Sunday, September 27, 2009

The End of a Blog (for now)

Well, despite my good intentions, I haven't been able to keep up with the blog on any kind of regular basis since I started teaching. I have high hopes that as I get my classes under control, I'll be able to start up again, but for now I think it's more important that I focus on my lesson planning and on trying to keep in touch with some friends and family.

I'll still be living a green lifestyle (we walked to the grocery store today!) and I'll still be reading books looking for more ideas to incorporate. I may well post book reviews or cool ideas on here on a sporadic basis. If you'd like to keep up to date with any blog posts, I'd suggest subscribing using an RSS reader. I use Google Reader and I've found it to be very simple, and a great way to keep up with the blogs I read.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Food Waste Friday - on Sunday!

Sorry for the lateness of Food Waste Friday, it's been a busy weekend so far!

I'm not too disappointed in my waste this week. There's a bit of Chilean Dal, which might have still been ok, but frankly I've eaten a lot of it and it wasn't that great to start with. There's also some celery. We have a real problem using celery up before it goes bad. We do a bit better if we clean and chop it all at once, but even then we just end up with some cleaned and chopped celery going slimy in a pool of water.

I am going to be doing something to reduce waste tonight though. It's the start of the massive garbage nights in my area, when you can throw out as much and as large an item as you want to. Which means it's also time to see about a Landfill Rescue! I'll let you know if I find anything.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green Birthday Presents

Yesterday was my birthday! Given that I now blog about being green, that could make gift-giving a little harder. Luckily my husband was up to the challenge. The most important part of being a green gift is that the recipient will actually use/want the gift. Frankly, that's fairly important for any successful gift. In my case, he went with a combination of practical and fun. For practical gifts, I needed a new pair of running shoes and I'd been putting it off for awhile (I don't really like shopping that much). So, since it was a birthday gift I had no choice but to go out and pick up a pair, and I'm glad that I have them now, my old ones were definitely used up!

My fun gift came from the liquor store. :) I'm a big fan of apple cider, and I've mostly always drunk Strongbow or Blackthorn. Both are imported from England, but they were the best choices available at the LCBO. However, it looks like cider is gaining in popularity, and the choices have expanded as well. Last month I discovered County Cider from Picton, ON and was very happy with the taste, and the fact that Picton is a lot closer than England. Proving that he pays attention, and that he reads my blog, my husband picked up four bottles. Another great thing about this cider is that it comes in refillable bottles, so there's never any waste. One's chilling in the fridge right now, getting ready for the weekend.

So, that's my advice for giving green gifts. 1. Make them useful gifts 2. Make them local products.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Day of School!

This was my first day as a teacher and I'd like to have an ecological feel to my classroom(s). I've quickly realized that paper free is NOT possible in our school. The idea of doing a lot of work on the computers is great, but not when you have two computers and 27 students!

I think what I'm going to do to try and reduce paper usage is a) a lot of group work and b) a dedicated duotang for each student where they must place their papers as soon as they receive them. One thing I noticed in my practice teaching is that a class of 30 students can somehow go through 50 copies of the same handout! I'm hoping that by me keeping the duotangs at school for the most part, they'll stay organized and complete. It's horrible when you give a handout, and then find them all over the hallway! I'm also hoping that once the students know that there are no extra handouts, they'll be more careful of the ones they have. I figure the first time they have to copy a handout onto lined paper themselves will encourage them to keep their handouts!

I'd also like to find some articles/books that the students can read on their own that have an environmental theme. I'm sure I'll come up with a few more ideas as the year progresses, but if you have any, feel free to email me or leave a comment!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Sigh. Another Friday, another day of food waste. This week I'm guilty of neglecting my produce.

The green pepper started liquefying when I picked it up, there's fuzzy green spots on the pears, and the apple is nasty. The only one I don't feel bad about is the apple...that batch was flavourless and mushy to start with, so I wasn't inspired to eat it. Unfortunately the green pepper and pears are victims of good intentions with no real plan. Since I hope to start menu planning this week, hopefully we'll be able to avoid that kind of waste next week!

You can check out the other participants in Food Waste Friday over at The Frugal Girl. I see a number of them had better weeks than I did!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Quality of Life...and Blog!

Now that I'm working as a teacher full time, I'm finding I don't have as much time in the evenings anymore, and I suspect it'll get worse when the students start next week! Since I'd like to avoid writing little posts without much value, I'm going to go from six posts a weeks on average, to three or four. Hopefully that will let me focus on my students, keep inspired for a green lifestyle, and still see my husband every once in a while!

One post that is definitely staying around will be the Food Waste Fridays. As a sneak peak, I can tell you that since I haven't been making a concerted effort with menu planning and food waste this week, it's going to show in the picture! I'm definitely going to need the accountability/embarrassment of the pictures to keep me on track.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Green Product: Glass Straws

I'm all about being green, but I'm not sure I'd go this far to eliminate my use of plastics. Introducing the GlassDharma, the green alternative to the plastic drinking straw. The idea of trading in plastic straws for a straw made of it really that much greener? Even though we'd be reducing by re-using a glass straw, the resources that go into making the glass straw, the specialized cleaning brush, and the protective case (hemp or bamboo) along with the fact that you have to clean the straw after every've got to remember that that all takes energy, even if it's not petroleum based.

I like to use a straw at least as much as the next person - some drinks just taste better through a straw, though I can never convince my husband of that fact! However, if I ever get concerned enough with the environmental impact of my straw usage, I think I'll just start cutting back instead of switching to a glass straw. :)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Rinse and Repeat

The first time I read a book which mentioned that my shampoo may not be all that green, I thought "I should look into that" and promptly forgot. Right now I'm reading another book (review to come) which has another large section on the impacts of shampoo on both the environment, and possibly on your body. This book talks a lot about the Precautionary Principle, which can be summarized as 'if you think it might have a bad impact, try not to do it'.

I don't have a favourite shampoo, but I pulled out the one currently in use, and here's the list of ingredients. I warn you now, there may be some spelling mistakes. I double checked, but most of those words aren't in my everyday vocabulary and spell check was no help at all!
  • water: nothing scary about this ingredient.
  • sodium lauryl sulfate: used to create lather, also in engine degreasers (higher concentration). May worsen some skin conditions, cause canker sores.
  • ammonium laureth sulfate: listed as very harsh in terms of shampoo use
  • sodium xylenesulfonate: a little disturbed when my search for this one took me too a pesticide database! Not a lot of information, but it's only slightly toxic.
  • acrylates copolymer: this search brought up a water treatment chemicals page. Harmful to skin and eyes contact.
  • sodium chloride: this is salt.
  • laureth-4: also called dodecyl alcohol, ethoxylated. Very harmful to marine life, but only a mild skin irritant for us.
  • dimethicone: makes hair shiny and slippery. Seems to have only moderate concerns for toxicity.
  • citric acid: Also found in pop.
  • butyrospermum parkii (shea butter) extract
  • hydrolyzed algae extract
  • cocamide mea
  • fragrance: Although not guaranteed, fragrance often means phthalates, possible endocrine disruptor
  • glycol disterate
  • sodium benzoate
  • polyquaternium-10
  • disodium edta
  • polyquaternium-6
  • methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • methylisothiazolinone
  • red 33
  • blue 1
Well, I was planning on looking up all the ingredients, but there were so many.... I think it's worth trying out some eco-friendly options. I might check out some of the local stores and do some online research. I think I can get used to the low-sudsing of shampoos without these chemicals, but it'll still have to prove itself good at cleaning hair! If anyone has suggestions...I'm all ears!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Meatless Meal - Chilean Dal

In an ongoing effort to decrease my environmental footprint, I've been experimenting with meatless meals. Meat uses up a lot more resources than vegetables/grains, so by decreasing my meat consumption I become more environmentally friendly!

The latest experiment is a Chilean Dal recipe that I found at The Simple Dollar. I give it maybe 2 stars out of 5. I made a few substitutions (I don't like cooked carrots, so I threw in some tofu and broccoli) and I just didn't have any cilantro. I found that the recipe made A LOT of food, even though Trent's version was already cut down from the version he first found. We had three adults for dinner, and I have enough for at least 3-4 more meals for myself (I doubt my husband will eat this). I have to admit I found the recipe to be disappointingly bland. The salt and pepper to taste help, but it needs something more. Hot sauce also helped. Maybe the addition of some curry paste, or a lot more onion and garlic. If I try this recipe again I'll try spicing it up a bit. I doubt I'll be cooking it anytime soon, I'm sure I can find other recipes that are more to my family's taste.

Trent’s Chilean Dal

1 cup of lentils
1 large red potato, chopped but unskinned
1 chopped carrot
2 chopped tomatoes
1/2 hot pepper, chopped
1/2 small onion chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
8 ounces tomato sauce (small can)
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp beer or sherry
olive oil
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper

Night before:
1. Chop potato, carrot, tomatoes, pepper, onion, garlic, and cilantro.
2. Soak and cook lentils till soft. Drain and rinse, set aside.

Next day:
1. Sautee onions, garlic, hot pepper, and cumin in olive oil. Add beer or sherry.
2. Add vinegar, potatoes, and carrots, cover with water, bring to boil.
3. Add tomatoes and cook till potatoes are soft.
4. Add lentils and tomato sauce.
5. Salt and pepper to taste. Add more water or beer if it’s too dry, or add hot sauce if you like it spicier.
6. Throw in the cilantro, take if off the heat. Serve after a few minutes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Food Waste Friday

For a while this week I thought I was going to be picture free. Then I started eating a couple of carrot sticks, got distracted, and left one out all night. After that I knew I'd have a picture of a carrot. But wait, there's more! While going through the fridge I found a container. Difficult to identify, but those fuzzy green things are in fact breadsticks. Obviously they've been around long enough that they would have qualified for an earlier Food Waste Friday. :) All in all, I'm not too disappointed, everything went into the compost instead of the garbage, and there wasn't that much even to go into the compost! Being publicly accountable for my waste, along with everyone else participating in Food Waste Friday with The Frugal Girl is really helping me stay conscious of our food, and inspiring me to use it up earlier. You can check out how the other participants did this week off the links at The Frugal Girl.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Exciting Times!

Sorry about no blog post yesterday, but things got exciting around here! I just finished teacher's college this past year, and had returned to work in industry since teaching jobs are hard to come by right now. Well, yesterday I was offered a full time teaching job! So I spent most of yesterday wandering around in a happy daze, and explaining to my current employer that even though I'd only been back for 2.5 weeks, I was going to be leaving again. They're being very good about it, letting me only work out a three day notice instead of the standard two weeks. Which is greatly appreciated since the principal of the school I'll be at would like me to be there on Monday to see the school and meet the teachers. School starts in just over a week, so I'd better get busy. :)

This morning I was taking care of signing my new contract, getting benefits, etc. And for the next couple of days I'll be pretty busy finishing up a couple of things at my current work, and transferring some project specific knowledge to the person who's taking over my project, so the posting is a little light. I did make a meatless meal, so I'll post about that on Saturday instead of my usual web round up. I'm hoping that Food Waste Friday will be a small post, but I can already think of one item I'll have to take a picture of this week. :(

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Small Step Back

Back in June I decided to give up pop, for environmental and health reasons. Since then I've noticed a lot more space in the recycling bins on garbage day, so it looks like it's been effective! Unfortunately, I fell off the wagon this week. For the past two days, I've had a gingerale with my meal. And the can is in the recycling.

I justified this decision since the pop was already in the house, I wasn't adding new waste. Definitely a rationalization. Which made me think that our environmental choices start well before the point of consumption. By creating rules for ourselves we can ensure that our environmental impact stays as low as we want it to go. This past weekend there was a GREAT sale on pop at a local store. I was tempted. I thought I could just pick up a few cases for when we had guests...just in case we needed them. I'm glad now that I remembered I'd given myself a rule about not buying any more pop! Without that rule I probably would have come home with 4-8 cases of pop, and I'm willing to bet that they wouldn't have stayed reserved for guests. Obviously I can't be trusted not to drink it myself if it's in the house. :)

The point here isn't that I'm not buying pop, and I'm not saying that you shouldn't buy pop. The point is that a while back I made a decision about the resources I wanted to consume, and came up with the arbitrary 'no buying pop' rule. And a couple of months later, when the novelty had worn off and there was a great deal to be had, that rule popped into my head at the right moment and made me really think about whether or not this purchase aligned with my values. So, take the effort out of making eco choices, and make up a couple rules that you'll live by (for the most part, unless you're having a party and really need some pop). So long as your rules don't kill your quality of life (like I will never buy anything that uses plastic), you'll be greener without having to think about being green.

PS: That's not to say I'll never ever buy pop again. If I'm having a party and know my guests would like pop, I probably will. But by only buying for a specific purpose, though I may pay more for the pop itself, I'll pay less in the long run, and use less resources since it won't get used up mindlessly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One Small Step

I'm sure by now that everyone has seen some variant on the commercials that tell us to change one small item in our daily lives and we'll change the world. (If you haven't, you can check some out on YouTube here and here. ) I definitely believe that enough people making changes in their lives can have a profound impact on our resource usage. However, given the size of corporations, it makes sense that they can have an even greater immediate impact. Think about it, the building I work in is probably at least 80x larger than my house (with way more than 80x the computers!). I've switched to using a laptop at home, and it uses about 1/10th of the power of my old desktop. If the 3000 employees that work in the same building as me also switch to laptops that's a huge difference in energy consumption! If I raise my A/C by a degree, that has an impact. If my workplace raises the A/C by a degree, that's a much larger impact.

Now, corporations are not generally motivated by warm fuzzy feelings for the environment, with a few exceptions. There has to be a business reason to make changes to standard operating procedures, and it all boils down to money. The more money a business can make (or save), the more likely they are to implement a green change. And even with cost savings, it can take a while to change the status quo. Which is why I was surprised by something that happened while I was away at school. I've been back at work for two weeks now. Before I left, every two weeks a mail cart would come by and place a pay stub in the mail slot of all those 3000 employees. Most people would look at it and either shred it, or take it home to be disposed of later. I mean, who really wants to end up with 20 years worth of pay stubs hanging around? I admit that I was anticipating the pay stub cart when I received something even BETTER. An email pay stub! I'm not sure exactly when they made this change, but I'm happy to know that there is no more paper being used for pay stubs. Unless of course you're one of those people who prints out your emails to file them. If you are...stop now! Save the files on your computer and make regular backups, but stop printing emails!

Them having made this change makes me think I should look into those little flyers some of my bills send me, the ones that say I can receive my bills online and never get mail from them again. After all, if a corporation can go paperless (or more paperless), I ought to be able to make strides in that direction as well!

PS: As of yesterday, I'm 20% done my 1000 empties challenge!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Web Round Up

After a few weeks of not having many interesting articles to post, there's been a lot to read on the web this week!

No Impact Man is the blog of a guy who went for a year trying to make no impact on the earth. He also has a movie coming out soon. Today's article is an interesting look at how overwork can create blues, which may in turn lead to overconsumption.

Montreal now has a public bike sharing system. I'm not sure how it's going to work out, but it'll be interesting to watch the results.

When I cooked for the freezer, I mentioned that I'd like to try once a month cooking. Here's a Five Day Freeze plan for those who are having a hard time with once a month cooking (like me).

Despite not understanding Portugese, the ad campaign this post highlights is worth watching. Basically the argument is that if you pee in the shower, you can save the rainforest! The comments on this article are as interesting as the article.

I left the most controversial to the end...MacLean's magazine recently published The Case Against Having Kids. One of the reason's they mention is the environmental impact that more people have on the planet. There's actually a group taking this further, promoting the voluntary extinction of the human race. Not a group I'm planning on joining. This article promoted a lot of response in cyberspace, including a post called Children Are Worth Having. I wish that some of the responses had focused on the environmental impact of children....with used furniture/clothing and cloth diapering opportunities, the eco-impact doesn't have to be as severe as the first article implies. Maybe that's a post for another day!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Though blogging about my food waste is making me more conscious, and making me try to use up food before it goes bad, sometimes that's just not enough.

Here we have a peach. I knew it was going bad, but I just couldn't bring myself to eat it, it wasn't a very flavourful peach. :( Though it's not in the picture, for the last couple of days I've been carting a pear back and forth to work - I just hadn't eaten it with my lunch. Inspired to avoid waste, I took it out for lunch today. Apparently I was too late to avoid waste....if you'd seen it you wouldn't have eaten it either.

On a related note, ever wonder how fruit flies show up as soon as fruit goes bad? I'd guarantee they weren't in the house, but once the peach went, they showed up! From this article I learned you should definitely pitch any fruit that's going, larvae can happen fast! I also learned that those little flies can live on just the fumes of alcohol. I still don't want them in my house, but you have to admit that's a pretty neat trick!

You can check out the other participants in Food Waste Friday over at The Frugal Girl.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Meatless Meal - 'Spaghetti'

Time for another meatless meal (so long as you use meat-free sauce)! This one is probably the easiest no-meat main dish you could make. I got the idea for The Biggest Loser cookbook which had a similar recipe (though they probably didn't put as much parmesan on their plate as I did on mine).

1 Spaghetti Squash
1 Jar pasta sauce, or homemade

First you need to cut the squash in half, lengthwise and hollow out the seeds. At this point the squash looks nothing like spaghetti, which made me worry I'd bought the wrong kind the first time. No worries! It'll look like spaghetti later.

Next, place each half cut side down on a cookie sheet. Cook in the oven for 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the squash is soft when you poke it with a fork. Make sure you're poking the inside of the squash, not the skin or you'll end up overcooking (I speak from experience here).

Take the squash out of the oven, use a fork to scrape the squash into a bowl. This is where it looks like spaghetti. It's also a bit watery so you may want to drain after scooping.

Place squash on plate, spoon some sauce over the squash and you have an acceptable substitute for spaghetti.

I served this with some fresh green beans and garlic bread, which were great complements to the squash. I enjoyed the meal, and so did my guests. In fact, one of them even asked me how I got the pasta to be so translucent! I can see this being made at my house again, though probably not very often since my husband believes squash were not meant to be eaten. I felt the same way, but this doesn't taste too much like squash, more like whatever sauce you use.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rebates go Ungreen

A few months ago we purchased some computer equipment that came with a mail-in rebate. Being the frugal types that we are, we sent in the mail in rebate and waited for the cheque to come in. Now, you could argue that rebates themselves are un-green since they require you to mail in some paper, and then they mail you back some paper. You could definitely make an argument that it would be more eco-friendly for the manufacturer to just do something crazy, like lower the price of the product, and avoid the whole hassle of a rebate process. You'd be right! I'm sure manufacturers have many reasons to offer rebates. I'm equally sure that one of the reasons is that people buy the product and they forget or can't be bothered to send the rebate in. I can't really blame the manufacturer for that...they're letting people get some money back, but with a decent chance that they can keep some of the money after all. It's a good situation for them. And really...we're not using up that much of anything to mail in a piece of paper and get another piece of paper back. Paper comes from wood, and wood is renewable! They could be doing worse things.

Oh wait...they are doing worse things now! Instead of the expected cheques in the mail, we received a couple of rebate cards that look like Mastercards. Yep, plastic cards with a tiny amount of money on them that we must spend at a merchant. And not just any merchant, but one that will accept these rebate cards. Despite the fact that they look like Mastercards, not everyone will accept them (most will). So now instead of money in the bank that we can save up for something, we have two more cards to carry around waiting to be spent (didn't take us long actually...our grocery store accepts them). Why would a manufacturer do this? What happened to all the green hype about corporations wanting to be eco-friendly? How can sending us plastic cards, along with 2-3 pages of cardholder agreements be less expensive than sending a cheque? Maybe it has something to do with the diabolically small print on the back of one of the pages. The one that says that after 12 months there will be a $3.50 per month Account Maintenance Fee, a 3.00% per transaction International Transaction Fee and a $9.95 per incident Plastic Replacement Fee. So, if you get one of these anti-green rebate cards, make sure you use it up quickly. I'm not sure how to convince companies they should go back to the cheque method, but I'll be emailing our companies thanking them for the rebate, but expressing disappointment in the method of payment.

Thanks to Andres Rueda for posting the above picture on flickr and allowing its use.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Creeping DeCluttering

I really like having a clean house, but *really* hate cleaning. It's just overwhelming to try to clean the whole house at a time. Unfortunately, clutter seems to multiply itself. You throw the mail on the dining room table one day, and the next thing you know, you're back to this.

Luckily for my house and myself, An Exercise in Frugality recently posted about Decluttering a Drawer. I decided I'd start off with my dresser. Here it is before:

After about 15-20 minutes (I'm not a fast cleaner) it was looking like this:

Now, that's great for me and my dresser, but what does it have to do with being green? Mostly this helps reduce product usage. With a clean, organized space you're less likely to buy random junk and clutter up your area. You have a specific need, and know where you're going to store your purchases BEFORE you make the purchase. There's also the fact that when you know what you have, you're less likely to buy duplicates. For example, it turns out that there was an open package of Halls on my dresser. Buried. I didn't realize that, so I went and got another (I have a cold right now).

It turns out that decluttering can also multiply itself. I was happy with the way the dresser turned out, and the next thing I knew I was putting away the pile of clothes that always accumulates right beside the dresser (ok, it was a couple of days later). Next I think I'll tackle the pile of sewing repairs off in a corner, some of which have been there for an embarrassingly long time!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Is It Green?

I was heading to a party this past weekend and wanted to bring a gift that would be cool and green at the same time. After a bit of thought, I decided on a cut fruit basket...what could be greener than fruit, even if it does have to travel a little bit? I thought this way I'd avoid adding clutter and stuff to someone else's house. But was it really a green gift? When I picked it up, this is what I was given.

I was a bit disappointed in the amount of wrapping and packaging, but the cardboard is recyclable, and I understand that as a business, if you're sending someone home with cut fruit you'd like it to be covered in plastic.

Here's the basket ready to eat...looks pretty green, right?

Unfortunately, this company skewered all the fruit on plastic rather than wooden skewers. And they're stuck in some kind of florist's foam block to keep them standing upright. However, the fruit tasted great, the basket looked great, and with a few small changes I think this could be a really green gift. To make these baskets at home I think all you'd need would be: fruit, melon baller, funky cookie cutter.

Option 1:
Cut the fruit into cool shapes, stick them on a wooden skewer (renewable resource) and use the same kind of foam block and basket as above. Green savings: plastic wrap, cardboard box, plastic skewers. AND the foam and basket are reusable if you're making them for your own party.

Option 2:
This one came to me as I was writing the article, trying to get rid of the foam and basket. At first I thought of just putting the skewers in a vase, but realized the skewers would probably fall in, especially as their numbers dwindles as people ate the fruit. Then I realized you could stick the skewers in some RICE KRISPIE SQUARES! Since you can shape Rice Krispie squares into about any shape you'd like, you could create any number of funky shapes for your skewers. I'd probably start off with just a big rectangle and make a garden of fruit flowers. Green Savings: plastic wrap, cardboard box, plastic skewers, foam block, basket. The only thing that wouldn't be edible would be the wooden skewers, and they're a renewable resource. I can see myself using this option the next time I have a party! :) Extra bonus: no danger of collecting a lot of different baskets in your basement.

UPDATE: I've been told that what I thought was foam was in fact a head of lettuce holding the skewers upright. I love that!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Web Round Up - Comics!

I haven't done a lot of reading on the web this week, but there were a couple of cute comics that were kind of environmental today. I like to keep up with a few comics on :)

I also found a listing of "The Best Green Blogs" from Canada that I'd like to check out.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Alas, my streak is at an end. I was hoping to have another photo free week for Food Waste Friday, but when I went downstairs to get some onion for a sandwich I found out there was definitely going to be food waste this week.

Here we have most of a bag of onions that have gone soft and mushy. And kind of brown on the inside. I salvaged a couple, but the bag was a goner. I didn't think they were that old, but I made the classic mistake of storing my onions near the potatoes, which may have contributed to the speed of going bad.

I almost had some vegetable to add to the photo today, but a timely post at The Simple Dollar reminded me that I should throw leftover vegetables into a freezer container and just make a soup when it gets full. We'll see how that works out. :) I also managed to use up the last of the mushrooms and green onions today, inspired by the fact that I didn't want to take a picture!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cooking for the Freezer

Sometimes it's just easier to order out for pizza than it is to cook a meal when you get home from work. Unfortunately, getting it's hard to be green while you're eating takeout - all the containers and driving to deliver the food really add up. Luckily, there's a greener solution that doesn't take much time or effort at all!

Today when I got home from work I started making Black Beans and Rice for dinner (meatless meal!). The recipe says to use a 9x13 pan, but I decided to use a couple of square pans and have one for dinner and one for a future dinner in the freezer. I also doubled the recipe for two more trays to go in the freezer. Here's my trays as they're about to go into the oven.

It takes hardly any more time to put double the ingredients in the bowl, and helps green my life in a number of ways.
1. Cooking all of them at once means that I'm using one hour worth of oven time once instead of 2 or 4 times.
2. Packaging the other 3 trays for the freezer keeps my freezer closer to full, and a full freezer is a more efficient freezer.
3. Next time I'm tempted to just order out for pizza, I can pull one of these out of the freezer. It'll be ready in about the same amount time as ordering out and no takeout containers! And if it's just DH and I eating, we'll have enough for lunch the next day as well. :)
4. Since I doubled the recipe, I won't have to throw out half a can of tomato juice again!

Make sure you let the extra servings cool before you put them into your freezer - no sense in making your freezer work extra hard by throwing them in right away. Since I was planning on eating one for supper, I let the other three cool while the dinner portion cooked the additional 20 minutes with cheese, and while we ate. By the time we were finished, the other three were cool enough to make their way to the freezer. It's a good idea to label the dishes before you freeze them. I wrapped them in tinfoil, but ideally I'd like to get glass containers that have a nice permanent rubber/plastic lid that would go in the freezer and just get removed for the re-cooking. Someday I might even try the Once a Month Cooking plan, but for now I'll just increase my freezer slowly by doubling recipes as I make them!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All the Cool Kids are Doing It

It's official, green is the new cool. If you need the proof, check out the number of contests now available that let you show off y

Count Me In Ontario (Ontario only). This one rewards municipalities that have the largest percentage drop in power consumption, or the largest per capita participation. In this case, participation means signing up on the web site. Your community has to have signed up as well. Even if you don't sign up, there's a list of 100 ways to reduce your energy usage, it's a good reminder list - I do 28 of them, and there's a lot that aren't really applicable for everyone.

There are also two other contests linked from the same site, a Fridge Relic contest and Home Power Saver contest.

A quick google search yields a few more contests. If you happen to live in Okotok (somewhere near Calgary), you can enter the B Green 4 Green contest to win $1000. Industrial Alliance customer? Go paperless for the chance to win a laptop. Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia residents can win a ceiling fan from Living Lighting.

Actually, entering online contests can be a fairly green hobby since there's no stamps or letters required, so long as you actually want the prizes! It's not green for me to win a year's worth of cat food if I don't have a cat. One good spot to find green contests is the Contest Girl website, which lists this contest to win green windows if you're a resident of the US.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Local Cider!

Farmer's markets are great in the summer for helping you to Eat Local, but what about drink? Sure, tap water is local, but sometimes you'd like to drink something other than water. If you like beer or wine there are a multitude of local choices for Ontarians. Unfortunately I don't really like either beer or wine. :( What I do like is a nice cider, like Strongbow (England), Blackthorn (England) or Bulmers (Ireland). As you can see from the brackets, my drinks have come a long way to get to my glass.... which is why I was so excited last time I was at the liquor store to see that the cider section has expanded!

Most of the ciders are still from across the ocean, but I brought home a bottle of County Cider from Picton, Ontario, and a bottle of Clos Saint-Denis Bourg from Quebec. Both were excellent ciders, but the County Cider is a bit more economical. The web page for County Cider also shows an ice cider, which I'm interested in trying out someday. While I was writing this article I discovered that you can also search the LCBO inventory to see if your store has particular products in stock. I thought this was pretty cool. For example, here I found that there's an LCBO not far from my work that has a Quebec cider I'd never even heard of, so I might have to stop by on my way home sometime. I wonder if you can use this product list to ask your local store to order in products they don't have on hand - an easy way to help you drink local!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: Green Chic

I've recently finished reading Green Chic: Saving the Earth in Style written by Christie Matheson. So, what's the book about?

The book is broken down into eight basic sections, each dealing with going green in a particular area of your life. As you might guess from the title, the author is mostly focused on living a stylish life, and how it really is stylish to be green, and how being green can make you more stylish.

The first section focuses on Little Green Things, and I have to say I almost put the book down after reading this area. If you've never had a green thought in your life, the suggestions might be valuable for you. Personally, 'turn off the lights when you're not using them' didn't add to my repertoire of green tricks.

The next section is Home, Green Home which definitely got a bit better. Along with the standard advice of using green cleaning products (she suggests Method, Mrs. Meyer's and Planet as the manufacturers), the author really gets into what the ingredients in standard cleaners do to both us and our environment. She goes through a few different areas in the home, and I may try out using handkerchiefs instead of tissues (organic cotton or hemp). I've thought about handkerchiefs before, and this book reminded me that I was interested in them as an alternative to Kleenex! The most informative part of this chapter is where the author details the different types of plastic, what they are, and why we should (or shouldn't) use them. The little number inside the recycling symbol tells you a lot about the plastic, and doesn't necessarily mean you can actually recycle the item. Basically, stay far away from anything that has a 3, 6 or 7 in that little symbol. Definitely avoid anything with the number 3 which is polyvinyl chloride, it's very resource intensive, lots of toxic chemicals, and most recycling facilities won't accept it. There's a few more sections on decorating which would be a great read before starting any small renovations.

Next section is dining and drinking, and the author weighs in heavily on the side of buy local, buy organic. If you have a choice, start with local then try organic. According to her, "the average food item travels about 1,500 miles before it arrives on your plate". The numbers may be a little different for Canada vs the States, but that's a lot of miles, and the food loses nutrition as it travels. She also mentions that meatless meals are far less resource intensive, and to stick with as much unprocessed food as possible. It seems that 17 000 new food products are on the market every year....I doubt there are 17 000 more vegetables or animals discovered every year, so I bet that's a lot of processing!

The next two sections are focused on looking good. Hello, Gorgeous and Green is the New Black deal with makeup, skincare and clothing. I was interested in the list of makeup and hair care ingredients, but I'm not sure yet if I'll be making the effort to switch to green this case the cost differential may be too high, I'll have to look into it more. The clothing section was interesting to me since it is one of the only places in the book that actually suggests getting rid of what you have. The author figures you should "edit your closet" so that you only have items that you love to wear. This lets you get dressed in awesome clothes in the morning, avoids you buying duplicates since you already know exactly what you have and gives you pretty stringent requirements for new clothes - they have to look and feel great, and be green. She gives a list of designers that use eco-friendly fabrics, suggests where to get great vintage clothing and goes over some of the worst fabrics to buy (cotton is bad, wool is better but still heavily treated). This gives me the excuse I wanted to go check out an alpaca sweater...I love the soft feel of the alpaca wool! Jewelery is extremely resource intensive (mining) which I'd never really thought of before. There are jewelers out there who specialize in using recovered metals that are reshaped into modern jewelery...something I'll definitely check out if I need any new items.

Getting Around deals primarily with everyday transportation (try to avoid cars) and travel. She suggests trying to avoid destinations that are anti-green like Las Vegas, and to travel light whenever possible - just a carry on would be ideal. Also try to avoid souvenirs you don't really need/want in favour of truly thoughtful items, or just take a picture. If you don't drive a lot, but don't want to be entirely without a car, a car sharing program such as zipcar could be for you. It's similar to renting, but only available for members and you can get hourly rates in addition to daily. Currently the only Canadian cities participating in zipcar are Toronto and Vancouver, but there may be other car-sharing programs. For that matter if you truly don't drive much, a car rental might be cheaper than buying the car and paying insurance for all those days it's sitting in your driveway! If you do have a car, make sure you keep it maintained so that you get the best mileage possible.

The final two sections, On Occasions and Big Green Things mostly recap suggestions from elsewhere in the book. Basically, use less stuff, don't waste, buy local, avoid synthetics, etc..

Is the book worth reading? It's not bad, though the tone sometimes seems very superficial. Avoid the first section and you should be able to get enough good information to justify borrowing it from the library. I don't think I'd buy this book, or keep it on my bookshelf permanently, but reading it is a great reminder of where I should be looking to green my life.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Web Round Up

I'm preparing to go back to work on Monday after more than a year off to pursue some schooling. Coincidentally, here's an article from a personal finance blog I read that talks about a corporate culture, and how to create that "culture of excellence" in your own work and home life. The section on High Performance really resonated with me. I find if I'm surrounded by people who are dedicated to being green and frugal, it's a lot easier for me to be green and frugal as well.

Other interesting articles from around the web: Just because something's in the environment doesn't mean it should stay there! Sometimes it's green to uproot plants or kill off invasive species. This reminded me of when we visited New Zealand a few years ago...the stoats were brought in to kill off the rabbits that were introduced, but instead went after the native flightless birds to the point of extinction and endangerment. And somehow people still think it's a good idea to introduce new species to the eco-system.... A fairly well written article discussing how consumerism impacts the environment.

And finally, I've started reading ToSimplify, a blog about a guy who has just transitioned from apartment dwelling to living in a camper van (he's on day 3 now). This is the second blog I've started reading about someone living in an RV (Early Retirement Extreme also lives in an RV). I think my husband's getting worried! :)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Note the absence of a picture....that's right, no food waste for me again this week!! It's been helped by the fact that since we've been doing some traveling I've had to really plan meals. (and the fact that we've not been home all the time). I did notice we have some produce that needs using up soon, so when I went to the store today I got enough other ingredients to make up a stir-fry for dinner. I haven't found anything that uses up vegetables like a stir-fry can. : )

I'd like to start organizing the cupboards and the freezer, but I'm a little worried about what I might find and ending up with some food waste! I'd better get to it soon though...ignoring the cupboards and freezer won't make the food in them get any fresher.

Check out how the other bloggers did with food waste over at The Frugal Girl. If you'd like to participate, just post your photo on your blog and link via The Frugal Girl.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Green Car Repair

A couple of days ago my car was broken into while we were hiking on the Bruce Trail. The vandals broke my front passenger window, but didn't take anything (there was nothing of value in the car). Obviously we couldn't keep driving the car with no passenger's not secure, not to mention noisy, and cold (especially once December rolls around). We took this opportunity to run a green experiment and get used parts from the junk yard. My husband has a friend who's fixing up an old car, so we knew of a junk yard not far from our house. Neither of us is into cars, but we figured it's worth a shot...and even if we couldn't repair it ourselves, we might be able to avoid buying new parts.

The experiment was an unbridled success, and has definitely changed the way we look at car repairs! And Google is an excellent resource for figuring out minor repairs. : ) We got to the junkyard and actually found a car the exact same year and model as mine. We probably could have used parts from other years or models, but remember, this was our first time in a place like thus...I have to admit it is a little intimidating. Our target car was on top of another vehicle, but that just made it a little trickier to get the window out.

We took the passenger window out (after a bit of time with some tools trying to figure out how to disassemble the door...another benefit of going to a junkyard, you get some practice before trying anything on your own car! While we were there, we also picked up the heater/blower since my fan sporadically stops working. When I came home from playing Ultimate Frisbee (where I sprained my finger so I'm typing all this with 6 fingers), my car had a working blower and an intact window! DH said it was a bit tricky getting one of the screws back in, but there's a real sense of satisfaction from knowing that you can fix your own car (new skill!).

So...we fixed the car in an environmentally friendly way, and we saved some green! The mechanic quoted $280 to replace the window in my car. The junkyard charged $38 for the window. Savings of $242...not bad for a half day's work! This doesn't include fixing the blower since I didn't have a quote. The blower cost us an additional $25. The next time we have a small car repair, we'll definitely be using the junkyard. We'll probably try the u-pull section again since it lets us experiment on taking the car apart, but they will also pull the part for you (for a small fee). If you have a number of parts you need, the one near us was having an 'all you can carry out in one armload' day for $50 this weekend. We decided to just go today since we were new to the whole junkyard experience and it's probably pretty busy on those days.

Next time you have a car repair, think about getting used parts - even if you get them to pull the part and your mechanic to install. You're still eco-friendly, and you'll probably save some green as well!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

B.Y.O.T. (takeout)

I like to go out for dinner every now and again, and since we were out hiking yesterday, it seemed like a good day to go out. Also, we were at a B&B so it was either go out for dinner or eat hiking food in our room - go out for dinner was the much better choice. When we go out for dinner, it's highly likely that there will be leftovers...and there should be with the portion sizes given out by most restaurants! East Side Mario's was having a special where you could buy any pizza for $9.99 with the purchase of a beverage. Since both small and regular size pizzas were in the deal, I picked up the regular vegetarian (really, really good if you happen to be going). Now, I found the nutrition information online, and my pizza would have had 1080 calories. According to this site, I need to consume 2095 calories a day to maintain my weight (really, I should look at maybe dropping the 5 lbs I gained while vacationing!). Since I do eat two other meals in a day, and we snack while hiking, eating 1080 calories for dinner is overkill...not to mention I would have been way too full to enjoy the evening.

So...did I get some lovely styrofoam takeout containers? No! How anti-green would that be? Since I knew I'd be going out for dinner, I brought a couple pieces of reusable plastic containers with me and put the leftovers in them. Added bonus...I didn't have to wait for my takeout containers! For those of you who worry about others putting your food away, this takes care of that as well. And since you're already carrying a trendy cloth bag with you, you can just slip your takeout into your bag. (Ok, maybe my bag isn't that trendy, but yours might be) This was my first time bringing tupperware to a restaurant, but I'll definitely continue. It's easy, convenient, and I'm saving the world by reducing the amount of plastic and styrofoam needed!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vandalism is NOT Green

Today I was hiking along the Bruce Trail - a fairly green hobby. We were doing 19 km today, so we dropped a car off at one end of the trail, and we all drive back to the beginning of the trail in the other car. That way, once we're finished hiking we can hop in the car we left, pick up the other car, and get on with our evening. Normally this works really well. Today, after a long day of hiking we got back to the car left at the end of the trail; today that was my car. As we neared the end of the trail I spotted my car and got all excited....there's nothing like seeing your car at the end of a long day of hiking...the end is literally in sight! As we switched out of our hiking boots and got ready to drive back to the other car, this is what greeted us on the passenger side.

Yes, as we innocently left our car in the designated parking area, on a busy road, at an intersection with a busy rail trail, someone decided to take a rock and smash it through my front passenger window. Which really sucks to come back to. They opened the glove box, and moved my hair band from a cup holder. That's it - except for the broken window of course. Frankly, I have no idea why they bothered breaking the would have been pretty obvious from looking inside that there was nothing of value. And I do mean nothing...probably the map book was the most expensive thing in the car. However, I'm EXTREMELY grateful that this didn't happen yesterday when my in-laws car was parked there...with all their clothing, and my laptop bag.

So, the only thing I need to replace is one window. In terms of being eco-friendly, obviously it would have been better to keep using my original window. Since that's no longer an option, grr...still kind of mad at the person(s) who broke my window, we're going to go the next most eco-friendly route. Instead of buying a new window, we're checking at the auto wreckers to see if we can pick up a used window and my husband will either install it himself or we'll bring it to the mechanic's. So now, I'm going to continue trying to get ahold of my insurance to see if I'm covered at all, and wait for the police to come see my car for the official report. But I'm still feeling pretty cheerful, and the owner of the B&B we're at has actually just told me that he put some clear plastic up on my car window in case it rains. It's nice dealing with small business owners instead of giant corporations!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Buy Local vs Buy Organic

There's been a huge increase in the buy organic movement in the last few years. Even my local discount grocery store has a fairly comprehensive organics section. Everyone has different reasons for buying organic, but the most common are health (decrease the amount of chemicals consumed) and the environment (eliminate the chemicals used in the production process).

The other major green purchasing movement is to buy local. When buying local, you're not as concerned with organics, you're looking to minimize the distance your goods travel to get to your plate or house. Farmer's markets and craft shows are good sources for local food and goods. It's often difficult to tell where something has been manufactured if you're buying from a larger chain store. local or buy organic? I think that to get the most eco-bang for my buck, I'd like to try buying more local goods. I think that the resources used to transport goods between continents (and sometimes to transport the raw materials away and the finished goods back) has a larger impact on the environment than the difference between organic and non-organic products. Ideally, you can get local and organic.

When I was at the farmer's market a couple of weeks ago I picked up the card of a local beef farmer. Another benefit of buying local is that you can talk to the actual farmer or manufacturer. For example, this farmer isn't certified organic (that's pricey and takes a long time) but when you talk to him, you find out that his cows are hormone and antibiotic free and fed on all natural feed. I'd like to try buying a quarter of beef and have that last us through the year. We'll have the satisfaction of knowing that our beef has only traveled about 40 km to get to us, and as an added benefit, it should be less expensive that if we were buying certified organic meat. In order to take advantage of this local beef offer, we need a deep freezer (already have one) and we need space in the deep freezer - I'm betting a quarter of a cow takes up some space! Over the next couple of months I'm going to make a real effort to organize our deep freeze and use up some items to make space for the beef. It's probably a good idea to organize the deep freezer anyways....less chance of something ending up in a Food Waste Friday photo is I can keep track of what's in there.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Food Waste Friday

No picture, and no food waste this week! My first no-waste week (hopefully of many!). The post is a day late again this week because we were having such fun on vacation we decided to stay an extra day. We actually almost had a No Food week. About an hour outside of town I realized I'd forgotten to pack the hamburgers and hotdogs that were supposed to be some of our dinners. After we got there, and were talking about the planned steak dinner, DH asked where the steak was...turns out I'd forgotten to pack it as well! Good thing we caught some fish, and there was a grocery store not too far away.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I know, it seems like I just published that I was going on vacation...but that was just a couple of days in the wilderness. This time I'm going fishing! I'll be back in time for Food Waste Friday though, and I'll do a much better job than last week. Since we all know that summer in Canada lasts for July, I figured I should make the most of it!

Monday, July 27, 2009

One In, One Out - A Month Later

Actually, it's been closer to a month and a half since I decided that for every durable item that comes into my house, another durable should leave. This was partially a way for me to become more conscious of my consumption, and partially a way to keep my house decluttered. When I wrote about my plan here, I admit I was feeling pretty confident, arrogant even, in how it was going to work out. After all, I admire simplicity in the house and like to think that I'm not that much of a consumer....I figured I'd have no problem keeping myself from accumulating. I actually thought that I'd probably only acquire a handful of items (if that), that I'd purge stuff I didn't use anymore, and that I might even end up with a clean and elegant house.

Sigh. I know, those of you who know me personally and have visited my house are probably rolling on the floor with laughter right now. I might admire simplicity and aspire towards it, but here's a picture of my dining room right now. In my defense, we've just returned from a trip and haven't unpacked much yet.

So, you already know the clean and elegant house hasn't happened, but how did I do with accumulation and purging? Well, it was closer than I thought it would be! Somehow there was a great sale on some clothing that I actually needed, I went to a store where I could replace a kitchen scale that had broken the month before, my grandmother gave up a deli-slicer, etc... Oh, and we won the centerpiece at a wedding we attended! All in all, from June 16 to July 24 I picked up 18 more items that will be in permanent residence. However, I also got rid of 21 items. The outgoing items were a combination of old computer equipment (sent to the hazardous waste depot), actual garbage (broken pair of sunglasses), and a bunch of other items that I either sold on craigslist, gave away on freecycle, or donated to a charitable organization.

There were days where I ended up buying items where I'd rack my brain over what could go away. Some of the choices were a lot harder than they should the pair of jeans that I've had for almost three years and have never worn because the don't fit me and are unlikely to ever fit me. That was actually a tough choice to give away. Or the tiny pink satin purse that came with some nail polish and I've had for years...way too small to be useful but as soon as I decided to pitch it, I started thinking "well, maybe if..." I've got to say that I don't miss any of the departed items though, and in a few cases I'm pretty glad they're gone and being put to good use! AND when I was going through my closet I found clothing I'd forgotten about that did fit me, and looked good.

I have to admit that knowing I was keeping track of items in and out did actually make me think more about items I was considering buying. Having to think about what would leave the house acted as a check on impulse buying and made sure that I: a) really wanted whatever it was; and b) had a use for the item.

Will I continue with a One In, One Out policy? I think I will, but I won't track the items quite so closely, instead I'll just have an In column and an Out column with checkmarks. If the In starts getting ahead of the Out, I'll know that that's not the direction I want to go! Though if I really want to end up with a neat and uncluttered house, my sister suggested I might want to adopt a One In, Two Out policy for awhile! I'll probably also need to work on organization. :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Food Waste Friday

It's Food Waste Friday on Saturday for me this week! In part that's because I got home fairly late Friday night and didn't want to start cleaning the fridge and taking pictures. Since I'd been away for awhile I knew that there would be some waste. I tried to give perishable food away to friends before I left, but after I'd hit the road I knew I'd forgotten some. The other reason it's a day late is that I'm frankly ashamed of my picture this week. Next time I leave for an extended visit I have to do a better job of clearing the fridge before departure!

Featured above we have: rice (which I'd forgotten about or I could have used), Black Beans and Rice (which I'm really upset that I'd forgotten about because I definitely would have eaten it), pita strips, half a can of tomato juice (which I'd bought for a recipe and didn't end up using the second half in time), and.....a container of hummus. I don't blame you if you can't recognize the hummus, it definitely didn't have that colour or texture when I left! I don't feel super guilty about the hummus, someone had brought a huge platter to a party at my house, I used the leftovers at a barbeque the next day, and there was still this much left over.

I'd pledge that next week will be better, but that's not really saying much after this week! I'll also be spending some time at a friends house, so I'm making sure to not buy as many groceries for home this week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cut Back on the Television

For around three years now, our house has been without cable. Instead, we have an antenna that my husband made up in our attic, and that's what we use for our television viewing. I've often thought that since giving up cable I've been less likely to buy stuff we don't need - I'm one of those people who can't help but pay attention when the tv is on, no matter what else is going on. When we're over at friends, it's well know that if they want to share a secret they should just turn the television on and I'm completely zoned out! Though I always secretly thought that watching less television let me be a little more green (less electricity, less buying of stuff), I just finished reading an article showing that it could make me a happier person as well! Check out this article called Unhappy people watch TV.

I don't see us ever living completely without television, but I think our lives have been improved by having a few less channels to choose from. In general, all the shows we really want to watch are available over-the-air (who wants to live in a world without Mantracker?), but we're less likely to sit and flip through the channels randomly until we find a rerun that kills an hour. Statistics Canada has information about how much television Canadians watch here. The average for an adult female in Ontario is 24.7 hours a week or just over 3.5 hours a day. I know that when I'm visiting family with cable, I often spend at least that much time watching television, at the expense of quality conversation. On the other hand, when I'm at my house, I often end up watching less than an hour a day; instead I'm outside going for a walk with my husband, visiting friends, or reading a good book (or blog post). Would you want to go without cable? Without tv at all? How would your life be impacted? Next time you're flipping through the channels, if you don't see something that you really want to watch, try shutting the tv off and going for a walk, or catching up on your email correspondence, or reading up on that new whatever you've been wanting to read about.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today was my dad's birthday, so we had the usual kind of party - family & food! How do you make a birthday a little greener? First of all, only buy presents that don't add to un-needed clutter. We all pitched in and got my dad a really nice set of knives. He does a lot of cooking, and so far he's been doing it with some less than optimal knives. With this set, he should be able to stop trying to replace his knives a bit at a time, and he shouldn't ever need another set. Far better than giving him a cool kitchen gadget like the Banana Saver and Banana Slicer.

We wrapped the knives in a reuseable (and reused) gift bag. I didn't get him a card (though my mom did). Part of that is that I'm being green (reduce....he's just going to recycle it a couple days later anyways), part of it is that I'm lazy, and part of it is that I'm saving the money! Honestly, most of it is the fact that he'll just pitch it a couple of days later...I rarely buy cards. I make exceptions only for people that I know really enjoy cards, and for weddings and showers where people use them to keep track of gifts received.

Love cards but still feel a bit guilty about the waste? Do what one of my friends does...her and her husband go out on Valentines and their anniversary and pick out cards for each other. They read them in the store and then leave them on the shelf. Or, get the cards but don't sign them. That way you can cycle them around year to year and only increase your stash when you find cards you absolutely love!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What if Water Was Work?

Last week we went on a short trip to Maple Mountain, our entire trip log can be found here. So, if the trip has already been written up on the web, why am I writing here? I wanted to focus on the green nature of the vacation, and especially on water usage.

Compared to most vacations, canoeing and camping in a provincial park is pretty low on the resource usage. We actually tried this trip last year and had to turn around on the second day due to rough water on the Lady Evelyn DH agreed to turn around when I kept whimpering about being too young to end up in Davy Jones's locker. We came back this year, with a very important change (though a bit less green), we brought a motor to put on the back of our canoe! Now you might think that if I was really the Green Canadian, we'd be paddling that boat ourselves, avoiding any use of gasoline. Turns out we hate paddling, so after envisioning a watery grave last year as we fought the swells, we purchased an old 4 HP engine. Four horsepower goes a lot further a lot faster than two person power, especially when we were the two persons! The fact is, without the motor this year we wouldn't have made it any further than last year. I think they should rename Smoothwater Provincial Park to "Rough Enough to Beat Your Canoe Up Provincial Park", but I can see that it doesn't really have the same ring to it.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that our water usage at home is 130 litres per person per day, and the Canadian average is 329 litres per person per day. Our trip lasted for two days this time (successfully completed in two days!) and we brought in three litres of water with us. We filtered four more litres while we were out, bringing us to seven litres total, or 1.75 litres per person per day. That's 128.25 litres per person per day LESS than our average at home. All of that water was used for consumption. If we'd stayed out longer, we would have increased our consumption... it was pretty cool and overcast so we didn't drink as much as we would have on a nice sunny day.

I'm not advocating that anyone try to get down to 1.75 litres of water use...since we were only out for a couple of days, showering wasn't an issue, and obviously there were no flush toilets in the wilderness. I'm betting we can be more conservative as a society though. How much of the water we use is wasted because we didn't have to do any more work than turning on a tap? If we had to put effort into the water we use, would we let the shower run until we found the exact right temperature? Would we wash a shirt every time we wear it? Next time you're turning on the tap, think about whether your usage would change if you had to put some effort into acquiring the water.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Tightwad Gazette

I've been looking for a copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn for awhile now. I finally found copies of The Tightwad Gazette II and III at a used bookstore recently (there are three compilations in total). If you haven't read any of The Tightwad Gazette, try taking it out from your local library. I warn you now that if you plan on reading it like a regular book, cover to cover, you'll probably be disappointed. The book is a compilation of a lot of newsletter articles, and some of them will be more useful to you than others. And some are just plain dated now (I don't need to know how to repair a they even still sell VCRs?)

However, there are some timeless articles that show you another way to look at common household items. For example, I haven't bought myself any shaving cream/gel since the first time I read the Gazette. Instead, I use one of the giant bottles of cheap conditioner as shaving cream. Far less waste since a bottle lasts almost a year and I'm conditioned! She also runs through the numbers to find out what is frugal (cloth vs paper napkins for example...cloth won!), gives a few frugal recipes, and gives a ton of examples for how to reuse household items for other uses. One that I want to try someday (for a Hallowe'en or kids birthday) is to collect a number of toilet paper rolls (or small pieces of wood) and some yard. Tie a prize to one end of the yard, and the rolls to the other end. Toss the rolls all around the room, under furniture, around each other, etc. Each guest gets one roll and has to follow it through to the end, untangling it to get to the prize!

Is this a book I'd recommend you go out and buy? No, it's not for everyone - and not everyone will want to read the articles more than once. For me, one of the benefits of this book is that it keeps me aware of the reduce/reuse mentality and encourages me to try out some of the techniques. Plus, some of it's just plain entertaining to read. :) As I said earlier though, it's worth checking out from your library to see if anything inspires you.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Web Round Up

For the first time in what feels like ages I was able to go yard saleing this morning. Unfortunately I couldn't get a very early start on the day, so I didn't end up finding anything I wanted. My mother had much better luck, coming home with an entire box of children's books for only $3 - probably 30 or 40 books and a nice set of cloth napkins. I'll make the effort to get up a little earlier next weekend and see if I can get some more Christmas shopping done!

What have I been reading this week? Canadian Dream talks about organic vs local and what works for his family. I've never tried local/free-range eggs, but I'm pretty sure there are some available at our local farmer's market. I'll have to check them out next week.

Feeling guilty about buying overpackaged, pre-made, convenience food but you really need the extra time in the evenings? This article shows that convenience food doesn't always save time. One of my friends recently tried Supperworks - I'll be interested to see how that works out for her in terms of time saving and cost per serving.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Food Waste Friday

No food waste picture for me this week! Of course, I can't take all the credit for that, I'm at my parents this week and there's no food in their fridge that needs to go. Looks like they're doing a good job of using up food before it goes bad. I tried to use up or give away the food in my fridge that I didn't think would last until I got back, but of course I remembered a few more items after I'd hit the road. I have a feeling there will be a picture next week. :(

Check out how the other bloggers tracking their food waste did this week at The Frugal Girl.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

No Space Gardening

One of the items on my list of wants when we were looking for a house was space for a vegetable garden. Unfortunately, the house we ended up buying had almost everything we wanted except room to garden. The yard is fairly small, but what really stops the vegetable garden is the fact that it's been highly landscaped (very attractively), with a lot of trees and shrubs. There's maybe a 3' X 4' plot in the exact middle of the yard that gets enough sun for a vegetable garden. This year, that's not stopping us! Our deck gets a fair bit of sun, so we have some container plants that are providing us with a few fresh veggies. Our neighbours gave us two tomato plants that they started from seeds, we planted a couple of potatoes that were sprouting in the basement, and my favourite is the four lettuce plants I bought at the grocery store and stuck in a pot.

Lettuce is one of those veggies that we really like to have some around for burgers and sandwiches, but find it really difficult to go through an entire head before it goes bad. The great thing about growing your own lettuce is that it doesn't go bad! We pick a leaf or two every time we need some and leave the rest on the plant to get bigger. So far, it's been over a month since we've bought lettuce in the store and the garden has kept us well supplied. Best of all, we haven't wasted any!

Container gardening is one eco-experiment I'll be doing again next year. Even living in an appartment in the city, container gardening would let you grow some of your own vegetables. It's great to be able to head out the backdoor (or balcony) to get some fresh tomatoes and lettuce whenever I want a sandwich. I'm not sure how the potatoes will work out yet - it's a fairly shallow container, but the plants are definitely growing. I'll have to wait until the fall to see how the harvest is. Next year, I think I'll add a handful of bell pepper plants to the collection.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rush Hour Commuting

Every day last week I had to commute 44 km in the morning, and 44 km back in the evening. In the morning, I left early and the commute took about 45-50 minutes. In the evening, everyone left at 4:30 (we didn't have the option of staying late) and the commute took about one hour 30 minutes. For the most part, the morning commute wasn't too bad, though I had to get to work about 40 minutes ahead of time in order to avoid rush hour. Unfortunately there was emergency construction one of the days so my morning commute ended up taking an hour and half! It's not unreasonable to assume people may need to commute 88 km in a day, but averaging 35.2 km an hour is NOT a good, or green use of time. You have to assume that all those cars idling in gridlock on city streets and highways aren't helping in terms of smog or greenhouse gases.

So, what are our options for reducing commuting?
1. Move closer to work. A drastic solution, and one that only works if you have long term employment, and everyone else in your household works in the same area. You also need to be able to afford the housing in your employer's neighbourhood. Living closer to work means either a shorter commute, or the chance to walk or bike to work.
2. Take public transit. The ultimate in carpooling, public transit moves a large number of people for a smaller per person emissions rate. Unfortunately, public transit doesn't always go directly between where you need to be. If I wanted to take public transit last week, it would have required around four transfers, systems from 2-3 different regions and a couple of hours each way.
3. Carpool. This is particularly effective if you're working in the same spot for awhile. You can find other people in your office you live near your neighbourhood and commute together. I've used this method before, and the added benefit is that since a few of you are all depending on each other, you can't get too caught up in work and stay until late in the evening. Definitely a benefit for maintaining work-life balance!
4. Telecommute. If your employer lets you work remotely, there's no shorter commute than waking up and walking to the next room. Some jobs lend themselves easily to telecommuting (a lot of the tech industry) and some jobs guarantee telecommuting is not an option (teaching grade 6 for example).
5. Change when you drive. If you can avoid the rush hour times, it'll cut a huge amount of time out of your commute. There was a really interesting study in the Netherlands where commuters were given an incentive to avoid rush hour, and had up to date traffic information streamed to them so that they knew when or where they should drive. I can see why government might want to get in to changing driver habits...less rush hour means less congestion and less accidents, which can only be good! Of course, you need to know where the traffic congestion is in order to make informed driving decisions, which is why they now sell GPS with the ability to receive traffic updates (for a fee of course). Avoiding traffic is a pretty good reward for me, but I'd love to see my area start a reward system like this Dutch city!

Monday, July 13, 2009


For the next couple of days, I'm going to be on vacation. I'll have plenty of access to sparkling lakes and beautiful forests, but no access to the internet (or electricity or running water). Regular posting will resume on Wednesday.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Web Round Up

No real pattern to the articles I've been reading this week. Sometimes it's fun to just wander the web!

Ever heard of The Monkeysphere? Check out the article online and find out why some groups and organizations just seem to work better together and form a real sense of community. Also find out why when you break down with a flat tire at the side of the road it takes a lot of cars going by before someone stops by and helps.

The Energy Guy has articles on pretty much any electricity subject you want to know about. Some are definitely more American centric, like the solar stimulus package, but there's a lot of good information as well.

Finally, there's an article at Wise Bread on Things Wear Out. A neat way to evaluate your possessions and the way society has changed. I don't think I've ever known a tinker or cobbler, though I have gone to a tailor a couple of times.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Food Waste Friday

A pretty good week for low food waste! There's a couple slices of ham that I just didn't trust...I don't think ham is supposed to have an iridescent sheen. There's also a few slices of kielbasa; they don't look bad, but last time we had some my husband and I both got sick so I wasn't risking that again. I'm very happy that I managed to use up all the fruits and vegetables, I think I'm starting to make real progress with the food waste.

Check out the other bloggers participating in Food Waste Friday over at The Frugal Girl in her blogroll.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Meatless Meal - Lemon Basil Pasta

Due to the higher environmental cost of raising meat compared to vegetables, I'm trying for one meatless main meal a week. If I find enough of them that we really like, it could expand to multiple meals in a week. This week I tried a Lemon Basil Pasta dish from the Budget Confessions blog. I didn't have angel hair pasta, but spaghettini worked just as well.

The dish was easy to prepare and didn't take long at all. I served it with some grilled vegetables which added variety and had the added benefit of using up all the vegetables I thought could go bad by this week's Food Waste Friday! The portions near the bottom of the dish are definitely very lemony - I might use a bit less lemon juice next time. My husband liked this dish as much as the Black Beans and Rice, though I rated it a bit lower. We had some guests over while we ate, so I can tell you that the dish is kid-approved! The two and a half year old really liked it and ate everything on her plate. I think I'd like to try the Garlic Basil version discussed in the Budget Confessions comments, but this dish could get made again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

Today our hydro, water and gas bills all came in the mail. This isn't as depressing as you might think, I like to check out our resource usage and compare against other months, and national averages.

Our average daily use: 11.51 kWh
Average Canadian household: 31.86 kWh
Average United States household: 30.71 kWh
Average European household: 12.79 kWh

As you can see, we're doing fairly well right now compared to the national average (just over 1/3), though I know there are people who do more. I think we've gotten to the point where if we make any more changes, we'll start seeing an impact on our lifestyle. So, why is our daily usage so much lower than the average? We use almost all CFLs in our lights (we have 46 lightbulbs in our house, I counted); we only have a couple that are the cold white light, or that take a few seconds to flicker on so we keep them in low usage areas. Our televisions and DVD players are attached to a power bar, and the power bar is turned off when they're not in use. This eliminates the vampire power still being consumed even when appliances are turned off. Our appliances are all fairly new, and all EnergyStar. And, last but not least, we turn things off when we're not using them! My laptop is fairly energy efficient, but it still uses 30 watts when it's plugged in, by unplugging the laptop when it's not in use I can save about 420 watts, or almost 0.5 kWh per day.

Electricity usage in Europe and the United States
Electricity usage in Canada

Our average daily use per person: 130 litres
Average Canadian: 329 litres
Average American: 380 litres

Again we're lower than the average, but I'm not honestly sure why. We shower regularly! We do try to make sure that we only run the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads. We do water our lawn, but we avoid overwatering. We have a low flow showerhead and a front load washing machine, but we haven't done anything else to conserve water.

Water usage statistics

Natural Gas:
Our annual usage: 1302 cubic metres
Average Canadian usage: 2700 cubic metres

Since natural gas usage varies widely by the season, I thought it was more useful to look at the annual usage - not too hard to do if you keep all your bills. Again, we're lower than the national average but not as dramatically. I'm sure the fact that we purchased a smaller house helped here, and the programmable thermostat we were given as a housewarming present means we don't heat the house while we're sleeping. It's also been helped along by my husband's insistence that if I'm cold, I should put on a sweater instead of making him miserably hot! :)

Have you ever checked your resource usage? How do you compare?