Party In My Laundry Room

img_2273My summer of line-drying has sadly come to a close, as the dreary Portland rain can attest. My switch back to drying the modern (and energy-sucking) way means I’m trying some new ways to dry green.

Allow me to explain the cryptic photo above. Those two green pointy balls are something I discovered at my local discount grocer. They are dryer balls, a green alternative to dryer sheets. Having been disappointed with every brand of “green” dryer sheets (including Seventh Generation, which are like trying to soften your clothes with a thin piece of cardboard) I thought I’d give these babies a try. They work great! You throw them in the wash of wet clothes and they bounce around loudly amongst the clothes, softening them up and removing static without chemicals. We did find they caused some dings on the inside of the dryer so we now use them inside a pair of old socks, which seems to fluff the clothes just as well. If you like scented clothes (I don’t) these green balls won’t help you out but you can always throw in a bag of dried lavender if you must have scent on your freshly washed clothes.

The other item in the picture is exactly what it looks like – dryer lint!  Instead of throwing it in the trash I am saving every last little scrap until I have 3 full cups. Then I’m going to try this crazy recipe from Real Simple to make modeling dough out of your dryer lint. It sounds kind of gross to me (what about those long hairs that get caught up in the lint?) but I think my 2-year old will think it’s cool. With this dreary fall weather we are on the lookout for new indoor activities. I guess we’re that desperate already.

What about you? What are you doing to keep your cold weather laundry green?

Audited, Energetically

IMG_2189Last week we were audited and it was great! In fact, we initiated the audit. No, I’m not talking about inviting the IRS into my home. I’m talking about an Home Energy Review from Energy Trust of Oregon.  Signing up for a home review has been on my mental to-do list for months. I finally got around to it after seeing our very high August electric bill thanks to our heatwaves.

At no cost to us Energy Trust sent James to spend an hour at our home measuring temperatures, crawling in the attic, examining window seals and generally figuring out where we can improve our home’s energy efficiency. They scheduled it at a time convenient for us and, unlike the cable guy, gave us a tight one-hour window of James’ arrival to which he was perfectly prompt.

Here’s what we learned through the process:

1) Our 4-year old home is quite energy efficient.  We have great insulation, efficient appliances and insulating window shades that help keep our home cool in summer and warm in winter.

2) Our water heater temp was a tad high so James turned it down just a few degrees, from around 128 to closer to 124. So far we haven’t noticed a difference in the shower temp in the morning and he said even a few degrees difference can save a few dollars.

3) Our flat screen TV uses 25W even when turned off. This is equivalent to running 2 compact florescent lightbulbs all the time. That amounts to only about $2/ month but, during times when we’re gone for a week or two, it makes sense to unplug the TV.

4) Our laptop computers are the same, using about 25W of electricity when in sleep mode (the mode we generally leave them in when we’re not using them). Instead James recommended we shut them down at night or even if we’ll be away from them for an hour or two. That should amount to savings of a few dollars a month as well.

5) James switched out 10 regular lightbulbs to CFLs for us. For free. As I recall from the last time I bought CFLs, they cost around $5 each so that’s a good $50+ of free lightbulbs.

6) James also noticed we did not have low-flow water aerators in our sinks or showers. He offered us free water aerators but, since his didn’t match ours, we opted instead to head to Home Depot and pick up aerators for a few bucks ourselves that match our hardware. Again we should see savings of a few dollars on water and electric bills for reducing our hot water usage, without noticing a difference in performance.

7) Much to my chagrin I learned that unplugging the toaster and Kitchenaid mixer does not result in any energy savings. Zip. Zero. Nada.  How many seconds of my life have I wasted unplugging both appliances when not in use? Even worse, how much goodwill in my marriage have I eaten up nagging my husband to do the same?  He was delighted when James tested both our toaster and mixer to inform us that, when plugged in but not in use, they use 0W of energy.  Who knew.

James also found a few spots where the ducts could be sealed better and gave us names of contractors to follow up with. He introduced us to the tax credits available for solar power, something that might be worth investigating for anyone who knows they’ll be in their home for 10 or 15 years. There are a boatload of state and federal tax credits available that make expensive solar systems much more affordable.

While we didn’t find any major ways to knock down our energy bills, it was reassuring to learn we’ve already done most everything we can to be energy efficient. And those little things James pointed out to us will help us save a few dollars here, a few more dollars there, all which adds up both in our pockets and in caring for the planet.

Have you had an energy audit of your home? What changes did you make as a result? Did you end up saving money?

If you haven’t had a Home Energy Review, give it a try. If you’re in Oregon contact Energy Trust. Elsewhere check with your local utility companies to see if something similar is available in your area (or move to Oregon).

What To Grow In The Winter?

I’m really starting to feel like a bonafide suburban farmer. Terms like “fall crops” and “cover crop” are becoming an everyday part of my vocabulary. Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, my current gardening goal is to have something edible from the garden year round, fall and winter included. For the first time I’m planting a full garden of cool-weather crops and am hopeful when temperatures plunge, the veggies will keep on coming up.

So far this season I’ve planted broccoli, carrots, kale, cilantro, parsley, lettuce (a cool-weather variety) and fava beans. For the most part they’re coming up great, especially the fava beans. Those seeds have already sprouted foot-tall plants that look like a miniature forest in the open swaths of front yard where lettuces grew just a few weeks ago. A side note about fava beans – I chose to plant them because I read they are a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. The good stuff they put back in the soil is akin to adding wonderful compost to my soil (they’re called a “green manure”) but with the return of some pretty flowers in a few months and a crop of beans next spring. Territorial Seed Company has a nice variety and some good info about planting this crop.

The only trouble I’ve encountered with my fall plantings (and granted it’s still technically summer, at least for another few days) is that something ate all my carrot seedlings in the front yard. I had these beautiful tiny rows of inch-high carrot tops before I left for camping last week. I returned to discover a bare patch of dirt. The carrots I planted out back at the same time are still there and doing well. I hope whatever mysterious creature invaded the front yard does not discover the beautiful feathery tops coming up out back. Anyone know what kind of pest eats carrot tops (we don’t have bunnies) and a way to organically keep them away?

Besides cool-weather veggies, I was reminded the other day by our local paper that fall is the best time to plant just about everything else too. Cool weather is the best time for new perennials to take root and become established plus, since most people tend to plant in the spring, nurseries have pretty good deals on plants right now. I put in a grapevine the other day and plan to soon dig up some aster and spirea starts from a friend with a gorgeous perennial garden.  Think planting now, lovely healthy garden (and less work) come spring.

I’m new to this fall/ winter crop thing. Do you plant cool-weather crops? If so what do you plant and when? I still have space for my crops but am just not sure what to put in so would love some more ideas.

The Latest In Corporate Disappointments – Sigg Waterbottles

Why, oh why, do corporations knowingly hide information from consumers? Of course the answer is always the same: money.

But it’s especially disappointing when it happens with a company that seemed socially and ecologically conscious. My complaint today is with Sigg, the makers of those cute metal water bottles like the one I carry everywhere in my purse. In the face of the BPA scare with plastic water bottles I shelled out almost $20 a few years ago to keep myself “safe” with a Sigg bottle. Instead, I now learn, they all along have had BPA in the lining and the company knew about it. The company thought it would be OK with us consumers to advertise their bottles as BPA-free because, in their tests, the BPA didn’t leach out. That’s akin to advertising chocolate-chip cookies as fat-free because the fat doesn’t leach into the milk when you dunk it. If it’s in there, it’s in there and it’s false advertising to call it otherwise.

At least Sigg is taking their old bottles back and exchanging them for free for bottles lined with a new ecocare liner that really, honestly doesn’t have any BPA in it, they swear.  You can see pictures of the old and new liner here so you can decide if your bottle needs to go back. The exchange program is good through October 31st.

The CEO of Sigg wrote an apology letter published two days ago on the Huffington Post. Suddenly he’s more transparent than the water his bottles hold.

I don’t even care that much about the trace amounts of BPA in the old bottles. It probably doesn’t leach out. But tell me the truth. I’m glad to get a new water bottle since my old one is pretty dinged up anyway, but I won’t be buying anymore Siggs down the road. I’ll stick with companies that, at least up until this point, haven’t been found out to be lying to me.

Chopstick Therapy

Reusable chopsticks mingle in a common bowl of ramen

Reusable chopsticks mingle in a common bowl of ramen

I have a confession to make. I go to therapy. Every Tuesday like clockwork I go and I always feel so much better. My therapists are three former co-workers (plus two others have moved away). We’ve been meeting weekly for lunch for over 3 years now and we have nicknamed our gatherings “Therapy Lunch,” because the experience is so cathartic we can’t think of a better name for ourselves!

We’ve gone through a lot together – babies, marriages, job upheavals, financial burdens, illnesses, identity crises, you name it. I’ll bet we’ll be meeting for lunch when we’re old and gray and toothless. At least, I hope we still will be.

Our lunches tend to be at local sushi places since the food is quick (comes around on one of those conveyor belts), affordable, healthy and delicious. The purpose of this post is actually not to rave about my wonderful friends (I love you guys!) but to show you how we’ve decided to go green by BYOC (Bring Your Own Chopsticks) to therapy lunch.

According to Treehugger, 46 billion pairs of chopsticks are disposed of each year in China alone and another 30 billion are exported from China to other countries. I know my little sushi therapy group goes through at least 200 pairs per year (52 weeks x 4 people 1x/ week). CRIEnglish, a Chinese government English news website, states that a single twenty-year old tree makes just 4000 pairs of chopsticks.  Now that we’ve seen the light and gone green with our chopsticks, perhaps we’ll save a tree or two over the course of our therapy lunches?  Now that’s good therapy for the planet.

Getting Your Garden’s Bounty To The Table

Preparing, planting, watering, and weeding my garden make up the bulk of the work involved in growing my family’s own food, but true panic sets in when I go out to harvest and think “Oh my gosh, what in the world am I going to do with 5 pounds of kale?”  This year I got smart – I’ve been reading recipes all summer in anticipation of the abundance of ripe goodness to come.  I’ve decided to share some of my favorite recipes periodically on this blog as we prepare and devour them, but only the good ones of course.

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Yesterday I harvested our first tomatillos in 105 degree heat (no wonder they were so plump and juicy!). Last year I had no clue what to do with that exotic vegetable but my friend Karen shared with me a recipe then that I have been waiting, no, salivating to recreate this summer. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pork Chops with Fire-Roasted Tomatillo Sauce.

For the meat:

  • 2 T kosher salt
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 4 boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick

For the sauce:

  • 8 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 poblano chile (I used 2 jalapenos since that’s what we had in the garden)
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 1/2 t brown sugar
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • Olive oil for brushing pork chops

Brine the meat in a mixture of salt, cumin and cayenne with 2 cups water. Cover and refrigerate for 45-60 minutes.

To make the sauce, grill the tomatillos directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered and soft, 6-8 minutes. Grill the chile directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered but still holding its shape, 6-8 minutes. When the chile is cool enough to handle remove and discard skin, stem and seeds. (Side note: I did all the roasting under the broiler on high rather than on the grill).

In a medium saute pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the garlic and onion to the fat remaining in the pan and cook over medium heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from the heat.

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatillos and chile. Add bacon, garlic-onion mixture, cilantro, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Transfer to a medium saute pan over low heat and bring to a simmer. If the sauce seems too thick stir in 2-3 T water. Keep warm over low heat.

Remove the pork chops from the brine, pat with paper towel, and lightly brush both sides with olive oil. Grill the pork chops directly over medium heat, turning once, until barely pink in the center, 9-11 minutes total.

Serve the pork chops warm with the scrumptious tomatillo sauce!

How do you use up your tomatillos? I need more ideas as the bulk of the harvest is still to come!

Tasty Tidbits From My Suburban “Farm”

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Several of my readers (you know who you are!) have been asking for more pictures of the results of my reclaimed yard.  Last summer’s gruntwork to turn our soggy front grass into a productive perennial and vegetable garden has paid off, much to my husband’s and my delight.  Our yard is small, all the more reason to use less for grass and more for flowers and good things to eat, even in the ‘burbs where forgoing grass is akin to a mortal sin. Thankfully we live at the end of a quiet street and have very kind neighbors who, quite frankly, could care less what we do with our yard. That and we give them free lettuce.

Here are a few bits of wisdom I’ve garnered through this adventure:

  • “Landscaping” is a word to be shunned. It implies some kind of gardening perfection, ultimate control of nature.  I’d have to make gardenwork my full time gig to attain said perfection not to mention it feels so sterile.  I’m notIMG_1361 sure of a better alternative, perhaps “nature-scaping?”  We put the plants in, then we let nature run wild, weeds and all.
  • I garden the way I decorate inside my house. I’m not good at visualizing an end result so instead I try out an idea, then change it if I don’t like it. Nothing in the yard is permanent. As an example, I have four rose bushes I thought would make a lovely addition and instead look like neglected orphans. They’re free for the taking to a good home – any takers?
  • Lettuce starts should not all be planted at once. Not unless you are raising rabbits. We have a lettuce explosion in our yard, which we’re eating daily plus giving away as fast as we possibly can. I just can’t stomach salad for breakfast, healthy as it may be.
  • Seeds are not scary. I’ve  never had much luck planting starts indoors but the lettuce, peas and carrots I planted from seed straight into the ground are my most prolific, healthiest crops this year.
  • I’m in love with real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens (and I stole that line from the wonderfully messy gardening blog, Garden Rant).
  • I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but a major gardening breakthrough for me has been the freedom to mix edible plants with flowers.  There’s no written rule that vegetable gardens need to be separate from flower gardens – it’s just the way most people garden.  Since I’ve embraced the wild look anyway, the veggies and berries fit right in.

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Tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, lettuce and cucumber surrounded by perennials

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Do you have a beautifully wild garden at your house? Inspire me with a photo and I’ll share it on this blog!

A Green Heart in the Heart of Chicago

Me (center) with Greenheart manager Katherine and staff member Laura

Me (center) with Greenheart manager Katherine and staff member Laura

Chicago is a city teeming with fabulous restaurants, breathtaking architecture, interesting museums and little neighborhoods full of gorgeous boutiques. Strangely there is an incredible shortage of fair trade boutiques (any Chicago-based entrepreneurs want to take up the challenge?) but one shop has got it right and you don’t want to miss it.

I visited Greenheart a few weeks ago while visiting family in Chicago. The shop is amazing, I wanted to buy one of everything!  Greenheart is the kind of shop that has figured out the perfect harmony between good prices, great quality, and excellent style and selection.  I found the expected variety of fair trade goods – handbags, jewelry, some nice clothing lines, children’s toys and home decor. On top of that they’ve hunted down some truly unique finds such as ethical flip-flops (I’m loving my new pair!), scissors handmade in India, outdoor floor mats made from recycled materials, and the cutest umbrellas made from recycled plastic laundry detergent bottles.

All these great products were laid out in a warm, inviting space where my sister-in-law and I were treated to tea, fair trade chocolate and great conversation with the store staff. I walked away with my funky flipflops and an organic lipstick I love.  Now at Greenheart you’ll find a selection of Bambootique‘s messenger bags from South Africa, jewelry from Honduras and Nepal, journals from Thailand and more!

Greenheart is located on the north side of Chicago. They packed up and moved everything to an even bigger, better space just a week after I was there and I can’t wait to check it out next time I’m in Chicago. Find them at 1911 W. Division and tell them I sent you!

Crazy Coupon Shopping

Today I saved $254.65 on my family’s weekly groceries!  However did you manage that? I hear you ask.  It took a lot of prep, two hours of shopping at two different grocery stores, lots of bribing Grace, plus a trip through the Burgerville drive-thru on the way home. My deeply discounted purchases included organic beef, wild caught salmon, organic fruit and vegetables and organic milk, and I saved big on every single one.

Before I tell you how I did it, let me tell you who inspired me. I read this article in our local paper a few months ago about Louise Jaffe, a local coupon guru who regularly saves 75% off her grocery bill just by shopping smart. She blogs about it so I turned to her site for advice last week to see if I could do the same while still shopping sustainably.

I’ve always been a coupon clipper from the paper but now I’ve gone hardcore, at least this week.  First I perused my Sunday Oregonian for grocery store ads and manufacturer’s coupons.  I compared what was on sale at different stores to my grocery list and made a list for each store.  I chose to focus on just two stores as I knew my schedule (and sanity) couldn’t accomodate more. I chose Safeway and Thriftway since they’re both reasonably close and had the best prices on the things I needed.

My list for each store was made almost entirely of items on sale at that store that I needed. I also found I had a number of matching manufacturer’s coupons plus both stores offer double coupons. On top of that, both stores offered $10 off your order of $50 or more this week through coupons in the paper.  I stocked up on items that were really, really cheap and would store or freeze easily.

Here are some examples of my favorite deals today:

Safeway

  • Buy one, get one free on organic blueberries and organic grape tomatoes (neither available yet in the farmers’ market but both coming soon to our yard!)
  • Wild Atlantic salmon for $9.99/ pound. I bought 5 pounds, had the butcher wrap each pound separately for easy thawing and froze them all.
  • The clearance section was full of organic beef tenderloin at 50% off. I bought four packs (about 10 pounds worth $76) for $38. It’s all in the freezer.

Thriftway

  • Organic Valley milk is on sale for $3.69. I printed off $1 off coupons from Organic Valley’s website (you can print the coupon up to two times) plus used double coupons to get a total $1.50 off each half gallon, or $2.19/ half gallon.
  • Kettle chips are on sale 3 for $5  or $1.69 each. I was kicking myself for not having anymore $1 off coupons from the Chinook book. If I had I could have doubled them for 50 cents more off (the max Thriftway will double a coupon) and paid $0.19/ bag. Alas I did not have any more but $1.69 is still a great price.
  • While not organic, I did save really big on my husband’s favorite Raisin Bran Crunch cereal. The Thriftway insert in Sunday’s paper had a coupon for buy 3/get 3 free. Then I had 3 manufacturer’s coupons totaling $3.50 off. My double coupon gave me another $1.50 off. All 6 boxes cost a total of $7 or $1.25/ box. He’ll be happy with that for quite a while while I enjoy my Barbara’s Shredded Spoonfuls.

My total bill between the two stores was still higher than a normal weekly shopping bill.  After all the savings I still spent $228.44. However we’re now stocked up on really nice meat and fish for at least 2-3 weeks. We’re also headed to the beach with friends this weekend so my bill included several meals for 12.

I don’t think I could shop this way every week but I don’t think I’ll have to to still save big. If I do crazy coupon shopping (my new moniker for it) every 2-3 weeks I can stock up on canned goods, cereal and meats I can freeze when they’re on sale. We’re growing a lot of berries and veggies and buying the rest of our produce at the farmers’ market so I figure I can shop there weekly for fresh items.  Now that I know how much money I can save if I just put some thought into it, I’m pretty sure I’m hooked.

I’d love to hear what deals you’ve found and how you manage to save money for your family while shopping for sustainable foods. What do you do? Have you tried this kind of crazy coupon shopping and does it work for you?

Going Green With Baby Book Signing in Beaverton – June 13th

41kuwbjbgul_sl160_1 If you’re a mom concerned about living green with and for the sake of a little one, you have to get a hold of Melissa Moog’s new book Itsabelly’s Guide To Going Green With Baby. I’ve blogged before about what a complete guide it is to being an eco-friendly eco-mom. Now you can get a signed copy of the book, meet Melissa in person (she’s really great), and enter for a chance to win a $400 stroller from Baby Planet.  Here’s the full scoop:

EVENT:

Itsabelly’s How to Choose Safe Baby Products Event
Saturday, June 13th at 11:00 am
Barnes & Noble Tanasbourne, 18300 NW Evergreen Parkway, Beaverton
Local author Melissa Moog, author of Itsabelly’s Guide to Going Green with Baby will offer simple and practical Baby Safe Tips including:

* Shopping tips & reviews on safe & eco-friendly baby products
* How to go green without breaking the bank
* Tips about organic and natural family living

Raffle drawing for $500 in eco-friendly baby products (Stroller System, Earth Mama Angel Baby Gift etc.)

Refreshments provided by New Seasons.

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