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After much soul-searching, Renee and I have decided to cease blogging here at EnviroMom. We've loved this community and have learned so much from our readers over the years. Hopefully we've imparted a little green insight as well. Though we won't blog about it anymore, we both intend to keep on living as lightly as possible and hope you will do the same. The internet is full of resources and ideas to keep you inspired. Thank you so much for coming here and taking part in this journey! 

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Savoring summer

I'm starting to wonder where the time went. Here it is. The middle of summer. Or even later, depending on when your kids go back to school!

We've been busy with the normal summer activities. Picking berries at our favorite u-pick farms. Rummage sale-ing. Camping with friends. Swim lessons. Watching the neighbors' chickens. Walking, biking, and scootering around the 'hood.

It doesn't seem so long ago that the kids were in school, it was cold and rainy and I was fiercely anticipating the arrival of summer. Not just the fun summer happenings. But the new life budding out of trees, poking out of the ground, the colors and the good smells. Such as this beautiful dogwood bloom (and just WHY do they call it a dogwood? It doesn't look anything like a dog. In fact, it's quite pretty.)

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Yet, amazingly, soon after the blossoms come, the leaves start to fade (note the bloom in the background)! It strikes me how fleeting the time is, and how it needs to be savored as best we can. We just spent a week with Heather's family, as they visited our great Northwest. It was wonderful for us to re-connect, yet sad to see them go. So we go back to contenting ourselves with all the good stuff of NW summers. Spending as much time as possible outdoors. I hope you all are doing the same.

 

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Coolest use of trash: the OK Go This Too Shall Pass video

Most of you have probably seen this video already...I'm sure it was all over Facebook when it first came out. The band OK Go had 20 engineers construct an enormous, elaborate Rube Goldberg machine primarily out of used objects for their This Too Shall Pass video. I love this video, and the kids and I never tire of seeing it. In fact, we've just been geeking out over the bonus 'how we made it' clips. We learned that a lot of the materials were donated by the Trash for Teaching organization, a group that collects safe manufacturing waste for use in art and science projects in California schools. Love this!

OK, watch the video (safe for kids):

My kids are thinking about ways they can build their own machine with dominoes and train tracks and marbles. So not only does this video entertain, it inspires. 

Enjoy your long weekend, y'all. Happy 4th!

 

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in.gredients: the first packaging-free grocery store in the US

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Have you heard about this grocery store opening in Austin, Texas? It's like your bulk food dream come true: a grocery store without packaging. in.gredients will offer an array of foods including the usual bulk offerings, but also dairy, oils, fresh produce, cleaning supplies and toiletries, beer (in growlers) and wine. They encourage shoppers to bring their own containers but will have compostables on hand just in case. I LOVE THIS. I often wish I could just walk up to a vat of ketchup and pump enough to fill my own squeeze bottle. Or spoon out some yogurt into a reusable container. (No, I've yet to make my own. And where I live now, you can't recycle yogurt tubs. It's killing me.) I hope they succeed and this concept spreads like wildfire throughout the country. Check this out, according to Good:

Americans add 570 million pounds of food packaging to their landfills each day, while pre-packaged foods force consumers to buy more than they need, stuffing their bellies and their trash bins: 27 percent of food brought into U.S. kitchens ends up getting tossed out. 

I cringe to think about all the energy wasted producing the packaging in the first place, only to be thrown away. Oh, please let this catch on.

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Getting back in the groove with composting

My name is Heather Hawkins, and it's been nine months since I last composted my food scraps. I think a support group for greenies-who've-fallen-off-the-wagon could be a good thing, yes? Could you use one? Well, consider this your circle of trust. I'm listening. And admitting my own struggle! I stopped composting last fall when we put our Portland house on the market, was unable to compost in the rental we lived in for six months here in Columbus, and finally! set up an Earth Machine at our new house last week. Yahoo! 

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Initially it was a struggle to stop composting since it had become such an ingrained family habit. The kids were all, wha?? you want us to throw the apple core in the garbage? are you insane? (I was little insane back then, actually.) But now we are unpacked and settling in and getting back into our groove. And just in time for melon and sweet corn season! It would be hard to throw this in the garbage:

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I am having to retrain the family to remember to compost their fruit and veggie scraps, occasionally reaching into the garbage and pulling out banana peels. But we'll get there again. It feels great walking my kitchen pail out to the Earth Machine. It feels familiar. And there isn't much that has felt familiar since we uprooted, so this feels just right. The previous owners of our house left behind a big bag of straw, which I've been using for my brown matter. This autumn when the leaves fall, I'll rake up two big garbage cans full and use those throughout the winter.

Who would have thought that composting could get a girl back to feeling her old self again? Have you fallen off the green wagon in certain areas lately? Trust me, you can get back on when the time is right.

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Got tent? Great American Backyard Campout: June 25, 2011

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The Portland forecast for Saturday looks amazing (and just what's up with that? we expect clouds, cold and rain in June, thankyouverymuch!). So our family's participation looks good for the Great American Backyard Campout on Saturday, June 25. If you're new to this event, it's a friendly nudge from the National Wildlife Federation to get outside, for crying out loud. Your iPad, iPhone, DS, Leapster, crackberry, big-screen tv or what-have-you will survive for a day/night without you.

Will you be camping it up for the Great American Backyard Campout?

(The picture is from a real camping trip, from several years back. I only wish my backyard looked like that!)

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Helpful instructional video on use of dual-flush toilets (with ZOMBIES)

Over the past year, Portland Public Schools has been switching out old toilets for new, water-conserving dual-flush models. This happened at our school sometime in the middle of the school year, and since I carry the torch as the local, gungho enviroFreak, I found this utterly exciting! As far as I heard (via my kids), there wasn't much fanfare about the new toilets. Just that they were now there. So anyway, we were talking at our Green Team meeting toward the end of the school year, and decided it would be a good idea to do a little educational campaign on the toilets, just to make sure everyone was clear on how to use them. I had read in the paper that Madison High School was making a video with the same purpose in mind, and here is their fantastically fun take on it:

Now, I don't think this would work for grade schoolers. Zombies may be a bit too freaky. Our school's plan is to post signs with a yellow arrow pointing up, and a brown arrow point down. Nuff said. But for middle and high schools, this should be all the information kids need to make sure they are conserving water with every flush. Bravo!

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Everything I ever wanted to know about plastics, but was afraid to ask

I recently finished reading the book, Plastic, A Toxic Love Story, by Susan Freinkel. It was an eye opener for me. Plastic is something I've just not wanted to get into. Over the past few years, don't get me wrong, I've worked hard to eliminate many plastics from our lives. But its ubiquitousness can be exhausting. You find out on a regular basis how many far-fetched things have plastic in them. Metal food cans. Chewing gum, for crying out loud!

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Plastic, A Toxic Love Story examines seven common plastic items: plastic lawn chair, comb, disposable lighter, grocery bag, IV bag, water bottle and Frisbee. And through that lens, taught me everything I want to know about plastics. I learned about the various resins, and why what works for a yogurt cup won't work for a fizzy-pop bottle. I learned that most credit and gift cards are made of PVC (boo! hiss! evil PVC!). As are IV bags. Gulp (note to self: try not to be hospitalized). I gained a grudging acceptance of the future of bioplastics. Quite simply, this book tells the interesting and engaging stories behind the lifecycles of these common plastic items, and the sometimes surprising ways humans and other animals interact with them. And accidentally become 'a little bit plastic.'

If you are like me, and don't know much about plastics, and glaze over when talk of the chemical building blocks of plastics come up, this is the book for you. Do I sound like I'm doing a third grade book report speech? I hope so. One gripe: in the chapter on the plastic 'monobloc' chair I would have liked some pictures of the earlier plastic chairs designed by Panton and Starck (Louis Ghost). They were easy enough to Google, but still. Except for the cover, this book has no pictures. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it if you're just getting started on your understanding of the complex business of plastics.

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Booyah! Twenty-one catalogs cancelled in one hour

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We are soooo happy to be in our new house. But it seems the previous owner had some sort of catalog addiction because we've received 21 product-laden glossies in the past 8 mailing days. Insanity! Instead of taking the easy avoidance route and chucking them into the recycling bin, I decided to bite the bullet and get them cancelled a.s.a.p. In the past I've had success with Catalog Choice, but now it seems they want money for their services. I can't blame them. I also looked into DMAchoice, which is run by the Direct Marketing Association (responsible for all this junk mail). They also want money. (My mistake. There is no fee for this service.) So I went the DIY route. Here's what I did:

1. Opened a bottle of beer (it was 4:30pm, totally acceptable, right?)

2. Started dialing.

3. Always, always, always selected the 'to place an order' option. I figure that your wait time is so much less if they think they have a buyer on the line. The longest I waited was 2 minutes.

4. Typed up a quick list of all the catalogs I cancelled so that I could cross-check each day as new ones hit the mailbox. Most of these catalogs will take up to eight weeks to stop because they pre-print the labels.

5. Recycle bin

One hour went by really fast. And, weirdly, after awhile it was kind of addicting. How fast could I dial? How quickly could I stop the crazy flow of paper into my box? Even though I think it is great to have the option of Catalog Choice, etc. I do think this is the fastest, most direct route. 

As an aside, I'd like to hand out a few awards to some of these catalog companies:

Fastest service: Orvis, Frontgate and Gaiam Living. Bravo for instant gratification, folks!

Friendliest service: L.L. Bean and Boston Proper. Almost made me want to keep getting the catalogs. But not really.

Most difficult: Eddie Bauer. C'mon, Eddie. The first time I called the customer service rep said she 'wasn't authorized to remove me from the mailing list' and then she gave me a 'customer service number' (wha?) which ended up being a number for Sears! And they certainly couldn't help me. So I called back the Eddie number and finally got someone who would help me. Boo, Eddie Bauer. Boo!

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One of those 'moms who spend too much time on the Internet gossiping about toxic chemicals'

I'm the first to admit I know next to nuthin on plastics, toxins, chemicals, blah-blah-blah, zzzzzzz. See? It happens every time! String those words together and I'm asleep in record time. Just like Grandpa Simpson. Drooling and snoring. But I am working on it. Yes, I'm reading a book about plastics. I'm happy to say I've made it past page 100 without setting world-napping records. Anyway, more about that later.

But this xtranomral video from the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families blog sure gave me a chuckle. Hope you enjoy. Feel free to quote your fave one-liners in the comments. I'll join in once I get back from shopping at the stupid, hippie store:

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Before you recycle those moving boxes, try reuse first

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We moved! Again. After renting for six months, we finally bought a house and moved in last weekend. Stuff from storage that we hadn't seen all this time moved in, too. We had (and still have) boxes everywhere. A cross-country move requires heavy-duty moving boxes and lots of packing paper. On the plus side, we haven't found any damaged items so far. But those boxes! They were threatening to eat us alive. We could have set them out for recycling, but we wanted to extend their sturdy lifetime for a bit more, so we turned to good old Craigslist. After all, reuse trumps recycling every time.

Do you know how many responses 'free moving boxes' on Craigslist will net you? At least thirty within 24 hours. Three happy folks came over, broke down the boxes, scooped up packing paper and pretty much cleaned us out. For the next round of boxes, I think we'll try a 'curb alert' which is something I've only just learned of. A Craigslist 'curb alert' lets folks know that you are setting out free items at the curb on a specific day and time, so that way you don't have to deal with responding to emails and setting meeting times. The only drawback is having to post your address, so if that makes you uncomfortable then stick with the traditional method.

The people who took our boxes were grateful (as were we) and talked about passing them along to other friends who were moving. Paying reuse forward...you gotta love it. 

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Best Mother's Day Ever

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Last year on Mother's Day, a group of some of my favorite moms met to go for a nature walk in a nearby state park with our families. We all got together at our local neighborhood elementary school. We had our hiking shoes, our sunscreen, our hats and water bottles. And a nearby playground. The kids went off to do the monkey bars, and play in that ideal way where there's no fights big enough to necessitate parent mediation. The parents found an inviting picnic table in a sunny spot, and some great conversation. Needless to say, the nature walk never happened, but hands down, this was one of the best Mother's Day celebrations ever. No gifts. No big expectations. Just the company and companionship of some of my best peeps.

Mother's Day is this Sunday. How will you celebrate? What was your best Mother's Day ever?

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National Prescription Drug Takeback Event: April 30, 2011

Sorry for the late notice on this. Tomorrow, Saturday, April 30, 2011, from 10am to 2pm, the DEA is hosting a national prescription drug takeback day. Search for a collection site near you. It's best to dispose of prescription drugs this way, instead of flushing them down the pot. Marine lifeforms have enough problems without adding substance abuse to the mix!

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Green remodeling: reuse, recycling and time capsules

On Monday morning, our kitchen remodel kicked off. And yesterday, the porta-potty was delivered. So that makes it official!

It seems like we've been discussing kitchen stuff now since the invention of dirt. So many things to think about and decide. Then try to figure out if the decisions will even work in our space. Then how much they will cost. And the $64,000 question: What exactly does 'green' mean, anyway? I will say, it's a lot harder to keep true to green ideals than I thought it would be. It seems like this thing is going to cost about $4.6 billion. So don't even talk to me about FSC lumber. La, la, la, la, la! I can't hear you!

So far, we have our good ol' friend craigslist to thank, and the hard work of my husband in photographing, measuring and emailing back and forth to find new homes for some of our old stuff. I'm pleased to say that almost all of our old oak cabinets found new homes. Only two smallish (formerly over the fridge and micro) cabinets failed to make a love connection with any of our interested parties. The door and screen that used to be a delivery/service entrance was sold to a nice woman who will build it into a greenhouse she is working on. Our old kitchen faucet (but not the sink!) was bought. And some extra cabinet pulls were bought. Yay, reuse! While we did not hire a 'deconstruction service', our contractor was great about taking things out carefully for reuse. We will be re-installing our dishwasher (which is temporarily living in our garage). Our old range and micro were just too sad to try to resell, but we're told they will be recycled for the metal parts. Our old fridge is serving in our garage right now, and will be hauled off and recycled by Energy Trust once the new (much more energy efficient) one comes.

A few interesting finds:

Sugar Corn Pops cereal box. The kids found this utterly amazing and hilarious.
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The demo crew also found the top of an old bentwood cane:
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We finally got to see inside the painted shut delivery box that was on the outside of our house, by the delivery door. Our guess is that it was either for dairy or ice. We had been hoping there'd be some gold bouillon inside. No luck. Just a lot of dust.

For now, we are noodling over what we might put into a time capsule of our own, and seal up into the new walls. Any suggestions?

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Happy Earth Day!

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It's Earth Day. Do your best to be green. Today and every day. Thank you for all that you do.

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