I Need...Allergy Relief

>> Thursday, May 28, 2009

I've had seasonal allergies since my family moved to Kentucky when I was a teenager, but since we moved to North Carolina, my allergies have been out of control.

Case in point: One day, I was driving my family through downtown Raleigh when my eye started itching uncontrollably. I was trying to drive with one eye and ended up turning the wrong way down a one way street. Luckily, I realized what I'd done immediately and no cars were coming, so I swung into the first parking lot and demanded that my husband take over the driving.

When your eyes are so itchy and watery and red that it's making you a hazard, it's definitely time to find a solution.

I had tried a few types of over-the-counter allergy meds with no success. They took care of the nose issues, but my eyes still itched like crazy. So I tried eye drops, but frankly, I am no good at putting things in my eyes. I figured I would have to head to the doctor for a prescription.

Or would I?

While catching up on my blog reading one day, I came across this post from Pays to Live Green about an alternative method for dealing with allergies: the neti pot.

A neti pot looks like an oblong tea pot. You fill the pot with a salt water solution, lean your head sideways over a sink, stick the spout of the pot up your nose, and pour. The salt water travels up one nostril and out the other, flushing all the nasties out of your nasal passages.

I was intrigued by the neti pot mainly because of the cost - only $20. A trip to the doctor would cost a co-pay plus the price of prescription drugs and drug refills. A one time cost of $20 sounded much more appealing.

Plus, a product that I could buy once and use over and over would produce less waste than the weekly packages of Claritin I was going through. And solving my allergy problem would mean I could stop using so much toilet paper to blow my nose.

Since I was heading down the path of alternative medicine, I decided to research other non-drug related ways to beat allergies. Here's what I found:


  • Avoid the trigger. This is pretty obvious, but if you know you're allergic to cats, stay away from cats. If you know you're allergic to grass, don't mow the lawn. Etc.
  • Keep yourself and your pets clean. Shower daily and bathe your pets often.
  • Wear glasses or sunglasses outdoors to keep particles that might trigger an allergy attack out of your eyes.
  • Close your windows, especially on high pollen days.
  • Opt for bare floors. Dust and other allergens accumulate in carpet. If you have carpet and have no plans to replace it, at least vacuum often with a quality vacuum.
  • Use a dehumidifier. Allergens love a humid environment.
  • Avoid heavy house and yard work, but keep your house and linens clean (maybe play the pity card on your roommates or spouse).
  • Try a Neti pot. See above explanation.
  • Drink herbal tea. Peppermint works well as a decongestant. Nettle tea reduces hay fever symptoms - you can also take nettle in capsule form. Eyebright is another herb I've read good things about, but I haven't been able to find it around here.
  • Take a shower to wash off any pollen or other allergens that might have settled on your hair and body. The steam from a hot shower can also sooth irritated sinuses.
  • Eat wasabi. This fiery condiment can make your nose drip and your eyes water, flushing out the sinuses. If you don't have wasabi, try any spicy food.
Another great resource for fighting allergies is the article "How to Allergy-Proof Your Home" at HowStuffWorks.

Where I'm At

I've been using a neti pot for a couple weeks now, and it's working great. I don't know if it's because it makes my eyes water a bit or if my eye cavities are connected somehow to my nasal cavities, but running saltwater through my nose has solved my itchy eye problem as long as I do it as soon as my eyes start itching. I've read that you can use the neti pot up to four times a day, though once or twice is probably best.

The only downside is that using the neti pot is disgusting and messy, definitely something you want to do in privacy. So if you're struck by a nasty allergy attack at work, you're still more likely to reach for some drugs than to head to the community bathroom to flush out your nasal passages.

Image by brookenovak

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Noteworthy Green: Cheap Families, Farting Cows, Bacon Fever, and More...

>> Wednesday, May 27, 2009

::The Greenest Dollar reviews the book, America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money.

::The Simple Dollar discusses "quantity surcharge" (when a larger grocery item costs more per unit than the smaller item) and reveals some commonly marked up examples.

::Wisebread lists "15 Wonderful Uses for Witch Hazel."

::Grist answers the burning question, "Do grass-fed cows contribute to greenhouse gases through burping and farting as much as grain-fed cows?" The answer is surprising.

::EcoWonder at the Green Phone Booth justifies her eco-backslide when her son has "bacon fever," aka swine flue, aka H1N1 flu.


Quick Tip: Fan in the Window

>> Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Marvin Woll, a man I met through the Sierra Club, gave me this tip for saving money on your electricity bill while using less energy. He sent this suggestion into the News & Observer last year.

Your first step is to purchase a 20-inch box fan. Then either late at night or early in the morning, turn on the Weather Channel or your computer and check the outside temperature. If the temperature is 70 degrees or lower, put the fan in the window, turn it to the high setting and either push or pull air through the house. If possible, let the fan run for an hour. You will notice your thermostat fall by four or five degrees. It only takes a minute to glance at the outside temperature and put the fan in the window.

When we do this, our main air conditioning unit does not come on until three or four in the afternoon instead of 10 or 11 in the morning. Our house is 1,900 square feet. This technique reduces our electric bill by $60 per month, and we do this six months during the year.


Book Review: In Defense of Food

>> Monday, May 25, 2009

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan

Rating: ****


In his previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan took a detailed look at the American diet, revealing that most of what we eat has its root in corn and oil, and that the organic label is not all it's purported to be. His book has been called a wake up call for the hungry and left many people asking, "Now what am I supposed to eat?"

In Defense of Food is Pollan's answer to that question, and the first three sentences of this book sum it up: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Those sentences describe Pollan's philosophy so concisely, you could almost get away with not reading the rest of the book. Almost.

The problem is that those statements need some explaining, so Pollan spends the next 200 pages fleshing out what he means when he says, "Eat food" (real food, not the processed food that makes up most of our diet), "Not too much" (focus on quality rather than quantity), "Mostly plants" (more leaves than seeds).

Pollan begins by ripping apart food science, or what he calls "nutritionism." He asserts that the method we use to analyze food (categorizing its parts into fats and carbohydrates, nutrients and micronutrients) is flawed, and as we as a culture have succumbed to the ideas of nutritionism, we've actually become less healthy, replacing much of the traditional foods our ancestors ate with food-like substances fortified with the supposedly essential nutrients.

Pollan suggests that rather than dividing foods into their various parts, we should focus on the whole food, eating more plant-based foods, eschewing processed foods, and enjoying food as a social and cultural action.

My Opinion:

Pollan's ideas here are very similar to Nina Planck's Real Food, and both books could be summarized with the suggestion to eat more traditional foods. Pollan's book also had similar flaws to Planck's, particularly cherry-picking research to support ideas and overlooking lack of exercise as a huge factor in the Western diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease).

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Pollan's book more than Planck's because she focused so heavily on meat-eating. Pollan does not advocate a vegetarian diet (although he doesn't discount it), but instead he supports eating meat from pastured, healthy, well-treated animals.

Still, I thought a lot of this book was overly-wordy and repetitive, as if Pollan really didn't have much to say on the subject. And because of that, I think most people could skip the first two sections of the book and only read the last, where Pollan details his eating philosophy.

In fact, for those too busy to read this book, I'm going to go ahead and give you the Clif's Notes version. Here's what/how you should be eating:

  • Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronouncable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Avoid food products that make health claims.
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  • You are what you eat eats too.
  • If you have the space, buy a freezer.
  • Eat like an omnivore.
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.
  • Eat wild foods when you can.
  • Be the kind of person who takes supplements.
  • Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks.
  • Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
  • Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner.
  • Pay more, eat less.
  • Eat meals.
  • Do all your eating at a table.
  • Don't get your fuel from th same place your car does.
  • Try not to eat alone.
  • Consult your gut.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.
This was another book where I felt like I already knew too much about the subject for it to grab me. I need some suggestions for a really thought-provoking, pushing-the-limits-of-new-ideas kind of book...

Next up on my reading list...Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough


The Poor Man's Dilemma: How to Save Money When Living Paycheck to Paycheck

>> Friday, May 22, 2009

This post was included in the 179th Festival of Frugality at Suburban Dollar.

I've been thinking about getting a pressure cooker. I'd like to be able to buy large amounts of fruits and vegetables at the peak of their season (when the cost is lowest) and can them in jars for use during the rest of the year. A pressure cooker would also make using dried beans more convenient, and would be a great tool when I have a garden someday.

I know a cheap pressure cooker only costs $100 and would save me much more than that over time, but there's a problem...I don't have $100.

This is the poor man's dilemma. To acquire money-saving tools takes money. To acquire money-saving skills takes money. To increase income through investments takes money. And for someone living paycheck to paycheck, extra money is hard to come by.

So what can you do when you really want something but don't have the money? In particular, what can you do when you know that object or skill will ultimately save you money, if only you had the money to acquire it?

Check under the couch cushions, break open the piggy bank, or try this...

1. Make a list of the items you want in order of greatest need or greatest return on investment. Focus on saving for the things you need most, and don't get sidetracked by the lesser or cheaper items. For example, if buying a car would enable you to obtain a better paying job farther away from your home, don't waste your savings on the $100 pair of designer jeans that won't increase your salary no matter how good you look in them.

2. Get creative with ways to increase your savings.

  • Keep a change jar. Anytime you pay in cash, put your change in a jar. Eventually, the change will add up.
  • Use your weekends and evenings to do odd jobs. Mow your neighbors' lawns. Babysit. Teach a class.
  • Sell something. Hold a garage sale. Put little used items on Craigslist or Ebay. Take your scrap metal to a recycling center.
  • After you've paid off a debt, keep making the payment for that debt...to yourself. When you've paid off your car, pay a monthly car payment to your savings account. Hopefully, by the time you need a new car, you'll have a significant down payment saved up.
  • Temporarily increase frugality. You can ramp up your ability to save for a short time by going without luxuries or vices until you've saved up enough. Cut back on unnecessary expenditures like dining out, movies, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and dessert.
3. Find a deal. Consider buying the item used, or at least on sale. The cheaper you can find the item, the less you need to save up.

4. In the meantime, borrow. Do you have a friend with the same item who would loan it to you until you can buy your own?

5. Use your tax return. My father has his tax deductions perfected so that my parents rarely get a tax return. If you need more money upfront (and hate lending money to the government like my dad does), that's a good strategy. But I prefer to think of my tax return like a savings program. It's automatically deducted from my paycheck so I don't spend it, but eventually I'll get it back. The key, though, is to make sure you invest your tax return in something useful rather than looking at it as a windfall that you can blow. Spend your tax return on an item that will save you money or a skill that will increase your income, or invest it in a long term savings program.

6. As a last resort, consider a loan. In general, if you can avoid going into debt, you should. But if your investment will earn you far more money over time than you would spend on interest, a loan is a reasonable option. For example, going into debt to increase your level of education is a smart investment in the long run.

Good tips for everyone...including me

My family is far from poor. My husband has a very good job - good enough that I can stay home with my kids with little financial sacrifice. During normal times (when we haven't been making two house payments for almost a year), I would plop down $100 for a pressure cooker in a heartbeat. (Okay, maybe not in a heartbeat - I've always had a thrifty streak - but after careful consideration and months of desiring something, I'd definitely buy it.)

But right now, money is still very tight, my husband has another computer conference next month, and then we're heading home to Kentucky/Tennessee to see our parents. $100 feels like a lot of money to part with right now.

I know I'll buy that pressure cooker eventually, but for now, I'm content to wait and save - keeping my change, selling off things we no longer need, and cutting back unnecessary expenses - until I can really afford what I want.


The Appeal of Energy Efficiency (aka "Sexy Energy")

>> Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I've been writing for a couple months now about how to make your home more energy efficient, and it occurred to me one day that I should have started with a solid explanation for why you should care. I touched on some reasons briefly in the post Energy Efficiency: Renewable Energy's Less Cool Cousin, but I think it would be valuable to provide more detail about why I think energy efficiency is such an appealing solution.

Energy efficiency...

1. Saves money.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. A home energy retrofit can shave as much as 30% off of your energy bill. What could be more appealing than that!

2. Is affordable.

So you can't afford solar panels...So what! You can afford to add caulking around your windows. You can afford to slay your vampires. You can afford to switch to CFLs. And now with all of those tax credits from the government, you may even be able to afford to upgrade your windows, add insulation, and get a more efficient HVAC system.

3. Increases the value of your home.

Eco-friendly homes are the hot new thing in the real estate market, and they are only going to get hotter.

4. Does not require new technology.

Holding off on solar panels until they get the technology just right? In the meantime, weatherize your home. These are things we've known how to do for a long time, and we just need to do them.

5. Provides jobs.

Any sustainable energy solution is going to provide new jobs, but think about all the existing buildings and homes in the U.S. that need to be upgraded. Think about all those opportunities for work for home builders who are really in need of jobs right now. And as I mentioned above, this type of work does not require new technology.

6. Equates to less overall energy use.

Apply that statement to whatever energy-related issue hits your hot button: dependence on foreign oil, clean coal, nuclear power, offshore drilling, solar power, wind power, whatever. Using less energy does not make those issues go away, but it reduces the need for some of the less-than-ideal options that are being tossed around and makes the smarter solutions seem more feasible.

7. Fits any circumstance.

It doesn't matter if your lot is shady, windless, or tiny, and it doesn't matter if you own a house or rent an apartment. You may not be able to do everything, but everyone can do something toward making their home more energy efficient.

Is energy efficiency...sexy?

Recently, I read an article by Grist staff writer David Roberts asserting that energy efficiency is a boring term and we should switch to something more sexy. He suggests "resource intelligence," explaining:

Imagine you live in a house that gathers rainwater and captures, cleans, and recycles 100% of the water used in it. In that house, you do not need to use less water; the house’s design provides you with an abundance! The water is not used in a miserly way, but in an intelligent way.

Efficiency implies scrimping and trimming and subjecting every move to a cold cost-benefit analysis. Intelligence, like nature, leaves room for beauty and abundance and progress.

I like the connotations of resource intelligence. It's less restricting and more optimistic, and if that's what it would take for energy efficiency to catch on, I'm all for changing the name.

In fact, maybe we should just call it "sexy energy." That's kind of what a home energy retrofit is like. It's taking your fat, leaking, money-sucker of a home and making it sleeker, smarter, and tighter...Sexier.

Sexy energy, resource intelligence, or just plain old energy efficiency. Call it what you want, but don't dismiss it. Energy efficiency might be the lowest rung on the energy solutions ladder, but it's a start, it's accessible, and as soon as we take that first step up the ladder, the other solutions become much more viable.

Have you gotten your home energy audit yet?

Photo by Joe Shiabotnick

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May Round Up

>> Saturday, May 16, 2009

We were pretty close to being on target this month. Low on groceries, but high on everything else since we made a trip up to Maryland to finally sell our house there.

In the next coming weeks, we will be moving to another rental - this time a small house near downtown Raleigh. Our kids will have a small backyard to play in, and we'll also be closer to my husband's office as well as within walking/biking distance of First Son's school, the library, parks, and grocery stores. So I plan on redoing the budget soon after we move.

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $460.61 ($500)
  • Transportation: $279.63 ($300.00)
  • Electricity: $90.62 ($150)
  • Water/Sewer: $26.69 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $483.19 ($300)
  • Clothes: $0 (no set budget)
  • TOTAL: $1,340.74 ($1,300)

Trash Report: 4 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 1 bag each of glass, plastic, metal, and paper (reusable bags about the size of a paper grocery bag).

Changes I Made This Month:

Goals for Next Month:
  • Since we're going to be moving again this month, I think it would be best if I didn't try to make any specific changes this month. You can expect more talk about greening my grocery bill and going organic.


Spotlight on Raleigh: Children's Consignment Stores

>> Friday, May 15, 2009

After my post about thrift stores in Raleigh, a friend directed me to two children's consignment stores in the area: The Children's Orchard and Kid to Kid. I was pleased to find a good selection of quality used clothing at both of these stores, particularly much more choice in the shoe department.

Like thrift stores, consignment stores sell used goods such as clothing, furniture, home decor, toys, music, videos, musical instruments, and much more. However, consignment stores differ from thrift stores in several ways:

Consignment stores sell used items for profit rather than for charity. When a person places a used item with a consignment shop, he retains ownership of that item until it sells. At that point, both the store and the original owner of the item earn a portion of the proceeds from the sale.

Consignment stores tend to be considerably more expensive than thrift stores. At both The Children's Orchard and Kid 2 Kid, the clothing prices range from about $3 (for t-shirts and shorts) to $15 (for suits and fancy dresses). These are about the same prices that I was paying when I bought most of my kid's clothes new and on sale at Target, JC Penny, or The Children's Place Outlet. But consignment stores also have end-of-season sales, so if you can plan ahead for the next year, you can find some pretty rockin' deals.

Consignment stores have consistently higher quality items than thrift stores. Thrift store shopping is like being on a treasure hunt - if you keep looking and looking, eventually you'll find good quality, stylish clothing hidden amidst all the junk. But shopping at a consignment store is more like doing your regular clothing shopping - you can hit a couple of stores on a weekend and have an entire wardrobe assembled. For someone like me, who's not the biggest fan of thrift store shopping (or shopping in general), that factor can make used clothing shopping seem much more appealing.

As a final point of interest, I should mention that both of these consignment stores are chain franchises. Franchises provide a way for someone to start their own business with less risk by using a business model that someone else has already used successfully. But franchises also contribute to the monoculture of American stores and don't support the local economy as fully as a truly locally-owned consignment store would. Currently, this is a minor point for me, but depending on your values, it may be worth it to you to seek out some other consignment stores in the area.

Because of all of these factors, I'm still leaning toward thrift stores as my primary source of children's clothing, using consignment stores to fill in the gaps with hard-to-find used items like shoes and jeans that aren't butt ugly. And my kids are pretty psyched about the better toy selection.

Do you have a favorite consignment shop?

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Noteworthy Green: Allergy Remedies, "Local" Potato Chips, Eco-friendly Vibrators, and More...

>> Wednesday, May 13, 2009

::Mother Earth News provides six natural remedies for allergies.

::Mother Earth News discusses the effects of the recession on the recycling industry.

::Grist points out that "local" is a slippery term. Case in point: junk-food giant Lays claiming that their potato chips are local food.

::The New York Times takes a look at LED lighting for the home.

::Wired reviews the Earth Angel Wind-up Vibrator, the “world’s first 100% eco-friendly wind-up sex toy." (I kid you not!)


How to Afford Making Your Home Energy Efficient

>> Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This post was included in Carnival of the Green #180 at the Ethical Superstore.

Have you ever heard the saying, "The easiest way to make a million dollars is with a million dollars." In other words, if you already have a million dollars, it's easy to make the next million. The hard part is coming up with that first million.

Sometimes, home improvements in energy efficiency can seem similar. Although energy efficiency is an investment that will pay back over time, you can't earn the savings without first spending some money upfront. And especially now with the economy tanking, it can be scary to part with that initial investment.

But there are some methods available to help you finance your energy efficiency improvements.

How to find the money...

Federal Tax Credits

As part of the new Stimulus bill, you can get lots of money back through tax credits by improving your home's energy efficiency.

According to Energy Star:

Weatherization Loans

Many utility companies provide low-interest loans for energy-efficient improvements to your home, such as this one, and this one, and this one. Check out your own utility or energy company for more information. If you live in Raleigh, here's the scoop from Progress Energy's page.

Weatherization Assistance Program

20 to 30 million Americans may be eligible for this program, which provides services to weatherize homes for low-income families. The program includes a home energy audit, an assessment of a home's energy use, and recommendations for weatherization improvements for the home. The average value of improvements is $2,500.

The Department of Energy states,"Some measures, such as insulating your walls or roof, for example, will continue to provide you savings for the lifetime of your house—30 years or more. Others, such as making your heating or cooling equipment more efficient, will provide savings for 10 to 15 years. On average, the value of the weatherization improvement to your house is 2.2 times greater than the cost of the improvement itself."

How to spend the money...

If you have limited funds to work with, you may be unsure where you'd get the most bang for your buck. A professional energy audit would tell you where to start. Or you can check out this chart I found from the Rocky Mountain Institute. It's from 2002, but the information is still useful.

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Quick Tip: Rinsing Cans for Recycling

>> Monday, May 11, 2009

This is just a quick simple post to answer a question from my mom, but I thought the answer might be helpful to others too.

She asked:

Your sister's family is recycling like crazy. You'd be proud of them. Is it really necessary to take the paper off aluminum cans and rinse them out? You waste a lot of water rinsing them out and that seems like a big waste itself.

The guidelines for recycling differ from city to city, so it's important to check with your own city's waste management. But...

In my area, you do not need to take the paper off the cans, but if you wanted to go to the trouble, you could probably recycle the label with your paper as long as it wasn't wet or contaminated with food.

My city's recycling program does request that you rinse out cans, but since that wastes water, they recommend filling one can with water, pouring the dirty water into the next can, and so on until all of your cans are rinsed. The cans only need to be rinsed, not spotless.

I use that method for rinsing out our breakfast dishes (crusty oatmeal is sometimes too great of a challenge for our dishwasher). But to rinse out cans, I save them until the end of the day and rinse them out in the dirty dish water after I've washed the rest of my dishes. This method works for me because it gets the cans cleaner - we keep our recycling under the kitchen sink and only take it out when it's full (which could take a couple weeks).

So that's my answer, Mom.


I Need...Chocolate (don't we all...)

>> Friday, May 8, 2009

This weekend brings two important events: Saturday is World Fair Trade Day and Sunday is, of course, Mother's Day. What a perfect combination! I can't think of a better way to celebrate Mother's Day than with lots of delectable fair trade and organic chocolate.

Chocolate by any other name...

...might taste as sweet, but if it's not USDA certified organic chocolate, you're also ingesting a generous helping of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizer. After cotton, conventional cocoa is grown with more pesticides than any other crop.

The story behind chocolate that's not certified fair trade is even less appetizing. Six chocolate manufacturers process 50% of all the cocoa in the world, giving them the ability to dictate cocoa prices. A high demand for cheap chocolate means the cocoa farmers are paid next to nothing; according to Green America, "the average cocoa farmer will generally earn only $30 to $100 a year."

Struggling in extreme poverty, many farmers choose to keep their children out of school to help on the farm, sometimes in hazardous conditions such as spraying pesticides on plants without wearing proper protective gear. Other farmers resort to slavery - child slave labor has been documented in the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Cameroon, where most of the world's cocoa is grown.

So show your mother you care by giving her chocolate that's good to the planet and helps farmers support their families, send their children to school, and not use slavery.

Fair Trade or Organic?

Lucky for us, we don't have to make this tough decision. There are plenty of chocolate brands out there that are both fair trade and organic, including Equal Exchange, Theo, Rapunzel, and even Trader Joe's store brand. You can find these at your local food co-op or natural foods store, and I've even seen Endangered Species chocolate (fair trade but not organic) at mainstream grocery stores.

Other Ways to Celebrate World Fair Trade Day

  • Besides chocolate, you can find fair trade coffee, tea, herbs, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and vanilla in the U.S.
  • Cadbury's Dairy Milk Bar has gone fair trade!!! But only in Engand. :( Thank Cadbury for this important step forward and let them know we want fair trade Cadbury products here in the United States by adding your name to this letter from Green America.
  • Find a World Fair Trade Day event near you by visiting www.worldfairtradeday09.org or googling "World Fair Trade Day" and the name of your city.
  • If you live in the Triangle area, here are some celebrations around here:
    • Ten Thousand Villages
      • Location: Raleigh and Chapel Hill stores
      • Time: 10am - 7pm
      • Description: A day long celebration of fair trade! Enjoy free samples of chocolate and other fairly traded foods, register for door prizes. Join coffee drinkers around the U.S. as we try and break the record for the World's Largest Coffee Break at 3:00 p.m. Take our fair trade quiz and earn 20% off your purchases.
    • Fair Trade Coffee Break at the Earth Fare Cafe
      • Location: Raleigh
      • Time: 8am - 10pm
      • Description: Larry's Beans, a fair trade organic coffee roaster in Raleigh NC, has partnered with Earth Fare and will be featuring Costa Little Ricky that day for $ .50/cup and one pound bags for $7.99 all week. Sales support farmers in Bolivia, Mexico, and Ethiopia.
    • Fair Trade Day Celebration at One World Market
      • Location: Durham
      • Time: 10am - 6pm
      • Description: With delicious Fair Trade food samples, FREE prizes for everyone who participates in the geography game, and live music, featuring Viswas Chitnis and Chris Johnson. Help break the record for the World’s Largest Coffee Break at 3pm. FREE admission.
Photo by miss karen


Noteworthy Green: Mother's Day, Book Swaps, Sexy Energy, and More

>> Wednesday, May 6, 2009

::Treehugger provides a Mother's Day gift guide with suggestions ranging from organic flowers to bamboo pajamas.

::JessTrev at The Green Phone Booth relates how to put together a book swap for a child's birthday party.

::Grist proposes changing the phrase "energy efficiency" to something sexier, and the New York Times points to a study that agrees.

::Grist answers my longtime question about why phosphate-free dish detergents work for some people and not for others and tells you what to do about it.

::Healthy Child, Healthy World reveals "5 Secrets Most Conventional Cleaning Product Makers Don't Want You to Know."

::Billeater has put together an amazing list of tips. Now I know how to get those crayon drawings off my walls!


How to Lower Your Grocery Bill By Not Following My Example

>> Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This post was included in the 177th Festival of Frugality at Savings Not Shoes.

Last week, I revealed that I think I can keep my grocery bill at around $600 a month while still purchasing almost all organic and natural foods, non-toxic personal care products, and non-toxic cleaners. That's about $30 per person a week, or $120 per person a month (relatively speaking since three of the people in my family are under 5 years old).

Some people might read those numbers and gasp. Especially if you've searched some of the websites and blogs about lowering your grocery bill and using coupons. For example, a friend of mine, an avid couponer, only spends about $300-$350 a month on her family of four. But she also doesn't buy any organic foods or non-toxic cleaners and is not opposed to processed foods.

I could be wrong, but I think it would be impossible to get your grocery bill down to $300 buying as many organics and natural products as my family does (which is why I think it's essential to save money on energy efficiency and transportation and shift your savings to your grocery budget)."

Nevertheless, I think it is possible to eat organically for less than I'm doing.

So here are some shopping strategies that I use that I believe are keeping my spending high. Do the opposite, and you may save some money.

Shoot for as green of a grocery bill as possible.

Except for a very small number of items, my grocery list is almost completely organic, natural, and non-toxic. If I were willing to compromise on some items, my grocery bill could be significantly less.

Shop at the farmers market.
I like to support my local farmers, but at our farmers market, there are no sales, and all the farmers sell their produce at the same price. That means, I'm buying most of our fruits and vegetables in season, which is a cost-effective strategy, but it also means I'm not comparing costs or buying produce on sale.

Also, I know for a fact I can get cheaper organic milk and eggs at Kroger, and even though honey is much more expensive than sugar, I've been using honey in a lot of recipes because I can buy it locally.

Buy a lot of fruits and vegetables.
I try to stick pretty strictly to the 5-a-day fruit and vegetable rule. When I was growing up, we didn't eat nearly as many fruits and vegetables as my family does now, but because we're mostly vegetarians, I think it's important for us to eat a diverse diet with lots of yummy veggies.

Buy expensive fruits and vegetables.
Our tastes tend to lean toward the more expensive fruits and vegetables: avocadoes, mangoes, pineapples. If we looked at those foods more as treats, we could save a lot of money, but I like to indulge our appetites.

Have kids.
My kids are super wasteful when it comes to food. I try to use strategies to prevent wasting too much food, but when it comes to vegetables, I believe the best way to broaden their palate is to offer them a variety of vegetables every day. Right now, that means a lot of vegetables end up going to waste, but I'm hoping it will lead to healthier kids in the future.

Be concerned about packaging.
I often choose better packaging over price. I never buy individually packaged anything, and if I can get it from the bulk bins, I will.

Eat dessert and drink Coke.
I make cookies far more often than I should, and my husband and I are both admitted Diet Coke lovers. I could save quite a bit of money on our grocery bill if I cut out non-nutritive foods and drinks.

Don't Use Coupons
I've never had any success with couponing, mainly because the majority of coupons seem to be for processed junk (even processed organic junk) that I refuse to feed my family. Even when I come across coupons for organic products, I rarely take the time to figure out if I could save money by using them, unless they're for a specific product that I already buy. I'm just lazy that way.

I'd be the first to admit that I'm not the savviest shopper in the world. So don't follow my example, and you might save money on your grocery bill!


We Sold Our House!

>> Monday, May 4, 2009

After 10 long months, we are finally, finally, finally only paying for one house again!


Spotlight on Raleigh: Smart Commute Challenge

>> Friday, May 1, 2009

If you're looking to reduce your carbon footprint, or just save money on transportation, here's a challenge from GoTriangle to get you started:

The SmartCommute Challenge is an annual non-profit public service campaign that works to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality in the Triangle.

From April 15 through May 30, any employee or college student who commutes to work or campus in Wake, Durham, or Orange County can participate. To enter the Challenge, make your online pledge that at least once before May 30 you will carpool, vanpool, bike or walk, ride the bus, or telework (work from home).

Everyone who takes the Challenge will be entered into a drawing to win one of several PRIZES, including $2,500 cash!

That's the easiest challenge ever! You only have to be a Smart Commuter one time before May 30th to be eligible for prizes. What could be easier than that?

Will your one smart commute make a difference? Well, the Smart Commute Challenge website asserts that "last year, during the Challenge, the more than 12,000 Triangle drivers who took the Challenge saved over 1.7 million pounds of CO2. That’s the annual carbon footprint of 43 Americans, or about 4 softball teams!"

So take a few minutes and sign up...You won't lose anything, and you might gain $2,500!

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