Monday, June 30, 2008

Green birthdays in a pink-and-purple world

"My pink birthday." "My purple birthday." Turning the big 3 has been the talk of the house for the last few weeks. OK, months.

Birthdays and Christmas has always conjured up images of piles of plastic packaging, wrapping paper, tissue, bows and about 4,000 wires to tie every possible moving component in place. As my baby becomes much less so, I fear that's a trend that just won't quit any time soon.

Take my friend's son's birthday last weekend, where no less than 15 neighbor children crowded the place with presents galore. (The interesting thing was he was far more interested in the interactive stuff or even a book on submarines than the action-hero equipment that would likely break within days.)

Our own gift-giving for our child has been obscenely practical - this week, she'll receive PJs and shirts from us, chapstick (a huge deal for preschoolers!) and ponytail holders from the baby, with the "big gift" being an apron and chef hat for my budding cook. It's been hard convincing others that my child doesn't know what she wants for gifts - she doesn't know she has that choice! - and that she isn't big on any cartoon or other marketing character. It's not like we visit the toy aisle at Target, or watch Saturday morning cartoons. Yes she knows Elmo, Dora and High School Musical (thanks, Aunt Stacy), but she doesn't have to have them in her eyes yet.

My sitter: What would she like for her birthday? Does she like Dora?

Me: Well, I guess she likes it, but she hasn't really asked for anything.

Sitter: (Confused expression.)

Me: Honestly, she likes my scrapbooking stuff to play art with. Or cooking.

Sitter: Oh, does she like toy dishes to pretend?

Me: No, she likes the real thing.

Sitter: (Silence).

Me: She always likes to cook with me, and she also likes playing with her "baby 'matoes" in the garden too.

Sitter: (Pauses.) Well, maybe I'll get her some Crayola stuff.

Excellent!! In fact, nothing would please her more than things that tap into her creativity, particularly if it will divert her from trying to experiment with the ink-stamps-on-carpet look again.

My in-laws, however, were determined that she needed a little toy kitchen. Aside of the huge amount of space that one of those things take, I was a little concerned. After all, kids' interests change so quickly. Not to mention, where do little plastic toy kitchens go once they're outgrown? They have to go somewhere. As they sent us the money, we ended up going to a used kids' store, where we found the ultimate kitchen in her eyes. ("Mommy, let's take this home," she uttered breathlessly as we saw the kitchen from the store's doorway.) One kitchen saved from the landfill, and we had enough left over to buy some dishes - real ones and pretend - and she's been slaving away at such culinary creations as strawberry soup, salads and cupcakes all weekend since.

It's one little - or in this case - large thing I can do to foster my child's imagination and still make a small difference toward the massive amounts of junk we create each day. So maybe my daughter's "pink birthday" isn't the greenest in the sense we won't have spudware or recyclable plates. But by thinking creatively in our gift giving (and reusing those gift bags and tissue papers just one more time) we're taking one small step.

Stinky spaghetti: A CSA-inspired recipe from my little chef

Few things are as fun - or aggravating - as having your child help out in the kitchen.

My little chef has tagged along with me for as long as she could walk. Whether it's time in the kitchen or an exploration of the local farmers market, my little foodie has always been at ease with new tastes, shapes and colors.

This weekend, we went to the farmers market to round out what we'd received from the CSA, and she wanted to help cook as soon as we got home. It was literally an "add this" and "this one, too, Mommy" way of cooking. I had no idea how it would turn out, and I have to say, I was impressed! (Keep in mind there are no real amounts to share, so this would be best done by eyeballing or taste).

The name, of course, comes from the amount of onions and garlic scape involved. It was enjoyed by us all, and even the baby enjoyed an abbreviated version of mushed summer squash and rotini.

Stinky Spaghetti

1 lb. pasta
2-3 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 green onions, diced (use whole thing)
3 garlic scape, diced
1 large yellow summer squash, chopped
1 large zucchini, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
oregano
basil

Cook pasta according to directions. Heat large skillet and add olive oil. Sautee' onion, green onions and garlic scape until tended. Add squash, zucchini and cherry tomatoes and heat through. Add a few ladles of pasta water and oregano and basil to taste. Drain pasta. Add pasta to pan and toss completely. Serve with parmesan, if desired.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cooking with CSA: A few successes to share

Recipe planning is key to making the CSA experience a success, I'm convinced. I am finally getting the hang of planning meals around the veggies, rather than figuring out what vegetable can go as a side dish.

Our family experimented with several new recipes this week. Here are some of our cooking successes I'd like to share:

Spring vegetable pasta

loosely adapted from a Basil Zucchini recipe from the Memphis Herb Society's 1995 book, Today's Herbal Kitchen.

2 c. sliced zucchini
2 T. minced garlic
2 T. olive oil
1 c. cherry tomatoes
3/4 c. chopped fresh basil
1/4 c. chopped fresh oregano
1/2 lb. button mushrooms
1 lb. pasta

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, reserving water.

Sautee garlic and zucchini until tender. Add tomatoes, basil, mushrooms and oregano. Cook 5 min. or until tender. Add a few ladles of pasta water and drained pasta.

Serve with parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.

Rating: Adults: 5 Kid: 4 (enthusiastically eaten, but reminded mom that "Tomatoes make me sad.")

Spring asparagus and new potato salad

from Andrea Chesman's 1998 book, The Vegetarian Grill

6 T. olive oil
Juice of one lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lb. new potatoes, halved
1 lb. asparagus
12-16 c. salad greens
parmesan

Combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss potatoes and asparagus to coat. Grill potatoes, turning every 10 minutes or so, about 30 min. Grill asparagus until limp, about 8 min. (Be sure to reserve marinade.)

Arrange salad greens on plates. Top with grilled asparagus and potatoes. Drizzle remaining marinade on top. Sprinkle with parmesan.

Rating: Adults: 5 Kid: 5 (assuming kid liked it; no noise was made at all during dinner!) A definite repeater.

Fajitas

Yes, Paula Deen does fajitas, too. We found this recipe on the Food Network Web site. Aside of the prep work to chop, it is easy work and the spices are awesome.

Rating: Adults: 5 (Once I picked out the green peppers) Kid: 3 (loved the chicken, not keen on the veggies).

Radish supreme

Radish supreme is a radish and shallot-based dish from our CSA program. *

Rating: Adults: 4 Kid: 3

Baby zucchini

Wash and chop zucchini. Put in saucepan with water about 1/2 to 1" deep. Cook medium-high until tender. Drain and cool. Place zucchini in blender; blend until smooth. Serve or freeze within 1 day.

Rating: 5 (couldn't get enough of it!)

Barbeque chicken pizza
Pizza is a fabulous activity for little chefs. This homemade invention was the result of a desperate need to clean out the fridge--and thankfully worked.

refrigerated pizza crust
2 c. leftover rotisserie chicken
2 green onions, minced
2 garlic scapes, minced
1/4-1/2 c. barbeque sauce (we use Jack Stack)
8 oz. mozzerrella

Assemble pizza. Bake according to directions on pizza crust package.

Rating: Adults: 5 Kid: 5 (There were no leftovers!)


[ Edited January 28, 2009 to remove the name of the Indianapolis-based CSA which we participated following disparaging remarks by their representatives. Removed link to the radish supreme recipe, which is hosted on their blog, on Jan. 30, 2009 following multiple communications from this business. Apparently radish recipes are threatening to them! :-) If you would like the recipe for Radish Supreme, please e-mail me at goinggreenmama at gmail. ]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Golf carts? Go for it…

Golf carts are going beyond the green these days to become a greener alternative to your car.

More and more people are toying with this mode of transportation beyond the golf course. I’ve seen it just blocks from my house, even though we’re far from a grocery store or other retail and about a mile from the nearest gas station.

Several Indiana towns allow golf carts as alternative forms of transportation, and others are debating the safety. Four states actually have on their books laws against golf-cart usage on public streets, according to the Indianapolis Star.

If a cart has safety lights, then why is this any more of a safety concern than the casual cyclist, or someone on a scooter?

Writes Star reporter Tim Evans:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not recognize golf carts as on-road vehicles, so they don't have to meet the same federal safety standards as automobiles. McGwin said he isn't opposed to expanding the use of golf carts but said safety must be addressed. That includes requiring operator training and seat belts.

…Dennis Rosebrough, spokesman for the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, concedes the law is unclear. He said the BMV's stance is that golf carts cannot be registered with the agency, "so, in theory, they should not be on the roads."

So why are bicycles allowed to share those same roads, but not golf carts?

According to the Associated Press, citing studies reviewing U.S. emergency room records, 1,000 Americans are injured each month while riding golf carts.
Males aged 10 to 19 and people older than 80 had the highest injury rates….
falling or jumping out of carts accounted for the largest number of injuries, 38
percent.

Only half occurred on streets or residential property. The report continues:

... golf cart injuries are hardly an epidemic. According to the database from which the studies were derived, there were 35 times as many injuries blamed on bicycles in 2006, and golf carts were also far outstripped by injuries blamed on vacuum cleaners, roller skates and swing sets, among others.

Cyclists must ensure they follow safety rules, whether it’s proper hand signals, reflectors or helmets. With a little common sense on the part of the riders and similar safety features for golf carts, there’s no reason why this mode of transportation shouldn’t be an option. In Gas City, Indiana, the Star reports:

Carts must be equipped with head-, tail- and brake lights, a windshield and a triangular slow-moving-vehicle emblem. Drivers must be at least 16 and provide
proof of insurance when they register their carts each year with the police department. The carts may not be used on state highways and may cross them only
at designated intersections with traffic lights.

Still, if you’re looking to save costs, you’ll need to weigh the cost of acquiring a cart with the benefit of the gas you’ll save over the long term. According to the Star, golf carts can be found for as little as $2,500, and can cost about 3 cents a mile to operate.

If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, there’s the Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, which retail around $8,000, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
The vehicles run on batteries, carry license plates, and can be legally operated on thoroughfares with speed limits up to 35 miles per hour – at least for now.
Before you hop on board the golf cart trend, make sure it meets your lifestyle. If you’re currently facing a heavy commute, live long distances from retail, your church or workplaces or other places you often frequent, or have small children, this might not be right for you just yet.

Not ready for a golf cart? Find other ways to save gas on your commute and daily living.

Looking for a green book?

Need a book for the beach? Tired of trashy romances?

If you're ready for something more to chew on this summer, consider a book on going more environmentally friendly. Granted, as I've noted, there are many books out there to choose from, from the "green for lazy people" to the hard-core, return-to-the-old-days farming.

Not sure where to start? Several green bloggers have started a repository of individual reviews of environmental books. Categories include:
  • climate change
  • garbage
  • green marketplace
  • green parenting
  • inspirational
  • living lightly
  • nature and environment
  • peak oil
  • peak water
  • spiritual
  • sustainable food
  • the green movement
  • sustainable gardening
Find it online at the Blogging Bookworm.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Finding hopes among frustration

Graced with challenges. It's a hard notion to cope with, that a frustration, large or small, might play out for a greater good.

It's a notion though that I'm watching time and time again play over as I watch the victims of the recent floodings in our county.

"Sometimes God's blessings are hard to see. This was certainly true as many of us were watching the waters come through our homes," noted the founders of a local organization devoted to getting the homeless on their feet. The couple themselves lost everything in the floods.

But, they wrote in this week's church bulletin, they can see the blessings in it: "We did not need the stuff we had anyway, and we thank God for making it easy to throw it away."

The couple's amazing attitude is a strong lesson for myself, as we are ending month two of being an unexpected single-income family. With this, I'm forcing myself to take serious stock of what we own, what we need and how we spend the resources we have. I've become a more creative cook, cleaned out my freezer, squelched my desire to stock up on handmade candles or soaps at the farmers market (and admittedly, am still using the ones in the freezer from last summer). Free time has been reassessed. Netflix is gone; instead, we go to the library or, heaven forbid, play outside. Making positive changes in our lives, however small, makes a larger impact on our children's developing attitudes towards "stuff," and hopefully, how we take care of the world around us.

A time of crisis, large or small, is an opportunity presented to take stock of your lives, whether spiritual, emotional or even environmental. It's a chance to see the waste we create and see how they might more positively impact those around us.
  • The clothes, still in great condition, that you never wear? Send it on to someone you need.
  • The baby items you've hung onto "just in case" or for sentimental reasons? Find it a loving home.
  • The extra furniture that just clutters up your room? It would make a happy home for a family re-establishing itself after losing everything in the floods.
  • That morning Starbucks, added up over a week, could be $20 that is needed at a local food pantry.
This week, I encourage you to find a little more gratitude toward the gifts we have, great and small, and look to find ways to stretch our resources to help those in need. When headlines such as the American Red Cross, which responds to disasters in this country, is going broke, we all need to reassess how we might use our resources for the greater good.

Monday, June 23, 2008

When organic raspberries aren't right

Raspberries are a summertime favorite for me, bringing back memories of picking them in the shade of the trees by my grandmother's garden in central Wisconsin.

When I see fresh raspberries in the storem particularly at a great price, I'm bound to notice. And they never get farther than freshly washed.

The other day, the raspberries huddled together in large, clear containers at Sam's Club, and I couldn't resist. I opened the package at home and happily noted that they were organic.

Interestingly, though, Driscoll's packages its organic raspberries in #6 plastic, the largely non-recyclable kind.

It's not the first time I've gotten organic produce packaged in plastic you cannot recycle. Organic vendors at the local farm stands, markets and even once from my CSA have done the same thing. Is it me, or does anyone else see the irony of packaging organic - better for you and the environment - food in not-so-great-for-the-environment, non-recyclable plastic packaging?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Step outside the culinary comfort zone

Participating in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) requires a lot of creativity and a willingness to step outside of the culinary box. That much I am convinced.

Trying new recipes is not unusual for our family. The ingredients that we're using are.

Mustard greens never sounded like something I'd purposely purchase before the last few weeks. Last night, we finally broke down and ate them. (Granted, this was our second attempt at cooking them.) We found a recipe for Braised Mustard Greens online, tweaking it just a little to eliminate the golden raisins, which we couldn't find at the store, and adding a little sugar. It was palatable, but the one thing we learned is that next time, we should remove the stems, as cooking them created a bitter tasted in them. You live and learn.

This week, the CSA we subscribed to informed us that kohlrabi would be in the mix for this week's CSA share. I have no idea what this looks like, let alone tastes like. But they have posted several recipes for kohlrabi on the weekly blog, including Traditional Kohl Slaw, Tropical Kohl-Slaw (which sounds promising, particularly as we prepare for our upcoming luau-themed cookout), Kohl Slaw for Kids, Creamy Kohl Slaw, Kohlrabi Masala and Sautéed Kohlrabi Leaves, which makes use of the leaves that one might otherwise toss or compost.

The great thing about summer, and particularly about farmers markets and CSAs, is that it gives us such a great opportunity to experiment with new flavors. Take advantage of the seasons and the scarcity of tomatoes with the samonella scare by trying a new seasonal vegetable from this weekend's markets.


[ Edited January 28, 2009 to remove the name of the Indianapolis-based CSA, which I will no longer promote due to differences of opinion regarding customer service]

[ On Jan. 30, 2009, deleted links to the recipes hosted on this CSA's blog following further communication from this organization. If you'd like these recipes, visit your local search engine! I am sorry to create extra steps for my readers, but I want these people to leave me alone. ]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is oil a 'divine gift'?

Today's opinion page in the Indianapolis Star includes an interesting letter. In it, the writer recaps the story of the man trapped by a flood and offered rescue three times. Each time, he refuses, stating God will rescue him. At his death, he questions God, who replies that he did provide the assistance, but that it was refused.

This writer takes the analogy and applies it to the American oil crisis:

I liken this to our complaining about the cost of gasoline and about OPEC. God
provided the bounty. All we have to do is go after it. But we waste time looking
at other sources, making silly excuses, when his supply was right in our
backyard all along.

(You can read the complete letter here.)

It's an interesting theory, that oil is a "divine gift" that we can use for our benefit. But I have to wonder, is it not then like many other gifts we may have been given by the higher power of your choice, that we might squander it?

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

When are gas prices worth it?

Gasoline prices have forced our family to make tough choices, particularly of late. It's influenced the jobs my husband's applied for. It was the reason I turned down a part-time teaching job at the local college's off-site location - 50 miles round-trip wasn't worth the pay. And it was the deciding factor in whether to attend my grandmother's funeral. Drive to Wisconsin and get a hotel or feed the kids for a few weeks. You make the call.
It's a realuty of today's rising gasoline prices. Even at $2 a gallon, my husband and I were already making choices about what was worth the drive and what was not.
But there are some things, even with our strained budget, that are still worth the drive at $4 a gallon.
My short list:
  • My amazing endocrinologist, 40 miles away. There's no one in the metro like her, and I refuse to can her because of the drive.
  • Along the same lines, my new PCP, so I can get access. Hopefully, I won't have to see either of them often.
  • On rare occasions, a drive to what my toddler has dubbed "the horse farmer's market" (the organic year-round farmers market at Traders Point Creamery. Have seen plenty of cows and chickens, but no horses.)
  • About as rarely, a drive to Fresh Market to stock up on bulk goods such as dried fruits and spices.

What is worth the drive for you?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We're green, and they're listening

Going green isn't just a fleeting trend.

Though I've lamented trendy books and television shows glossing over the notion of being environmentally responsible, I truly believe that most of us do want to make a positive difference in our environment.

And studies are finally starting to back us up.

The latest is from DoubleClick, which measures online buyers. According to its study, 60% of online consumers said it "was 'extremely' or 'very' important that companies exercise sensitivity toward the environment."

According to emarketer.com:

"Today's environmental concerns are more complex, far-reaching and interconnected than those of the past," says Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer and author of the new report, Green Online: Growing Awareness. "And the Internet provides a powerful forum for corporations, marketers, policymakers and average citizens to engage in active conversations about how to approach the issues."

"Last year was the tipping point for green marketing as a whole," Jessica Hogue, research director of Nielsen Online, tells eMarketer. "Every type of company is now getting into the mix."

... Retailers (Wal-Mart and Home Depot), technology companies (Apple and HP) and packaged-goods manufacturers (Unilever and Procter & Gamble) are experimenting with environmental programs and road-testing them on the Web.

"Consumers who are on the receiving end of corporate green marketing efforts
are using blogs and discussion forums to dissect and discuss marketers' claims," says Mr. Verna.

And I hope most companies are actively listening to their consumers as they continue to go green. Because consumers are watching.

CSA confessions

I have a confession to make: This CSA thing has floored me.

Following last week's cooking debacle, I awaited my next batch of produce from the CSA with trepidation. Frankly, I was worried.

I opened my box, and my worry was for good reason: To more green peppers to add to last week's now-wilting pair. Another bunch of radishes to add to the slices still in my fridge. A sack of mustard greens, which frankly terrify me after my mushy green fiasco. None of the snow peas or thyme listed as possibilities for my box.

At least we were blessed with thick bundles of green onions and radishes, as well as a Siamese twin of a yellow squash, which sadly was moldy on my counter within two days.

I confess. I am still struggling with the idea of cooking around the produce, rather than planning a menu then shopping accordingly. I still have no clue what to do with mustard greens, for instance.

What has worked? A steak salad recipe from Rachel Ray's 365 meals, served with our spring lettuce and slivered radishes. (Will post recipe later). Tonight will be something my husband will grill, along with "Radish Supreme," sauteed radishes and shallots from a recipe I'd gotten from the CSA. I'm tentative, but hopefully will get used to this concept.

[ Deleted link to Radish Supreme recipe on the CSA's blog on Jan. 30, 2009, following demands from the organization to do so. If you would like a copy of the recipe, please e-mail me at goinggreenmama at gmail and I will be happy to provide the recipe to you! ]

Trading one bad habit for another

Here is my confession. A few weeks ago I signed up for what I thought would be an easy challenge: Cutting back on my consumption of Diet Coke.

Drop a can? Sure, no problem. Except real life happened.

First came the 79-cent sodas at Speedway. So I swapped my cans for plastic - I sheepishly admit #5 plastic - cups each morning on the way to work. I justified it by saying I was spending less.

Then came the weekend, and a sale on (#1 plastic) 2-liters. At least I can recycle these, I justified to myself. Except I drink even more from plastic 2-liters than I do from cans, which are perfectly rationed.

And today, I not only hit up the 2-liter this morning, but driving back to the office, I grabbed a comfort cup of (caffeine free) Diet Coke. I'm down after learning my grandmother passed this morning, and I don't know what it is about an iced soda that makes it a comfort food of sorts for me.

What I'm trying to say is, I'm failing miserably at this little challenge. I would think baby steps of removing alumnimum can consumption from my habit wouldn't be difficult, but it has been. Does anyone have ideas on how to successfully cut back?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Are you the environmental conscience?

Becky wrote last Friday that a doctor at her practice is the environmental conscience for the group.
One of the docs at our office brought a small trashcan with holes cut into the
lid for recyclables. She takes this home with her weekly to her personal
recycling bins.
Are you your organization's green version of Jimmeny Cricket? The little (or loud) voice saying you office should do more? What has worked or not worked at your work?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It's National Get Outdoors Day: What are you doing here?

Turn off the television. Say whoa to the Wii. Step outside for an hour or two!

Today is National Get Outdoors Day (yes, they have a day for everything). It's a day to remind ourselves to get out of our sendentary ways and enjoy the greatness of nature.

Still on your computer reading? Here's another reason to get off.

According to Joanne Ditmer of the Denver Post:

American youngsters spend up to six hours a day watching TV or movies, on
the Internet and playing video games, and a scant 30 minutes a week of
unregulated time outdoors. They should have 60 minutes of physical activity a
day. Our kids are nature-deprived. When they are outdoors, they're more apt to
be involved in some team competition, not just becoming acquainted with flora
and fauna, or enjoying the peace brought by special places.

...With that lack of outdoor activity, children have become more overweight. For the first time in our nation's history, kids' current life expectancy is 3 to 5 percent less than that of their parents. We can't lose a generation to "house arrest." And if our children are blind to the values of our irreplaceable natural lands, who will be the stewards of our future?

So spend a few hours or two outdoors today getting back to nature. Ride a bike, hike a trail, do something. Today, we're likely going to be taking a hike through our neighborhood park, hitting up the farmers market, possibly swimming at the neighborhood pool and just taking advantage of the pleasant 80-degree, sunny forecast.

If you need additional ideas or inspiration, 54 national and state parks and recreational areas will have activities associated with National Get Outoors Day today. Find the complete list of locations at http://www.nationalgetoutdoorsday.org/locations. And then get off the computer.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What's your office's environmental impact?

The joke around my office is that I keep things out of the landfill. It's not because of my oft-used blue paper recycling can; it's because of the stacks of documentation and project files I'm cursed with.

Even with a "Web" job, which one would assume is paperless, there are significant paper trails that do develop. System documentation. Printouts of approvals from "problem" clients. Publications that you struggle to keep up with. Memos. Hard copies from proofing from when I can't stand staring at the screen any longer. And more.

The reality is, in a lawsuit-crazy society, and particularly in the industry I work in, we have a major paper trail. And I'm stuck in it, particularly when projects can drag on for months or even years. Even though most of my "trail" is electronic, housed on my personal folder on our file server, there's still a lot of waste.

Paper can't just be recycled; it must be shredded due to privacy regulations. Who knows where it goes. The papers that are "safe" and don't have to be filed (i.e. drafts that I've edited) or shredded come home for a second life as a Sesame Street or Pigglywinks coloring page before they move on for recycling.

For a company that prides itself on community stewardship, recycling has not yet become a serious part of the equation. There are no boxes for can or plastic bottle recycling at the cafeterias or vending machines. Our can container's contents have on occasion found their way to the garbage bin. Our newspapers and magazines, left in the break room, find their way to the trash can. I sheepishly pack any empty plastic bottles into my lunch bag to take them home. And my coworkers were floored when I suggested that I'd take the cardboard boxes to get recycled rather than pitch them in our most recent storage room cleanup.

Thankfully, my employer is working on developing a recycling program, and I can't wait to see the rollout. But it's an interesting contrast when I read today's post on Crunchy Chicken's blog. At her employer, they go so far as to have a worm composting system and, now, food waste compost pick-up at work. Each kitchen will get its own compost container along with posted rules about what items are acceptable for composting. And a Massachusetts public library utilizes rain collection barrels.

What does it mean for us?

Maybe nothing. It may well be that those of us who are committed to small changes keep making those small changes and accept that as enough. (I for one, know worm composting would never happen when we have to worry about the state health department.)

Or, it may be that those of us wanting to reduce our carbon footprints demand more from our employers.

According to the UK's Labour Outlook, published last summer:

    • Seventy per cent of organisations say that they could do more to encourage
      employees to reduce their travel.
    • Ninety-one per cent of organisations encourage recycling, while 83% promote
      the case for reducing energy consumption.
    • Employees actively use the recycling facilities while at work at around
      two-thirds of organisations. This compares to 59% of organisations who say that
      their employees are energy-conscious.
    • Thirty-nine per cent of organisations believe that an environment policy is
      an important recruitment and retention tool for younger workers.

In the States, other surveys are finding that employees are demanding a more environmentally friendly workplace. According to the Christian Science Monitor (as cited by the Vancouver Green Business Journal):

In a new survey by Randstad and Harris Interactive, 87 percent of employees say
it is at least “somewhat important” that their employers offer “green-friendly”
programs at work.

...Whatever approach companies take, three factors motivate them, says Madeline Turnock, vice president of Hill & Knowlton, a public-relations consultancy in Portland, Ore. The first involves altruism; employers know their efforts are good for the environment. Second, they realize that going green makes good business sense. Energy-efficient practices lower costs. Third, they find that green policies help them recruit and retain talent. “People want to work for companies that have strong values and care about sustainability,” Ms. Turnock says.

What can you do today?

So maybe your workplace isn't the greenest, and perhaps it will take a committee or more to move that mountain. That doesn't mean all hope is lost. Take a look at the little behaviors that can reduce your organization's environmental impact.

For starters:

  • Turn off your monitor or computer when you are out for extended periods of time. I am very guilty of neglecting to turn off the monitor myself, but it uses energy even if it's not projecting anything.
  • Likewise, turn off your office lights when you leave.
  • When possible, recycle your newspapers, printer paper, soda containers and anything else, even if it means taking it yourself to the recycler. (Maybe it's worth turning in mileage for that?)
  • Skip the plastic silverware and paper plates in the breakroom and bring your own reusable ones.
  • Likewise, carry your own coffee cup and spoon to avoid styrofoam cups and stir sticks.
  • Make sure you're signed up for direct deposit.
  • Sign up for a carpool or look into public transportation to work.
  • Look into conference calls or video conferencing rather than adding to travel expenses.

Are there other ideas you've seen or tried in the workplace?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Turn off your $@%# car

Gasoline prices are jumping 30 cents today to $4.21 a gallon, and people are jumping too.

My co-worker came in with the news - she's signed up for a text message update on gas prices - and, being currently in a single-income household, I went to go fill up my tank.

I did find a station relatively close to my office that was still under $4 a gallon. The problem is that everyone else seized the same opportunity to get out of the office. Lines were starting to snake around the building, and cars scooted back and forth as people jockeyed for the "next" pump.

Here's the irony: In racing to get a relatively cheaper gas price, you're wasting gas money.
Turn off your $@%# car! Idling engines waste more gas than turning them off and back on again. If that's not reason enough, you release less fumes into the air - particularly important in the summer months, when we struggle with Ozone Action Days in our city. And, it's always worse on the air quality to fill your gas tanks up in mid-day, when temperatures are higher.

So here's my plea: Exhibit a little patience today, or any day you see the gas prices rise. Turn off your engine and wait a minute. And hold off on using drive-throughs and other gasoline wasters. A little common sense can make a big difference.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Do we need 'Green TV'?

I casually was flipping channels the other night when I noticed a new station in the channel guide: Green. Yes, there is now a television station devoted to all things environmentally friendly: Planet Green.

Brought to us by the Discovery Channel people, Planet Green is dubbed as "the first green channel." Its programming includes such topics as green renovations, green vehicles, televised green dinner parties with celebrities and strangely, American Chopper.

Looking at the programming schedule, it seems that the station is trying to buy into green trends and simply be entertaining rather than give its viewers information they can dig into. I hope I'm wrong.

Is it me, or is it kind of ironic that people would sit there, watching television about being more environmentally friendly instead of reading a book, doing a quick Google search or even, I don't know, getting their hands dirty and actually doing something? Do we need a "Green TV" station if that's what's being offered? If so, what programming changes would you make?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fix your morning coffee fix

It's amazing how much our seemingly little habits add up over time. My brother estimated the other day that by packing a lunch each day, he'd save $1,500 a year between eating out and the gas costs associated with getting there.

But, as I mention regularly on this blog, you can take even smaller steps that can add up to making a big difference.

Take your coffee habit. Now, I'm not asking anyone to give up their daily fix - just rethink it a little (as much as you can first thing during the day.)

Rather than use those little stir sticks, grab a spoon from your kitchen drawer and stash it at your office. By getting rid of one stir stick a day, you'd save roughly a pound of plastic with little effort. And, if we all trashed our habit of those little plastic stir sticks, we would save 69 million pounds of plastic each year, according to CNET.com.

CSA: Can’t Swallow Anything

Week 1 of CSA participation has been, well, interesting.

Friday evening, I dutifully picked up my plastic tub of produce from the shaded porch and peeked inside like a kid sneaking a look at a present. Disappointment arose. A container of cherry tomatoes. Three bell peppers. Neither of which I’d choose to eat on any given day. Among it were a bagful of mixed lettuce and another of unidentified greens. A small bunch of red spring onions. And a teeny, tiny zucchini.

My mind went wandering about what I could cook with these treats, and to be honest, I was stumped. I am not used to be given X amount of something, rather, I shop farmer’s markets with a list in my head, only to pad it with various impulse purchases.

I knew I wanted to try the spring soup recipe provided by the CSA, but otherwise, no clue. And we still had salad mix and a container filled with spinach from last week’s market.

My husband, a Food Network junkie, excitedly unloaded the container and sprung upstairs to the computer. “I have an idea for that and the chorizo,” he chattered, referring to that same package of chorizo that’s been in the freezer since last summer’s markets.

Between the two of us, we planned our weekly menu, went to the store to fill out the shopping list and began our culinary adventure.

And adventure it was.

Unfortunately, a step or ingredient or two was missing from one of the recipes provided by the CSA. My “spring soup” morphed from 4 cups of mixed greens, some butter and oil, and garlic into a few tablespoons of unrecognizable ick that was closer to something I would have stepped in at the park than soup. I poked at it tentatively with the spatula – which quickly became the blender’s latest victim. So much for soup. I don’t do a “splash of silicone.”

Our dinner attempt was much more palatable. My husband’s experimentation on the Food Network Web site paid off. We dined on flank steak with a green sauce blended of several herbs and a bell pepper, which admittedly I could not taste. On the side was a fabulous blend of spinach, chickpeas, artichoke hearts and chorizo sausage. My toddler kept picking the chickpeas off of her plate – as well as everyone else’s. Perfect for pint-size fingers, though I’m impressed the flavors went well.

Last night was “Prep Night” in my household as we got ready for future culinary mis-/adventures. We made our first attempt at homemade baby food, referencing a cookbook I’d gotten when my toddler was little and creating “baby zucchini.” My blender looked like it was covered in the slime from Ghostbusters, but its flavor likely soars in comparison to the blended, bland mess they sell in stores (and I dutifully feed to my second each day.) The reaction should be priceless.

We’re on tap for other new dishes this week: More meal salads, something to be done with the remaining greens (I’ll leave that to my spouse), sautéed zucchini with olive oil and spices, and chicken fajitas. All told, it was far easier to eat locally and creatively than I thought – as long as I stray from the blender.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Washed out at the farmer's market, and a bit more...

Saturday mornings at the farmer's markets has developed to a long-standing tradition for our family. My toddler knows the vendors enough that they ask her about her tomatoes she's planted. And we know exactly who to turn to for questions or finding the best of a certain type of produce.

This Saturday, though, our plans were derailed. After several days of rains, Saturday was the tipping point for central Indiana. Homes and roads were flooded. A hospital was evacuated. Highways were shut down. In fact, we - and people in several other counties - were advised to stay in our homes.

Our family was fortunate in that we only had to cope with a few streets in our neighborhood with standing water and a blocked road leading to one entrance for our subdivision. But others weren't so lucky.

One town is 90% underwater. Another is threatened by a dam that isn't holding up. The town of Franklin is soaked, and it's doubtful that their market will be up for some time. There are other, much more pressing concerns for those families.

I'm grateful that no one has died from this travesty, though I'm saddened by all the lives disrupted. It certainly makes my life's challenges seem miniscule by comparison.

(PS: Want to gawk? Save the gas and look online. Having been through two tornadoes, I know all too well that those who are out to just stare at the damage truly get in the way of those families and volunteers trying desperately to clean up. Thanks!)

(Edited: Only one hospital was evacuated; another had to relocate its ER. Sorry - misunderstood the reports!)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Raising Baby Green: 10 great tips for non-parents, too

Dr. Alan Greene's book, Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care, is a great resource guide, but it's definitely geared for the mom-to-be.

I did find many great green tips for non-parents, though. Here are 10 new things I learned from Greene's book:
  1. There are alternatives to plastic toss-away silverware. You can actually buy "SpudWare" - forks, spoons and knives that feel like plastic but are made from potato starch and soy oil. Not sure whether they taste potato-ey.
  2. When buying cling wrap, you should look for products made with low-density polyethylene (LDPE) which is safer than PVC (polyvinyl chloride, the #3 plastic.) According to the book, some of the brands that are LDPE-based are Glad Cling Wrap, Saran with Cling Plus, Saran Premium Wrap and Diamant Food Wrap.
  3. To control your fridge's energy use, make sure there is space around every side, including the back. Vacuum coils on the back of your fridge biannually.
  4. Insulating your water heater can reduce its energy use by up to 9 percent.
  5. If you have clothing stains, try to soak the fabrics in water mixed with borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar.
  6. Take care of your car. Keep your tires inflated correctly and change the air filter regularly. The author estimated those two tips could save more than $1,000 a year in gas money - and that was before the recent price increases!
  7. Park your car in the shade. "It lowers the temperature of gas tanks by four to seven degrees, which curbs emissions, the author writes.
  8. Using vinegar when doing laundry helps get soap out of the cloth, minimizes possible irritants and reduces static cling. The author suggests using a quarter cup of white vinegar in the wash water.
  9. Looking at a remodel, or just a new look in your house? You can consider more earth-friendly options as salvaged or recycled materials; natural, milk-based or zero- or low-VOC paints; or wood, bamboo or natural cork flooring.
  10. Since it's summer, it's worth mentioning that soapy water or citrus essential oil and water can kill ants quickly.
Read on for tips for parents.

Raising Baby Green: 10 tips for new parents

Recently I read Dr. Alan Greene's book, Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care . It is very much written for the parent-to-be, though I found several great tips for those of us with little ones already in the house.

10 things I learned from Dr. Greene's book:

  1. If you're nervous about the gels or liquids inside traditional teething toys (as I am, since one leaked with my first), you can buy organic, machine-washable teething toys from several sources online. Or, moisten a wash cloth and cool it in the freezer.
  2. Talc-based powders, often used for diaper rash, may have small particles that can irritate your baby's lungs. To prevent diaper rash, instead, use a little fresh air.
  3. The best foods to buy organic are peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery and nectarines. The least worrisome are mango, pineapples, sweet corn, avocado and onions.
  4. Instead of commercial air fresheners, you can squeeze a lemon into the diaper pail. (Or, you can do as I do, and open those perfume samples from the magazines and place them at the bottom.)
  5. Look for plastic toys for your child that are PVC-free.
  6. If you are bottle feeding, consider replacing rubber or latex nipples with silicone ones.
  7. If you're formula-feeding, choose powdered over liquid. BPA is present in many cans of conncentrated formula and can leach into it.
  8. If you choose any time to go organic, the most beneficial is before three years of age, when development is fastest.
  9. If you use cloth diapers, don't bleach. Bleach is absorbed by the cloth.
  10. Before loading up on adorable baby clothes, think green. While you can buy organic, the best things you can do are hit up a resale shop, get hand-me-downs or simply limit your purchases. Remember, your child will outgrow these clothes fast.
Read great tips that anyone can use from this book.

Friday, June 6, 2008

CSA finally kicks off today

After several delays, our CSA finally kicks off today. It's kind of like Christmas...what's in the box...but with lots of heat. In fact, I'm cutting out a little early today to rescue my package of produce from the 90-degree temperatures at my pick-up location.

According to our e-newsletter, this is what I'm getting:
  • heirloom lettuce
  • mustard greens (never knowingly tried these before)
  • radishes (which I've recently revisited)
  • thyme (yay for herbs!)
  • cherry tomatoes (even though they make my child (and me!) "sad")
  • summer squash
  • green onions
  • green peppers (any takers?)

Starting the CSA is going to force a little more creativity than what I'm used to with menu planning. I realize I usually wing meals several times a week (hmm...what's left in the fridge/freezer/pantry?). And even at the farmer's markets, I often pick and choose what my family will eat for the next few days. But getting my mystery basket of produce, even with a little advance notice, is an adventure of sorts. For all I know, I will have a tub of green peppers and three cherry tomatoes (let's hope not!).

So, we'll get out of the box more with our menus and hopefully sample some new cuisine. As my husband commented last night, "How long have we had that vegetarian grilling book?" (10 years, since my short stint in magazines.) "We'll probably use that more this year than we have in all that time." Let's hope so!

I'd be happy to post any new recipes I try that are a success this season. Is there any interest? (Please comment, otherwise I will never know.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Edible landscaping, here I come...


Edible landscaping has been an idea that's intrigued me. Living in a community with small lots has left me with little room to meet the requirements for landscaping, the desire for a traditional garden and the need for space to play.

Exploring the idea of edible landscaping was on my agenda this year, with the idea to create an actual plan (a first for me) to start implementing in 2009.

Then my lowly tree was struck by lightning.

Either yesterday or the day before, the little maple was split up the middle, with a black charred hole about the size of a quarter about a foot from the ground. We'll have to replace it to meet said landscaping requirements for the homeowners association. I'm thinking a cherry tree as a possibility. I remember as a child having a cherry tree, and enjoying cherry dessert made by my mother (and getting seriously bored with pitting bowls upon bowls of cherries destined for the freezer.) Given my oldest child's love of food, I think a cherry tree might make for a great match, though I'm unsure whether it's too late for the year.

This weekend's project, given the 90+ degree forecast, is to swing by the library and check out the few books they have on edible landscaping.

Can anyone recommend other resources to learn more?

Cutting out consumption

About a week or so back Chile Chews posted a challenge to reduce your consumption of something you're addicted to.

Apparently, in a moment of weakness (though I can't find the actual comment), I admitted I should give up my addiction to Diet Coke.

Addiction is such a strong word. "Way of life" is much better.

The joke in college was how much I consumed. Six glasses with a meal in the cafeteria (hey, Kansas heat is brutal). A 2-liter would accompany me when I worked overnight doing security in the dorms.

Today, with two little ones and a full-time job, Diet Coke jump-starts my day. And while my well-meaning friend Kari will send me the occasional e-mail on how it will rot my bones, I honestly need the caffeine. Particularly now that we're teething.

Yet I'm on Chile's roll call being publicly called out to cut it out. And I wonder if I can cut it.

I write this with my 79-cent 44-oz. drink from Speedway at my side. It's my only Diet Coke of the day, and it is half and half, with a lot of ice. I do try to limit my caffeine intake to the safe levels for pregnancy (since there are no guidelines for breastfeeding).

There are a number of benefits to reducing or eliminating my consumption of Diet Coke. You can go through all the environmental factors: transportation, production, paper from print advertising and labels, plastic or aluminum containers, you name it. And I'm sure on some level we'd benefit too: less out of pocket expenses ($5 a week adds up), better sleep, a better appreciation of other, healthier beverages (water anyone?). But giving up something that's one part habit and one part physical addiction is a challenge, to say the least.

Any suggestions?

PS: I'm putting out a public challenge to my mother to do the same. Don't worry, it's Diet Coke, not scrapbooking supplies!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fill 'er up and fund mass transit

On NPR today I caught the end of a story discussing fuel prices and the growing demand for mass transit. In several cities there are active discussions of whether to raise gas or other taxes to fund mass transit, whether it's trolley, light rail, bus systems or other methods of transportation.

In Indianapolis, we're faced with crappy public transportation. We have a bus system that can't get people to hospitals or many jobs. No carpool lanes. Few bike lanes. People are as glued to their cars as they are their Steak 'n Shake. Perhaps a gas tax, in this instance, could pay off in spurring development of mass transit.

It's an idea that's finally being explored here. The Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority is holding a series of public meetings later this month to discuss the concept of what they call a "mass transit starter system."

What do you think? Is it worth a few extra dollars each time you fill up for the long-term gain of better mass transit?

One man's trash is...another man's trash

Free isn't always a bargain. If you're drowning in clutter or things that you don't have the time or means to fix, don't hang onto it. Find a way to repurpose it or find an appreciative home.

That's been my philosophy, anyway, something that causes a bit of friction with my mother-in-law on a routine basis. (Broken chair anyone? I know it just needs to be recaned...) In my home, outgrown children's clothes go to Fresh Star. Books go to the preschool my neighbor works for. Magazines go to the hospital for bored visitors in the waiting rooms. Things that can get recycled do.

Still, other things have had a more difficult time in finding a more appreciative home. Scrapbook magazines, eagerly snatched up on a message board, collect dust on my shelves while I wait for a stamped envelope to arrive to collect them. My child's outgrown Kansas Jayhawk shirts, unlikely to find an appreciative home in Hoosier territory, have been posted on Zwaggle for two months. No takers yet, and the shirts are free! (Not even a national championship could free them...)

As if a yard sale's existance wasn't enough proof, one man's trash may well be just another man's trash.

My comments policy

Many of us want to do something about improving our environment. It's just that life gets in the way.

Whether it's time, family obligations or cost, there are many things holding us back in our desire to do "more" for the environment. So, this blog focuses on the little things all of us can do to get a bit greener, and it shares my family's successes and adventures, small as they are, in this process.

Why do I write this? In part of a bit of frustration. I'm annoyed by bad PR practices by the OilheatAmerica people, who think that by masquerading as various readers to promote their business - four times in little more than a week - is a good thing. In fact, it's unethical to pretend to be an everyday consumer and not disclose your relationships with the very business you're promoting. Even the major public relations organizations in the country - Public Relations Society of America and International Assocation of Business Communications - agree.

Why do I bring this up? Because all future posts that actively plug a product are going to be deleted. Yes, I want to bring information to the everyday family; however, if you want to talk about how great your product is, start your own blog. It's free. Don't hijack mine.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Less something does not mean more healthy

Gotta love the marketing folks - even they are playing the green game. Today's Marketing Prof's Daily Fix blog discusses how many convenience food companies are ramping up "healthier" products for big profits.

Ted Mininni quotes liberally from the Reuters article "Food makers look to health as downturn defense," where execs predict strong revenue growth from enhanced (or detracted from) food products: low-fat, less sugar, more antioxidants and whole-grains.

Sure, we're getting lighter. In the wallet.

I think what we're forgetting in all this that much of what these companies are doing are just spinning a product based on convenience, and we're all buying into it.

I saw on a bottle of Diet Pepsi the other day some logo stating that it's healthy. Nevermind that it's loaded with chemicals and, in my opinion, it tastes like battery acid. But because there is no fat or sugar, it's deemed as a healthy choice. Now, does that make Diet Coke with Vitamins even healthier?

I liken this change in the convenience food industry to the low-sugar/low-fat phases that we went through several years back. This time, it's putting a little more of a technical spin on it, such as "probiotics" or other terms that the general public doesn't get. But they're scared enough to look into it. And if the box says healthy, it must be true, right?

(Expanded from my original comment on the marketingprof blog earlier today.)