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?


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

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?


Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention , ,

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.



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?


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

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 http://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/s00/index.html#2

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 , , , ,