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.



Connection with Nature, Environment, Food, Waste Prevention , ,

PickMe Garden

June 9th, 2014

Pick me garden My friends at Backyard Abundance inspired me to plant a container garden I can share with neighbors.  I have a cherry tomato, sweet basil and lacinato kale planted in a stack of buckets from my stash of containers. It is growing next to my driveway.  When the plants get big enough to harvest, I will print a sign and tell my neighbors to stop by and get a snack!

A couple of my friends have converted their whole front yard into an edible sharing garden.  They have a bench and a little free library there also.  Another friend carved out a wedge garden in his lawn and is putting in cherry tomatoes, carrots, strawberries and other fun finger food for sharing with passers-by.

Hmmm. . . I may add a pot of strawberries and chives to the menagerie. . .

This is an experiment in location.  We have lots of walkers and bikers pass our house in good weather.  I will have to see how people respond.  Stay tuned!

What could you plant and share?


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Green Cleaning

June 5th, 2014

green cleaning ingredientsI recently cleaned the apartment my college student moved out of.  I was reminded of the toxic chemicals that are sold and used in the name of health. I used the products the outgoing students had on hand and killing germs nearly killed me!  I am used to using ‘green cleaning’ products so the solutions I used that day were especially ‘eye-opening’.  I had to evacuate the bathroom at one point because the fumes were too strong! My skin, eyes and lungs felt the effects for nearly two days afterwards! We can reduce the impact on our immediate and long term health by being mindful of the ways we clean our abode. What is safe for us is also safe for the air, water and other creatures.

My mother-in-love cleaned one room everyday, in addition to working, being a wife and doting grandma.  Her legacy to me is simply dusting with a damp cloth. This method captures particles, keeps them from being airborne and does not add chemicals to the sleeping, eating and visiting rooms of the house!

I use salt as an abrasive to remove cooked-on messes on the stove and counter. I rub the spot with dry salt then wipe clean with a damp cloth.  Sometimes, I add a few drops of lemon juice to the rinse water to cut the grease and add a fresh smell. I printed out these University of Georgia Extension Green Cleaning cards and stocked my cupboard with the basic ingredients needed.

My friends in North Carolina Extension offer these green cleaning solutions. Here is a list of a few items that can be used in “green” cleaning products:

  • Baking soda – cleans, deodorizes, removes stains and softens fabrics
  • Cornstarch – absorbs oil and grease
  • Lemon juice – cuts grease, removes perspiration and other stains from clothing
  • Salt – works as an abrasive
  • Vinegar – cuts grease, removes stains and is an excellent water softener
  • Borax – natural mineral that deodorizes, removes stains and boosts the cleaning power of soap.
  • Washing soda – cleans clothes, softens water, cuts grease, disinfects and increases the cleaning power of soap.

Spring cleaning is hard work but very satisfying when it is done! I also go to Iowa State University Extension & Outreach’s Answerline when I have questions about cleaning anything. My windows are next on the list!

What’s on your cleaning to-do-list? What’s your favorite green cleaning tip? Click the title above to comment on this message.


Environment, Health, Water quality & conservation , , ,

Bill Nye is Right

May 15th, 2014


I hope you know that the earth’s climate is changing. CO2 and methane produced from human and natural activity is raising the atmospheric temperature. Weather events are becoming more intense; rising sea levels, changes in plant and animal habitats are affecting our food system and our economic system. Climate change and the human choices that influence it are complex.

I think seeing the effects of extreme weather events on our food system is what finally got our attention here in the Midwest. The Iowa Flood of 2008 got MY attention.  I realized how fragile our human systems were and how often they are not in alignment with natural laws. Our public policy and built environment influence our choices.  Public policy is the ‘rules’ we put in place so we can live better together in our communities. This includes zoning for land use, water management & treatment systems, energy incentives and more. ‘Built environment’ is the way our towns and transportation systems are organized. I didn’t understand how that impacts my lifestyle choices until I went to Italy a couple of years ago.  I visited Venice where there are no roads. It is built for foot traffic. There are no cars, or trucks or buses. Not even motorcycles (even though I bought a ‘Vespa Venice’ T-shirt at the train station – huh?!). Products arrive by train or boat, then, are carted by men up the narrow ‘streets’ to the business or restaurant. Transportation systems are ‘built environment’.  I visited Hawaii last year and discovered that most of the electricity is produced by solar. Nearly every house I saw had solar panels on the roof.  And most homes did not have air conditioning; they were designed to take advantage of air circulation for comfort.  Also, water does not come from wells, like here in the Midwest, it comes from rain collection.  Water and energy systems are ‘built environment’. Public policy influences the built environment.

“Okay,” you say, “What can I do about climate change?”  Here is what I am doing:

·       Connect with those who make public policy.  Understand the process. Provide feedback, experience and knowledge to the decision makers.  Tell them I want policies that encourage clean energy systems, clean air and clean water.

·       Drive less. Stay home one day a week. Consolidate errands into one trip instead of several.

·       Buy less. Think twice before ordering online or going through the checkout at the store. 

·       Grow something you can eat. Anything – one tomato plant in a pot. Mushrooms on a log. Chives on your window sill. 

·       Compost food waste. Get a red wiggler worm bin to turn your veggie scraps into fertilizer!

·       Share your extras. Give away clothing, shoes, food, time and talents. This ‘invisible’ distribution of wealth at the local level is a component of resilient economic systems.

·       Go herbicide/pesticide free. Lawn chemicals are produced from fossil fuels and contaminate your water system.

·       Collect spring rain water for irrigation during the dry months.

·       Install solar or wind energy generation.

What are your climate-friendly practices? Which need public policy support?


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It’s a WRAP!

May 6th, 2014

WRAPI have to admit I felt like I was doing stealth recycling.  I couldn’t bear to put plastic wrap and bread sacks into the garbage because my curbside recycler wouldn’t take them. So .. . I have been secretly wadding them up, hiding them inside plastic grocery bags and stuffing them into the big recycle bin at the store – ANY store that has a plastic bag recycling bin. I felt guilty about the sign on the bin that implored customers “no garbage, please”.  I even sighed a breath of relief once when I forgot my cloth bags and got a few plastic ones. They were my ‘get away’ vehicle with which to recycle my other plastic waste.

I tried doing no-waste thing years ago.  Our garbage went down dramatically when we started being more aware of choosing items with no or minimal packaging. I bought mesh mags to use for veggies & fruit so I didn’t have to use the plastic bags. I carry my cloth bags religiously anywhere I shop. We refuse the shopping bag at non-food stores if we could carry out just an item or two.  I soon discovered that some packaging is inevitable in our culture.  Even though I could choose containers that could be recycled, there were always the plastic bread bags, extra bubble wrap or the resealable bags that had been washed one too many times.  There was the plastic encasing my toilet paper and the bag on my newspaper on damp days. (Yes, I still get the paper newspaper – I use it for composting, sheet mulching and keeping the chicken poop off my garage floor- which is another story entirely). I imagine marine animals trapped in a mass of twisted bread bags. I cringe thinking of the fossil fuel extracted to create another bag that I can carry my lunch in. I worry about the water that is contaminated to create the extra packaging.

Well, I no longer have to secretly stash my ‘garbage’ plastic.  It can be recycled – REALLY! – to make more plastic film and packaging. Find out what and where you can recycle your plastic film

Join me in being a plastic wrap bandit! Get your community to recycle plastic film! While you are at it, write to a company that uses plastic film packaging and ask that they use recycled materials.


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

Fix or Replace?

April 1st, 2014

blender1 No blender = no smoothies! A month without my green smoothies makes me a very cranky girl! Here’s the story:

My 20+ year old blender started leaking. I started with the obvious – replace the gasket.  After numerous stops at small appliance and hardware stores I discovered that the internet was the only place to get parts.  However, rubber gaskets come in packs of 3 not singles.  I hope I can find the other two in 20 years when I need a new one again. In the process of replacing the gasket, I dropped and cracked the blender jar.  I perused the ‘second hand’ resale stores thinking I might find a replacement jar but no luck there.  So back to my internet store for a new jar that looked like the one I had – the model numbers didn’t match anymore. Now with a new jar and a new gasket reassembled, I tested the blender with water and – it still leaked! The next step was to replace the blade assembly. Four weeks later I had a working blender again! Cost benefit analysis; I spent $2 less than the cost of a new blender. I lost a month of use trying to fix it. I recycled the cracked jar, and the gasket and old blade (carefully boxed and wrapped with duct tape) went to the trash. I feel good that I kept the working base and motor and other attachments out of the landfill. However, my husband’s suggestion of buying a new one immediately probably would have kept me mentally stable!

I am having a similar time with my 35 year old hand mixer.  That little GE model has mixed batter for thousands of cakes, cookies, and other goodies over the years.  Her little beaters are rusting and not safe to use anymore.  So, once again, I stalk the shelves at the Goodwill and consignment stores hoping someone has cleaned out Grandma’s kitchen and donated a match to my little mixer.  I dug through half a dozen bins of utensils trying to find some that match, but no luck.  I tried ordering parts online, but GE mixers don’t exist anymore, apparently. The other day, in the clearance aisle at Target, I spied a $4 bargain – a small hand mixer! “Okay, I guess I will replace it” I grumbled to myself wondering if I was just buying trouble. The new mixer’s low speed is higher than the old GE’s whip speed! I nearly painted the underside of my cupboards with scrambled eggs! However, the new beaters work on the old mixer! Problem solved for $4.  I guess I will keep the new mixer in case my husband needs a new motor for the leaf blower.

I just put a cup of water in the microwave to heat for tea.  It is still cold. Uh oh.

How do you know whether to fix or replace something? Tell us your story in the comment section of this blog!



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


March 1st, 2014

cooperkristi2_final (1)Oh My Goodness! I am amazed at the flurry of GMO conversation in social and news media. If you are blissfully unaware of what I am talking about, GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. GMO, my definition, is the code word for everything that is bad in the food chain right now.

I read almost everything I see about GMO’s and am acutely aware of my emotionally reactions. Sometimes I am hopeful for new findings, disgusted with the amount of energy it takes to discern accurate information, terrified by extreme words and behaviors.  Sometimes I develop new fears of my food.  I don’t want to be afraid of my food. I don’t want to be afraid of my social media ‘friends’. I don’t want to be afraid of asking questions about GMO for fear someone will ‘peg’ me in one ‘camp’ or the other. Food is critical to our survival so anything that seems threatens the safety, quality or supply triggers strong emotion in people.

When we decided to put Food and Genetic Engineering on the docket for the Eco Family Virtual Conference, I was optimistic that we could find some credible information and have a calm conversation about it.  I listened to geneticists, biology professors, interviewed food scientists, organic farmers and researchers. I read reams of scientific studies that were over my head scholastically.  I scoured the web for opinions and thoughtful dissertations.  I cut out every newspaper and magazine article I ran across. I asked my university colleagues for information.  I submitted Ask an Expert questions through . I visited a corporate research farm and talked with the seed scientist. I watched GMO OMG movie. I ate meals with folks in industrial agriculture and in organic agriculture.  I listened to public health experts and alternative medicine practitioners.  And I tried to listen to my own head and heart.

I discovered that this is a complex issue. There are real issues with environmental factors, human factors and the economic factors of genetic engineering and food.  These three domains or factors are the foundation of sustainability.  Sustainable communities, food systems, economic systems, and social systems are interdependent.  The GMO discussion is more than decision making, it is discernment. Discernment is considering the sustainability factors of environmental health, human health and economic health.

If this were a pregnancy, I would say we are having contractions. Painful contractions. And although I am not sure the science nor discussion of it has developed ‘full term’ I think it is getting close. I know I am ready to talk about finding common grounds and values.  I am ready for my social media feed to stop the flow of denial, blame and shame. I am ready to have some real conversations with real people about the concerns we have, what we really know, and don’t know about genetic engineering and our food. I am ready to not be afraid of my food.

Sign up for the Eco Family Virtual Conference Food & Genetic Engineering module.  View the resources we have gathered so you can learn what I have learned. Then join us for the online conversation on Thursday, March 6, 6:30-8:00 pm.





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N-R-G Savings

December 31st, 2013

ceee_energy_leftnavA few years ago we had the utility company come out and do an energy audit of our home.  We came away with lots of great suggestions for improving the efficiency of our home.  After adding more attic insulation, caulking electrical outlets and switch plates, installing efficient appliances and changing out all the lighting to high efficiency bulbs, we are still saving money everyday!  We also replaced the windows to improve the ‘envelope’ of our 1979 home.  No more drafty window sills!

In just 3 days (January 2) we will have our first 2014 Eco Family Virtual conference online gathering! Families have been looking at the resources and taking action to conserve energy in their home.  You can too! Join us for 6 months of great sustainable living topics!

Conserving energy saves money on utility bills and reduces our impact on the environment.  Renewable energy is produced by methods that can be used over and over again, unlike fossil fuels (natural gas, oil, coal) that are burned once and done.  Clean energy is a term that is used for energy production like wind and solar that do not pollute the environment in the process. In Iowa about 20% of the electricity produced is from wind power. Solar doesn’t make the charts yet in Iowa, but the technology is already being used in commercial applications all over the state.  Even residential settings are getting into the act.  If you buy electricity from Alliant, in Iowa, you have until midnight tonight to take advantage of solar rebates and tax incentives for solar installation. There are also some federal and state tax incentives for solar. Fairfield has made the most progress of any town in Iowa with solar energy production. Farmers Electric Cooperative, near Kalona, Iowa, is a small town cooperative doing its part to supplement the power it distributes with on-site generation from renewable sources. The new Facebook Data Center going up near Altoona, Iowa will be powered by 100% wind power.

We had a solar assessment done for our home and it is a good renewable option for us.  We are saving the money to do the installation in the next few years.  Hopefully, costs will decrease as the technology improves.  I have friends who installed solar this year and they had fun watching their meter run backwards during the summer.  Even winter months produce enough to offset electricity costs most days.

How are you conserving electric energy in your home this year? Tell us about it in the comment section of this blog!


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What’s Under the Tree?

December 2nd, 2013

girl behind treeI’ll bet you have the cutest, smartest, most talented child in your life – He/she may be your child, grandchild, niece or nephew, God-son or daughter and because you love them you want the very best for their life.  Am I right? Of course I am!

Well, gift giving is right around the corner and you can wade through all the advertising and ask them to give you a list of the stuff they think they have to have OR you can choose to give of yourself and a connection to Nature.  Huh? You also want to get the award for being the coolest mom, Grammy or uncle, too?

Okay- here’s the scoop – kids who spend unlimited, unstructured time outdoors in the natural world are more creative, have better visual spatial skills and are physically more healthy. They are better problem solvers, learners and more compassionate than kids who don’t get the nature connection.

So here is my list of the best Nature ‘toys’ for the most amazing kids in your life:

You get the idea – electronics are fine and have a place in our children’s lives, but the connection with you and the natural world are essential for developing young brains and bodies.  Be the coolest – give the gift of nature!

What’s under YOUR tree? Tell us at the Eco Family Blog or the Eco Family Facebook page





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