Tag Archives: environment

Outsiders

13442218_10103670593932299_3612704563831867025_nOne of the ways I waste time online is by reading articles on child-rearing and homemaking.  To be sure, in reasonable quantities, this can be helpful; in fact, I have learned a great deal in my “continuing education” endeavors. (It is only when one spends large quantities of time on this–like yours truly does–that it becomes an issue.)

In one such online session, I came across an interesting fact sheet regarding the value of time spent outdoors.  One fact that stood out is that the average American child spends 30 minutes or less outside.

I took this as a call to action.  I like to think we do a pretty job of getting the kids outside and off screens, but reading this really hit home how absolutely essential play–especially unstructured, outdoor play–is.

Not only can playing outside bestow all the benefits mentioned on that fact sheet, but as a mother, I also notice a huge difference in my kids when they spend time outside versus when they don’t.  For starters, I notice they sleep much better–Mother Nature is a great sleep aid!

Their behavior is also vastly improved when they spend a few hours outside, perhaps in part because of the amount of sensory input they receive while outdoors.  They are less likely to get into mischief when they have had a daily dose of the outdoors.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, their appreciation and concern for nature is unparalleled, and I believe this is as a result of the large amount of time they spend playing outside.  I see more environmental awareness come from two small children than from many adults I know–myself included!

Maybe one of the best stewardship practices out there is to take a page from children, and relish spending time outdoors!

Joint Book Review: How to Be Alive by Colin Beavan

how to be aliveIn How to Be Alive, Colin Beavan helps his readers to live their lives in accordance with their professed beliefs, with a goal of having a better life and a better world.

Amanda’s Take

I first became interested in this book because of my familiarity with Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man project.  Because I really enjoyed both the No Impact book and movie, I was excited to delve into a more recent project of his.

Much of what Beavan notes within the text is common sense, but certainly bears repeating, such as how small steps can and do make a difference in improving one’s quality of life.  I appreciated that the book went beyond the typical self-help realm, and actually tackled some bigger picture/beneficial-to-humanity topics, including social justice and service.

Although a bit on the lengthy side, How to Be Alive is a great book for those readers wanting more than the usual self-help fare.

Ronnica’s Take

I found a lot to like in this book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t read it right on the heels of Living Forward, a book on the same subject that I found much more straightforward and inspiring (review to come).

Back to the book at hand. How to Be Alive almost felt like two books: one talking about living your values and another about how to live his values.

I really like the idea of practically working through what it would mean to live in accordance with your beliefs. This is something that I’m always circling back to. To that end, I think that this book is helpful. I also didn’t mind the values that Beavan was encouraging, and he has good suggestions. I just found the two combined to be a bit muddy. (But to be fair, I read the first third of this book while staying up all night traveling).

I did find this book inspiring in my journey to live true to the purpose I have been given.

“The question is not whether you can make a difference to the world and build a wonderful life for yourself while doing so. The question is, do you want to be the type of person who tries?” – p. 78

Environmental Pet Peeves

Tomorrow is Earth Day. Just like we say about Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, we should love the earth every day. Please don’t allow this day to be the only day you think about your personal environmental impact.

In honor of the holiday, I’m going to use today’s blog post to share my earth-related pet peeves. I’m the first to admit that I can be a hypocrite and don’t always practice what I believe, so if you do any of these things, don’t think I think that you hate the earth. Still, I would ask you to reconsider.

My environmental pet peeves:

water bottles1. Bottled water. I try to never use a plastic disposable individual bottle of water. I bring my own water bottles wherever I go, and much prefer to drink from them. This also helps my wallet: a bottle water costs significantly more for something that is likely to be someone else’s tap water, anyway.

2. Throwing away recyclables. If you want to bug me further, throw that disposable bottle in the trash. I’m thankful that recycling options are so common these days. Even if you have to go out of your way to do so, please toss recyclables in the right container.

3. Leaving the light on. Here’s looking at you, Motel 6. I get that not everyone wants to live in the dark as much as I do, but even if you desire a room to be institutionally-bright, you don’t need it to be so lit when no one is in it. Turn off the light.

4. Leaving a car running while parked. Except when it’s extremely hot or cold, I don’t get this.

5. Excessive packaging. This isn’t an individual issue, but a manufacturer issue. We’ve come to believe that everything must come in a package. I hope to buy more and more that comes in green packaging (most preferably, no packaging).

What about you, what are your environmental pet peeves?

Photo by Daniel Orth

Joint Book Review: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

51KRmbqxakL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Arguably one of the most important books on environmentalism, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a driving force in eliminating the use of the pesticide DDT, and was critical in spurring other environmental reforms.

Amanda’s Take

Having first read this book in a biology class in college over  decade ago, I was glad to have the opportunity to revisit this text.

Once again, I was struck by how relevant her words (written over fifty years ago) are to us still in 2016.  While DDT is no longer in use, a great many other abuses are done to the environment (both chemical and otherwise).  The need to solve problems in a sustainable fashion rings just as true now as it did in the mid-twentieth century.

What I appreciate most about this text is the fact that Carson backed up her poetic assertions with proof; she doesn’t just “allege.” I also appreciate that, because of this work, enough people began to question what they had been told, and so change became inevitable.  Why can’t change be spurred the same way, in 2016?

Silent Spring is a must-read for anyone with an investment in the environment…which, I would argue, is all of us.

Ronnica’s Take

I was so glad when Amanda suggested we read Silent Spring. I love to read books that have made an impact on history, and of course this one fits the bill. I’m really not sure why I had never read it before.

For this being a foundational book in the environmentalism movement, I expected that it would be more broad. However, it makes sense that a book about a specific problem with hard numbers and targeted examples. After all, it’s much easier to get people to demand action when you make it very clear to them what it will cost them if they do not.

I’m thankful for Carson and the work she did raising awareness about DDT. Her work isn’t done: we all have a part to play in leaving this world as better place than when we arrived.

Updates on the Striving Stewardess

A few months have gone by since our last updates, so here’s updates on things we’ve talked about previously:

Ronnica’s Updates

How I Paid Off $10,678.28 in 8 Months

It’s been over 4 months since I got out of debt. The cool thing about not having a mortgage is that I’m completely debt free.

Since then, I’ve been focusing hard on building emergency savings and adding to my retirement account. To balance my two goals, I’ve decided to put 20% of my savings towards retirement (my 401k contributions are handled separately).

How it Works: Living without Air Conditioning

This is the first summer that I’ve gone completely without air conditioning. I’ve become unapologetic about it: if someone is at my house I’ll give them full control over the fans, but do not turn on the air. While it doesn’t get as hot here in Colorado as in anywhere I have lived, it has regularly gotten into the lower to mid-90s.

Yes, I’ve sweat a lot, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing (regular showers are a must).

Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).
Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).

Ronnica’s Garden Plan

Sadly, this has been my least productive garden, apart from the year I stopped watering due to anemia-caused exhaustion.

The primary cause was the cold and rainy weather we had for most of May. I also tried a few new-to-me varieties that I’m not sure did as well as I would have liked.

The great thing about gardening, though, is that every year is a learning opportunity. I’m going to take what I’ve learned to make better choices next year.

And there’s always my winter garden (details to come).

Amanda’s Updates

Giving Our Time

Just a couple of months after writing this post, an opportunity to give my time presented itself:  serving on the pastoral call committee of our church.

Although we have only met a few times so far, and there is a good chunk of time I have to commit (a few hours a month for meetings and ultimately interviewing potential candidates to serve as our pastor), it is a volunteer position that is well-aligned to my gifts, one that is fairly flexible with our family schedule, and most importantly, is vital to the future of our congregation.  It’s a great opportunity!

Grocery Shopping

It has been six months since I first posted about my grocery shopping method (one word:  methodical).

Since that time, a lot has changed–for starters, the national egg shortage has resulted in eggs no longer being the least expensive item in my cart.  I have also lightened up quite a bit in my grocery shopping prep, because where I get most of our food now (Aldi) doesn’t accept coupons, so that actually saves me time…but also because I’ve become a bit lazy.

Our grocery bill has also crept upwards, due in part to a sales tax increase and cost of food steadily increasing, but also due to the aforementioned lackadaisical attitude.  Since grocery shopping is one of the easiest ways to help or hinder a family budget, I have been working on reducing our grocery bill.  Stay tuned later this month for how that went.

Fall Purge

A quick look at the calendar tells me that, yes, fall is indeed upon us!  Since Riley has started working from home several days a week, this has forced us to adopt a whole new way of looking at cleaning and organization; with no home office, we have had to turn “the dungeon” into a multipurpose area.

That has meant–you guessed it–a whole lot of purging.

It’s a work in progress.  But it definitely doesn’t look like this anymore…

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…and for that I am very grateful.

Trying Terracycle

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are good you have encountered baby food pouches at some point.  This handy pouches  are also great for the busy adult who wants a quick bite to eat on-the-go.

But they aren’t so great for the environment.

There are ways around the environmental impact, of course; there are devices that let you whip up some homemade food and put it in reusable pouches, and while more economical (certain pouch brands can get a bit pricey), for various reasons, this may not be the most practical or feasible for your situation.

It seems like Terracycle was made for just a time as this.

I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!
I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!

While I have not had an opportunity to take part in the Terracycle program fully yet–I am still “collecting waste” (pouches my son consumes)–this seems like a win-win for all involved.  After signing up for a “Brigade” (or several, if you wish–because they don’t just collect pouches!), you collect the items you intend to send in to Terracycle; ultimately, these items will be upcyled into any number of awesome products.

When ready to send in, you print off a shipping label (most Brigades have free shipping, but there is a cost for some), drop it off, and within a few days, points are awarded to your Terracycle account, which can in turn be donated to various charities and nonprofits.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  Anything to reduce the load on our planet, especially when it is relatively simple, seems like a good stewardship move to me!

Have you done Terracycle before?  Any hints, tips, or tricks you would recommend to this Terracycle newbie?

Joint Book Review: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden_ThoreauI (Ronnica) chose Walden for this month’s joint book review because it seems like every other book I’ve read on minimalism has referenced it. It seemed like it was necessary to get to the source.

Thoreau wrote Walden about his two years spent in a basic cabin in the woods outside of town, published in 1854.

Amanda’s Take

Read any minimalist work, and, as Ronnica noted above, chances are very good you will run across a reference to Thoreau’s Walden.

I first read this text in college, and I confess, it didn’t strike me as anything special–just a typical, dry, transcendentalist work.  Maybe it requires a bit more life experience to fully appreciate, because this go-around, I found myself relating to what he talks about (self-sufficiency, minimalism, living in sync with nature, etc.)–and thus enjoying the book–much more.

As with any work of literature, the take-away message of this text will vary from person to person. For my part, I found myself inspired–Walden served as something of a pep talk for truly “walking the walk.”  I find that to be the take-away for much of the minimalist-leaning literature I read, but this is truly the definitive work  on the subject.  Thoreau actually lived his values–actually going off the grid to do so–which is something I am constantly striving to do.

Ronnica’s Take

I’m so glad that I finally read this classic. I was stunned at how much of the book could have been written today. Particularly this passage about his generation’s obsession with news:

“Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed.”

Doesn’t that sound like social media and our addiction to it?

What struck me the most about Walden was how familiar Thoreau was with the wildlife around him, though he wasn’t a botanist or zoologist.  I think this is one of the saddest part of our nature deficiency: we find the species that co-habit this world with us to be completely foreign. Though I think I’m better than average in this category (thank you high school science competitions), I want to focus on this more and learn the names of some of the plants and animals I encounter on my hikes.

Having read Walden, I don’t think that I need to forsake everything and head into the woods (though it is sort of tempting). But I do hope to join Thoreau in saying, “my great skill has been to want but little.”

Home Maintenance

It has been right about five years since Riley and I became homeowners, and if health is one of the life aspects where “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies, then I would argue so is home ownership.  It is cheaper and less time-consuming to practice prevention than it is to solve the problems as they crop up.

The gift of homeownership comes with certain duties and responsibilities (as well as the never-ending list of home improvements):  home maintenance.  This is far from a comprehensive list (click here for a good start), but hopefully serves as a good reminder of the (many) things that need to be done to keep a home running in tip-top shape.

1.  Check air conditioning and heat at the change of seasons.  This can not only prevent environmental problems like freon leaks, but can also spot potentially life-threatening issues, such as cracks in a furnace (which can cause lethal carbon monoxide poisoning).

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I speak from experience on this:  it was through an annual tune-up that we learned of hazardous cracks in our ancient furnace (seriously…it was 35+ years old), and if we turned it on, carbon monoxide would leak into our home.  We promptly got a new unit!  Those few minutes and dollars spent on a tune-up are well-worth it, and if there happens to be a problem, you become aware of it before it is too late! And on the subject of carbon monoxide…

2.  Check the batteries on carbon monoxide and smoke detectors twice a year.  This is something that can be done whenever the clocks need to be changed.  It’s easy to let this slide until an obnoxious little beep wakes you up at night, but as with a furnace tune-up, this little home maintenance tip can save lives.

3.  Vacuum refrigerator coils.  This one seems minor, but since your fridge sucks up a lot of energy, it behooves you to get rid of the dust and gunk that collects in those coils.  Doing so not only helps conserve energy and helps the environment, but also helps your utility bills.  Add it to your spring cleaning list!

What home maintenance projects do you recommend?

How it Works: Kill-A-Watt

We talk a lot on here about going green and saving green–both important elements of stewardship (which is obviously the theme of this blog).

So today, I want to introduce you to a nifty tool to help in this ongoing endeavor of going green and saving green.  I happened across the Kill-A-Watt awhile ago at our local library, of all places.

A device that combines two of my passions (green living and being thrifty)?  Color me intrigued.  I checked it out the day I learned about it.

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The premise behind this device is to plug your electronic items into it for a period of time (a minimum of two minutes and a maximum of 24 hours per appliance).  After entering in your utility rate (as found on your electric bill), you use your electronic doodad like you usually would, except it is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt.  The longer the appliance is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt, the more accurate the reading.

By the time you are done, you have a better idea of not only how much energy your device or appliance utilizes, but also how much each item costs you to use.

My findings haven’t been too staggering or surprising; they have basically confirmed that which I already knew:  phantom energy is a real thing, bigger appliances use more energy than “little” ones, and good golly, we use a lot of electricity in this house!

Even though it may not reveal anything too especially earth-shattering, the Kill-A-Watt is a fun gadget to use, and adds actual dollars to your electronic devices.  Check it out!

Green or Green?

light switchI remember several years ago having a conversation with a friend about using less electricity.

“You’ll be doing your part to save the environment,” I said. Adding almost as an afterthought: “and save money, too.”

She responded, “To be honest, I’m more concerned about my own finances and don’t care much about the planet.” I relayed my shock at that statement so she posed her own scenario. “Why do you try to avoid fast food?”

Not recognizing the trap I glibly replied, “Well, it saves me money to eat at home. It’s better for my health. Oh, and it also produces less trash.”

“See, you value your own finances over the environment.” Obviously, I made her point.

From the start, we’ve tried on this blog to speak to both being green financially as well as environmentally. But these two “greens” can be at odds at times. After all, the cheapest financial options are often cheap because the real costs have been past on to others, now or in the future.

So how do you balance?

This is the question I ask myself a lot. I want to “vote” with my wallet for companies that do the right thing, but my money-loving side wants me to go for the option that is best for me.

Because I feel so conflicted, I’ve been finding myself gravitating toward a third way that meets both desires: I’m spending less and when I do spend, I’m spending more on raw ingredients. I am also desiring to do what I can to grow and make more of what I need.

I’m satisfied that my green desires have steered me towards a more minimalist, anti-consumer direction. That is a lifestyle that is more doable for me and more reasonable if it were reproduced by every soul on this planet.

I know that my views will continue to develop as I learn and grow.

Which “green” do you find more appealing?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema