Friday, August 1, 2008

This Month From Rachel: Nature, What's Cooking, Going Green, and News

Getting to Know Nature in my Backyard
  • It's a little hard to fully enjoy nature when you are hounded by swarms of mosquitoes. Other than staying inside or outrunning them, how do you avoid being a walking mosquito bite?

What's Cooking in My Kitchen-Combining Cheap and Healthy

Going Green at My House

A Touch of the News- Weekly
Interesting Stuff Out There

Monday, July 14, 2008

Great Anti-Plastic Bag Slideshow

With the bad economy and the crazy-busy-running-around it's easy to forget certain things. Like how bad plastic bags really are.

I have found it hard lately to remember to bring my reusable bags to the store. Plastic bags are just so convenient aren't they.

Check out this slideshow. I know will remember the pictures the next time the bagger goes overboard with the plastic bags.

Friday, June 20, 2008

This Month From Rachel: Nature, What's Cooking, Going Green, and News

Getting to Know Nature in my Backyard
  • The Lily of the Valley outside my window was so intoxicating it took over my brain and made me look up more about it.
  • A really good book inspires me to slow down and look closer at the flora and fauna of my beautiful state.
  • On vacation in the north woods I encountered some interesting wildlife.

What's Cooking in My Kitchen-Combining Cheap and Healthy

Going Green at My House

A Touch of the News- Weekly

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

50 Ways to Help the Planet

From clothing company Wire&Twine, this list of ways we can change to help the planet is simple, cute, and easy to share. (Click the graphic below for facts and tips)

50 ways

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Less Waste: The 3 R's- Reduce

Our Motivation:
The average person in the U.S. consumes and wastes (literally) tons each year.

As humans, we have a desire to consume. After meeting our basic needs, we try to satisfy our desire for what we think we need by buying more stuff. In the U.S. (for the average middle-class person) we have it pretty good compared to a lot of places around the world. Our basic needs are satisfied, so we allow our 'wants' to consume our thoughts and wallets. This consumption is spurred on by the slick loud ads everywhere we look and social pressure to have 'the latest'.

We would like to curb our consumption. This will not only save us money, but we will send less to landfills and reduce the depletion of natural resources. Here's what we've done so far.

Urban Sister &
Small Town Sister:
We have both found that just by avoiding certain things and places, we can significantly reduce the desire to buy things. We avoid malls, Big Box supermarkets (This sadly even includes Target, which is one of the less evil of the Big Boxes, in our opinion), and we don't have cable television. By avoiding these things you can stop feeling that frantic push to Buy More! Buy More!

Who needs the added stress of being told that everything they own is just not good enough? The mall stores tell you what you should wear, the supermarkets what to eat just by their huge markdowns, and the skinny rich women on TV tell you that you're not beautiful unless you buy their eye cream. We are controlled by something much larger than us: Consumerism.

It's not as powerful as it seems though, and by turning off the commercials and ignoring the ads, you can decide for yourself what you really, truly needed. And as it turns's not so much.
  • Urban Sister: Don't get me wrong, I'm not your perfect consumer by any means. I still like to get new things, and shiny ads still sometimes hook me...but by looking at my consumption habits in a new way, I am able to control my purchases much more easily. I think about whether an item is really worth the money, and whether purchasing it will make me an ethical consumer or an irresponsible one.
  • Small Town Sister: I also try to refocus my 'wanting energy' into 'working energy' and figure out what underlying problem or need I'm trying to fulfill. I still buy things, but I try to think long and hard before forking over my hard earned cash. If it will truly make my life better, and I can justify the item, then I find out if I can borrow it, rent it, or buy it used. I make sure it is good quality and will last a long time.

How We Reduce Our Consumption:
  • In the Kitchen

    • No Plastic: Avoid anything packaged in plastic, which just ends up in the trash, and sometimes can't be recycled. Buy things in reusable containers, like glass jars, or wrapped in paper, which is more easily recycled.

      • Urban Sister- Glass jars are great to bring back to use in the bulk food section!

      • Small Town Sister- I try to buy things in bulk and store everything in different sized canning jars. I try to avoid disposable products (see Paper Towels and Reducing Plastic)

    • No Big Box Groceries: Stay away from the Big Box supermarkets so you don't get duped into buying 10 frozen pizzas for $10 - which is much worse for your health than any benefits to the wallet!

      • Urban Sister- Instead, I stop at my local co-op on my way home from work every few days so I only buy what I need at the time, and nothing more.

      • Small Town Sister- I don't have as many choices for where I can shop, but I shop at the smaller grocery stores even though it's a little more expensive. I also have a strict budget and shopping list to help avoid the bad stuff.

    • No Overly Processed Food: It's bad for your health, costs a lot, and tends to come with lots of packaging.

      • Urban Sister- Since I don't cook or bake much for myself, I try to visit locally owned restaurants that use organic, fresh ingredients. I also make it a point to order something that will keep well as leftovers, making sure nothing goes to waste.

      • Small Town Sister- I enjoy making healthy homemade food. I'm learning old fashioned methods and adding my own twists and shortcuts (see Yogurt, Bread, and Popcorn).

  • In the Bathroom

    • Less Makeup:
      • Urban Sister- I've vowed to not replenish most of my make-up supply once it runs out and, for the items I just can't live without, to look for natural alternatives.
      • Small Town Sister- I don't use much makeup beyond a little powder and mascara. (We of the fair skin are a little attached to certain things!) I would like to find a more natural or even homemade concealer and powder.

    • Homemade/Natural Products:
      • Urban Sister- I make my own hair and skin care products out of ingredients like coconut oil, oatmeal, and baking soda, or buy handmade products like olive oil soap, which are better for my body, cost a lot less, and don't buy in to the brands with the big ads.

      • Small Town Sister- I also make my own natural hair care and skin care products (and also house cleaning products!) out of a few ingredients I can buy in bulk and store in reusable containers. (I'm still working on deodorant and lotions)

    • Bulk Paper Products: Buy big packages of double roll toilet paper and big boxes of tissues.
      • Urban Sister- In a one-person household, I don't go through that many of these products, so I buy individual rolls of toilet paper wrapped in paper to cut down on plastic waste.
      • Small Town Sister- I can buy recycled but I just don't see myself consuming less of these items

  • In the Home
    • Buy Used: Only buy clothes, furniture, and household items at second-hand stores. (Sometimes though, new is necessary - as in mattresses and underwear.)
      • Urban Sister- Why pay more for brand new? Shopping at second-hand stores is cheaper and you'll find much more interesting items - it's almost like a treasure hunt!
      • Small Town Sister- I don't bother with the latest trends, and try to find classic well-made items.

    • No Junk Mail: Sign up for every Do Not Mail option available and get your news online.
      • Urban Sister- I sign up for e-mail updates instead of paper catalogs, and I recycle any junk mail that does make it into my mailbox.
      • Small Town Sister- I have yet to persuade credit card companies to stop sending junk and I still need to stop delivery for the free local papers. I do feed junk mail to my composting worms!

    • Laundry Room: Buy concentrated detergent and use less and stop using dryer sheets.
      • Urban Sister- You can cut down on laundry loads by wearing everything more than just once before washing - except for underwear, of course! Wait until you have a full load before washing. (I'm also planning on trying to wash clothes in the bathtub and then line dry...if it works out, it could be a much cheaper alternative to coin-operated machines.)
      • Small Town Sister- I'm experimenting using half detergent, half Borax, so far it works great. I've heard dryer balls work but I have yet to find them in the stores nearby.
Bottom Line:
Small Town Sister- According to my Greendex score (46) I am just slightly better than the average American (44.9) and less than the average Canadian (48.5) or European (48.5-50). I have a way to go yet. There are still things that I take for granted as normal that are wasteful and unnecessary.

Urban Sister- My Greendex score was a 48, which is a little better than the average American, but I would still like to reach a much higher score someday. The actual actions of reducing consumption aren't difficult, but sometimes making the extra effort can be. It's best to accomplish these kinds of goals one step at at time - changing your entire lifestyle can be daunting!

Friday, May 23, 2008

What 'Sustainable Living' Means To Us

Last week we introduced our Sustainable Living Challenge. This week we thought we would give a better picture of what that means to us.

  • Sustainable: able to be maintained at a certain rate or level
    • Ecology: conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources
  • Root of the word "Sustainable" = sustain
    • Sustain = maintain/continue/uphold; nourish/support.
    • From Latin sub - tenere = 'hold' + 'from below'

What Sustainable Living means to us:

Living your life in a manner that is beneficial instead of harmful to your body, your community, and the earth.

To "sustain"
means to uphold and maintain a certain balance, and in this case means maintaining the natural ecological balance between the earth and its inhabitants. Right now, we are tipping the scales of our relationship with the earth with our over-consumption of natural resources, which is leading to global warming, species extinction, water contamination, and more problems.

Balance: The only way that this can be made right again is if humans alter their lifestyles to reduce individual consumption – consumption of gasoline, plastics, paper products, toxic chemicals, etc. By reducing the amount of stuff that we consume, we are reducing our "ecological footprint" on the earth.

It's also what we consume
Which would you rather lather on your skin?
  • Handmade soap made from only natural ingredients like olive oil or hemp- which is better for your skin (and doesn't cause cancer!), doesn't contaminate groundwater and can support local artisan businesses.
Body, community, earth.

Long-Term Sustainability
While every change you make helps, it takes more than changing your behavior for a day, or a week, or even a year. If more people can live sustainably, we can meet our needs and live satisfying lives without compromising the well-being of the future inhabitants of the earth.

Watch for our updates and see our progress as we move towards a sustainable life.

This Week From Rachel:

Getting to Know Nature in my Backyard

What's Cooking in My Kitchen-Combining Cheap and Healthy

Going Green at My House

  • I celebrated Compost Awareness Week by writing about how composting is cool.
  • I'm not feeling so guilty about using my older appliances, after learning more about the costs and benefits of replacing them, and how to use them more efficiently.

A Touch of the News- Weekly

Friday, May 16, 2008

Using Less Synthetic Chemicals: Hair Care

Our Motivation:
Hair care products you find in the store:
  1. Cost too much for what they actually do
  2. Contain potential toxins that go down the drain
  3. Contain ingredients that are harsh on your skin
  4. Take energy and water to produce
  5. Use too much packaging and plastic
  6. Create a cycle of overuse and dependency on products and showering
See this post on shampoo for more details.

Urban Sister:
  • What I Tried- I started the natural hair care experiment by trying Dr. Bronner's castile soap on my hair, but I couldn't get it to lather enough to work very well and I ended up having to mix it with a little normal shampoo. I then tried a handmade olive oil based soap that suds up very nicely. It cleaned well but didn't dry my hair out, and I found that I hardly needed any conditioner. My hair retained some of its natural oils, which meant that any natural waves in my hair were enhanced and even held their curl better throughout the day.
  • What I Liked- I'm going to stick with the handmade olive oil soap -- it cleans well without over-drying, and it's easy to find some that are locally made! I may have to add a drop of shampoo, or use baking soda as a cleanser, every few days to control any extra oiliness, but hopefully after enough time I will have to use it less and less.
  • Dyeing- I'd like to try some natural hair dyeing techniques for all future hair coloring. I know chamomile will lighten my hair, and I plan on researching henna and other natural dyes for going darker.
Small Town Sister:
  • What I Tried- After swearing off store bought shampoos (except for emergencies) I tried all kinds of different natural cleaners: castile soap, baking soda, and hemp soap. My hair has run the range of dry and frizzy to greasy to clean and shiny while I weaned myself off the shampoo and found what works for my hair.
  • What I Liked- My favorite has been the hemp soap bar which I can buy pretty inexpensively from a small local soap shop. It smells nice, cleans well, and is in a convenient form. My second favorite, which I still use periodically to deep clean, is the baking soda scrub followed by a vinegar and chamomile tea rinse.
  • Natural Coloring- I am also trying to stop dyeing my hair, so I have a spray bottle of chamomile tea that I apply before going out in the sun. Supposedly chamomile lightens blond hair. It works slow but I'm starting to see a difference, my roots are less noticeable.
  • Brushing- Most natural hair care regimes include brushing thoroughly with a natural bristle brush to distribute the oils. I found an inexpensive wood handled boar bristle brush at the store and gave it a whirl. It's a nice concept, but my hair is so thick it really doesn't do much for me. I have to use my plastic bristle brush to get through it. Maybe there is something a little more sturdy out there?

Other Options to Try:
  • Natural Alternatives to hair gel and hair spray
  • More Natural Coloring
  • Better Natural Bristle Brush
Bottom Line:
Natural hair products do work, but it is a slow process if you have been using conventional products. Everyone's hair and scalp is different, but there are many options available to try. For us, baking soda combined with a vinegar rinse is good for super deep cleaning, but natural soaps are best for everyday.

Look for natural biodegradable ingredients, soaps that are locally made, and products without tons of packaging. Also, get used to washing your hair less often. You will not only be doing your head a favor, but you will saving some green while being green!

Introducing: Our Sustainable Living Challenge

This year, Sarah and I have been working on (and just now getting organized) our personal plans to become more sustainable. We will be reporting our progress here as we go.

Sign up for updates by entering your email in the top left corner (be sure to watch for an email confirmation in your inbox!).

Basic Goals of the Sustainable Living Challenge:
  • Be Healthy
  • Maintain an Efficient and Sustainable Home
  • Benefit the Environment
  • Save Money
  • Support Community
  • Live a Simple & Enjoyable Life
  • Encourage and Inspire others
We made goals based on our different situations, but we challenge you to come up with your own Sustainable Living Challenge. Feel free to add comments to the posts online, or email us and we can add your comments or suggestions.

This Week From Sarah: Sustainable Apartment Living & Green Architecture

Green Architecture
For any readers out there who have noticed that I haven't been devoting much time lately to my bookbinding, my Etsy shop, and other crafting, I thought I'd give a little update on what I have been doing. Ever since I graduated with my undergrad degree in architecture last year, I have been working with a small group of friends and fellow architecture graduates on a couple different design projects.
Read more here.

Sustainable Apartment Living
For renters, it is sometimes hard to live as sustainably as you would like, since some landlords and apartment buildings aren't very green-living friendly. Many landlords are usually more concerned with the cheapest materials, repairs, or upgrades rather than the most earth-friendly. These and other obstacles can make green-living, especially in an urban area, frustrating for many and nearly impossible for some. Read about the great sustainable-living friendly apartment I've just moved into here.