Monthly Archives: October 2012

DIR-DIY: 7 Simple Rules for DIY

(Do It Right … Do It Yourself)

By Jeanne Romano

I’m the youngest of three girls. I’m not sure if my dad taught me how to do “things” around the house because I was his last chance for a boy or I was the only one who constantly asked him questions like, “What’s the difference between a Phillips head and a flathead screwdriver?” Either way I’ve always been happy that my father took the time to infuse me with the passion to do it myself.

I would love to say that Pops taught me the correct way to do things, unfortunately he was one of those dads who didn’t read instructions, made things fit when they didn’t, had left overscrews and duct taped the unintentional gap or two.

As an adult I learned the hard way how to do things right (don’t ask) and now I’m thrilled to be able to work on my own home. It’s a real money saver, it’s lots of fun and I love when I can say, “I did it myself.”

So, let me share a little of what I’ve learned with a few simple rules for any DIY project:

  1. The scope:
    1. Did you bite off more than you can chew? Make sure to choose a project to match your abilities.
    2. If this is your first toe in the water I strongly suggest you take it slow and small. For example, if you’ve never painted walls, pick one small wall. Once you complete that one if it went well and you feel encouraged to move on… move to a larger area and paint away!
    3. Give yourself plenty of time. Try not to leave this to a Friday before someone is coming visit on Saturday or Sunday. If you’re a cook, you often try recipes before serving it to guests. Same should apply to DIY projects.
    4. Weekend projects are often a good idea. Block out the whole weekend. Involve kids, friends and/or your spouse. It can be really fun. One caution though; if you involve your children please supervise and make sure everyone knows their job and how to succeed.
  2. The budget:
    1. One of the main reasons to do something yourself is to save money.
    2. Shop around for professionals and get quotes. Your goal becomes clear; beat their number.
    3. Remember to include the cost of your time as well as ALL supplies.
  3. Instructions:
    1. We’re so lucky to live in a time where instructions are merely a click away. Your project will most likely be online somewhere.
    2. Most products, like paint, varnishes, stains and finishes, as well as all tools come with a full set of instructions. Read them.
    3. Instructions are especially important when it comes to ventilation and drying time. Many of the newer products are safe and green – however all manufacturers are required to spell out the hazards (if any) on both their labels and in any available literature. You can find this online on sometimes, in an attached pamphlet or in the box if there is one.
    4. Believe me, you’ll end up spending more time and money correcting your errors if you take short cuts or are impatient when it comes to manufacturer directives.
  4. Select the right tool for the job:
    1. Even something as seemingly simple as choosing the correct brush for the texture of your surface and product you want to apply to the surface.
    2. We often spend more money than we should because we apply the “overkill” approach to our project; we get sucked into the more expensive, bigger or a designer name. It’s rarely necessary. Get what you need and get out of the store!
  5. What’s the worst that could happen?
    1. This is one of my constant mantras. If you look at your project with the knowledge that you can always change your mind or return it to its prior state, or if all else fail get someone to help you – you’ll approach your endeavor with confidence.
  6. Magazines and photos:
    1. Like bringing a picture of a haircut to your hairdresser, it’s a good idea to gather photos and examples of items, color and design that speak to you. You may need to adjust certain things to fit your budget and space, however it’s often easier to have a visual in your head.
  7. Opinions:
    1. Like everything else, your friends and family will have opinions. Careful. There’s nothing wrong with involving others, especially those who have done this before. Just make sure your project stays within your vision and you actually do it yourself!

Just make sure you’ve done your homework, that you carve out enough time and have enough money to finish the job. It feels so good to be able to point to something and say, “I fixed, painted or replaced that myself.”

By the way, the difference between a Phillips head and flathead screwdriver is the Phillips head has a crisscross tip that fits into the screw head and a flathead has a single edge for single slot screws.

Are Fruit and Veggie Washes Really Better?

By Leah Kaminsky

It seems like every grocery store I go to these days is touting their “green” veggie and fruit washes. “Get rid of pesticides!” they proclaim. “Eat healthier!” Naturally, the allure of such products is tempting, but the last thing I want to do is remove pesticides by spraying my produce with more chemicals. So, what’s the truth? Are fruit and veggie washes really a good idea?

First, as this study of one fruit and vegetable wash shows, there’s really no way to get rid of all pesticides if they’ve been applied systemically. However, pesticides, bacteria and dirt that appear on the surface of produce is much more easily removed. While water will do the trick for water-soluble pesticides, you need something with a little more acidity for those that aren’t (and good luck figuring out on your own which one is on your apple). That makes sense if you look at the ingredients for one produce cleaner called Fit, which operates primarily through its many acids:

Ingredients in Fit: Purified water, oleic acid (from Vegetable Sources), Glycerol (from Vegetable Sources), Ethyl Alcohol (from Corn), Potassium Hydrate (from Basic Minerals), Baking Soda (from Basic Minerals), Citric Acid (from Cornstarch and Molasses), and Distilled Grapefruit Oil.

None of these ingredients are particularly harmful or unnatural. This renders that fear of replacing chemicals with chemicals largely unfounded, making the question less, “Is it safe?” than, “Is it necessary?”

According to another study completed by Jack Bishop of Cook’s Illustrated, the answer is a solid no. As Bishop suggests, all you really need is a bottle of vinegar slightly diluted with water to have the same effect.

In the end, it seems distilled water, vinegar, or one of these simple home remedies (here and here) will do the trick just fine. What you wash produce with is far less important than simply washing it. So wash away, and eat up!

Fall Activities for Kids

By Leah Kaminsky

Of all the seasons, few are as kid-friendly as fall. This is particularly true if, unlike me, you live in a region where fall means more than shifting from soul crushingly hot to pleasantly warm. Here are my top activities for making fall as fun for kids as possible.

Visit a Farm

Nothing says fall quite like loading the kids into the car and heading out to a pumpkin farm or apple orchard. Kids will love the whole adventure, from finding the biggest/strangest/most perfect pumpkin in the patch to standing on tippy toes to grab the reddest apple. And, while you’re there, many enterprising farmers also have added hayrides and corn mazes into the mix. This is an opportune moment to sneak in a lesson about sustainable produce while you’re in and amongst it

Baking

Of course, once you get the pumpkins home, the kids will want to start carving them, but there are great baking opportunities for your produce as well. Roasted pumpkin seeds are always a hit, and if you bring home extra pumpkins from the patch, you should have more than enough for your favorite pie, muffin, cake and bread recipes. Apples are also great for similar recipes, as well as apple crisps, crumbles, applesauce, apple butter, jam – you name it! Other fall produce like squash can also be fun to play with and will give kids a better appreciation for the multi-faceted food they’re putting into their bodies.

Crafts

Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommyknows/

Fall is pretty much craft time galore. After spending an afternoon jumping in the leaves, have kids pick out their favorite few and turn them into a placemat. Make acorn necklaces, Thanksgiving cards – the list goes on. While there are a number of approaches to take, it’s often most fun and informative to incorporate elements from the natural environment when you can, given how vibrant and giving it is at this time of year.

There are far more fall activities than just this. Do a quick internet search for more, and enjoy the season in all of its cinnamon-y glory!

Have a Green Halloween

By Leah Kaminksy

 

Step out your front door the day after Halloween, and you’ll likely find a wasteland of toilet paper tangled in trees, discarded plastic belts and Dracula fangs, and candy wrappers dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. As fun as Halloween can be, it doesn’t exactly rank high on the eco-conscious scale. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are just a few ways to make your Halloween a little more green – and healthy, too.

Candy

Although it’s unlikely you’ll ever manage to convince the kids that dried fruit makes a great substitute for candy (hey, it’s sweet!), there are some candies that are better than others. Fair trade, organic chocolate, for example, has all the taste while still promoting sustainable and ethical growing and production practices. Almost every type of candy is available in fair trade and organic form, so peruse your local or online health store for more.

When baking treats for school celebrations, you might want to consider swapping white sugar for agave nectar or coconut sugar, which rank lower on the glycemic index but taste just as good (if not better), and white flour for whole grain.

Decorations

From plastic spiders to paper maché pumpkins, Halloween decorations create a lot of waste. Try recycling plastic decorations from last year rather than buying them brand new every year. However, if new decorations are a must, look for recycled, durable materials or try your hand at making your own green decorations, whether that means having the kids collect pine cones for a wreath, turning old jars into a candle holder, or decorating with local produce like squash and gourds.

Costumes

Like decorations, Halloween costumes also tend to come with a lot of plastic, and to be for single use. You can make Halloween costumes green by reusing elements of last year’s costume, like a cape or a crown, to make something new. For a costume that’s new to your child (if not the world), try visiting a costume exchange, where parents can both donate and buy old, unwanted costumes on the cheap. And of course, don’t forget to give kids a reusable bag or a pillowcase to collect candy rather than a plastic bag.

Going green on Halloween is easier than you might think. Just get a little creative. So…trick or treat, eco-style!

Green Ways to Prevent Illness

By Leah Kaminsky

Between the germs your kids bring back from school and those you pick up at work, it’s hard not to feel like illness is inevitable during cold and flu season. And while you can blast your countertops and doorknobs with disinfectant, that’s not the kind of solution that will make my eco-friendly heart sing. So, what can a good old-fashioned greenie do to combat common illnesses?

 

Help your kids keep colds at bay

Take those everyday solutions and give them an eco-conscious spin.

1.      Wash hands frequently with natural soap. You can kill bacteria without the help of pesticides and chemicals, sulfates and dyes.
2.      Wipe down high-use surfaces frequently with natural disinfectants bought either from a store or homemade.
3.      Create your own hand sanitizer using essential oils and alcohol.
4.      Support your immune system with vitamins. While the actual effectiveness of vitamin C and zinc is still highly debated, they certainly can’t hurt to help support your body’s natural immune response
5.      Eat right. As always, eating healthily is one of the best ways to, well, stay healthy. During seasons when your chances of getting sick are especially high, develop a craving for spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, tea and nuts, which contain everything from vitamin C to antioxidants, phytochemicals, calcium, fiber and healthy fats –known to help prevent disease or simply keep your body strong.
6.      Get off the couch. You know exercise is good for you, but in gearing up for a big battle with your immune system, exercise is really good for you, improving your circulation and lung capacity and getting your body in fighting condition. That said, if you’ve already got a fever, rest is the best option.
7.      Cut back on sugar. The jury is still out on this one, but some people believe sugar and vitamin C are both absorbed by immune cells in the same way, so if you’re overloaded on sugar when your body needs vitamin C’s help, you’ll weaken your immune system’s natural defenses.

In the end, preventing illness the green way is very similar to preventing illness the non-green way. As always, you just have to stay aware and get a little creative.

How to Make Healthy Cocktails

By Leah Kaminsky

You’re having a little get together, and want to make the crowd a fun, fruity cocktail. But you’ve been eating so well lately, and the last thing you want is a sugar or calorie overload. What to do? The first step is knowing where those cocktail calories are coming from.

Do you know where the calories in your cocktail are coming from?

As you probably know, different kinds of alcohol vary widely in their sugar and calorie counts. For example, gin, rum, 80-proof vodka, whisky and tequila have about 64 calories per ounce, while champagne has 84. Up the proof, and you also up the calories, meaning 86-proof vodka will have about 70 calories per ounce, and so forth up to 100-proof at 82 calories.

But where the calories and sugar can really add up is in the mixers, syrups and sodas. That pushes a margarita up to 168 calories, and a Manhattan to 164.

Don’t despair just yet: there’s a whole lot you can do about it, and it doesn’t mean pouring vodka into a Diet Coke and calling it a night. Try these ideas:

  1. Mix your alcohol with freshly squeezed or no-sugar added juice to avoid high fructose corn syrup and other unneeded sugars and additives.
  2. Choose seltzer water, not regular or diet soda, when you can.
  3. Rely on the sugar in fresh fruit for maximum flavor.
  4. Set a limit on your drink size (8 oz. max) and number of shots per drink (just one).

From a good Bloody Mary to a Vodka Lemonade, there are all sorts of cocktails that fit this description. One simple solution I’ve found is simply blending frozen fruit, yogurt and vodka into a smoothie for a vitamin-packed treat. The best part of all: the more nutrients you consume, the better you’ll be able to process the alcohol, the less you’ll regret tonight tomorrow morning.

For a wealth of fantastic recipes, I highly recommend this guide over at Greatist.com. Happy blending, mixologists!

Green Your Coffee Drinking Habit

By Leah Kaminsky

When you live without sun for nine months out of the year, it’s hard not to become a hardcore coffee addict. I learned this pretty quickly when I moved to Seattle and began to work the hardest I ever had in my life. But much to the chagrin of eco-conscious coffee drinkers like myself, coffee isn’t exactly the most sustainable product. In order to mitigate coffee’s environmental and social costs, here are a few key things to keep in mind.

1. Find the Right Beans

First, take a look at how the beans are grown. You’ll want them to be organic and shade-grown. Why? Because organic coffee keeps pesticides and artificial fertilizers out of the ecosystem, while coffee grown in the shade of trees provides places for migratory birds to rest and feed themselves throughout their long journeys, and also produces the type of biodiversity that protects coffee crops from the kinds of pests that require herbicides. Look specifically for “rustic” shade cover, which provides 70 – 100% coverage.

Next, make sure those beans are Fair Trade Certified to ensure they were sourced from a farm with fair and humane labor practices.

Do you know where your daily coffee beans are grown?
(Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8896706@N05/with/6149598235/#photo_6149598235)

2. Go Local

If possible, buy from a local farmer or at least local roasters who work hard to develop relationships with farmers and co-ops.

3. Make Your Own and Clean it Up

Love paper filters as you might, they’re just not as sustainable as the reusable kind. If you must use them, compost them along with your grounds, the latter of which you can compost right into your garden. When cleaning your coffee maker, stay away from any chemicals, opting for vinegar or another natural alternative instead. To save energy, make sure to switch off your machine rather than warming your coffee all day.

4. Drinking in Style

It should go without saying, but drink from a washable porcelain mug rather than a paper cup. Most good coffee shops these days sell travel mugs that look like their paper counterparts, and they’re well worth the investment.

With a little foresight, your coffee drinking habit can be sustainable. You just have to put a little effort into sourcing and be willing to pay more not just for the beans but for the certifications as well. So green your coffee and drink up!

 

Purchasing Green Dishwashers, Washers & Dryers

By Leah Kaminsky

I’m kind of a, “Yeah, that one looks good” kind of shopper, so I was surprised at how interesting my recent dishwasher buying experience was. Apparently, there’s been a lot of innovation going on in the dishwashing world, and it’s worth taking a closer look at just what’s changed, and what the savvy green shopper should look for:

Energy Star

First and foremost, look for the Energy Star seal of approval, no matter what the appliance. While the EPA could certainly be stricter in its guidelines, it still provides a good basic minimum. Why is it important to go for an energy-efficient dishwasher? Because they use less water, meaning you’ll be using not just less water but less electricity, too.

Wash Cycles

Each load of dishes has unique requirements. Search for a dishwasher with multiple wash cycles so you can choose only the most relevant and efficient wash type. One day you might need a high intensity, scalding hot rinse for pots and pans, the next you might only need a gentle wash to clean those sandwich plates of crumbs.

Sizing

You might think buying a more compact dishwasher will significantly up your dishwashing green. If you’re living on your own and find yourself only running your current dishwasher once a week or so, yes, you’re correct. But if you’ve got a household of six and already have to run your dishwasher nightly, a compact will only increase your number of loads and your inefficiency, not to mention your aggravation.

Cool New Features
The highest end dishwashers are so chock full of features, I would be surprised if the next models don’t have a “Blast off into space” option. Many of these brands eliminate the need for electric heating by recycling the heat generated by the wash cycle. They can also sense the overall dirtiness of the dishes and automatically choose the correct water temperature and wash style.

Pretty neat, right? Stay tuned next week for more eco-conscious appliance-buying guides.