Archive for May, 2009


Some parents go all out by installing bamboo flooring, using eco-friendly paint, and buying only organic cotton bedding.  Others tend to think that the lightest carbon footprint involves keeping the room as simple as possible by buying less or investing in used gear.  What route did you take?  How did you maintain your green values and your budget?  

As we mentioned in this post, our publisher wanted us to think of a new name for our book, which was previously titled the Green Baby Guide: Down-to-Earth Ways to Save Money and the Planet. The reason? Green fatigue. In just a few years, “green” got played out. What does this mean for the “green movement” in general? Are people sick of the entire concept–not just the word? Will we stop recycling and start driving our Hummers again? Will we run around flipping ON the light switches?

I don’t think so.  Sure, there are always going to be people who won’t care about the planet. And then there will be those who jumped on the green bandwagon a little too enthusiastically and got burnt out. But global warming isn’t a trend–it’s here to stay, and it’s getting worse. So we might as well do something about it, whether we call it “green” or just “common sense.”

Are you suffering from green fatigue–or do you have any words of wisdom for those with severe cases of eco-burnout?

Finding Free Garden Supplies

Imagine creating a kitchen garden that yields heaps of produce all summer long—for free!  Thanks to our recent family budget cutbacks and some wise neighbors, we’ve suddenly found that free gardening is quite possible.  Here are the latest tips we’ve discovered:

  1. Find free wood, recycle what you have, or just dump dirt:  When our friends replaced their cedar fencing, they saved the old boards and used them to build raised beds.  Since the boards were just one inch thick, they cross braced them so that the wood wouldn’t bulge.  On Craigslist or through your friends you can usually find people who are looking to unload wood.  If you can’t find wood, just dump dirt on cardboard in your yard and make a bed without the border.  It will work fine and still grow some lovely veggies.
  2. Ask for composted dirt: The soil generated by a home compost system is lush and loaded with nutrients.  You may have neighbors or friends who will be happy to donate a bit of their stash for your garden.  If their compost bin hasn’t reached the proper heat, there may be seeds in the soil that “volunteer” over the summer, but that can be an added bonus to a free garden! 
  3. Search for free plants.  Since home gardening is all the rage this year, many families have extra garden starts that won’t fit into their beds.  Check Craigslist and ask neighbors to find if you can score a few free plants.
  4. Use cardboard instead of weed mats/landscaping fabric.  Instead of weird polyester fabric, cardboard is completely made of paper—and it’s free!  We just cut large boxes open laid them down between the plants.  They block weeds from growing up to the surface and finding light without any harmful pesticides or chemicals.  People also use layered newspaper but I have found that cardboard lasts longer and is a more formidable barrier.   Then we layered on our next free item…. 
  5. Use leaves as mulch. Here is our son Roscoe perched upon a mountain of free leaves the city provides to its residents for mulching. The spot is close to our house and we’ve gotten a few carloads already.  The leaves work great to enrich the soil and we’ve just heaped them on top of the cardboard.  They’re attractive, eco-friendly, and, again, free!
  6. Make friends with arborists. We asked another neighbor if the giant pile of mulch her driveway had been bought and delivered.  She quickly told me that she’s in the habit of searching out arborists and asking if they will unload their chipped wood at her house.  They’re happy to do it rather than hauling it across town to the dump site.  She also checks with city workers and if she sees that they have extra bark dust after they’re filling a park or public space, she asks if they’ll leave it at her house.  It saves them money, and always provides her with free mulch!  I haven’t mastered this skill yet, but I’m on the lookout for a chipper/shredder to visit our neighborhood sometime soon!

If you use even a few of these tips you’ll save hundreds of dollars and create a food generating system that you’ll enjoy all summer long.  Happy hunting!

For more eco-friendly, budget friendly tips, check below.  We love hearing from our contributors and seeing how our community comments on one another’s sites.  Feel free to join the carnival today just by reading the directions here.  Thanks for visiting us!

We can compost. We can make a freezer inventory. We can force everyone in the family to become members of the “clean plate club.” (This should go over well with a six-month-old.) I read somewhere that 25% of the food we buy ends up getting tossed. If the average three-person family (two adults and a toddler) spends just over $400 on the U.S.D.A.’s “thrifty plan,” that means they’re tossing one hundred dollars’ worth of food away each month!

So how else can we avoid wasting food? Here are some ideas:

Use portion control. If you make your own baby food, freeze it in small portions and dole it out slowly.

Be creative and try to avoid throwing out partially-eaten food. In the Tightwad Gazette Journal, Amy Dacyczyn makes a miniature apple crisp for her child out of an apple he took just a bite or two out of. Save the half-eaten fruits your baby leaves behind in the freezer and blend into smoothies when you have enough.

Make lists of perishable items so you don’t leave produce languishing in the fridge.

Eat strategically. If you have a fridge full of lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and beets, what do you need to eat tonight? Lettuce doesn’t last nearly as long as carrots—so have a salad!

Use the freezer. I used to waste food when I’d stick leftovers in the fridge with no plan of eating them within the next couple days. Stick food in the freezer instead—but don’t forget about it there! You can freeze more than you might think, including eggs, milk, and rice.

Be less squeamish. Most people around the world rely much less on refrigeration than we do in the U.S. and live to tell about it. If you reheat leftovers to the point that they’re steaming, you’ll most likely succeed in killing anything dangerous.  If you are truly paranoid about food poisoning, just be diligent about portion control and freezing to avoid throwing out “spoiled” food.

I’ve got to say that food waste is one of my pet issues; I can’t believe I haven’t written more on the subject here on the Green Baby Guide! I can’t believe I don’t have an entire blog devoted to the subject like this guy does! I can’t believe I didn’t come up with this Food Waste Reduction Challenge like Crunchy Chicken did! When I think of all the energy that goes into producing, packaging, and transporting  food—only to have it tossed it in the trash, where it emits dangerous greenhouse gasses as it rots in a landfill, I become consumed by guilt. But then I think of more ways to avoid waste, and I feel better. Phew.

How do you prevent food waste? Let us know!

Thinking of ways to prevent food waste works for me! For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas, head on over to We Are THAT Family.

Ahh the glory of potty training–no diaper pail, no wet wipes, and the freedom to leave the house without the dreaded diaper bag.  Besides its convenience, early potty training is also tremendously earth friendly since you no longer have to deal with diaper laundry.  All is sunny and happy until your child declares a desperate urge to pee while you’re parked at a dingy gas station. 

Do you pack your toilet seat with you wherever you go?  Do you line the toilet seat with several layers of toilet paper and try to balance your toddler on the edge? 

Here is our family’s shocking solution that may just horrify some of our readers: We bring a small plastic yogurt container with us wherever we go.  When our son needs to urinate, we just pull down his pants and let him go in the cup.  Then we dump out its contents in the toilet and rinse it in the sink before we leave the restroom. Urine is sterile so it’s not a horrible health hazard and it’s quick and easy to rinse. I used to worry that people might look at us weird for cleaning out our container at the sink but really no one seems to notice.  If we’re far from a sink, we just place the lid on the cup and clean it out when we get home.  (Sorry if this sounds totally gross.  We are meticulous about making sure we clean it out ASAP so it hasn’t ever been a problem.)

Apparently, this isn’t a new idea.  My husband’s family is Thai and had a cup that was specifically made for this purpose when he was little.  I did find a similar American product called “My Pee-Pee Bottle” but it appears that our yogurt container works just as well.

So far our “pee-pee cup” has toured the state and has even made it to San Francisco, where it served valiantly in airport bathrooms, public libraries, and restaurants for our four-day trip. My son just had one accident during the whole vacation.  He likes being able to pee standing up instead of being perched precariously on the edge of foreign toilet seats and we like the convenience of simply pulling down his pants rather than having to take them off so that he could balance on the seat. 

Our next child, due to be born in just a few months is a girl.  I’m already grieving the loss of the pee-pee cup convenience.  Any ideas on how to use public restrooms with girls would be greatly appreciated!  

Although it’s impossible for a newborn to assemble a mobile out of recycled egg cartons, I’m frequently amazed by what creative parents do with a bit of artistic ability and household recyclables.  Do you save any containers or boxes for creative play?  If so, what are the free crafts and art projects your children enjoy?  Please clue us in on your creative recycling endeavors!  

I’ve decided to take it upon myself to name Joy’s new baby, due June 15th! Wouldn’t it be a good idea if her new child had an “eco” name to go along with her mother’s passion for saving the planet? Jennifer over on Treehugging Family has a son named Cedar. She wrote a post on nature-inspired names here. Now it’s my turn! Here are some of my brilliant suggestions:

Real Nature Names:

Myrtle
Laurel
Iris, Violet, Rose, etc.
Olive

Hippie Nature Names:

Rainbow
Sunshine
Meadow
Moonbeam
Starlight

Bird Nature Names:

Wren
Raven
Skylark

Thanks to this site for the great ideas. I’m really liking Caraway, Galaxy, and Briny as well.

I hope this helps Joy out as she attempts to name her daughter. Hurry up and get your ideas in–just a few weeks to go!

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  • Skip this post if you live in Canada, Denmark, Australia, France, or any one of 163 countries worldwide with paid maternity leave.  We’ll try not to think about the fact that in those nations mothers and fathers get months and sometimes even years of paid time to raise their children.  Here in the U.S., it’s tricky to be able to maneuver our maternity leave, but there are always ways to creatively find more time to spend with your baby.

    Why try to take as much time as possible?  It’s not only critical to your sanity, but it often ends up being far more eco-friendly as well. My husband and I found that when we were both working we ended up using more jarred baby food, eating take-out more often, and generally spending more money on convenience items just to survive. Staying home means you’ll have the time to experiment with washing and drying cloth diapers.  Plus you’ll end up buying less and just enjoying this phase of baby’s life.

    Of course the type of leave you’ll be able to take depends on what type of benefits your job offers, but here are some ideas for making the most of the system:

    • Use vacation or sick leave: One of easiest and most convenient ways to extend leave is to use up your stash of accrued time off.  If you’re pregnant or planning on being pregnant soon, try to save up as much time as is humanly possible so that you can get an extra month or two in addition to your maternity leave. 
    • Have your spouse take family leave: Although it’s is usually unpaid, you can get as much as possible if you involve your partner’s leave time as well.  If your spouse is eligible for leave or has a bit of extra vacation saved up, you can arrange your months with baby back to back so that you get the first three home and while your spouse stays home the next three.  Then you don’t have to consider daycare for at least six months and you both get some individual bonding time with baby.
    • Spread out your time over baby’s first year: Depending on your job, you can get creative with part time work.  With my first son, I had saved up almost six months of sick leave time after working for over ten years.  I took six weeks off right when he was born and then went back half time after that for a few months.  When he was six months old, I worked three half time and two full time days for the rest of the year.  I blew through all of my sick leave, but never had to take any unpaid days.  Although it was tough going back at six weeks, it was worth it to get to have that much time with him over the course of the year.  

    If you’re looking for more advice, read last week’s post for tips on how to negotiate with your workplace, present a plan to your supervisor, and hold onto your family time.  Some of you ended up never going back to work. We’d love to hear what you’ve found to be the best part of staying home or negotiating a work solution that’s ideal for your family.

    Thanks for joining us week for Thrifty Green Thursday!  If you have an idea about how to save money and the planet, please read this page to see how to add your link below.  

    If you’ve been reading along, you know my tricks for spending just $175 a month on organic food and how I plan my meals.  I kept track of all my grocery expenses for six weeks and calculated that I spend an average of $175 a month on groceries.  What, exactly, do I get for that amount?

    Here’s what I bought in one month:

    $66.00  (Veggie delivery every other week at $33.00 each)

    $ 3.94 (Fred Meyer: flour)

    $ 9.97 (Fred Meyer: peppers, frozen spinach, tortillas)

    $24.30 (Trader Joe’s: beans, olive oil, dried fruit, frozen beans, jam, shells and cheese, peanuts)

    $17.59 (Fred Meyer: oil, spices, beans, popcorn, lime, lentils, cilantro)

    $ 4.08 (Whole Foods: oats)

    $13.40 (Fred Meyer: tea, yeast, eggs)

    $6.66 (Fred Meyer: canola oil, onions, pretzels)

    $10.10 (New Season’s: milk and eggs)

     

    $155.96 TOTAL

    (Note: Why did I buy oil three times in a month? Well, I ran out of canola oil and olive oil at the same time. When I went to buy canola oil, they were out, so I bought vegetable oil instead. The next time I went to the store, they had canola oil again, so I stocked up on it. Don’t worry–we don’t usually go through so much oil!)

    During this month, I spent less than my average of $175. I tracked for two more weeks to arrive at that average. As you can see, I tend to go shopping frequently and spend just a little at a time. This is because I don’t have a car and walk to the stores. (I wrote about saving money by not buying in bulk here. Joy countered with her bulk-buying tips here.)

    I know some people have strict food budgets. I don’t. It was interesting tracking my expenses for six weeks, but it wasn’t a habit I’d like to keep up. How do you budget for your grocery shopping? Any money-saving tips you care to pass along?

    This post is a part of We are THAT Family’s Works for Me Wednesday blog carnival.

    Car Free Travel with a Toddler

    After a long weekend trip to San Francisco, I truly understand just how liberating the car-free concept is with kids.  We flew—which honestly isn’t the greenest option,(see Rebecca’s post about it here) but then traveled by subway, bus, streetcar and trolley all through the city. 

    For my two-and-a-half-year-old, riding public transport was as much of a thrill as any of our destinations.  He could fall asleep on our shoulders, look out the window and even wander the aisles without having to worry about being strapped into a carseat.  It cost just $18 for each of us to have a three day Muni Passport, which covered almost every form of transportation available to us in the city.  That’s far less than a rental car, gas and parking!  The picture below of our son on a vespa in his Aunt Pauli’s garage was the closest he ever got to car travel.

     

    I realize that this trip wouldn’t have been as easy with a newborn in tow.  Since my son is potty trained and can sleep with us in bed, we just brought carry-on luggage and easily managed to take trains from the airport to get to my sister-in-law’s apartment (with her as our guide). We proudly let his potty seat dangle from our backpack as we strode through the airport–classy!  

    If we had tried this trip a year earlier cloth diaper changes throughout the city would have been challenging, but we had such a great time we’re already trying to strategize about how to go again after the upcoming birth of our second child. 

    In our own hometown being totally car-free would be a bit more difficult, but we have several dedicated commuters who successfully manage it with ease.  Rebecca’s family gets by with just one vehicle—in fact, she never even drives!  Read about her adventures here.  Also you might want to check out a great blog on the very same subject: Carfree with Kids.  

    The Eco-nomical Baby Guide
    Eco-nomical Baby Guide
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