Green House

Make life a little more earth-friendly without going to extremes.

Earth Day is Thursday!

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Earth Day is coming and a lot of events start this weekend including:


  • CARE's Earth Day festival is Saturday in Lockport. Get all the details at CARE's site.

  • Cash for Appliances has begun. Illinois has $6.5 million in rebates for people buying Energy Star appliances right now. The rebates became available Friday and let people buy the items at a discount of 15 percent. Like Cash for Clunkers, once the money's gone, it's over. Sears is actually opening early some days to accomadate Energy Star buyers.

  • Oswego's Eco Commission is doing their spring recycling blowout Saturday. I'll be there helping. If you want to recycle it, you can pretty much do it there. Check out Eco's page for info.

Soup's last gasp

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There's still some snow on the ground and the winter coat's are still out. There's still time for soup.

I had some frozen sausage to get rid of and decided bean soup was the way to go. I thought about picking up the standard 13-bean dry mix.

Whole Foods did me one better: North Bay Trading Co.'s 32-Bean and 8-Vegetable Soup/Chili mix. Yes: 32 types of beans, veggies and barley. Take that Campbell's.

The veggies are dehydrated, the beans are dried and there are no added flavors or powders. That means this shelf-stable monster is clean, high fiber, low-sodium and probably fabulous. And one cup of beans makes nine cups of soup.

I'm very excited about this. I'm sick of buying a ton of ingredients to use little bits in a bigger dish, and I'm sick of having soup mixes that contain hydrolyzed soy protein and other bits of MSG misery.

You can scoop and buy as much as you want at Whole Foods in Naperville in their bulk section. So if nine cups of very freezable soup scares you, you can just get enough to try a smaller amount.

If it's awesome, I'll let you know.

Staff writer Janet Lundquist wrote a story that appeared in the Feb. 10 Herald-News about a likely hike in Plainfield's water/sewer bills.

Plainfield uses Lake Michigan water and needs to hike prices because "the water and sewer budget has an operating loss of $500,000 to $600,000," said Public Works Director Allen Persons.

Basically, our source hiked the price, so we need to pay more. I don't have a problem with that. When Joliet hiked water/sewer rates, we got calls from people freaking out over having to pay the actual cost of their water instead of having it subsidized by casino funds. (Cue the flames.)

Plainfield cut jobs, cut OT and didn't hike salaries. This isn't fiscal irresponsibility. And it's time people learn that there's only so much clean water to go around. It's going to cost money. Use it responsibly.

My problem is that instead of hiking the cost by usage, the village is talking about a set monthly fee for everyone. Village Administrator Brian Murphy suggested it; officials seemed to agree, but no action has been taken yet.

I'm against a flat fee. This spreads the cost around to everyone evenly from a single-resident home that uses water-efficient appliances to a family of seven that leaves the sprinkler on 10 hours a day just because. What incentive is there to be a responsible water consumer when the village essentially says we should all be punished for rates going up? Just pass the rates on to us based on use. Let the guy who is watering his lawn all summer pay his fair share for his decision to waste water that was treated to make it potable on his nonnative grasses.

Consider it like a sin tax. No one wants to pay higher state taxes but they tend to support higher taxes on alcohol, gambling, cigarettes, etc. The idea is that you can choose whether you use it and if how much. Can you imagine if there was an extra fee on your state taxes to help pay for your neighbors' cigarettes? You'd flip out. Well, I don't want to pay for someone to have green, nondormant grass during a drought. That's a luxury and a sin. Charge him appropriately. Don't make me pay for his choices.

Here's a list of sources if you're looking to get some kefir grains to make your own at home. (Thanks Panmeli!)

Scroll to the bottom for the United States. (This list is based in Canada so we're in alphabetical order instead of getting our country automatically at the top. Humbling, no?) Then, look for sites close to you at a price you like.

I haven't ordered anything from these people, but at least one of the Chicago sources offers to let you pick them up instead of paying shipping. And seriously, if you're looking to run a scam, I'm going to guess kefir grains aren't a big money-maker.

Lately, I've been buying smaller sizes of fat-free kefir to make creamy dressings out of. We use the peppercorn salad dressing mix from The Spice House in Geneva, mixing it with kefir and a bit of rice wine vinegar. It's a bit runnier than the mix The Spice House suggests (half sour cream, half mayo), but a bit more natural and with much less fat.

And unlike the kefir sources, I can vouch for Spice House. In person or online, I've always had good experiences. If you try their spices, you'll wonder how you ever settled for the blah alleged spices you get at the supermarket.

Don't remember what Kefir is. Read this (especially the reader comments as they school me).

Hook, line and stinker

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OK, I get that the government doesn't want Asian carp in Lake Michigan.

But closing the canals is a stinker of a solution will lead to flooding (that could create new waterways to let the carp into the lake), increase goods and services costs for us as companies take to the roads and rails instead of the water, and add to the rail and road congestion. So if Michigan and Co. get their way, you could be stuck in traffic at a railroad crossing just to get a chance to pay more for things you have to use, like energy. (Midwest Generation gets their coal on those waterway, so your bill would likely go up.)

Now, the feds have approved a ton of money for new solutions. Among them, possibly poisoning the waterways when the locks are opened. Awesome. I understand this poison affects things with gills only, but how many times has a governmental agency had to admit that a substance had consequences they didn't realize? (Thalidomide anyone?)

Reader Joe Wojtonik has a pretty good solution:
"Put a "bounty" on them of, well let's just say, a buck per fish and let all the Illinois anglers at them. You'll soon have many a fisherman out on the channel eliminating the problem. Hell, we spent 2 million dollars on chemicals that didn't seem to be that effective, so why not eliminate them in a more effective and "green" manner? And, on top of all that, retirees and out of work fisherman could provide a very valuable service to the state and earn a little cash to boot!"

I'm with Joe. In fact, I kind of want to vote him into office. Instead of the presidential campaign's Joe the Plumber, he can be Joe the Angler. See, the federal plan costs $78.5 million. And some people say that's not enough.

Joe's plan:


  • is cheaper than the federal plan. Even with the administration necessary to confirm the kills and issue checks, it's still not going to cost $78.5 million ... although where there's a bureaucracy, there's a way.

  • is green. We're adding some fumes from the boats, but those guys were likely going to be fishing anyway. No more poison.

  • stimulates the economy. If you make $20 fishing, you're going to spend it. And, as he says, it does give retirees and laid-off workers something to do while they wait for the those millions of saved/created jobs that seem as difficult to find as an Asian carp in the Great Lakes.

The fish farms of the South created the problem. Let the fisherman of the north solve it.
doesn't close the canals, thereby raising prices for us and created more air pollution and congestion.

book.jpgI'm practically crawling the walls after this long-lasting winter. I feel like I've been stuck in my house for years. And I feel like it's full of stale air and dirt. (Yes, I clean, but this is how winter makes me feel.)

Itching to throw open the windows and start your spring cleaning? Slow down their, pardner, it's cold out.

But get yourself in the right mindset by picking up "Squeaky Green." It's a guide to "detoxing your home" but it's not like detoxing your body. You won't be asked to do anything supergross.

The reasons I love this book:


  1. It's written by the folks at Method, a green-cleaning product company, but this isn't a pamphlet used to sell their products. They are full of good, natural ideas that often don't involve purchasing anything from anybody. (I picked up a "similar" book from a similar company and was truly irked by how often they'd tell you not to use vinegar or other natural, cheap substances, but to buy a product they conveniently sell. Boo.)

  2. It's fun, but not in that snide way so much of the green crap is. They don't assume you live in New York and hate everyone in the flyover states.

  3. I actually learned stuff. I'm so sick of green guides that tell me that GASP it's greener to turn off the sink while you brush your teeth. No kidding? Tell me something that I wasn't taught when I was 4 and we'll talk. That's what "Squeaky Green" does. I actually found myself turning to it when I was planning to update my bedroom, because I wanted to make sure I wasn't overlooking something with my planned purchases. That defines it as a go-to guide for me.

  4. Buy it today at Method's Web site and they'll throw in some of their green clean with it. Or check it out from your local library, realize you can't live without it, then buy it. Seriously, it's that good.

The village of Plainfield is accepting orders for discounted purchases of rain barrels and tumbling-style composters through April 9.

Area residents can purchase rain barrels for $78 each ($8 off) and tumbling composters for $150 ($20 off). Orders will be available for pickup beginning at Conservation Plainfield's Earth Day Expo at Plainfield Village Hall on April 17. Sample products will soon be on display at Village Hall.

This is part of the Green Village series and the items are purchased through the Will County-based Conservation Foundation, an excellent resource for saving anything natural. My husband and I use Conservation Foundation rain barrels and got our garden through an entire growing season using only rain water.

Composting is an excellent idea, too. It reduces landfill waste and boosts your soil nutrients. Plus, this type of container means you don't have to worry about smells or critters.

To order either item, fill out a form and submit it with payment to Plainfield Village Hall. I haven't yet found a link to an online form but will post as soon as I find something.

Julie Todd

Julie Todd is the night editor at The Herald News in Joliet. She and her husband are looking to cut the chemicals and get back to basics -- minus the granola and hemp clothing. They live in a home they bought last year in Plainfield, where they're making changes to create their own little patch of utopia.

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