Monday, December 8, 2008

3 months, 21 days and counting...

At the beginning of snow season four boys = 8 boots, 4 hats, 8 mittens or gloves, 4 pairs of snow pants - all neat and new and clean. The first snowfall changes a bleak, muddy backyard into a endless field of snowy white goodness. The excitement builds. Sleds are hauled down from the garage rafters. Ice hockey skates are readied. Plans are made with all the neighborhood buddies to snowboard, sled, skate and snowball fight. And then, they're out the door.

One month into snow season I give one boy my own pair of snowpants, he managed to blow the knee out of his own sledding down a hill into a rock.

One boy has one glove and one mitten in two different colors rescued from the miscellaneous winter item bin I've been collecting for 13 years.

Hats are seemingly either too small or much too large, from what I guess is the pushing, pulling and grabbing of some sort of snow tackle football.

The rug by my front door is a slushy, muddy mess.

My backyard is no longer a beautiful, pristine expanse of snowy white snow. It's covered with boot tracks, sled tracks, dog tracks, a wayward sled and piles of ice-balls.

And all this in the first solid month of winter. I have 3 months and 21 days until the first chance of spring thaw. However...

It's 7:50 p.m. My boys are exhausted, one is already asleep and the others are actually quietly watching a movie and getting along with each other. Even the dogs are too tired to beg for treats. I guess I'll make it through another winter, even if I have to buy another pair of snowpants.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Magic Numbers

I always have "magic" numbers rolling around in my brain... A 5 minute shower, the 17 minutes it takes to drive to the office, 65 Christmas cards to send out, 12 treats for my preschooler "star of the week", 2.5 pounds of meatloaf to prepare, 4 parent teacher conferences to attend, 1 clarinet recital and so on.

These magic numbers aren't always met. I'm often late to work, I stand in the shower too long on cold winter mornings, I still haven't sent out my Christmas cards and as for the upcoming parent teacher conferences? Let's just say I have a sticky note on the steering wheel of my van so I don't forget...

However there are a few magic numbers that I don't even think about anymore. I used to count how many paper towels I used in a day, trying to shrink my usage. Today I realized I bought a six pack of paper towels back in the hot and humid summer months and haven't bought a new package since.

I used to count juice boxes, bottled juices and cans, making sure I had enough for all my boys. Today, as long as I see each boy's SIGG, easily identifiable by the unique designs they each chose, sitting in the fridge, there is no need to count. I can make more tea, more lemonade or just fill them with tap water.

Each trip to the store used to make me count plastic bags I took because I forgot a tote bag in the van or just plain forgot to tell the clerk to use my own bag. I got into the routine, carrying bags in every store, even the mall, and haven't taken a plastic bag in so long... well, I just can't count how long.

The moral of story? I might not hit all my magic numbers that I intend to when I start out my day, but taking some time to stop and count the ones I have hit time and time again is rewarding. And, it will make me feel a little better about something I'm sure to forget tomorrow. Now, how many treats do I need for the preschool this week? Lemme count...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

croque monsieur si vou plait

That, and a few other phrases, were picked up pretty quickly by my youngest son. Bonjour, merci, si vou plait, croque Monsieur sandwiches, crepes with nutella, the Eiffel Tower, the metro, the Seine and the road where all the cars go round and round are memories that will last a lifetime, even for a four year old.

So, does this mean carbon footprint be damned? Oh, pardon madame, it does not. Yes, we flew to Paris and I know, I know that's a lot of fossil fuel. However, after six days in Paris, do you want to know how many times we road in a car? One taxi, only one - for under 10 minutes as we were caught in the pouring rain. On arrival we road the RER B train straight from Charles de Gaulle into Paris where we caught a series of Metro lines direct to our hotel. From there we traversed the entire city by metro, by foot and even by Batobus on the river Seine. This is a four year-old boy's dream. Buses, trains, planes and boats... Who knew public transportation could be so fun?!?

We taught our son about leisurely lunches in cafes, the treasures of the Louvre, how the Eiffel Tower was constructed and even how good a hot crepe wrapped in wax paper tastes on a cold, wet and windy afternoon standing in front of Notre Dame.

Will I continue to trade a little carbon footprint damage on an airplane for the chance to teach my children that it's really a small world - and not because Disney tells us so? You bet. Will I schelp my luggage, stroller, a stuffed dalmatian, a backpack and a briefcase up and down countless escalators, staircases and one or two really smelly elevators in the Metro because public transportation is part of the experience and is good for the environment? Right again. That's something else I can teach my children while we're abroad, because I can't do it in Detroit.
Teaching my children how to be gracious in French, how to respect another culture and keep some of our green practices in check is all about balance. There's got to be a little give and take in this world and I'm happy to be able to do some of both. Merci!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Open for Business!

We opened one jar of bread and butter pickles today. Almost ate the entire jar. Crispy, tangy and crunchy, just the way we like 'em. I haven't made pickles before in my entire life and even though I'm giving myself a pat on the back... Dang! I can make some great pickles!

Needless to say, I'm guessing the floodgates have opened and we will be munching and crunching our way through our basement shelves now!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Do you live in a toxic wasteland?

This is new to me, I apologize to those that know about this, but simply enter your address and zip code and this service will alert you to any chemical spills or toxic dumping activity within 1/3 mile radius of your home.

With my older boys off and biking around the neighborhood and a lake right in our backyard, this is always a concern for me. Between swimming in the lake and rolling around in the park playing football, my boys are certainly germ and toxin carriers! Check it out here: GreenScreener

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gotta Be Greenwashing...

Sitting around the table yesterday at my meetings in NYC I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Something that distracted me.
All day meetings like this always include lunch brought in from a deli or restaurant, coffee cups, bottled water, sodas and so on. And, I hate to tell you how many of these major corporations don't even recycle their own bottles, glass and cans. Many of these are also trying to sell you their green messages and products, which unnerves me to no end. However, that's not what I am there for, so I might casually ask over lunch were I can recycle my glass bottle or where their paper recycling center is, hoping that my concern for the environment might rub off. Even a little.

Yesterday, while concentrating on the presentation at hand, I notice the woman sitting next to me has this bottle in her hand.

What? 100% recyclable? That isn't new! ALL water bottles are recyclable. Eco shape? Smaller label? Less plastic? Whatever. Ooooh, it's FLEXIBLE! That's it, I am *so* sold! Gimme that bottle! As I'm sure all water companies must have heard by now that 60 million empty water bottles are thrown away (read: not recycled) every freakin' day in the US. And, to make matters worse one single person uses 166 disposable plastic water bottles each year.

Is this greenwashing? I certainly felt like it was yesterday as I watched every single meeting attendee throw their water bottles, soda cans, cardboard deli trays and napkins straight into the trash can. I think it's better than nothing, but barely so. Is it deceptive to try to make the consumer feel good about buying this plastic bottle over the other plastic bottle? Isn't any plastic bottle in the landfill a bad plastic bottle? If you don't recycle it, how is this bottle that much better than any other?

Ahhh, if it smells like greenwashing, then I'm pretty sure each sip tastes like greenwashing. Or, BPAs, whatever comes first.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Green Mom on the Road

Last night I...

Packed my bag with an empty thermos (for my airport Starbucks), threw in a container of roasted nuts, a couple of fruit leathers, my trusty iPod, a book I've been meaning to read and my Clean Well hand sanitizer. The working mom is back on the road. My day today goes like this:

Up at 3:30 a.m.

In mini-van by 4:15 a.m.

At airport by 5:00 a.m.

Take off 6:15 a.m.

NYC by 8:30 a.m.

Meetings until 3:30 p.m.

Back to LaGuardia at 4:30 p.m.

Take off at 5:45 p.m.

Home at 8:45 p.m.

Tomorrow? I'm making peach pie. With ice cream. I deserve it. And, so does my husband who was at home, watching over four boys. Or, maybe my boys deserve the pie for putting up with my husband. OK, pie all around. Yum.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So, What Now?

I don't know what to eat. Or if I should eat. I mean, I worked all summer slaving to put up food for the winter, but now... Should I eat it? It's funny, really. There's a light blanket of snow on the ground. It's 27 degrees right now and even colder with the wind chill. Still... Is it time?

I haven't made a pie with all the peaches that almost brought me to tears, there were so many.

Not a single muffin has been made with the tens of pounds of blueberries picked by hand by my boys.

Carrots are frozen, waiting for soup and stew.

Pickles have been canned in their tangy bread and butter brine, but they sit on a shelf in my basement gathering dust.

Row after row of crushed tomatoes are soldiered together on the shelf below, waiting to weather the lasagna brigade sure to come.

Save for a few cupfuls of corn tossed into the soup I made on Sunday and the single can of blueberry cherry sauce I cracked open to serve with crepes during a brunch I was hosting, I haven't touched a thing.

What is wrong with me? Am I hoarding food? Squirreling it away like the furry critters still racing around my backyard furiously trying to hide just one more nut?

I think it's knowing all of that hard work, the precious hours, the late nights and the memory of the farmer's markets will be gone in an instant. I like looking at the rows of shiny jars, the perfectly stacked freezer storage bags labeled so neatly in my deep freezer and the funny root cellar contraption I cobbled together in my garage holding my boxed apples, potatoes and onions. I feel well stocked, ready and prepared.

So, what now? Is it time? When do we eat?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Celebrity Chef

Budgetary constraints mean we are eating in more. A lot more. Like never eat out unless we are traveling, have a gift card or there just isn't any way carry out will do in a pinch. However, that doesn't mean we're eating lower quality food because, I hate to say it, I'm sort of a food snob.

That doesn't mean I only eat lobster and truffles with a side of caviar or anything. Actually, I prefer hearty, home cooked comfort foods over fancy dining any day. Beside, my boys would totally freak out and threaten to strike if fish eggs were on the menu... For that matter, me too.

What I mean is that I prefer my local raw organic cheese, which isn't cheap. I love my fair trade, freshly roasted organic coffee from my food club, but it's certainly more expensive than Folgers. I can't live with the mental anguish that comes with buying meats from factory farms. So, by cutting out the eating out we can still afford these little necessities / luxuries.

Still, I'm back to a full time working mom status and that means that I don't have as much time to prepare all these home cooked, comfort food meals. That said, I've started a new tradition in the Eco Burban household... Sunday cram-session cooking. Cram in as many meals (using similar ingredients) and prep them, or fully cook them so they can be quickly reheated and do it all in one afternoon. This way I can stretch my food dollar and my precious time with my kids.

Today I whipped around my kitchen like one of those crabby celebrity chefs, muttered swear words and all, and managed to bang out the following meals in under three hours:

One humanely and locally raised chicken in the slow cooker gave me:

1 cheesy chicken noodle casserole
1 extra large pot adobo chile, chicken, bean & corn tortilla soup
7 cups of chicken stock reserved in the freezer for another meal

I also prepped a 2.5 lb. tangy BBQ turkey meatloaf and cream cheese smashed potatoes

18 freshly baked chocolate cupcakes perfect for hungry boy's lunchboxes (organic and local mix courtesy of our local mill)

These three meals will provide not only meals possibly not one, but two nights these week. They will also provide leftover lunches for me to take to the office all week.

That is, of course. depending on hungry boys... Last week in a single sitting we put down 2.5 pounds of chicken, 2 pounds of potatoes and 12 bread sticks.

In. One. Meal. Scary, ain't it? Now you know why I have to stretch my food dollar!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is the Mall Dead?

There is an interesting article from Newsweek that would suggest that it is. The mall I worked at as a high school student (yes, I thought I was soooo cool!) is now 85% shuttered and slated for demolition to make way for a baseball park. A mere 15 years ago you couldn't get a parking spot and you might wait in line for a Cinnabon for 15 minutes. Today, the store I worked at is long closed, the restaurants are gone and a lone Kohls holds up one of the mall while a tired, old Macy's the other. Is this the end of the mall, or the end of consumerism, or just a by-product of a bad economy? Or, are the consumers hell-bent on the idea of buying "stuff" just looking to new venues to fill the void?

I am a big fan of Craigslist, the thrift stores and Freecycle and according to the article, the numbers are growing:

The Salvation Army has seen sales jump 15 percent at some locations, while The Freecycle Network, a clearing house for second-hand goods has grown from 40 people to around 6 million since its founding in 2003. Each day, the group says, it keeps 500 tons of stuff out of landfills and in use. Another second-hand movement, known as The Compact, where members commit to buying nothing new for an entire year (underwear excluded), has grown from 10 friends to 10,000 members since 2004. Even those who are still buying new are viewing shopping through a changed lens: almost 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 30 prefer to use brands that are "socially conscious"—environmentally safe and produced through fair labor.

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want a lot of "consumers" driving up the prices at thrift stores or on Craigslist, only to throw away what they don't want or didn't need. I have looked to these places for years to find great reusable goods for Halloween costumes, back to school or holiday decorating. It's been great for the planet and good for the budget. It's a sustainable way of life, so "consumers" please think twice before you shop. Consider the planet, consider your budget and consider what you truly need. If you don't need it, don't buy it. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A CraigsList Christmas

Money is tight, the Detroit economy is looking pretty grim and the family budget is downright squeaky. However, I just don't skimp on Christmas. We don't buy our children frivolous items all year long, they get what they need and as for what they want? Well, our oldest boys babysit. That's right, I raised darn good boy babysitters and they get plenty of work. And, the pay is so good from time to time I ponder the idea of dusting off my old babysitting certificate. Add that to their b-day cash from grandparents and family and that leaves them lots of green to burn on video games, ice cream treats and DVDs. We feel like they work hard to earn what they want all year long and come Christmas time, it's our turn to splurge.

So, how am I going to manage a nice Christmas without breaking the bank AND staying green? Craigslist, plain and simple. Last weekend we bought our 4-year old a new loft bed, as his toddler bed was much, much too small. We saved $1200 by buying a year old set, exactly the same as still sold at the furniture store today. This same mathematical equation can easily be applied to Christmas shopping. For example:

My boys own sports gear (expeeeensive sports gear) for all the sports they play competitively. Baseball, indoor baseball, track, cross country, basketball and so on. However, other sports they just dabble in (hockey, soccer & football) we just peruse Craigslist.

This winter they all want hockey skates to kick around in on our lake after the deep freeze that's rapidly approaching. Detroit really is "Hockey-town" with many young boys playing on hockey leagues wearing ridiculously expensive skates. Where do they off load these skates after a couple of months? Craigslist.

A pair of top quality, barely worn skates that retail for $160 can be easily found for only $30. I'm no math whiz, but that ratio certainly makes sense to me!

Now that I have the skates, I'm getting busy looking for used video games. Anyone have a couple of used Madden 09 video games they want to part with???

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Obama funny with a great message

Make the time to make history, grab a friend (or two) and go out and vote on Nov. 4th! I don't know about you, but I always take my boys along with me when I vote. It's a great time to explain the process, explain your views and remind them how lucky we are to live in such a great country. I know I want my sons invested in the idea of our right to vote and their future ability to make a difference in our world. Besides? There's just nothing cuter than a gaggle of little boys (OK, so now some are big boys) proudly wearing "I Voted!" stickers!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween UNedibles!

And here after I said my plate was too full to blog... However, this is too important not to pass along and yes, it true, you can confirm it on Snopes here.

As if we didn't already know the food system in our country was broken and it was a bad, bad, bad idea to eat food coming from China, here's a warning about Halloween chocolates that may contain melamine. The warning comes from Canada regarding Pirate's Gold Milk Chocolate Coins sold in Costco stores. Please read the article and make sure to check your children's Halloween baskets for these candies and warn them against eating anything before the arrive home.

From Snopes:

"On October 8, 2008, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a consumer advisory warning the public not eat, distribute or sell Sherwood brand Pirate's Gold milk chocolate imported from China. The candy is being recalled for testing positive for the industrial chemical melamine, a substance at the center of the tainted milk controversy in China. The coins were being sold across Canada by Costco and may have also been vended in bulk packaged or as individual pieces at dollar and bulk stores."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beaten by the Economy

I am tired, I am frustrated and most of all I am sad. I have been beaten by the economy. No time to post here on the blog regularly, barely ten minutes for my kids these days, not to mention my husband.

The forecast is pretty bleak here in Michigan. Chrysler plans to cut one out of every four jobs by the end of the year, Ford and GM are pretty much in the same boat. Plants are closing, local businesses are shuttered, people are moving and prospects are pretty grim.

To make up for our decrease in income, I have been back to working full time, including travel, stress and 50-60 hour weeks. My husband is working pretty much all hours of the waking day and we are trying not to become one of the statistics. We keep telling ourselves that we're just thankful to be employed, we're thankful to have our home and we're most thankful for our healthy children.

Our neighborhood, once easily recognized as "the" place to live by simply mentioning a zip code is now a wasteland of dreams. Many homes have been foreclosed upon and auctioned, some just up and abandoned. One of those was looted and used by teenagers as a party place, so today I look from my kitchen window upon a boarded up home complete with sagging siding and waist-high weeds. This certainly can't be where I live, this is not where I want to be today.

I've tried to find the good, fighting to stay green around the edges as the green in our wallet dwindled. We've volunteered our time instead of donating our money, we helped neighbors in their time of crisis, we've looked for the silver lining.

It just wasn't there.

If you would, please excuse the lack of posts. Pardon the partisan political statements. I apologize for the lack of fun and humor. I've just lost my ability to find my way at the moment. The way back to the way it was before. Before my friends were losing their jobs left and right. Before foreclosure was so common my kids now know about their friends losing their homes. Before banks got a bailout while parents work 50 hour weeks just to save their homes and dreams.

I'll be dropping in and out here, when I can, and reading your blogs for a pick-me-up. Goodness knows, I certainly will need them! See you soon,

~ Eco 'burban mom

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Green Mom on the road...

I've been gone for four days. Traveling for work, attending some trade markets and in general miserably sleeping in hotel rooms, eating chain restaurant food with co-workers and missing my children and husband. However, this isn't a misery, gripe and cry blog. It's a green blog. So, here's how I try, really try, to make business travel a little greener.

1. Carry a Sigg, Kleen Kanteen or other reusable water bottle as well as morning coffee mug. Remember - please don't attempt to carry a Sigg full of water or tea through security. They really don't look to happy when you want to dump water into one of the gray bins. Bonus? While in meetings your co-workers will sneak curious glances at your dented, birdie and flower printed Sigg and wonder... "What in the heck do you think she's got in there??"

2. Why walk when you can ride? I'm from Detroit and we lack any reliable source of public transportation of any kind, so when in Rome.... At trade shows, large cities or markets I ride the shuttle buses, opt for ride share taxis or vans to and from the airports, I take the train or subways. Occasionally, I have a co-worker or two who thinks this is a hassle, but for the most part they are game and I save the company some cash which they love.

3. Hotel living is certainly not like home, but you should act like it. Turn out the lights when you leave the room, ask the front desk not to leave a newspaper at your door (unless you read it, then in which case recycle it), reuse your towels, turn of the tap and in general, behave just as you would at home. Except for the whole "yank off the yucky comforter and throw it in the corner" thing...

4. BYOS - otherwise known as "Bring Your Own Stuff". A shampoo bar is a girl's best friend. It gets around the TSA's funny "NO LIQUIDS unless in a 3 oz. container in yet another plastic zip-top bag" rule. For a few days a shampoo bar is perfect for washing your hair, scrubbing your bod and even shaving your legs and underarms. Those little freebies at the hotel? Leave them untouched or ask the front desk to remove them so they can be used by someone who needs them.

5. Here's my biggest pitfall. Eating out. When with a large group someone usually says, let's eat at Crapplebees or Thank God It's Not Fridays! UGH. Factory farmed meats, dehydrated veggies and corn syrup laden drinks. Sometimes you just can't avoid going with the group consensus, at which time I usually ask the waiter for vegetarian options, usually getting the eyebrow raise from a co-worker as if to say, Oh, she's one of those. Yeah, well, I'm also your boss so let's keep that in mind. However, when I'm traveling solo, or with an adventurous pal, I usually ask the concierge for a local suggestion or a place specializing in fresh, organic or regional specialty foods. I have had some pretty good opportunities to dine in some great restaurants from coast to coast that might have looked questionable from the outside, but had some great food and people inside. The bellman is usually pretty happy to suggest his wife's favorite restaurant or his brother's little hole in the wall place specializing in killer tamales!

6. Guilt gifts. I hate to say it, but sometimes you just gotta cave and bring the kiddies something so they have that to look forward to when Mom comes home. And? Dad can totally snap a four-year old out of an "I miss Mommy whiiiiine" with the reminder of a special surprise sure to come. A great idea is to stock up on things AHEAD of time. I never have a spare minute while on the road and I hate to buy plastic, airport crap. The next time you are at a craft fair or art store, pick up neat (read lightweight...) coloring books, crafts, books, tattoos, pencils etc. and stash them in a back or hidden pocket of your travel case. Voila! Upon returning home choose and item or two and you have a gift you can live with purchasing and you are a four-year old's very cool Mom.

There you have it, I have tons of little tips and tricks for business travel. But, I am home and have a mountain of laundry to do and lots of little kiddies that want to see what I've brought them....

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Signs of Hope - Please Help!

In the wake of the hate, anger and untruths (video) that threaten to separate our nation and it's people, let's join together. I refuse to believe that my children will grow up in a world of separatists, ignorance or hate. These scenes (video) from the rallies in Pennsylvania literally brought tears to my eyes and I pray my children never see this degradation of our culture. Rather than let this break my spirit, I believe we can work together.

So, whomever your candidate, whatever your party, please spread messages of hope. Please spread messages of community. Please tell your children stories about how to work together, to bring peace to our country and to care about one another. Please spread the hope!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What if...

Obama/Biden vs. McCain/Palin, what if things were switched around?.....think about it.
Would the country's collective point of view be different?

Ponder the following:

What if the Obamas had paraded five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?

What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?

What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?

What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after a severe disfiguring car accident, when she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?

What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to painkillers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five? (The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.)

What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker, and Obama couldn't read correctly from a teleprompter?

What if Obama was the one with a history of public display, on many occasions, of a serious anger management problem?

What if Michelle Obama's family had made their money from beer distribution?

What if the Obamas had adopted a white child?

You could easily add to this list. If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are? This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference. Neither is perfect but color shouldn't be a factor.

Educational Background:

Barack Obama:

Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.

Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude ("With Great Honor")

Joseph Biden:

University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.

Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)

John McCain:

United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

Sarah Palin:

Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism

Education may not be everything, but this is about the two highest offices in the land as well as our standing in the world. Think about it!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Cost of Going Green - The Dining Room

My dining room:

Craigslist antique furniture find - 1910 Mission-style dining set made of quarter-sawn oak - a table, 8 chairs, 4 leaves, custom made cabinet for leaf storage, buffet and mirror for $2300.

Planet savings: Buying used helps to control use of forested trees, toxic chemicals and factory waste and trucking carbon emissions. Buying locally put my $2300 right back into the hands of a family less than 30 minutes from my home.

Wallet savings: A comparable set of the same quality new would have cost around $11,000. Of course we have a few dings and scuffs and the chair seats should be recovered. So, I really only estimate my savings to average around $6000. However, with that savings I can contribute to all four of my boy's college funds for an entire year.

Setting the table:

We've nixed paper plates, disposable utensils and paper cups.

Planet savings: It's proven that an energy star rated dishwasher only run when full saves 25% more energy than the standard dishwasher. You save even more by choosing the no-heat dry cycle. One set of good quality stoneware and utensils will last for years. (Unless you have - ahem - boys with the dropsies!) All of the paper plates, utensils and cups saved from the landfill for a family of six is potentially staggering.

Wallet savings: When we used to buy paper plates I could easily use a $10.50 package of Dixie plates from Costco every two weeks - roughly the same for paper cups. A total monthly cost of $30-40. Factor in a slight increase in dishwasher usage and I approximate a monthly savings of $25. That sounds little today, but when you add it up over a year I am saving $300. One car payment. The January gas bill. Two nights of hotel stay on vacation. That's worth it!

Green changes are great for the planet, but when you add up the savings, it really is great for your wallet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

OK, so I'm procrastinating. Again.

I planned to start my series on "The Cost of Going Green" tomorrow, but I was called out of town on business. Doesn't it just suck how work keeps interfering with my life? Though, given the economy, I think I'll keep my day job. So, in lieu of a real, thoughtful and cerebral post, I leave you with these political funnies. See you tomorrow!
  • "Naturally the smart thing to do to solve your economic woes is to demonize the Democrats. And of course, Sarah Palin is more than happy to oblige. She's been saying that Obama hangs out with terrorists. And you know, I think the evangelical lady who's in a video getting blessed by a witch doctor, who's married to a secessionist, and can't name a newspaper -- she's right, Obama is scary." --Bill Maher
  • "The question she keeps asking at all of the rallies is, 'Who is Barack Obama?' You know what, genius, maybe if you'd picked up a newspaper in the last year you'd know. He's the guy who's kicking your ass." --Bill Maher
  • "They had the town hall format, and that meant that the candidates could wander around on stage. You know, I like John McCain, but wandering around on stage there, he looked like a retiree who can't find his Buick." --David Letterman
  • "Are you excited about Sarah Palin? Well, yesterday she referred to Afghanistan as our neighboring country. Apparently, she can see bin Laden's cave from her house." --David Letterman
  • "The legislative panel in Alaska investing Troopergate released their report that says Sarah Palin illegally abused her power as governor by firing the state police chief because he wouldn't fire her sister's ex-husband. But they said she didn't actually break the law so she won't go to prison. Which is a pity because it would have been the first time she was ever involved in a complete sentence." --Bill Maher
  • Jon Stewart on whether he's taking sides in the election: "If you, out of nowhere, are going to grab a woman out of the woods and make her your vice presidential candidate, what can I do? [Sarah Palin] is like Jodie Foster in the movie 'Nell.' They just found her, and she was speaking her own special language. Have you noticed how [Palin's] rallies have begun to take on the characteristics of the last days of the Weimar Republic? In Florida, she asked 'Who is Barack Obama?' Hey, lady, we just met YOU five f**ing weeks ago."

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Cost of Going Green - Part 1

I've been a little despondent lately. I mean, who hasn't? Between my regular day-to-day activities that can just plain wear me right out, now we've got to monitor CNN or NPR regularly for imminent stock market crashes or bank catastrophes. To quote a old favorite movie of mine, I've sorta been in "The pit of despair" and a little absent from the blog world.

To share a little, I'm a young mother and I've been through some pretty lean times when my kids were young and I had little money. If the rent was paid and the kids fed, it was a successful week. Though, through education and hard work I've managed to own a nice home, drive a new car, I never worry about food on the table and have even carved out a little savings, an IRA and some college fund cash for later use. Only to see my hard work, sweat and tears being pissed away each time I open a statement from our financial advisor. And, now I'M pissed. Really. I am. I have succeeded because I busted my ass. I worked hard, I put my kids first and I have given back whenever I could and now? I'm being punished for it and so is my bank account.

Friends ask why I just don't give up this "green thing" as they call it. Isn't it more expensive? Oh, all that organic food just costs so much, they say. Wouldn't eating regular food save you some money? What about all the natural beauty products? Wouldn't you just save more by getting all of that from Target? I can't imagine what you pay for handmade soap!

And then, I am just pissed again. Why doesn't anyone see it? I actually, freakin' SAVE money by being conscious of what I buy and who I buy it from. Because of that local businesses benefit from my dollar spent, which means they in turn can buy products from someone else. Hellooooo? Anyone in there? If our dollars are spent in our own community, maybe EVERYONE would benefit. Cripes.

So, rather than keep ranting and choking back curse words, I thought I would write a simple series of posts on "The Cost of Going Green". Do you want to see in my wallet? Do you want to see where my money goes? Do you want to know exactly how much I save each month by going green? Well, then, I'll tell ya. It's actually freakishly frugal.

Starting next week, look for my new series of posts, organized by room of the home, right on down to the furry, four-footed critters sleeping on my feet at this very moment. I swear, it's cheaper. I swear, it's better for the environment. I swear, it's better for the local economy. And, most of all? I swear, it's easy. And, today with all the craziness and stress, couldn't we all use a little easy?

Oh, I see you rolling your eyes out there. You don't believe me, do you? Put down the Cascadian Farms granola bar and back away from the Horizon yogurt in plastic tubes, you'll be glad you did. Your wallet will thank you. The planet might even hug you. See you on Monday!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Even a Novice Can Build Community

Many bloggers write about building community. Green Bean has great tips and pointers on how to reach out to schools, townships and cities. One Element in Time has an entire series on ways you can help build your community to sustain yourself and the planet. I have always been a bit envious of their courage, their strength.

These bloggers have wonderful ideas, however I hadn't really ventured out of my own shell to try these ideas on for size until Friday night. See, I do attempt to build community, though I tend to stay in my own comfort zone. We started a recycling program for our little league which was a challenge, yet directly related to my boys, so I tackled it. I wrote our school district leaders and had a conference call with the food service department to address the reauthorization of The Child Nutrition Act that affects the school lunch program. Again, I reached out into my community, but again, it directly affected my family and their schools. I write letters to congress, address ecological issues to our Lake Association and even host the blog for our local Michigan for Obama campaign office.

Selfishly, many of these efforts are directly related to things I personally feel passionate about or want changed in our community. This Friday I broke out of my comfort zone and attended a "Power of Community" meeting planned by the brilliant woman who organizes our food club.

She brought together farmers, bee keepers, students, energy conservation specialists, teachers, bloggers and activists. The first half of the evening was a screening of the movie "The Power of Community - How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" For those who haven't seen this movie, it's an hour well spent. I'm sure your local library might have it or it cold be found online. Yes, you could watch this movie by yourself, but as the woman who sponsored our event said, "Isn't the point of community, getting together as a community to watch the movie?" I plan to review the movie in a later post, for those interested.

The second half of the evening featured introductions of all the "Community Leaders" she invited that were present in the audience followed by a meet and greet in the lobby where products and information were available. And, wouldn't you know it, she asked two bloggers in the audience to stand up - I was surprised to find out my name was being called. How could I be a community leader? I simply sit behind my desk, with the anonymously of my computer screen to protect me and I blog. I write letters. I pass along valuable information. I get frustrated, I rant, I write funnies about my kids and sometimes I just vent. I rarely think that this little contribution builds community.

As the leader of our food club pointed out, alone she wouldn't have the time to research the information I write about on the food club blog. Alone, she wouldn't be able to reach across the country, from east coast to west, gathering information about food, politics, policy and greener living. She doesn't have the time. She is busy sourcing local foods, meeting with farmers, organizing her product for the Farmer's Market and most importantly, raising her twin boys. That's her part in building community. And mine? The information I provide to her and the members of our club is my little part in building community. See? Even a novice can do it! So, each time you sit at your computer to blog and you don't think it really matters or that no one is reading. They are. You are building community with every keystroke!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten

In other words... Lessons learned from my four-year old:

While in Trader Joe's for groceries, my youngest happily pointed out to the clerk manning the register that he found the stuffed monkey hidden in the coffee and he would like his "prize". After joyously accepting his organic lollipop the clerk asks if he would like a balloon. Oh, yes, goodie, goodie yes he would certainly like a balloon! Green, please.

The clerk reaches up and takes the entire group of green balloons and proceeds to offer one small four-year old the ENTIRE batch balloons. My son looks up at him quizzically and says, "No fwanks, I onaly need one bawoon." The clerk is surprised and looks at me as if to say, what are you kidding me? I was going to give him seven balloons and he only wants one?

I reach down, tie the single green balloon to my son's wrist and head to the parking lot. Hey, Bubba, I ask, why did you only want one balloon? His wise little face, dripping with sticky lollipop residue looks up at me and grins. "Momma, I need to leave bawoons at the store for other kids. Someone else might want a green one too!"

Yes, everything we needed to know we learned in Kindergarten. Imagine if we all only took what we needed and made sure everyone got what they needed too. Thanks for the lesson, little one, you certainly are wise!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Need a House? Here's a Nice One...

I don't know about you, but my kids could really go for this air conditioned playhouse and I'm pretty sure the eco 'burban dad could throw a good party with the Budweiser on tap at the three full bars around the inground pool. Me? Well, I certainly could use 14.5 bathrooms. Shoot, I could clean one a day for two whole weeks! Oh? You said you wanted it? OK, fine. I'll let you have it...

Update: Apparently this video has mysteriously disappeared from CNN. Don't you find that just a little suspicious? I do! So, if you still want to see the video, you can still get it on YouTube!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Have an Apple Crisis! Help!

No, not APLS, but there's another topic that I have been lagging behind on. Whew, between kids, jobs and being sick I am really behind! Anyway, make sure to check out the APLS blog to find out more about our local Great Lakes APLS. I plan a quick post later today welcoming everyone back to our region for fall. And, I need some local answers for THIS:

What do I do with all these apples? See, I was hoodwinked. Tricked. Scammed. By my own sister! My mother, yes the one of peaches fame, was kind enough to bring us a couple of bushels of apples from Northern Michigan. My sister was supposed to take half for her family. Does that look like my half to you? I didn't think so. I think she took five apples out of the bag and sent the rest to me!

I will can applesauce, I will freeze apple pie fixin's but how in the heck am I going to store the rest? I don't have a root cellar, we unplugged our extra refrigerator over a year ago and I don't really want to plug it back in just for apples. Help me create a root cellar or rent me a storage space somewhere! I am drowning in apples. Thanks, sis.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mom Down! Mom Down!

I'm sick. I should have seen it coming. Two of the eco 'burban boys were hit with a nasty case of bronchitis and sinusitis last week, requiring mom to dispense medicines, get up in the middle of the night and prepare special meals for the sick ones. Guess who's got it now...??

Two boxes of tissues, countless tea bags and lots of TV watching and I'm still not feeling any better. What have I noticed about being sick? It's not green. Not even a little bit green. This morning I am still single-handedly destroying trees and forests with my tissue usage, styrofoam take-out containers litter the fridge (eco 'burban dad was in charge of feeding the restless natives...) and cardboard bagel buckets reside in my recycling bin. Ugh.

Well, you win some and you lose some. I'm off to toast my leftover bagel in the office kitchen. However, it will be spread with my own homemade jam and some local butter. I guess I'm on the mend!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Please Push the Reset Button

What is wrong with the world? We have this. And this. And even rocket fuel in our water.

And, yes, this too is a crisis that could lead to the US's demise as an economic superpower, but is the only worry we have right now the death of banks that really shouldn't have been giving out these kinds of loans anyway?

What are we as a nation reading these days? News of former teen star Lindsay Lohan becoming lesbian tops news the Arctic Circle has dwindled to it's second lowest level making polar bears so desperate they resort to cannibalism.

Even political news is dominated by eye glass trends and email scandal. Doesn't anyone in government, politics or business care that our environment is in crisis too? That in 30 years it really won't make a difference what type of eyeglasses our president might wear or that former teen-queen junkies are unfit parents? Because our earth might be too hot or too unstable or too unsafe for our children to inhabit?

Big surprise, people, big surprise. Don't tell me you didn't see it coming. You didn't care. Today's news stories ranking as most popular? Nicole Kidman is crediting a waterfall she swam in with her fertility. Our possible, shudder, future Vice President likes to pose for pretty pictures, but prefers to dodge and hide when it's time to answer tough questions. Why aren't we reading about health care strategies or renewable energy plans? What about education for the poor, healthier school lunches or animal rights?

I'm screaming inside. I feel sick. Yes, I care about our financial crisis and the election too, when the candidates aren't bickering and pointing fingers anyway. But, that doesn't mean I stopped caring about the environment, education, our children, the Arctic Circle or animal rights. Will someone please press the reset button on the media? On the government? On the political parties? Thank you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

And Darkness Falls...

As much as I love fall, the changing of the seasons can be a drag. Just when I'm at my tiredest (back to school time really sucks the life right out of me) the darkness of winter begins to creep in. It's so hard to jump out of bed when it's cold and dark and your brain is telling you to go back to sleep. Walking the dog in the pitch-black, chilly morning doesn't have that same invigorating feeling as it does in the bright sunshine of an early summer's day. Watching darkness fall at 8:00 in the evening when just a month ago children were playing baseball, swimming and swinging at that same time makes you long for a comfy bed and a down comforter.

So, to make a long story short. I'm tired. Really, really tired. I am drifting back into bad habits. Three cups of coffee for breakfast. Meals eaten on the run. Dinner haphazardly thrown together. Laundry piling up around every corner. Doggies staring forlornly a their leashes hoping for a walk. Yesterday, I used a paper towel. I was too tired to make my way to the linen closet for a clean dishtowel. It was my first paper towel in weeks, maybe even months.

How do I get back on track? Or am I just on a slippery slope backwards into a life of un-greenness? I managed to wake up early today to walk the puppy, thinking I was getting back in the game. Wandering through the dark streets I stepped into a pothole, wrenching my back. Figures. At least no one else was awake to hear cursing and muttering. Is it just another sign to simply stay in bed? Maybe...

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Actual proof that maybe the world is coming around. Just when I thought I was too tired, too stressed out, stretched too thin. A sunny afternoon, a circus show, kid's crafts and low and behold - recycling, water bottle refilling stations, local food and drink and an afternoon spent with a 4-year old. Maybe I won't give up the fight today.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thrift Store or Toy Store?

Last month I was busy hitting all the thrift stores around town for back to school clothes. I scored pretty big, but picked up a couple of extra items along the way. The littlest eco 'burban boy tagged along on one trip and managed to hit the toy jackpot.

From the corner of the store I hear a little boy squeal of delight. Out of the depths of a basket he pulls a large monster truck emblazoned with "Grave Digger" in neon green lettering. I gamely try to talk him out of the toy, begging him to think of all the other trucks and cars stashed in his bedroom.

No dice. He's in love with monster trucks, much to my chagrin. (Ummm, I know very little about monster trucks, but something tells me they're NOT eco-friendly?!?) I check the price tag - $2.99. A bargain really, considering it most likely cost a good $30 or more with it's flashing lights and motorized actions. Grave Digger came home with us, and now takes up the most prize parking spot in the eco 'burban boy's bedroom.

This week is "My Favorite Thing" week at his preschool. Rather than choose an expensive remote controlled car, a fancy brand-new truck or even a favorite blankie, "Grave Digger" is going to school. I smile as I pack the truck into his backpack. Who knew $2.99 for a reused toy would bring him - and me - so much joy.

Make no mistakes, the thrift store isn't just for clothing. Sometimes it's the "Favorite Toy Store" too.

Thanks, Ike

Thanks, Ike, for the havoc and disaster in Texas. Millions without power, hundreds of thousands unable to return home. Many dead, many more injured and dreams crushed. Homes, schools, businesses, infrastructure, parks and gardens damaged beyond repair.

Ike reached us all the way in Michigan. We got more than 8 inches of rain in 24 hours. (Following steady down pouring rain unrelated to Ike the entire day prior) Lakes and rivers reached historical heights, roads washed away, basements flooded. My 65 year old lake cottage home sprung a leak in her original foundation that held tight through many families before my own.

Warming, Ike screamed! Warning! Ice caps are melting, ocean temperatures are rising, storms are strengthening. Take heed and protect your family. Protect your planet. Protect your fragile ecosystems.

As I listen to the hum of our two dehumidifiers, one fan and one clothes dryer motor continuously in our basement I understand the power of a storm that started near the equator and reached as far north as the Canadian border. I also realize how lucky I am to be warm, safe and dry with electricity connected and water flowing.

For those of us safely out of the path of hurricanes, tidal waves, tornadoes and monsoons, it's our responsibility to protect those directly in their wake. It does take a village to raise a planet! For those able to donate to the victims of Hurricane Ike, please visit the Red Cross and give to those in need. For those unable to donate, please protect our planet. Reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Just for Fun!

If you didn't watch it live, it is worth a moment to watch this skit. Seriously, I was laughing so hard I spit out my drink. My dinner guests weren't as amused!

A Green Mom Goes to the Mall

I haven't been to the mall in ages. I can't even remember the last time I even thought I might want to go to the mall. This weekend I had to go to the mall to pick up a few items from Pottery Barn we needed at my office for a research project. While I was there I thought I would wander around as we had the remnants of Hurricane Ike in town on Sunday and our outdoor plans were cancelled. I need to replace my very worn out four-year-old black pants and skirt before a handful of business trips I have to take in October, so I figured the timing couldn't be better.
1. Pants are ridiculously expensive! Can anyone tell me when both JCrew and Banana Republic decided they could charge $128 for a single pair of pants? Don't worry, I didn't buy pants at either store. I succumbed to the Gap for a $54 pair.

2. Did you know Pottery Barn thinks they are green? They carry aluminum water bottles that look mysteriously like a SIGG knock-off, except for the whole "made in China" part. Throw in a couple of recycled material picture frames and a box of sustainable wood colored pencils ($24 for 24 pencils!) and Voila! The store is green! Or not... When I refused the copious paper wrapping for my single plate, single napkin ring and picture frame and then broke out my reusable tote, the saleswoman looked at me like I sprouted horns.

3. No one, and I mean NO ONE, at our local mall carries reusable totes. I'm pretty sure the sales staff at Banana Republic thought I stole something.

4. Did you know 80's fashion is totally back in style? Me neither and it's a good way to keep me out of the mall for a very, very long time. Yikes, totally junior high flash back!

5. Does everyone wear pajamas to the mall? Interesting... I saw more girls wearing pajama pants then the last time I went to a slumber party. Again, total junior high flashback!

6. If you don't have a Starbucks cup in your hand, you seriously stick out like a sore thumb.

Lesson learned. Two pairs of pants and $106 later I won't be going back to the mall anytime soon. I felt like a zoo exhibit someone let out of it's cage. It's funny, once you break the mall-habit it's very hard to go back...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Take a Blog Break for Activism

No, I'm not quitting the blog, but expanding my horizons. Being a Green Mom and an APLS has sparked my interest and, most importantly, made me get off my duff and volunteer.

Thanks to Green Bean's back to school post, I pitched the idea of a sustainable schoolyard to my oldest three son's middle school PTSA president and we have a meeting this Friday to explore the concept in tandem with our Science Department and Life Management classrooms.

I sent my school district leaders my post on the importance of commenting on the USDA's website to improve the future of school lunches before the reauthorization of The Child Nutrition Act in 2009 - and got great feedback. Then I took it a step further. After reading The Green Parent's back to school post I also threw out the idea of the Farm to School project to the school principal and the PTSA and again, we are meeting soon to explore the idea of allocating Michigan's $1.9 million in funding for fresh foods (currently purchased from Tennessee?!?!) to our local farmers. This program only operates in four school districts in our entire state and I would love to be the fifth.

Yesterday, while driving to Whole Foods, I passed a small strip mall with a little sign and arrow pointing to my city's 'Michigan for Obama' campaign office. I went inside and met with the Field Organizer to see how I could help. You are now looking at the official blog host and website organizer for the local campaign in my city. (If you're in Southeastern Michigan and want to come by, click the link, we'd love to have you!) I blog about upcoming events, canvassing and volunteer opportunities as well as Obama's policy and reform stances. I'm getting the word out and using a skill that can help make a change.

My own personal blog may look a little scattered for the next couple of months while all these programs get off the ground, but isn't that why we blog anyway? To make change? To inspire change? To be the change? I have been inspired by many of you bloggers out there and I hope to inspire you today. Democrat or Republican, stand up for what you believe in. Volunteer to help. Teach your children the importance of democracy in our country. Vote. Knock on doors. Put a sign in your yard. Blog. Stand up and be proud.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mental Floss for Dental Floss?

The eco 'burban dad looooves dental floss. Seriously, if he forgets to pack it on a vacation or even a weekend away, he's frantic and must have his flossy fix. Me? Eh, I can take it our leave it. Not that I don't think it's important, because it really is. However I am usually happy I've gotten 5 minutes to brush my teeth, slap on some moisturizer and run a brush through my hair before someone knocks on the door, so if I don't get time to floss, I'm not too upset.
That said, the eco 'burban dad burns through enough floss for the both of us. And, yes, I'm sure it's a bit wasteful to use so much, though when he's 87 and still has beautiful chompers instead of dentures in a glass on the nightstand next to the bed, I won't mind so much.

We're just about out of the waxy string at the eco 'burban house and we're currently using the trial size packages we get from the dentist and as I added "dental floss" to this week's shopping list, I paused. Is there a better, more environmentally friendly floss? One without plastic packaging or chemical treatments? I'm betting the minty flavor is most likely derived in a laboratory, not nature! And how does that wax get stuck to the string anyway? We've already switched to Tom's toothpaste, but does Tom make a floss too? If so, I haven't seen it...

So, anyone with a better alternative and has a moment to weigh in, please do. I need a little mental floss before I buy more dental floss.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Affluence attacks suburbia!

An alien has landed! It's taking taking root across our society! I used to think I was the only one who thought living lighter was affluent. But, I see the aliens. They walk among us. There are APLS everywhere and I bet their world looks a little like mine...

photo: ****b/c**** on Flickr

My grass is brown. We don't water it or even have a sprinkler system.

My laundry hangs outside, draped willy-nilly on racks, thrown over patio furniture and hangs from umbrella frames

My children wear thrift store duds, often found with tags still attached and quite often brand name.

We host garage sales, sell and buy used items on craigslist and have been known to Freecycle.

We don't buy juice boxes, Gatorades, ice cream bars, Popsicles, cookies, waffles or pancakes.
We don't drive big, fancy cars or SUVs.

I don't have a housekeeper, landscaper or dog-walker.

I can't remember the last time I had a Starbucks, went to the mall or ordered fast food.

And the list goes on... We walk to the corner store. We turn the tap off when we brush our teeth. We pour leftover boiling canning water over the weeds in our driveway. We are an affluent family.

To many in suburbia, this is truly a strange and unusual concept. I must be an alien to consider myself affluent. Isn't going without all the conveniences and comforts available today a signal of hardship, low-income or thrift? So, in the midst of all of the suburban drones, how does one alien living lighter, when she could afford more, still define herself as affluent when others describe her lifestyle as just the opposite?

Why? I have the luxury to choose my lifestyle. It's as simple as that. I am privileged to have education, an income and career. I am blessed to have options. I am lucky to have multiple sources for food I deem healthy and nutritious to feed my family. I have electricity, running water, comfortable clothing, top-notch doctors and hospitals, an excellent school system and most of all - four healthy children. I am most certainly not going without and isn't it my responsibility to spread my affluence around?

I choose to continue to educate myself and my family. I choose to conserve the resources that we have so others may have a little more. I choose to go the extra mile to support my local farmer and buy his eggs, produce and meat so that not only I can feed my family a healthy meal, but he can feed his family a healthy meal. I choose to educate others, volunteering to share my knowledge with schools, our government and my family. I am an affluent alien walking this planet, attempting to infect the world with my thoughts on lighter living.

As an APLS who once thought she was the only affluent alien living lighter, I welcome all of the APLS to suburbia. I see more of you aliens every day. Hanging out laundry, walking to the store, buying farmer's market produce and most importantly - influencing others. Affluence is catching! It's attacking suburbia! It's not long until affluent aliens take over the planet. Welcome to earth, APLS, we're thankful you're here.
Have you been infected by the lighter living affluents? If you have, join us in the APLS bushel basket. You'll find many of your kind, and like me, you'll find some right in your own neighborhood!

This is my post submitted to the September APLS Carnival. If you want to submit your thoughts, however alien and strange they may be, to the APLS Carnival, please hurry! The mother ship departs on September 10th, so get on over to the APLS blog for more info.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hearing Voices

The email I sent to our school district regarding the USDA's reauthorization of The Child Nutrition Act reached my son's middle school principal. She took the time to respond to me and to place the email containing the link to the public comments section into the hands of those who need to comment and have the power to make changes - the District Supervisor of Food Services and the PTA president.

Please take the time to make your voice heard. Comment today and then write a letter to your principal, your PTA president, your Food Service Department. I can't stress how important food choices are to your children. Where is the one place during the day they make their own decisions? It's the school lunch room. Do I take the fruit cup or pass it by because it looks "gross". Do I eat my veggies or toss them in the trash because they are "disgusting".

Providing children with fresh and healthy food choices today will set them up for a life-long education in how to feed themselves and, to me, that's just as important as math class or a science project. If you want a copy of the letter I sent to the school district, please feel free to copy it here. The link the to the USDA's site to comment is here.

Copy of the letter from our school principal:

Dear (eco 'burban mom),

I will forward your email to our district - Supervisor of Food Services, (name) and to (the school's) head cook, (name). Our food service department has done much to address these concerns, and I am sure (the staff) would be happy to talk with you to provide the details. I will also forward your email to our PTSA president, (name). (She) is very involved and always eager to address concerns. Thanks so much. (Principal)

Yes, my voice was heard!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

4 Back To School Tips for 'That Mom'

Rather than wax poetic about sending my four boys back to school, (note: see mom doing a happy, happy dance!!) I thought I would share my 'oh, she's that green mom' tried and true methods for surviving the back-to-school chaos with a little sustainable style.

Tip #1 - Use those leftovers!

Never bother to sort backpacks or bookbags brought home at the end of the school year at the beginning of summer. Why? When faced with four bags stuffed with leftover school supplies almost to the point of bursting and one mom on overload from elementary school graduation planning, summer swim parties, field trips and teacher appreciation luncheons you are more likely to look at the pile and chuck it all into the trash. Really. I swear all sensibility to sort paper, tear out used notebook pages and neatly organize what you 'think' you might need for next year goes right out the window when you're on the brink of exhaustion.

Simply - this is VERY important, please pay attention - sift through the bag checking for errant food items, live animals and/or money (yes, I have found all three before!) and then place the bag into a closet or the basement hidden away until the end of summer. I guarantee you will be much calmer and more reasonable sorting through the bags with your new school supply list in your hand during the month of August when you will find many things on this years list that were only gently used last year. Besides, when faced with the cost of buying school supplies these days, that folder/pencil box/binder doesn't really look so shabby after a month or two hidden out of sight, does it? I didn't think so!

Tip #2 - Backpack wars!

What kid doesn't want a brand spanking new backpack, book bag or tote each year? They all do, but let's face it... Do they really NEED one? Before the schools shopping madness begins (seriously, do this in July) buy the very, very best backpack you can afford that is made of bullet proof, rip stop, stainless steel materials. Just kidding! However, buying the right pack for the right sized kid made of durable materials is well worth it. I highly recommend LL Bean's backpacks and can swear by their durability. I have four boys, each with their own pack, embroidered with their initials, that carry laptops, lunches and binders all at the same time that are going on their 3rd year of use. No broken zippers, no busted straps, no ripping seams. They weren't cheap, but they last and last.

And, another hint? Buying those packs in July, letting your child pick out the fabric and embroider their initials on the bag will be fun for them. Bonus for you? While in the big, nasty discount store buying school supplies your child will see the Spiderman, Barbie and/or Pokemon backpack made of cheap materials guaranteed to only last 3 months and you will calmly be able to say, "Oh, but we have your new bag all personalized and ready to go!" Sneaky, eh?

Tip #3 - Lunchtime drama!

I am a huge advocate for healthy food choices in the cafeteria and making sure my boys eat a well balanced and filling lunch. (If you haven't commented on the USDA's Child Nutrition Act, please do so today!) However, three of my four boys are middle school age and lunch is the MOST important time of day for them for two reasons. One, they like to eat. A lot. As much as possible. Two, lunchtime is social time for middle school kids and, in their very over-scheduled lives and in their highly pressured world to achieve, this is their one chance daily to meet friends, chat up the girls and start to learn about where they fit in the peer groups. So, four days a week I pack a waste-free, organic, local and healthy meal for them. One day a week we allow them to get into the lunch line, buy a pizza with their buddies, pay for their meal with real money and figure out how to navigate the dangerous waters of the middle school cafeteria.

Why is this so important to me, given I am such a locavore and health nut? In the real world we are faced with choices and obstacles and the middle school lunch room is pretty much one of the earliest places we learn to deal with peer pressure, food choices, social rules, manners - all on our own. If I keep protecting my boys behind my shield of pre-packed food, controlled choices and rigid schedule, how will they adapt in high school? Or even worse, college? It's the beginning of letting go, and as hard as it is, I watch my boys choose to recycle their plastic bottles and tell their buddies to do the same. They have learned from stomach-growlings and headaches that maybe deep fried cheese sticks and lemonade aren't quite a balanced or filling lunch. OK, so that means next time they add a banana or apple to their tray, but it's a start. They politely deal with rather crabby lunch ladies who don't always give the correct change and are short on patience. Those are skills you don't get from a textbook, teacher or a perfectly packed lunch courtesy of Mom. These are social graces, manners and confidence you can only gain by being thrust into the deep end and dog paddling like crazy.

Tip #4 - You know your own child!
Doesn't it seem like these kids 'need' a lot of stuff? That's what I thought too. Lists of requested supplies, forms, money, physicals and clothing arrive in the mail the third week of August like the barrage on Normandy. This is my eighth year of sending kids back to school. Eight long years of shopping, packing, labeling, returning, rebuying and shuttling supplies to and from school.

One thing I have learned about these 'required' lists is that not every student is the same. You know your own child after a few years of school. Does your child really need 96 #2 pencils? Not if you're my oldest son who will use a pencil right down to the metallic nub and quite honestly he likes the pencil better when it's short. I'm not sure why, but he is happy to take the younger boy's cast off, slightly used pencils. However, my second oldest will break off the erasers right off the top of brand new pencils from vigorous erasing so I know to make a pencil get right down to the nub, I better add an eraser top. That brings me to the third oldest. He loses pencils faster than the Exxon Valdez leaks oil. He is prone to forgetting to zip his pencil pouch, leaving a trail of pens and pencils from the desk to the door, or leaving them on the bus or forgetting them in the classroom. So, yes, he might need 96 #2 pencils.

My point is? Take a close look at the 'required' supply lists. Can you start by buying a pack of 12 #2 pencils? Can you check their locker or desk during curriculum night or parent teacher conferences to see what supplies they are using and what they are not? At the end of every school year each of my boys will bring home an unopened package of paper, a notebook not even used or a 6-pack of unopened glue sticks. Yes, from time to time I can reuse this item for the next year or another child, but really? Why buy it in the first place? Do you have a child that loves art projects? Better stock up on the glue sticks and colored pencils! Or is your child a perfectionist and will erase every errant pencil mark and use a fresh sheet of paper for every quiz? Well then, round up the pencil erasers and notebook paper! You know your own child, so don't feel like EVERY item on that list is a must-buy.

Oh, OK, you might find yourself as 'that Mom' (or Dad!) who bucks the system, questions authority or ignores the lists, but let's face it... If you're still one of those green Moms still reading this post???? You're already 'that Mom' anyway! Relax though, I've been 'that Mom' for 8 years and after awhile, you wear that label like a badge of honor!
This is my submission for the Green Moms Carnival being hosted by Surely You Nest. If you have a submission, hop on over to her blog for more info and send in your submission before Sept. 7th!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Yes, I can!

My last post, before the haze of a holiday weekend set in, focused on the reauthorization of The Child Nutrition Act in 2009. I asked readers to comment on the USDA's public comment website to make their voices heard. We want fresh fruits and vegetables! We want increased funding! We want standards for "snack line" foods! And, then I got to thinking. I asked all of you to comment, I commented, but then I stopped there.

Today, energized by a sunny holiday weekend spent with my children, I realized I could do more. Did you comment? Do you want to take it a step further? To quote someone very politically relevant - YES, I CAN! Today I wrote a letter to every member of the school board as well as my children's school principals and some powerful PTA women that I know that can really get the job done. It was so simple and so quick. Visit your school's website, scout out the email addresses and type a quick letter. No time to write the letter? Here - take mine! Just don't tell the kids how quick and easy plagiarism can be!

Dear Members of the Board,

My name is (eco 'burban mom), a mother of four boys attending the (ABC) Consolidated Schools. I am writing you today to request your attention to an important matter:

The Child Nutrition Act - a major piece of federal legislation that helps determine school food policy and resources – will begin reauthorization in 2009. Amazingly, this act has been unchanged since the 1960's and besides being outdated, it doesn't address many issues facing students today, such as: obesity, diabetes, cholesterol levels, allergies, working parent households, religous beliefs and many other factors not present in the 1960's. In addition, the current act doesn't contain any standards for so-called "snack-line" foods such as brand name items, fast food chain selections, sodas and marketing gimmicks.

The good news is the USDA and the government are accepting the public's comments on the reauthorization of this act, but the comment period ends very soon - October 15, 2008. I understand this email is reaching you during the busiest time, right at the beginning of a new school year. However, I am only asking for a moment of your time to pass the word along to your fellow colleagues, the schools and their PTAs and the food service department.

For those who are limited on time, simply visit the website I provided below and enter your comments. The website address:

A basic set of comments are as follows (please feel free to cut and paste these comments into the comments section if you wish!):

  • Increase funding for school meals and provide incentives for schools to offer healthier foods.
  • Increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Improve nutrition standards for school meals so they align with the most recent dietary guidelines.
  • Establish standards for food sold in schools outside of the school meals programs such as that sold at snack bars and cafeteria a la carte lines.

    Thank you kindly for your time, I wish you a wonderful 2008-09 school year! Regards,

    (the eco 'burban mom)

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Future of School Lunches

It time to speak up and we don't have much time, so act fast to make sure your voice is heard! The Child Nutrition Act (read about it here) – a major piece of federal legislation that helps determine school food policy and resources – will begin reauthorization in 2009.

The federal government and the USDA wants your opinion and is accepting public comments on the reauthorization of this act, but you have to comment by October 15, 2008.

So, what do we want?

We request the USDA to start to make changes by doing the following:
  • Increase funding for school meals and provide incentives for schools to offer healthier foods.
  • Increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Improve nutrition standards for school meals so they align with the most recent dietary guidelines.
  • Establish standards for food sold in schools outside of the school meals programs such as that sold at snack bars and cafeteria a la carte lines.
Personally, in addition, I want my boys to be able to choose from fresh in-season produce, hormone and cruelty-free meats and dairy, whole grains and balanced menus. I also want the "fast foods" to disappear from the menu. My middle school aged boys can actually purchase whole pizzas brought in from an outside chain, Bosco brand cheese breadsticks (for a meal?!?!), nachos with fake "oil" cheese, canned fruits in HFCS, lemonade that contains 0% fruit juice, chicken nuggets using processed meat by-products, salad dressings that have a higher fat content than a Big Mac, gatorade and donuts. Sound appetizing? I must tell you, to a 13 year old boy with $5 in his pocket, it's pretty hard to resist.

What can you do?? Well, it's very simple. Simply log on to this site and enter your comments which will be reviewed by the USDA. Has speaking up ever been so simple?? I think not! And, if you're really pressed for time, simply highlight, copy and paste the bolded text above and place it into the comments section of the site.

Please don't delay, you only have until October 15th, 2008. Pass this along, tell your friends, post it at your school, spread the word through your PTA or neighborhood. Your children will thank you!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Don't Look a Gift Peach in the..

...uhhhh, pit? I don't know. Anyway, my story goes like this:

My phone rings while I am in the airport on my way to LA. (Sorry, Arduous, I was only there for a whole 19 hours, not enough time to swing by to pick up that futon!) I look at my cell and see it's my mother.

Hi Mom.

Hey hon, I know you were bummed that you didn't get any peaches while you were up north visiting us, so guess what? I am bringing you some, I'm on my way home now! And, next weekend? I am buying a bushel to share with you and your sister! Doesn't that sound just yummy?

Oh geez, how do I tell my mother I spend my entire Saturday last weekend elbow deep in peach juice, peach pits, peach skins and peaches? And, I can't stand to look at another peach at this moment? Well, it's my mother, so if you knew her you would understand that you just don't. Like I said, you don't look a gift peach in the pit. All peaches are good peaches, yummy peaches and will be delicious this winter, regardless of the fact I will probably experience a little peach RAGE while making peach jam this weekend.

Even though I am on my way to the other side of the country, I call my husband to give him "peach storage and ripening" instructions and a warning that the mom-tornado is blowing through town. More peaches, he says? What are you going to do with them? I don't know I say, but for the love of god, don't say a WORD to my mother that I already am sick of peaches, you don't want to hurt her feelings! OK, he says gamely, I will take care of the peaches.

I arrived home last night (this morning?!?) about 2:00 a.m. to the smell of ripening peaches on my kitchen counter. And, you know what? They actually smelled delicious!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Are you Affluent?

What do you think? Can you be an average, middle class working family and still be affluent? Does green living and sustainable practices increase your feelings of affluence? Have you taken the Global Rich List test yet? Where do you score?

If you want to weigh in and debate the term of Affluence and what it means to you, make sure to participate in the September APLS Carnival. You can read the specifics on the carnival, find out where to send your blog submissions and if you missed last month's carnival on Sustainability, you can read all about it over at the APLS blog.
Are you living in my local APLS area? If you are an APLS growing in the Great Lakes area (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota & Ontario, Canada) make sure to join the Great Lakes APLS group over at the APLS blog. We are planning all sorts of local fun to help APLS connect on a local level - swapping recipes using locally sourced food, sharing canning supplies, helping each other find those out of the way APLS orchards with the perfect bushel of APL-y goodness. So, don't miss a moment, join us today!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Endless Bushel Box

I was hoodwinked into buying a bushel box of peaches this morning. The big box filled with ripe, ready to eat today Red Havens with it's special price tag of only $20 was too much to resist. To make matters even worse, I had brought the wagon to the Market, so there was no excuse not to tote the entire box right on home.
The heavy box sat staring at me on the kitchen table. I took about 4 quarts of peaches right out and stashed them in the fridge for eating. When I looked back at the box, it looked like it hadn't been touched.

I started the big soup pot full of water for blanching and prepared my freezing ingredients and tools. One gallon in the freezer. Two gallons in the freezer. The box still looked rather full-ish.

I decided to make a pie to take to a neighbor's party tonight. 7 cups of peaches later, the box is still greater than half full.

Sigh. I'm getting tired of peaches.

I crank up the blanching pot again. Three gallons in the freezer and still I can't see the bottom of the box!! It's hot, I'm sweating. I've been on my feet for hours blanching, peeling, tossing, filling cookie sheets and stuffing freezer bags. I'm throwing in the towel.

I grab a leftover 1/2 peck bag from the closet and stuff it full with peaches and dash out the door headed for the neighbors house, hoping to foist some peaches on her. She's thrilled, she will make a pie for her out-of-state company! Thank god, I say, I can't look at another peach.

As I come back through the kitchen door, I see the box, still sitting on the table. 23 peaches remain. What am I going to do with MORE freakin' peaches? The water from the blanching pot is still hot, I turn the stove back on and keep on truckin' through the peaches.

Two quarts of peach sauce safely stowed in the fridge, perfect for topping pancakes.

I throw a glance back and the box, just to double check. Yep, no more peaches. I wash down the kitchen, finding peach juice on the floors, on cabinet doors and on every handle and counter top within a 5-mile radius. Finally, I'm done.

Tonight, as I serve the pie with a cold scoop of ice cream, relaxing in the company of friends, I will remember that peaches are my favorite fruit. Until next year when I find that bushel box in my kitchen again!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Can you spare a square?

I've broken myself of the paper towel burden. I've turned off the A/C. I freeze my buns off in the winteer. I've even switched to rack drying my clothing. I use a shampoo bar, haven't taken a single shopping bag in an incredibly long time, I can my own jam, fruit and even pickles. My boys have accepted homemade cookies, granola and the void in the fridge where the juice boxes and gatorades used to thrive. There aren't too many changes left, but one that meets with a whole lot of resistance around here is the dreaded TP.
Toilet paper.

I've tried the Trader Joe's recycled version. It's paper thin, meaning the boys use three times as much and at double the cost it's both bad for the environment and my pocketbook.

Ditto on the Seventh Generation, but at about three times the cost of regular.

I stopped buying the Costco brand because not only is the giant, hulking stack wrapped in plastic, each and every teeny roll is also wrapped in paper. Seemed wasteful, so we are back to regular old TP - whatever is on sale, as bulk sized as possible and yes, wrapped in plastic.

And, as much as I love clean hineys on all of my boys, they seem to use an abundant amount of the stuff. I swear you put a roll on the holder, look back and it's gone. We have had plunger lessons, as the boys can actually clog the toilet with hunks of TP. One boy in particular may quite possibly find a new career direction in the field of plumbing, his skills are quite extraordinary.

How do you get the TP under control? We're certainly not giving it up. I have too many kids to be washing homemade wipes, I can't even keep up with my regular laundry. And, I prefer clean backsides, boxers with skid marks are really not my thing.

Should I give the boys a square limit? What about a different brand that might offer a thicker recycled product? Or hook their toilet seat up to the dogs invisible fence and give them a zap when they've taken too much?

Drowing in empty TP tubes....