Friday, April 29, 2016

Conserve energy, care for others

 ***This is the last installment of my Friday Earth Month posts. You can find post  #1, #2, #3, and #4 here. 


In my work at Faith in Place, I educate people on how to use smart meters to save money and reduce our impact on the earth. The less energy we use, the less energy is generated from coal-fired power plants, helping improve air quality for our neighbors (usually low-income and minorities) with breathing issues and asthma and improving quality of life for everyone. This is a way that people of faith can show love for God and neighbor--by actually taking steps to ensure care for creation and one another.

So, what's a smart meter? The Smart Power Illinois website is full of helpful information whether you live in Illinois or not, but put simply a smart meter is a digital electric or gas meter that has two-way connectivity with your utility (like ComEd or Ameren). That means that if something is wrong, the utility will know sooner and be able to fix the problem faster. That also means you'll be able to see your usage from day to day or hour to hour rather than just month to month. You'll find helpful tools and graphs on your online account page to learn more about your usage so you can make more informed choices about your consumption. And you'll be able to participate in money and energy-saving programs such as peak time rebates or hourly pricing (check with your utility for specific names and information).

We are making great strides to update our power grid and eliminate our use of fossil fuels in the US and around the world, but until every household has access to wind or solar power, we'll need to focus on decreasing our coal emissions through reducing our use.

Even if you don't have a smart meter, you can still save energy. Below are 10 tips to save energy,
taken from the Faith in Place website:

1.   Use your thermostat: Turning the temperature up by just a few degrees during the summer and turning it down during the winter are great strategies for putting your thermostat to work for your wallet.
2.   Adapt to the temperature: Wearing a sweater at home during cold months and closing the shades against the sun during summer months will add to your comfort and savings.
3.   Close unused air vents: If you have central air, you can close vents in rooms you're not using so that you're not paying to cool them.
4.   Use the right bulb: Make sure you’re using the appropriate CFL/LED bulbs for your light fixtures – they come in various sizes and types for different lighting needs.
5. Set your computer to sleep or hibernation mode: Set your computer to sleep or hibernate so that it uses less electricity during periods of inactivity. Turn it off to save even more.
6. Unplug electronics & chargers: Many chargers draw power continuously, even when the device is fully charged or not plugged into the charger. Also consider purchasing a smart energy strip; turn it off to cut power to “ghosting” energy on TVs or infrequently used electronic devices.
7. Always wash your clothes in cold water: Laundry detergent works just as well, and your energy savings could be as much as 40 cents per load.
8. Reduce your water heater temperature: Adjusting the temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees will save you money, reduce scalding risks, and prolong the life of your water heater, while keeping water hot enough for showers and cleaning dishes.
9. Ceiling fans: If you have ceiling fans in your house, use them properly. Fans should run counter clockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter. Fans cool people, so turn off in unoccupied rooms.
10. Turn off your water heater while you’re away: If you plan on leaving home for several days, turn off or turn down your water heater and start it up again when you return. Most models will reheat the water.

I'll admit that I don't do all these all the time. But that's OK! Because when I started learning more ways to save energy, I became better at remembering to do them. I got my kids involved, too, and they help Todd and I to unplug things not being used. And when I remember the reasons why I conserve energy--to show my love for others and to honor my creator--I work harder. 

How do you conserve energy at home? Which of these is the easiest? Hardest?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Conquering compost

 ***I'll be sharing Earth-friendly posts every Friday in April for Earth Month. This is #4 of 5 (post  #1, #2, and #3 are here).


This was my Easter basket this year: a stainless steel counter top compost bin. Lame? Maybe. But oh so pretty and useful.

I vowed in January that this would be the year I learned to compost. And armed with a nice-looking counter top receptacle, I had no further reason to put it off.

Following my favorite home bloggers Young House Love, I turned an unused storage container into a small outdoor compost bin. I filled the bottom of the bin with leaves which, embarrassingly, were piled high against the house from last fall. Then I filled the bin about 3/4 full with organic dirt. The girls and a neighbor helped. Then I drilled several holes in the lid to help circulate air.

I posted this graphic I found on Pinterest from Robin Clugston on the fridge to help remind myself and the kids what can and cannot be composted. We discussed balancing greens and browns, as is illustrated in the image below. Then we started filling the counter top container and dump it in the outside bin when it gets full. Easy as could be! The girls remind me to add every apple peel, dryer lint ball, and eggshell they see into the bin.

We've been composting for about a month now, and we're slowly approaching the need to stir everything up, or "turn" it. I've been adding yard debris and weeds (after leaving them out a day or two in the sun to kill the seeds) as I go along. I'm looking forward to filling some pots on my deck with rich composted soil to plant herbs and tomatoes for the summer.

So why is composting such a green thing to do? This article from One Green Planet helps explain, but put simply it helps keep garbage out of landfills, reduces methane emissions, increases our awareness of the life cycles of death and decay, and brings us closer to our food.

Do you compost? What do you like and dislike about composting?

Nailing it?

***I'll be sharing Earth-friendly posts every Friday in April for Earth Month. This is #3 of 5 (post  #1 and #2 are here). And don't forget to comment to be entered in the Three Bluebirds giveaway, ending next Friday!

My beauty routine is pretty basic. I'm not into makeup. I use only a handful of beauty products each day, mostly things I make at home. Though I doubt my husband would agree, I'm fairly low-maintenance in the beauty department. Good genes, I guess. Or a complete lack of time, energy, and money. Whichever.

have an extensive nail polish collection. I used to paint them at least twice a week, fingers and toes. I even had acrylic nails off and on before I became a mom. I had so much nail polish I recently decided to give some away.

These days, my time for such things is limited, and so is my tolerance for toxic chemicals. As far as nail polish goes, it's pretty vile stuff. So when I get a chance to pamper myself a bit, I don't want the products I use to hurt me or my kids. I've begun using brands that are least "3-free", meaning they don’t use toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), or formaldehyde, which are all known carcinogens. Some brands also describe themselves as "5-free" when they don't use the three chemicals mentioned above and also remove formaldehyde resin or camphor. If knowing what's in the products you buy is important to you, I strongly suggest becoming familiar with the Environmental Working Group website and app. 

Here's a roundup from Sierra Club of stylish and toxin free nail polish brands. Fair warning: if you live in a rural area without access to stores like Target and Ulta like I do, you'll probably need to purchase from Amazon. From this list I've personally used Piggy Paint. I have no hesitation using it on my girls. In fact, it is the only polish I've ever used for Harper. The colors are bright and last at least as long as conventional polishes on little fingers and toes.

I also like Jamberry nail wraps. There is some debate on whether they are as safe as advertised because they contain PVC, a kind of plastic. Most of what I've read declares PVC safe if not heated above 145 degrees Celsius, which is well above the level of heat needed to seal the wraps to your nail. Though they claim to last for up to two weeks, I've never gotten them to last longer than 7 days. Jamberry also has some 5-free nail polish options. (Full disclosure: I don't sell Jamberry, and I wasn't perked for mentioning them. I just like them.)

The hardest part for me is to stop and think before buying or using something as simple as a pretty little bottle of nail polish. I want to protect my kids, pets, and nail salon workers from dangerous chemicals. And I want our shared land, air, and water to last longer than my manicure. 

What are some ways you're greening up your beauty routine?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Cloth Napkin Addiction

***I'll be sharing Earth-friendly posts every Friday in April for Earth Month. This is #2 of 5. Read #1 here. And don't forget to comment to be entered in the Three Bluebirds Giveaway!

I'm addicted to cloth napkins. This is only a sampling of my stash, which takes up an entire drawer in my kitchen.

It all started back in 2012 when we were transitioning Ava out of cloth diapers and into undies. Todd and I were looking for more ways to be green (read: frugal) while Todd was in seminary. I stumbled upon some DIY posts on Pinterest on how to jazz up plain white napkins and settled on turning the girls loose with fabric markers. 

Those napkins are still in our rotation. And this year Harper got her chance to add to the stack. 

But are cloth napkins really more Earth-friendly than paper? I checked a source I trust,, to find out: 

The verdict: for home use, cloth napkins are by far better, even when you factor in laundering them. It's worth considering bringing along your own cloth napkins to restaurants as well. 

Do you use cloth napkins? Have you made or decorated your own? Share your own pictures of your cloth napkin stash!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Three Bluebirds Giveaway!

This past Christmas I went full eco-geek and gave out dish cloths to my friends and family as gifts. But these weren't just any kind of dish cloths, they were Three Bluebirds eco-friendly Swedish dishcloths.

So, so pretty. And useful! Just one towel can replace a sponge (ew) and paper towels for up to nine months. These cloths absorb twenty times their weight, clean streak free, and are 100% biodegradable. You can clean them in your washing machine, the top rack of your dishwasher, or even in your microwave as many as 200 times.

Yes, seriously. I test drove one before giving them out as gifts and was converted. It absorbed spills better than paper towel and cleaned up nicely in my dishwasher. And they're just so pretty

But, here's the catch: they are pricey. At a bit over $7 for each cloth (plus shipping), they're a bit out of many people's price range, cute or not. I took advantage of a sale and a free shipping on 10 or more deal at Christmas, but might hesitate to pay that much otherwise.

So why am I telling you this? Because I'm giving away this Three Bluebirds cloth on Earth Day (April 22)!

Here's how to enter the giveaway:
Comment on the blog (not on social media) with one way you or your family shows your care for the Earth. You can enter as many times as you want. I'll choose a comment at random on the morning of April 22 and will contact the winner that day.

I'll be posting earth-care related blogs every Friday in April, so keep checking back all Earth Month!