Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Dill Pickle Food Co-op...Thinking About How We Shop

Recently, the Dill Pickle Food Coop opened within walking distance of our home. I have been eagerly awaiting the co-op coming to fruition for over a year, and shopped there twice in the first week!

photo Jason Guthartz

What is a food co-op? It's a member-owned non-profit grocery store, where many of the jobs are preformed by member volunteers. This one happens to also focus on shelving products and produce that are local, sustainable, organic or a combination of these. Simply awesome. The prices are still comparable to the big corporate stores since the new co-op doesn't have the same buying power yet, but the difference is that the money you spend at Dill Pickle all flows right back into the local the farms and local companies that grow, raise or produce the offerings, as well as to the local people and businesses contracted to do probable jobs such as bookkeeping, web design, or accounting. No big CEO is getting fat on the big profits here, and little to nothing is touched by China. The fact that produce is not coming from Chile or Argentina also means that the food is more fresh, better tasting and leaves a far smaller carbon footprint on our earth. Generally speaking, I like the fact that the people that run the store are my neighbors and peers. There's something to be said for the feeling of community that a co-op provides. A feeling that's sorely lacking in most of our daily lives and shopping experiences!

The Dill Pickle is a small storefront operation, but within this small space, not much seems to be missing from the shelves. They offer fresh organic produce, organic meats, eggs and dairy, brand name boxed goods like Annie's Cheddar Bunnies and EnviroKidz Cereals.
photo Jason Guthartz

Along the right aisle they have a large selection of loose leaf teas and coffees (heavenly!) that you can buy in bulk, as well as an unbelievable bulk section with rices, lentils, beans, spices and more. Solely because of this, I have made 2 risotto dishes in the past 2 weeks. I just can't walk past the bulk rice without craving some arborio!

If you live in the vicinity of Logan Square, please make a stop at Dill Pickle to pick up some groceries and check it out. Or better yet, become a member and support the local effort to "opt-out" of the mass-produced food chain. It's good for you, the local community, and the earth!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Have I Been Up To?

I have been busy lately! Other than the "normal" business of my life that includes playdates, kids' checkups, museums, libraries, etc., I have been spending the past 5 Saturdays doing something new...being trained to be a Leader for the Chicago Conservation Corps (C3)! Luckily I have a wonderful husband who was willing to stay home with our kids for each of my class days, for which I was gone from 9 - 2ish. And this last training day was for some special field trips and a pot luck, so I was gone even longer - from 8:30 - 4! Because he knows this is so important to me, and because he believes in what I will be doing to make our lives better/healthier (and to save the planet!), he not only steps it up as the Daddy on Duty, but he encourages me in these endeavors. (Thanks, A!)

C3 is a division of Chicago's Department of Environment (DOE), and is a volunteer based group of community leaders doing projects to build awareness and make changes in their communities which positively effect the environment. These projects can be large or small, and take place all over the city. The training courses run twice a year, in the Spring and the Fall, and my class had over 30 leaders-in-training. Check out our picture that was taken on our last day of trainign as we visited the North Park Village Nature Center. (I'm near the top right wearing a hat and a was freezing outside!!) It was so cool to meet these other like-minded individuals and to hear what they plan to do for their first project. Since we are all volunteers, we fit into a certain type of personality profile of people that want to help, want to give of themselves, and believe in working for changes and for the "greater good" rather than just for financial compensation.

Since I've started the C3 courses, several of my friends have asked me, "Why do you want another thing to do? Especially if you're not getting paid?" This is a valid question I suppose, and if there were pay offered, I'd certainly take it! But for me, I see it as a grand opportunity. The projects that I am going to propose as a C3 Leader are things that I have wanted to accomplish for a long time now. But instead of trying to tackle them all alone, I now have this great support system to help guide me, keep me on track, provide a budget, and I've been taught how to involve others to work alongside me. That's what I've needed all along, so for me, I feel like I have been paid! Before C3, I felt overwhelmed, frustrated and disappointed that I would not be able to accomplish my "green" goals by myself...but now I am so energized and excited to get started, and really feel like I can and will accomplish my project goals, and in the process build a team of others who feel just like me! How cool is that?

My meduim range goal is to make eco-friendly changes throughout my condo building from educating and informing the residents all the way to someday installing a green roof and solar panels. C3 has taught me to start small but think big, so my first C3 project will be to hold an informative "Green Cleaning Party" for my neighbors to teach them how to make their own non-toxic cleaning solutions and increase the air quality of their homes and our building at large. I will also hold a weatherization workshop, and hopefully by the end of the year, or January at the latest, I will host a Vermiculture workshop featuring the Urban Worm Girls where we will even give away the readied worm bin to a luck homeowner!

My other future projects for the building include recycling improvements and information, changing out our light bulbs to CFL's (those that aren't already switched), getting our building engineer to switch to the eco-friendly cleaners, etc., and eventually making the big changes and investments on the roof. These changes will not only make our building more earth friendly, but they will save us $ by being more energy efficient, improve our quality of life, conserve resources, and hopefully infect others with the "green bug" so that they might spread some of these changes to their workplace or their friends and families. But my long range goal is to "work myself into a job" that maybe when my little ones are both going to school I can get a job doing this type of thing for other buildings, or maybe even training others how to do it on behalf of the DOE!

If you live in Chicago and this article is inspiring to you, check out the C3 website to see how you can take action. If you don't live in this lovely city, check to see if there are any ways you can help your own city or town make changes toward sustainability. Chances are there are others like you that might be willing to join forces to make a big impact!

One speaker shared this quote with us during class, and it really made an impact on me, because this is just how I feel:

"Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question 'Is it safe?'

Expediency asks the question 'Is it politic?'

and Vanity comes along and asks the question 'Is it popular?'

But then Conscience asks the question, 'Is it RIGHT?'

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is RIGHT."

-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Exchange your SIGGs!!

By now you have probably heard about how SIGG's bottle linings (produced prior to Aug 08) contain the dreaded BPA. I was shocked when I heard, and felt a little betrayed since I thought use of the substance was banned in the EU, where SIGG bottles are manufactured. My son has been drinking from his faithfully since his first birthday, and I used mine through both pregnancies, have given them as gifts to both children and adults, and have encouraged others to buy them as well.

Well, before you freak out (or continue to freak out), know that SIGG stands behind the research that concludes these linings do NOT leach the BPA into your beverages. This makes me feel a little better, especially since I have never put anything into ours other than water, but I'm still not totally convinced. I don't want any BPA in my world...leaching or non-leaching.

So if you are like me, here are some options. First, determine whether your SIGG bottle was made with the old formula, or the new EcoCare liner. When you bought it is not necessarily an indicator because older bottles are intermingled on the shelves with the new ones. Here is a good picture of how to tell which kind of liner your bottles have. If your bottles have the coppery-colored old liner (the one made with BPA), you can either bring it in to where you bought it to exchange it for a new bottle with the EcoCare lining (Whole Foods assured me they will make the exchanges), or you can send it back to SIGG with a provided shipping label. Here is the link for the instructions from the SIGG site.

If you don't even want to deal with SIGG anymore (boo hoo, they are my favorite!) some other retailers are offering deals. Here is one that offers 30% off their stainless steel bottle options when you send in your SIGG to be recycled. They also offer 20% off these bottles even if you don't have an old SIGG to turn in! Pretty cool.

Whatever route you decide to go, please keep drinking from safe, reusable bottles and join me in the boycott of bottled water! Take your cool, pretty bottle with you everywhere so you never need to buy silly plastic water bottles (that cost a relative fortune and damage our planet in many ways)...and if a friend offers one to you at their house, you can pull your bottle out of you purse and say, "No thanks...have you seen my cute new BPA-free SIGG?"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Detox Your Kid's World (or at least some of it!)

I recently read an article in Chicago Baby about making your child's room/space green and non-toxic. The leaching toxins that lurk in your childrens' rooms as well as elsewhere in the house are touched on in the article. These include the flame retardants in crib bedding and PJs, VOC's in carpets, paints and flooring, phthalates in lotions and sunscreens, BPA in plastic toys and baby bottles, and formaldehyde in particle board furniture. This is a lot to take in! It was generally a good article and raised some important points, but as I read it, there were some things that nagged at me...and I think we as parents can do even better, and make these decisions for even more reasons. Here are a few:
  • Instead of just getting rid of the toys made in China, request that family and friends not buy more for your child, and definitely stop buying them yourself! Not only are these toys at the highest risk for containing lead and other toxins, but ask yourself how much you really want to support China's economy right now. Another important consideration is the pollution created when making "cheap, toxic toys" and then the zillion carbon miles used to ship all of these items to the US and to all the big box stores (another type of economy that my husband and I would rather not support). Instead, if you buy toys for your child or as gifts for other kids, research companies and consider toys like the wooden "Zimbos" pictured here. Blue Orange Games manufactures Zimbos and has stringent safety tests for their products. They also plant 2 trees for each 1 used to make their products.
  • The article also suggests reducing the number of toys that need batteries due to the toxins that they contain. I agree and would go even one step further to say even though batteries can be recycled, this and new battery production also add to the big carbon footprint. In addition, though not a toxin issue, experts say open ended toys like blocks or a puppet are better at helping your child develop important skills rather than the battery operated toys that just do the same things in response to pushing buttons.
  • Since most nurseries are updated or redecorated within a few years, this gives parents the perfect opportunity to choose non-toxic and sustainable options the next time around. Looking for "green" carpet and flooring options can be easier than you think, and every year more companies are coming up with new colors and better practices. You can even get low VOC paint from Home Depot these days! For our son's new room, we opted to use cork flooring, recycled drywall, sustainably forested wood baseboards, no-VOC paint from Green Depot (formerly Greenmaker Supply), and now we are looking into safer bedding options that will not leach the flame retardant chems into his little lungs all night. If an organic mattress is out of your price range (and I think it's out of mine!), look for organic mattress pads or covers that help block the chems and are much less expensive. This is also thought by some to prevent SIDS.
  • Other than just avoiding lotions, creams sunscreens, etc. with phthalates, there are a slew of other chemicals to avoid in personal care as well. Check out this site that clearly lists the top harmful things to avoid. This is important because the skin absorbs everything we put on it, and it's our body's largest organ! The list might rule out just about everything in your bathroom cabinet right now, but instead of feeling overwhelmed, just look for brands that are all-natural or organic as you run out of your current stash. Soon you will e be rid of all the bad stuff. We use a lot of Method products here since they are safe, accessible, and use natural extracts for their fragrances. Plus, their diaper cream works great!
  • As far as flame retardants in baby's and kid's jammies, that can be easily avoided by dressing them in close-fitting all cotton PJs. You can even go the extra step and buy organic cotton, but even the regular cotton ones can be found basically everywhere. Some have warnings on the tags that state they should fit snugly since they are not coated with the anti-flammable chems. Avoid the ones that are polyester at all costs since in addition to leaching the toxins into your little one's skin and respiratory system, they don't breathe and are surely not as comfortable for your babe. They may look and feel cozier, but think about how much you'd like to sleep in something that's 100% polyester!

From my perspective, the idea is not to have to spend a ton of money and revamp or "green" your entire household in a month. For my family, this has been a gradual process of making small changes, and I've found that one thing leads to another. If you just take it one step at a time, and make a conscious choice each time you need to make a purchase, you will not only be making your home more safe and comfortable, but you'll be voting with your dollars on what you believe in.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pay Attention to the Numbers...

Have you ever paid attention to the little stickers on the produce at the grocery store? Until recently, like over the past year, I never gave them much notice. Then one day I was shopping for produce at Stanley's, a woman was almost having a panic attack that they had some apples labeled as organic but their stickers started with a "4". Whaaaa?

So, wondering what she was talking about but not wanting to egg her on or engage her in conversation (since she was clearly already over the edge!), I silently started noting the numbers on the stickers. Sure enough, all the organic stuff had numbers that started with a "9", and the conventionally grown items started with the "4" that had gotten her so upset. Stanley's had obviously made a mistake, but they are famous in Chicago for their great deals on as well as conventionally grown. How blindly I had been shopping all this time, just believing whatever the sign and price said and ignoring those smart little stickers! The stickers often tell you where the produce was grown as well, in case you are interested in trying to eat locally. (Becoming a "locavore" is challenging, but also has huge health, economic, and environmental benefits)

I started paying more attention at all the stores, wondering if anything else I was paying the organic premium for was mis-labled, and I noticed something else...some stuff started with a mysterious number 8. What did that mean? I did a little research and found a very concise answer at this site. Oh no! Genetically modified? Ewww! I definitely wanted to choose the numbers that started with a "9" over the ones that started with the "4" if I could afford to do so, but now I wanted to avoid the stickers that started with an "8" like the plague!

OK, so now that I (and you) know what the numbers mean, making informed decisions is easy, or at least easier. I want as much of my produce to either come from my CSA (community supported agriculture) crop share or my little balcony garden (both are local AND organic!) is great, but when I buy fruit and veggies for myself and my family at the grocery store I want to see a little sticker's number starting with an "9"! But as far as the number 8 is concerned, I urge you all to try and avoid that one even more vigilantly that the conventional produce. Not only was it probably still grown with pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful stuff, but it is also not as nature intended. These "frankenfoods" might cause humans health problems down the road, but in the present they are doing damage to our land and our ecosystems for sure. Google GMO's to read both sides of the argument. Since our government is leaning toward support of GMO's (read: big business) and many consumers are fighting against them, there's plenty out there to explore on the topic.

If you are interested in learning more about the differences between conventional, organic, and genetically modified foods, as well as how our food in this country is produced, I strongly recommend "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. It's not at all "preachy" and is very eye-opening and informative. Also, there's a new movie out called "Food, Inc." about our industrialized food system and its effects on the environment, our health, worker's rights and the economy. I haven't seen it yet, since it's hard to get out of the house without my 2 month old at this point, but I plan to catch it at soon as possible! If any of you have seen it, feel free to post a review in the comment section.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pacific Garbage Patch...Follow-Up Video

Check out this little 6.5min short about a Gorilla and some eco kids that find out about the garbage swirl and work together to do something about it. This one is fun for the kiddos!


Friday, May 29, 2009

Greener Vacay's

Since our new baby is going to be born in the next few weeks, my husband and I decided that we'd better take advantage of my parent's offer to let our son have a sleep-over at their place. This way we could have a night to relax, go out to dinner alone, maybe even see a movie and stay overnight at a nearby hotel. A little "stay-cation" to use the newly coined term for taking a vacation without really leaving your general area.

We decided to stay at a Springhill Suites hotel in Schaumburg, and I made our reservations online tonight.  What I didn't expect was to see an option to "Green your hotel stay. Offset your carbon footprint and help preserve the Amazon Rainforest".  Hmm, I thought, I wonder how expensive that will be. But being into the whole "eco" thing like I am, I clicked on the link to "Learn more and Donate now!".  Turns out it's cheap! Marriott's family of hotels (of which SpringHill Suites is a part of) did a carbon footprint study that revealed $1 will offset one room's occupancy for one night. There is a $10 min for this tax-deductible contribution, so I figured I'll also be offsetting 9 other rooms that night, or we can look at it as that we've offset the last 9 nights of hotel stays, or even the next 9 going forward!  Any way you look at it, it's a win-win. We get to help the environment (more specifically, the Amazon Rainforests and reduce our carbon footprint), feel like do-gooders, and take a small tax deduction.  And all for less money than the tax we are paying on the hotel stay!

So the next time you make a reservation at a hotel, see if you can donate to make your stay carbon-neutral!  Or you could go one more step and make options like this factor into your decision regarding where to stay in the first place...or even better, plan your destination around a stay at a "green" hotel!  Here are some to check out: Washington Hotel, Hotel Metro, or check out the "Green Hotels" members in many states across the US. Happy vacationing, and here's to our planet!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A New Way to Eat Your Veggies

This article was written about my friend John Logli and his business partners who started their own CSA near Rockford last year. How cool that they won the green business award! If you live in the Rockford area, check out their site and sign up to receive their fresh organic produce and eggs!

A New Way to Eat Your Veggies

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Worms Work in our House...

So we've been a little busy around here lately!  Last week I hosted a Worms & Wine party with the Urban Worm Girl, and it was such fun. I have been wanting to start composting in the city for a long time now, but didn't know where to start...

When I was a kid, I remember my family had a compost pile out in the corner of our yard where we would throw coffee grounds, banana peels, eggshells, veggie scraps, fruit cores, rinds, etc.  My dad would throw lawn clippings on the pile too, and apparently my parents used the compost for our garden and planting beds  (I was not a part of the "using" process, or if I was, I don't remember...).  Most of my memories about the compost pile are of avoiding it while climbing over the fence because it smelled horrible. 

Although this type of composting is great in many ways, it requires some attention to keeping the mixture's composition in balance and you need to mix and turn the pile regularly.  Plus, you need outdoor space, which I have precious little of. There are also composting tumblers you can buy to help with mixing this type of decomposition composting, and if you are going this route, they are definitely worth looking into. But I didn't want to use one of these on my balcony either, and I didn't like how outdoor composting in Chicago limits you to the warmer seasons, and in the Winter you would be back to tossing all your food scraps.

So, in researching online, I learned that you can compost indoors with the help of WORMS! All the sites said this method would NOT smell (which I was somewhat skeptical of), but I decided to learn more. I started making more and more friends while living in the city who were like-minded and had also heard of "vermiculture" (composting with worms), and some who had tried it or were doing it successfully!  I learned that it doesn't smell because the worms are eating the scraps before they really decompose. Also, all the food is covered by the worm's bedding to protect it from air exposure, make the worms feel like they are underground, and keep bugs from finding it. This was really interesting to me, but I still had a few issues: Where could I put these worms in my place? Where would I get the worms from? Was I ready to do this? Could I convince my husband to get on board and agree to worms in our house?

I admit, the idea of having worms living in your house might sound really weird at first, but I got over it when I weighed all the positive effects it would have on our lives and our Earth. First, after we began recycling in earnest around here, we noticed how much of what still went into our garbage can was food waste. This bothered me for 2 reasons - first, it took a long time to fill the can, and all that organic garbage started to smell before it looked ready to go out, second, I felt like sending all those food scraps to the landfill was a sad waste of matter that could be broken down and go back into the soil, enriching it for future food to grow. Vermiculture offered a major solution to both of these issues, and would also produce natural fertilizer for our balcony's new veggie garden this summer.  The process also yields a liquid, commonly referred to as "worm tea" or "liquid gold", that can be diluted to half-strength with water and then used as a fertilizer for our houseplants.  And all of this is organic and safe...instead of some scary chemicals that I would have to call poison control over if AJ touched and then put his hand in his mouth.

Then this year, Urban Worm Girl was featured in the Chicago Tribune, and 4 people saved the article for me.  I was like, "Ok, it's time to get this going!  No more procrastinating!" So I emailed (Stephanie, the Urban Worm Girl) and set up a date for my worm bin demo. I decided to make a party of it, and sent out an evite to many family and friends, thinking a couple might be interested. I called it Worms & Wine, a name borrowed from a vermiculture event at A Cooler Planet, one of my favorite stores, and proceeded to buy organic and biodynamic for the party from Red & White.  Red & White is a new wine store on Milwaukee Ave., and the guy working there was very helpful in helping me pick out the bottles, as well as helping me to stay within my budget. The party went really well, and AJ had a blast as well. We had over 15 people come out, and I know that at least one of them has already gotten a bin from Stephanie and started composting as well!  I'll be covering the event in and upcoming Chicagonista article, so watch for it there for the lowdown...

So, here's the process going on at our house...first, we chop our scraps up into more manageable peices. This picture shows some fruit scraps like cantaloupe rinds and seeds (which have since sprouted in the bin! I mixed them back into the bedding, so we'll see if the worms will eat them before becoming cantaloupe farmers themselves!), banana peels and strawberry tops. Since we started with a pound (or roughly 1000) worms, it will take them a couple months to keep up with our scrap production, so we have been keeping the overflow in a tupperware container in the fridge.  I guess that the older scraps become softer (more ripe?) and are even easier for the worms to eat, so that should help them to process it all. I can't wait until they get to the point where they can eat all of our desirable scraps! (I say "desirable" because the worms should not be fed meat, dairy, spicy foods, or food containing oil, butter, etc.  Like AJ learned in his Curious George episode on compost, "no mayoniase!")  The next shot is of the inside of the bin. Most of what you can see is the cardboard and newspaper that make up the bedding.  If you can click on and open the picture, you might be able to see one worm on a pice of cardboard in the lower right-hand corner of the bin, but since they don't like light, they quickly burrow down into the bedding when I open the lid. As time goes by and the worms eat more food scraps and more of their bedding, the look inside the bin should change over to mostly just looking like rich soil. I think this is supposed to take a couple of months.
 Then we will add a new tray to the tower with new bedding and scraps, and the worms will migrate up into it, leaving the composted casting fertilizer behind. This is what we will put onto the soil in our garden outside, and share with friends if we harvest more than what we can use. The last shot to the left is the worm's new home sitting happily undisturbed (for the most part, AJ has gotten used to it there already and largely leaves it alone except when it's time to feed and say "hi" to the worms...) under out stairs. 
I hope this will reinforce in AJ our belief that all creatures big and small are important in God's green earth. We all have a purpose, as well as a responsibility to treat the world and its inhabitants (including ourselves!) with respect and love.  He already is a big fan of the worms, and when we start to use the compost and the "tea", and then harvest the vegetables from the garden, we will be showing him how all these things work together to nourish one another.  We eat the food, the worms eat the scraps, the worms fertilize the plants, and the plants make more food!  Here's to the worm's role in that cycle!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Water Consciousness...

Water. I use it and drink it every day. I just turn on my faucet and it comes out, I flush my toilet and it fills back up, I run my dishwasher and washing machine without even thinking about it. It's so easy to take it for granted, isn't it? In the past few years, our family has learned a lot and made the switch from common purchases like Cascade Dishwashing Liquid, Tide, and Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner to Method brand's Smarty Dish, 3x concentrated laundry detergent, and Lil'Bowl Blue. The Method products are non-toxic, biodegradable, and contain no phosphates. They also actually get my dishes, clothing and bathrooms clean, without draining or flushing harmful substances back into our water supply. Ecover also makes a dishwashing tab that really gets your dishes clean without the phosphates. The phosphates are actually illegal to USE in Chicago, even though they're all over the grocery shelves...hmmm.

(...and not to go on a total tangent/rant here, but in researching this post, I remembered that I am kind of appalled at these. I know cleaning your toilet is not the most fun job, but for goodness sake, do they have to make MORE crap to toss into our landfills - or maybe I should say our oceans? Try to think like your one thing you can keep cleaning and re-using. This disposable mentality is getting us into real trouble, people!!)

We definitely need to pay attention to what we're flushing down the drain, because it does show up again doesn't just go "away" and it cannot all be removed during the processing that water goes through. Same thing with the medications and prescriptions that you might be flushing after their expiration. Look for a drop off site for these since many communities have certain places or dates that you can drop them off to be properly disposed of. Chicago has this program now, which is pretty cool.

But this is not enough. I recently saw the Oprah show on Earth Day where she had an expert on (I think it was Jacques Causteau's son?) told us about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I had no idea, but this is a huge swirl of actual garbage that has collected in the Pacific. There is apparently at least one in every ocean, but this one, twice the size of TX and 90 ft deep in some places, is the largest. The worst part is that since we are all connected, this garbage is coming back to haunt us in many scary ways. One is in our food supply. The animals and fish that are affected by all this plastic are caught in fishermen's nets and end up on our plates, and in their flesh that we consume are high levels of plastic toxins like BPA and phthalates. These chemicals are if a small fish eats the plastic, and then is eaten by a larger fish (who is also eating the plastic) and so on, by the time the largest fish lands on our plate it can have high levels of of toxins that we happy consume over a candle-lit dinner. And little pieces of garbage is only the beginning. There are huge things like refrigerators, tires, microwaves, etc. out there too! How sad. How gross! And I won't even get into the sad stories about the fish, birds and turtles that die or are severely handicapped due to living in these great garbage swirls...

The effect is that we as consumers really need to start paying attention! If you aren't already, start to ask yourself if you want this ziptop bag, old toy, toothbrush, etc. to end up in the landfill or the ocean. Since the answer is likely to be "no, but what am I supposed to do with it then?" we need to face the fact that our choices in lifestyle and purchases may need adjusting. Buy in bulk when you can. Buy things that come in containers you can re-use, or re-fill (but not those toilet scrubbers!!). Bring your reusable bags to the store every time you shop. Make more things at home from scratch! That might eliminate several problems at once. Some may think me crazy, but I am seriously thinking about taking my dusty breadmaker off the shelf and baking my own sandwich bread. Then I won't have to fill my freezer with one of the only corn-syrup-free breads in the aisle I like when it's on sale, and I won't have to worry about all of the plastic bags they come in floating away in the ocean next year either. I know it's super hard to not make ANY garbage (though one of my friends somehow manages it!!) but with careful consideration and a little more effort, we can make much less "garbage" and severely reduce our footprint on this earth and its oceans. You can always start buying a reusable container for your kid's sandwiches instead of a plastic bag. I actually use a plastic bread-shaped box right now, but I have my eye on these Snack Taxi's, available locally in Chicago at A Cooler Planet.

This past weekend, my husband, son and I met up with my sister and her family at the Brookfield Zoo for their Planet Earth celebration.
We and the kids had a lot of fun, and learned even more about water at one of the booths. I signed up and took the H2Oath (part of why I'm writing this post!) that has to do with preserving or increasing water quality, reducing water consumption, and how to advocate and get involved with water conservation. You can find lots of helpful links at the Chicagoland Zoological Society's site, and sign up to take the oath too! This is a great thing to teach your kids about as well, and they make it fun with a little water-drop character named Agua. And if you get a water bill, working as a family to conserve your water usage at home will actually save you money, too! Now who doesn't like that?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Tipping Point

OK, so this video is more on the alarmist side than I usually like, but I do think it's worth watching for 2 reasons: many people have never even heard of the tipping point, and there are too many people in this world (and especially here in the US!) that still think climate change is no big deal. Luckily there are lots of scientists out there that think we still have time to clean up our act and make sure the earth is a worthwhile place for our future children and grandchildren to live in. Watch the video and then you can decide whether to share it or not...

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.">Tipping Point  

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shaping the Next Generation

As Earth Day fast approaches, I keep thinking about how, as a mother, I can instill in my 2 yr old son why the day is special. But I also want him to know that in our daily life we need to show respect to the earth and our bodies just as we would show another person. Ideas that come to mind usually involve some sort of "plant a tree" idea, but when I got this email, it made me really start to can I get MY children to think like this at age 20? or even before? Read on and click on the link to watch the short but effective You Tube video.

This is a video  that was submitted in a contest by a 20 year old.

The contest was Titled "u @ 50", by the AARP

This video won second place. When they showed it , everyone in the
Room was awe-struck and broke into spontaneous applause.

So simple and  yet so brilliant. Take a minute and watch it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Day Plans...

Earth Day is next week on April you have any special plans yet? I am waiting to see what the weather holds on the actual day, but this weekend and next we plan to take part in some of the many activities going on in and around the city. There have been numerous lists published lately, both on-line and in-print (Ideal Bite, Chicago Wilderness, the Reader, the Tribune, etc.) so there's no shortage of places to find Earth Day-related ideas, but I thought I'd compile some of the FREE events (other than Green Fest, which charges an entry fee) for you here too!  I am going to try to be at one or both of the events on the 25th, as well as the Green Fest in May. Today when I was at Green Maker (a great eco-friendly home improvement store) they had flyers for 2 for 1 entry to Green Fest.  Pretty cool! 

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

April 18th Weekend:

Grant Park Earth Day Celebration
April 18-19, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Volunteers can help mulch the trees and bushes of Grant Park’s Hutchinson Field (Balbo and Columbus), sprucing up the centerpiece of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago just in time for centennial celebrations.  

Chicago Parks Earth Day Park Cleanups

It's too late to register if you didn't already, but you can still stick some gardening gloves in your back pocket and head over to one of the many registered parks to lend a hand. Click here to see if a park near you is listed and needs some help!

When: Sat., April 18, 9 a.m. 
Phone: 312-857-2757 
Volunteers can mulch, plant seedlings, and clean up debris and trash. Sign up at Friends of the Parks’ Web site (  

Hazardous Waste Drop Off
When: Sat., April 18, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. 
Phone: 312-744-7606
Spring cleaners can dispose of toxic, corrosive, and flammable waste, including household chemicals, lead- and oil-based paint, gas cans (trade for an eco-friendly one), gas-powered lawn mowers (trade for a $100 rebate on a push or electric mower), computers, cell phones, and old medications. Latex paint and working TVs will not be accepted. You can also pick up a free CFL bulb and buy a discounted compost bin ($35) or rain barrel ($45).
  • 333 W. 35th

    • 312-674-1000

    Irish Earth Day Festival

    When: Sat., April 18, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
    This festival, the first of its kind at the Irish American Heritage Center, will showcase businesses and nonprofits promoting sustainability; there’ll also be activities for kids and live music.

    APRIL 20th:

    Green Roof Open House
    When: Mon., April 20, 5-7 p.m. 
    Phone: 312-263-9129

    8 W. Monroe

    • (312) 263-9129The Metropolis Condominium Association hosts a free open house to show off their recently installed green roof, which uses vegetation to absorb and filter water runoff. Association members will be on hand to answer questions, and light refreshments will be served. The invited guest list includes, rather ambitiously, the mayor and governor.


      The Nature Conservancy: Spring Outside! Nature Walk 

      7:30 a.m., Lurie Garden, Millenium Park, Chicago

      Experience a nature walk downtown before you start the work day! Register for this special opportunity to join Jo Seagren, a member of The Nature Conservancy and an amateur naturalist, as she guides a group through Millennium Park on a bird and plant appreciation walk. Meet in front of Cloud Gate ("The Bean"). Registration is required; please RSVP to 312-580-2357.

      April 25th Weekend

      Gardening Small Urban Spaces 
      When: Sat April 25th, 1 - 3pm
      Phone: 312.746.9642
      Shedd Aquarium horticulture manager Christine Nye gives a presentation on maximizing the productivity of small patches of land, covering square foot gardening and ornamental displays.
      • Chicago Center for Green Technology

        • 445 N. Sacramento
        • 312-746-9642  

        • Green and Growing Urban Gardening Fair
        • When: Sat April 25th, 10am - 3pm
        • Phone: 773.251.7515
        • Tips and tricks for getting a garden started in the city, plus free food and pole bean seed packets. Demonstrations cover square foot gardening, composting, and rot pots.

        Garfield Park Conservatory
        300 N. Central Park

Chicago Green Fest

Sat., May 16, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sun., May 17, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
phone 312-595-5184

This comprehensive festival plans to showcase hundreds of local and national green businesses amid a range of activities and an exhaustive list of over 150 speakers. Activities will include workshops, films, yoga classes, and children's programs; organic beer and wine will be available. Scheduled speakers include local ex-radical Bill Ayers, columnist Jim Hightower, and controversial conceptual artist Damali Ayo. $15, $10 students, bike riders, and union members

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Earth Hour 2009: Before and Afters

Did you participate in Earth Hour last month? I hope so! The response was overwhelming around the world and hopefully the effort will help lawmakers and politicians see that saving energy, clean fuel sources, etc. are important issues to their constituents.

Make sure to check out these cool before and after shots of major cities during Earth Hour 2009!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring is for Changes

I was in Florida visiting with family last week and the sunny weather has really put me in a "Spring-y" mood. Now even though the Chicago weather still seems a little chilly and a lot cloudy, I am looking forward to working on my new balcony garden, going for walks around the 'hood and dying Easter eggs!

Well, we normally buy brown free-range or organic eggs, and I really don't feel l
ike going out to buy special eggs just to dye, but can you really dye brown eggs? Won't they be ugly? Apparently, no! I found this great site that gives you recipes for dying brown eggs pretty shades of red, blue and an orange-yellow, and the best part is that you can make the dyes while making dinner instead of buying yet another pack or Paas. (not that Paas is expensive or inconvenient, since you can get it pretty much anywhere, but I am just happy not to have to toss or recycle MORE packaging. We have enough of that around here already!) Here is another web page that has instructions for using onion skins to dye the eggs! I love that idea since it basically makes use of something I would otherwise just toss. And here is one more site that has good ideas for natural dyes that would probably work really well on white eggs.
I think my son is going to like dying eggs for the first time this year, and maybe he will start to associate this Easter tradition with the start of Spring, just like I do! Maybe as he gets older, he'll think it's cool that we can use food to dye eggs. If you have older children, the
y might even be able to think of more ideas and you could work on the dying as more of a science project than an art project!

As the season changes, many people clean out part of their lives that are often neglected...refrigerators, baseboards, under the beds, etc. Why not focus some energy on your bathroom and vanity cabinets? There might be tons of scary chemicals there that you regularly put right on your and your family's skin...which is, after all, your largest organ.
There are several organizations who are working hard right now on our behalf to win a battle with cosmetics and baby care companies over transparency and ridding their potions of harmful ingredients (which they somehow seem able to do when selling their products overseas...hmm). Hopefully this will help take some of the burden off of us as consumers, because shouldn't we just be able to assume everything that's for sale is safe to use? But until then, here's a good place to start:

This is a link to a great site called the Good Guide where you can see how what you buy/eat is rated when things like Health Performance, General Nutrition, Additives/Preservatives, Artificial Colors of Concern & Certifications are taken into consideration. They also rate products/companies based on Environmental Performance, Toxic Waste production/handling, Global Warming, Energy & Water Management as well as social aspects like Social Performance, Philanthropy, Labor & Human Rights, etc. They don't have all the brands or products that I use yet, but they do have a fairly comprehensive listing and encourage your to contact them with other products you use. So check it out for yourself and see where the companies that you are giving your money to rank in the areas that matter to you...and hopefully all of the categories matter to you!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

If you haven't already heard, Earth Hour 2009 is fast approaching. The running counter on the web site shows that at this moment the event will begin just shy of 6 days from now.  (Earth Hour will take place on March 28th, 09, from 8:30 - 9:30pm local time) This will be the third year of Earth Hour since Sydney Australia went lights-out in 2007, capturing the attention of the world. 2008 the event went global and was a huge success.  Last year over 36 million turned off their lights to participate...but it's not just about lights.  

In our place we turned off all forms of electricity other than our refrigerator, and went the prime time hour without TV, music or the laptop.  We went to the rooftop of our building and watched the skyline to see if we would be able to see the city go dark, but it was cold and when our clocks said the hour had begun, we became impatient and headed back in. Later though, we did see pictures of how many buildings and businesses did participate, and the satellite shots were amazing! There is also a video on the site that shows the whole story with lots of great real-time footage of the lights going out. It's really awe-inspiring to see a global movement like this is support of making changes to reverse climate change.
Click here to see the light and dark pictures of recognizable areas downtown and along the mag mile from 2008. The most dramatic before and after shots to me were the images of the entire Tribune Tower and the ferris wheel shot at Navy Pier, as well as the marquis' of the Oriental and Chicago Theaters.

I'm not going to be in Chicago for Earth Hour this year, but I'll be working to get my grandpa to help by letting us turn off his lights and TV in Florida.  Maybe I'll suggest a candlelit game of cards out on the screened-in porch? But you can all sign up at the site and participate too!  If you have not done so already, follow the link, sign yourself up, and then urge your family, friends, coworkers and businesses to do the same.  This is one way to illustrate how big a difference we can make as individuals when we all work together!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Doug Fine Lecture Recap

The Doug Fine lecture this past Friday at the Chicago Cultural Center was outstanding! Despite my bad dreams that only 8 people would show up, the chairs filled up (I think there were about 85 in attendance!) and the audience was as lively as the speaker. Doug really inspired and motivated the crowd and we laughed along with him as he told us about his mishaps and successes in going Carbon Neutral. Many of my friends and contacts who attended have sent me updates about how they are looking into what changes they can make after being fired-up at this event. These changes range from starting herb gardens in window boxes to raising chickens in the city and even buying a Diesel car to have converted to run on vegetable oil! Wonderful stuff!

As for myself, I had read Farewell My Subaru many months ago and remember being catapulted to a new level of "green-consciousness" afterward...but now after hearing the lecture and chatting with all these other inspired people, I'm experiencing another burst of eco-motivation! I was talking to my husband about how maybe we could plant some vegetables on our balcony this year, and he said, "Why even do flowers? What about all vegetables?" Awesome! So I am planning to grow all edible plants in my planters and boxes this year, like lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, and a bunch of different herbs (and then if there's room, maybe an annual or two). I am even considering hanging tomato plants like this one since the tomato leaves are toxic to my little one whose curiosity might get the best of him!

We are also planning to start composting in our condo with worms (vermiculture) so that we make less waste and have some great fertilizer for our new "garden".
I'm thinking of hosting a Worms and Wine party after being inspired by an article in the paper, so check out an invitation in a future post when I get the date set.  What could be more fun than sipping organic wine while learning how to get worms to eat your kitchen scraps?
One more change we've made is to run our heater a LOT less.  I used to just have it set at 70 for most of the morning, let it go down a few degrees while we were usually out during the day, and then it was back to 70 from afternoon until bedtime.  Well, now it's usually OFF! We live on the 4th floor of a 4 story condo building, so we do get some heat that rises up from our neighbors, so it never seems to get below 67 during the daytime, and if so, then I'll just turn it on until it warms back up. Of course I have been wearing more sweaters and keeping my socks on, but that's no problem when I saw how much $$ we saved on our gas bill!!

So, what changes have you made lately? Do you have any interesting ones in the works? I'd love to hear about them, no matter how small, and I'm sure they might inspire another reader as well, so feel free to post a comment to share your ideas.

What to do with the Christmas Cards...

A great mom/family-centric site ( that I write for here in Chicago did a special little video on green projects this past Christmas. I finally got around to doing one of them this past month and it turned out great!

The premise of the project is to answer the question of what to do with all those cute picture cards that your friends and family send each year. You feel bad throwing them away (by recycling them, of course), but why, and where should you keep them? One source revealed to me that she files them away each year and knows exactly where they all are...but when I asked her if she ever looks at them, she sheepishly admitted she does not. So then what's the point? Space in my loft is always at a premium, so I require a really good reason before I can justify keeping anything.

So here's the answer that worked for me. Make a picture wreath! I cut out all of the cuties with a decorative scissors into random leaf shapes, making sure not to always have the faces oriented the same way on the leaf. Then I cut out a ring, about 10" in diameter, from a cereal box headed for the recycling bin. I glued the leaves to the ring, trying to make sure no ones little mug was obliterated, wrote 2008 on the back, and voila! My 2008 Christmas Card Wreath was done!

I think next year when the wreath comes out again as a decoration, I might hot glue some jingle bells onto it. In future years, other embellishment ideas might include finishing the bottom section with the decorative fronts of traditional cards so no one would be covered up by adding a bow, or maybe we could glue on tiny pinecones gathered on a walk. I really liked this idea and I hope as the years go by and our wreath collection grows, my family and I find it fun to look at how our friends grow and change over the years. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Doug Fine at the Chicago Cultural Center!

Come join me at the Chicago Cultural Center on Feb 20th to hear Doug Fine's hilarious yet informative talk and slide show on how to live a sustainable, "off-the-grid" lifestyle while keeping your "Western lifestyle" intact!

I am so excited that Doug will be coming in to do this speaking engagement for us this month, and I hope you can come! In the meantime, check out his great read, Farewell My Subaru (which I got from the library, but since he'll be selling the book at the event, I might be able to get my own copy!), and his web site.

Here's what Doug has to say about the event:

FAREWELL, MY SUBARU: With Humor Rather Than Fear, Author and U.S. National Public Radio Adventurer Doug Fine Shows How Anyone Can Become (Nearly) Petroleum-Free In One Year:

As I travel around the world, talking to audiences about how anyone can get petroleum out of his or her life without giving up any Digital Age comforts (not even car!), I’m often surprised by how difficult folks (and corporations) imagine their transition to sustainable living (and business) would be. Many believe that in some magical future we, as busy modern humans, will develop the technology to live comfortably and in a sustainable manner.

In my 90-minute slide show and talk based on Farewell, My Subaru, I use humor (including my many initial mistakes), rather than fear, to show audiences how anyone can move seamlessly to sustainability, through solar power, vegetable oil-powered autos and a sustainable diet. The message in this live event, as in the book, is, "If this guy can do it, anyone can." After all, when I started, coyotes attacked my chickens, my solar panels nearly electrocuted me, and my vegetable oil exhaust gave me a bad case of the munchies. And yet here I am, a year down the road, with upwards of 90% of fossil fuels out of my life. And I've given up none of my appliances, including washing machine, laptop, and, possibly most important of all, booming stereo sub-woofers.

As I've been doing around the world at institutions ranging from the National Geographic Society to Merrill Lynch, this event, with slides, hysterical story-telling and readingws from Farewell, My Subaru, shows how a regular guy can actually get oil-free, today. All without giving up his “Western lifestyle” or getting eaten by a mountain lion. I simply made it sustainable, without any special skills at the start. This very funny, inspiring and informative talk is followed by an interactive Q&A, as audiences are almost always inspired to ask questions about how they might get started on a carbon-neutral lifestyle, whether at the personal or corporate level. This event is no staid reading. Think "Green Stand-up" rather than a boring or scary melting-ice-sheet talk. Because we all realize that a major societal retrofit geared to sustainability is crucial for the future of the species.

Farewell, My Subaru has been covered everywhere from the New York Times to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (info: Doug Fine's continuing blog of carbon-neutral misadventures, at, also has a short film about the book, and samples of Fine's NPR work and print journalism from five continents.