Eco Family Project opens this week!

March 16th, 2015

Nature Explore Geisler (10) What have I learned from Eco Family in the last 4 years? A bazillion up-cycling ideas, rain water catchment techniques, de-cluttering tips and encouragement, meeting neighbors through sharing things, how to find local options for vacation transportation and lodging, and of course sourcing local food!

I hope you will join us for the 2015 Eco Family Project! This year we have 3 parts – 1. online ‘lessons’ you can view at your convenience, 2. live online conversations with other Eco Families (schedule starts March 26) and 3.  local activities. The cost is only $25 for your household to participate!

I can’t wait to hear what goes on your “I learned . . .” list!




Foot Massage

December 24th, 2014

foot massage Relax!  Self care is the best health care. I thought you’d enjoy this short demonstration on foot massage, a great self care practice. All you need is a towel, organic sesame oil and 10 minutes.  Use it over the holidays to take care of yourself!

Any guess where this was recorded?

May you have happy feet!


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Polystyrene cups

December 22nd, 2014

styrofoam cupsUA_Recycle-Cup-524x210Some days I forget to bring my thermos of tea to work with me.  When I buy beverages-to-go, I occasionally get a cup that is made of polystyrene – you know it as Styrofoam.  This always surprises me because I forget that not everyone is obsessed with compostable disposable dinnerware like I am.

I understand the use of polystyrene- it is lightweight, keeps your coffee hot and the your fingers not. However, polystyrene is a non-renewal material, does not break down and contaminates air, water and soil when manufactured as well as when it is discarded. Polystyrene containers are designed to keep contents at the same temperature over a period of time. That’s why it is used in portable coolers that are used many times.  A cup of coffee is usually consumed within 20 minutes as long as the liquid has a chance to cool enough to drink. I think the properties of polystyrene are wasted for this particular use.  A paper cup with a cardboard sleeve will keep your hot beverage at drinkable temperature and can be recycled or composted when you are done with it.

A check on solid waste statistics reveals that 25-30% landfills are polystyrene and plastics. Polystyrene is lightweight, floats in water and is considered the main component of trash in the ocean. Also, the chemicals that make up polystyrene are incredibly harmful.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services , added styrene — the chemical used in the manufacture of Styrofoam cups and food containers — to its list of substances “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer. Styrene has also been linked to nerve damage and hormonal disruption.

There are some businesses like airlines that are exploring better materials for their disposable containers. Plant based foam-composite materials are beginning to show up in place of the polystyrene containers.

This holiday season, pay attention to the disposable containers you use for gatherings.  Choose compostable or recyclable and make arrangements to dispose of them properly instead of tossing them in the trash. Get ideas for green holiday entertaining at Reclaim Your Holidays.

If you buy beverages in disposable containers, please educate your local beverage retailer about polystyrene and ask them to replace their beverage containers with compostable or recyclable materials.

Oh, and remember your travel mug.  Happy Holidays!


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Don’t flush!

December 18th, 2014

medications hazardous waste If you are doing some deep cleaning before the holidays or plan to do some while on break, think about disposal of those items you no longer need.  I tend to do fall ‘spring’ cleaning and my recent purge resulted in a moderate pile of expired medications and supplements, 2 boxes of items to donate and a tote full of rarely used or toxic household cleaners. The donated items were the easiest to deal with.  The medications and household cleaners are a bit more complicated.

First rule – DON’T flush these items.  Because I didn’t want these to find their way into the water supply, I discovered there are ways to dispose of both safely. Medications should not be shared with another person. Most medications can be taken to your local pharmacy and they can dispose of them properly. If it is a controlled substance (your pharmacist can tell you which are) those medications must to taken to you local law enforcement center.

Toxic cleaners can be taken to your local landfill or other hazardous waste disposal site. You can find out which items are considered hazardous at this Environmental Protection Agency website. In Iowa, there are free collection sites to dispose of your household hazardous waste. Some communities host a hazardous waste disposal day, too. Check with your local city or county government to see if there is one scheduled near you.

Keep our water clean! Where is YOUR hazardous waste disposal center?



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Tidying for Comfort and Joy

December 12th, 2014

konmariI’m 2/3 through a new book called The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up. The author, Marie Kondo, calls it the KonMari method.

I am always on the look out for ideas on simplifying life and have done the de-cluttering thing, it seems like a bazillion times, only to find I still have stuff in queue to go to consignment or donation. I’ve done the ‘discard for 15 minutes everyday’ strategy. I implemented the ‘can’t bring something new home until you throw one out’ rule. I have used criteria like ‘if I haven’t worn or used it in 1 year’, ‘if it makes me feel guilty or sad’ and ‘been there, done that’ to decide to toss something. I’m also an advocate of “A place for everything, everything in its place” attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

This tidying method, from what I have read so far, starts with imagining how you want to FEEL in your home or office and using that set of feelings to help you know whether to keep something. Discarding is part of the strategy, but the focus is on looking for what you want to KEEP. It reminds me of this Happiness video that we use in the Eco Family virtual conference.

I am imagining ‘COMFORT and JOY’ in my home and office spaces. I also want to feel safe, happy, proud, competent and confident. In the KonMari method you notice how you feel as you handle each item, starting with easy categories like clothing and books. The theory goes, you get so good at it you’ll be able to discern which, if any, old family photos, heirlooms, gifts and other items with sentimental attachment to keep. AND if you do this ‘tidying’ in one shot, quickly (up to 6 months), she says you will never have to do it again.

She even teaches you how to fold clothing to maximize space.  I wondered, a little, about becoming neurotic if I followed the method, but I’m all about trying it as a mindfulness exercise.

She suggests throwing out all paper except those that are 1. contractual agreements, 2. current warranties or 3. need action taken. Ideally the action folder is empty.  I started ‘tidying’ my physical office files this week. I found about 1/2 a drawer out of 3 that makes me feel proud and competent. I’m giving myself 6 months to discern the rest.

The hand-me-down chair in the living room with the broken arm doesn’t fit into my comfort, joy or safety criteria. I’m keeping a beautiful antique stoneware pitcher that makes me smile.

What possessions spark joy in your life? What will you KEEP?




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Green Honor Roll

September 1st, 2014

ISU campus fallI am so PROUD! Iowa State University was ranked as one of the top 24 schools on The Princeton Review’s 2015 Green Honor Roll. Institutions were ranked based on environmentally related practices, policies and academic offerings.

Live Green! is Iowa State University’s campus-wide sustainability initiative, laying the foundation for the campus to become as green as possible. Live Green! has already led to the hiring of a Director of Sustainability, the creation of a thirteen-member Advisory Committee on Energy Conservation and Global Climate Change, and the establishment of a Live Green Loan Fund for energy conservation and sustainability projects. The university’s commitment to sustainable operations is highlighted by its requirement that all new construction and major renovation projects on campus achieve LEED Gold. In fact, the university’s College of Design addition and the State Gym recreational facility have both achieved LEED Platinum. Additionally, the school has signed a contract with the city of Ames allowing for 10 percent of the university’s electrical energy to be derived from wind. All four of the residential dining centers on campus were made trayless, reducing food waste by 50 percent. Food waste is composted at the university’s compost facility and utilized for on-campus projects, and prepared leftover food is donated to a free meal program in the community. Students have participated in the Solar Decathlon, an internationally recognized team competition to design, build, and operate energy-efficient solar-powered homes. The GreenHouse Group works to promote recycling at each campus residence and the school participates in Adopt Campus, a program initiated by Keep Iowa State Beautiful to promote campus cleanup. Interested in studying green? You’re in luck. Iowa State offers an interdisciplinary sustainability minor and more than 800 green courses in more than forty departments that focus on sustainability. Want to “green your drive?” Recent implementation of a carshare program offers alternative transportation service designed to help reduce the university’s carbon footprint.

I’d like to add that the campus provides a beautiful natural environment year round.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods?


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Little Free Library

August 25th, 2014

little free library with benchI am so pleased!  All summer the books and magazines in our Little Free Library just keep rotating!  The house was built from reclaimed and new materials by my Father-in-love. He is a creative man who can look at something and know how to build it with no plans. “Libby” as I am calling her, was painted by ‘yours truly’ and mounted on a sturdy post by my husband.  It is located on the corner of our lot at the intersection of two streets.  It is also the school bus stop corner.

Grandpa also made me a bench to place nearby.  So friends can bring a book and review another before taking one home.

One teacher friend is collecting children’s books to keep the library stocked throughout the year.  My hubby is gleaning his outdoor magazines to share. “Libby” is also officially registered at Little Free Library.

The closest community library from my neighborhood is 10 miles away.  This little baby won’t put anyone out of business and we don’t have overdue fines.  Whatever you put in can be taken, read and put back for someone else to enjoy. I am looking forward to seeing what kinds of reading folks will share with others.

When my kids were little we borrowed books from the library frequently. Then I went through a phase when I bought most of my books. Now I download a few electronically or borrow a paperback from a friend for free reading. I am hoping ‘Libby’ will help people connect with each other, put books into circulation that people have enjoyed but are now just taking up space.  I am hoping too that the corner of the lot will be a place where parents and kids can wait for the bus together, walkers and bikers can rest, and other will share and read. . . .

I see two best sellers in there now. Maybe some back to school reading is in order!

Have you borrowed a book from a little free library?


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Shared Economy

August 21st, 2014

Pick me gardenMy neighbor just gave us another dozen eggs. Another neighbor deposits her recycling in my bins and then puts the bins away on pickup day. A friend stayed in our house during a family member’s hospital treatment. Someone put new books in the Little Free Library on the corner. Last week I traded a spiritual listening session for a massage. Visitors eat cherry tomatoes from the “Pick me” garden by our driveway. My husband and I stayed in an AirBnB for vacation this year.  The shared economy or ‘connection’ economy is very active in my life – sometimes it is a direct exchange of goods or services, but often it is in a ‘pay it forward’ kind of relationship with various people in my life.

I had the privilege of writing a column “Life Can Be Better When We Share” on the shared economy for the Cedar Rapids Gazette this month.  My colleague, Brenda, writes for the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Money Tips blog about the sharing economy and shared housing.  Let us know what you think.

The Eco Family Virtual Conference covers numerous sustainable living topics and in 2014 the New Economy module drew much interest and inspired many to explore more options for their community. The Little Free Library in my yard is a direct result of my participation in that discussion. Watch for the new 2015 Eco Family series!

How does the shared economy manifest in YOUR life?


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My Next Car

July 29th, 2014

Air pick upI love my 8 year old car. She has 160,000 miles on her and still zips down the road at 31 MPG. My husband says I need a new car. Or truck. He knows that often I arrive home with a load of broken (free and 1/2 price) bags of mulch and compost. I found a bale of straw on the roadside one day and stuffed it in her trunk. I don’t want a new car. I like this one. She’s been repainted everywhere due to deer and bumper encounters. She sees my favorite mechanic regularly for maintenance. Ideally, my next mode of transportation could be a horse. Or a bicycle. But one is prohibited by my zoning ordinance and eats a lot of fuel. The other requires me to eat a lot of fuel to get to my work and personal obligations.

Actually, the built environment limits my transportation options. There are no sidewalks where I live – bikes, walkers and horses all share the road with 4 wheelers (illegal but widely used) and motor vehicles. I live 20 miles from my office via interstate and the closest grocery store is 15 miles away. I admire the communities that are evaluating and implementing Safe Walkable pathways. Even developers are paying attention by grouping homes and services together in ways that eliminate the need for transportation.

Current technology limits my transportation options also.  I want transportation that is environmentally safe and efficient, affordable and convenient. Alternatives to fossil fuel for transportation needs to be available if we are to improve our impact on climate and economies. No or low emissions should be our goal. Hydrogen, solar, and hybrid technologies are emerging and evolving slowly but still not enough to divest the transportation industry from fossil fuel dependance. I am watching the innovators try everything from algae to liquid metal to perpetual motion. I’m hoping for a breakthrough in technology.

A friend just got a new hybrid beauty that brags 54 MPG. I’m excited for the possibilities.

I want a vehicle that runs on air, has solar powered paint to play my music, bicycle pedals for in-town driving and a trunk big enough for a bale of straw.

What do you want to drive?

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Garage Chickens

June 16th, 2014

maisyMy garage smells like chicken.  Not the delicious fried-chicken-of-Sunday-dinner kind of smell. Not the fast-food-bag-left-in-your-car smell.  My garage aroma is the dusty feathers-cracked corn-poop kind of smell. It lingers. But it makes me happy.

We were the recipients of a 4 adorable yellow feathery balls as an Easter practical joke. The cute little peepers showed up in a large bucket with a cute little water and food dispenser, a bag of starter crumbles and a heat lamp.

They were free at first but their tab is, now, over $400. . . . Meet Maisey, Daisy, Bonnie and Roy! They are California whites and now live in a chicken house we bought from the farm store. They moved out of my garage weeks ago. They will lay white eggs.

I grew up with feisty bantam chickens, colorful free rangers who fought off the foxes and made the dogs take cover, but were content to let us come in and collect the brown shelled eggs.

Lately, I’ve been getting my eggs from local growers, my neighbors and friends with chickens.  I occasionally have to buy a dozen at the store but none compare to the deep yellow yolked beauties that hold my pancakes together, scramble my ham and grace the deviled egg tray. The smell is far back into the recesses of my memory when I think of the nourishment the eggs give my body, and the love the chickens receive from their farmer.  The time sitting and observing my 4 girls is meditative and relaxing. I know it will take several years before I have ‘free’ eggs based on the housing I have invested in for them. But it makes me happy.

I know where my food comes from.  I am raising (some of) it myself.



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