Quart Low

October 1st, 2015

20150813_105814_resizedI was a quart low.  Actually my car was a quart low. My dad taught me to check the oil every time I drove a vehicle.  Well, I have to admit that I quit doing that many years ago, but rediscovered its value this year when my car started to use oil. My ‘motorhead’ brother advised me that if I was adding a quart every 2000 miles then I needed to be thinking about another vehicle.  With nearly 200,000 miles on my buggy, the mechanic said it was going to need some expensive repairs to keep it safe and operational. Fiddlesticks! I wanted it to last forever!

When I wrote about my next car a year ago, I said “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.”

Well, that vehicle doesn’t yet exist so I had to pick from what’s available, and what matched my resources.  My new list of criteria included:

  • at least 30 MPG,
  • trunk space for all my teaching materials,
  • room for a child car seat (I’m a new Grandma BTW),
  • seating for 4 adults – so my family could actually take ONE car to go places instead of 2 or 3.

I had to forgo the trunk space for a bale of straw because we already have a pickup. I just have to plan ahead now. 😉

I chose a hybrid vehicle. NOT the plug-in kind because I travel too much to places that don’t have that infrastructure. I KNOW the resources that go into making these batteries and how long they last.  But this one is supposed to last 10 years. I hope the technology to recycle it exists by then. It’s not the perfect ecological ride, but it’s the best I could get now.

Here are my latest stats:

  • 577 miles on my first tank of gas.
  • 69 mpg on my last trip through town.
  • 42 mpg on my last highway road trip.
  • a couple of adventures with 4 adults and a baby!

I’m happy to say that this vehicle will pay for itself quickly even though gas prices are lower right now. I’m also happy to say that my travel emissions will be down nearly 50% over the lifetime of my car.


P.S. I got a moon roof too! I can still bird watch on my way to work!

Energy, Environment , ,

Public Policy

September 29th, 2015

Three_Branches_GovtIf you are like me, you follow legislation that affects our collective impact on air and water quality, soil, energy, human and ecological health.

As consumers, every thing we use has an ecological price tag. Each of us has an individual responsibility to develop our awareness of the impact of our actions. I’m talking about things like choosing locally grown unprocessed food, using reusable shopping bags, driving less, weatherizing your house, etc. Readers of this blog and the Eco Family Facebook page are avidly looking for and changing habits to simplify their living to reduce their environmental impact.  I am encouraged every time you share your ideas, thoughts and actions.  This year, I invite you to take the next step and share your values beyond your household and into the larger community.

As citizens, we have a responsibility to the larger good of our country and its natural resources.  If you are on a school or church board,  a neighborhood association or non-profit advisory committee, take time this year to understand how the policies and practices of the organization impact water quality, soil health, access to local food, energy utilization and waste management. You can learn like young people in 4-H study citizenship, leadership and the environment.

As a citizen, know your elected officials. Find out who is on your cooperative extension council, city council, planning and zoning board, or county board of supervisors. Get the contact information of YOUR state representatives and senators, and meet their staffers in the office closest to you.  As a citizen, ask questions about where your water comes from, how its treated, what policies are in place and which are not. You don’t have to know everything about the issue, however, do your best to educate yourself.  The University of Iowa Public Policy Center has several intitiatives that can inform you on these issues.  Also, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has data to help you educate yourself on environmental issues.  Offer your ideas to your elected officials.   Remember, your concerns can never be addressed if your elected officials don’t hear from you. They need to hear from us year round, not just during legislative session.

As a citizen, you can get involved in advocacy groups that help communicate environmental issues to those that make decisions for the larger good of our nation and natural resources.

As citizens of a global society, we also have responsibility to govern our actions to care for people, care for the earth and share resources. US citizens are 5% of the world population and consume 24% of the world’s energy resources. Consuming less is one strategy. Diversifying our energy sources toward climate neutrality can make a big impact on global health.

I invite you to take the next step this year and share your values for the environment.  An Iowa legislator encourages constituents to tell elected officials what they are doing toward efficiency (conserving water and energy, reducing waste) as well as sufficiency (growing food, collecting rainwater, sharing goods and services).

I posted my personal views on a clean energy economy on my legislator’s Facebook page.

What’s your next step?


Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Healthy Hens

June 10th, 2015

birdbiosecurityMy girls are happy in their fresh digs!  We thoroughly cleaned the chicken coop this weekend! Scooped the poop. Washed the walls and ceiling and nesting buckets. Added sand and dried pine needles in the run and pine shavings in the nesting end to make clean and dry bedding. Fixed a few things, installed a new door and adjusted the feeders and waterers. Whew! It was a lot of work but clean living space is key to keeping hens healthy. It’s also one of the most important steps in biosecurity.

I am getting questions and comments from folks about the Avian Flu affecting poultry flocks in Iowa. According to the USDA animal health website there are millions of birds affected in Iowa, however, as of the writing of this post, there are only 4 backyard flocks identified as being affected. Birds raised in commercial settings are the primary focus at this time. County fairs have canceled poultry shows around the state to prevent the spread of disease.

As a chicken ‘mama’, I am watching the news closely. Maisy, Daisy, Bonnie and Roylene, my California Whites, are a little over 1 year old now and have been laying since they were about 20 weeks old.  I am grateful that my 4 hens are healthy and continue to supply my family and several neighbors with weekly eggs. I practice everyday biosecurity by using one pair of shoes to do my chicken chores that are never used to go to town or on walks in the neighborhood. We wash our hands after handling birds and eggs.

If you already raise your own backyard flock, The Chicken Whisperer explains several ways to keep your hens healthy! Six ways to protect your backyard birds is to:

  1. Keep your distance.
  2. Keep it clean.
  3. Don’t haul disease home.
  4. Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor.
  5. Know the warning signs of infectious bird disease.
  6. Report sick birds.

This disease outbreak will impact jobs and the food system. I’ve seen media stories about egg rationing and its effects on commercial food suppliers. The impact on restaurants, bakeries, and grocerys, to name a few, will soon be felt in our communities.

I overheard a conversation about this hearing them say, “Guess it’s time to raise my own chickens.” If you choose to begin raising backyard birds, it is important to get new chicks from a certified National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP) hatchery. Do your homework and learn from these USDA resources for small producers. Be sure to check out your local ordinances and community requirements if you live in an incorporated town or development.

If you have concerns or more questions about the Avian influenza outbreak, check out the backyard resources on Iowa State University Animal Science website.

May all your hens be happy and healthy!

Kristi Cooper


Environment, Food, Health, Public policy , , ,

House Rules

June 4th, 2015

whiteacorns (6)“Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” from an essay by D. Everett in The Columbian Orator, 1797 reminds me that no matter how small an action seems, great things can happen as a result.

I have written 16+ drafts of this post on public policy.  My struggle has been to be objective, informative and educational.  Every attempt to write about the public policy process came out as boring as my high school government class.  I will not lobby for a particular political position in these blog posts. However, I do hope to remind and inspire YOU, a citizen, to be involved in public policy discussions. And even to provide leadership for those conversations in your community.

I am concerned that regular people avoid talking to elected officials about any issues including environmental issues because of the polarization and nastiness we see on social media and broadcast media. You have a responsibility, as a citizen, to be informed, to inform your elected officials and take action in your sphere of influence around care for the environment. They have a responsibility to listen to and take into consideration the concerns of their constituents when creating policy. Conceptually, our democracy was intended to be a cooperative relationship.

The research is clear that human actions are changing the environment in such a way that it is becoming unhealthy for humans and other life forms. We didn’t mean to destroy the ecological balance , but now that we know, let’s do something about it.  It’s a little like when I taught my kids to help with household chores, clean their room and pick up after themselves. I said “We all live in this house together and we need to honor the space to keep it safe and healthy for all of us.” We set house rules together so we could focus on the common good of our housemates.

I feel the same about the earth and the environment.  Public policy is our ‘house rules’ to preserve the common good. Our governments are comprised of people we have elected to make those decisions on our behalf.  They cannot do it well without your input.  I reminded my kids that our last name (Cooper) is the root for cooperation – one of our house rules. Let’s work together. Let’s live by it.

I’m asking citizens to be respectful and assertive in conversations about the concerns that are closest to their heart. How we treat each other is reflective of how we treat our environment.

I have been overwhelmed more than not about how to live more lightly on this planet.  I know many of you have as well. Here’s my adage today: Plant a seed.

Pick one environmental topic and educate yourself  – water treatment systems, watersheds, storm water management, solid waste management, solar and wind energy strategies, shared economies or local food systems.

Then go beyond your home – into your community, at state, national or even international levels to find out what’s happening around environmental policies and procedures. Ask elected officials, business and faith community leaders about air quality, zoning, habitat, health or conservation practices and policies. Or join a group of others who are also learning and acting to benefit the common good and this earth ‘house’ we live on.

I’m not going to apologize for being passionate about all things environmental. My only house rule is to be respectful and cooperative.  What are you inspired to do next?

Kristi Cooper

Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!


Health , , , ,

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!


Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , ,

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?



Energy, Environment, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , ,

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?




Energy, Environment, Waste Prevention , , , , , , , , ,

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?


Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , , , , ,