We were talking to neighbors one day when one of them asked, "What's with the barrels."
Us (earnest): They're rain barrels.
Them (wary): Ooohhh.
And I get that, I do.
Rain barrels seem to be synonymous with hippies and mosquitoes (and therefore West Nile.) But behold the future of rain barrels.
Essentially, you buy one of those bad boys, pop him under your downspout and collect rainwater for use in your garden and yard.
You stop the rain from running off to where it's not supposed to be (places other than here) and use rain to water your yard instead of using highly treated tap water that's way purer than it needs to be for your yard.
The versions The Conservation Foundation is selling are 55-gallon ones with taps to connect your hose to and overflow valves so it doesn't overflow. Those nifty barrels were used to house olives or olive oil. (Still smell pleasantly like it.) So you're already reusing when you buy one.
Don't like the color? A quick coat of paint (we used a rough texture, forest green spraypaint) had it looking like it was manufactured with green plastic in no time.
The lid screws on and has screening to prevent mosquitoes.
There is no bad here. You're going to save money on your water bills and help the area's watershed.
And they're cheap. The Conservation Foundation is only charging $75. They're a Will County-based nonprofit trying to save the area's open space and rivers. And they're making real progress. At Planet Natural, you'll pay $235 for a very similar model. Makes you wonder if it's you or your plants getting soaked.
We love our rain barrels, especially since we haven't figured out if our outside spigots work at all. We're not so sure that the neighbors do. One of them went out of his way to tell us that if he had such a barrel he'd hide it behind his house and we'd never ever see it. (For the record, our barrel isn't ugly and isn't in the front of the house.) The message was clear: He doesn't like seeing it. Well, my message is clear too: Using up all of our water to keep nonnative grasses alive so we can feel good about our lawns isn't good for us or the planet.
Would you use a rain barrel if it were more affordable? Or would you be one of the neighbors wishing the darn things would go away?
June 2008 Archives
We were talking to neighbors one day when one of them asked, "What's with the barrels."
Whirlpool Duet Sport
When we bought a house in October, it meant we could install a washer and dryer and end the trips to the laundromat on Route 59 in Plainfield. (Not that it wasn't superfun getting threatened by a dude in apparent 'roid rage, but I was getting sick of hauling my laundry around.)
Once I'd scrounged up some money again after the closing, we went to pick out a high-efficiency washer and dryer.
HEs, also called top-loaders, use much less water and power (it's an Energy Star) than traditional washers. They're gentler on clothes and use less soap. Those are all great green things, and things that result in clothes that just feel better.
Because the barrel is sideways instead of upright, you only need half as much water because the clothes are spun through the half-filled barrel. The Duet Sport uses up to 22 gallons less water per load than a traditional washer. Twenty-two gallons for every load! In the tradition washer, water has to cover the clothes, so a bigger load means bigger water consumption.
We ended up with the Duet Sport. It's slightly smaller than the Duet with only 3.4 cubic feet of space. Oh, yes, 3.4 cubic feet. You wouldn't believe the stacks of clothes that can go into one load.
How much do you spend a month (or a year) on electricity?
I saw on "Living with Ed" on Planet Green network last week that Larry Hagman - of "Who shot J.R.?" fame - was spending $37,000 a year on electricity before he installed his solar panels. (Now, he pays $13 a year, which is largely for administrative costs and supplies power for four nearby, lower-income homes. Awwww ...)
But $37,000? That's more than $3,000 a month. Granted, he's got a $46 acre farm, but it's not like he's growing corn that likes to use the computer all night.
On "Wasted," also on Planet Green, a family mentioned that their electric bill is routinely in the thousands - thanks in part to more than 100 light bulbs in the house.
That seems absurd to me, but am I just living too frugally to know what other people's bills are like?
How much do you pay a month for electricity? Go ahead and comment. You can make up a user name, so your neighbors don't know your business, and only I'll be able to see the e-mail address you type in.
Tell me what your electric bill is like.
- Give us the good, the bad and the ugly. Is it miniscule in February but shoots up in July like the corn?
- Do you consider your bill low, average or high? Why?
- Is there some particular thing that really affects your bill? (Example: If you read the "more than 100 lightbulbs" thing and thought, "That seems reasonable," tell us.)
You show me yours, I'll show you mine ... in a future entry. I don't want to sway anyone into thinking theirs is too high or too low.
Craftsman 18-inch Cut Path Reel Mower
Reel mowers, the real name for those nonmotorized lawn mowers you see dads pushing in 1950s sitcoms, are back. And they're doing pretty well judging by the fact that Sears.com was sold out of these babies on Thursday.
We bought our house in October, meaning we had till spring to figure out the lawn mower situation. We wanted to go earth friendly.
We went to the Sears Hardware in Bolingbrook and got this reel beauty.
It's got it's benefits and drawbacks, but we think it's a good choice for most people.
We've been working hard on our yard since we moved in in October. We're not there yet on by any means, but we have bird feeders with carefully chosen seed and water accessible to the birds and wildlife. We don't spray herbicides or pesticides, because they can both be ingested by birds and wildlife.
We have tons of birds that fly around our yard, despite the hawk that considers a pine tree his buffet. And there are three bunnies that like to chase one another around maniacally.
But our favorite furry guys are the chipmunks. If you create a cubic foot of dirt in a new place on the lawn, there are chipmunk holes in it within an hour.
The little guys love to run around the yard, perching on high points. They tend to congregate near the back door, running for cover when we leave for work.
But today, my husband came home to find one of them dead.
He was lying in the driveway (the chipmunk, not my husband), and my first fear was that I had run him over. But he looked OK, aside from not being alive anymore, my husband said.
I feel terrible that my husband had to bury the sweet little thing. But I'm so relieved I didn't see it. I probably would have cried and gone door-to-door demanding to know if someone was spraying something in their yard.
Do we know it was chemicals? No, but it does make me think twice. The makers of Roundup say, "For liquid products, it is generally safe for wildlife to return once the products have dried." But who tells the chipmunks to stay off of it until it's dried? And why is it "generally" safe when dried, not just safe?
Chemical sprays seem like a quick and easy solution. But the next time you reach for Roundup to deal with a weed, think about the chipmunk that doesn't know that he should be in my chemical-free yard instead of running through your sprayed weeds.
I've been swearing that Craig's List is the best thing ever because it lets people send used items to other homes, instead of into landfills. And, unlike eBay, it has no bidding and uses local sites so you don't have to wade through stuff from the U.K.
But I was looking for some more cheap items for possible bathroom and kitchen revamps last night and realized I had another local source that was so very searchable.
I got a call today from Renee from the Forest Preserve District of Will County. Seems I flubbed my dates on the next volunteer day.
If to err is human and to forgive is divine, I'm certainly human and Renee is definitely divine.
I've amened the entry to reflect the new info, but wanted to make sure everyone knew what was really going on.
Participants can register with Renee ((815) 722-7364) for National Public Lands Day on Sept. 27. You'll collect seeds and remove nonnative plant species from 9 a.m. to noon, eat a sack lunch and take a hike to learn about plants and animals in Will County preserves. It all happens at Isle a La Cache, and is appropriate for all ages. Really. Last year, there was a 2-year-old and a 92-year-old, Renee said.
Since we bought our post-war home in October, we've been hoping to fix some decor choices made in the 1970s. These, um, choices include the installation of a teeny-tiny vanity and sink in the bathroom. It's icky. It has gold flecks. You have to lean down to wash your hands.
We wanted something right for a 1955 house: a gleaming white, wall-mounted sink with chrome legs and a chrome towel bar.
It would look great with the vintage plastic tile and create the appearance of more space. Plus, no more sink suitable only for little people.
That's where Craig's List and a nice family in Lemont comes in.
Saturday, my husband and I went to Island Rendezvous at Isle a La Cache, an 87-acre preserve on an island in the DesPlaines River.
Re-enactors tell and show the history of the 18th-century fur trade in a fun weekend for families and adults.
At one point, having never been to the preserve, we wandered down one of the trails ... and wandered right back. That chunk of woods was almost exclusively buckthorn, our evil, invasive foe. Some of the buckthorn trees had massive trunks. It was choking out just about everything except the poison ivy.
NRDC's bottled water report
Bottled water is a real hot button issue.
Advocates swear it's safer than tap water, plastic bottle be damned.
Greenies often object to moving water from its source, filling the landfills with plastic bottles and drinking water that may have been contaminated by its very container.
The National Resources Defense Council summarizes some of the facts and, more importantly, has an extended report, "Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Hype." It's from 1999, but the facts still ring true. (The main summary page, linked at the top of this entry was last updated in April.) The group tested bottled water and found disturbing contaminants, making them petition the FDA for more stringent bottled-water testing.
How stringent? Well, as safe as tap water would be nice.
Essentially, your Evian bottle could have bacteria and arsenic in it that would get your local water plant shut down.
Bottled water doesn't have to be disinfected, doesn't have to be free of E. Coli or pathogens or viruses or have limited amounts of asbestos or phthalates. And they don't have to tell the government or customers about contamination or contents.
But tap water is held to much higher standards.
To see a complete comparison of the rules, visit the NRDC's chart.
I'm taking my chances with tasty tap water, thank you very much.
According to a statewide poll conducted by InTouch, 89 percent of people surveyed said they "support or strongly support the idea of paying $1,000 more for a new car at the time of purchase if they can recoup those costs in gas savings within two years."
Count me in, even though I wasn't polled.
The poll was done a few days before the Illinois House was supposed to vote on House Bill 3424 that would require clean car standards in Illinois. Instead, the bill was sent back to the rules committee. (These standards aren't new. Fourteen other states have such requirements, and that's too many states to only be the hippie-dippy ones. ... I'm looking at you, California.)
A lot of people probably think this is one of those things that saves the planet while costing us cash. But cars that emit less carbon dioxide, also use less gas. Ca-ching.
The Illinois Environmental Council says the Clean Car Standards will save Illinois drivers nearly $1.9 billion in fuel costs compared to the new federal CAFE standards by 2020.
"In this era of $4/gallon gas, people need long-term help," Howard A. Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, stated in a press release. "Adopting the Clean Car Standards is a true win-win-win: Good for our economy, good for our environment, and good for our respiratory health." (Remember that triple bottom line thing I mentioned here?)
And it's not just the two counties that vote Democrat swaying the poll results.
Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter, said in the release, "What's so encouraging about the poll results is that they're close to uniform statewide. ... Urban folks, rural folks--everyone wants more fuel efficient, cleaner cars, SUVs, and pick-ups."
The Illinois Environmental Council says,"The $1,000 incremental cost for a vehicle complying with the Clean Car Standards will not be reached until model year 2016. The additional costs will be lower in earlier years, meaning that drivers will recoup those dollars even more quickly through fuel savings."
And take pride, union families. The poll saw slightly more union respondents who were willing to pay more for greener cars now to have lower gas prices later.
Want more details? Visit the Illinois Climate Action Network.
The fine print: InTouch conducted the poll of 1,798 residents on May 22. Its margin of error is +-2.31%.
The poll was commissioned by the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Environment Illinois, Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The groups are members of the Illinois Climate Action Network.
For weeks, I've waited in vain for another glimpse of him ... but no matter how long I linger by the window, I don't see anything. No flash of green. No glint of sunlight off of silver. Not even a dandelion torn from its stem.
I'm beginning to think the phantom weed wacker was a figment of my imagination, so much so that I'm loathe to admit this to others.
Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
The skeeters are here.
You can liberally apply DEET and hope for the best ... but don't put it on within minutes of applying sunscreen. Studies a few years ago showed that putting the two on together actually increase the amount of DEET absorbed by the body. The EPA, which regulates mosquito repellents, classifies combos of sunscreen and insect repellents as pesticides. Do you want to slather yourself with pesticides?
Sounds dangerous? If you skip the mosquito repellent, only hope will stand between you and a bite that leads to West Nile virus.
Prefer stronger armor? Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats all summer. The mosquitoes might still get you when you pass out in the 100-plus temperatures.
Once more, greener may be the safer, more comfortable bet.
Officials tend to only back safe bets. That's why hospitals pick surgery and science over acupuncture and holistic healing. So for a long time, DEET was the go-to-guy in mosquito repelling.
That changed in 2005, when the CDC added oil of lemon eucalyptus to its list of approved active ingredients for mosquito repellents.
According to the EPA, "Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is found naturally in eucalyptus leaves and twigs. ... As with most plant oils, no adverse effects to humans are expected."
And you don't have to get visit a head shop to get this natural-based repellent. Cutter's Lemon Eucalyptus repellent at Target. (It was cheaper than the Repel version, even though they're from the same company. Check the gardening and sports aisles if you it's not in the obvious places.
It sends the mosquitoes packing, but it smells great. It's not the fake chemical smell of perfumed repellents. It's just how lemon eucalyptus smells.
It works great, smells great and is safer than DEET-based repellents. Now you don't have to endanger your health to protect yourself from West Nile.
I finally signed up for online bill paying, bank account tracking, etc.
Yeah, I'm a little late to the Internet revolution.
I knew it would be more convenient and would use less paper, electricity and gas if I paid my bills online instead of mailing 'em in.
Problem is, I sort of like the ritual of manual bill paying. I start with a pile of bills and end up with a recycle pile, a shred pile, a file pile and a mail pile. Very satisfying. Organization from chaos. It's sort of like coloring when you're a kid.
But it's not terribly green. You've probably noticed all of the icons on your bills reminding you that they would like to save trees. They want you to pay online.
It actually helps them, saves them money, if you do. They may like the earth, but they love their bottom line so they'll keep nudging your toward green e-paying. And that's OK with me. If the Earth AND Nicor profit, that's fine. I'm sure they'll funnel some of it back into community projects.
So I finally signed up through my bank. Now I can track things online and pay, too. I haven't actually done the paying part yet, but I have high hopes that I'll never look back. No more cutting down trees for paper, using gas to drive bills and checks to and from me.
Next stop, 21st century technology.
Every time someone asks for an example of simple green things you can do at home, someone trots out the CFL bulb.
Yes, I approve, but I think some people have the idea that that's all we are doing.
But you should still switch out your bulbs.
They cost an eensy bit more, but you'll only need to replace them every seven years or so. Same amount of light, less energy, longer life.
I've been moving my CFL bulbs from apartment to apartment to house with me. Each time I install them in a new space, my electric bills plummet. Plus, I need less air-conditioning because the bulbs aren't kicking out the kind of heat you could cook an egg on.
A relative, who we love and won't name even though she doesn't use the Internet, refuses to use CFL bulbs because, "I saw one of those fluorescent bulbs explode in 1928. There was glass everywhere. They're not safe."
Some people think the environmental push hurts American business. Done right, I think it can save a stack of money and create new opportunities for businesses willing to go green.
But it can seem like a big undertaking, right? If you're a mom-and-pop shop, it's not like you can hire the sort of environmental consultants that guide Kraft and other huge corporations.
Now, you can have the same kind of help they do.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment, launched the Web-based Greening Advisor.
I love the NRDC, by the way. Their only agenda seems to be saving the planet, and that's the kind of bias I can get behind.
"With the Greening Advisor as a guide, businesses in Joliet can integrate simple, yet powerful, changes into their business practices to operate more sustainably and cost-efficiently," Frances Beinecke, NRDC's president, was quoted as saying in a press release.This isn't some piddly list of ways to help the planet. The Advisor has been used by Major League Baseball, the Grammys, the National Basketball Association and other organizations, is available at www.nrdc.org/greeningadvisor
How does it work?
For a business to "green" itself means it reviews its operations and supply chains to reduce environmental impacts. The NRDC Greening Advisor takes a localized approach to greening, enabling users in Joliet to find nearby vendors for everything from organic produce to environmentally-friendly building products. It also helps businesses navigate their way through every conceivable aspect of the greening process.The Advisor target areas including energy, waste management, air quality, water quality, paper, purchasing, transportation and construction.
NRDC's Greening Advisor recently won an "Environmental Merit Award" from the Environmental Protection Agency after it helped green the Boston Red Sox.
This isn't something you have to do because it's the right thing, it's something you have to do because it can save you money and draw in customers that want to support businesses that are doing the right thing.
If you've ever been to The Herald News, you've probably noticed the big green-and-yellow paper recycling bins in our parking lot. They're not just for our papers; I've seen community members dropping off their recycling, too.
The bins should confirm for you that I'm not the only Herald News staff trying to do the right thing. We got a great example of that Saturday, when business writer Cindy Cain and her son, Tyler, took part in the DuPage River Sweep near Knoch Knolls Park in the Will County portion of Naperville.
"We found a tire, candy wrappers, plastic grocery bags, metal pole, roll of carpet and pop cans and cups," Cindy said. "My proudest moment was lying on a half submerged tree trunk to get leverage to pull out the tire. It was full of water and mud, so it was heavy." (Guess all the lunch-time workouts actually paid off.)
According to The Conservation Foundation, "Organized by the DuPage River Coalition, a volunteer project of The Conservation Foundation, more than 6,000 volunteers have removed nearly 180 tons of garbage from DuPage County streams since 1991."
Cindy was positively glowing on Monday, because it was the sort of do-gooder activity where you can immediately see the good you're doing.
Cindy plans to make it an annual outing, with son in tow, I'm guessing, and hopes to do the Illinois River sweep also.
You may have noticed some, well, green leanings from Cindy.
She's not the sort of business writer who gets hung up on stock prices and efficiency reports. Instead, she's likely to find the "vegetarian hippie" angle.
A recent story about Tezak's funeral home included a section about green funerals (yes, I want that) and Thursday's resale shop story talked about the eco-friendly aspects of buying used.
Cindy is the person who taught me the phrase "triple bottom line." Wikipedia explains it better than I do, but not better than Cindy does.
Essentially, it means businesses can profit by being green. And that helps everybody involved.
It's Carbon Belch Day, the day idiots in denial set aside to be as inefficient as possible so they can send a message that carbon doesn't hurt Mama Earth.
Do your part today by being extra green. Then, smile to yourself as they hold press conferences complaining about climate alarmism.
There are a ton of people trying to live a life that's better for the earth. But you just don't realize who until you start getting e-mails. Former co-workers are dropping me notes to let me know they saw the blog and are also in the process of trying to clean up their eco-act.
Often, my first reaction is, "Really? I never thought he/she would be a greenie."
Which is stupid.
I'm the last person who should be trying to fix things. Everything about me, including my political leanings, makes me an unlikely candidate. But I'm doing it, so why not the mega-Republican business writer getting married in Texas (there's your shout out!) or the reporter-turned-student who has an absolute gift for sarcasm and deadpan expressions?
I love looking around the grocery store to see who else is bringing their own bags. There's no one age group, race, clothing style or anything else governing who the greenies are.
It's not just for 22-year-old Democrat students or 60-year-old hippies trying to legalize pot.
Are you an unlikely friend of the planet? Tell me why and maybe I'll print some anonymous info (with your permission of course) about the people behind the good. You can e-mail me or hit comment below.
Rumor has it, actor Billy Bob Thornton has a phobia of antiques.
If it's true, it's a real shame, because antiques are actually a great eco-option.
So that gorgeous frame might be made out of now-protected redwood, or the hairbrush handle might be made out of elephant tusks we would never use now, but .... still mostly a gift for mama earth.
No matter how greenly you make a new product, you're still using new things to create it. I don't care if you're using sustainable wood or fast-growing bamboo. You're still harvesting something to make the new item.
In an antique, the wood is already committed to item. It can't be saved. It's too late for it.
How can you redeem it? Use it in place of something new.
Let's say it is a picture frame. Use an antique one and you've lengthened its life, adding to the reason it was made, and saved the resources that would have been used to make a new picture frame for you. You've even saved the gas you'd have spent going to the store for a new frame.
But if you're like Billy Bob, you're not hot on antiques. You think of them as "used." And that's a four-letter word to you. Maybe you don't like the smell. You'd rather it smells "new."
Many new products are made with chemicals and volatile organic compounds. That's why they smell new. They're off-gassing, releasing the chemicals they were made with. That includes formaldyhyde and a lot of other things you wouldn't normally volunteer to breathe. Gross, huh?
Kind of makes that lovingly used dresser from the 1920s look a little shinier. Those antiques, as long as they weren't recently refinished, are done off-gassing. There is no bad here.
This isn't too say that all new furniture is bad. There's some expensive stuff out there that is done right, finished without VOCs, etc. There's also cheap options. IKEA has phased out a lot of chemicals they don't want off-gassing in your house. (Cheap and responsible? Every time we try to hate you, IKEA, you just come on stronger and cuddlier.)
Don't be fooled by Grassfire.org Alliance's chosen name. They're not the kind of grassroots organization we should support.
They've marked Thursday as Carbon Belch Day.
See, they don't believe that carbon emissions are a problem, that climate change is real or that anyone should cut back on energy usage.
To that end, they're asking people to emit extra carbon that day and to pre-register their carbon use so the group can brag about how much carbon was sent out.
Let's say, hypothetically, that I believed poison ivy doesn't hurt people. If I chose to roll around in poison ivy, fine. But if I started planting poison ivy in school yards, I'm a big jerk.
The Carbon Belch Day people are big jerks. If they're right, they're statement proves nothing; no one will measure how much their efforts didn't hurt anything. If they're wrong, they're screwing all of Earth's residents. Check out the cost-benefit analysis on that one.
The Carbon Belch Day site refers to "goofy "Green" mandates like "turn off your lights day."
I assume the idiots are referring to Earth Hour, but haven't learned how to use Google to find out what things are called. Even if you think that using extra energy isn't harmful, how can you not see the beauty in saving a few bucks and making everything light-pollution free for a few hours?
The jerks even solicit money, but admit "Grassfire.org is a non-profit C4 organization. Contributions or gifts to Grassfire.org Alliance are not tax deductible because they may be used to influence legislation."
Excellent. That's what we need: money to convince our legislators to care even less about the environment.
This beyond ticks me off.
On Thursday, I'll be making an extra effort to turn off lights, use environmentally-friendly products and prepare a locally produced meal.
If you can't beat 'em, make sure you don't join 'em.
Illinois recently passed the Green Cleaning Schools Act, which essentially requires schools in our state to use green cleaning products.
Ads keep showing concerned moms spraying god-knows-what chemicals all over their children's toys to protect them from the everyday germs that actually boost their immune systems. Our legislators, thank goodness, aren't swayed.
The bill says:
Children are vulnerable to and may be severely affected by exposure to chemicals, hazardous waste, and other environmental hazards. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that human exposure to indoor air pollutants can be 2 to 5 times and up to 100 times higher than outdoor levels. Children, teachers, janitors, and other staff members spend a significant amount of time inside school buildings and are continuously exposed to chemicals from cleaners, waxes, deodorizers, and other maintenance products.
It makes sense. One of the reasons for outlawing smoking in public places was that employees don't have an option to walk away.
Kids are required by law to be schooled, even if their school is bathed in chemicals every day.
The only catch? The law lacks teeth. Public smokers get hauled into court, but school administrators won't.
The law basically reads like this.
You must use green cleaners within 90 days of this law being passed.
But if you don't don't have cash, don't worry about it until you do.
And if you still have a ton of chemical cleaners, use those up first.
Oh, you do your ordering at the beginning of the new school year? Just do it then. That's fine.
It'll cost more, then don't do it if it's not "economically feasible." Just tell the Illinois Green Government Coordinating Council that you can't afford it.
Plus, it's up to the Illinois Green Government Coordinating Council to figure out what's actually green, and they're working with cleaning companies to decide. Seems like that puts the fox in the henhouse.
And at any point in the act, did you read anything about potential punishment for noncompliance? Me neither.
For more info on the act, visit Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn's page on it.
As I feared, some of our seedlings aren't looking too hot. They're surviving sun, storm and buckthorn, but I wouldn't say they're thriving exactly.
The good news is we have additional seedlings that can be subbed in if need be.
The seeds planted straight into the garden, without growing in the house first, are doing their thing. Makes you wonder what's wrong with the house.
I have to confess that our herbs haven't gone in yet. But it was a rainy and cold spring, so we've got time on the clock that we don't normally have.
Have you planted a garden? If not and you wish you had, it's not too late. Really. It's been so wacky weather-wise that you can give it a go. Stop by a nursery, get a couple tomato plants and stick those bad boys in the ground. You'll learn you love unwaxed, homegrown produce ... if the veggies survive.
I heard some mind-blowing statistic about how much beef is grilled annually on Father's Day. I don't remember what the number was, but you get the point: We love to grill.
We were OK with our grilling rituals. We use the old-standby, tried-and-true brands.
Or we did, until we were walking through Meijer in Plainfield and saw something new. Eco-Start Natural Lighter Fluid.
It's a clearish, green gel and it works differently than standard lighter fluid.
That's because it's not petroleum-based. Petroleum is the nonrenewable resource used to make gas. You can see two major red flags in that sentence that signal why it's bad that we use so, so many petroleum-based products.
Want to help cut our oil dependence? Ride your bike over to Meijer for some Eco-Start for your Father's Day cookout.
You're going to need to actually read the packaging because this really does work differently. It may take a little practice, as we found out.
My husband: This stuff doesn't work at all.
Me: Oh crap.
5 minutes later
My husband: I take it back. It works great. It's just different.
Think about it in a similar way to the learning curve for driving a hybrid car. The first couple trips, you're going to be a little confused, then ... zen.
My husband, my grill guru, has found he needs to almost make an Eco-Start sandwich, with briquettes on the top and bottom and the gel in the middle. He also said it took a few tries to figure out the right amount for our grill. It didn't affect the taste of our steaks one bit.
It was also cheaper than regular lighter fluid and boasts more starts per bottle. Win, win, win.
Meijer sells the company's Natural BBQ Series. I haven't tried any of the other products yet, but we'll let you know when we do. In the meantime, if you try them first, let us know what you think.
Think I should have my green card revoked for grilling?
I was picking up around the house Sunday when I hit a stack of papers.
All those bits of mail, scraps of paper, all of that stuff ends up in a pile in my house. It might be junk, it might be a check for $1 million, but it all goes into one pile that I loathe sorting when the time comes.
Sunday was that time. I created three new piles from the one: keep, recycle, shred.
The recycle pile was huge. Most was junk mail. I know I should get off junk mail lists, but once in a great while, I get something I actually like such as a catalog I didn't know about.
Time to stop dreaming that dream. Junk mail is junk mail.
And now someone is apparently willing to pay me to stop getting it.
Green Dimes, a for-profit company, is offering 5 million people $1 to sign up to stop their junk mail. Don't need a buck? (C'mon, that's a quarter gallon of gas.) Tell 'em to plant a tree for you instead.
The company promises they can knock out 90 percent of your junk mail, for free. (Well, for the $1 they pay you anyway.) They also offer paid services related to junk mail so I suspect the $1 offer comes with some for-profit pitches. Since they have $5 million to burn on this offer, I'm thinking they make a very pretty profit on their other services.
But if it's doing good in the long run, I'm OK with it. And if they're on-site counter is accurate and they've stopped 7,399,442 pounds of junk mail (at the time I checked it), great.
Still don't trust Green Dimes? That's OK. You can still cut the junk mail by going straight to the source. The Direct Marketing Association, aka the senders o' the junk mail, don't want to send you mail you don't want. It doesn't help their companies, just costs them money. Click on the link to their site and you can get off of junk mail lists, telemarketing lists and e-mail lists.
Legitimate, rule-following marketers will honor your request and, with luck, your recycling bin won't overfloweth.
I confess that I tried to turn on the air two weeks ago.
I try to wait until I have to, try to make due with my fans. I can't help but love old fans. When I can pick them up cheap at the flea market, I do. Now, every room has an old GE battleship-gray metal fan or a Bakelite-based little desk fan. (They aren't exactly Energy Star appliances, but they're not being shipped off to a landfill on my watch.)
The new house even has a strategically placed ceiling fan that does good things.
But we were planning to have people over, meaning we had other people's comfort to think about.
I flicked the thermostat to cool and auto. Air came through the vents. .... but the air conditioner did not turn on. The furnace was venting cold basement air up to us, but no air conditioning.
I could have taken it as a sign that we're supposed to do the energy-efficient thing a while longer and just suffer through.
Instead, I called for a repair. As I've said before, we're learning to go greener, but we're not going crazy. We live in a part of the world where people die from heat every year. Going without AC is not heroic.
The repair guys can't come till June 20. I'm wilting at the thought of it.
My parents have invited us to stay there on the hot days. We're trying to make the basement (cool because it's in the earth) more comfy to spend more time down there. But mostly we're sitting in front of cute vintage fans and keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn't get hot enough to truly make us miserable.
I'm sure some people have long had their air on, and others are wondering why I'm complaining because it's finally nice out. Where do you stand?
It's been a bit since we broke down and sprayed bug poison in the basement. I hesitate to call it "bug poison" because I'm fairly certain it's people poison, too.
But centipedes aren't OK.
After my husband's diligent attack, bodies started piling up. There are just random dead centipedes everywhere, a sight only slightly more comforting than live ones.
But for the first time in weeks, I was comfortable heading downstairs to do my wash. I got everything organized again instead of spying for bugs, throwing in clothes and running upstairs.
But don't think we've thrown in the towel on the pesticide-free life. We're going to get this right; it just takes time.
We bought this house, built in the 1950s, in October. We have to make some adjustments.
One big factor in the infestation: Moisture. Everything outside the home is conveniently angled to send all rain against our basement walls. The basement doesn't have a chance.
My husband has painted DryLoc on the walls but we don't have them all done and moisture seems to seep in nonetheless.
Therein lies the plan. We need to get concrete walks and the patio jacked up to send water away from the house, grade the soil around it to send water away, DryLoc the rest of the walls, etc., etc., etc.
Oh, and we found mold on the few drywalled walls in the basement.
So far, my husband bought a mega-dehumidifier (EnergyStar, thank you very much) and we've got that cranking away frequently to bring the humidity down to the 50 percent range. We turn it off and, boom, it's back up to 85 percent.
It's going to take time, which we can make, and money, which is a little harder, but what's more important than a healthy home?
(Too shy to comment? Feel free to e-mail me. If your comment would benefit all, I may ask you if I can post it.)
The United Nations marks World Environment Day each June 5.
Haven't heard of it? We're not much of a UN country when it comes down to it. This year's theme - Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy - makes me believe the U.S. has made a good choice.
I don't believe in punctuation in the middle of day names. It's not Flag! Day or Christmas.Eve.
Also, "towards" is not a word, no matter what you've heard. We move toward things, backward when we need to and we can even move forward. No S. Really.
Also irritating: The day is shortened to WED, but it's happening on a Thursday. Sigh.
So, from now on I'm calling it Kick the Habit Toward a Low-Carbon Economy.
The UN's site on the event offers "The World Environment Day Alphabet - 80 Ways to Celebrate." Yeah, 80.
We ran a story Wednesday about a Joliet grade school marking the last 26 days of school with alphabet-themed days. 26 letters, 26 days. The kids have it figured out. but the UN thinks "alphabet" and comes up with 80. I'm sure they'll get this carbon problem solved in no time. Maybe we should hand the emission issue over to the Joliet grade-schoolers.
I finally accepted that it's warm for good (well, the next few months) and decided to swap out my summer and winter comforters.
The heavy winter one has gotten, well, a little wear and tear over the years. I couldn't bear the thought of putting it in storage as is. But I also can't bear the thought of paying a nongreen dry cleaner to deal with it or schlepping it to the laundromat. (With the purchase of my washer and dryer last year, I vowed I was done with laundromats.)
Then a light bulb, an energy-efficient light bulb, lit over my head.
My mother managed to wash a huge down comforter in her high-efficiency Bosch washer. Perhaps my Whirlpool Duet Sport was up to taking on my comforter?
It's extra-large capacity, and as an HE washer, loads from the front without a pesky center stand.
I shoved half of it in. The washer looked full. I shoved some more in and then just went to town. It fit.
It washed, it spun, it sent my moist comforter out into the world as a new, fresh thing.
So I went green on the drying cycle. It went out on the clothes line, where it dried in just a few hours while I did other things ...
including the quilt I'd pulled out for the summer. It had been in a plastic tote for six months. Hmm. That guy went into the washer too and joined his winter friend on the line.
That night, we enjoyed line-dried sheets AND a line-dried quilt. The quality of sleep that night is a luxury high thread count sheets can only aspire too.
Planet Green, a new all-green network, starts tonight. At 5 p.m. Discovery Home channel will switch over to Planet Green. The new network features almost all-new programming and it's not documentaries about rare migratory birds.
Right now, the channel is still listed as HOM by DirecTV, my provider. And my DVR won't let me schedule recordings of Planet Green shows yet. Since I'll be working tonight, I'll have to wait until the late-night re-airings of tonight's shows. But our DVR will then kick into overdrive to catch all of the new shows.
Go to Planet Green for the schedule if you want all the details.
Can't find the right channel? Go to the channel finder.
Want to know what you have to look forward to? Read on.
The Naperville Sun, our sister paper, also took on the clothes-line issue in an article published today.
What's really interesting is the heated debate by readers after a blog entry about the article. Check it out here.
Everyone always acts like we're supposed to be dreaming of having the opportunity to live in Naperville. Some of the readers' comment -- one in particular, and you'll know which one I mean -- further proves I'd be OK with living in Naperville as long as it weren't filled with elitist people who are thrilled to live in Naperville.
Run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Star program makes it easy for consumers to pick energy-efficient products that save money (in the long run) and help the environment.
How does the Web site help? You can easily (there it is again - easy) find a product you' need. Window-unit air conditioner not doing the job? Click on "heating and cooling," "Air conditioners, Room" and product search. You can find the right air conditioner for your needs, and you'll know it's also right for the needs of people who want there to still be an ozone layer in 50 years.
Some key words to remember: "Easy" and "long run."
Easy: When you make it difficult for people to do the right thing, they're less likely to do it. This program actually puts the Energy Star logo on products that are energy sippers instead of guzzlers. It's easy to look for the logo and buy the product that will help everyone out.
Long run: You may pay more upfront for an Energy Star product. My high-efficiency washer cost more than a standard washer. But it's fantastic, it uses little water or energy and it's helping the planet. That's something worth investing in.
Stay with me on this one.
We got sucked in to "Unbeatable Banzuke" this weekend.
It's mind-blowingly difficult Japanese game show in which athletes take part in obstacle courses. Really, really hard obstacle courses.
For one, you have to walk through an obstacle course while balancing a huge metal pole on you palm. If your pole wavers off of vertical, it hits metal pieces that have electric current running through them. Or you can take part in the obstacle course that puts you on stilts on a conveyor belt that has trip lines on it.
You can see why we can't tear ourselves away.
How does that tie in to environmentalism? The show is the original Japanese footage with English voice overs. Nine times out of 10, when a show is a success in another country, they rush to produce it over here. See "Big Brother," "American Idol," "Coupling," "The Office," etc., etc., etc. Ditto for movies
But why? Why pay for more sets, more costumes, more lights, more interviews, more scripts, more electricity for filming and everything else when you have a finished version available?
Somewhere, I read that the greenest house is a house that's already built. You're not consuming new resources to make it. Maybe the greenest show is a show that's already been filmed.
"Unbeatable Banzuke," now showing on G4 network, was filmed in the 1990s. They probably used a lot of resources, emitted a lot of carbon. But now, that environmental impact is being reduced by having it, the finished product, take the place of a possible newly filmed show that would generate carbon and waste.
It's like giving clothes to charity, only Japan is giving game shows to the U.S.
Everyone wins. The shows the we get here from other places are great. New Zealand's "Wa$ted!" is every bit as good as the U.S. version it inspired. Britain's "Coupling" beats the pants off the lousy version the U.S. tried a few years back.
And "Unbeatable Banzuke" .... well, where in America would we find enough skilled unicyclists for the unicycle course? It just has to be the greener-cuz-it's-already-made Japanese version.
Declare your love for ladybugs, and other beneficial bugs, by declaring your lawn a pesticide-free zone. Stop using them and you'll help the insects, the birds that eat them, the plants they help and the folks who will eventually use the uncontaminated runoff water that will come from your lawn.
If that's not enough, you can also use a little propaganda to, maybe, influence your neighbors to do the same. Beyond Pesticides is selling eight-inch diameter metal signs you can stick in your lawn that declare your rejection of pesticides. (They're made by Marin County Beyond Pesticides.)
Plus, once your neighbors see that you're not doing pesticides, maybe they'll stop glaring at your dandelions, realizing herbicides aren't popular with you either.
They're available for just $10 apiece.
While you're at it, you can get a bumper sticker from the same group that costs $2 and asks, "Is your lawn toxic green?"
"Pack it in, pack it out" is a phrase referring to practices to keep litter and other human waste out of natural areas. I first heard about it in one of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon books. Pigeon is a national parks ranger and, in one of the parks she's in, they even wrap up, well, human waste to be taken out. Even the biodegradable stuff is a threat in some ecosystems.
Not a backpacker? Me neither, but the rules still apply.
I was thinking about it at work. We recycle paper, but not plastic or cans. If my packed lunch (or purchased for that matter) contains aluminum or plastic, it would normally go in the trash.
Not very environmentally friendly, huh.
But "pack in, pack out" makes sense. Now, I don't toss such things. They get packed back into my lunch (or a convenient bag if it's a purchased meal) and brought home where I have recycling bins.
Sounds simple, but how many times have you chucked something you'd normally recycle if you were at home. Bring it home and recycle it. It's worth the inconvenience.
Seems like every time some taxpayer-funded group is asking for more money or a politician is running for office, they trot out the famous one-liner: It's for the children.
Most of the time, it's not.
Paying a principal of a local grade school $90,000 does not, contrary to claims, make the children smarter. Dollars don't always have a trickle-down effect.
But we seem to fall for it. Entire committees are formed to just nod along when the money-seekers say, "It's for the children."
But when someone mentions the tadpoles, no one nods. No one forms a committee.
A few years ago, a scientist conducted a study using tadpoles and Roundup. Yeah, the Roundup you have in your garage to stop dandelions in their tracks.
Turns out Roundup also stops tadpoles in their tracks. And the frogs.
Didn't see that mentioned in Roundup's last ad? I'm not surprised. According to the scientist, Roundup's parent company said he used too much, that it's not meant for aquatic use, etc. (Not meant for aquatic use? Do they think when it rains on Roundup it just stays put?)
According to the Roundup Frequently Asked Questions page:
Since Roundup kills weeds so effectively, are they harmful to me, my kids, pets or the environment?
Roundup products have a long and trusted history of safe use and do not pose an unreasonable risk to humans or the environment when used according to label directions.
Don't present an "unreasonable" risk? So they do present a reasonable risk? What risk would that be exactly?
On a FAQ about the safety of lawn and garden products, the good makers of Roundup say: "For liquid products, it is generally safe for wildlife to return once the products have dried." OK, I'll just let the chipmunks, bunnies, squirrels and birds know they should stay off till it's dry. I'm sure they'll listen since it's for their safety.
So no kids are dropping dead from treading on wet Roundup, but what's it doing to our animals, plants, fish and rivers? If it's hurting tadpoles, it's not doing us any favors.
I'd bet you never even heard about that study, that you figured the Roundup must be perfectly safe or they wouldn't sell it.
Does anyone care about the tadpoles and what they represent?