Tag Archives: APLS

From Sustainable Couple to Sustainable Family

This post is my contribution to the March APLS Blog Carnival.

With my due date fast approaching (tomorrow!), I’ve been thinking about how we want to raise our child.  In terms of our continued quest for sustainability, I realize that there are some areas of our lives that we’ll have to let slide, while in other areas, we’ll be able to continue on in our sustainable ways.

The first thing to go will be Freezing Our Buns.  We’ve been told on numerous occasions that our house is simply too cold for a baby.  Don’t worry grandmas-to-be, we promise to turn the heat up when we bring the little guy home.  For now, our nighttime temperature of 60 suits me just fine.  Our desire to reduce our carbon footprint and our dependence on foreign oil isn’t more important than keeping our little guy warm.  But not to worry, spring seems to be coming on full force, and we look forward to being able to turn the heat off for the year and throwing the windows open.

I also realize that I’m going to have to scale back some of my from-scratch lifestyle, as the new baby will put bigger demands on my time.  Though I’ve been meaning to get a clothes line and start line drying, I know this summer probably won’t be the time for it.  Since I hate doing laundry now, and I’ve been told our once-a-week laundry regime will change quite a bit when baby comes, I’m planning to continue using the dryer.  I’ll also probably be more likely to use a kitchen appliance than do something by hand, like using a breadmaker instead of kneading.  Even so, I think I’ll be buying bread, and I probably won’t make homemade cheese for a while either.  If these compromises result in more time with my family, then that’s fine with me.

One thing that I’m not willing to change is my reduction in household chemicals.  My “green” cleaners won’t be replaced by the cheaper, more traditional cleaners.  Let’s be honest, I don’t clean all that often (my family and friends will confirm that), so I’m not going through an inordinate amount of household cleaners.  Having a baby is not the time to get relaxed about chemicals in the house.  The same goes for personal care products: I’m going to keep on getting products that are as pure and safe as possible.

I think a new, interesting facet will be working on sustainable consumerism.  Until now, I’ve been what you might call an anti-consumer, really thinking about my purchases before making them.  After building our dream house, it was easy… we were out of money!  However, having a baby brings with it a whole new need to buy things.  Fortunately, I had an amazing baby shower, and we’ve got most of what we’ll need.  But as our baby grows, we’ll need the typical clothes, shoes and toys, and I’ve done my best during my pregnancy to start scouting second-hand stores and learning about toy safety.

Our food choices also won’t change.  Sustainable, locally and humanely raised food is important to both of us, and teaching our son where his food comes from is going to be a big part of his upbringing.  This is one area that I’m determined not to let fall through the cracks as learning to raise a baby takes over our lives.  We’re planning to continue our vegetable garden this year, while scaling back a little to make it more realistic for us.  I’ve decided not to start seeds indoors this spring, but will be getting some tomatoes that my dad started from seed, and starting other veggies right in the garden.  We’re going to grow only veggies that we know we’ll eat on a regular basis so we’ll be able to keep up, and along with our berry patch we should have plenty of produce from our backyard.  Our little boy, before he’s even eating solid food, will benefit from our backyard garden because I plan to breastfeed.  But that’s not all… with a mom’s family farm raising strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, raspberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins, and a dad’s family raising pigs, turkeys, clams, oysters and–for the first time this year–chickens… Well let’s just say this little guy will be exposed to lots of agriculture and healthy local food when the time comes for him to eat it.

But it’s not just about the food: it’s about the experience.  I look forward to taking my little boy on walks around the farm in his stroller or in a carrier, enjoying the outdoors and the animals.  We can also visit the local farmer’s markets and enjoy music and community.  When he’s older, my husband looks forward to taking the little guy out on the boat, helping to gather clams or stealing some time to fish.  The excitement of catching a fish, growing a giant pumpkin, or collecting eggs from our future backyard flock will always be a part of our family’s life.

Overall, I think staying on the path to sustainability has to be about choices.  Major changes in our lives mean we have to reassess what’s most important to us, what to keep and what to let go.  What do you think?

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Filed under Food, Gardening, Living from Scratch, Local Agriculture, Outside, Sustainable Living

Local Strawberries for Valentine’s Day

We don’t make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day.  Years ago, when Ed and I were first dating, we’d go out to a fancy restaurant.  But now, we’re just as happy to enjoy a quiet night at home.  I try to make a special meal for the two of us, and I always like to include a strawberry dessert.

Big red hearts on Valentine’s Day make me think of strawberries.  Unfortunately, strawberry season isn’t until June around here, and those berries shipped into the grocery store can be pricey, especially with this year’s weather.  Not to mention, they’re gassed to ripen and never seem to have the same flavor or aroma as truly local, fresh, ripe berries.

If you’re a strawberry fan like me, you probably preserved a bunch of berries when they were in season, making jam or jelly, freezing or dehydrating.  So, this year for Valentine’s Day, I’m going to make a strawberry dessert using the bounty of my freezer, and I wanted to share a few recipes that will work nicely with preserved or frozen berries.

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Strawberry Cutie Pies are the perfect size for a romantic dinner with your Valentine.  I think I’d put little hearts on the top this time instead of stars.  Frozen whole berries, thawed and crushed, make a great substitute for fresh.

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If you’re spending Valentine’s Day with the whole family, make a full size Strawberry Pie, or Strawberry Rhubarb if you’ve got rhubarb in your freezer, too.

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Strawberry Shortcake is a perfect way to use frozen sugared strawberries.

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And for those of you who simply must have chocolate on Valentine’s Day, try Chocolate Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping.  I made this last year for Valentine’s Day and I was so happy to have leftovers for days.

I haven’t decided which one of these recipes I’ll make for Valentine’s Day this year, but I’m currently leaning towards the cutie pies.  Any one of these desserts, when served after a meal cooked with love at home, makes for a wonderful Valentine’s Day.  Use some beeswax candles for ambiance, and I’m certain you won’t even think about how eco-friendly it is.  You’ll just enjoy the time with your sweetie.

This post is my contribution to this month’s APLS Blog Carnival, which is themed “Greening Valentine’s Day.”  To read all about how to have a more eco-friendly Valentine’s Day, visit Retro Housewife Goes Green on January 19.

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Filed under Food, Living from Scratch, Local Agriculture, Recipes, Sustainable Living

Louder Than Words

This post is my contribution to the October APLS Blog Carnival, hosted by Kellie at Greenhab.

The theme for this month’s Affluent People Living Sustainably carnival is proselytizing green.  I’m pretty sick of the term “green” and prefer to use the term sustinable, since to me “green” means short-term trend and “sustainable” means long-term survival.  Anyway, I’m not a big lecturer, but I have found that people notice the actions I take in favor of the environment.  Here are some of the less obvious ways that I’ve opened the door to spread the word on sustainability.

Crank It Down! We keep the heat low around here in the chilly months.  Last year, we started to keep the heat set at about 50 when we weren’t home and 55 when we were.  We supplement with the wood stove, so the house’s temperature was probably closer to 60 when people visited.  To us, 60 feels warm now, but to most people, our house is quite cold.  In fact, when our families came to visit last week, my dad said he was tempted to give us $20 and ask for $20-worth of heat.  He laughed, since he knows we don’t keep the heat low to save money, but rather to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower our carbon emissions.  Of course the money savings don’t hurt, either.  Instead of a seasonless indoor temperature of 72 degrees, we offer blankets in winter and open windows in the summer.  People take notice, and these are conversation starters.

Carry Your Own! I’m not just talking about the standby stainless steel water bottles and grocery bags, since those seem to have caught on.  I’m talking about other things that people will notice and think, Hey! Why didn’t I think of that!  I carry a pretty cloth napkin in my purse, and usually a fork and spoon (or a few that seem to collect in there).  That way, when I’m at work or on the go, I don’t need to use disposables.  I’ve also gotten into the habit of carrying my own containers for doggy bags.  When someone sees you pull out a glass or stainless container, it’s a wonderful chance to explain why you prefer not to accept that styrofoam box.

Wear It Out! I had to laugh the other day when I was exploring facebook.  I looked at a picture from five years ago, and happened to be wearing a denim jacket that I still wear, albeit with a little hole in the elbow now.  But why buy a new one?  My cell phone is 8 years old, and in perfect working order.  I carry the same old purse day to day.  Oh, and the rust on my car shows its age.  Again, when people ask why I don’t upgrade or buy a new car, I can explain that if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. And certainly don’t buy a new one!

Make It From Scratch! When invited over to a friend’s house for dinner, bring a homemade pie, some home baked bread, tomatoes from your garden, or a jar of your home-canned jelly as a hostess gift.  Make someone a scarf or hat as a present, or cut a bouquet of flowers from your garden.  Not only are these gifts more thoughtful, they’re also great openers for a discussion of wasteful packaging and the value of making things on your own.

Say It With A Smile! Sometimes, I just can’t keep my mouth shut.  In those cases, I try to be polite and explain why, for example, doing a burnout is not in the best interest of the environment.  Or why I would prefer not to have a plastic bag.  Or why I don’t want my mom to buy me that sweater that she likes but I know I won’t wear.  I’ve found that when the message comes along with a laugh and a grin, people are much more understanding.

Don’t forget to check out all the APLS carnival posts!

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Filed under Home, Living from Scratch, Sustainable Living

A Matter of Scale

This post is my contribution to the September APLS Blog Carnival which will be hosted by Tina on her blog.

I have a confession to make.  I’m not as eco-friendly as I’d like to think.  There’s one thing in my life that is set in stone (well maybe concrete) and I refuse to change it.

Our house, our dream house, is 3731 square feet.  Shocked? So was I when I saw the number on the appraisal, because it doesn’t look that big from the outside or from the inside.  We designed it to look quaint, country, unique, and special.  We wanted our house to have character.  We didn’t want a McMansion or a cookie cutter house. 

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The space is largely unused right now.  We have two empty bedrooms and an empty room over the garage.  We don’t have a lot of furniture in the rooms we do use, and the house still echoes.  We could have opted to leave the room over the 3-bay garage unfinished, cutting down on the livable space and our taxes, but we decided to finish it when we finished the rest of the house. 

The square footage isn’t my only confession.  We have 5 bathrooms… well, 2 full and 3 half bathrooms.

Why did we build such a big house, you ask? I ask myself that sometimes, too.  Like when we pay the mortgage, or in the winter when it’s so cold inside, or when I talk on the phone and people ask me what the echo is.  So why?  The answer is simple…

We built our dream house.  The house we imagined ourselves living in until we die.  Raising children, visiting with grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren.  Granted it’s on 1.7 acres and not 50, but nonetheless, it’s our dream house.  We plan to live here forever, and we took that into account when we designed it. 

So what does this mean for our carbon footprint? It’s not good.  Two people in this big house means lots of living space per person.  If we had 5 or 7 people living here, for example, our carbon footprint would decrease dramatically.  But we do our best to conserve resources and live sustainably in other ways to make up for it.

Even if I had realized how the size of our house would impact our carbon footprint when we were designing it, I still wouldn’t have changed it.  We have room for children, our parents if they need to live with us, or even our grandchildren.  It doesn’t seem like the house fits us now, but we designed it to fit our future.  And with a baby on the way, I’m sure it will fill up sooner than we think.

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Filed under Home, Sustainable Living

Live Sustainably and Save Green

This post is my contribution to this month’s APLS Carnival, “Green on the Cheap,” which will be hosted by Robbie at Going Green Mama on August 19.

Back when Ed and I were first married, we had tons of money for kids our age.  We lived in a sweet little apartment over my parents’ detached garage, paid no rent, and had two good jobs.  Our only real bills were Ed’s truck payment and our cell phones.  Our savings account grew and grew, but we also had money to spend on whatever we wanted.  We weren’t wasteful really, but we never worried about not having enough money.

Flash forward five years.  We built our dream house and burned through that savings account quickly.  We’ve got a hefty mortgage to pay, along with electricity, heating oil, property taxes, insurance… the list goes on.  Needless to say our spending habits have changed, and in the process we’ve also become more sustainable.  Here are some ways we save money while going green at the same time.

Cook at Home

The Savings: Back in our early days of marriage, we thought nothing of going out to eat a couple times a week, probably spending $50 each time.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I can cook a pretty fabulous meal for more than two people for way less than $50.  If we went out to eat 2 times a week, that adds up to $5200 in a year.  Wow! What were we thinking? Now we go out to dinner once every couple months for special occasions, and prefer to have family and friends here instead.

The Bonus: When I cook at home, I control the quality of the ingredients and can purchase from local, sustainable sources.  The food I cook is generally healthier and lower in fat than restaurant food, too.

The Downside: Dishes.

Adjust the Thermostat

The Savings: Last winter, Ed and I kept our thermostat set at 50 degrees when we weren’t home, 55 when we were, and supplemented with wood in the wood stove.    By doing so, we saved two whole tanks of oil, which translated to a savings of over $1700  when we factored in the drop in oil price from winter 07-08 to winter 08-09.  This summer, we’ve used our AC sparingly and have seen savings on our electric bill.

The Bonus: More snuggling! We also dressed warmly, in sweatshirts and thick socks, and enjoyed the quilts our grandmothers made as well as the snuggies my mom gave us.  I also rekindled my love for fleece jammies.  Oh, right, in terms of sustainability, you drastically cut carbon emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

The Downside: Bringing wood into the basement and keeping a fire going.  Also, people complain that your house is cold, but it didn’t stop my brothers from their regular visits.

BYOW (Bring Your Own Water)

The Savings: When I first started teaching, I would bring about two plastic water bottles with me each day.  At about a dollar each, and 180 school days, that translates to $360 a year.  That doesn’t include all the other single-use plastic beverage bottles I purchased.  Those reusable water bottles filled with my own well water paid for themselves in a few weeks.

The Bonus: BYOW means reducing your plastic waste immensely! Plus, carrying around your own reusable water bottle makes you a sustainable role model.

The Downside: Darn it! More dishes.  Also, I forget to wash them out each night, so to solve that problem, I have a few bottles.

There are many more ways that we save green by going green, but these are simple examples that I could put some reliable numbers on.  By cooking at home, adjusting the thermostat, and bringing our own water, we saved a total of $7260 last year!

If you’ve got some suggestions for saving money while living sustainably, please leave a comment or contribute to the APLS carnival!

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Celebrate the Earth Any Day

This post is my contribution to the APLS Blog Carnival for the month of April, which will be hosted at Arduous Blog.

There are a lot of environmentalists out there that are anti-Earth Day, stating that they won’t be doing something special that day, and that they try to celebrate the Earth everyday.  I certainly understand that viewpoint, but I think it’s important to recognize that big events like Earth Day can make people excited to get involved, and maybe they’ll learn something or make a change that they would not have otherwise.  As an environmental educator, I have no problems coming up with ideas for how to learn about the Earth, but some people may be stumped.  If your town has an Earth Day celebration, you can start by attending that.  But if not, I’ve got some ideas for you!

Inspired by Jessica at Green Mamma’s disappointment in the “Going Green” program she signed up for with her toddler, I’ve compiled a list of activities that families can do any day to learn more about nature and appreciate the Earth.  Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set out to celebrate the Earth:

  1. Keep it close:  Try to do things locally, where you can walk or bike, or go for a short drive, to limit fossil fuel consumption and emissions. 
  2. Keep it waste-free: Avoid doing things that will create trash, or even recyclables. 
  3. Keep it simple: You don’t need to do something fancy to celebrate the Earth.  In fact, the easier your activity is, the more likely you are to do it again.

So what will you do? Well, there are lots of different options and your choices will depend on your family, if you have children, how old they are, and what your interests include.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Go outside and appreciate nature.  You can go out in your backyard, on a nature trail, to a park, or anywhere you can enjoy the outdoors.  Identify some local plants.  Around here, I’d pick a black birch twig and pass it around to smell, or garlic mustard, the invasive plant, and appreciate the garlicky scent.  If plants don’t do it for you, look for insects, amphibians, or small mammals, whatever you will appreciate.  You can have fun looking for different wildflowers or counting the different kind of insects you see.
  • Talk about what “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” really means, and figure out ways to reduce or reuse, before you recycle.  I still remember singing along with “Ray Cycle” in school assemblies, and you can sing his song or make up your own.
  • Do an experiment with water conservation.  Place a basin in the sink, then ask a family member to wash his or her hands with the water running the whole time.  Collect the water in the basin, then measure it using household measuring cups.  Do another trial, this time washing hands with the water turned off as you lather.  Again, measure the water collected and talk about the results.  You can do this while brushing teeth, too.
  • Read an environmental book.  You can find plenty of books at the Blogging Bookworm, both for adults and children.  I’d personally recommend Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax for reading to small children, but even teenagers and adults can appreciate the message.
  • Plant something.  If you’re a novice gardener, start with something easy and fast-growing, like peas or radishes, or a favorite like pumpkins or sunflowers.  You’ll be surprised how much taking care of a plant can bring a family together.
  • Enjoy a snack from a local producer.  I’m personally waiting for strawberries, but choose whatever you like best.  Many farms offer a great place for family fun, with animals to visit and places for picnics.  You can also visit a farmer’s market, and many of them offer music or children’s story times.  Visit Local Harvest to search for a place near you.  You can also always have a picnic in your backyard.  As long as you enjoy wonderful food from your area, you’re celebrating the Earth.

Notice that the suggestions above are low-energy and low-cost, which allows your family to try them without a lot of preparation or environmental impact.  As for me, this year I’m celebrating Earth Day with a Solar Cooker contest at school.  Why don’t you join us by building one with your family, with help from solarcooking.org? Solar cookers are cheap and easy, fast and fun to make, and we’ve had great success making s’mores or grilled cheese in them!

Remember, you don’t have to do all (or any) of these things on Earth Day.  You can celebrate the Earth on any day.

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Natural Living

This post is my contribution to the February APLS Blog Carnival, which will be hosted by the Green Raven a.k.a. The Purloined Letter and posted on February 20 at the Green Phone Booth.

Today at work, while in a workshop learning how to help our students reduce test anxiety, the presenter asked us to close our eyes and imagine the most relaxing places we could go to.  I imagined sitting in an Adirondack chair near my garden.  I could see all the flowers, watch the bees zoom around, smell the tomatoes, hear the wind chimes, and feel the warm sun on my skin. 

Nature is a big part of my life.  Growing up on my family’s farm, I spent lots of time outside with my family, working and playing.  Now, I love to get outdoors.  The time I spend in nature makes me feel more connected to the rest of the world and helps me to relax.

Here are some ways that I get outside to enjoy nature throughout the four seasons.  Some are regular occurrences, and some are things that I only do occasionally, but all of them are relaxing and enjoyable. 

  • Take a walk.  I am not into exercise for the most part, but I do really enjoy taking a nice walk.  I most enjoy walking when I’ve got someone to talk to, and most of the time that’s my mom.  We go for walks on the beach, the annual walk around our town’s reservoir, and around my parents’ farm.
  • Go swimming.  I usually swim in my parents’ pool, but I also enjoy going to the beach or lakes.  There’s nothing like jumping into the water and floating around.
  • Garden.  I’m already itching to get outside this year.  I’m counting down (literally) until St. Patrick’s Day when I can plant my snap peas outside.  Once it really warms up, I’ll be out in the garden weeding, watering, and admiring my plants everyday.
  • Read.  I love to sit outside and read a book, magazine, or even grade papers.  The change of scenery makes such a difference, and the fresh air keeps me motivated.
  • Visit parks in the off-season.  My mom and I like to rollerblade in the springtime at one of the local campgrounds at nearby state park.  When it’s closed, the paved roadways make a great spot to rollerblade.  We see people there walking dogs and riding bikes with their kids, and everyone is happy to be back outside in the first warmer days of spring.
  • Go to the farm.  We enjoy going my family’s farm to get outside.  From feeding fish in the spring to picnics in the summer and hayrides in the fall, there’s always something to do.  We love to spend time outside at Ed’s family’s home and go fishing on their boat, too.
  • Support other local farmers.  I’m a friend to farmland who loves to visit local farmer’s markets as well as local fairs
  • Sit outside with my husband.  One of our favorite things to do on summer evenings is sit outside and talk.  We sit in the cooler night air, sip iced tea or lemonade, and listen to each other and the sounds of the evening.  We’ll also share meals outside on our back deck in the summer time.  It’s a great way to de-stress after a long day at work.
  • Photography.  I love to get outside and snap photos of my gardens, the trees, even the snow.  While I may not be a great photographer, the time I spend outside taking pictures is time that I really enjoy.  Sunday Strolls have helped me to continue to get outside this winter, even when I would have been comfortable to stay in the warm house.  After a stroll, I always feel refreshed, even if my cheeks are rosy from the cold.
  • Experiential Learning.  I love taking my students outside to learn about nature and our area’s natural history.

How do you get outside to enjoy nature?

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Filed under Gardening, Home, Local Agriculture, Outside, Sustainable Living