Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm saying no to dental sealants

We just got back from my son's dental checkup, and the dentist recommended giving him dental sealants on his molars. I didn't quite know what he was talking about...I never had dental sealants.

They explained to me that sealants are an additional aid in preventing cavities. They are plastic or resin and are put in the cracks in the molars to prevent food, bacteria, etc from getting in the tiny cracks and causing cavities.

So I made the appointment and headed home. On the drive home, I was thinking about it. They said my insurance may or may not cover it. That in conjunction with the fact that it is optional and considered an "additional aid" made me think that this might not be something that needs to be done if insurance won't pay the $44 per tooth.

So I went to look online for our dental insurance and did a quick search on sealants at the American Dental Association. Guess what's in dental sealants? BPA. Studies have shown detectable levels of BPA in the saliva of people with sealants. While the American Dental Association says these levels are low enough to be safe, they also say in a publication that only 23% of children in grades 2-3 have sealed molars.

I decided, because of the presence of BPA in sealants, that I wouldn't have my son get this additional service. Right now, I don't feel like the protection against cavities outweighs the possible risks. And while the ADA says the levels of BPA are safe, they are interested enough in it to continue looking into the matter.

I'm not advocating everyone avoid sealants...I'm just saying that's what we're choosing in my family. :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Composting is easier than I thought...

Those of you who have been reading the blog for a little while know I hesitantly started composting. My intention was to vermicompost (composting with worms) but I never got around to getting the worms.

Surprisingly (to me at least), it seems to work pretty well, even without the worms. What I've learned from my reading is that the worms speed up the process. When I emptied our kitchen compost container into the bigger Rubbermaid container in the back today, I was surprised that most of it was brown and squishy (I'll spare you the pictures). The only recognizable stuff was some newspaper shreddings and a couple corn husks.

I think one of the things that helped the composting on its way was making sure I had a balance of things: browns (carbon rich materials) and greens (nitrogen rich materials). That, and stirring it around to get oxygen in, has made a lot of difference.

A great website is Compost Guide. There are all kinds of instructions and even a troubleshooting guide.

My advice to those considering composting...it's not as difficult as you'd think (and not as stinky!)...give it a try!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Coming soon...wind turbines!

Just thought I'd check in since it has been awhile. We went on a mini vacation up to my parents' little house on Blue Knob Mountain. As soon as I can get the pictures from my mom's camera, I'll be posting about the HUGE wind turbines they have built on the top of the mountain.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Amex card blue card helped me be green

Last summer I signed up for the American Express Blue card which gives you cash back at the end of the year. Well, July was our year anniversary and we got $500 back (actually $497) !!!

We had eliminated all debt except for our mortgage. I was hesitant to use the credit card, but with discipline, this worked out great for us. We used the card for pretty much everything possible, but we paid IN FULL EVERY MONTH. If you make a late payment, you forfeit the cash back. So we were motivated and it paid off on time and in full.

This card helped us to be cheap and green: cheap because we made money and green because I ended up paying a lot of other bills online with the Amex (comcast, geico, etc) instead of paper bills. Previously I always did paper bills in the mail with checks.

So I guess this isn't my "greenest" post but it makes my cheap side smile!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Trash update!

I've been doing the Enviromom Challenge, trying to get to one can of trash a month. I'm surprised...since we started composting and continued our regular recycling, we have managed to have probably 1 and a 1/2 cans a month. I didn't think we'd even get down to two cans! So to celebrate our reduced trash (and to make more space in our kitchen), I got a smaller, pull out trash can that goes under the sink.

The composting is working, but going slow since we're doing it worm-free (for now). I was afraid what our little compost bin would look/smell like when we got back after a week at the beach, but I was pleasantly surprised. The last thing I put in there was corn husks, and it smelled like...cornhusks!

In other exciting (probably only to me!) news, we got our Pur water dispenser for the fridge. Yay! Between that and our iced tea maker, we'll be avoiding a lot of the prepackaged beverage bottles.

Has anyone else been doing the Enviromom trash challenge?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bagging it

I'm back from my Saturday morning farmer's market/grocery shopping. It hit me this morning how things have changed so much in the past year with shopping bags. Last year, I took my own bags to the farmer's market and a couple of the vendors looked at me like I was from Mars when I said that I didn't need a bag, I had my own. Now almost every shopper I see at the farmer's market has their own bags.

Then I made a pit stop at our grocery store with my trusty old bags. The cashier remarked, "Wow...these are our really OLD bags! They're so much better than the new ones!", which is totally true. It seems most of the new bags are made from this thin semi-fabric/semi-papery material that seems like it could rip easily. My old bags (bought from the store when I moved into my first apartment in 1992) are canvas and washable and have held up for more than 15 years.

The cashier also told me that the grocery store (Safeway) is phasing out plastic bags. She said they will only have limited quantities and customers will have to pay for them. I'm sure the cost will be minimal, but if it helps reduce the amount of plastic bag waste, I'm all for it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Popcorn !

I was tempted to title this "I am corny" since my last post entitled "I am annoying" was one of the most visited days for this blog!

Anyway, this post is about cheaply popping popcorn. Remember back in the day before the invention of the microwave popcorn bags, when there were air poppers and jiffy pop and I seem to remember some scary metal contraption my mom had that looked like a pressure cooker...who knows!?!?

Microwave popcorn is certainly easy, but not so cheap. Here's a neat and cheap trick I learned from my brother in law, Dave.

Buy the good old bag of kernels. You get a lot and they're very inexpensive! Get a paper lunchbag, put 1/4 cup of kernels in, fold the top of the bag and put in the microwave. You may have to experiment to find the correct time for your microwave. Ours takes 1 minute, 15 seconds. Voila! Perfectly popped popcorn!
You can add whatever seasoning you like- I spray with I can't believe it's not butter. And I have found you can use your paper lunch bags more than once. When you're done with the bag, you can recycle it with your paper (unlike microwave popcorn bags). Cheap and green!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I am annoying

My new hobby is annoying companies about their environmental practices (or lack thereof). It's pretty fast and easy to send off an email to companies. So my first email was to Chick-fil-a. Believe it or not, I've never been to a Chick-fil-a before a couple weeks ago. I really liked their chicken, but they serve their drinks in styrofoam cups. So I wrote them an email about this. Here's what they said:

"We share your concerns regarding the environment. Although customer feedback reveals that the majority of our customers favor the type and style of packaging that we use, we are constantly looking for more economically and more ecologically sound alternatives. Our polystyrene containers (drink cups) have never been produced using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and are, therefore, ozonesafe. Foam products are more easily recycled than plastic, coated, or treated paper products."

While foam products may be easier to recycle in theory, it's difficult to find places that will recycle them. I mean really, how many people do you see recycling a foam cup vs. throwing it away? I did a little researching on Chick-fil-a's claim about sytrofoam being more easily recycled. The earth911 website's information contradicts what Chick-fil-a said in their email to me:

"Polystyrene is not easily recycled because it is lightweight, has a low scrap value, and is not generally accepted as part of curbside recycling programs. However, recycling polystyrene is an emerging market; Los Angeles, the second largest city in the U.S., has implemented a curbside program for recycling clean polystyrene products."

What do you think about this contradiction?

In the meantime, I'm continuing to write my little emails. But they're not all annoying :) I wrote to Teva, when I purchased and LOVED their shoes made from recycled materials, and I wrote to Swan Creek Candles when I replaced my Yankee Candles with their fabulous soy candles.

I know my little emails don't really make much of a difference, but I figure maybe there are other people out there writing too and maybe all our voices added up will eventually make a difference.

Berries and more berries!

When you are a kid playing outside in your backyard, there are so many new things to discover...toads, wildflowers, cicada shells....

What's even more exciting is when you discover something new in your parents' backyard years later as an adult. Have you guessed yet? It's raspberries!!!

A few years ago, a developer cut through the very back of my parents' yard (which had previously backed up to woods. This was a real sore spot for my parents, but they planted some trees along the road in the hopes of shielding them from the road. Well, karma was in action because the next summer, raspberry bushes cropped up EVERYWHERE along the sides of the new road! Black and red varieties were all over! We picked them until our hands were scratched and sore from the thorns, but it was well worth it!

Black raspberries are probably my favorite fruit. I was really eager for this year's crop from my parents' "organic berry farm" as I call it. A couple days ago, they brought me over some of their berries. My dad made a pie, I ate some for breakfast the next day and also threw them in the blender and made smoothies. I love it: simple, beautiful and tasty.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Learning about Endangered Species with Kids

On one of our visits to the library, I found this book, 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth by John, Sophie & Jesse Javna. This is a nice little book that is an easy, quick read.

One of the things I liked most about the book is the website associated with the book. The website, http://www.50simplethings.com/ , has links to articles, resources and organizations.

One of the issues in the book is about protecting endangered species. My son is really interested in all kinds of animals so we did a little surfing on the web and found some neat sites, like the Endangered Species Coalition.
We also did a search for endangered species in our own state. He was excited to learn about an endangered LARGE salamander called a Hellbender. Here's a link to a picture so you can get an idea of the size of these monsters.

We also found some really cool resources produced by Penn State. I downloaded some lesson plans and worksheets and booklets from the Penn State Sustainable Forestry website.
There are lots of neat things there that are fun summer projects for kids interested in the environment, outdoors and/or animals. This is a really great site for ideas of things to do with your kids to help them learn about the environment.

My son is working on "trading cards" we found on another website. He looks up the animal's habitat, predators and its diet, why it's endangered, and draws a picture of it. He's having a lot of fun making his own trading cards while learning important information. Cool!
So that's what we've been up to today.
Tomorrow's post will be about...raspberries!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mythbusters, Diet Coke, Mentos and Artificial Ingredients

Ever seen the show Mythbusters? It's a really interesting show that explores the science behind "myths" and everyday things that the average person has no idea of the workings behind it.

While we were on vacation, we saw an episode that showed the combination of mentos and diet coke causing a bubbling geyser of beverage. (Sorry, I was unable to embed the video of their investigation, but here's the link.) The guys looked at the mentos candy and diet coke ingredients, one by one and figured out which ingredients caused the reaction. They did this by adding powdered versions of all the funky stuff in diet coke one at a time.

Now I have to say, I like my diet coke. A lot. But it kind of makes me wonder why phosphoric acid is in it- that stuff is used to prevent/remove rust in addition to flavoring colas. Weird!

I'm not sure if I could wean myself off the stuff (although I will make sure not to eat mentos at the same time!). Does anyone know of a "natural soda" that would be as good as the old faithful?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sunscreen

People are much more aware of the dangers of direct exposure to UV rays without protection these days...or so you'd think.
According to the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (and reported by bloomburg.com) melanoma rates among young women in the U.S. has gone up 50% since the 80s.
While my family and I are at the beach, we're making sure we have enough sunscreen on.
Many sunscreens, though, contain ingredients that may not be so healthy. I did a little research on the Skin Deep cosmetics database to find out which sunscreens were safest and most effective.
The Skin Deep site rates products on a scale of 0-10 on safety, with 0 being the safest. They have a list of 28 products that have tested effective with low hazards. Some of the names that fall in this category are California Baby and Badger products. I wanted to buy the California Baby sunscreen, but it was sold out EVERYWHERE...on line and in store. Guess everyone had my idea at the same time!
I did a little more digging at the Skin Deep site and was able to find that Aveeno Baby was rated a 3 (not bad) and I knew that was carried pretty much every place. So I bought that for the beach. So far it's worked great- no burns here!
Hope you're enjoying your summer and using your sunscreen :)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Keeping Oceans Clean


After spending a little time here at the beach (and a little break from the blog), I thought it would be important to mention something about the ocean.

Whenever I visit the ocean, I am amazed at how HUGE it is- just from my vantage point. Standing at the edge of the water, it's truly hard for me to comprehend its size. While I'm not a big sun worshipper (I'm the one under the umbrella wearing SPF 700), I love the ocean- the smell, the sound, the sand. And the kids love it too- I think of the ocean as a natural playground for the kids.

While much of the general environmental concern deals with implementing better ways of living our everyday lives, I think we also need to think about places, like the ocean, that might not be part of our everyday life, but are important to our planet and are a beautiful thing in our own lives.

The Ad Council has collaborated with a number of companies (including Disney) and agencies to create an ad that promotes awareness of this. There's a great, fun site for kids at keepoceansclean.org, and below is one of the ads for keeping the oceans clean.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Woo-hoo!

Just got this email from Earthbound Farms:

Update for winners of Earthbound Farm reusable tote bags
Congratulations on winning a reusable tote bag in our Earth Day promotion!

Because the response to our promotion was so much larger than we anticipated, we’ve had to order more bags from our manufacturer. Those of you who have not yet received your bag will receive yours this month.

That package will include:
• Your Earthbound Farm reusable tote
• Our newsletter with $1.75 in Earthbound Farm coupons
• And our 2008 Pocket Guide to Choosing Organic

We hope that once you get your bag in hand, you’ll be inspired to use it every time you shop. If every household in America used their own shopping tote instead of the store’s paper bag on just one shopping trip this year, we would save 60,000 trees!

In the meantime, we keep updating our home on the web with new features, so we hope you’ll drop in and visit us at www.ebfarm.com when you get a chance.
Thank you for choosing Earthbound Farm organic produce!

Real World Green

It's been busy around the living cheap and green household, so not much of a post today, but I would like to share a site that I think is informative and enjoyable!

Real World Green has a guy who makes short videos about everyday environmental concerns. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Today's a mixed bag!

No big topic today, but a few snippets:

SHAMPOO: I tried some new shampoo! You may remember from a few posts back that I wanted to change to a more earth-friendly (and health friendly) shampoo. So I tried Kiss My Face Green Tea and Lime Everyday shampoo. Overall, I liked it. It cleaned my hair well and doesn't make it feel limp or heavy. It even lathered, which I thought it wouldn't since it leaves out the ingredient SLS. The only drawbacks: the price ($6-8) and I wasn't that into the smell. It wasn't bad, just not my kind of smell, but not so bad that I wouldn't use it.

SPICES: I was reading about buying in bulk and how that not only can save money but also lessen the packing waste in your household. I'm a little wary of bulk purchases because if it's not used in time, it can go to waste. So before I buy something in bulk that may go bad, I need to be sure I'd use it. Spices are one thing I know we use A LOT of...so I did a quick search on bulk spices and came up with something that looks really good: The Monterey Bay Spice Company. Now I haven't ordered from them yet, but they are certified organic and sell spices, herbs, teas, essential oils and more. There prices look fairly reasonable. I'll let you know if/when I order from them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Living intentionally

Living intentionally? What that have to do with being cheap or green? Well, I am cheap with time. This sounds cliche, but really, all we do have is time. I guard mine fiercely! I don't want to spend any of it frivolously or wastefully.

I read a lot of "mom" blogs and so frequently there are complaints of not having enough time and drowning in a multitude of chores. When I am in my last minutes of my life, I don't want to regret spending time on unending chores and errands...I want to remember time well spent with family and loved ones and moments of my own quiet solitude.

There is a sort of mental trap in which you feel like a hamster on a wheel and you can't get off. It's important to realize that you do have a choice in the matter. The key word here is CHOICE. You really have to look at your life and stop thinking about the day when you'll eventually have less to do. It's not going to "just happen"; you have to CHOOSE to do less.

Think about what you really value...I mean, if you don't do laundry today, are you really going to remember that 10 years down the line? But if you choose to do something lovely with your kids today, you will remember that. So why put so much importance on the unimportant?

A year or two ago, I found a book called "Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World"by Eknath Easwaran. This, for me, was a life changing book. The author talks about slowing down, focusing on one thing at a time and doing it with real intention. He also talks about choosing what you do wisely. Here's an excerpt that really made an impression on me:

"...I have written [this book] for those who want to get the most of life by gaining freedom from the forces that hurry and hassle them through each day. The Buddha called this intentional living. It is the opposite of reflex living, which is scarcely living at all.

Over many years, I have found that for most of us the first step toward living intentionally is to slow down...and gain the capacity to make wise choices every day- choices of how we use our time, of where we place our resources and love."

Here's how to be cheap with your time:
Realize you don't have to do it all. Really.