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June 2011

06/30/2011

How to Redesign a Room More Earth Friendly

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Want to freshen up a room in your home by infusing a seasonal summery vibe? It’s a weekend project that’s both easy and eco-friendly, when you do it right. Recently, I spent some time perking up my bedroom with a fresh coat of paint, a bit of rearranging and some creative re-using of furniture I already had on hand. The result? A pretty boudoir for a pretty penny!


If you’re eager to energize a space in your home, take a moment to jot down a list of what you’d like to see, then sketch it out to scale on a sheet of paper, just in case you need to rethink any particular pieces.

Brighten walls with a fresh coat of low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint to avoid the more than 10,000 chemicals found in typical interior paint cans. (Read more on choosing low-VOC here.) By choosing a paint and primer in one, you’ll save yourself a can of paint, but you’ll likely shell out a few dollars more to start.

Instead of buying new a fancy, new headboard for a bedroom consider painting a faux headboard—like I did—and dressing it up with a stack of organic fabric pillows. It will save you time and money, and promises a truly custom solution. Unique paint treatments can be used all through the house, behind a bunch of framed photos in your hallway or living room, or even as a faux rug on your patio floor.

Reuse old furniture by giving it new life with a coat of paint. Remove old drawers from a chest and replace with baskets or replace the legs on a nightstand to create a new place for plants in a sunroom.

Spicen up a room with new linens—natural jute rugs or organic cotton pillows—or recycle some of your existing fabrics by turning them into new pieces. A fabric shower curtain that you love but that doesn’t match your bathroom? Try turning the durable fabric into new, outdoor pillows.

Switch your lights to whiter compact fluorescent lighting, which offers a brighter glow and cheaper electricity bills. Or, take down stuffy, dusty drapes and let the light shine in. Hello, Vitamin D!

With only a few simple changes, you can have a cool, clean space in your home that better reflects you, your lifestyle and your commitment to the environment.

06/29/2011

Staycation: Picnic at the Park

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It's a beautiful, summer day and luckily, you have the entire day to yourself. What to do? Why not turn your one-off holiday into a staycation by packing up and heading to a local state park you've never visited. Better yet, pack a picnic - a sustainable picnic, naturally - and plan for a day-long event. 


If you're not a categorical picnicer, we'll help you out with some of the basics. To begin, you'll need a basket (like this cool, red option from ReUseIt) or big bag for toting all of your goodies, and a blanket big enough for however many people you'll invite (I dig this PVC-free blanket with carry strap). Yes, many parks have picnic tables, but I'm of the mindset that it's simply not a picnic if a blanket isn't involved. Once you have these two items, gather up some reusable or corn-based and biodegradable plates and utensils like those made by Trellis (most grocery stores now carry paper alternative options).

You won't want to make any stressful grocery store stops on the way, if you can avoid it, so use what you have in  your home already to pack up a nutritious variety of foods and snacks. Some of the staples include: fresh fruit salad; raw, organic vegetables; crackers and cheese; and simple sandwiches.

Top it all of with a bottle of specialty organic juice or hey, why not indulge in a bottle of biodyamic wine if the day calls for relaxing? For dessert, bring along some healthy granola or all-natural cookies - finger foods are always appreciated outdoors! 

Lastly, kick back and soak up some sun. A lazy day at the park truly is one of life's greatest pleasures and surely makes for an awesome staycation. 

06/28/2011

The Best Fuel Efficient Hybrids on the Road

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Want to invest in a new, fuel-sipping car but don't know which to choose? Consumer Reports recent run-down of fuel efficient rides was overrun with hybrid vehicles, which typically provide better fuel economy than conventional cars, but often come along with a heftier pricetag. 

However, David Champion, Senior Director ofConsumer Reports Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn. points out that the timely fact that "as gas prices rise, the pay-back time gets shorter."

Which hybrids made it through the magazine's real-life-testing for performance, reliability and safety to be recommended as the best in their class? 

The Toyota Prius IV hybrid sedan, priced at $24,750 and offering 44 mpg, was ranked the "Best Family Car." Coming in at $32,575 and offering 26 mpg is the "Best Small SUV," the Ford Escape Hybrid, offering roomy comfort for the adventuresome set. Lastly, for luxe driving, the Lexus HS 250h hybrid garners 31 mpg and retails for $38,939.

Are these alternative engine options on your test-drive list? If not, which hybrid is your favorite and why? 

06/27/2011

Planning a Safe and Sustainable Safari

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As summer approaches, thousands of people will plan vacations to Africa, with a majority of them hoping to see jaw-dropping creatures like lions, elephants, and gazelles in their natural habitat. However, an increase in tourism means that the welfare of these animals may actually be compromised.


To help ensure that you're planning a safe - and sustainable - safari, heed the following tips:

  • Research a safari company’s background: Some tourism outfitters cater specifically to guests seeking a photo safari, while others specialize in hunting trips. Make sure an outfitter employs trained guides or naturalists who know the local rules. Many companies offer tours led by inexperienced individuals who lack the necessary knowledge to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience which doesn’t harm animals.
  • Find a safari outfitter that supports locals: Some companies use a portion of profits to support local programs like wildlife protection in community-owned conservancies, animal conservation outreach and education development, while also providing employment opportunities to community members. Opt for a philanthropic company, if possible.
  • Follow all park rules: Safaris provide a rare chance for tourists to get up-close-and-personal with wild animals. However, with this opportunity comes a great amount of responsibility. Off-road and reckless driving, herding, speeding or noise pollution from safari vehicles could disturb or even spook the wildlife, putting everyone in the vicinity in danger.
  • Don’t be a part of the problem: In the wild, even the smallest piece of litter could negatively impact the entire ecosystem of a region, so visitors must be extremely diligent throughout their trip. It's also important that when tourists buy local souvenirs, they confirm that trinkets aren't made from animal parts or indigenous wood.
  • Don’t turn a blind eye: Report any violation to the relevant wildlife authorities. Remember, animal mistreatment is bad for tourism and reflects poorly on the community, so it is important to voice concerns to the appropriate authorities. 

Source: International Fund for Animal Welfare

06/23/2011

What's Old is New: The Green, Money-Saving Amish Lifestyle

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Skd283890sdc We sometimes think that going green, making our lifestyle more environmentally conscious, requires spending: buying compact fluorescent bulbs or even solar panels, maybe even trading in the old gas guzzler for a new hybrid or electric car. In our consumer culture, our default mode is to think we have to buy something in order to do something.
The truth is, you don’t have to spend the green to go green. In fact, if you start with the intent of being thrifty, you’ll probably end up making “green” choices that actually help the environment. One of the best examples of "un-consumer lifestyle" can be seen in today's Amish families, who save money—and are gloriously green—but incidentally so, with frugality a common thread in the Amish community.
 
Every product that we buy new not only costs us money, but it also has a carbon footprint: the fuel used in manufacturing it, getting it to the store, getting us to the store to buy it, and so on. Every time you decide to reuse something you already have—even if it is a yogurt container—you’re not just helping your budget, you’re helping the planet.

When it comes to greening up, why not take a cue from the Amish lifestyle? 
 
Repurpose: Find a new use for an old thing, rather than just throwing it away, to keep it out of a landfill and also cut costs. Save empty glass jars for storage, use the good fabric in worn clothing in craft projects, be creative!
 
Recycle: If your town has a recycling program, participate! But also consider recycling yourself: clean out plastic containers to reuse for food storage, swap tired-of children's toys with friends or neighbors, donate old books to the local library.
 
Garden: Like the Amish, plant a garden and put a dent in your summer grocery bill, reduce your carbon footprint, and make the world a little greener—literally. If you don’t have a green thumb, but still want to be green, buy from a local farm or farmer’s market.
 
Hand-Down: Small children don’t stay small for long, so they typically outgrow their clothes before they wear them out so consider reusing them for the next child. Most Amish families have at least half a dozen kids, so they naturally clothe the younger ones with hand-me-downs.  If your family is slightly smaller, find other families you can trade with, or at the very least, donate used clothing to charity instead of them hitting the landfill.
The Amish often say, “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without,” to describe their thrifty lifestyle. Who knew that doing just that would also help the environment?  

Source: Money Secrets of the Amish

 

06/21/2011

Green Cleaning with Garage Sales

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78457784 (1) When it comes to cleaning house, there's no more eco-friendly way to pare down than with a garage sale. The "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra really rings true here, and allows you to get rid of some of your own self-declared junk while snagging a few extra bucks along the way. What could be better?

If you're feeling pinched under the amount of "stuff" in your home, consider organizing a summer weekend garage sale - or team up with your neighbors to peddle your unwantables in a block sale. (The more the merrier!) 


For a lesson in Garage Sales 101, we turned to pro-marketer and garage-sale diva Ava Seavey, author of Ava's Guide to Garage Sale Gold, who offered up the following easy tips:

  • Have clear, simple signs. They should be double-sided, have arrows and clearly state the date and time.
  • Put an ad in your local paper.
  • Write everything down. (Just like dieting.) Do this before, during and after the sale. 
  • Tag everything, unless they're grouped with other things likely to sell at a set price. (You want to be focused on exchanging money during hte sale, not haggling.)
  • Put everyting on tables, laid out neatly, if possible.
  • Categorize like items together.
  • Feel empowered when you negotiate - don't be afraid to say no. Don't feel intimidated; maintain prices that reflect a product's real worth.

06/15/2011

Getting Your Daily Dose of Fruits & Veggies

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What's on your plate for dinner? If it's not half-full of fruits and veggies, you're not following the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) newest dietary recommendations, which suggest devoting at least 50 percent of every meal - or your daily food intake - to nature's produce. 

"This science-based government recommendation to make half your plate fruits and vegetables is a significant and positive step in the battle to fight obesity and related health issues in America. [It's] a simple, memorable way to show Americans the proportion of fruits and vegetables they should be eating at every meal occasion," says Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation.

How can you add fruits and veggies in ways that won't make you feel 100 percent vegetarian (if you aren't already, that is):

 Source: Fruits & Veggies - More Matters

  • Start your morning with a glass of 100 percent fruit juice
  • Stock up on frozen and canned fruits and vegetables for those times when fresh varieties aren't handy
  • Mix dried plums, mango and banana chips with almonds for a healthy mid-day snack
  • Keep pre-cut veggies at eye-level in your refrigerator for grab-and-go snacking
  • Pack celery sticks topped with peanut butter for a healthy, but filling, lunch time treat 

06/14/2011

Save Fuel with Tires in Tip-Top Shape

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77005428 (1) Did you know that if your tires aren't kept at the recommended pressure you could be losing 3 to 4 percent fuel economy every time you turn the ignition? 

Your dashboard tire pressure gauge may not indicate any problems, but it's worth taking a look on a weekly basis to ensure that your vehicle is as safe - and fuel efficient - as possible. After all, escalating summer temperatures can change tire pressure by an average of 1 psi for every 10 degrees it heats up!

Wondering how to take care of your tires and reap the rewards? Rely on these simple tips:

  • Check tire pressure when the tires are cold; in other words, before they have been driven on. Do not bleed air pressure from hot tires. Follow the recommendation in your owner's guide for proper bleeding procedures.
  • The proper air pressure for the front, rear and spare tires is listed on a sticker on the vehicle, usually on the driver's door jamb. The pressure listed on the tire sidewall is the maximum for the tire and not the recommended inflation pressure.
  • Check tire pressure at least once a month and always before trips. Even if the tire pressure warning light is not on, the tires could be under-inflated.
  • Always remember to check the air pressure in the spare tire when you check the road tires.
  • Check tire inflation pressures with an accurate (+/- 0.5 pounds per square inch, or psi) digital tire inflation pressure gauge.

But don't stop with a tire-pressure check. Be sure to also monitor the alignment of your wheels to avoid rapid tread-wear, the rotation of your tires to ensure uniform wear and the tread grip, which will keep yoou safer in rough road conditions.

With your tires are in tip-top shape, prices at the pump may just become a little more bearable.

(Sources: Ford Motor Co., AAA) 

06/13/2011

Top 10 Summertime National Parks Hikes

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200410013-001This summer, why not kick off the flip flops and lace up some hiking shoes? Here in the U.S., we've got 84 million acres of stunning national parks just waiting and ready for you to explore. Not only are our nation's pristine parks an idyllic ecotourism destination - they're the ultimate in inexpensive activities!

If you're not familiar with the most sought-out trails, that's okay. Take a day or two to find your own favorite nooks, crannies and cliffs to call your own. Or, if you're eager to see what everyone is talking about, try one of these hot spot trails that are known for their nationwide popularity: 

  1. Arizona: Petrified Forest National Park
    Painted Desert Rim Trail (One mile round trip)
    This trail winds through the rim woodland and offers up various species of plants, animals and spectacular views.
  2. California: Yosemite National Park
    Wapama Falls (Five miles round trip)
    Taking you to the base of Wapama Falls, this trail passes two waterfalls and bounties of wildflowers.
  3. Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison
    Rim Rock Nature Trail (One mile round trip)

    A self-guided nature trail that's mostly flat and follows the canyon's rim. You'll catch excellent views of the Gunnison River.
  4. Florida: Canaveral National Seashore
    Turtle Mound Trail (.3 miles)
    Hike to the top of a 35-foot-high Native American Mound and choose one of two awesome views.
  5. Georgia: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
    General Bragg Trail (Five miles)
    Cehck out Georgia Regimental Monuments, Strahl's Brigade Tablet and General Bragg's Headquarters as you hike back through history.
  6. New Mexico: White Sands National Park
    Interdune Boardwalk (650 yards round trip)

    Easily accessible for strollers and wheelchairs, this walk offers vast views of wildflowers aplenty.
  7. South Dakota: Jewel Cave National Monument
    Canyons Trail (3.5 mile loop trail)
    You'll surely encounter limestone cliffs, ponderosa pine forests, deer, birds and bats on this trail.
  8. Texas: Big Bend National Park
    Dog Canyon Trail (4 miles round trip)
    Glimpse a narrow canyon cut between massive limestone layers on this medium-difficulty trail.
  9. Tennessee: Great Smokey Mountains
    Andrews Bald Trail (3.5 miles round trip)
    At 5,920 feet, Andrews Blad is the hightest in the Smokies. Enjoy breath-taking views of the southern mountains from the top.
  10. Maine: Acadia National Park
    Ocean Path Trail (4 miles round trip)
    Sand beaches and sea cliffs. Enough said, right?

Source: National Park Foundation

06/10/2011

Up Your Energy with a Relaxed Stay-cation

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With “stay-cations” taking the place of traditional vacations for many families around the country during these tough economic times, people must still find ways to relax and enjoy their time off.  A challenge, to be sure – but there are innovative ways to chill out, recharge your batteries and feel refreshed – all without leaving home.  

Dr. Ann Marie Chiasson, MD, and Dr. Andrew Weil, of Self-Healing with Energy Medicine, has some smart tips for those seeking the benefits of a vacation, without the price tag of a travel-heavy get-away. Up your energy the all-natural (non-caffeinated way) with these simple mind/body exercises:

 

  • Gather energy for each day – Use your slowed breath, movement or exercise to consciously bring vitality and energy into your body to greet the demands of the day. This is particularly useful for mornings when you know you will be facing a hectic day.
  • Tap your toes together or your fingertips to relieve stress - Lie flat in bed and rotate your legs to allow your toes to tap together over and over, quickly and rhythmically. If you are upright, tap your fingertips together to allow energy to move through your body.  This moves the stress through instead of allowing it to disrupt the nervous system.
  • Breathe – Breathing can shift your nervous system from overload to relaxed.  Slow your breath down. Breathe in gently through your nose for the count of four. Hold for the count of seven and breathe out through your mouth for the count of eight.  Repeat this four times, at least twice a day or during times when you feel your stress level rising.
  • Shaking the Bones – Imagine a cord attached to the crown of your head, reaching up to the sky. Allow your body to relax like a rag doll hanging from this cord. Let your neck relax and fall to one side. Bounce gently up and down from your knees, and allow the rest of your body to shake. Shake your shoulders and your arms; let your neck gently roll from side to side. Use your breath with each movement to shake out old experiences, feelings, or tensions that come into your awareness during this exercise. Do this practice for 2 to 5 minutes a day initially, and work up to 10 minutes a day.  If you have knee problems, sway from side to side while you shake. If you experience a moderate to severe amount of pain at an old injury site, stop the practice and come back to it the next day. Practice shaking the bones every day this week and anytime you feel overwhelmed or if you feel you need a quick pick me up. 
  • Connecting to the earth – Begin this practice by lying flat on the ground or sitting in a chair. Relax and allow your body’s energy field, or the feeling of your body’s edges, to merge with the energy field of the earth. Feel the interface of these energy fields as they come together. After you feel this connection, if you are lying on the ground, place one ear on the earth and listen. If you are seated in a chair, focus on one ear and listen to the energy and sounds around you. Rest in this position for a few minutes, and then switch sides and listen with the other ear. Continue to rest and listen for a few more minutes.
  • Slow down, time bends – Slowing our pace in each moment by practicing the art of not rushing allows us more time to get things done.  This shift happens in a fraction of a second. You must try this perspective to reap its benefits.
  • Day 7 - Laugh as much as you can – Laughter is a wonderful way to connect to yourself and relieve stress.  Try renting funny movies, remember and re-tell funny stories and read funny books. Laughter is a profound way to enjoy yourself and your family.

Source: Dr. Chiasson