Fall Fun

Fall is upon us. We’ve placed our Halloween costumes back on the shelf and stashed the hoards of leftover candy somewhere in the cupboard. Brightly colored leaves cover the ground and even in Southern California it’s beginning to get chilly. Personally, Fall is my favorite time of year because so much of it is dedicated to family and nature. Thanksgiving in particular is one of the few times we’re forced to stop and be thankful for the people in our lives that matter most.

Photo Courtesy of Seriousbri

One of the many reasons Fall is so great, is that there are tons of opportunities for decorating and creating with natural materials. Here we’ve found some fun, Autumn-themed craft ideas that make use of materials found in your own backyard:

Colorful Fall leaves are everywhere, and better yet, they’re free! These Autumn Maple Leaf Crowns (pictured below) are cute and amazingly simple to create. Even better, they don’t require any materials other than the leaves themselves, making it the perfect outdoor craft.  Don’t have a tree in your backyard? Consider going to a nearby park and collecting leaves there. Click here for instructions on how to make your own.

 

For a grown-up craft idea, consider pressing leaves; it’s surprisingly simple. Just collect leaves of any shape, size or color, rinse off any dirt or mud, then place  the towel-dried leaves between the pages of a heavy book. I like to leave mine in the book for a couple of weeks, but you’re welcome to unearth them earlier. Once pressed, your leaf options are endless. Consider arranging leaves in a collage and framing the finished product for a great Autumn decoration. I also enjoy attaching the leaves to blank cards, creating the perfect, one-of-a-kind Autumn greeting card.

Want to wow your Thanksgiving guests with  creative, earthy centerpieces and not go bankrupt? Fall is the perfect time to create your own. To start, accompany your kids outside (depending on where you live, a park might work best) and have everyone collect various natural crafting items: acorns, acorn caps, pinecones, leaves, etc. Next, take a trip to the nearest craft store and pick up what you couldn’t find outside: earthy-colored candles, potpourri and maybe a few Thanksgiving-related items. Lastly, it’s time to assemble! Using either a decorative plate or bowl, arrange items purchased at the store with those found outside. The finished product will have all your guests a bit envious.

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Lee Osborn

Sometimes the greatest motivation for living an eco-friendly lifestyle is right outside your door. Though it sounds simple, try to set aside a time for the whole family to take a walk through your local nature or forestry center this Fall.  It’s the perfect time to educate your children on the local flora and fauna, and a lovely excuse to step away from your stressful life and enjoy nature at its finest.

For more ideas on how to live green, check out one of my favorite websites: Green Living Ideas.

-Kiri

 

Everyday Organic Living

Last week we helped you sort out when to buy organic produce and when to pass. This week your shopping list gets even bigger. Being an eco-friendly shopper is one of the best ways to protect our planet. Choosing organic, recycled and locally-made products is a great way to show your support for eco-conscious companies dedicated to producing goods with the Earth in mind. Here’s a list of great products to buy eco-friendly:

Cleaning Products: You might have heard that Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and while we wouldn’t take it that far, buying organic cleaning products is a pretty awesome decision. Ordinary cleaning products are riddled with harmful chemicals and synthetic materials that are hard to dispose of, while their organic counterparts use natural cleansers that are easier on surfaces and better for your family. Even better, there are plenty of recipes for making your own all-natural cleaners for a fraction of the cost of brand name products. Click here for a list of the top ten organic and natural cleaning products.

Ready to switch to organic cleaning products?

Picture courtesy of Kevin McShane

Office Supplies: With the enormous variety of eco-friendly office goods available these days, there’s no reason not to join the craze. Stores like Staples, which offers everything from banana paper notebooks to pens made from recycled material, often have eco-conscious goods priced competitively. Buying recycled goods is particularly important because it increases the demand for recycled materials and sustains local recycling programs.

Photo courtesy of Unclesond

Beauty and Hygiene Products: For many of us, this category is already a bit of a splurge, in part because the effects of beauty and hygiene products (for instance, how your hair smells after shampooing or whether your deodorant or mascara lasted all day) are often noticeable much faster than, say, the effects of eating healthy. This is also why buying all-natural, organic hygiene products can give you a lot of bang for your buck. Treating your body with natural substances instead of harsh chemicals can have a hugely positive impact on your overall appearance. To read up on the products before you buy, check out Organic Beauty Source or Elle Magazine’s 2011 review of best “green” beauty products.

Other: While we could only list a few on here, there are literally millions of eco-friendly and organic alternatives to the products we purchase every day. Consider organic clothes, all-natural pet products or organic bed linens. The list is endless. To see if there’s an organic option for the product you’re looking for, simple Google the product along with the words “all-natural” or “organic” (for example, if looking for soap try typing “all-natural soup” or “organic soap”).

Found an eco-friendly product worth sharing? Comment and let us know!

-Kiri

To Buy or Not to Buy?

We’ve all been there. You scour the grocery store for smart, eco-friendly buys and organic produce, then try not to faint in the checkout line as you see the total price skyrocket. It’s no secret that purchasing healthy, organic food costs more than stocking up on a cart-full of junk food. In this instance, having money really pays off (pun intended). A University of Washington study found that shoppers who spent the most money on food (nearly double the amount of those who spent the least) were closest to reaching nutritional targets set by the government. However, a limited budget doesn’t need to prevent you from purchasing healthy, organic foods all together, it just means you have to get creative about where you choose to spend and save.

Photo by Creative Tools

First, it’s important to understand what exactly organic means. To be USDA certified organic the food must be produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. According to the USDA, “Organic farmers are required to adhere to certain soil and water conservation methods and to rules about the humane treatment of animals.” Also, there are varying degrees organic material. To obtain the USDA seal (it’s voluntary, not required) the product must be at least 95% organic. Those that are completely organic will often say, “100% Organic.”

It’s important to remember that words like “all-natural” are no substitute for organic, and should be taken at face value. Also, while buying organic isn’t always healthier, it often supports sustainable farming practices which is beneficial to our environment.

USDA Organic Seal

Still, how does this help determine when it’s most beneficial to buy organic? Enter the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. Eco Hero Kids Foundation’s October Eco Hero, Chloe Respondak, recommends using the lists created by Environmental Working Group (EWG) to decide which fruits and vegetables should be purchased organic. EWG is a group of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers dedicated to improving the environment and creating safe, healthy eating habits. For this study, scientists at EWG took a large number of fruit and produce items and measured the toxins still detectable after being thoroughly washed.

The fruits and veggies that contained the highest numbers of toxins (remember, this is after being washed) were placed on the Dirty Dozen list. These foods should be bought organic whenever possible to reduce the intake of potentially hazardous chemicals. Those items topping the Dirty Dozen are Apples, Celery and Strawberries. On the other hand, those foods that contained the smallest number of toxins were placed on the Clean 15 list. Onions, Sweet Corn and Pineapples were their number one picks.

To get a whole lot more bang for your buck, bring both lists with you to the supermarket and splurge on organic fruit and produce from the Dirty Dozen list first. Click here to download both lists.

Photo by Arty Guerillas

Organic foods still out of your budget? Consider purchasing a vegetable wash or making an organic one on your own.

-Kiri

Ways to Save

Hello again! Though Autumn begins in the next few days, here in Malibu the sun is still shining brightly! And with the sunlight comes lots of solar energy. As we discussed last week, solar panels convert the sun’s photovoltaic cells into electricity. In an ideal world, we would all have access to this energy source. However, for most of us the installation of solar panels is too costly, hence people’s reliance on fossil fuels despite their rising price and negative impact on the Earth.

Photo Courtesy of doortoriver

Just because you can’t afford solar panels, does not mean that you can’t make a difference. Making small lifestyle changes can have a surprisingly large impact, and for most of us this translates into a few small tweaks in our daily routines. I, for one, am guilty of leaving lights on and frequently forgetting to unplug appliances when I leave for vacation. It’s small situations such as these that leave room for improvement.

Reevaluating the way we use energy and searching for ways to employ the energy we have more efficiently is a great starting point, because not only does wasted energy enlarge our carbon footprint, it’s also expensive. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average American household spends $104.52 (908 kWh) on their electric bill every month. Shave that off by $20 dollars or so and you’d save $140 a year. That’s enough to cover your Starbucks obsession (well, maybe not that much) or splurge on a nice family dinner.

Looking for ways to conserve? On sunny days, open the blinds and light your room naturally. Along with saving energy, recent studies have shown that sunlight can actually improve moods. As Fall arrives, make sure to thoroughly check windows and doorways to make sure they are properly sealed and that no air is leaking through. Lastly, though it sounds like a bit of a no-brainer, simply reminding yourself to be eco-conscious can make a big difference. Make a pact with family members to hold each other accountable and consider leaving small notes to remind yourself that energy conservation matters.

It’s also important to remember that these changes require a combined effort. Discuss the importance of conserving energy with your kids and explain how simple changes can have a big impact on our planet. For an added incentive, figure out how much you currently spend, and create a plan of action for how to reduce energy usage and costs. Then, at the end of each month, put the difference aside and save up for a fun family activity, like go-kart racing or going to see a movie at the theater.

Photo Courtesy of mwiththeat

For more information and ways to conserve, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s tips. For kids, check out this interactive site with games and great ways to save at any age!

-Kiri

Fun in the Sun!

-Picture acquired from theprimalchallenge.wordpress.comPicture via theprimalchallenge.wordpress.com

Summer might be coming to an end but this does not mean we should pay less attention to the one who makes it all possible… Our Sun!
Solar energy is everywhere the sun shines!  How great is that???

Solar Energy Can Be Used for Heat and Electricity

When converted to thermal (or heat) energy, solar energy can be used to:

Heat water — for use in homes, buildings, or swimming pool
Heat spaces — inside homes, greenhouses, and other buildings
Heat fluids — to high temperatures to operate a turbine to generate electricity

California Has the World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plants

Concentrating solar power technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect the solar energy and convert it to heat. This thermal energy can then be used to produce electricity via a steam turbine or heat engine driving a generator.

Picture acquired from sneakyreviews.com/alternative-energy/solar-energy-one-the-go/ Picture via sneakyreviews.com/alternative-energy/solar-energy-one-the-go


Thousands of houses and buildings around the world have PV systems on their roofs

Photovoltaic cells (PV) convert sunlight directly into electricity. A photovoltaic cell, commonly called a solar cell or PV, is the technology used to convert solar energy directly into electrical power, it is a nonmechanical device usually made from silicon alloys.

Covering 4% of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert, located in Asia, could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand! Take a look at a map to get an idea.

Radiant energy from the sun has powered life on Earth for many millions of years, as a renewable energy source: we should prioritize further research and investment to expand its development!

Picture acquired from solar.envirohub.netPicture via envirohub.net

The factual information has been acquired from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “EIA Energy Kids – Solar.” EIA Energy Kids. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Web.

My Dang Water Bill!

I have full-on lawns in my front and backyard.   Something I inherited from my landlord.    I realize it is a waste of water, but somehow I thought I could water it in a very moderate way and keep it up.   That was until my sprinkler system got messed up.    Apparently it was going on each morning at around 5:00 a.m. for 15 minutes or so.   I didn’t even realize it was happening because it was so early.   The only way I became aware of it was when my water bill came for $755!   I thought it was a mistake.   I called the water company.  They came out and checked.   No leaks.  Completely my fault.    So I ripped the plugs out of the wall determined to let the darn grass die.    Well, that was in September, and it still looks pretty good.   We are getting enough rain here and there (especially these last few days) that my grass is still looking great.   Okay it may change once the summer time comes and things get dry.   But really, do I need a huge lawn?   It’s not like I play soccer or anything.    I’m not having large croquette parties (although that does sound fun).    The best thing about it is that my water bill went down to around $90!    What a difference!   Well, stay tuned.    Let’s see what I’ll be saying in our hot winter months!