Sunday, March 29, 2009

25 in 5

I promise I will write more about Duncan soon. There are, after all, two weeks worth of 3rd birthday to account for, and some juicy orchids from the New York Botanical Garden, but I read an interesting statistic today that I wanted to share. For every 5 minutes that you let tap water run, you run 25 gallons of water down the drain...that's good quality (sort of) water, the likes of which people in many other countries would dream of having in their homes. So here are a couple of other things I've changed around the house and forgotten to tell you. (I started these long before I read this statistic). First, I've stopped running the water while I wait for it to warm up for Duncan's bath. I put the stopper right in and save all the water; it doesn't take that long for water to warm up enough for a 3 year old. Also, our boy wakes up with matted, messy hair. For a while, we were running the tap as we wet and combed his hair in the morning; now we use a spray bottle. You may already know this, but if you own a dishwasher, it's actually more energy efficient to use it (as long as it's full, and you don't waste water rinsing the dishes first) than to wash dishes by hand. If you don't, be sure to use a basin for washing, and consider using a second basin for rinsing (I'm not quite there yet). Easy, peasy, lemon squeazy... three easy things anyone can do to save a lot of water. Just remember 25 in gives you pause to think.

(apologies to those who received the first draft by e-mail and then had to receive this tedious, slightly edited second draft)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Converse = to turn with/together

At the ripe, old age of 3, Duncan has moments now when he has real conversations. More often, we're finding our conversations go like this: "Why does Spiderman swing from building to building? Why Daddy? Why Daddy? Why does Spiderman swing from building to building, Daddy? Why?" However, there is often some give and take, and in those moments, I begin to feel like my little boy is growing up. Just seconds later, reality smacks me in the face.

This morning in the car:

D: Look at all the trees Mama!
T: I like where we live.
D: I do too.
T: I love living around all these trees and grass.
D: I love crackers.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Post Script

Never fear. Upon further research, I have discovered that we DO recycle office paper at work. Whew. Back to square one and the paper basket.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shades of Green

(I apologize in advance for the length of this entry.  I should have published it in installments, but it's too late to go back now.)

It's been quite some time since I sat down to reflect on our progress in becoming a more environmentally friendly household. Most importantly, we have already internalized all the changes we made up to this point.  The cloth napkin experiment has become a lifestyle change. We've reduced our use of paper plates, and although I have not rid us of paper towels, we are using fewer than we did before. We have enough wrap-n-mats to transport just about anything we need for lunch. We're using reusable grocery bags regularly and have a good stock in both cars as well as in the house. I've become completely sold on cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, and to indulge my need for cleaning products, I have only purchased environmentally friendly, non-toxic concoctions. They're slightly more expensive, but I think that's okay because vinegar and baking soda are almost free so they balance each other out. We've also made new progress since my last entry; there have been a few inconsistent projects here and there, but overall, we're becoming greener, and I have good ideas about what to do next.

One of our more exciting Christmas gifts was a gift card to Lowe's with directions for building our own compost bin (thanks Mom and Dad!). We didn't build it yet, because our yard was covered with snow until recently; however, there's an old, sort of defunct, composter in our backyard. While we wait to build the new one, I've been using that. I bought a compost crock before New Year, which has allowed me to save a LOT of our garbage from the landfill. We're filling the compost crock at least twice a week, and on more than one occasion, I put on a winter coat and heavy boots and walked across the back yard in a foot of snow to dump produce scraps into the compost. I shouldn't really say "we" in this paragraph because it has been mostly my effort. I haven't managed to sell Jamie on dumping food scraps in the compost crock instead of the trash. I don't think it's a conscious effort to avoid composting; he just doesn't think about it. On the other hand, it's become a habit for me. When we were at Mom and Dad's last weekend, I kept looking for the compost crock to put my tea bags and orange peels in; it felt wrong to put them in the garbage. Nice!

I tried to avoid thinking about the health impact of all the chemicals some of my green books kept warning me about, but I started thinking more about the packaging. Changing the packaging of my retail goods in many ways led me, anyway, to buy things that are better for my body. First, I decided to ditch an aluminum-based deodorant in favor of Tom's of Maine's version, which has ingredients I recognize and is made of recyclable plastic. I took the same approach for my hair. I color my hair myself at home, which does quite a number on it. Until recently, I used either Redken or Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner to prevent my hair from turning to straw. Then I started to wonder if I REALLY needed them. Burt's Bees makes a color keeper shampoo and conditioner, and the bottles are made of about 80% post-industrial plastic. AND, they have ingredients I have heard of. I'm on my second set of Burt's Bees hair products, and my hair has not fallen out. In contrast, I HONESTLY believe that my hair is holding its color longer. I also switched facial cleansers, which was the most difficult item in this paragraph, much to my surprise. I really love those disposable face wash sheets that Dove and Oil of Olay make. They were convenient to take on a trip, didn't require a lot of rinsing, and therefore, did not make me wet when I washed my face at bed time. Using paper to wash my face, however, felt irresponsible and even hypocritical after I had made the other changes so I'm trying out Burt's Bees Citrus Facial Scrub (glass, recyclable) and a Kiss My Face cleanser, both of which have identifiable ingredients. Santa brought Jamie some Burt's Bees shaving products as well, but the jury is still out on those.

I've made some changes in the kitchen, some more subtle than others. Rather than try to sell Jamie on them (but the truth is out now), I'm just trying to make a few changes myself in the hopes that a trickle down effect will lead him to pick them up. I think I have to be less subtle, but that's another story. First, I gave up the lemons. The one good habit that sticks with me, whether I am on or off Weight Watchers, is that I drink a lot of water. When I was pregnant, the only way I could get my water down was if it was flavored, so I started putting lemon slices in my water every day. I'm sure you're all aware that lemons don't grow in New York. Most of them are grown and shipped from Florida or California. When you think of all the resources it costs for a lemon to travel across the continent or up the coast, it seems pretty frivolous. Yes, I know that I live in New York, and NOT MUCH GROWS HERE IN WINTER, and I feel fine about using some fossil fuel to get green beans or grapes if I have to, but there is no need for those lemons. They're was difficult. Also difficult is my ultimate goal of giving up paper towels. I know at least 4 people who have given up paper towels, and it sounds so easy, but I'm not there yet. At Lorna's suggestion, I bought a mess of (24) shop towels, and I'm working on retraining myself to use them instead of paper. We're still using the paper towels in the kitchen, but I can now clean the bathroom without using any's a start. I'm thinking a lot about plastic. I'm not yet ready to store food in glass jars because I have visions of them shattering daily, but I'm trying to reduce my use of sandwich bags, cling wrap, and aluminum foil. I don't think Jamie has noticed, but I've started using plates to cover whatever we're cooking or heating in the microwave. Most of the time, they only get covered in steam, which can be wiped off. And slowly, but surely, I'm moving those shop rags into the kitchen.

Duncan has had to make some changes too. We have well water, which is not fluoridated, so he needs to drink water with added fluoride. We buy it by the gallon for home, but we were buying it in 8 ounce bottles for him to take to daycare. Can a woman who gave up her lemons let her son add that much unnecessary plastic to the waste stream? I think not. It's not that much more effort to pour his water into a reusable bottle, so we do. I continue to feel guilty about our consumption of disposable diapers so I made two changes; I started buying Seventh Generation unbleached pull-ups, and we boosted our potty training efforts. We started putting Duncan in underwear whenever we could. As it turns out, he can't move from the toddler room to the preschool room at daycare until he can wear underwear, so that has given us some added motivation to cut our diaper use drastically. Finally, Duncan finished the huge bottle of Head and Shoulders we've been using on him for a year. He has an itchy scalp, and the pediatrician told us when he was very young that we could use the H & S, but just smelling it now makes me ill. And his head is still flaky anyway. I don't know if it will control the flakes, but I've replaced his H & S with a Burt's Bees shampoo (grapefruit and sugar beet) that is supposed to be good for dandruff. We'll see, but it smells really nice and doesn't make me feel like I'm soaking him in toxins.

There are a few other random things...I started a box in which we can keep our "hazardous waste" (CFC bulbs, batteries, broken clock radio) until the one day out of 365 that we can take it to the transfer station. I don't leave the light on in the basement when I'm doing laundry, even though I think it's creepy down there. I take a deep breath, visualize penguins and polar bears, and turn off the light. I continue to strive to buy produce that's in season. I baked Duncan cereal bars because his daycare is a nut-free facility, and I can't find any cereal bars that aren't made in a factory with peanuts. But it wasn't difficult, and I like knowing what's in at least one of his snacks so I think I'll keep that up. I continue to make his apple sauce because I recently ate a spoon out of a store bought apple sauce and can't go back. I've started sneaking into our grocery cart some toilet paper and paper towels made of recycled paper. Jamie bought carbon offsets for Christmas gifts (and received one for Christmas, thank you Mom), and I did a lot of shopping from companies that specialize in free-trade, environmentally friendly, and recycled goods. These may be small changes to the planet, but I've read enough to believe that the small changes add up, and I have enough experience now to know that small changes help us make bigger ones.

My big failure, at least so far, has been paper recycling. After Christmas, I started saving recyclable paper in a basket in the office. Eventually, Jamie wanted to know what "that pile of garbage was," and when I told him, he said that there's no bin at our dump for paper except newspaper. I stopped collecting it, but I've since heard mixed reports about whether Welsh Sanitation collects paper. I tried looking it up on their website, and when I finally located a list of the recycling guidelines, it did not include office paper. I guess I need to drive back over there myself so I know for sure. It was a sad, sad day when I threw away that basket of paper, and I hope that I can figure it out.

So what's next in my revolving list of environmental resolutions? I'd like to work on buying glass rather than plastic whenever I can because it is easier and cheaper to recycle glass than plastic. Spring is here, so I'll keep working on trying to buy local. We need to start our garden earlier so that we might actually grow some vegetables we can consume. I hope to reduce our paper towel use a little more. We're out of paper plates, and if I don't put them on the grocery list, we might go a few weeks without buying them, and by then we won't need them. I'd like to get rid of our vinyl shower curtain liner because apparently the PVC in those liners is one of the worst and most common environmental toxins in the home. Hemp is supposed to be the best option because with a hemp shower curtain, you don't need a liner...but they run about $80. We need a rug for the office, but I won't buy one until I can afford one made of cotton or wool, preferably organic. I'm going to buy some reusable snack bags for Duncan so he can stop taking his snacks in five plastic bags a week. My biggest personal goal is to work on the REDUCE part of the REDUCE-REUSE-RECYCLE triumverate. That will be difficult as I've become an impulsive shopper of unnecessary consumables, but if I'm doing it for the earth, I might have a chance. We'll see how those changes go, and then start again.

My favorite success is my redefining of the word "disposable." Disposable used to mean convenience. In the time I've been working on reducing our carbon footprint, I've had to fight the ease of all things disposable and prepackaged: water bottles; individually packaged Goldfish; boxes of raisins. Last week, I picked up a couple of "magic toothbrushes" at the dentist (just add water) to throw into Duncan's diaper bag for the next time we forget his. Then, I saw some in the drugstore. At first, I thought "Cool! I'm going to get some of those to have on hand." Then I stopped myself and said "That's stupid. If you care that much, buy a spare toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste and leave them in the diaper bag." "Then I stopped myself" is really the most important change of all because eventually I can give that up too. The word disposable now conjures images of land know that earth the people ran away from in Wall-E? That's what I see when I read or hear the word "disposable."

It's spring, and one of the most beautiful things about spring is watching the myriad shades of green unfold, once again, exactly when we thought we would never see anything but mud and gritty snow. It's a good time to dream of new ways to be green.