer and suffer less from heart disease and cancer than those who eat a standard Western diet.

In all honesty, is there anything you miss from your carnivorous lifestyle?

No, no, no! In all honesty, for the first 5 months of being vegetarian I missed cheeseburgers. Anytime the craving hit, I would eat something high in fat and the craving would be satisfied....ergo, it wasn't the beef I was craving, but the fat I had been getting from the beef. The secret to not missing animal products is utilizing resources to find vegan substitutes. I have a list of vegan resources and information in the sidebar on my page for anyone interested and searching for information. Also, if anyone ever needs information and can't find it, they can email me and I would be happy to do some research, make suggestions or point them in the right direction.

What are your top five vegan resources (books, blogs, tv shows, etc.)?

1) The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Living. Go out and buy this book and read it right away. It's filled with resources, information and nutritional education for anyone who wants to make an easy and healthy transition into a vegan lifestyle.
2) The Post Punk Kitchen or Hosts of a vegan cooking show and a vegan blog that provides much humor and lots of great recipes and cooking tips.
3) VegNews magazine or It has loads of information, fun and yummy recipes to try.
4) You can explore and learn for hours.
5) It's blogging, news and links to the vegan world that the general population rarely has exposure to. If they did, they'd rethink their lifestyle a bit.

**It is important to note that being vegan is not solely relegated to the arena of food. I chose to ask only food related questions of Ginger because it is the most identifiable area of change for most of us and because it is the focus of her blog, but to truly be vegan is a complete lifestyle change. Everything from cosmetics to clothing can be made with animal by products. The book Ginger recommends in her first favorite resource is a terrific way to start learning about some of the other life shifts that can be made to go completely vegan.**

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shower guilt? WaterPik EcoFlow can help!

Melissa, taking a turn at the GLR wheel today...

For those of you out there virtuous enough to blast your way through a three-to-five minute shower, or able to successfully convert yourself to Navy showers, feel free to go check your Facebook page or e-mail now. You have my admiration. But if you, like me, suffer severe shower guilt due to overconsumption, read on!

I'm a Pisces, so water is my element. Maybe that's why I've been fretting for years about how I can cut back on my wasteful showers, which have been too long and also wasted way too much on the front end, warming up the water before getting in. (I know I could put a bucket in the shower to catch that water, and I will probably do it this summer for garden-watering, but I haven't been ready to face off with my husband about this one yet!)

But thanks to an afternoon's lazy aisle-scanning at Home Depot last week, I have found what I think is a pretty satisfying solution: The WaterPik EcoFlow.

This is not the bare-bones aerator you might be picturing, but a five-setting handheld sprayer that makes showering with less water a pleasure. In fact, I don't even feel like we're cutting down -- the spray is so well-diffused that it feels like we're getting as much as -- if not more than -- our old water-hogging showerhead. The five settings (controlled with a dial on the head) include a kind of standard shower spray, a harder spray, a pulsating spray, a concentrated mist and a diffuse mist.

But my favorite favorite feature (and the one that sold me on this showerhead) allows you to slide a kind of switch to one side and cut the waterflow down to just enough to keep you warm while you lather or shave. I also use this feature while I'm warming up the shower (Yay! Big chunk of guilt, melted away.).

I don't know all the details on flow rate comparisons, but I did see on the WaterPik site that EcoFlow uses 1.5 gallons per minute. Also according to WaterPik, "by law, all shower heads sold in the United States must use no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute," so dropping another full gpm seems like a pretty solid reduction. And I'd bet my old shower head predated whatever law they're talking about, so we could probably save even more. Win, win, win!

I am sure there must be cheaper products that reduce your water usage (like the above-mentioned basic aerators), but I don't feel like I was taken to the cleaners. I paid about $45, but saw something similar in a pricey catalog a year or so ago for closer to $70.

I had a few moments where I hesitated about buying a new showerhead, figuring my husband might rupture something if I made a change "for the sake of making a change," as he sometimes sees it. But I got past that, installed it myself (super easy -- took about 5 minutes and the only tool involved, they provide), tested it on my own arm first and held onto the receipt, just in case.

I did decide to tell him about it rather than sneaking it in on him (which has not been a good choice, historically), and fortunately, he was merely impressed that I installed it myself (men!). And when he used it, he said his shower was fine and even felt a little harder than with our old showerhead (a surprising admission, since he chose that one several years back).

So for all you shower hogs out there not ready to sacrifice warm water and reasonable pressure (you know who you are), but tired of feeling like an environmental dirtbag, the WaterPik EcoFlow may just be the answer! And I'm awarding it four green leaves for now...personally, I'd give it five, but who knows? There could be an even better one out there somewhere!

It Is Time to get In the Tiny Garden!

Well almost. But it is certainly time to get things ready. Here in the Boston area the days are getting longer and warmer and that brings up all kinds of thoughts about Farmer’s Markets with fresh produce as well as vibrantly colored flowers like crocus and daffodil pushing their way toward the sun to welcome back its warmth. In the next couple weeks the snow might even melt back enough to begin turning soil for planting our own yumminess. For those who enjoy it, there is nothing quite like getting their hands (and knees!) dirty to sow their harvest.

But what about those of us who live in apartment buildings? Are we shunned from the gardening world simply because we have nothing more than a balcony or patio? The answer is no! Not only can it be fun but it might even look better than the neighbor’s back yard garden when all is said and done.

Flower pots with some soil can be gorgeous and plentiful in limited outdoor spaces. Consider using many different sizes, stagger in groupings of odd numbers and vary the color and type of plant grown in them to bring great interest to the space. Bring in small tables to house smaller pots, place larger ones in the back. Have fun with it!

If your outdoor space is very plain in general why not paint the outside of the pots a vibrant color or pattern? Old kitchen sponges that are too gross to wash dishes with can be great stamping devices. Wet the sponge and wring out the excess water then use a couple different sizes and several paints in similar colors or tones to create depth in the finish. This looks especially wonderful (and holds up great) on terracotta pots. On plastic a top coat would be beneficial to ensure the look lasts.

Why not check craigslist, freecycle, yard sales or even the local newspaper to see if there is anyone looking to get rid of a small bistro table and chairs? Those old sofa pillows that are about ready to kick the bucket make great outdoor cushions when using a water resistant fabric to cover them such as vinyl. Check with fabric stores or online for remnants that will be less expensive, or free depending where they are located.

In our situation we have an even greater challenge -- our balcony is north facing so we get just about zero sun. This year we are planning to plant produce but shade loving plants like some lettuce, scallions and broccoli. Doing research about your specific climate and conditions is key to a successful growing season.

For those with no outdoor space, a window sill is a great spot for a lovely planter. Or get creative! Install an L bracket shelf system directly under a window that gets a lot of sun and place some sun loving plant filled pots on top to enjoy.

An apartment can be just as fun for a gardener as a large outdoor space if the residents use their creativity in approaching the spring growing season.

What are your tips for growing plants in small spaces?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Power Shift 2009

Bill McKibben, author and environmental activist, speaks both passionately and enthusiastically in this video from Power Shift 2009.

What is Power Shift?

Power Shift was an event held in Washington DC from February 27 - March 2 of this year. A collective of amazing speakers as well as America’s youth (who are adamant about continuing the fight to stop global warming, increase use of renewable energy and lessen climate change impacts) gathered to enjoy lectures, concerts, workshops and receive training at the DC Convention Center.

Please enjoy as Bill shares his thoughts and experiences. He emphatically supports the organization This is an organization dedicated to pursuing the shift back downward to 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. That number is considered the minimum safest level. Currently we are at 387.

I urge everyone to visit the websites for Power Shift and for more information on how to get involved.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Green Group Gets Better Every Month!

Last Thursday was our forth official Bennetts Brook Green Group meeting, a group which has formed due to all of our overwhelming desires to better our lives through sharing of environmentally responsible ideas among each other. It started as a neighborhood idea for my sister in law (frequent GLR contributor Melissa) and her neighbor Julie and the primary members are in fact in their community but as each month goes on, Matt and I (as well as my Mom most months) are finding the short drive out there well worth our time and small emission contribution.

This month we had a guest speaker Laurie Sabol who is the Clerk for the group MassRecycle and wow was she ever fantastic! Not only did she give us all little gifties of pencils created from recycled US currency but all of us left with a wider view of so many interesting topics.

Much of what we discussed was locally related information to Ayer, MA but all can be applied to our planet. For example Laurie discussed how she has toured the facilities of some local recycling plants to get a feel for the entire process. I thought that sounded like a pretty cool idea for a field trip and just about every state has one! Also she shared with us information on the initiative Massachusetts is undertaking to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags everywhere. This too is something worth looking into nation wide.

With MassRecycle Laurie jokes that she is ‘just a Secretary’ but she was so knowledgeable when it came to topics such as the Waste Ban (a statewide ban that legally prohibits throwing in the trash such items as glass, monitors, yard waste and a myriad of other items) and what the state has done to catch and prosecute (mostly companies) those who are non-compliant, that I knew she was far more than just a Secretary, Laurie is certainly an advocate for the planet.

She additionally shared with us some websites, one of which is informative on a national scale: which will lead you right over to
(You may have read about Earth911 on GLR back in December last year)

All in all the group was extremely chatty and full of so many great tips that it would take a novel just to talk about all of them so I will leave this post with Laurie’s amazing contribution of time and dedication to her cause.

Have you considered hosting a green group in your local community? It is fun and a great way to meet new people with a common interest!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

SNAFU Is Not Always a Bad Thing

Many of you have been keeping up on the progress of our entertainment center which began back in November of last year with the idea that we could create just about anything out of free materials, one just had to know how to find them. For anyone who has not been following along I encourage you to check out Matt’s updates: Part I is here, Part II here.

This weekend would mark the installation of the entire unit, now that the paint was fully cured and feet were attached, including Matt attaching the doors with hidden hinges and drilling through the doors to secure the hardware. What ended up happening was installation of the unit itself, a whole bunch of swearing and an entirely new plan for an even better base to the unit. Let me explain.

I finished painting the piece and its associated parts this past week. The deep chocolate brown color we chose is modern yet sleek enough to last even after the trend of this color goes out of fashion and due to the sheer size of the furniture it would make a really bold statement (read: the focal piece in our home). We purchased a drill bit (total cost for the entire piece is at the end of this post) so Matt could attach hardware and he got to work placing the doors at about four yesterday afternoon.

It was too quiet in the office for the couple hours I spent reading my library book so I knew something was dreadfully wrong.

Upon a check in I found Matt on the office floor with a screwdriver in his hand, a scowl on his face and sweat on his brow. Not to mention it was six and only two of the four doors were even attached. Clearly, the doors were not working out. My heart sank as I envisioned us living another week with all this stuff scattered about the house and I wondered what the number was to the local mental hospital.

Matt is one of those people who is so dedicated to complete something correctly he will not allow himself to redirect even after it becomes clear he must. Both a blessing and a curse I assure you. So, since I am a person who likes things to keep moving no matter how many detours I have to take to get there, I suggested we just install it anyway. You know, just to get an idea what it looks like in its home. He begrudgingly obliged and we made the swap from mish-mosh, college style, eclectic hand me downs to the center. The doors were showing all kinds of gapping, did not completely close and also the two bottom center ones kinda, sorta, got in each other’s way when opening. I blame the engineering, not the Engineer, but this would mean our pull out shelves were no longer viable and realistically the entire base unit was just for show.

I must give Matt credit -- no tears were shed or tools thrown although there were many moments of self depreciation which I figuratively smacked him for by reminding him this was built from scrap material and the single largest & most complicated piece of furniture he had ever constructed, there were bound to be a few snags.

We finally agreed to just hook up all the components (another fun challenge as always!) and take the doors off completely for now until we devised a solution that would make them work. Here is Matt during the initial install (he is 5’-9” so it should give a good idea how tall this baby is!)

From this angle the doors look great but in person, well off they came! We began filling it with everything intended for the unit from video tapes to cd’s to dvd’s to components and more and finally crashed at about eleven last night to recuperate from the efforts. As we both sat there looking at our full, streamlined, gorgeous piece of hand crafted furniture I had an epiphany.

Two large doors for the base that open out would alleviate all of the hinge/slide shelf issues. Yes they would be large but they would also give the base a grounding substance.

The more we both looked at it the more we actually liked the top without doors because just by residing in one piece everything instantly looked less cluttered. So it was settled that we would be returning the hardware we had purchased (pulls and hinges for six doors now only needs to be for two) and using that money to acquire the lumber required to create the two new doors that will finally and functionally complete this piece.

Neither of us are unhappy with the development because sometimes you just never know until you try and there are a lot of lessons we both learned this time around that will stick with us for future projects.

So far total dollars spent is about $75 because we made use of so much scrap material, gift certificates, store credits and exchanges that we have managed to pay only for the hinges (approximately $58), the paint (approximately $15) and the drill bit (the final $3). We hope that the exchange for lumber is a wash and I have plenty of paint left over to complete the doors, no problem. In the meantime, it might still have a slightly cluttery look but neither of us are complaining about the total transformation of our space.



That's what I'm talking about!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Environmentally Friendly Motor Oil?

This afternoon while working I had a rerun of CSI: NY on in the background and did not think much of it until I heard one of the characters identify the motor oil that leaked from a suspect’s cab as G Oil. The character went on to explain that it was an environmental option because it was created from animal by-products. I love watching crime shows to hear fancy words and learn what they are so when the flashy sounding G Oil was mentioned I looked away from the project I was working on to pay attention.

Like any good Greenie I wondered if this was real or something contrived for television so I went right to Google and sure enough the top result led me directly to Green Earth Technologies (GET) where I came upon a picture of the motor oil bottle just featured on the show. Not only that but they manufacture complete lines of Automotive, Lawn & Garden, Marine and Household cleaning products.

The company boasts on the website banner “Save the Earth. Sacrifice Nothing” and with the SM Certification this bio-based oil has received it seems they are proud to put their money where their mouth is; they are the only bio-based motor oil to have passed the test to receive the certification. In addition to the ability to provide optimum performance in all vehicle types, the oil is considered ultimate biodegradable, their bottles are created from 25 - 100% post consumer plastic, the bottles are recyclable and their labels are printed with water based ink on recycled paper.

Due to the fact that I have not used this product to personally attest to its performance, yet with all of these amazing eco-friendly advances the company is attempting I am going to grant GET and its environmentally friendly motor oil an initial Three Green Leaves!

The next time I have my oil changed I will consider looking into this innovative oil product.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interesting and Fun -- Around the House Tips

Yesterday my good friend sent me an email chock full of those super handy household secrets that save time and money. Some of them were hidden green gems so it seemed only fair to spread the love and share these hints with all of you as well! If you have some tips on ways to get greener by saving money, time, the planet, our sanity, etc. please feel free to leave a comment!

☼ Hate foggy windshields? Buy a chalkboard eraser and keep it in the glove box of your car. When the windows fog, rub with the eraser; works much better than paper towels.

☼ When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving.

☼ To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings.

☼ Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it, take it 'home,' can't digest it so it kills them. It may take a week or so, especially if it rains, but it works and you don't have the worry about pets or small children being harmed!

☼ To avoid waxy build up on your dryer’s lint filter (from dryer sheets) and the best way to keep your electric bill lower is to wash the filter with hot soapy water and an old toothbrush (or other brush) at least every six months.

☼ Use left over hair conditioner to shave your legs. It's cheaper than shaving cream and a great way to use up the conditioner you didn't like when you tried it in your hair.

☼ Use a wet cotton ball or Q-tip to pick up small shards of glass you can't see.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The END of Ecologically Irresponsible Footwear

In an effort to get the ball rolling on getting back into shape, my best friend and I have begun a power walking routine twice a week. With the chilly temperatures, and the fact that she is pushing a stroller, we settled on the indoor sanctuary of the mall for the first few weeks. My friend advised me that I should get myself over to the New Balance store and pick up a pair of walking sneakers after a couple weeks of pounding the tile in the only sneakers I currently own which are not exactly walker friendly. I definitely need the support so I began searching for options, wondering if there was such a thing as an environmentally friendly sneaker and I was delighted to discover END Footwear.

END stands for Environmentally Neutral Design and these folks are really striving to be just as their name indicates.

Their company moral is to do more with less. For example, their shoe soles are created from a single mold as opposed to a different mold for each style, the plastic shank (arch) was removed (there is still support at the arch, just continuous material instead of a separate piece of plastic -- formed by yet another steel mold) and the manufacturing process only produces 1 - 5% waste (which they regrind and put back into their next product). Not to mention they are currently working to develop a 100% glue free shoe and have donated all of their test and development samples over the past two years to the Soles4Souls organization.

These shoes are just coming available in a variety of outdoor specialty shops (released for mass market beginning this past January 2009) and online. It was nice to see they are available at REI as I have a location somewhat close by so I can try them on before purchasing but I was curious what the cost might be for an environmentally responsible athletic shoe so I did some online research on the Women’s shoe line at At first I was shocked to see the price hovering in the $85.00 range so I decided to do a cost comparison to the New Balance shoes my friend had recommended and I was delighted to learn their average cost for a similar style shoe was around $75.00. A ten dollar difference would be acceptable to me in order to make a better environmental selection.

The drawbacks I discovered while reading customer reviews about END are primarily associated with the look of the shoe (which of course is a personal preference because I thought quite a few of them were really attractive) as well as the fact that, although the company is based out of Portland, Oregon, the shoes are manufactured in China (this means overseas shipping creating emissions).

In the end the positive impact this company is putting out there far outweighs any drawbacks and I fully intend to try out these shoes this weekend. If they are comfortable I will likely acquire a pair. In the meantime, due to nothing more than what I have discovered online, I am granting END Footwear a Three Leaf Rating! After testing I will report back and who knows, their leaf rating might just tick up another branch.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cast Your Vote for Earth Hour

Two of my loyal blog readers, Charmaine and Julie, both asked me within the past three weeks to discuss Earth Hour and although the date is still a couple weeks out there is no harm in planting the virtual Green seed now then discussing it again closer to the date and time of the event.

So what is it, when is it and how do we all get involved?

The first Earth Hour was hosted by Australia in 2007 as a way to reduce electricity consumption by requesting that residents of the country simply turn off their lights, unplug their non-use appliances and live as electricity free as possible for one short hour. In 2008, a remarkable 35 countries jumped on board to take part in this phenomenon and significant reduction in electricity was achieved across the globe. Many of you may remember seeing announcements (some featuring Anderson Cooper of CNN) discussing this global call to action on the last Saturday in March. Here is a video from last year’s campaign discussing the issues from Australia’s World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a supporter of the initiative.

This year more than double 2007 numbers, over 80 countries representing over 900 cities worldwide, will take part. Now that is a growing global awareness! Earth Hour hopes to receive 1 billion votes from individuals for this year’s event. So the question is -- what constitutes a vote?

A pledge to turn our lights off and unplug appliances from 8:30 - 9:30 PM on Saturday March 28 is all it takes!

I strongly encourage everyone to get over to the Earth Hour website and sign up to take part in this amazing global initiative. In addition, there is Facebook Group dedicated to Earth Hour with almost 150,000 members and they are also on Twitter, Myspace, YouTube and Flickr so no matter what networking means we are attached to we can find and join them.

Together we can effect real change so let’s spread the word now and get as many people on board this March 28th ride as we can!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Appreciating the Little Joys

I took these photos almost six years ago when Matt and I were driving along the Pike (better known as Route 90) on our way out to western Mass. Looking at them reminds me how small I am compared to the great big open sky but that I am not insignificant in this world where everything is connected.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring in New England

New England is an interesting place when it comes to weather, most of us use the quote “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” as a mantra. March is a month where this is a very accurate statement as the temperature on this day in 1989 recorded a low of 9, but conversely, a high of 68 in 1946. Throughout my life I remember the weather being just about everywhere in between during this transition month. Yes technically it is still winter for a couple more weeks, this I am aware of as another potential snow storm looms for Monday, but this weekend is supposed to be anywhere from 40-62 degrees depending on geographic location and that is good enough for me to call today a Spring day!

Since it is rare to see such warm, sunshine skies in early March, I am pulling the flip flops out of the back of the closet and heading outdoors to take advantage of the free heat that the sun provides. It will be nice to get some exercise and fresh air after being cooped up indoors for the entire winter. While we are out on our journey the windows to our apartment will be open wide letting in some much needed air circulation to ensure we avoid further illness. It is easy being Green when the skies are clear and the weather is nice.

Spring fever is setting in so I can not wait to stop talking about issues with rock salt and instead start discussing SPF or tasty, vegan summer treats. I hope the weather in your neck of the globe is just as lovely today and you all take advantage of the spark of magic in the air then get outside to enjoy the temperatures with a smile!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fox Show "24" Goes Completely Carbon Neutral

There are only a few shows I watch these days and one of them is the action packed Fox show 24. This past Monday night, we learned during one of the commercial breaks that this show has become the first ever television program to become completely carbon neutral. Way to go 24!

The information could have been easily missed as they did not tout the fact repeatedly (as I felt they should have!) but rather, during just one commercial break, Kiefer Sutherland simply asked people to check out for more details. After a bit of searching I came across the article detailing the show’s environmental efforts.

About a year ago the show aimed to reduce their carbon footprint and through strong efforts managed to do so by 43%. By acquiring additional carbon offsets (wind projects) they will achieve the complete reduction of the show’s remaining 57% this year. Please check out the article by News Corp to review the twelve initiatives the entire cast and production crew have accomplished since the start of filming season seven. There have been four announcements filmed (the first as referenced above) and all will be aired during the show on Monday nights. These PSA’s will not only alert the public viewing population to the efforts of the show itself but what we as individuals can do to reduce our own carbon footprint for a positive impact on climate change.

With this solid of an effort I am granting 24 the very honorable Five Green Leaf Rating!

I hope every show on television takes a cue from 24 and works as intently to reduce or completely neutralize their own carbon footprint. I will be watching every week and applauding your Green adventures!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Never fear, The Ethical Man is here!

Note: Melissa here, blogging about someone I'd like to make my new BFF...

There's a new superhero on the scene...The Ethical Man. At this moment, BBC “Newsnight” reporter Justin Rowlatt, the aforesaid Ethical Man, is speeding across the U.S. (on a train, at last check), able to leap global-warming doubters in a single bound, promoting truth, justice, and hoping to reform the American way of gluttonous fossil-fuel and energy consumption.

I first heard about “The Ethical Man” on NPR about two weeks ago, when they announced he was coming stateside. The backstory is, the BBC assigned him the task of cutting his – and his family's – greenhouse gas emissions for their UK home by 20 percent in one year (2006-2007) and reporting about it on air.

You can watch most of that series online. It's a blend of reality TV – watching Justin and his family try to walk the walk – and Justin reporting on the science and news about climate change and government goals and policies related to it.
Along the way, he explores efforts to change that range from the practical (switching to CFLs, installing rain barrels) to the fringe (getting into an airline's offices with protesters disguised as scientists).

I tuned in and had a blast. Justin points out that this experiment wasn't his idea, and watching him in action, that's not hard to believe. He's as befuddled as anyone else about the exact extent of the problem with climate change and as reluctant to let go of creature comforts. He stumbles, he tries to get away with short, he's human. And it ups the comedic factor that he dresses and has a haircut remarkably like Mr. Bean (who I usually don't find that funny, but it works for Justin...go figure!).

Carbon guru, wife and kids on board

Lucky for him, he was also assigned a “carbon reduction guru” to give him advice – and occasionally a kick in the pants – as needed (where can I get one of these?). It's his guru who spurs him to give up his family car and who takes Justin to task during one episode after he takes an air trip to Jamaica to demonstrate the idea of carbon-offsetting.

Justin's wife, Bee, is not just along for the ride, either. She adapts to the car-free lifestyle with reasonable grace, and even acts as lookout while Justin wets down his compost pile (at the suggestion of an “expert”) with, well, pee. But she goes further: She, too, gives Justin grief for the carbon offset stunt, and she reviews his portfolio of retirement investments and, finding that one is an oil company, does some research of her own to determine whether they can “ethically” continue that investment or keep the income it has generated.

Other highlights, for me: Justin pedaling a crazy-looking, but ingenious, contraption that demonstrates the amount of human-power required to light an incandescent bulb; an interview with a member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement conducted with Justin's and his sisters' many children having a party in the background, and his very young daughters' brutally honest responses to of some of his efforts.

When the year was up, Justin's family had met their goal. But with all the strides they made toward reducing their family's energy consumption, they still just barely achieved their 20-percent target.

On to America

One could pause for frustration here. After all, as Justin's blog notes, “...according to the scientists, we need to cut our emissions by 80 percent by 2050 just to keep climate change within two degrees centigrade of current world temperatures. Clearly the efforts of ethical men and women acting alone are not the answer.”

But The Ethical Man hasn't paused (or, not for long anyway). Now he's here, trying to get to the root of the issue in “one of the most polluting countries on Earth.”

He observes, “Each American is responsible for 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, more than twice that of the average European. But America is also one of the most innovative and most powerful nations on earth and has a president who says he is serious about tackling global warming.... The idea of the trip is simple - if we can solve it here we can solve it anywhere.”

With that in mind, he is spending the next stretch of months criss-crossing 6,500 miles of the U.S., talking to anyone and everyone with ideas on how to make meaningful inroads against climate change. He even wants to see any crazy invention you might have been dreaming up or building in your garage that could help solve the climate change crisis.

And in keeping with the theme of this journey, he's attempting to tread as carbon-lightly as possible along the way (he already got a warning for hitchhiking on the first leg of the trip). So join the Ethical Man Climate Change Challenge Facebook group and share your thoughts... and for Pete's sake, offer him a ride or a vegan meal if he's in your neck of the woods!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Are There Alternative Green Options to Burial?

It is a difficult topic to discuss as many people are nervous discussing death but just as sure as all our taxes will be due in just 2 months, the end is sure to come and there is nothing wrong with trying to make environmentally responsible choices in advance. I have heard of all kinds of green options for what we can do to create less of a negative impact after we have passed away but a couple days ago I came across something truly wild -- turning ourselves into under water reefs.

To give a bit of background I have been saying for many years that when I die I really wish there was a way I could just be tossed off the side of a boat so I could give back to the marine life that I have felt a special kinship to in this life. Also I am not really sure about being buried with my body being filled with chemicals which, as soon as the casket does break down under the Earth, will eventually seep into the soil. So when I came across Eternal Reefs I was immediately intrigued.

Admittedly, cremation is required and then the ashes are mixed into concrete. The concrete mixture is poured into a cast and then the cast is placed on the ocean floor. The website shows a reef just three months after being placed with sea life already utilizing the porous surface to sustain itself. Cool!

Casting occurs at one of the two Saratoga, Florida locations and as of now reef projects are planned for seven locations up and down the east coast of the United States and travel as far north as New Jersey. Each of the locations are planned recreation areas in permitted reef development areas. Prices start at $2,495.00 and go up to $6,495 depending on the size and number of individuals to be cast together.

An interesting eco-friendly burial option that can give something positive back to our marine friends.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

President Barack Obama Discusses His Proposed Budget

In his most recent radio address on February 28, President Barack Obama discussed the assurances he made for increased support in key areas, and those promises which he truly plans to keep, with the new fiscal budget. He has indicated he is ready to “fight for it” but this raises the issue of understanding what is going to be supported under the new budget; what is the “it”.

I strongly encourage everyone to visit The White House and click on over to the Office of Management and Budget page to review the proposed financial outlay for each department, as well as the Full Budget pdf. The Full Budget is well worth the read as numbers, graphs and real in-your-face information is put to us plainly. It is a long document (142 pages including cover, etc) but something every American should allow themselves the time to review so President Obama’s goal of transparency can begin to be achieved. Only when we are completely informed can we understand what we are fighting for!