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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yes, It Is Possible To Have A Party Without Disposables!

Years ago, when I still lived in Germany, one of my best friends celebrated a big birthday.
She invited a whole bunch of friends, I don't remember exactly how many, but it must have been well over 30 people, and I was so impressed that she totally refused to use any other disposable item than napkins.
I remember how surprised I was when her parents came by to bring their extra set of silverware, as well as extra dishes, to make sure there was enough for the amount of people. Again, I didn't used to be the green person that I am today...

Now, years later, I found myself in a similar situation, and I must say it is SO possible to have many people over and still don't have a lot of garbage. I'm very pleased to say that I really don't care whether or not the dishes are all matching, whether or not I have to disappear in the kitchen for a little while to wash some dishes and put them back on the table or whether anybody cares that I use Preserve - the brand that uses #5 plastics to create cutlery, dishes and cups (among others, they also produce toothbrushes, razors and many other things).
It all worked out totally fine and it was so nice to not see a (or many) big bags of garbage as a result of a big get-together. Great when after a party you look into your garbage bin and there's... nothing. Just a bit leftover food that didn't make it into the compost bag. Oh well, we can't ask for too much for now :-)
I wished more people would stop being so afraid of a few dishes that have to be dealt with and just go the green route!

Happy Green Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Swap and Trade instead of Buy and Waste

A few days ago I started decorating our apartment.
I must say I'm proud that I have not bought a new holiday piece of decoration in years, and yet I think our place looks nice.

But I found that I wanted white-wired Christmas lights on the walls instead of the green-wired that we had.
Of course I could have gotten to a store and bought the white-wired ones for a ridiculous amount of money (I know how cheap the stuff is!). But instead, I posted on a local mommy board and asked whether there was somebody who wanted to trade with me.
Within a day, I had 4 boxes of used white-wired lights (the woman had used them at their wedding, and ever since they were lying in her basement), and she had my green-wired lights for her tree.
She thanked me for giving her the idea of "things like this".

It's so easy - you have something that you don't need anymore and need something else - just check with the community and trade. It saves you money, energy and the environment gets a break as well.

Oh, and thrift stores have wonderful holiday decorations this time of year! Go check it out in your local "second-hand stores" (as we call them in Europe :-)

Happy trading!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Craft: Beautiful and Easy To Make Fabric Gingerbread House

 Ok, it seems like this time of the year my blog turns into a craft blog. I have to say, I really enjoy being creative and crafty these days.
And hey, it's still a very green thing - I come up with uses for stuff that we have in the house. Except for the glue that I use (and I'm looking into making my own in the future!), nothing is new or store-bought.

So this is my little project that I did with my 4-year old this afternoon: our fabric gingerbread house.
 We took an empty box (the size of a tissue paper box), cut the lid into triangles (for the roof to sit on), cut out red fabric in the same size and glued it on.
We then cut a piece of cardboard that would fit as a roof and glued green fabric and some white lace onto it.
 After that we just went crazy cutting doors, windows and candy canes of small pieces of fabric and glued it all over the house.
 It was a real fun and easy project and I love how it looks!
It finally pays off that I keep some of our old clothes in the house and that I always keep my eyes open at garage and house sales for interesting fabrics!!!

These kind of houses can be done with all different sized boxes and fabrics. Whenever I come across a box big enough, I'm going to do a "real" house for our boys.

Happy crafting!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Great Regift or Wrapped Crap Exchange


This is what our friends John and Kathy call their gift exchange with friends and family - every year.

I love it!
This is where re-gifting is not only acceptable, it's the rule.

"Players" are asked to wrap a previously received, but unused gift. No buying is allowed.

What a great idea!
Think about it:
  • You have the perfect opportunity to get rid of all those gifts that you never wanted (including presents for your kids!)
  • You save yourself some time since you don't have to go gift-shopping for friends and extended family
  • You save yourself some nerves because you don't need to hit the mall - attics and closets are not crowded
  • You save yourself some money
  • You help the environment (no gas, no energy for new stuff, less garbage,... you get the idea)
  • And, who knows what you end up getting? It might be something really good. Remember, what might be crap to someone might be a treasure to you (why, I would LOVE to get a food dehydrator. Seriously!)
Now get creative with the wrapping - we don't want to spoil the green aspect here (used wrapping paper - yes, that too can be reused!, fabric, packing paper, newspaper,... there are endless possibilities that don't require wasteful and expensive wrapping paper. And instead of a bow, you can use some yarn).

This is how I'll do holiday gift exchanges from now on. Get ready folks!

Let me know what you think about this, I'd love to hear your stories.

Enjoy the season and Happy Regifting!!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Craft: Make Your Own Advents Calendar (Or Fancy Modern Art Project!) This Year

(This is an image of a typical advents calendar filled with chocolates, sold by amazon)

I grew up with "Adventskalendern" in Germany. These things where you get to open one window every day during the month of December until Christmas, you know.
When I was a kid, most of them were simple and filled with chocolates.
Nowadays you can find them in all sizes and shapes, filled with toys, candy, little books, or you can get them empty and fill them up yourself. 
Even though I'm not religious, this tradition has grown to me (or is it grown on me??? Whenever I'm tired my English is leaving me...) and I still love getting the calendars every year (I have to remind my husband, otherwise I'd be disappointed :-)

And of course I want our kids to enjoy them as well. But I refuse to buy the calendars and then, after one month of use, throw them out. Too much waste, money, and resources involved in that.
So I thought about how I could make my own. And one that looks interesting enough to be noticed and loved by our 4 year old boy.

And this is what I came up with:

Voila - our "hanging boxes from a snow-covered branch advents calendar"

It looks really pretty and our son was psyched when he discovered it hanging in the morning. Unfortunately I wasn't able to capture the real look of it - the pictures just give a slight idea of how it really looks.

This is what I used:
  • Dry branch from outside (about 3 1/2 feet)
  • 2 balls of white yarn (I usually stock up at garage and house sales whenever I see some nice yarn)
  • Cotton balls 
  • Illusion cord (optional)
  • Scissors
  • 2 ceiling hooks
  • 24 paper boxes (made of old holiday cards - click on the link to see the post with instructions)
  • Needle
  • Glue
  • 24 little surprises (get creative!)

This is how I did it:

  1. I wrapped the branch tightly with the yarn
  2. The ends that were still visible I covered with cotton balls
  3. I hang the branch up on two ceiling hooks (put in place by my husband) with illusion cord (yarn will work just as well)
  4. With a needle, I made holes in the lid of each box and threaded illusion cord (yarn will do just fine) through them
  5. I then hang all the (filled!) boxes on the branch
Depending on how old your kids are they could get involved in creating it. I had a lot of fun doing this project, and I hope you will, too!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Craft: How To Fold Beautiful Boxes Out Of Those Old (Holiday) Cards


I don't know about you, but I love cards. Somehow it's still special to receive real mail, especially when it comes in form of a beautiful and meaningful card.
Whenever it's a birthday in our family and we get birthday cards or around the holidays, I'll always display all the cards in our apartment and I also save them - they're too precious to throw out, to me anyway.

Recently I came across a box full of old holiday cards, and just thought of something: what if I found a way to fold all those nice cards into boxes?
I looked online and came across a step-to-step guide at about.com how to do it, and it's easy. Try and you'll see.


You'll need a square piece of paper - so unless you work with a square card, you'll have to cut off some to make it a quare.
Once you have a square, fold the paper diagonally. Open up and fold the other side diagonally as well. You'll see an X when you open the paper.

 
In turn, fold each corner into the center of the square. Firmly crease the fold.

Tip: Use a folding bone to help make a crisp fold. A butter knife can also be used to score the paper or cardstock prior to folding.





 

Fold the first corner to the line of the first fold made, on the opposite side. Repeat for each corner.

Tip: Be careful when folding the third and fourth corners not to fold to the wrong line.

Fold each corner to meet the nearest fold line.

Make four cuts as indicated in the picture. It makes no difference which corners are used as long as they are opposite each other.

Tip: You'll see 4 squares in the middle. Make sure you don't cut anywhere near those 4 squares.

Fold the two corners without cuts into the center.

Tip: A dab of glue will help hold the folds in place, however this is not essential.

Fold edges up as shown, this forms two of the sides of the box.

Fold the cut ends in at either end of the box.

Fold the two remaining pieces into the middle of the box, this will securely hold the box together and there is no need to add glue.

Make a base in exactly the same way, however cut the square a fraction smaller so the base will fit into the top.





It's really easy, and once you get the hang of it, you can do it in less than a minute.

I use the front of the card as the lid, and make a slightly smaller box out of the inside (usually the part with the writing on it) for the bottom.

Have fun!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recipe: Yummy Yummy Chocolate Dip



Most people think about guacamole when it comes to pureeing avocados.
I use the super healthy fruit on a daily basis for tons of different things, from (ice) creams to puddings or spreads.

And a chocolate dip. Yes, chocolate dip!

It's so unbelievably easy and so yummy. Try it:

For 6 people I used 3 avocados, about 3 Tbsp of cocoa powder and raw honey (maple syrup would work just as well).
And for once I won't give exact measurements (as if I ever do :-) because it's really up to you how chocolaty and/or sweet you like it.

Just blend the avocados, add the cocoa powder and the honey, add more if needed, and voila - you got the richest, healthiest chocolate cream that I can imagine.

Arrange with slices of apples and enjoy!

P.S. I had some leftover and put it in an airtight container overnight. The next day it had hardened somewhat in the fridge and now it had the texture of rich chocolate mousse. Yum! I had the whole rest of it by myself in one setting!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green New World


I call this post Green New World because I notice changes around me - green changes, and I like it.

We have to be critical, we have to care about our environment, our health, our wellbeing, we have to change in order to achieve change.

But we also have to recognize the good, and I feel like things are changing. Slowly, but steadily.
I read more and more about vegetarian and even vegan lifestyle (the other day there was an article about a farm in Germany that only takes care of old and/or sick animals who nearly got killed because they didn't produce anymore. I know, nothing new, but hey, it made it to one of the biggest online magazine sites!).

I see more and more people bringing their own bags to shop.
My son's preschool is composting! The teachers are encouraging healthy snacks! They learn about recycling!
Just little examples which show that we're moving to the right direction. Wonderful!

When I discovered a little hole in my favorite pair of jeans today (what the heck - another pound plus?!) I evaluated my options:
  1. try to fix the problem myself = greenest option, but nah - unfortunately my sewing skills are not that good
  2. bring jeans to dry cleaner to get fixed
  3. bring jeans to green dry cleaner to get fixed
  4. throw jeans out = horrible! First off, these are my favorites and second, throwing stuff away is just not a good idea at all. Think REUSE :-)
There's a ton of dry cleaners out there. My first thought was to just go to the one closest to my son's preschool. I haven't been in business for dry cleaning lately (I mean, who needs suits and fancy stuff for the playground???), so I haven't thought about it much. But then I noticed Next Cleaners that I frequently pass, and I went inside to see what they have to offer.
I found out that they use the most eco friendly systems in the industry. They are also one of the small group of dry cleaners in the country using GreenEarth Cleaning technology.
In addition to utilizing the environmentally friendly techniques, they strive to reduce all dry cleaning waste by using other recyclable and reusable materials throughout their operations. Sounds good, so I decided to have my jeans fixed there, even though sewing is sewing, whether in a green place or not. I like to support their business though.

Please consider a green or organic dry cleaner if you use them. It's so much better for the environment and for our health! And the places are out there, it's not that you have to search for them and drive long distances, they're right in town.

And so are other eco-friendly businesses as well, like Yellow Margosa in Montclair. If you're concerned about plastics and chemicals in your child's tableware, this is the place to go. At Yellow Margosa, you'll find stainless steel products completely free of dioxins and chemicals.
Also offered are notebooks made from sugarcane that save forest based resources and have a smaller carbon print.
Visit the site and give these great products a try, I'm sure you'll love it!


I hope all these green businesses keep popping out, I really like the development. Hope you do, too.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Green Halloween!


Wishing you guys Happy Halloween - stay healthy, safe and as green as you can :-)
A few last minute ideas:
  • stay local and walk 
  • invite friends over and serve self-made treats with real utensils, no disposables
  • choose treats wisely
  • save Halloween decorations for next year

Our family had a ton of fun today carving our first family pumpkin "Kuerbis". As per my older son's directions "he" has a mouth, chin, ears, eyes with eyebrows, and a little forehead.

I just made a pumpkin cake with the carved pieces. Tomorrow we'll roast the seeds. Reuse also goes for carving pumpkins!
Sorry the picture came out a bit dark. But boy, I wished you could smell it! I hope it tastes as good as it smells...

Here's the recipe for the cake:
  • mix 2 1/2 cups of spelt flour with 1 tsp. baking powder and a tiny bit of salt, nutmeg and cinnamon 
  • blend 3 eggs, 1 cup coconut oil ,1 cup  maple syrup and a few drops vanilla extract
  • add about 2 cups baked (soft) pumpkin to the mixture and blend
  • add the flour mix
  • pour in baking dish and bake for about 45 - 50 minutes at 350 degrees (depending on your oven)
  • check with toothpick to make sure it's done
Grrrrr! Pretty scary at night, our Kuerbis.

Have fun trick-or-treating and Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Super Easy Spicy Salsa



for a party of 4 you'll need:

* 2-3 big, very ripe tomatoes
* 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro
* 1/2 jalapeno pepper
* salt to taste

1) Wash tomatoes, pepper and cilantro
2) Pulse all ingredients in blender until chunky

3) Put in bowl and serve with (organic!) tortilla chips


Enjoy!

No Footprint Flower Bouquet

My son came back after a short cable car ride with our super and handed me this beautiful bouquet.
Is this worth a blog post, I wondered. Yes, absolutely.
Because it shows how simple things can make us (at least me!) so happy.
He picked up some beautiful colored leaves off the ground, a few flowers that were broken already and some grasses. Not sure how much help he got from his adult buddy, but boy was he proud when he handed me the bouquet with a "Happy Halloween!". He was as happy as I was.

It has a special place on our dining table - hopefully for a long time.

Enjoy the fall and the gifts that it has to offer!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Green Your Halloween

Halloween is coming up and with it these questions: Should we do what we do every year and just have fun or should we try to be green and if so, how?
I overheard quite some conversations about this topic during the last past months. Shockingly, a ton of people confessed that they throw out most of the Halloween candy that the kids are collecting, even though they have no problem with the kids eating candy in general (which is a completely different topic which I don't want to discuss at this point :-)

So here's my problem with this: Many people think that for one day per year (really? Only this one day?) we shouldn't worry so much about nutrition and the environment and just do what the tradition calls for: hand out and collect cheap, harmful candy that requires a ton of energy to be produced, wrapped, shipped and then to be tossed???
Of course we also need a new costume every year, if possible each and every family member. Again, a lot of energy for production, wrapping, shipping... you get the idea.
Then we need all those decorative items for inside and outside the house, preferably also new each year.
Oh, and not to forget the parties with the typical candy stuff, disposables (why, of course it has to be Halloween themed paper napkins, plates, tablecloth etc. etc. Right?)

Scary? Yes!

I believe we can have fun and act responsibly at the same time. Here's some tips how to Green Your Halloween:

  1. To end the tons and tons of cheap, harmful candy that goes into the landfill every day after Halloween, why don't you think about giving out all those chatskies that your kids received at all the parties during the year? Think pencils, figurines, animals, notepads, stickers,... There's a ton of alternatives to the "traditional" candy out there - even pennies might do it!
  2. Chocolate is, like coffee or tea, serves a big market throughout the world. Unfortunately, most of the cocoa used for the production of chocolate is harvested and processed in non-humane and non-environmentally friendly ways, including child labor and even slavery. Global Exchange has launched Reverse Trick or Treating, where kids hand out a piece of fair-trade chocolate along with an informational sheet to adults to spread the word about the labor and environmental problems of conventional cocoa and coffee farming. The kits can be ordered online or are available at Terra Tea Salon if you live in the Montclair area.
  3. Costumes: Have you ever tried to make a costume out of something that you already have? I personally can't think of any other thing that can be so fulfilling as to do just that. Dig deep into your box of hats, scarves, old clothes etc, and you might be very surprised at what might come out of there. Think pirates, clowns, even trees. Be creative. Have fun. And if you're not so handy (or think you're not), consider getting your costumes at a local thrift store or from friends and neighbors.
  4. When it comes to decorations you're better off with nature-made items such as pumpkins, gourds or hay bales. Fragrance candles often give off toxic compounds which are not good to inhale or for the environment. If you own Halloween decoration already, use it again and again and again and again (instead of tossing it and buying new stuff each year).
  5. And finally, if you throw a Halloween Party, ditch the disposables and pick reusables instead. We really don't need the Halloween themed single-use dinnerware and napkins (and we have never, ever needed the plastic throw-away after one use "silverware"). How about an orange tablecloth with black dinnerware (most people, including me, owe some kind of black plates), decorated with gourds in different sizes and colors and some hay? Just to throw out a few ideas...
Hopefully there's some options for you to Green Your Halloween.
Have fun!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How To Stay Healthy In The Cold Season

And here we go again - the cold season has started, and with it the runny noses, sore throats and the fear of the flu.
Many people believe that there are more germs flying around in the cooler weather, which is not true. It's the fact that we spend more time inside, with typically very dry air, which makes it easier for viruses to pass through the skin, eyes and nasal passages

There are many discussions going on right now about which vitamins to take during the cold season to strengthen the immune system and what else to do to stay healthy.

I personally don't believe vitamins, especially chemical ones, are the one and only answer.Instead of spending money and relying on synthetics, read these tips that may help you stay healthy during the coming months:

  • Get your daily dose of healthy vitamins through a green smoothie (mix fresh vegetables, preferably green such as spinach, kale, chard and also carrots, celery, bananas, any fresh fruits you like with some dates for sweetness, and water) - the whole family from baby to grandparents can drink it and will benefit from it way more than from any man-made multi-vitamin
  • Add fresh garlic and ginger to your diet, as much and as often as you can (garlic can go in pretty much every main dish, ginger can be added to smoothies or taken as a tea)
  • Take a teaspoon of the almond-honey-ginger-paste. My sons' pediatrician gave me this recipe years ago and ever since my family is taking a teaspoon full every morning to fight off germs: blend about 1 1/2 cup of raw almonds, a big chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into smaller pieces, and 1 cup raw honey in blender. I store it in a glass jar in the fridge
  • Wash your hands. Frequently and thorough. With soap and water, and make sure you get under and around the nails (where germs love to hide and are tough to remove)
  • Get outside! Not only will it keep your level of natural Vitamin D up (which will strengthen your immune system as well!), it also moisturizes your skin, eyes and nasal passages, making it harder for those germs to pass through 
  • Keep your gut healthy. For many years, our family was taking probiotics on a daily basis. Only months ago I learned that every little bite of fermented foods or drinks actually gives you more benefits than any man-made probiotic will ever do. I started making my own water-kefir, a fermented, water-based drink for the whole family. It works very well for all of us
  • Drink plenty. Preferably pure water and quality teas, unsweetened
  • Eat a whole foods diet. As little processed food as possible, which means staying away from prepared meals, fast foods and the like
  • Don't be paranoid. I know, this is easier said than done (whoever knows me knows exactly what I mean :-) - obviously stay away from people who are sick, or stay away from people when you're sick. But keep in mind that, especially for children, it is important to be exposed to germs. Healthy individuals will deal with the cold or even the flu just fine and it will strengthen the immune system, making the body stronger to deal with all kinds of bacteria and viruses
  • Get rest. Especially when you're dealing with a cold or flu, rest, rest and rest. Don't suppress a fever (until it's skyrocketing). Sore throats love honey. Take extra vitamin C and relax. You're going to be just fine.
Stay healthy and feel free to share you're tips with us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Downside Of Paper Recycling. WHAT????

You can't imagine how surprised I was when I read an article about the downside of conserving water in Germany. Being German myself, I grew up thinking I did the right thing preserving water wherever and whenever I could.
Now studies show that saving water actually damages the environment! Why? Long story made short - because there's a lot of rainfall in Germany and only a small percentage of this water is being used. So, in order to keep the water clean and safe, there has to be more "water traffic" going on, otherwise grease and food will get stuck in the pipes, lead and other metals don't get flushed out and chemicals have to be used to keep the water clean.
Wow!
I started thinking about whether this applies to the States as well, at least for areas with a lot of rainfall. I will research that soon.
Is it possible that some of the things that we believed were the right thing for the planet turn out to be, um, not so good?

A while ago a reader commented on a post about recycling and mentioned that paper recycling has its downsides. I promised to look into that. And I am very surprised by my findings:

  • Recycling newsprint actually creates more water pollution than making new paper: for each ton of recycled newsprint an extra o 5,000 gallons of waste water are discharged (source: New York Times)
  • Recyclables are usually transported over long distances by energy-consuming, pollution-spewing vehicles
  • Every ton of paper that is burned rather than recycled prevents 300 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions (source: Journal of Environmental Planning and Management)
  • Many recycled paper products are treated with a mixture of bleach and/or other chemicals and toxins that make their way into our homes
  • Products made of recycled paper such as paper towels or bathroom tissue are often not so soft and absorbent with lower wet strength and higher fibre content. As a result, consumers use more towels at a time

  • One anti-recycling argument has been that, even though a lot of trees have to be cut to produce new papers, more trees will be planted in their place. And there's something to that: America's forests have three times as many trees now than in 1920
  • "Paper is an agricultural product, made from trees specially for paper production.Acting to conserve trees by recycling paper is like acting to conserve cornstalks by cutting back on corn consumption." (Jerry Taylor, Director of Natural Research Studies at the Cato Institute)
  • If you buy paper products, make sure to buy FSC- approved products (Forest Stewardship Council - promotes responsible management of the world's forests)
  • If you support paper recycling, make sure the recycling plant in your area doesn't use chlorine
  • Buy only recycled paper products that are unbleached or bleached without chlorine, to keep dangerous toxins out of your home and the environment
So what should one do?

Minimize consumption. That's the only thing to do. As with everything else, we overuse paper. Think packaging, cleaning supplies, books, magazines,...
I cleaned our apartment today and didn't use a single piece of paper towel. I have reusable cleaning cloths that I bought years ago and throw in the wash after use, and they work just fine.
Reading the news and magazines online, getting books from the library or at least second hand are other ways to reduce paper consumption.
Buying products from the bulk aisle will cut down on the light cardboard packages. And if you order something, make sure to pick companies that don't overpack their products.
Oh, and call those firms that keep sending you those junk mailings and ask them to take you off their list, or put a sticker on your mailbox that says "NO JUNK MAIL PLEASE".

And keep this order in mind: Reduce, Reuse, and finally, if at all in this case, Recycle.
This, by the way, applies to everything in our lives, not only paper :-)

Happy preserving!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Recipe: Raw Cashew Cream With Fresh Berries

Raw Cashew Cream With Fresh Berries

This is the easiest, yummiest dessert ever. And super healthy!

For about 3 portions you'll need:

* 1 cup raw cashews
* 1 cup fresh berries
* raw honey or maple syrup to taste

1) Put cashews in a container, cover with filtered water and put in fridge for a couple of hours
2) Pour the whole content of container in a high-speed blender and mix well, until cashews have a whipped-cream consistency

3) Add sweetener, if you like (cashews are surprisingly sweet though, so don't overdue it)

4) Arrange in glasses with berries (I used freshly picked wild raspberries and strawberries)

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Eco-Friendly Diet

What we eat has a tremendous ecological impact. The strategy? A diet that focuses on cutting carbon:

  • Buy Locally, Organically and Seasonally (With local and organic at the same time providing the most earth-friendly impact)
  • Grow Your Own (Even if you don't have a garden - think herbs or cherry tomatoes on the window sill)
  • Choose Your Drinks Wisely (Think coffee, tea and alcohol besides juices and milk - what's important is drinks produced sustainably without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides)
  • Be Takeout Savvy (how about bringing your own container? Refuse paper napkins, plastic utensils and condiment packets)
  • Choose Whole Foods (The process of turning raw foods into the processed products that we find on supermarket shelves requires tremendous amounts of energy. Opting for a whole foods diet, rich in raw and unprocessed foods, will not only have an incredible impact on your health, it will also cut your food-related carbon footprint by almost one-third!)
  • Say No To Bottled Water (Only about 14% of the 70 million-plus water bottles used by Americans on a daily basis get recycled! The rest ends up in landfills, and even worse, in oceans. Plus, the production and shipping of bottled water consumes vast quantities of oil)
  • Eat Less Meat (One cow has to eat eight pounds of corn and soy (even though cows are not meant to eat those) to produce one pound of meat. Just think about the fertilizers and pesticides to produce the food for the animals! And the energy to produce, ship and process meats! Cutting (way) down on the meat consumption and opting for pasture-raised meat would help minimizing the food-related carbon footprint even more)
  • Eat Less Of Everything (Seriously, consuming less will reduce the carbon footprint (no matter how green the food we eat, it still has to be grown, packed, shipped - lots of energy) as well as our waistlines :-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Junk Mail: Did You Know That...

  • 5.6 million tons of catalogs and other direct mail advertisements end up in U.S. landfills annually.
  • The average American household receives unsolicited junk mail equal to 1.5 trees every year—more than 100 million trees for all U.S. households combined.
  • 44 percent of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only half that much junk mail (22 percent) is recycled.
  • Americans pay $370 million annually to dispose of junk mail that doesn’t get recycled.
  • On average, Americans spend 8 months opening junk mail in the course of their lives.
(Source: Larry West)

Recycling is not the answer here, we have to solve the problem by stopping this. Too much energy, money, fuel goes into the production of the mailings, catalogs, coupons etc. that nobody wants and then again into the disposal of it. Totally unacceptable, both for the planet as well as our wallets!

In Germany I noticed that a lot of households have little stickers on their mailboxes saying "no catalogs, offers, coupons please" and the mailman won't put in local supermarket's offers. I saw this one online and am wondering whether it would help here as well.

Another step you can take to stop companies from sending you their offers is contacting them directly.
I know, it's inconvenient and takes some time, but it's worth it in the long run.

There are websites where you can register your name and address for a fee (www.mailstopper.tonic.com is one example), but there's ways to do it for free, too. Check out this online guide to stopping the junk coming into your life for some great ideas.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What Are You Willing To Give Up...

... for a greener lifestyle?

Sometimes I cannot help but wonder: are we all just talking green without really changing our old (bad) habits?
We all want to stop climate change, we all want a healthy environment and we all want to leave our children and grandchildren a planet that's still livable.
But what are we willing to do to achieve all this?
I feel like everybody talks, but only few are actually acting green.
Let's take a look at some everyday activities:

  1. Shopping I. Ever thought about doing shopping without a car? It's possible! If you have children, use the stroller as a cart and bring the groceries back without having to carry them. A bike can also hold lots of things, as can the good old backpack. Oh, and don't forget your bags (also for produce!).
  2. Shopping II. Did you ever buy something just because it was cheap? Or because it just looked so cute at the time? Stop doing it. Not only will this help your wallet, it will also support the planet since most of those spontaneous buying lands in the landfills sooner or later. Shop wisely and start frequenting second-hand stores (as they're called in Europe) - you'll be surprised at how much quality stuff you can find there.
  3. Getting around. Again, it IS possible without a car. Either with public transportation or by bike or per pedes - good for your health, good for the planet.
  4. Summer heat. Are you willing to reduce or ugh, even cut your air conditioning? I know it can get very hot - but somehow people were able to deal without AC just a few decades ago...
  5. Food. How convenient are you? Think about how many times per week you consume processed, prepacked meals that need tons of energy for production. Also, how many animal products do you eat? Keep in mind that livestock produces MOST of the CO2 emissions worldwide. Cutting out just one animal-packed meal per week per person would make a huge difference.
  6. Water. Still buying plastic water bottles? Please reconsider. First of, you pay way too much. Second, think about the environmental impact of all these plastic bottles (which mostly end up in the landfills and oceans with horrendous results, not in recycling) - switch to simple glass or stainless steel bottles  and a good filter system instead.
  7. Eating out. Doesn't matter whether we talk about school lunchboxes, work lunches or eating out, think about the packaging and the content. And think big, meaning don't just look at your small family, think about the millions and trillions of people who pack their lunches every day. Avoid disposables (everything that's pre-packed, juice boxes, plastic cutlery, napkins) and pack real food with real accessories instead. It's healthier for us and for the planet!
  8. At home. Yes, it is convenient to have some lights on all the time. Yes, it is fun to take a bath every day and yes, it is easy to throw just a few things in the dryer to get something dry right now. It's easy because we can do it. But it's time that we realize it's not smart to do it. Not at all. Too much wasted energy, and also wasted money. We need to rethink our actions and adjust to more sustainable and greener habits.
  9. Oil. Yes, oil. It's an everyday thing. Not only for cars (but yes, cutting down on driving definitely helps here, too). Oil is used for almost everything in our everyday live, from plastic over cosmetics to medicine. I don't need to talk about the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico to remind you of the dangers of our dependency. Cutting down on everything that contains oil will help here. Check your labels. Cut down on plastic. Walk a little more. You get the idea.
As long as we're just talking, but still have the AC running day and night, still drive everywhere, shop like there's no tomorrow, use disposables for convenience and eat the way we ate for the last years (meaning a ton of animal products as well as processed and prepared foods) not much will change.
What are you willing to give up?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some Facts About Wind Energy

"Wind energy" or "wind power" describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity.
Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power, which can be used for specific tasks like pumping water, or a generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity to power homes, businesses or schools.

Here are a few wind energy facts that you may or may not know. Too often people forget that wind energy might be a potential alternative source of energy. Here's why wind power should not be overlooked:
  • Wind energy is a form of solar energy, and is therefore renewable. 
  • Wind does not need to be produced, like ethanol does, therefore there will always be a constant supply of it.
  • Wind energy is very expensive to set up. It requires significant amounts of capital to establish wind farms. After the initial investment and startup costs, however, it is one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation to maintain.
In 2005, wind accounted for 1% of the total electricity production in the world. The United States was third in utilization of wind energy, with Germany being the leading producer. According to the Department of Energy, offshore wind farms could provide enough energy to power the entire nation. Clearly what we see here is that we have barely touched the amazing capabilities of wind power, and we can expect to see wind power become a massive source of renewable energy in the U.S., and around the globe.

What we are starting to see is through these wind energy facts is that we have not taken wind energy seriously enough. There is an incredible amount of energy that can be generated through the power of wind. Until we realize just how awesome this energy source is, we will be left to worry about rising fuel costs and the problems that fossil fuels create for humans, animals, and the environment. Let's hope that wind energy is taken more seriously on a global scale.

(Source: Energyrefuge.com) 

Here is the promised short video of the 4 powerful wind mills in Freiburg, Germany:

video

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Did You Know That...

"[...] enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand."

Al Gore, July 2008

Hi everybody,
I'm writing this post in Germany's green capital Freiburg. This city really has it down when it comes to green living.

A few days ago we took a hike in the nearby mountains. We walked for about 5 hours and the first impressing thing was that I noticed three (3!!!) pieces of junk in the forest during those hours.
The second one was the proximity to three windmills - never in my life did I come any closer to windmills. Oh my god! I could almost feel the power.
Hopefully people all over the world start to realize how GREAT these are.
Check back soon for more information on wind energy and a short video of the Freiburg windmills.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Toilet Paper! by Jennifer Gannett



We don't know each other very well, but I think its time we began talking about something you aren't hearing very much about, even from the greenest of corners. Toilet paper. Yep!  Ohhhh, there are so many people who love to ask enviros, "do you use toilet paper?" as if use of toilet paper and advocacy for our planet's resources need to be mutually exclusive.  Even No Impact Man's Project got the GOTCHA! treatment around the tissuey substance in a New York Times headline.
But did you know that most toilet paper (considered a consumer "low involvement catagory" by the industry) is made from virgin trees? Last year, the New York Times reported that millions of North American trees are harvested for toilet paper, including trees from old growth forests.  Old growth to wipe our butts!?  How can that be?  Well, while a years-long campaign by Greenpeace against leading toilet tissue manufacturer Kimberly-Clark was called off in 2009 after the corporation announced a revised fiber-procurement policy, that doesn't change the fact that a lot of trees are still being cut down for our bums and spills!  This is so silly.  We can do better for our collective greener future, especially in light of the fact that the trees are carbon sinks and harvesting them has an impact on global climate change.

According to the Times article, less than 2% of U.S. homes use recycled toilet paper, so there is a great deal of room for improvement. So the most obvious place to begin is to switch out your virgin pulp-sourced toilet paper (and paper towel and facial tissue) for recycled brands.  You may need to experiment to find the level of, ahem, comfort, that suits your family.  If you are very picky about toilet tissue, as we in the U.S. have become thanks to very clever marketing, you may be interested in reading this article from Grist on which recycled brands fared best (the overall winner was Seventh Generation double rolls).



Other options for those willing to further increase their green cred include the use of pee rags or bidets.  Ask Umbra over at Grist has some thoughtful words on the use of these toilet paper alternatives.
Much of the same goes for paper towels (though I have found that any of the recycled brands are perfectly efficient for cleaning up, say, cat puke).  Try laying in a supply of towels, washcloths, or ready made rags – for real green bonus points, cut up some old stained t-shirts-- and have them readily available to wipe up the inevitable spills of juice, water etc.  Another benefit to this method of cleaning is that you can let the activity be child-led if you have wee ones and have no worries about wasting paper towel!  There are also a variety of re-useable cloth and microfiber products available.  My absolute favorite paper toweling replacements are Skoy cloths. These little gems are durable and absorbent.  But we use plenty of old washcloths and even old cloth diapers leftover from my child's infancy to clean up our daily spills of water, soup, juice etc.
Note that this post isn't just overly-earnest enviro handwringing. Market shares of premium and ultra-premium (such as new three-ply toilet tissue) continue to grow, despite economic tumult and lean times. In fact, Kimberly-Clark is paying out dividends and industry analysts are watching the market carefully as an indicator of the economy! In the meantime, as usual, consumers create the demand and the market.  Knowledge is power, friends, so take this information and please use your new-found TP power accordingly!

Jennifer Gannett lives outside of New York City with her family.  A long-time environmentalist, in her free time she enjoys cooking and eating mouthwatering vegan fare, daydreaming about crafty projects and advocating for animals and the environment.  She is a frequent contributor to Vegbooks.org.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Did You Know?

If every household in the US replaced just one bottle of 25 oz petroleum-based dish liquid with a 25 oz plant-derived product, we could save 129,000 barrels of oil which is enough to heat and cool 7,400 US homes for a year!

(Source: Seventh Generation)

Clean Green, read labels (and be very cautious if the manufacturer doesn't list their ingredients) and buy plant-based supplies. It's easy, it works and it's green!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. - Part III

After talking about reducing our stuff/waste/environmental footprint in Reduce.Reuse. Recycle. - Part I and II, let's move on to Reusing.
Go for seconds! (and I'm not talking about the buffet here :-) Reusing means using things a second, or third or forth time.
Here are a few ideas how to get started:

  • I can't repeat it enough: being green means choosing reusables over disposables (from water bottle to picnic dishes to napkins and shopping bags etc. etc.
  • As far as reusing other stuff goes: be creative and think out of the box. Magazines can be used for craft projects with kids, creating greeting cards, use in scrapbooks,...
  • Received greeting cards can be used for creating unique collages, in scrapbooks, for new cards, as bookmarks etc. etc.
  • Used envelopes can be reused! When I first heard people did that, I thought how cheap they were! Man, was I wrong. Why not give an envelope a second go-round?  Scratch out the address, tear off the stamps and use it again!
  • I reuse almost all of my glass jars (think nut butters, fruit spreads, fruit sauces etc.). Either for storing dried foods such as nuts, dried fruit, flour, coconut flakes and the like (the big plus here is that I don't have to worry about leaching plastics!), or for vases, stationary holder (pens, tools etc) or art projects
  • The same goes for nice-looking bottles: the smaller ones with a good lid I use as a water bottle (until I figured out which store-brought one is safe enough to use). I also store my water kefir in reused  bottles. And another idea is to use bottles as unique candle holders, vases for single flowers - other ideas, anyone?
  • I have seen cans being used as flower or herb pots or stationary holder. They look especially nice when decorated with ribbons
  • When it comes to gift wrapping, I have never understood people who throw away gift bags. I wrap my gifts in packaging paper and/or fabrics, but when one of us receives a gift in a gift bag or nice wrapping paper, I'll always reuse it for another present.
  • Reusing also applies to clothes: instead of throwing away outgrown kids clothes, pass them on to younger siblings, family and friends. For adult clothes that no longer fit or please, how about a swap with friends?
  • Same goes for toys, electronic equipment, furniture, DVDs, CDs, VHS (yes, some people still have a VHS player!!!) and almost anything you can think of. If you want to get rid of stuff but don't know anybody who wants it, you can always post it on freecycle or craigslist
  • I guess composting is a form of reusing as well. In any case, I strongly encourage it, no matter in what situation you live. There's always a way to compost, if you're willing to make that change in your life.
  • Baby gates that are no longer in use or are defect can be used as a clothes drying rack (placed over a bathtub) 
  • Scratched CDs or DVDs can be attached to the back of a bike as a safety reflector
  • More or less every single household thing can be reused at least once (the tinfoil from that last pizza take-out for example - if you do use tinfoil anyway, why not give it a second round for some other leftover food? Squeeze containers (for mustard and the like) are great for cake decorating. Toothbrushes make good cleaning utensils for hard-to-reach spots (unless it's a Preserve toothbrush - they sell with a stamped and addressed pouch that you can use to send the brush back once it's done. Awesome!) The list is endless!
The main thing is to be open and aware. Trust me, once you start, you'll find so many ways how to reuse things. I'd love to hear from you - please share your experience with me!

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Recipe: Nut Bites



    These are super easy-to-make and (for a change) look good as well, at least so I think.

    You'll need:

    * 1 cup raw almonds coarsely chopped (by hand or in blender)
    * 1 cup raw walnuts (coarsely chopped)
    * 1 cup maple syrup
    * 1 cup raw almond butter
    * 1/2 cup shredded coconut flakes

    * extra coconut flakes for covering
    * raw cocoa or carob powder for covering

    Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Put the bowl in the fridge until the mixture is a little hardened (1/2 hour should do it).
    Prepare two little containers with the coconut flakes and the cocoa or carob powder.
    Form bite-sized balls with your hands and roll them in the coconut flakes and the powder.

    Store in a glass container in the fridge.

    Enjoy!

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    3 Ways To Have A Healthier Summer by Lori Rothbard



    Did you know that you have alternatives to using chemical-based products for summer health challenges...
    sunburn, bug bites, cooking burns, heat stroke and more?

    Young Living Essential Oils are products that families all over the globe use to ensure a happy and healthy summer.

    1. Sunburn: Lavender Cooling Mist is your best friend for quenching the heat and pain of a sunburn. The aloe vera and lavender combination puts out the fire and promotes healing to damaged skin. Spray directly onto the affected area and repeat every 10-15 minutes until desired relief is achieved. Also, keep a bottle of Young Living's Lavender essential oil handy for bad burns whether from the sun, the grill or campfire *
    2. Bug Bites: Because of their outstanding antiseptic and oil soluble properties, Young Living Essential Oils are ideal for treating all kinds of insect bites. Young Living Essential Oils such as Lavender and Peppermint reduce insect-bite induced itching and infection. Another oil recommended for itchy bug bites is a blend of Young Living Essential Oils called Purification. Place 1 drop on the insect bite to cleanse and soothe itching.
    3. Heat Stroke: Avoid it! Staying well hydrated is probably the most important step to avoid heat stroke. Add 2 drops of Young Living Lemon oil to a quart of water and 1 tsp. YL Blue Agave Syrup for refreshing healthy lemonade. Stay cool by adding Young Living's Peppermint oil to your drinking water (1-2 drops/16 oz water). Keep a misting bottle of water and YL Peppermint oil to spray on your face (with eyes closed!), legs, arms, back of neck etc. (Peppermint mist recipe: 2 oz of purified water and 4 drops of peppermint oil, double if you need more. Shake and spray. Lavender Cooling Mist can also be added to cool an overheated person).


    Now you have powerful protection for you and your family from the discomforts of the summer season.

    * These suggestions are applicable only when using Young Living Essential Oils.



    Lori Rothbard is a Livingston resident and CEO of New Jersey Essential Oils Healthline. She has been a guest speaker at the Essex County Environmental Center on the topic "Uses for plant-based therapeutic essential oils" and has also been a speaker on the topic of "Going Green with Essential Oils".

    If you have any questions about Young Living Essential Oils, you can contact Lori via the NJ Essential Oils Healthline at 973-789-6253 or via e-mail at iclori@aol.com

    To find out more about Young Living Essential Oils, visit www.icessentialoils.com or www.ic.myningxia.com

    Notice: This information is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to substitute for medical care or to prescribe treatment for any specific health condition. Please see a qualified health care provider for medical treatment. We assume no responsibility to, or liability for, any person or group for any loss, damage or injury resulting from the use or misuse of any information in this post. No express or implied guarantee is given regarding the effects of using any of the products described herein.

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