Count Up to Earth Day: Tip 9 (a Contest too!) Take the Kids Camping

April 16th, 2012

This post is part of a series counting up to Earth Day on April 22. Check back for the rest of the 22 tips!

There’s perhaps no better way to raise nature lovers than to take your kids camping. And freelance writer and mother of three Helen Olsson has written a wonderful guide to help you: The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures and Connect Kids to Nature.

Just in time for Earth Day, The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids delivers all the information you’ll need to plan a successful camping trip with kids, including recipes and activity ideas.

And not only that, the book is so adorably illustrated you may even want to leave it sitting on your coffee table! The illustrator, Scotty Reifsnyder, couldn’t have dreamed up more charming art if he tried.

And just so you know, the book actually has sweet rounded corners, which I happen to adore, and is printed on 30 percent post-consumer recycled acid-free paper.

While the book will be most beneficial to parents, even camping-shy adults without kids stand to learn a lot from Helen’s camping guide. After all, who wouldn’t want to know how to make delicious blueberry pancakes during a camping trip? And packing checklists for camping – always handy! Plus, you don’t have to worry about reading a dry, guide-type book. The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kidsis an entertaining, at at times humorous, read. Plus, each new chapter starts with a fun quote from a camping book, poem or song.

To enter to win The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids, simply leave a comment on this post before you turn in for the night on April 27, which happens to be Arbor Day.

The contest is open to everyone, even those who reside outside of the U.S. One winner will be chosen randomly to receive a free copy of the book courtesy of the publisher, Shambhala Publications/Roost Books.

Tips: Please check your spam filter after April 27. If you win and don’t respond to my request for a mailing address within five days, I’ll pick another winner. And, if you don’t win, visit the author’s website for a coupon code.

Disclosure: I received a courtesy copy of this book from the publisher. See my disclosures policy.

Count Up to Earth Day: Tip 4 Tap the Cooling Power of Plants

April 7th, 2012

This post is part of a series counting up to Earth Day on April 22. Check back for the rest of the 22 tips!

Trees may be strong and grand, but little plants can also make a difference for you. When landscaping for energy efficiency, don’t forget that plants, vines and shrubs have real cooling power.

Shrubs shade windows, reducing the amount of solar heat entering your home in summer months. And plant power comes in the form of shade lent to the ground and pavement. That shade lowers heat radiation and chills the air before it reaches your home’s walls and windows.

If you’re a fan of the lovely look of climbing vines, you’ll be happy to know that they also shade walls, though you may want to use a trellis for stubborn vines like ivy. If you aren’t a trellis-type person, then go for some cute plant boxes with trailing vines for wall shading.

Check out the USDA’s hardiness map to research which plants will work best in your area.

Have you considered how your landscaping can help lower your utility bills?

(image via flickr)

Count Up to Earth Day: Tip 3 Get a Home Energy Assessment

April 3rd, 2012

This post is part of a series counting up to Earth Day on April 22. Check back for the rest of the 22 tips!

Your house is whispering to you.
Your house is screaming at you.
Or worse yet, it’s tormenting you.
Learn to speak house, and shutter the noise.

No matter the shape you think your home is in, you need a home energy assessment (or audit – call it what you like). Get one, and you’ll be able to understand your house at long last.

A home energy assessment can help you save energy by revealing the changes needed to make your abode more energy efficient. And energy savings means you save dollars, plus give the earth a break too.

Getting a home energy assessment doesn’t have to be expensive either. Energy Savers gives you directions on how to do your own home energy assessment. Or, of course, you can hire someone to do it.

Whichever route you take, follow up by implementing the needed changes to make your house shut up and be more energy efficient!

Wait… There’s more Earth Day fun to be had. Jennifer at Growing a Green Family is doing a green review a day leading up to Earth Day. Check it out.

Decorating with Vintage Items

February 3rd, 2012

Anyone who has ever ventured down certain aisles of a Hobby Lobby knows they are full of pretend vintage decorating objects made in China.

Why not buy the real thing? The cost is often similar and the real thing is just so much more… REAL! Umm, that’s better usually.

Here’s a decorating scene in my living room. Everything was purchased from eBay except for the little bowl you see on the far right. I got that at a thrift shop.

The antique ceiling tile from the 1890s came from an old movie theater and performing arts building called the Bijou Theatre in downtown Wausau, Wisconsin. The rusty fleur de lis finials came from an estate sale in Connecticut. The other white finials came from an estate sale at an old barn on the coast of Oregon.

No, I didn’t have to travel to these estate sales, but was able to buy all the stuff on eBay from sellers who had lots of positive feedback from previous buyers. If you want to know the story behind an item you’re thinking of buying on eBay, it never hurts to ask. Sometimes you’ll find out.

For the vintage tiles, try to work with a seller who will add the wooden frame and hanger around the back for you and maybe a clear coat over the top too. Know that it’s possible that these old tiles could contain lead paint. Don’t try to strip the paint yourself unless you really know what you’re doing. The possibility of lead paint is the only downside to buying a vintage item like this versus a replica. Just use some common sense: don’t buy one with excessive peeling paint or put in a location where children can reach, and don’t sand it down yourself.

Benefits of buying a vintage item are many. For example, you are supporting people who salvage items rather than throwing them all in a landfill. Many of the people selling items like vintage building materials tear them down themselves from buildings that are going to be destroyed. And you aren’t settling on some cheap-looking thing that was produced in China and made to look old. Your antique decorating items may increase in value, whereas a mass-produced item with no real charm isn’t going to get you your money back.

Have you shopped for vintage decorating items at a thrift store or eBay?

Fall for Preserve Colanders

October 13th, 2011

There is such a thing as a good plastic colander, and Preserve makes them.

My Preserve colanders have served me well for more than a year now. They’re not only durable and made of recycled materials, but they’re fun to have around.

I typically avoid plastic food prep products, but Preserve kitchen helpers are free of BPA.

The news is that Preserve now has colanders in fall colors. If you’re not a fan of the white, apple green or ripe tomato colanders, now’s your chance to grab a citrus yellow or orange piece of kitchen art by Preserve.

Easy Reuse: Clothing Tag Bookmarks

October 5th, 2011

I’m starting to think I’ve got a thing for bookmarks.

A few years ago I glued tea tags together to make bookmarks, but now I’m on to something new.

Some clothing tags are just too pretty to toss in the recycling bin.

Plus, you really don’t need all the info placed on those sometimes oversized adornments. The price tag is often separate, and all the other info you need is attached to the sewn-in clothing tag.

So, let’s give clothing tags more meaning by reusing them as bookmarks. I know what you’re thinking right now.

I’m too old-fashioned. Maybe e-readers are killing books, but I still prefer the look of type on paper. Yeah, not very tree-friendly of me, I know. Someone get me a Kindle…

Do you still use bookmarks? If so, do you buy them or make your own?

Cook at Home: Perfect Corn on Cob

August 23rd, 2011

Summer is almost over, but it’s not too late to buy fresh corn in many areas. (See the Epicurious seasonal ingredient map.) If you buy frozen corn because you think it’s easier to cook, you’re missing out on great taste.

Remember to pick corn that is still in the husk, which should be moist and bright green. Buy your corn on the day you’re planning on cooking it.

One thing that has always annoyed me about cooking fresh corn is removing the silk. It’s so tedious to pick it off by hand, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Tip to Make Prepping Fresh Corn Easier:

After removing the husk and most of the silk, use a vegetable scrubber to remove remaining clingy silk under running water. It’s so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of your friend the veggie scrubber sooner.

How to Cook Perfect (not tough) Corn on Cob

After preparing your corn, bring a pot of unsalted water to a rolling boil. Add the corn and bring the water back to a boil. Turn off the heat. Cover pot and leave it on the burner with heat off or 15 minutes. (Recipe adapted from Home Cooking Guide)

After removing the corn, I like to add butter and black pepper before devouring. Wonderful!

What’s your favorite way to cook fresh corn?

Antique Store Find: Vintage Wine Box

August 8th, 2011

What’s more interesting than a lion and unicorn holding up an orb with a Trojan head on top?  It looks like the Prats Brothers used a version of the British royal coat of arms for their logo, but I’m not an expert on such things.

This vintage wine box is one of the reasons I love to visit antique stores. Who needs Restoration Hardware? Continue reading »

What’s Inside SC Johnson Cleaning

July 5th, 2011

SC Johnson hasn’t been traditionally known as a green company. They still make plenty of cleaning products that aren’t very natural.

I’d like to commend them on something though. They’re becoming more transparent.

Did you know that you can go to What’s Inside SC Johnson to look up ingredients inside SC Johnson products?

For example, SC Johnson makes a Shout Nature’s Source laundry stain remover.

You can find those ingredients online now. Decide for yourself if the product is natural enough for you.

You can even click on the ingredient names to learn more. Of course, you should do your own research and form your own opinions. SC Johnson will want you to like their ingredients.

But wait a minute. Don’t companies list all their ingredients on packaging? Nope. In many cases they do not, but that’s where having a mobile phone comes in handy.

Several times now I’ve called company phone numbers listed on packaging to ask questions about products while in a store. For example, what will happen if my cat eats this toilet cleaner?

When a large company like SC Johnson makes their product ingredients available online they’re empowering consumers to make better choices. And if you have a smart phone, then chances are you can do your research while standing in the aisle.

Another way to empower yourself is to make your own cleaners. That way, you’ll know without asking what’s inside.


Reuse Your Spice Jars for Flowers

July 2nd, 2011

I have a fun Saturday tip for you: Reuse a glass spice jar to bring some summer indoors!
I know I’m probably not the first person to think of this reuse, but it never hurts to recall simple ways to enjoy nature.

Also, it’s good to remember that not everything has to be immediately thrown into the recycle bin.

In this case, I accidentally broke off part of a petunia in the hanging basket outside my kitchen.

I’m sure you can purposefully break off some stems too! Petunias grow like weeds, so says my husband.

I dropped my freshly snipped petunias into an old cumin spice jar I’d been saving.

It was instant (and free) sweetness in a corner of my guest bathroom.

If you’re feeling extra creative, try decoupage to make your jar fit with your decor even more. I’m going with the lazy, whimsical “cumin” look for now.

Of course, another way to reuse your spice jar is to fill it with spice from a bulk container at a store like Whole Foods.

Pet owners: If you decide to do this with a petunia, don’t worry. ASPCA lists the petunia species as non-toxic to cats and dogs. That’s such a bonus to me with my two ever curious cats.

Other ways to enjoy flower-filled spice jars:

  • Place jars beside the kitchen sink and add a few lemon or orange peels to the bottom for more color.
  • Use as part of place settings with a single flower in each jar. Tape name tags to jars or paint names on.
  • Arrange several jars on a cupcake tree or cake stand for a fun centerpiece for a party or dinner with friends.
  • Line up a few jars on your mantel or other shelf. Alternate colors: white rose/red rose, etc.
  • How else do you reuse spice jars?