Finding Economical, Earth-Friendly Family Vehicles

If you’ve read my Earth Day resolution post, you know that I’m trying to lose two hundred and fifty pounds.  The Toyota Four Runner that we’ve been graciously allowed to borrow for the last seven years needs to be sold and we want to replace it with a more earth-friendly vehicle. 

Our challenge is to find a safe, reliable, fuel-efficient vehicle for between six and eight thousand dollars.  We’d like to have something that we can pile miles on for trips around town so that we keep our other car, a newer Toyota Camry, stowed away in the garage for most of the year.  Unfortunately we don’t all fit in the very NmG electric car pictured to the right. 

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Building Raised Beds For an Organic Garden

A few years ago when I was pregnant with Roscoe, I had a sudden Saturday urge to grow zucchini and hustled off to the hardware store to buy the wares for a small raised bed.  I sat in our driveway with the drill and awkwardly put together a rather pathetic little garden box that has nonetheless yielded some beautiful basil and tomatoes over the last few summers.  In this photo Roscoe is trying to prevent the weed-filled bed from being captured on film. 

This year with the help of my neighbors, I plan on putting together a more respectable raised bed.  Although I could just plop the plants in the dirt, raised beds provide excellent drainage for plants and also allow you to heap in all your own rich new soil. 

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Is Staying At Home Greener than Working?

If both parents have demanding careers and multiple children, how do they manage things like washing cloth diapers, composting, making healthy dinners and spending time with baby? There are also some single parents out there who are handling full-time schedules and parenting while keeping the planet in mind. How do they do it?  I am utterly in awe of people who can juggle so much without feeling overwhelmed. 

My husband and I both work thirty-some hours per week and yet we find the balance of a two career family rather precarious at times. Over the last few weeks illness and injury has made the daily challenge of laundry and homemade dinners seem ever greater.   I often long for take-out, or look lustfully at the frozen entrees in the grocery store,  knowing that those convenience items are designed for the hectic, dual income family.  Even though I’m often overwhelmed,  I don’t want to give into the urge to buy disposable, convenience items, saving time while potentially harming the planet.  At this point it seems we should be able to handle some extra time for green choices since we have just one child, we both work equally hard on domestic tasks, and neither of us are working full time.

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Using Pocket Diapers at Night

Like some cloth diaper users, I assumed that disposables were the best option for nights, but felt conflicted about chucking them into the trash just to buy us a bit of rest.  I posted about the battle between my exhaustion and my eco-guilt here.

A few weeks ago Roscoe solved the problem himself by wetting through his disposables two nights in a row.  Erin, Wendy, and Alissa all submitted comments to my “Nighttime Diaper Dilemma” post that recommended using a pocket diaper with extra inserts.  In sleepy desperation we gave it a try.  The result was blissful slumber and a clear conscience!

Although I was originally a staunch supporter of prefolds with covers, I have come to love our pocket diapers for their convenience and aesthetic appeal. A pocket diaper consists of a diaper cover lined in a moisture wicking layer.  There is a pocket between the outer cover and the liner where you insert a long terry cloth pad to soak up moisture.  Since you insert the pads while you’re folding the laundry, it makes for a more convenient diaper change than prefolds. 

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Using a Cloth Diaper Wet Bag: Convenience on the Go

The “Dirty Duds Bag” by Bumkins was an impulse purchase for me.  I was tired of packing plastic sacks into Roscoe’s daycare bag and relieved to see that someone else had thought of an easy solution.  After I bought it I almost headed back to the store.  $12.95 for a bag that I could easily sew myself?  (If I had a sewing machine and any extra time.) Plastic is free!  Still, it seemed unsanitary to recycle plastic bags after they had been filled with Roscoe’s poopy diapers and I didn’t want to take the time to wash them out and wait for them to dry. 
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Sacrificing My Body For The Planet

Toe clips are the new bane of my existence.   A few weeks ago while endeavoring to save the earth by riding our bicycles, my husband made an unexpected (to me) stop just in front of me in our driveway.  Instead of pulling forward and running over my son in the bike trailer I too tried to stop suddenly.  As my bike slowly tipped toward the cement, I struggled in vain to pull my foot out from its toe clip and ended up sticking out my arm instead.  Crack! 

I knew it was broken right away but didn’t realize it was also quite dislocated. As Roscoe chanted “Uh-oh Mama,” I wondered whether I would actually be able to pull myself off the pavement.  I lay there ungracefully sprawled out for few moments, using Lamaze breathing to try not to descend into shock.  Some very kind passersby stopped to help, the neighbors volunteered to take Roscoe, and we were off to the hospital in search of healing and relief in the form of morphine.

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Don’t Throw Out the Baby OR the Bath Water: Recycling Gray Water

Every time I pull the plug on Roscoe’s bath, it pains me to watch several gallons of relatively clean water vanish down the drain.  Perhaps this angst is inherited from my resourceful mother, who always transferred our bathwater to the washing machine for a load of laundry after we were tucked into bed.  She currently keeps a bucket in her shower at all times to capture water for use in her garden but she wishes that there was a better solution for all that gray water waste. 

Thanks to Brac Systems, an innovative Canadian company, there is!  They have designed a grey water recovery system that filters bathwater and redirects it for use in toilets.  The entire system costs just a few thousand dollars (plus installation) but Brac claims that the system could save people up to 40% of their water bill costs.  It’s possible to redirect the water for landscaping use as well and to use the system to harvest rainwater. 

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Community Supported Agriculture: A Reasonably-Priced Green Solution for Organic Produce

You may recall from my Earth Day Resolution blog that I’m a struggling grocery shopper. Deciding what’s for dinner is hard enough, but figuring out how to get healthful eco-friendly food for reasonable prices has felt nearly impossible.  I want my child to munch on organic fruits and veggies, but when I see the prices my inner tightwad has a nervous breakdown. 

I’ve only been a Community Supported Agriculture member for one week, but already I feel vastly better about our family’s grocery habits.  Wondering what a CSA is? It’s a farm that provides seasonal organic produce directly to community members for a regular monthly price.  In our case we pay $135 each month for weekly bags chock full of organic goodies.  Click here for more info on CSA’s in general and here to find out if there’s one in your area.

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Works For Me Wednesday: Finding the Safest Glass and Plastic Bottles for a BPA-Free Baby

When my belly was bulging with baby, I imagined my newborn gulping breast milk from the clearest, most rigid plastic bottles that I chose, thinking that the ones that appeared closest to glass would certainly be the safest.  Months later as I read through the latest research, I was surprised to find out that my instincts were wrong. 

In fact, the rigid plastics used to make some baby bottles and almost all Nalgene bottles have the highest risks of leaching toxins.  (Nalgene will be pulling their BPA-laden bottles soon.)  On Friday, Canada’s health and environmental ministries announced that it will ban the use of bisphenol-a (BPA) in plastic products because of health concerns.  Read here for further details on Canada’s landmark decision. 

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The Freedom of Frugality

Growing up, frugality was more of a lifestyle than a choice. Even though my parents didn’t necessarily practice penny pinching with the environment in mind, many of their cost-saving practices were eco-friendly as well.  My sister and I thought that showering consisted of getting wet, turning off the water to “soap up” and then following with a quick rinse.  We flattened aluminum cans for the recycling bin and took the compost out without any realization that we were helping the environment.  However, through the practice of penny pinching we did learn that our resources are precious.

baby-beach-walk.jpgAlthough it may sound like I lived a horribly deprived childhood, the truth is that many of our thrifty practices were quite adventurous. Instead of going to Maui, my family spent our vacations camping in Oregon rainforests or visiting relatives, where we often set up sleeping bags on the living room floor.  On car trips we had picnics at rest areas rather than swinging through fast food restaurants.  No one in my family ever belonged to a gym, but we enjoyed nightly moonlit family beach walks near my home to stay healthy and enjoy the outdoors. 

Roscoe Goes Beachwalking 

Now that I’m in my mid thirties, I’ve learned to appreciate my quirky saving skills and all the benefits they’ve brought to me over the years. Having the ability to prioritize my values and then differentiate between wants and needs has been an extremely helpful skill.  I was able to pay off huge graduate school loans in four years on a starting teacher’s salary because of extreme (and sometimes neurotic) tightwaddery. Most of the time, all that penny pinching had huge advantages for the environment as well.  I biked for transportation whenever possible and bought most of my clothing at thrift shops.  To cut grocery costs, I ate very little meat and rarely purchased convenience foods.

As a parent, I find that all that self-restraint ends up providing personal freedom in more ways than one. Financially, it has allowed us the freedom to take more time with our son and relax about the costs of having a child.  We want to model thriftiness and living simply right from the start with Roscoe.

With that in mind, we outfitted most of Roscoe’s nursery with used furniture, dress him in quality hand-me-downs and use cloth diapers.  Roscoe doesn’t eye his crib with disdain and will never care that another soul has worn his clothes before him, but the cost savings are phenomenal.

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Even though as a teenager I swore I would live a more luxurious life someday, I now have a great appreciation for my frugal roots.  When Roscoe grows up a bit and resents the simple life, I’ll remind myself that in the long run, we’re giving him the gift of self-reliance, self-restraint, and an environment that’s just a little bit cleaner.

Roscoe Enjoys Cost-Free Fun on The Playground Slide