Friday, July 30, 2010


After Wednesday's garbage horror-show, I decided to look through the kitchen and see what the most egregious wastes of packaging are, and begin thinking about how to eliminate some of that waste. The most obvious are things that are double packaged- cans in a box, boxes in a bag, things with cardboard sleeves...

Our biggest contributors to trash and recycling:

  • Beer
  • Baby food
  • Snacks (Rice Krispie Treats, Jello, granola bars, etc.)
  • Pop
  • Macaroni & Cheese (I get this from Costco. It is pasta and cheese powder packets packaged in the 15 individual boxes then wrapped in plastic.)
  • Anything frozen from Costco (egg rolls, burritos, etc.)
  • diapers (these create waste in themselves, but come wrapped in 4 plastic bags in a box)
  • cleaning products
I think the easiest way to tackle this without becoming completely overwhelmed is to find low-waste replacements to these things as they run out. What is going to end up happening is we'll make a lot of things from scratch at home. I feel a bit nervous about that, because I don't have a lot of time now, but hopefully we can make this work.

One thing I can try right away is toilet cleaner. We just ran out and we have four bathrooms, so we go through quite a bit of it.  

Mix 1/4 cup of baking soda
1 cup of vinegar. 
Soak, scrub, flush.

I can buy the baking soda in bulk without the packaging, and the vinegar in a large bottle. I am going out shopping today and I'll try it. Results to follow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Packaging Rats

Oh man...we make a lot of waste.

Last Wednesday was my first post, and as it turns out, Wednesday is garbage day here. All week long, I'dbeen extra conscientious about what we throw away, making sure everything that can be recycled ended up in the recycling. It is our six-year-old's job to take out the recycling and trash to the cans, so I hadn't seen it all piled together. Yesterday we rolled the garbage cans out to the street, and I was appalled at how much waste was out there. There was so much recyclable waste it overfilled the container and was on top of an extra can we have out there. In addition, the trash container was mostly full as well. We may have made a small dent in that with our cautious recycling, but the overall amount of waste...horrible.

The recycling container

The six-year-old has been piling extra recycling & trash into this can (and around it). It will have to be sorted...

and even more recycling...

...and the trash. This is usually full like the recycling. 

Posting all this is more than a little embarrassing, but I'm attempting to show a realistic picture of where we're starting from. 

So now the challenge is to reduce the overall amount of packaging we have. This is a huge undertaking, and I'm not sure where to start. I think maybe by making a list of the most packaging-intensive things we use, and then trying to find alternatives to that? 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Meat Sweet Meat

As I was doing my carbon footprint calculations one of the secondary footprint questions that recurred was about the family's consumption of red meat. It turns out that the word "secondary" is more than a little misleading. We can make a huge impact on our energy consumption/carbon footprint by eliminating red meat (and meat all together) from our diets. Vegetarianism vs. Meat-eating

Note: I. Love. Meat.

My family loves meat.

And, we have some personal biases against the idea of vegetarianism. I'm not even sure I can articulate them. There is just a large amount of personal and emotional resistance in both my husband and I toward the idea of being vegetarians. It's huge.

Culturally, my family is Southern. While I live in the Northwest, my mother and all of her family are from the South. I spent a significant portion of my childhood in the South. Southern culture is food culture, in my experience. Loving people means feeding them. Welcoming people means feeding them. Comforting people means feeding them. Eating is also a part of this culture. Eating = fellowship. When we go on vacation, one of the main considerations are the local foods. What new culinary delights await us? It's a cornerstone of an enjoyable experience to be fed and be fed well.

Because of this upbringing of food hospitality, I have some real hang ups about food and eating. Picky eaters drive me insane. To insult someone's food (or refuse to eat it) is a form of personal rejection, and it offends me beyond rational understanding. I go ballistic. To not have enough food for family or company is humiliating and infuriating. To have someone mess with my food... sacrilege. (Once a family member ate all of the chocolate off the top of a snack I made...that was four or five years ago and I still feel a smoldering irritation at the kid.)

Long story short, eliminating meat from our diet seems to violate some sort of cultural principle of love and hospitality for me. I understand this isn't logical, but we're not talking logic, we're talking emotion. It's deeply entrenched in me. So I'm not ready to become a vegetarian. I doubt I'll ever be. But something has to be done, so I'm willing to baby step it. I am going to cook one meatless dinner a week. If that goes well, I'm willing to increase it to two. I talked to the man about this, and he's cautiously supportive of  one meal a week. This food thing may be our toughest hurdle...

So last night I made Penne with Eggplant from a recipe I found online. I ended up modifying it a bit, because I couldn't get the garlic pressed fast enough. We had a date with the swimming pool and I was impatient. So here's the basic recipe from  with modifications below.


  • 3 (8 ounce) packages penne pasta
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into small pieces
  • 9 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup sun-dried tomato spread
  • 3 cups tomato sauce, or more if needed
  • 12 leaves chopped fresh basil


This recipe's Ingredients were scaled to yield a new amount. The directions below still refer to the original recipe yield of 2 servings.
  1. Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the penne, and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 11 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink, reserving 1 cup pasta water.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in eggplant and garlic, and drizzle with remaining olive oil to coat; cook and stir until the eggplant is tender and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the sun-dried tomato spread and tomato sauce; cook and stir until heated, through about 5 minutes more. Add penne and toss. Stir in pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Sprinkle with basil before serving.

Instead of olive oil & garlic, I used Italian dressing. I had two partial bottles in the fridge, so I used those up. I also couldn't find sun dried tomato paste, only sun dried tomatoes in a jar. I cut those up and added them instead. Rather than plain tomato sauce, I used canned garlic pasta sauce. I only used 16 ounces of penne, rather than 24.

It was really good. I've never used eggplant in anything before. Four of the kids loved it, and my husband was okay with it. We have leftovers in the fridge, which I plan on eating for lunch, possibly twice. Overall it was a good experiment, and we will have it again.

I'd like to find some recipes that seem more "normal". There's something off-putting about eggplant for my husband and our second son. Our son really balks at anything "weird". I'm hoping to work meatless meals into our diet in a way so that no one minds, or really notices. I'll keep posting recipes, and I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I thought I'd be blogging daily, but there's a good chance I'll go silent on the weekends. We're all together and I have less time to be online. It's a good trade-off.

This weekend there was a music festival in one of the bigger parks in town. I wanted to ride bikes with the bigger boys, but we'd be coming back after dark and we don't have headlamps. I had my husband drop us off on his way to take the middle kiddo to a birthday party, planning on having him pick us up when the concerts were over. I wanted to be energy efficient, but it seemed far, and there's a big hill between the park and our house that daunted me. So we drove.

The number of cars parked in and around the area was insane. Rather than have my husband try to navigate through the hundreds of cars swarming the streets we decided to walk out of the main area of congestion and then call him to pick us up. We started walking, gauging our level of tiredness, prepared to call when we were too tired to walk any further.

We made it all the way home. :)

After seven hours in the sun, we were still able to walk all the way home. I mapquested the distance and it turned out that is was less than a mile and a half. I wouldn't have planned to walk that distance, even if I had known the mileage. In my head, that would have seemed too far, especially with a twelve-year-old and a nine-year-old. But when we decided to try and see how far we could go, it was easy.

It's suddenly clear that we've been underestimating our abilities, and we've been lazy. There are a lot of stores and places to go close enough for us to walk to, and certainly close enough to bike to, should we have the little guys with us. We've become so dependent on our vehicle, we don't have confidence in our bodies. That's going to change.

My oldest son is growing like crazy and has outgrown his bike. I gave him mine (it's a men's mountain bike anyway, so he's happy) and now I'm out a bike. I'd like a big old cruiser with baskets to go to and from the store with. I checked out Boise Bike Project but there weren't any bikes that hit my fancy when we went. I'll keep checking back. I'm also watching craigslist for any deals. I don't want to spend a lot of money, and I know I can find something gently used (saving on manufacturing/shipping!). Hopefully I find something soon, so I can start going to the store without the minivan.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hatch battening

Funny how life is never ever ever absolute (unless sometimes it is, ha). I'm working today on all the minor easy fixes around the house to make things more efficient. Turns out there's often a flip-side.

1. Lower temp on water heater. 
One of the first things we noticed when we moved in to this house two months ago was how hot the water temp was. It was one of those things that we kept saying we'd adjust, but hadn't gotten to yet. Both green websites and parenting websites agree that your water heater should be set to 120-125 degrees F. 

Flip-side: We do not have a tankless water heater, which means if the temp is less than 130 degrees (122-120 degrees at the tap), we set ourselves up to grow bacteria in the tank which could make us sick with things like Legionnaire's Disease. The thermostat on our water heater was set above 140, so I cranked it down to 130 exactly. Every 10 degrees down you turn the thermostat gives you a 3-5% energy savings, so I'm happy at that number. Water Heater facts from

I measured the temperature at the tap before I turned the heat down, it came in at around 133 (it's lower in the pic because I couldn't find the camera...oh discordia! Ha.) Anything over 125 is a scalding hazard for little guys. 

2. Shut the doors & lights behind me.
I read that it was more energy efficient to keep bedroom doors closed when we aren't in the room, that doing this would save on a/c. So all day long I'm shutting doors, in addition to making sure all the extra lights are off.
My house was built in 1961. It's a ranch style, and it gets very little light from outside. With all the doors shut and the lights off as much as possible, this is a gloomy, murky place.

Flip-side: I return to the net to find the link about closing doors for this post, it turns out that that's only for window/portable units. In fact, central is designed  for a certain amount of air pressure and a particular sized house. By shutting all the doors, I've been causing a build up of pressure in the rooms, and I'm causing the a/c to pull air from outside/vents/gaps in the doors & windows, etc. Basically I'm making it even less efficient. New rule: READ CAREFULLY. Duh.

3. Turn thermostat on the central air up 2 degrees.
This one is easy so far. We were set at 74 degrees F, now we're at 76 and no one has complained.

Flip-side: None. So far, so good.

4. Dish Washing
I turned off the "heat dry" setting on the dishwasher and changed the wash setting from "Heavy" to "Normal". There was no noticeable change in the cleanliness of this last batch of dishes. All the resources say to make sure to completely fill the washer...there are seven of us, the trick is filling it less than twice a day.

I decided to measure how much water I use when I pre-rinse the dishes. I plugged the disposal side of the sink and then pre-rinsed as normal, letting all the water collect. Turns out I almost filled the sink. That's a lot of waste water! I may have to look into water reclamation... For now I'm going to try filling the sink half way with hot water and do all my pre-rinsing in that. We'll see.

Flip-side: The dishwasher doesn't clean well enough without the prewashing. We don't have an Energy Star dish washer, but I'm putting it on my list. The energy savings and rebate would have us paying off a new unit in about 4 years ( I think) but we just don't have the outlay right now. Best Buy has some great info and a savings worksheet here: Energy Star Dishwasher


Ever onward...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stinky footprints

I'm feeling a little frustrated and out of my depth today. I think the best way to start this journey is with a base measurement of our carbon footprint. From there I can see where the biggest problems are, and I can set a quantifiable goal to aim for, right?

The problem is, no two sites/calculators give me the same answer, and I'm not gifted mathematically to figure things out on my own, or to check their data. After looking at several, I've decided to stick with the calculator at The data their calculator requires is the most specific, and it asks about secondary considerations like food purchasing and eating habits.

Some things are hard to calculate, because we just moved to a new house, closer to everything we do. We've started getting bills & such, but a lot of the data is spotty because we've lived here such a short time.

My results:

Your Carbon Footprint:

0.02 metric tons of CO2
0.00 metric tons of CO2
0.24 metric tons of CO2
0.00 metric tons of CO2
0.00 metric tons of CO2
0.43 metric tons of CO2

Total = 0.69 metric tons of CO

This equates to 9.8 metric tons a year, or 21,605.3017 pounds a year.

The site says that 20.4 metric tons is average in the U.S. and the EPA states that 145,250 pounds is average for an American family of seven. I seriously doubt we're that far below the national average. We fly occasionally. And the driving average is a total guess since we just moved. It's summer and that skews things too. But still, these calculations are a starting place.

Since I don't have a previous year's worth of data, I'd like to quantify in another ways. We have a large city-issued trash container which we fill every week. I'd like to reduce the amount of weekly waste going out to the street by half. This should help me tell if we're reducing packaging and recycling more.

I'd like to get that metric ton number down below 7. Two metric tons per year is the target to combat climate change, according to the calculator I used, but I'm going to start by aiming at 7 and see what that looks like. If that's easy, then we'll aim for 5, etc.

This isn't the most scientific of beginnings, I realize. I hope to refine my understanding and my quantifying as I go. If I wait until I'm 100% comfortable with the numbers and the calculations, I'll never begin. I'm jumping in now while the fire is in me to make a change. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oh Chip!

Now that I'm thinking about petroleum consumption, I'm seeing horrifying things everywhere. This was at the foot of my driveway: 

What's that? This morning it was a collection of sprinkler water in the gutter. While you can't tell from these photos, the curbs on our street are really steep. My neighbor created a cement ramp over the gutter to ease the bump, but the pipe they installed to let the runoff through is too high, so the water pools in the gutter in front of my house. No big deal really, there haven't been any mosquito problems or such.

However, as you can see, the once clear-ish sprinkler run-off is now brown and oily. Why? The city is chip sealing our road and put down the final coat today. That brown nasty goop is mess from the process. This same goop is running off in less noticeable amounts into sewers, yards, possibly irrigation wells...

What's in it? Oh, just this: Chip Seal Safety Sheet

Did we ask for the seal? No. And they do every street in town every 9 years. How can this possibly be safe?

Crude Awakening.

This article from GOOD finally pushed me over the edge. I'd be dangling my toes over the abyss for a while now, twiddling my digits in the idea that my large family needs to be greener. Sure we recycle, I turn the lights off when I leave the room (and follow behind the kids nagging as I flip light switches), I've thought about buying reusable shopping bags (but I've been too cheap!) I post the occasional outraged post on facebook...but in all honesty, that has been the extent of my attempt to lower our environmental impact. 

I spent the first eleven years of my life in Florida before moving with my parents to Boise, Idaho. Seeing the devastation of this most recent oil spill in the Gulf has been horribly sad for me. My childhood playground is befouled, and I've yet to share the magic of the ocean with my kids. It may never be the hurts my heart. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is keeping a running tally of the animals oiled and/or killed by the spill. You can see the daily reports here.

Then I read the above article from GOOD & realize that ALL of that devastation, all of that filth and death and destruction only amounts to 5.5 hours worth of American consumption. What is wrong with us? We can kill thousands of animals, ruin the ecosystem, destroy jobs, kill people...with 5.5 hours worth of oil. Sure everything in the nation runs off that, but still, how is that healthy? How is that just?

It's one of those moments when once I know, I can't in good conscience keep on the way I've been. We have a big family: two parents, five kids, one dog. We have the ability to make quite an impact, and so far we haven't been consciously working to make the world better, cleaner, or safer. 7 people and a dog can make a BIG footprint. I'm going to try and change that. 

This blog is a record of accountability as I start my journey to try and reduce my family's ecological impact on the earth.