Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Five green things I learned in 2008

Five green lessons I learned in 2008:

  1. The cheap solution can be the green solution. Baking soda, ammonia, you name it…many “kitchen” products can find a second, third or fourth life as various cleaning products. And a $6 package of Arm & Hammer at Sam’s Club is far cheaper – and takes less space – than a multitude of plastic bottles holding who knows what chemicals.
  2. A drop in discretionary income doesn’t mean you have to drop environmentally friendly habits. Whether your household lost an income like ours did or you’re still reeling from the effects of gas prices by Sybil, you can take sustainable steps on any budget by swapping out old habits.
  3. We’re now dealing with the 4 R’s of environmentalism: Reduce, reuse, recycle, re-buy. It seems that the trendy thing is to repurpose these days – whether you do it yourself or if you pay someone to do it for you (like some of the purses out there.) Also, is it me, or are more and more Goodwill and other resale shops opening up these days?
  4. A cheap date isn’t a bad thing. The chefs in my family experimented with a multitude of recipes and local foods, with always interesting results. Buying locally at the new farmers markets helped us expand our menu, keep our money in our local economy, support sustainable producers and stick to an ever-tightening budget. And let me tell you, a home-cooked meal beats a box of Hamburger Helper or a fast-food meal any day.
  5. Pick your battles, and don’t sweat it if you lose a few. While it’s a great ideal to move to an environmentally friendly lifestyle, the reality is it’s not as simple as turning on a switch. It’s a transition, and a slow one at that. And sometimes, you backslide. And that’s OK too. Because the steps that you did take can make a difference.
Happy New Year from our family to yours.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Landscape for health: Green you neighborhood, keep kids healthy

A local research study making headlines this week shows that the greener your neighborhood is, the more likely your children are to be healthier and less likely to be overweight.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine, IUPUI and the University of Washington found ties between higher neighborhood greenness and slower increases in children’s body mass. The study focused on inner-city children, which demonstrates that you don’t have to live in the country or large lots to reap benefits from making green changes.

The government-funded research study used satellite images to identify and measure greenness, defined as on the amount and health of vegetation in the area.

"For children, physical activity is active play and that usually take place outdoors. We need to encourage them to go outside and play,” said Gilbert C. Liu, M.D., senior author of the study, which recently appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Trees and other urban vegetation improve aesthetics, reduce pollution and keep things cooler, making the outside a more attractive place to play, walk or run.

“I love the idea that we can landscape for health," Liu says.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Surviving holiday travels

A 10-hour drive to the in-laws to celebrate the holidays is one thing. Doing it with kids is another. Doing it without generating lots of trash and headaches? Next to impossible, I’m convinced.

Family travel with a baby and preschooler in tow is an interesting experience, one that I’m increasingly amazed that my parents managed (and much better able to understand why exactly my dad seemed so darn insane). We’d pile into the car, the three of us crammed into the backseat, and my brother and I would elbow, knee and shove my poor sister into that middle “spot” that was reserved for the armrest (and her). Each of us had a backpack stuffed with things to help us navigate the 12+ hour drive to Grandma’s house.

Flash forward three decades, and I’m shaking my head.

Traveling responsibly with kids means, quite simply, keeping Mom’s sanity intact. There’s the large cup of Diet Coke from QuickTrip. Boxes of crackers and plastic rolls of cheese sticks to stave off hunger and help us milk an extra 15 minutes without stopping the car. CDs and books and toys littering the floor by the car seats. Bottles, emergency formula, baggies of defrosting “milksicles” in the cooler, disposable diapers and wipes crammed nearby.

You find as a traveling parent that all bets are off. You toss aside your lofty expectations of being environmentally friendly in everyday life and grab that extra package of baby wipes, which you lean on heavily for every clean-up catastrophe.

You pay a buck for a plastic-wrapped, pre-sliced package of no-taste half an apple at McDonald’s, simply because it’s the closest thing there to healthy and the kids had to stop for the bathroom and since have decided that McDonald’s is here, so we must be hungry.

You graciously accept that plastic grocery bag from your emergency stop just in case you need one at a later date.

You think, “Just maybe this once,” as you carefully consider the soda you swore your child’s lips would never touch before the age of 5 or a Happy Meal for lunch.

And that portable DVD player that you swore you would never let enter your home or car? It looks better all the time.

But then you look back, and you see your two little ones grabbing for each other’s hands in a silly impromptu game, and you realize that, sometimes, simple is OK.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Learning to eat "green" in winter months

I read this in an e-newsletter from the Indianapolis Winter Farmer's Market and felt it was worth sharing.

One of the many wonderful reasons to buy local food, is the savings in "food miles" - the distance food travels from farm to plate - and thus cutting down fossil fuel use required to transport food from great distances. The hard part, of course, is that in recent years we have become so accustomed to having virtually any vegetable or fruit available any time of the year, any day of the week, and pretty much any hour of the day. Transitioning to a more local food diet requires that we also begin to eat more seasonally. Greenhouses ease that transition for us, as we have seen with the lush bounty of salad mix and produce Seldom Seen Farm has been bringing to the Indy Winter Market.

However, in this part of Indiana, there comes a time when in order to eat "green" buy eating local and in season, we have to bid farewell to eating green, fresh produce. ... The greenhouse growing will pick up again in February and March as daylight hours extend, and you'll see more produce options returning to market.

For those for find seasonal eating especially challenging, the good news is that the more we as consumers choose to buy at farmers markets and from local growers, we prove to local growers that if they grow it, we will buy. In other words, following the success of winter markets, more local growers will invest in and plan for year-round greenhouse growing to meet consumer demand. So, consider making it your New Years resolution to NOT BUY California or imported salads, tomatoes, cucumbers or greens this winter!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Well,we don't feel like Magi

"The Gift of the Magi," a classic Christmas tale of giving until it hurts, is a short read but one well worth it this holiday season in particular.

Granted, you're likely like me and were exposed to to O. Henry's version in English lit -- or in my case, a bit earlier, in a version featuring Bert and Ernie on some long-ago Sesame Street Christmas special.

If you've never read this Christmas tale, it talks of a couple who give up their prized possessions to make their loved one's Christmas even brighter.

It hits close to home for me this holiday season. Like many families, we've had our share of financial and personal crisises. There are few worse feelings like wondering how to care for your kids.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the holidays.

I got a not-so-subtle reminder that every one of us can make a difference in another person's life when I met a homeless man named Sherman. Our two meetings this fall and winter have served as a reminder that, no matter what life throws in our way, we still have choices and still can make a difference.

I got a reminder that little ones watch your every move. And my daughter and I have had a series of conversations about how we can be a Santa for other people. And so, we went through her clothing and shared what we could. The truly awesome thing is, from the hand-me-downs she'd received en masse the last couple of months, we had enough for her, the daughter of a woman at my company who could desperately use a bright Christmas, a few boxes for my friends at Fresh Start, a domestic violence agency, and still had enough clothes to share with not one but two little girls connected through a Christmas family project. And my daughter was there to wrap each box, she being in charge of the sticker labels and bows.

At the same time, I was reminded by a sister I know that I have to learn to receive to truly give. It's a tough lesson for me, being fiercely independent, a person who prides herself as being a person of her word and a woman who has always fought her way through a problem. Well, sometimes problems are bigger than one person can solve.

And so I've learned to swallow that sick feeling in my stomach and accept help. It is not easy. I do not care who you are, I cannot believe it ever becomes easy.

This Christmas, my children opened their stack of presents, many practical, some just for fun, and they came from the Santas in our lives. I had some friends - some open, some not, as well as some strangers I'll consider in my heart to be friends - who reached out to make sure my kids had holiday wishes come true. My daughter is thrilled with "Louie," her new doll, who is lying beside her as I write this, and tomorrow will likely find her "Tinkerbell" movie that she desperately hoped "Miss Claus" would bring her. My son, too little to understand, is happy to bat about the wrapping paper and push around a few toys.

This Christmas, I have little to offer my family and friends. Our gifts are sparse and homemade when they could be. Ornaments made by my daughter and plates of sugar and chocolate chip cookies, which are graciously accepted by others. A photo of the kids, bought in a steal of a package. And the offer of time.

Time. It's such a precious thing. It's something we count so greedily, whether wishing it away or wishing it would stop. What if we gave more of it, instead of unwrapping things under the tree? Maybe this world would be a different place.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Green giveaway EXTENDED: Clean up on cloth diapers

Calling all moms: Have you considered giving cloth diapering a chance, but aren't quite ready to commit? We'll give you a way to try it.

Heather at KnickerKnappies has offered a cloth diaper/insert pair to three readers.

To enter, leave a post with your name and best green tip by 12:00 a.m. Jan. 15. Winners will be randomly selected and will be announced by Jan. 17.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Homemade Holidays: Wrap it up

You've made your list and checked it twice. Whether you're gifts this year are store-bought, homemade, recycled or regifted, one thing remains the same: You've got to wrap it up.

And if you're like most people I know, you're reading this instead of getting those gifts ready to go.

Relax. Even if you're waiting until Christmas Eve to do you're wrapping, you don't have to take an emergency trip to the store to buy another roll of wrapping paper. As it's just a few days until Christmas, I won't overwhelm you with Martha Stewart-esque ways to jolly up your packages; it's 11th hour and just time to get it done.

Here are some easy ways to bundle your gifts, save a few cents and be a little friendlier on the planet this Christmas season:

Gift bags. On the surface they may not seem green, but these laminated paper bags can be used multiple times before they meet their demise. My family depends on them, and they go back to the depts of the closet after birthdays or holidays. I can't tell you the last time I actually bought wrapping paper because of it.


Green bags. I saw on a scrapbook message board that reusable shopping bags were being used instead of the traditional holiday wrap. Some message board users were even jazzing up the bags. It's a way to be practical. Go traditional green or a holiday red (such as Target).


Holiday towels. Wrap food gifts in holiday kitchen towels or other linents.


Use your leftover plastic grocery bags (I know you've got them!) to cushion packages for last-minute shiping. Either stuff as-is or blow them up into air pockets.


Re-gift your gift tins. Who says holiday tins have to be used for food gifts? Reuse them to hold smaller items instead of wrapping it in paper.


Enlist your budding artists. Reuse kid art as colorful wrapping paper, or have your little ones stamp or paint on scrap paper or newspring.


Turn holiday greetings into gift tags. My husband's aunt years ago introduced me to the idea of trimming Christmas cards to make gift cards the following year. I have to admit, it makes finding the "to" on a large gift far easier!

Re-use that wrap. I admit it, I've rewrapped items in still-good pieces of wrapping paper from a gift trade this weekend. It feels a little strange, but it's likely going to that same landfill anyway. And if you're not comfortable using previously loved wrapping paper on the outside, use it on the inside: as packing material for shipping packages or packaging fragile items for the next holiday season.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market

The Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market (at 25th and Central, downtown) was a bundle of action this Saturday.

It was the first time for me to visit this market, now in its second month, and I admit my expectations were low. It's the first year for this market, after all, and I've been to a few winter markets with varying success. Much of what's available at winter markets in Indiana are meats, baked goods and canned items like salsas or sauces. They're not items easy to peruse with two small children in tow.

I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of the Indianapolis market, though. Yes, you have your usual "winter" fare, but we also found cold-season vegetables, cheeses, fresh pasta, chocolate, mushrooms, wines, apples and other goods.

I wasn't expecting this kind of variety, so I hadn't planned a menu or a shopping list for our trip. But I did pick up some bok choy (that was not wilted, unlike what I got from my CSA) for a fabulous vegetarian stir-fry that we made this evening. We also bought cloth wipes from Ragamuffin Diapers, as we're continuing our transition to a cloth-diaper home.

The Indianapolis Winter Market is a definite repeater and a nice alternative to Traders Point Creamery's market. It is open Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through April.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cloth diapering while working: Still worth it?

Can you do cloth diapering as a working parent? Even if you're having issues with child care providers not working with you on cloth diapers, cloth diapering, even as a part-time choice, is still an option for you.

Just as maybe you're not always able to recycle everywhere you go, you don't have to do disposable diapers at every changing session. For our family, we've settled into a routine of part-time cloth diapering, and I am working on increasing my husband's comfort level with using cloth during naptimes and errands.

A co-worker of mine, who's expecting her first, is considering using a diaper service. Even if she sticks with it during maternity leave and goes to disposable after the fact, she's likely coming out ahead financially and still helping the environment.

But what if your child is older? Does it still make sense? Do the math:

Assume that you, like myself, have a child who's wearing size 3 diapers. We go through about six changes a day.

A package of Pampers costs about $12 for 35 diapers (about six days or three weekends' worth).

Assume we go light and purchase seven all-in-one diapers, which are the most costly variety of diapers but most convenient when you're time-crunched. These run about $15 each. Assume we agree to do laundry Saturday night (and having an extra diaper on-hand when we forget to dry them overnight!)

Those seven all-in-ones would cost about $105. (That's not including shipping, but then, I don't factor in driving to the store for diapers, either.) For that same $105, we could buy 8.75 packages of disposable diapers. For those keeping score, that's 306 diapers or 51 days' worth.

In other words, after weekend 26 you're starting to come out ahead.

(Yes, I concede that there's extra laundry involved, and with disposables there's the pail liners and other accessories. It's challenging to do a complete cost analysis.)

Want to do more? You could always sew your own all-in-ones.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow joke: I'm trashing my tree

Bubble wrap. It's not just for shipping anymore.

Yes, you know you've come full-circle as a wanna-be-green parent when you have bubble wrap bedazzling your Christmas tree.
Welcome to high art, 3-year-old style. My daughter came home the other day with the latest project, a "Happy Snow Days" decoration and was clearly impressed with herself. And the rules of momhood clearly state that somehow this great work must be acknowledged somehow. Given that baby brother is into yanking ornaments off the tree, I suppose it's better this temporary artwork than my collectible ornaments.
Don't get me wrong. The bubbles do play off like a snow, particularly when you've got the light backlighting it, but the sheer realization I've proudly put up trash on my tree is a bit off-putting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The dirt on diapering in the real world: Review of pocket and all-in-one diapers

Switching to cloth diapers from the predictable plastic can seem a bit overwhelming. Tracking down supplies can seem difficult. There's the diapers, pins, and if desired, diaper covers. (And it's not easy to find if you don't have a baby superstore close by.) There's the additioanl laundry, and managing soiled diapers when you're out and about. Disposable, one may think, could seem easier.

Welcome to the 21st Century. Today's cloth diapers elimiate worries and certainly make things easier for parents and babies on the go. Many brands offer all-in-one diapers, which eliminate those pins, covers and, often, liners. Others do require individual liners that can be inserted.

We recently reviewed several brands of cloth diapers for washability, ease of use and child's comfort.

Our subject? A squiggly 11-month old who is constantly on the move. His assistant? A working mom balancing two kids, a crazy household and a full-time job.

During evening and weekends over a 3- to 4-week period, we tested the following brands : DryBees, Kushies Classic and Ultra, KnickerKnappies and Wahmies.* Here's how they fared:

Overall ease of use: The all-in-one brands (Kushies, Drybees) by their nature were easier to use than the pocket diapers (KnickerKnappies, Wahmies) requiring inserts.

When dealing with a wiggly child at changing time, remembering to insert a cloth insert into the diaper didn't always happen (as my Thanksgiving guests could attest). Inserts also need to be removed from the diapers before washing, as they can bunch up in the diaper during washing and drying and may not completely dry. It may sound basic, but if you're crunched for time, sometimes things slip.

Washability: Despite multiple washings, we did not see problems with shrinking of the fabric or elastic or wear on the fasteners.

Ease of fastening: The majority of brands tested use velcro or snaps to keep the diapers closed. I personally preferred DryBees, which had a wider strip of of velcro, giving me a somewhat greater sense of security. Kushies had significantly thinner velcro strips, which admittedly made me nervous about whether they'd become loosened or undone (they didn't).

The Wahmies clasp closure diaper was the most difficult to manage. (We tested a snaps version as well.) Using three sets of hooks and loops on each side, the diaper was challenging to use when the subject wouldnt' lie still.

Adjustability for child's size: DryBees, Kushies and KnickerKnappies offer multiple sizes. Wahmies was the only brand tested that offered a one-size-fits-all diaper.

KnickerKnappies and Wahmies used snaps to adjust lengthwise. It does create a slight bulkiness up front, but no visible discomfort in the leg bands.

Leakage: Some incidents of leaking did occur with the cloth brands. Much of it was due to user error - failing to put in an insert in a pocket diaper when distracted. (This problem was eliminated by inserting clean, dry inserts into the diaper after removing them from the dryer.)Generally, the diapers held up well during naps and overnight.

Our recommendation: From ther perspective of a busy working mom of two, I preferred the DryBees and Knickerknappies. In our family, child's comfort and ease of use are king.

While each of these diapers held up well, were comfortable for the baby and had no major problems with shrinkage or leakage, having an all-in-one diaper did also make things significantly easier.

* Other companies were invited to participate in the review but declined to participate. These were:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A sweet treat and other ideas

While my brain defrosts from this cold snap, I thought I'd share a few green thoughts from around the Web:


I never know what to do with those candy canes that somehow we acquire. Now I know. Crunchy Chicken posts a how-to on making candy cane sugar scrub.



Looking for something different to do this holiday season? One Green Generation shares ideas on new holiday traditions you can incorporate. The idea of reading a traditional Christmas tale - even over the phone - hit close to home for me. For a few years, my brother and I had a great tradition of opening our presents over the phone. For a guy who was hundreds of miles from family, that little bit of togetherness counts.


Can't we all just get along? Maybe, maybe not. Jennifer at 5 Minutes for Going Green ponders whether people treat you differently based on your environmental stance.

Finally, for having the most creative excuse ever for missing a deadline - an attack by Rocky the flying squirrel in her home - here's a belated submission to the December APLS blog carnival by simple.green.organic.happy on the 3 R's to live by and how to instill them into future generations.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Homemade Holidays: Quick from the kitchen

A quick and easy gift always seems to be needed. Whether it's a quick hostess gift for a small get-together or a last-minute exchange you hadn't planned on, we're always scrambling to get "one more" little present for someone this holiday season.

This year, relax, and just travel to your kitchen.

No time to cook? Nonsense. If you have time to battle traffic, fight for a parking space, dart in and out of stores, battle your way to the register and then home, you have time to make a homemade food gift.

Here are a few easy ones to get you started:

Mulling sachets. Warm arms cider sparkles with a few added spices. These cute individual bags of mulling spices is an easy idea from MarthaStewart.com. (Sorry, Martha, for lending us your photo!)

Bring out your favorites. Make a double batch of your grandma's cookies, and package in a tin tied with a copy of her treasured recipe. Recipe favorites are meant to enjoy!

Make them do your baking. Those "cookies in a jar" recipes have been around a lot, and I've actually seen them sold for as much as $15 each(!). But they're simple to make. None, though, are as absolutely beautiful or as colorful as Food Network's recipe for "Sand Art Brownies."

Make a meal. Put together a themed cooking basket: Pasta, a nice jar of sauce and wine for an Italian lover; teriyaki and soy sauces, spices, rice noodles and more for the person who craves Chinese.

A little liquer. Blogher.com has links to recipes including limoncello and chocolate liquer.

Promise more. Strapped for time as the holidays approach? "Sign up" your recipient for a homemade "Treat of the Month Club" that you can make good on when life settles down in January.

Shipping your gifts? Find tips for shipping your food gifts.

What other edible gifts have you made?

APLS Carnival

So I admit to having some early-morning inspiration as I drove by the elementary school on the way to the office.

"Children are our most valuable natural resource," it said.

What a powerful statement. And so open to possibilities. And so I proposed it for a topic for the December APLS blog carnival. Because, while I know it’s the holidays, the writers in this group are up for a bigger challenge than how to just give green for the holidays.

I’ll admit to being blown away by the response. Because here’s the truth: Whether we have our hands full as a parent or are not even considering childbirth any time soon, we have a stake in tomorrow.

During this holiday season, some of us focused on how the lessons of giving can extend beyond Dec. 25. Raising children to think beyond themselves (and reshaping our culture as a result) was the topic of my post earlier this month. And Green Bean, inspired by the well-wishing Secret Santas that are becoming a positive epidemic in our world, is finding ways to foster that inspiration and caring for others nearby and abroad in her family. "I can't imagine a greater gift than to teach our next generation the gift of giving," she writes.

Fostering that sense of self, in all its imperfections, is the focus of Burban Mom’s essay. She writes: "[W]hether it's a passion for art, a love of music or a concern for our environment, it is absolutely imperative that we give our children the encouragement they need to at least TRY."

Erin at the Conscious Shopper laments the disconnect our youngest generations have from the natural world. “I can remember being as young as five and playing freely in the field in front of our house with my older sister," she writes. "...I can't imagine letting my kids have the kind of freedom in nature that I enjoyed. Not only because the world seems less safe now, but also because there's just no place like that around here where they can play.... Without experiencing nature, will the next generation have any desire to preserve it?" Erin goes on to offer ways to reintroduce ourselves and the next generations to the "real" world.

Beth at Fake Plastic Fish reminds us that generations past might have taken a different approach. "These problems began before I was born and have increased significantly in recent years with the explosion of single-use disposable products," she writes. "I'm glad there are folks here considering future generations. I wish those who started this mess had considered mine. But for me, considering the impact I am having each day, right now, is enough."

Curiousalexa takes this twist on the Golden Rule: "I am green because that is the type of world I would wish to inherit, the type of world I wish to inhabit. I am green not only to maintain this world for future generations, but also for the present generation, and in the hope that previous generations would have wanted to do the same for me."

Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter takes inspiration from her students: from those trying out eco-friendly clothing to the ones taking larger steps, including promoting sustainable fishing and dreaming of studying environmental law. Take a look into our future on her blog.

Finally, Ruchi at Arduous Blog reminds us that it’s not too late for any one of us to make changes. "I don't care if you are six or if you are 72. We are all the future. … Live life. Every day. Reach for your dreams. Don't let the idea that you're too old stop you."

True words. We can all make a difference, no matter our age or circumstances, and don't we all deserve a brighter tomorrow?

Thanks to everyone who took time this busy holiday season to participate in this month's blog carnival. Be sure to check the APLS blog for updates on our January topic!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Greening the gift exchange

The office gift exchange. It's the one thing I dread about the holiday season.

There are few things I like worse about Christmastime than buying a random, $5-10 gift that would be acceptable to any or all of my co-workers. By over-generalizing to our staff, the end result is that you're off to shop for a gift card, a bottle of wine or treats, or some cheap thing from the Target dollar spot to fill your sack for the trade. It's impersonal, and it bothers me to no end.

This year, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of the usual Starbucks gift card, I headed next door to a new gift shop in the strip mall where I work. I was able to shop locally, help support our local economy and hopefully keep a new business in business, something that's tricky to do these days.

Wow. Eight dollars can do a lot!

Voting with your dollars makes sense this holiday season, or at any time for that matter. I probably could have bought a gift similar to it at Wal-Mart or another chain store, but it was nice to help out a new business in town.

There are other ways to help make your office gift exchange a little greener, or at the very least, a little more local:

Buy organic or locally produced coffees, wines or foods. We received Endangered Species Chocolate in our bags this year from our bosses (which hit both criteria for us!).

Make it yourself. One of the most coveted gifts in our office has been a co-worker's offer to bake cookies for the recipient. A batch of homemade cookies was never fought over so much!

Buy the gift of time. Limited by the dollar funds? Offer to take that person out to try out the local restaurant of their choice.

Going generic? If you're stumped and reaching for a candle or holiday craft, at least purchase it at the one of hundreds (so it seems) of craft fairs going on this holiday season.

If you must buy the gift card, buy it for a local business as opposed to a chain.

What does your workplace do? Have you finally tossed the gift exchange? Or have you come up with fun alternatives to this tradition?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December APLS carnival extended

Just a heads up that if you haven't posted your submission to this month's APLS carnival, you still have time!

In light of the busy holiday season, I am accepting submissions until Sunday night.

Any questions, e-mail goinggreenmama [at ] gmail.

Getting creative with evergreen scraps

When you buy a fresh tree, it seems that little branches always find their way onto the floor of the car or your home.

Sure, you could toss it in the trash or compost it, but you can also use the rogue branches to inject a little more holiday spirit in your home.

Head on over to Money Saving Mom for creative ideas to use leftover evergreen branches, including to decorate packages, your mailbox decorations, chairs, your kitchen table and more.

Even if you don't buy fresh trees each year, Monica from The Homespun Heart writes that you can likely get free clippings from retailers that sell trees. Monica writes:

Beginning right after Thanksgiving, weekends are a perfect time to stop by and pick up some free greens. I've found it's helpful to stop at the tree trimming spot on our way in and say we'd like a load of clippings and then go pick out our tree as I've had employees start a pile for me and have it ready when I come out.

Photo from MoneySavingMom.com.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Worrying about the 'we' of tomorrow

I am the mean parent. I can feel it already.

At the tender age of 3, my daughter already hears that her house is “small” from her neighbor friends. No TVs are in her room, unlike her friends, and the one we do have is shut off many times. The computer stays off unless mommy is working, daddy is looking for work, or we are searching for craft or cooking ideas. And I keep asking relatives to refrain from buying lots of toys.

I am the mean parent. But I do it with love.

My daughter, at the age of 3, is inspired by this world. She knows rosemary from oregano by sight – after all, she’s grown them both. She gets her hands dirty in the garden. She loves to bake. Our home is littered with “art” projects. And just yesterday, she was busted for bringing “baby snowballs” and “mommy snowballs” into the house.

If I do one thing right as a parent, it will be that I taught my kids how to get around in this world. That they can think creatively. That their identities are not tied to stuff. And that they know they are connected to each and every one of us.

If we can teach our kids these lessons, maybe this world would be a better place. If we start to worry more about “we” than “me,” imagine what could take place. We could lift up those in need. We could improve our environment. Our food sources. Our economy. Our schools. The air we breathe.

Imagine if we worried about the “we” of tomorrow instead of just “me” today. It’s a lofty goal, but then, I have two smiling faces counting on it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homemade Holidays: A stitch in time

Some of us actually know enough to be dangerous with a needle. If you're like me - you know how to thread a needle and tie a knot - you may still be able to stitch up a holiday gift or two this season. (Or at least start for next year!)

Here are a few ideas that require limited sewing knowledge:


Personalized slippers: With a template, a simple stitch and knot are all it takes to create a personal design, whether it's flowers, initials or other patterns. Find directions on MarthaStewart.com



Painted towels, bibs, T-shirts or onesies: Use fabric paint and some patience to create a one-of-a-kind design.


No-sew fleece blankets. and scarves Sure, you could buy a "pre-cut" set, but you can save a lot of money by hitting a sale at the local fabric store. Find directions for making no-sew fleece blankets and scarves.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rethinking your Christmases

The room dims. A spotlight shines. And Linus, alone on a stage, recounts the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not about pink or aluminum trees or lots of presents. It’s about a family expecting the birth of a baby who would change the world.

“That, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about,” Linus reminds us all.

It’s a lesson revisited each holiday season while watching this Christmas classic. But it’s one that we need to come to terms with.

More and more, I hear of people just feeling depressed this holiday season. I can’t run an errand without overhearing a parent have “the talk” with a child about how this Christmas, things will be lighter and less gifts will be under the tree. Or how people are down because they can’t buy the gifts or do the things they were used to in years past. Or how one super-creative friend confided to me, “I just don’t even feel like making Christmas cards this year.” Maybe that seems frivolous, but it was the one way she showed her friends she cared.

So here’s my challenge: This Christmas season, make new traditions. Call it being green. Call it being frugal. Or just call it getting back to the roots of the spirit of the holiday season.

I know a chaplain whose calling is to assist Hospice patients and their families. Each year, she offers a holiday grief program and insists that traditions can be changed. So maybe this year, you bake a homemade pizza instead of a ham, turkey and the fixings. Or you volunteer somewhere. Or you forgo gift swaps. Find something that works for you and your family this year.

Other ideas on altering your traditions:
  • Keep it light. You don’t have to buy gifts for everyone, or as many people. Enlist your kids help as well. Many kids understand that times are tougher and may offer to help make gifts or find more cost-effective ideas.
  • Watch how you stuff your stockings. They don’t have to be stuffed with gadgets or many trinkets. My mother-in-law introduced me to the tradition of a large apple, orange and candy cane in the stocking. (I will confess that the baby will get apple puffs to snack on instead!)
  • Get creative. Instead of trading gifts with neighbor friends, we invited them and their kids to make Christmas cookies this weekend. Messy, true, but far more memorable than another $5 or $10 toy.
  • Prioritize presents. Given our family’s financial situation, I requested specific types of gifts rather than more toys. Yes, I know the baby is getting a toddler bedding set and which one, but it will be needed (hopefully later than sooner.) And my sister will be buying shoes for Amelda Marcos, I mean, my daughter. Planning helps us fulfill our family’s needs but also lets people feel like they are making the most out of their limited dollars and resources.
  • Do rather than buy. I loved going to the Plaza and the Nutcracker at the Midland each Christmas in Kansas City. When we moved, we decided we’d rather our kids have fond memories instead of just opening up gifts. So this year, we attended a Cookies with Santa to benefit a hospital program. It was simple, but more memorable and less stressful than waiting in line at the mall. My daughter to this day still talks about “Miss Claus” visiting her daycare last Christmas.
  • Be scenic. Look at the lights while returning from work or from errands.
  • Live the moment. Listen to a Christmas CD. Attend Vespers. Play board games. Make popcorn and cocoa with your kids and read holiday books. But most of all, just enjoy the season.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tips and tricks from around the blogosphere

Two days of back-to-back meetings, coupled with a video editing project at night, has left things a little quiet on the site this week. Instead, I'd like to share ideas from other blogs I read:


Watching your energy bills this winter? Green Parent has tips for weatherproofing doors and windows. Meanwhile, Greeen Sheeep is tackling heating bills head-on by lowering temps to 55 in her Wisconsin home.

Want to compost but have no space? There's no excuse now...Sustainable Gardening demonstrates how you can compost even while living in an apartment.

In the holiday spirit? The Green Baby Guide switches gears and ponders the eco-friendliness of Christmas trees.

In My Kitchen Garden is already pondering next year's garden and what to buy now. And May Dreams Gardens is putting us to shame already by still working on her garden in this frigid Indiana weather!

Finally, don't forget that the December APLS blog carnival is being hosted here. Get inspired by Lisa Simpson and start writing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mini Marathon responds on plastic situation

The 500 Festival Mini Marathon has responded to my initial e-mail regarding its plastic problem.

Ben Pawelak, the Indianapolis 500 Festivals' Ticketing and Customer Relations Coordinator, wrote to me today:

First of all, I would like to thank you for your e-mail. In moving to the D-Tag this year we considered many factors, but most of all was the overall health and safety of participants. Historically, we have seen a good number of people who faint or suffer injuries in the Mini-Marathon do so while they are waiting to have their chip removed. The switch to the D-Tag will help lessen the number of people who suffer injuries at the conclusion of the race. Rest assured that, as with all aspects of the Mini-Marathon, we will continue to monitor the D-Tag’s effect and will discuss changes for the 2010 race.

My response:
As a three-time participant in the Mini, I understand that fainting may occur at the finish line. However, attributing that solely to getting chips removed is ludicrous. Any person who has appropriately trained for a half-marathon knows they should keep moving to cool down after completing a race.
If there truly was a health issue, wouldn't the Mini Marathon organizers more appropriately design the finish line area?
Again, to be true community stewards, we need to look at all waste we generate. Proudly applauding ourselves for bottle recycling while contributing to the amount of waste we generate in our community sends an extremely mixed message.
I urge you to reconsider the use of disposable chips for future races. My children thank you.

We'll see whether I hear back.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Homemade Holidays: A cup of love

Painted pottery stores may have come and gone in today's economy, but a heartfelt mug of a favorite blend in a personalized cup is a personal (and inexpensive) gift that even children can make.

Solid china cups can easily be found at most stores, or, if you're really feeling green this holiday season, scavenged from a resale shop (adding a "retro" touch.)

MarthaStewart.com suggests these tips if using china:
  • Use food-safe ceramic paint, such as Pebeo Porcelaine 150, and add white to make lighter shades of a color.
  • Remove any painting "oopses" with a baby wipe.
  • Let paint dry 2 hours, then set paint by heating china in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes. (Put plate or cup in oven before turning on).
Those with less time on their hands can easily update a travel mug. My daughter created a personalized travel mug for her uncle last Christmas by drawing a picture on a traced copy of the insert. It's one-of-a-kind, and perfect for the uncle who's not at all proud of his favorite niece.

Of course, if you are giving personalized dishes or cups this holiday season, fill it up! Toss in some chocolates, holiday candies, coffees, tea bags or even create a "custom" coffee bean mix by mixing together several different varieties.

Mini Marathon sends mixed message on plastic recycling efforts

Is the 500 Festival Mini Marathon going green or not?

I just read my December issue of the Min-E-Newsletter, and I'm a little surprised that one of the largest half-marathons in the country is giving lip service to the idea of going green. Read on:


This month has been very exciting for the organizers of the Mini-Marathon. There will be two new additions to the 2009 race. The first addition is the D-TAG: a new disposable timing device!

What is it? This year, participants will receive a disposable timing device instead of the rental chip that has been used in the past. The device is called the “D-Tag”! How do I put it on? Click here for directions on how to put the tag on your shoe on
race day.

How will it help make the participant experience better?

  • No pre-race chip check at the Expo necessary
  • Less backup at the finish line area
  • No post-race chip removal or return fees
  • You can toss it in the trash or keep it as a keepsake after the race
The newsletter then goes on to state the second "exciting" initiative:

The second addition to the 2009 Mini-Marathon is the RECYCLING INITIATIVE: A new way to promote a healthy environment!

If you haven’t heard already, the 500 Festival has announced a new recycling effort for the 2009 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon and Finish Line 500 Festival 5K with the help of Aquafina.

The Aquafina Green Team will be on hand to provide recycling kiosks and support
staff at the Mini-Marathon finish line and at the Post Race Party in Military Park. The recycling kiosks will be used to collect water bottles from participants as well as any plastic cups or aluminum cans. So be on the lookout for these on event day and help us make an effort towards a healthier environment!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it a little odd to applaud oneself for launching a plastic recycling effort at the same time as announcing that they will create 39,000 or so disposable plastic chips that will just go into the same landfill as the water bottles or cans would have gone? Who in the world totes a soda can or a plastic water bottle for 13.1 miles so they can tote it to the finish line? I've done four half-marathons and can say I've not seen anyone do that. (Though I did see a guy chug a beer at the start line once...)

And given that the Mini uses paper cups, not plastic ones, along the race track, I'm doubtful there will be much impact by allowing recycling kiosks. To me, this smacks of a bad publicity stunt.

I've e-mailed the Mini Marathon organizers and have asked that they reconsider using disposable chips in future races. I urge you to contact the Mini Marathon as well. E-mail raceinfo@500festival.com with your feedback on this issue! (And post your comments here as well.)