Category Archives: Earth

Keep close to Nature’s heart…
and break clear away, once in awhile,
and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean. – John Muir

Drip Drip Drop

I have to tell you that I was flabbergasted when I opened our first 2014 water bill.  It was a lot more than we usually pay.  Then, I looked at the gallons used – 12,000!  A normal quarter for us is 7,000 or 8,000 gallons. I had to find out what was going on.  Why did we have this spike in water usage?  Our water company said that they would come out and reread the meter, which turned out to be very similar.  More on our hypothesis of what caused this later… photo

 

But here’s the thing that made my concern do a 180-degree turn and I started to feel pretty good about our family’s H2O usage:  The average family of 4 in our county uses 400 gallons of water a day.  That would be 33,600 gallons a quarter!!

 

Just to be sure (’cause I’m all about double- and triple-checking), check my math  —

400 gallons a day (7 days a week) = 2,800 gallons a week

2,800 gallons a week (4 weeks in a month) = 11,200 gallons a month

11,200 gallons a month (3 months in a quarter) = 33,600 gallons a quarter

That makes our 12,000 gallons for last quarter look tiny.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we don’t have plenty of room for improvement.  We’ll get back down to our usual 7,000 gallons – and soon!

So, what do we think caused our tsunami of water usage?  Well, we did host two separate visits from family over the holidays, which means we had extra bodies taking showers and flushing toilets (we don’t want to think about that, but it’s true!), and there were extra dishes to be washed.  I think we ran the dishwasher at least every other day (it was full each time) when we had guests.

We received a really nice compliment from the customer service representative at the water company.  She thought that we only had one person living at our address when she looked at how much water we usually use.  When I told her of our saving strategies, she praised us.

Do you want to get compliments from your water utility?  Or maybe, you’d like to conserve water because you know that lots of people on Earth don’t have access to clean water and there are too many droughts happening?  Or maybe, you’d like to save money on your utility bill?

Here are our strategies for doing all of the above:

1. We fill a 1/2 gallon plastic milk jug with stones and place it in the toilet tank.  This will displace the water in the tank and each time you flush (I know, this topic again!), you’ll save 1/2 gallon of water.  The toilet will flush just fine.  We’ve never had any problems.

2. If it’s yellow, let it mellow.  If it’s brown, flush it down.  We don’t always employ this one, but sometimes, we are able to coordinate bathroom usage.

3. During the Spring, Summer, and Fall, we use a water barrel.  It sits under one of our downspouts and collects the water from the roof.  This is definitely not drinking water.  But it is great for watering indoor and outdoor plants, rinsing out the compost container, and flushing the toilets.

4. OK, flushing the toilets with rain barrel water?  Yes!  We save gallon milk jugs, turn off the water supply to the toilets, fill the jugs with rain barrel water and pour that water into the toilet tank.  Once the tank is at its usual water level, flush away!  And we didn’t pay one cent for that water.  Some people would find it inconvenient to bring in the water from outside, but it’s not so bad.  We really get into the spirit in the Fall.  That’s when we’re trying to use up the water before the first freeze comes.  Because our barrel is plastic, we empty it and put it in storage for the winter.

5. I wash clothes in cold (saves electricity) and in the smallest water level that I can.  I don’t do extra rinses or extra long washes.

6. The dishwasher only gets run if it’s totally full.  And I always run it on the light wash, water saving mode.

7. We take quick showers and may even skip a day if we aren’t going anywhere.

8. We turn off the water when we brush our teeth. Then back on again for a quick rinse of the toothbrush.

9. For washing our hands, we wet our hands, turn the water off, apply soap and lather for a bit, then turn the water back on to rinse.

10. We put fruit, veggie, and egg shell scraps in a compost bin instead of running them down the disposal.

Click here for some more water-saving ideas from the EPA.  And here’s more info about water usage.

Hope I’ve given you some ideas to incorporate into your daily routine for saving water.

How do you save water?

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Luck of the Irish

The leprechauns brought us 6″ of snow today!

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It is beautiful, I must admit. But everyone I talk to, and even the plants, are ready for spring. How do I know the plants are ready?? Take a look:

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My crocuses were popping up just 2 days ago.

I’m so ready for spring that I had convinced myself that this has been the longest winter ever. But when I did some digging out of curiosity, I discovered that we had snow last year on the 25th of March! And in 1990, it snowed April 6th!! OK, I’m calling on my Irish ancestry to throw a little luck my way. No more snow (knocking on wood right now). I want spring to spring-a-ding-ding into action (thanks Tigger!).

To celebrate pi day and St. Paddy’s, I decided to try the Apple Pie with Kale and Lemon Pastry from the Veggie Desserts blog. It’s delish! And not too sweet (I used less sugar than the recipe calls for) and you wouldn’t know the kale is an ingredient by tasting it.

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Baking is one of my favorite things to do on a snowy day. I’m thinking about making biscuits. I know what you’re thinking. They aren’t exactly healthy. But they are a comfort food lovingly made by my grandmother. My Dad can whip up a mean batch of biscuits too! We’ve been known to take photos of our nicely risen “cat eyes.”

Here’s to a relaxing snow day (the last one of the season, fingers crossed) filled with piano playing, knitting, and baking. What’s your favorite snow day activity? Are you ready for spring?

Bye Bye Sugar, Hello Veggies

I really try to eat healthy and have cut out a lot of the sugar, meat, and snackie items my family used to eat.  We’re not perfect.  But we’re discovering healthy options all the time.  (A little secret:  After I cut out 95% of the sugar I was eating, I went through a bit of withdrawal, but then my cravings for sweet things disappeared!  And I lost weight without doing anything but cutting sugar.)

Ready to make Dolce Vita Minestrone

           Ready to make Dolce Vita Minestrone

I’d like to let you in on some of the blogs I’ve been following to help revamp my fridge and pantry.

The Food Babe

              The Food Babe

 

Recently, I found the Food Babe’s blog. She’s amazing! There are lots of great recipes and restaurant reviews on her site. She has even exposed many fast food restaurants for their nasty ingredients.

 

 

 

A Must-Have Cookbook

          A Must-Have Cookbook

Veggies, Yarn and Tails is another blog for great food finds.  I gave the recipes in the Groovy Green Kitchen: Weeknight Veggie Slow Cooker by Geraldine Helen Hartman a try.  They are all delicious!  The Dolce Vita Minestrone with Whole Wheat Ricotta Scones was a soothing meal on a snowy day.  The Mac & Cheese is super creamy.  And the In The Navy Bean Soup and Rosemary Hummus were devoured by my family.  Oh, and I made the lasagne too!  Yes!  Lasagne in the slow cooker.  All of these recipes were super easy, delicious, and healthy.  I’m set to try the Rice & Red Lentil Salad and the Sunflower & Oat Machine Bread next.

 

 

Kale and Apple Cake

                             Kale and Apple Cake

I’ve been a fan of Jamie Oliver for years and receive his newsletter.  Today, he helped me discover a blog that I’m very excited about – Veggie Desserts.  Kate Hackworthy’s blog is the Food Revolution Blog of the Month, and it’s full of yummy and healthy desserts.  I’ve just got to try the Kale and Apple Cake with Apple Icing, the Kale Coconut Cream Pie, or the Cucumber and Lemon Cake with Elderflower Icing for St. Patrick’s Day.  She incorporates carrots, beets, spinach, chard, sweet potatoes, and avocado, just to name a few.  Veggies can be used to replace sugar and fat.  Did you know that  avocados make great replacements for eggs?

And speaking of avocados and eggs… I attended a raw desserts class at Whole Foods and the instructor said the same thing!  At that class, I learned how to make wonderfully creamy chocolate desserts from walnuts, cacao, coconut oil, cashews, maple syrup, and a food processor.  I made some of these treats for Valentine’s Day.  They were so delish that my family didn’t know that they were eating healthy desserts.

I look at food in a different way – ever since someone reminded me that food and drink become part of your body.  They become part of YOU.  So… basically, you are indeed what you eat.  Here’s to healthy!

Plug It In, Plug It In

Image 7Yesterday was National Plug In Day and owners of electric vehicles all over the country are gathering this weekend to educate the rest of us about how great these rides are.

Did you know that, right now, there are ten 100% electric cars on the market?  You can buy any of these right now!  And there are eight combo electric and gasoline cars available for purchase if you don’t feel comfortable making the switch to electricity all at once.

Charging Station In Use

Charging Station In Use

My favorite electric car is the Tesla Motors’ Model S.  Why do I love Tesla?  They’ve made electric cars cool.  Just take a peek at the Roadster!  The business model makes sense. The Roadster was my first love but way out of my price range.  But I wouldn’t dare look down on them for that.  These owners were first adopters and invested in the company.  They helped pave the way for the next model.  The price has come down considerably for the Model S, and with the next model (rumors say it’s the Model E), the price will come down even more.

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster

 

Electric cars are made here in America with American energy.  Electricity is a much better power source than gasoline in many ways.  Think of the miles the oil travels, the spills, and the processing that goes into converting it to gas.  Even though electricity isn’t perfect (ie. nuclear and coal), the environmental impact is nothing to take lightly.  Not only do electric cars cut out all of that oil processing and transportation, but driving an electric vehicle also gives off absolutely no CO2 emissions.  Electric utilities have extra energy at night when demand is very low, as the plants have to continue to run.  So, some utility companies are giving owners of electric cars cheaper rates for charging their cars at night.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Maintenance is very minimal with electric cars.  No oil changes, engine flushes, or routine 3,000- or 5,000-mile trips to the auto mechanic.  An electric engine has hardly any moving parts, so that eliminates the usual amount of maintenance needed.  So, if you’re looking at the overall cost of operating a car – not just the initial purchase price – an electric car is vastly superior.

Range is one of the concerns people raise when talking about electric cars.  That is quickly becoming alleviated.  Tesla has been partnering with Solar City to place solar charging stations at owners’ homes and at Supercharging stations around the U.S. and Europe.  They have a fantastic map showing the expansion of their Superchargers. Model S drivers who have selected this option can charge their cars at Supercharging stations very quickly – half a charge in 20 minutes!  And with the range of the Model S being 265 miles on a full charge, that’s the quickest out there!  And it’s free!

And if you like the idea of going electric but can’t quit gasoline cold turkey, the Chevy Volt is a good start.  I poo-pooed them for a long while because they marketed it as an electric car.  They made it sound entirely electric.  We were at the Washington, DC auto show a few years ago and discovered that it’s not all electric.  It has a gasoline engine.  When we started asking questions of the rep, she was stumped as to what to say.  We felt lied to.  Now, I’ve noticed that they are advertising it as an electric with a gasoline generator, which is more honest than saying it’s all electric.  We spoke with a Volt owner for a long time yesterday.  He loves his car and charges it in his front yard (he doesn’t have a garage) using a regular 110V outlet on the outside of his house.  It’s charged and ready to go in the morning.  He’s driven his 2011 Volt for 23,214 miles and only used 67.9 gallons of gasoline.  He talked about how smoothly it drives and the switch-over from electricity to gasoline is not noticeable.

That’s another thing that electric cars have – get up and go!  All of the owners said that these cars move.  No waiting.  When you mash the pedal, it immediately goes.  The Tesla Model S goes 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds!

We spent a few hours yesterday morning talking with owners of Tesla Roadsters and Model Ss, Chevy Volts, Nissan Leafs, and Fiskar Karmas.  They were all very enthusiastic about their vehicles and eager to answer any questions.  One owner even let us take the seat in her Tesla Model S!  Heaven!

Tesla Model S Interior

Tesla Model S Interior

Tesla Model S Frunk

Check out the Frunk – the trunk in the front.  No, there’s no engine in there, just space for groceries or whatever you’d like to tote around.

Tesla Model S optional 5-point harness child seats in rear

Tesla Model S optional 5-point harness child seats in rear

If you didn’t know about the events yesterday, you may find some in your area today.  There will be EVs on the National Mall at 3rd St NW.  Check out their website to see if there’s an event near you.

Sign inside a Chevy Volt

Sign inside a Chevy Volt

Earth Day: Top 5 Things You Can Do For The Earth

Every Earth Day, I revisit my list of what my family does to cut carbon emissions and use fewer natural resources.  What are we doing and what can we add to that list?  We’re not perfect, but we try to do what we can.

Here are our Top 5 Things To Show We Love The Earth (and you can do them too):

1. Recycleimages

Part of our community trash pickup includes recycling at the curb.  They accept #1 and #2 plastics, aluminum, glass, mixed paper, and cardboard. Every week, our bin is full!

In addition to that, we recycle our #5 plastics (storage containers, yogurt cups, etc.) at Whole Foods. They participate in the Gimme Five program where you just drop your containers into a bin in front of the store.  Preserve melts those plastics down to make toothbrushes, razors, tableware, cutting boards, and lots of other useful products.

Giant and Whole Foods also recycle plastic bags.  So, we save plastic packaging and turn that in.  We don’t have that many plastic shopping bags because we bring our reusable ones whenever we go into a store. Reusables aren’t just for the grocery store 😉   But there are plastic bags used in packaging that are definitely worthy of being recycled.

And Whole Foods composts too.  Inside the store, they have recycling and compost bins. I drop off my waxed cardboard containers (i.e. ice cream and milk cartons) and rubber bands there.

2. Compostphoto 4

Home composting isn’t as bad as it sounds. We collect the fruit and veggie trimmings, egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds, and tea bags to turn them into rich, black soil.  Well, we don’t perform the metamorphosis, nature does that for us.  We just help the process along.

Composting doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to buy a fancy collection bin or a composting barrel.  I found a small plastic trash container and keep it under the kitchen sink.  When it’s time to be emptied, out to the far corner of our backyard we go.  Mix in some leaves leftover from fall and sometimes shredded paper (a great way to get rid of receipts!), and Voila!  It’s all converted, with some time and lots of help from our worm friends, into soil.

I use our compost for planting veggies and making our blueberry and blackberry bushes happy.

Between recycling and composting, the amount of trash our household contributes to the landfill is one 13 gallon bag every other week, sometimes less!

3. Collect Rain Water

We’ve had our rain barrel for about 6 years. We bought it from the Blue Ridge Eco Shop (so disappointed to hear that they’re closing). It holds 60 gallons and usually fills up in one rain storm.

The barrel sits on a paver base and the down spout empties into the top of it. There is a screen, so no mosquito problem. We usually use the spigot on the side to fill a watering can or bucket and water our indoor and outdoor plants.

It’s about time to reinstall the rain barrel. It spends the winter under our deck. But freezing temperatures are now over, so we’ll get it into place soon.  In the fall, we use up the water by filling our toilet tanks with it.  We could do this all spring and summer too.  Maybe that’s something to add for this year.  The water is clean – not potable – but clean enough to flush toilets.

4. Conserve Waterphoto

Speaking of toilets… We decided to save water there too. We filled a 1/2 gallon plastic milk jug with water and placed it inside our toilet tank. So, instead of 1.6 gallons, we’re only using 1.1 gallons per flush.  And the toilet works just fine. Multiply that times 3 toilets in the house and the savings really add up fast!

We added a flush mechanism to one of our toilets where there are 2 buttons – one for less water, and one for more.  So, it caters to your flushing needs.  It works great.

5. Yard Maintenancephoto 1 photo 3

Our reel mower is quiet, doesn’t give off any fumes, never needs any gasoline or oil, and cuts our yard just fine. The only maintenance it requires is to keep it dry (no rust, please) and sharpen the blades every once in a while.

We used to have a lawn maintenance company but decided to quit using all of those chemicals and fertilizers. Our grass hasn’t really missed it.  Dandelions have made a comeback this year, so we just dug them up with our trusty spade. They don’t go into the compost – never put weeds or yard trimmings in your compost.  Weeds go into a different pile to decompose.

Our lone power tool for lawn work is the electric weed whacker – mainly used for edging by my husband.

I hope these have given you some ideas to use in your home.  We all can do small things that add up to make a huge difference.

What is your family doing?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Ice Feathers

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Ahhh, the wonders of nature.  My family and I love to hike and be in quiet spaces with lots of plants and animals.  We watch the birds that love our feeders and enjoy the adventures of a little chipmunk in our backyard.  Sometimes, we witness the unusual.  Like, when we were walking around Washington, DC, and saw an albino squirrel.  Or when we got in the car one morning and saw icy feathers on the windshield…

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