Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fresh from the farmers market: Radishes revisited

Radishes have not touched my lips for 25 or so years, yet I still remember the sharpness of their flavor, which weren't tempered by the salt my parents poured on those red, raw roots.

Today, I threw in the towel and tried them again, after overhearing a vendor at the local market discuss how his wife sauteed them with green garlic. For a dollar, why not? I thought.

I was pleasantly surprised. Tossing radishes in a pan with olive oil, a little cracked black pepper and some diced green garlic made them significantly more mellow. A few minutes' worth of work made for an unusual dish for my lunch today.

And I might wait less than a quarter century to try them again.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Going green while eating

Fresh is best, for your health, your waistline and your impact on the environment.

Jill Frame, a registered dietitian at the St. Francis Weight Loss Center, recently blogged about tips for going green while eating. It's more than just eating organic. Looking at everything from where your food comes from to what it's packaged in can make a difference.

Weighing In - St. Francis Weight Loss Center: GO GREEN when eating!

(Disclosure: I work with Jill. But it's still a great read!)

Mullet in Oil

I have to share this picturesque post from Walking Green's blog earlier this week.

Just ask yourself, what price are you willing to pay for that lawn???

So proud to be from Indianapolis

Smokestacks cover the front of today's Indianapolis Star, which reports that Indianapolis is #2 in the nation in terms of carbon footprint per capita.

In fact, of the major metropolitan areas in the nation, the top five in the Brookings Institution study are in the triumverate of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. (How does your city look? Read the report.)

Why is Indy so bad?
  • Industrialization
  • Being the "crossroads of the nation," we have a tremendous amount of semis passing through our city
  • Lack of public transportation: busing is limited, there are few carpool lanes or bike trails, and lightrails are light years away
  • No renewable electricity standard
  • Our dependence on coal for electric heat, combined with the long winters

What scares me most is not that my city is one of the worst offenders. It's the comments by others reading this article, who believe that man-made climate change is a joke, that global warming is a scam, that liberals are to blame for this nonsense or that this is all an excuse for us to pay more for everything. It's a sad commentary on my community. (Read the comments that follow the Indy Star article if you're truly curious.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

10 simple ways to go green without losing green

Today’s growing awareness of “going green” or more environmentally aware often brings the cynics out. It’s too difficult to recycle. The organic products cost too much. I can’t make ___ lifestyle change.

Just as you don’t stick to your diet perfectly each day, it’s OK to slip a little and make small changes as you go. Finding the steps that fit your lifestyle can make a significant difference over time, and it certainly is better than not doing a thing at all.

You can go greener without spending significantly more money out of pocket. By making simple lifestyle changes, you can make a difference.

Here are 10 simple things you can do to go greener without losing all of your green:

  1. Invest in local producers. You’ll find many deals at your local farmer’s market, and the quality will be better than what you’ll find at your grocer. Buy in season and freeze (or can, if you’re adventurous) the rest for the winter.
  2. Shop smart. As with any “regular” thing you buy, watch coupons and sales to get the best deal. You can get great deals on organic products.
  3. Consider natural cleaning. And I don’t mean buying Clorox Naturals or any other branded product. Many household items, including baking soda, vinegar, even toothpaste, can do double-duty as a cleaning product.
  4. Watch your energy output. Unplug the cell phone charger when you’re done. Unplug appliances you don’t use often. By just being plugged into your outlet, they are utilizing energy. If you don’t believe me, feel how warm your charger or other plugged-in item is.
  5. Be mindful of your CFLs. You pay more upfront for these energy-efficient bulbs, but to maximize their lives you need to leave them on for at least 15 minutes at a time.
  6. Turn the car off. Idling is a complete waste of gasoline. Avoid the drive-through; turn off the car and go inside on your errands.
  7. Find a good home for things you no longer use. Many non-profit organizations will gladly accept clothing and furniture in good condition, craft materials, leftover homebuilding supplies and more. Even electronics such as your abandoned cell phone and computer can be recycled or repurposed for a person in need.
  8. Watch your water usage. Shorten your shower; fix the drip in your faucet. The savings will quickly add up.
  9. Let your grass grow. Grass ideally should be cut no shorter than 3 inches tall. Shorter, and the root system is not as developed and you end up using more water. And, you may have the benefit of mowing less.
  10. BYOB. Bring your own bag when shopping. You can buy inexpensive reusable bags at many area stores, or simply tote your own tote bag.

Green on the cheap: Baking soda’s benefits

What if I told you about a natural cleaner that you could buy in bulk for about $6? That you wouldn’t have to worry if your children got into it, and even better, that it actually worked?I have one for you: Baking soda.

These days, baking soda is considered for little more than cooking. But it’s a cheap and effective – and green – way to get many of your cleaning tasks done without buying another bottle of green cleaning products.

Turns out, baking soda (with a little white vinegar) is the only thing that’s making a difference with my hard water stains in the bathroom. My child loves to help me “clean” with it, and it’s actually making a difference in the shower.

Here are other cleaning tasks that you can tackle with baking soda:

  • Unclogging drains
  • Removing strange smells from your fridge
  • Preventing odors in the litter box or trash can
  • Removing stubborn stains from coffee cups
  • Removing tarnish from your silver
  • Brushing your teeth

Want to know more? Here are a few links to get started:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prices at the pump do make a difference.

I stand corrected.

Last week, I lamented the seeming lack of real change on the part of American consumers. If the preserving our environment for future generations wasn't enough of an impetus to make a change, surely gas prices would be, one would think. Turns out, it's true.

This morning's news discussed how gasoline usage in March experienced the sharpest decline ever recorded: 4.3 percent compared to March 2007. And that was when gas was several dimes cheaper.

My weekend guests commented about how traffic seemed lighter this year, even with one planning to cope with traditionally heavy traffic headed for the Ozarks and the Indianapolis 500.

And this morning, I realized I would have to work two hours to make up for the half-tank of gas I'd just put in.

So consumption habits are changing. I stand corrected.

If you're looking for other ideas on limiting your gas use, check out these sites to get started:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Words from Walking Green

On this cool, rainy Friday morning, I took a few minutes to catch up with other green writers on the Internet. I'd like to share this terrific recent post from Walking Green:

In trying to help the world, can we lose the life we love?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

$4 gas, and what have we learned?

Gas yesterday hit the big 4-0-0 in Indianapolis

Techincally, it's $3.999 (is that little 9/10 of a cent to make you not feel so bad?). Who knew I would ever live to see $4 gas.

The sad thing is, other than being broker and everyone I know whining more, little outward changes seem to be happening. Yes, some stores' sales are down, like Target and Lowe's, but little widespread change in our habits is occuring yet. The highways are still cluttered, but the grocery stores are empty on the way home from work, when people could instead be piggy-backing their errands onto their daily commutes. People are still planning road trips for Memorial Day weekend, and the farmer's market, which features locally produced goods, truly wasn't that busy last weekend.

So the question is, if we're scrimping to make ends meet as the media tends to report, where are we making the changes? And are we honestly doing it in real ways that make a difference? What have we learned? And what real changes will you make?

Is my CSA stringing us along?

My first experience with a CSA is not going well. We just received an e-mail from (the CSA) stating that they are pushing back deliveries for a fourth week. At this point, we're counting on our CSA to help feed our children, and it's highly disappointing that they are not coming through.

Is this common to have so many delays, or did I get taken?

[ Edited January 28, 2009 to remove the name of the Indianapolis-based CSA, which does not believe that people can speak their beliefs ]
{ Edited Jan. 30, 2009 to remove link to the CSA following further communication from their organization. Please research any company thoroughly prior to making a business relationship with them! }

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Party planning meets environmental guilt

As if Catholic guilt wasn't enough. Now I'm coping with environmental guilt.

Lately I've been more cognizant of the world's impact by my purchasing power. I am reluctant to buy rice when there are food riots elsewhere and the earthquake victims in China have less than a month's supply of rice, their primary staple, for example. I feel the pull to buy local when I can and support the little guy.

Now, my guilt is greater. We're planning a celebration this weekend, and family will be coming into town from miles away. In all, we'll be hosting about 20 others at some point during Memorial Day weekend.

I don't have dishes to support that. And I stare at the aisles, wondering what is the worst damage: plastic, foam or paper that may not hold up? I'm loading up on plastic disposable cups, and my trash can will be loaded with paper napkins. Because I don't have non-dispoable resources to support them all. Granted, I've heard about things like spudware (yes, made out of some part of the potato!), but my budget and time constraints can't support that hunt.

My meals are somewhat easier to plan. Rather than do things like take-out or eat out, I am hoping for simpler meals that my guests may or may not appreciate: build-your-own taco bars, pasta bars, and cooking burgers out on the grill. I am hesitant to buy the veggie trays because of all the plastic, and the waste that accompanies it. A cake will be homemade, mostly because I enjoy those more, and partly because I don't want to be wasteful.

How do others manage to plan for celebrations while being cognizant of the junk that accompanies them?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A slow start to our season

A visit to the local farmer's market was our plan for this weekend. I'm never surprised by the slow start we have here in Indiana - you'll see tomato plants here until late June - but it seems as if this year is even more delayed than usual.

Several stands with tomato, pepper and a small variety of herbs were out. The basil was barely peeking out from the dirt. I saw two bunches of green onions and three packages of organic lettuce out - but that was the extent of actually edible produce.

There was a small table of baked goods, another of handmade soaps and one of Pampered Chef items. (Though that is by far not the wierdest fit I've ever seen. At another market in my old town, the chiropractor actually had a booth!)

It was a disappointing start, but we still came away with plants for our pots, which my toddler enthusiastically selected and helped me plant with her little pink shovel at home. Four tomato plants (including a white tomato, which I'd never seen before), two oregano and two hearty basil. Hopefully, the cool, wet start to the season helps establish these and we get something out of them this season.

Friday, May 16, 2008

When thrifty wasn't just trendy

Open the newspaper any day, and you'll likely find an article or two on how we're cutting corners more and more to make ends meet due to soaring energy and food prices. The reality is, we've all gotten lazy over the generations.

It used to be that we wouldn't just liberally trash what wasn't perfect. Leftovers were tomorrow's casserole. Socks were darned. Clothes were handed down, child to child, patches in tow.

Suddenly, though, it's en vogue to return to these old arts. And more and more often, I'm reading and watching in the mainstream media about how people are doing old, once everyday things, in the name of making it by.

My grandmother's generation, admittedly Depression-era, knew how to repurpose things better than anyone since. Growing up, I remember how even the simplest things like coffee cans were reused. A small one underneath the kitchen sink held pennies, waiting to be gambled in a few rounds of Sheepshead. Larger ones were packed with sugar cookies and stored in the freezer, waiting to accompany her guests on the long drive home from Wisconsin.

Things were repurposed in such a way I don't think we're even ready to fathom today, even with the financial scars of $4 gas and $3.50 milk that result in many lower-income families struggling to make ends meet. Take, for instance, this one recipe of my Grandma Johnson's. Leaving nothing to waste, it made use of cracklings - yes, the grease from your pan - to make cookies. (I asked my father once, when I stumbled across this recipe, what that was actually like. He said he wasn't impressed. I'll leave for the brave souls to decide!)

Crackling Cookies
4 cups fresh cracklings
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cup flour
2 eggs
Mix in order given. Roll in balls and press down thin with a fork, or roll
out thin and cut out. Bake in a 400-degree oven until golden brown.

Disappointing news from my CSA

Well, my first attempt at participating in community-supported agriculture is not going as planned. I received an e-mail this evening stating that the season's start is being pushed back for a third week due to heavy rain and cooler temps. Michigan State University is reporting that farmers in the region are also experiencing slower-than-usual starts to the season due to the cool spring.

So, while not having to have the A/C on in my house (or the heat) the last few days has been great for my electric bill, it's not for my hopes of fresh veggies in May.

Still, here's what's being promised as being on the horizon:

Our veggies are getting bigger, and we have lots of lettuce, radish, snow
peas, greens and boc choy around the way at our farm. We also have plenty of
"brassicas" going at our Atlanta location, including 2 varieties of broccoli, 3
varieties of cabbage, 2 varieties of cauliflower and a little kohlrobi.
Just getting planted this week we have plenty of, beans, squash, peppers and
tomatoes. LIFE farms is in full swing with tomatoes on the vine in their
greenhouses and plenty o' plants in the fields. Their early season leeks and
onions are looking great.

I'm hoping the slow start isn't a sign of more problems to come. We'll see if the local farmer's market is any better tomorrow morning.

Green on the Cheap: Boxing out weeds

I learned a little something from my friends at Casaubon's Book this week: Your cardboard boxes are good for something.

If you're like me and wondering what to do with your used, unwanted cardboard boxes, they can find a second life as mulch for your garden.

Writes catskillmamala:

I pick up appliance boxes from the appliance store. I only use brown cardboard with minimum or no ink. I peel off the tape, open the box up flat and lay in in my paths or on new beds that I want to keep growth-free. I find if I use smaller pieces and there is any crack between pieces of cardboard, weeds will find a way.
Paper degrading can lead to slightly acid conditions so you may want to use a bit of lime.

Violet Lane writes that she uses cardboard to start new beds over the winter. It's not pretty, but it's practical. See pictures here. While I probably can't get away with it given my homeowner's association rules, maybe shredded or covered with wood chips could work. Thoughts?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I’ve grown a food snob

My toddler is a foodie. So much so that a threat of losing her cooking shows on Food Network is the ultimate punishment, so much that the waterworks immediately begin to flow. Even though she actually only watches something once a week, it's the thought that counts, and cooking shows with her dad rank No. 1 in her book.

She knows the difference between rosemary and basil and believes that tomatoes make her “sad.” She thinks baking is great and toying with the salad spinner is great fun.

So it’s no surprise she’s already getting discerning tastes in her farmer’s markets too.

It’s finally time for farmer’s markets to begin sprouting in Indiana, and we’ll be blessed with stands of tiny sprouts of plants begging to be bought. In another month, we’ll get the first of the summer’s bounty: likely lettuces, tomatoes and peppers.

Yet the other morning, my toddler, on her way to daycare, mentioned she wanted to go to the farmer’s market with her friend. I said it had rained the day we had planned to go (true), but maybe we could go to a different farmer’s market on Saturday, when the local market opened near our library.

No. She already knows the difference, and let me know. She knows that the “farmer’s market” in her eyes has a barn, where the winter market resides. That there are cows to watch and chickens to chase. That if she’s exceptionally good, we’ll spring for ice cream to share at the dairy bar. That she can get meats and eggs and some kind of produce or grains virtually year-round. Yes, she knows the difference between her “farmer’s market” 40 minutes away and the just-around-the-corner version.

Yes, I have a food snob. But I consider her lucky.

I grew up a city girl, and while we had a garden, it was tomatoes, which I refused to eat, and bell peppers, which my dog would eat. We never had the luxury of a farmer’s market, and the produce we ate was typically canned, frozen or as fresh as it can be languishing in the grocery store and the bottom of the fridge. Salad was iceberg, drenched in cheese, a sprinkling of mushrooms and dressing.

My toddler is different. She couldn’t get enough of sweet potatoes and squash as an infant. She was sucking out the insides of grilled asparagus before she was one. She thinks there’s nothing cooler than examining the bounty and colors of the farmer’s market in the summer. And I’m determined to make sure she knows that fresh and colorful is the best way to eat. If that makes her a food snob, so be it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Independence Days

It is far from July, but Casaubon’s Book last week proposed an "Independence Days" challenge to promote what she calls food independence. It's an interesting concept - something we ought to do anyway, given soaring food and gas prices.

Sharon offers these ideas:
  1. Plant something.
  2. Harvest something. "Independence is really appreciating and using the bounty that we have."
  3. Preserve something. "The time you spend now is time you don’t have to spend hauling to the store and cooking later."
  4. Prep something.
  5. Cook something. (Sad that she has to spell this out, but the reality is so many people rely heavily on take-out, frozen dinners and other convenience foods."
  6. Manage your reserves. "Clean out the freezer.... Find some use for that can of whatever it is that’s been in the pantry forever. Sort out what you can donate, and give it to the food pantry... Independence means not wasting the bounty we have."
  7. Support local food systems - the local CSA, farmer's market, farm stand. Share seeds. Support a community garden.

I originally thought, Nice idea, but I don't have time. I have work, two children, swarms of family coming in for Memorial Day weekend... But unemployment set in, and I'm realizing rather quickly that having the comfort of where your next meal is truly is important. (We're not that bad yet, but realize how quickly our situation could progress if our limited savings run out.)

What I've learned in the last week that, like any other thing we want to be committed to, change can happen in baby steps. And while I am focusing on stretching our budget at this time, there are lessons that can be learned.

What have I done in the last week or so?

My oldest and I planted (finally) our onion sets in our backyard and added 100 strawberry plants in an area where grass hadn't been growing. (Strawberry purchase obviously pre-change, and more as an experiment in ground cover.)

We've done serious meal planning and prepping, stretching things in ways we hadn't before. The leftover steamed broccoli became tomorrow's cheese broccoli; the leftover rotisserie chicken shredded and frozen for future use. (Hey, three consecutive days of rotisserie is enough!)

We've definitely managed our reserves, what we have of it. Our deep freeze is seriously accounted for, and we're actively planning our menus to stetch those contents and break up the monotony.

Admittedly, I guiltily admit while I've refrained from any eating out, I have resorted to eating leftover ice cream sandwiches in the office freezer for lunch a few days, when schedules and meal planning didn't work out. I'm getting better. Where I used to just run out before, with $3.98 a gallon gas and limited incomes, I am figuring out how to make due.

Sadly, I'm still waiting for our CSA to kick in. There's been a two-week delay due to weather, but the company promises to start up Memorial Day weekend, just in time for our massive company.

If you haven't had a chance to read it, check out Sharon's post on her "Independence Days" challenge.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Environmentalism is easy when you're unemployed

Environmentalism is easy when you're unemployed. I'm convinced of that.

We are on day 3 of being a one-income household with two-income expenses. We've done the math, and it's not pretty.

Focusing on the positive, there are some good things about being broke. It can have a positive impact on my contribution toward the environment. Such as:
  • Less gasoline being used, as we have one less commute (though it was short) and unemployment and job applications are virtually all done online anymore.
  • By limiting (and eventually eliminating - a cranky, cold-turkey, caffeine-addicted person is not what this family needs right now!) my Diet Coke consumption, I'm reducing the energy needed to recycle aluminum.
  • No eating out or plastic soda cups from Speeedway means less unrecyclable waste.
  • By vastly curtailing my grocery spending and making everything from scratch (as opposed to a box), we will likely be eating better in the long run. Beans, rice and pasta do less harm to the environment than the animals who have to eat the grains first. (Plus, I might lose those last few baby pounds.)
  • Fans are staying on; the A/C is staying off, lowering my electric bill.
  • I'll dust off my baby food recipe book and my vegetarian grilling cookbook that has for years collected dust and use the produce from the CSA that I thankfully bought from earlier this spring to expose my family to new tastes and a healthier lifestyle.

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to be able to afford all of my bills next month, but at least there's a small (OK very small) silver lining to all of this.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Green on the Cheap: Grounds for your garden

It seems that everyone loves Starbucks. Even plants.

Coffee grounds, as it turns out, make for excellent additions to your garden soil - great if you're buried in clay as we are. My husband used to tell me that strawberry plants love coffee. Cynical, I would pour his leftover coffee and grounds occasionally on my small strawberry patch. It apparently helps improve the nitrogen in your soil.

The plants thrived. I was sold.

One day, my husband told me he had a treat for me from Starbucks. It was a 2 lb. bag of coffee grounds, packaged and ready for the garden. As it turns out, you're often able to request your own bag of grounds at Starbucks locations. From there, you can mix it into your compost or soil, or, if you're lazy like I am, unceremoniously dump it on your plants and let the rain wash it into your soil.

If you don't see bags readily available, ask at the counter. I inquired about the coffee grounds. The barista asked how much. I responded a bag or two -- and received a kitchen-sized trash bag filled with grounds. Great fertiziler for the soil, for free.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Killing the planet, one Diet Coke at a time

I love my Diet Coke. I admit my addiction fully, though I’ve cut back in recent years to the equivalent of four cans each day (well within the safe caffeine limits for pregnancy, in case you’re curious).

Yesterday, though, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo in our office. Each of us sat around a table with a can of soda, which we dutifully poured over a disposable plastic cup of ice (No. 6 notwithstanding).

It got me thinking: Are we killing our planet, one Diet Coke at a time?

While I religiously recycle at home, even allowing a bag to build up in my car rather than toss in a trash can, we only offer can recycling in our office, and no plastic or aluminum can recycling at our main campuses for the company I work.

So, what is worse: Pop in plastic or cans? The reality is both use a tremendous amount of resources.

According to Earth 911 and the Pacific Institute:

  • Gossing your plastic bottle wastes approximately .00034 barrels of oil each time. “Producing the bottles for American consumption (in 2006) required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation,” writes the Pacific Institute Web site.
  • Tossing your can “wastes enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for almost four hours or run your television for three hours. Tossing away an aluminum can wastes as much energy as pouring out half of that can’s volume of gasoline,” writes Earth 911.

While I’ve yet to find direct comparisons of energy resources used, the fact is clear: By not recycling plastic bottles or cans, we’re contributed to the high energy prices we’re complaining about.

According to earth911:

Last year 54 billion cans were recycled saving energy equivalent to 15 million
barrels of crude oil - America’s entire gas consumption for one day.

Right now, Americans recycle less than one-fourth of the bottles they use. Just think: If we recycled every soda and water bottle, we could conserve the equivalent of our nation’s entire gas consumption for four days.

Think about that the next time you reach for your 3:00 caffeine fix.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Green birthdays

I'm in the party mood.

Some of you know that I've been fantasizing about my toddler's luau birthday party (no, I'm not up for a "Cinderella birthday" just yet!) next month. It's sustained me through the Indiana winter. And this month is another family event, celebrating a religious milestone for my son as well as three family birthdays that coincide around Memorial Day weekend.

The shopping lists and menu planning have already begun. And I'll be honest in that the prospect of a tall stack of dishes doesn't appeal, and I'm looking at ways to shortcut without generating bags upon bags of trash, or for that matter, huge expenses.

But it's a strange coincidence that I stumbled onto two other bloggers who were discussing the greenness of their family celebrations: Crunchy Chicken and Surely You Nest.

These women went far beyond the call of duty with the greening of their springtime celebrations, including such easily stolen ideas as:

For the kids:
  • Skipping juice boxes in favor of a larger pitcher or cooler of a beverage
  • Making homemade items for the party
  • A book swap instead of presents or party favor bags

For the whole family:

  • Using assorted paper goods and plastic utensils from previous celebrations
  • Reusing containers - even as simple as baby food jars - as needed for decoration and storage
  • Going homemade and actually baking a cake instead of coughing up the ransom at the local bakery. (Me, I'm considering a basic white cake with edible flowers on the luau cake.)

It reinforces what I've thought about with my upcoming celebrations: Keep it simple. For each, we're having an outdoor cookout (still on the fence as whether to rent a park shelter). For the luau, we'll kick it up a little with a little Jimmy Buffet and some luaus, grass skirts or visors they can make and wear while they have a splash party in a sprinkler in the backyard. As Surely You Nest writes:

All in all, the lesson was simple. Kids have fun easily. They don't need much
to enjoy one another's company.

Other ideas on keeping your celebrations simple, fun but safe for the enviroment?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Doctor's offices: Welcome to the 21st century!

Doctor’s office reminders. They’re great for the harried working mom or just those of us with one too many appointments on our calendar. I juggle those little business card sized reminders until I can input them in my planner (yes, I still do paper. Heck, I can lose my blood sugar meter several times a week, and that’s needed to survive!)

Then I get the reminder postcard and/or phone calls in the days or weeks leading up to the appointment. My dentist’s office even wants you to waste your (and their) time by calling back to confirm. Hey, I got the message.

But is this good customer service, or a lot of time, money and paper wasted? (And did I mention the resources expended to ship or pick up the cards from Staples or through the mail.

Walking Green recently wrote on her blog:

Can you imagine how much money the dentist would save if the just had it set up
so that you received an email? Of course, there would be the initial cost.
However, by the time you pay for the post card, the postage (.26 cents), an
employee who is filling out the postcards, the non-recyclable labels that our
address was printed on and stuck to the post card (instead of writing it in),
then for a busy practice, it is quite a chunk of change.

Unfortunately, it’s one part financial laziness on the part of practices and one part our friends at the U.S. government. Yes, I’m talking HIPAA, the legislation that says I can’t talk to anyone, even your spouse or voice mail, about your health without you signing pages and pages of consents. (Let’s talk about that paper waste! Actually many places now state you acknowledge you can get a copy of the privacy policy online if you care.)

Because of this, you’re limited in how you can do reminder cards – often, your name and info must be sealed so your spouse, etc., can’t read it.

It’s worse for e-mail, because people change it so often and theoretically anyone can access it. So offices shy away from it.

According to Healthcare Economist:
Among individuals with Internet access, 90% want to communicate with their
physician over email. In fact, 56% of patients claim that having the ability to
email their doctor would influence their choice of doctor.
Really, it’s stupid that they don’t. My endocrinologist has me fax in blood sugars every two weeks (twice a week when I was pregnant). That involves me printing my sheet and faxing it (generating another sheet of paper.) I asked if I couldn’t just e-mail an Excel document (one less sheet, and with HIPAA I am sending the information, not requiring a response over e-mail), and they didn’t want to change their business practices and remember to check an e-mail address. The office is swamped because the physician is fantastic, so we use old technology to make due. I'd simply phone in my blood sugar readings, which would save that one sheet of paper each time, but it could cause problems in interpreting results if something was written down wrong.

The alternative is secure messaging, and no practice (heck, not even a lot of large medical practices) are up for that kind of investment. Instead, it's cheaper in the short run to do paper, no matter what the long term cost is.

Green on the cheap: Cheap find this week

Everyone knows that the price of food has gone up considerably in recent months, most notably due to gasoline prices and speculation. So I have to share a great find at an even greater price.

Yesterday, I broke down and went to the grocery store. The fridge was bare, with the exception of juice and milk. It was looking pretty bad.

While at Kroger, I saw they still had out coupon books for their organic brands (used to publicize Earth Day). Inside, there are coupons for $1/2 items by Horizons Organics dairy products. The yogurt is listed as 99 cents each (no cheaper than regular yogurt, really anymore).

At the register, the Horizon Organics yogurt cups rang up as 69 cents. Factoring the coupon, you can buy 6 oz. containers of organic yogurt for 19 cents each. Given that my toddler asked for a second container of it in one sitting, it's not a bad deal.

If you decide to stock up, please, recycle what's left of the coupon books and the No. 5 plastic containers, if you are able!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Clutter: The cost of conservation?

Yesterday, as I was taking my trash out, I noted that for the first time, we only needed to leave one can at the curb.

That is huge, given that I had company over the weekend and that we have a little one in diapers (who happens to be at home this week, generating even more trash).

What made the difference? Recycling.

Sure, I’ve done curbside recycling for years, but the difference is now that I’ve stepped it up beyond the cans, newspapers and plastic soda bottles I used to save. I’ve recently located a drop-off point close to my home where I can get rid of old magazines that I can’t take to the hospital, office papers that have been reused as coloring sheets, cardboard boxes and even the paperboard that wraps all of those food items that require a little less preparation after a busy day at work. I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

The difference is also in my home, I’m sorry to admit. I have a stack of cardboard boxes, flattened, and three bags of paper that I’m trying to keep the toddler out of before my next run.

I also have diaper-size boxes of hand-me-downs, assigned to various people and organizations, and boxes of things that I’m hanging on to so I can donate the next time I’m at Fresh Start.

And while I’m not a Martha Stewart by nature, I’m beginning to wonder: Have our homes, in our attempt to be more environmentally aware, become the new landfills? Is clutter the cost of conservation and recycling?