Monday, December 29, 2008

Super High MPG Cars

When I asked Matt if he was willing to help me gain some inspiration for the next Green Leaf blog posting he agreed to do a little poking around. He found inspiration alright and it led him to research some of the cars that Europe has available which get high miles per gallon and how those cars compare to the ones we have here in the United States. For the next few hours all I heard was furiously clicking keys. Here is what he found.

It may come as a surprise to some that we here in the US are not offered the latest and greatest technology when it comes to high MPG cars. In fact, the highest MPG car available in the US, the Toyota Prius with an average of 46 MPG (per EPA guide), would only fall in the middle of the pack in the UK. Sadly our thirst for larger, more performance oriented cars along with self-defeating EPA regulations have kept the highest MPG cars from ever reaching our shores. The high MPG cars that do reach our shores have features and performance tuning that reduce the MPG by 30% or more from their European models. Additionally, gasoline sold in Europe carries a higher octane than in the US. 95 is Regular in the UK vs. 87 in the US, and Premium is 99 vs. 93 in the US. The UK model of the Toyota Prius gets 65.7 MPG combined on 95 octane.

In Europe, the primary solution to the MPG problem is diesel. The advantages of diesel are tough to argue. It is a technology that has been tested and refined for over 100 years. Diesel fuel has more stored energy per gallon than gasoline, therefore is more efficient at powering an automobile. The engines need to be built stronger to withstand the additional energy, so they tend to be more durable, too. The down side is that diesel fuel is more expensive, and until recently, diesel ran much dirtier than gasoline. The dirty factor is why the EPA put restrictions on diesels in the US. Oh, how times have changed, though. Most diesels now run as clean or cleaner than comparable gasoline engines, and almost all of them release substantially less CO2 than gasoline. Also, don’t forget that biodiesel is a much more viable fuel than ethanol, and is commercially available now.

Here is a quick glance at a few diesels now selling in the UK:

Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion 1.4 combined MPG 74.3
BMW 118d combined MPG 62.8
MINI Cooper D combined MPG 72.4

For those of you who thought the Detroit Big 3 couldn’t or wouldn’t build a fuel efficient car, you are wrong!

Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic combined MPG 65.6

So, you ask….why can’t I get these cars here in the states? There are a few reasons. The EPA had clean air restrictions for particulates in place for many years that kept diesels from hitting our shores. Not that I advocate particulate matter in our air, but it’s a far cry from the greenhouse gasses that gasoline engines pour into our environment. New diesel engines have filters for these particulates, and Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel has eliminated much of the remainder of the pollution, which is why there will likely be more diesel choices on the market in the years to come. The second reason is consumer demand. If these cars are going to be sold here, we as consumers need to let our auto dealers know that we want them. Americans have never had a love affair with diesels due their smelly reputation. That reputation should dissolve with the clouds of black smoke that used follow those old diesels around.

On a personal note, I am a former owner of a 1984 VW Rabbit diesel. Because of the relative simplicity of the engine, I was able to get over 300,000 miles on the odometer without a major engine problem. (Of course there were other little problems, but nothing major…) Even at 300K, I was getting over 45 MPG average. I wasn’t winning any drag races, but I cruised past an awful lot of gas stations without stopping.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Unexpected Environmental Sentiment, Possibly

It has been twenty years since the heavy metal band Metallica released their album …And Justice for All. Although this album was not my top favorite of their releases it is chock full of lyrically stimulating songs and there was one in particular that truly gets in all of our faces about what we are doing to the planet. They pointedly discuss all the ways we are abusing our Mother Earth and that the end is inevitable due to those indiscretions. I personally see this as wonderfully visual prose.

Blackened by Metallica

Blackened is the end
Winter it will send
Throwing all you see
Into obscurity

Death of mother earth
Never a rebirth
Evolutions end
Never will it mend


To begin whipping dance of the dead
Blackened is the end
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Color our world blackened

Bustering of earth
Terminate its worth
Deadly nicotine
Kills what might have been

Callous frigid chill
Nothing left to kill
Never seen before
Breathing nevermore


To begin whipping dance of the dead
Blackened is the end
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Color our world blackened


Agitation...violation...mutilation...planet dies
Darkest color
Blistered earth
True death of life
Termination....expiration...cancellation...human race
Expectation...liberation...population...lay to waste
See our mother
Put to death
See our mother die

Smouldering decay
Take her breath away
Millions of our years
In minutes disappears

Darkening in vain
Decadence remains
All is said and done
Never is the sun


To begin whipping dance of the dead
Blackened is the end
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Is the outcome of hypocrisy
Darkest potency
In the exit of humanity
Color our world blackened


Saturday, December 27, 2008

EcoTarium in Worcester Massachusetts is a Hidden Jewel

This morning I awoke excited to have the weekend arrive because we had no real plans and the entire day ahead of us but I had no idea we would find such a wonderful eco-friendly museum through so many random circumstances. I checked some email over coffee and then flicked on the television to discover one of my favorite local shows was on -- The Phantom Gourmet. Local eateries are rated and reviewed and this morning they were reviewing the hottest burger joints in and around Boston. One of the places they discussed was 5 & Diner in Worcester. Matt and I have been itching for some yummy diner food since we left Long Island so we got ready and hit the road.

As soon as we got off the highway my eye caught sight of a sign reading “EcoTarium” and we both agreed it might be something fun to check out after lunch since we were already in the area. We ate, it was yummy and served in a traditional fifties style with juke boxes at every table and home made whipped cream on the chocolate shake, and then we headed out to find out just what this EcoTarium was.

The museum was located about two miles from the highway and there were clear signs leading us right to it. We pulled up to the gate to discover the admission was only $10 for adults and $8 for children (3-18, under 3 are free). After we paid we had to wait for a minute as the Explorer Express Train passed by. As we walked up to the entrance to the museum we passed two living barred owls and two bald eagles in outdoor habitat locations.

The museum was fantastic inside with handicap accessibility through ramps and elevators to each floor and in the separate coat room just past the Information desk there were wheelchairs available for use. The main level also included a gift shop with lots of eco-friendly and educational toys and items. As we toured through the museum we encountered the Thinking Globally, Minerals, Old Growth Forest, Tide Pool, Freshwater and Africa rooms which were jam packed with animals, both live and staged, in their natural habitats as well as critical planetary information and tips for conservation. Throughout the entire museum were square boxes clearly marked for waste, paper or cans. After hanging out inside we walked down to the outdoor living habitat of the river otter who was so adorable and certainly showed us how much he loved to play and interact with people.

My only disappointment in the EcoTarium was the restrooms. The accessibility would be difficult for a wheelchair as the entrance hallway was rather narrow and there were no hand dryers, only paper towels. I was hopeful the towels were created from recycled paper.

Please check out the photos and video from our trip below and if you are in the Massachusetts area I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. Hours are Sunday 12:00 - 5:00, Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 - 5:00 (open year round except New year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas eve and Christmas Day). In addition to the museum and grounds there is a Planetarium, The Explorer Express Train, Animal Encounter and lunch as well as a wildlife path (outside) and many additional hidden treasures which we sadly did not have enough time to enjoy this time around.

Because of the accessibility, ease to find and available information for children and adults alike, not to mention the really reasonable admission price, I am granting EcoTarium Four Green Leaves! I applaud this fantastic museum for their innovation and look forward to a return visit really soon.

The MISSION of the ECOTARIUM is to promote appreciation, increase knowledge and foster stewardship of our New England environment by stimulating learning about the world in which we live.

Friday, December 26, 2008

After the Holiday Comes the Clean Up and Clear Out of Toys

In my house we live by the ‘one out one in’ rule. If I purchase something new it is generally due to the fact that something else has completely worn out, broken, or become outdated to a point where it is no longer functional and has already made its way to a recycling center or charity. Since it is just my husband and I there are far fewer family members to determine the supposed need for the item in question. Even though we do not have children we do own some board games, stuffed animals of sentimental value and other items that are deemed “kid”. These items are a small portion of our overall possessions but for those with children it becomes necessary to locate an alternate solution for all of the toys the children in question no longer find appealing.

A friend of mine collects all of these toys and other items her children outgrow in a given year and sells them on craigslist to families who are looking for a toy in that growth stage at a reduced cost. She collects this money over the course of the year and uses it to completely finance their summer vacation. In the past few years she, her two sons and a friend have been taking tours of all the major league baseball parks in the country, seeing games and touring the cities they are located in. The trips are a lot of fun for everyone and they are making far greater memories by selling these items instead of placing them in boxes in the attic.

Not all people have the desire to spend their time uploading photos and descriptions of items onto an internet selling or auction site but there are many additional ways to recycle without going through all of those steps. Why not check in with local preschools, public schools, churches, hospitals or other charitable organizations to see if they would be able to utilize the toy in question. Another great way to recycle a toy is to check with local community organizations to see if there are families who have fallen on hard times and are in need of assistance. For new families in the neighborhood why not put together a gift basket of formerly loved toys that are still in great shape. This will help the family save a great deal of money and introduce the child to something they may not have had the opportunity to acquire otherwise.

Earth911 is a website dedicated to discussing the benefits to recycling just about anything from toys to bicycles to eyeglasses. They provide great tips for recycling parts of children’s toys like batteries or electronic components. As the world of technology improves, toys can become outdated faster but throwing them away leads to tons of e-waste being placed in landfills. Recycling these toys will help keep over half of all toxic waste out of landfills and stop potential pollution of waterways. In addition it will ensure less air pollution as emissions are not being released to construct something new.

Now that the holidays are winding down families are attempting to find space to store all of the new items that have come into their home and one of the easiest ways to do it is to recycle the old. What may seem boring to one child might just be the best gift ever to another.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No Matter What Holiday We Celebrate

It is always nice to remember to enjoy everything about this time of year. As I grew up celebrating Christmas I still love this magical holiday season and choose to see the good that can come from the little things we all do to help each other out at this time of year. At this time last year I was living in a small New England beach town and it snowed close to Christmas day so I sparked up the iTunes and started recording the scene. I will not claim to be a videographer or anything but I think a jazzy carol as a backdrop to snow through a wreath is pretty cool.

Below is the video and lyrics to the song. No matter what holiday you personally celebrate I wish for peace, love, safety, warmth, laughter, joy and lots of great food with those closest to you. I will be taking tomorrow off to do the same with my family so be sure to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
Our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yule-tide gay
From now on
Our troubles will be miles away

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

Through the years We all will be together
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Eco-Friendly Ways to Use Paper

As a person who always looks for ways to creatively reuse items that come into my house I started thinking of the number of pieces of paper that show up on a daily basis. The first eco blog I posted over at The Organic Mechanic was on creative uses for shredded paper and recently Charmaine sent me a link to paper flowers. In our conversation after receiving the link I commented on a way to use newspaper as wrapping paper. I wondered if perhaps there were even more functional or funky ways to use paper.

A moderate level of paper makes its way into my home and I find much of it ends up in the shredder. Generally I would just place a paper bag full of the tiny strips in my recycle bin but then a while back I ordered a gift and when the box arrived I was immediately impressed with the packing material used by the seller -- shredded paper. It opened my eyes to a new use for this material so when we moved we used shredded paper to pack items like dishes and it worked like a charm!

The paper flowers that I was introduced to are nothing like the crepe paper and pipe cleaner style most of us made in kindergarten. The paper items that Revolt Media creates are made from scrapbook and other specialty papers and are sophisticated and classy. Currently they are working on a custom order of origami style flowers in red and black for a wedding party. Upon the end of the ceremony the flowers can simply be recycled!

Charmaine was questioning what to use for wrapping paper since she had used up all of her brown paper bags. I suggested painting newspaper with appropriate holiday colors and then use it as home made gift wrap. This could be a fun project to complete with kids to make their gifts personalized. Everyone would have unique wrapping, making not just the gift but its packaging really special.

Writers can find many uses for old papers such as creating a personalized journal. By taking papers due to be recycled, cutting them down to the same size, stacking them and then Japanese stab binding the pages with a front and back cardboard cover, a journal is born!

Making furniture from paper has become not only an art form but a career for artist Jens Praet. By adding a bit of resin to simple shredded paper Praet has created everything from bookshelves to desks and he claims the pieces are even stronger than wood. It might be cool to keep those Christmas cards we never know what to do with at the end of the season by turning them into an end table.

With a little creative ingenuity we can find even more uses for all that paper we look at once and throw away.

Monday, December 22, 2008

This Is Exactly What This Time of Year Is All About

Last year for Christmas my Mom started a new tradition within our family of giving gifts of charity to each other in lieu of stuff. It went over so well and everyone got involved. This year we decided our charity of choice was going to be something environmental; Repower America for alternative energy sources. Although a few members of the family did donate to this charity (and we excitedly received the confirmation emails), a couple others did something a little different.

Today we received Christmas cards from family in Arizona and when we opened them we were delighted to discover a cardboard card inside with the words “Give the gift of green” printed on the cover. I opened the card and to my surprise there was an American Express gift card inside, confused I began to read the fine print.

Turns out that the Westcor chain of malls sells these gift cards and they are meant to be used anywhere American Express is accepted. The cool news with this one is that through October 31, 2009 $0.70 of each purchase will be donated to American Forests. Westcor will donate a minimum of $100,000. In addition the card holder is created from 30% recycled paper.

In the spirit of attempting to avoid being caught in nothing more than a consumerist trap of buy, buy, buy just for the sake of spending money, this gift card will be one I will be happy to spend. However, in an effort to maximize the importance of the gift I plan to make it a two-fer by spending it on environmentally responsible versions the every day items we might run out of such as laundry detergent, dish liquid, face wash or shampoo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Here Comes the Sun

Part of the environment is how we feel. When hope is prevalent and feelings of happiness abound we all tend to sigh in a collective smile. One of the simplest ways we can feel happiness is through color. I have discussed color before as it relates to Green and our associations to it from a psychological stand point but when I use words like sunshine, cheerfulness or joy what is the first color to come to mind? If you answered yellow you are not alone.

I need to get a little personal for a second to explain something a little bit odd but something that happens to me a lot. Frequently I have very vivid dreams, in my own estimation I dream in color and most mornings I wake to remember something, if not everything, about my dream the night before. It can be a song, person, feeling, location or a myriad of other things. I truly believe these things are meant to guide me in some way, just like when I am driving down the street and see a sign. I consider the dream symbols I remember to be telepathic "signs" if you will. Yesterday morning I awoke remembering buttery yellow. Nothing more; I do not remember why or in what realm the color was used, it was just the thing I remembered from my night in cozy dream land.

Tonight we watched our first episode of Forecast Earth on The Weather Channel and upon coming home I decided to check out their website to see if there might be something cool to post about. On the front page, I came across an article about yellow being considered as one of the hottest colors for 2009 as reported by Pantone it made me shake my head and chuckle.

Clearly even I was in touch with getting a little hope and cheer in the new year!

Based on Sensational Color:

Yellow shines with optimism, enlightenment and happiness. Shades of golden yellow carry the promise of a positive future. Yellow will advance from surrounding colors and instill optimism and energy, as well as spark creative thoughts.

Well that sounds pretty great to me so how about -- paint a room in sunny yellow, wear a pair of yellow pants or just draw a big smiley face on a yellow post it note for our monitors in order to remind ourselves that positivity and exuberance are not outdated concepts!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Cabinet Comes Together to Effect Environmental Change

President-elect Barack Obama is quickly filling the most important seats with key advisors who will lead the charge to provide solid advice toward moving our nation into the future with prosperity and hope. President-Elect Obama has long voiced his concern for attending to the real and growing need to halt further climate change and just last week he met with former Vice President and Environmental Go-To Activist Al Gore, after which he was put on record as saying “the time for delay is over”.

Today in his weekly radio address he announced his candidates to fill the Science and Technology team. Dr. John Holdren will serve three roles as: Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Co-Chair of the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In addition to Dr. Holdren, Drs. Harold Varmus and Eric Lander will also serve as co-chairs of PCAST. Dr. Jane Lubchenco was nominated as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (as a side note, Dr. Lubchenco would be the first female to hold this seat if confirmed).

I encourage everyone to watch the five minute video below as President-Elect Obama further discusses each nominee’s qualifications and background, which led to his selections. The full transcript of the address can be read here at Fox News.

Yes We Will.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Big Storm Is Brewing but How Do We Melt the Ice?

I live in the Boston area and our first really big snowstorm of the year is currently underway. It got me thinking about how we rid ourselves of the packed down white stuff from roadways, sidewalks and on our own doorstep. Generally the two types of traction adding or melting products in our area are sand or salt, but I became curious about the environmental benefits or drawbacks of these two most popular options.

☼ Will melt snow but only at temperatures above fifteen degrees Fahrenheit (or so)
☼ Is corrosive and will eat into concrete and metal (think how fast car bodies rust out or that white ring on boots)
☼ Can inadvertently harm vegetation due to increased sodium levels seeping into dirt
☼ Will help to dry surfaces
☼ Can harm pets (digestive, sores) as they lick chemicals from their paws

☼ Will give traction but will not melt snow or ice
☼ Is not corrosive
☼ Can runoff into water ways and clog drains or sewers

Salt would appear to be the smarter alternative as it will melt and dry the surface where snow or ice were once located but in the long term it has far more extensive drawbacks to the land, pets, water and our structures. This all made me wonder if there was an alternative out there that would be friendly to our entire environment and still take care of the clean up of ice and snow.

I Googled in every possible way I could conceive to locate an environmentally friendly option for melting ice that was also safe for pets and there was only one product available. The product is called Safe Paw and it is created from a “crystalline amide core infused with special glycols”; not salt. I looked into what an amide is and sadly the scientific explanation did go a bit above my head but from what I could infer it is an ammonia type substance with a potential tie to amino acid. The glycols help melt snow because they are an antifreeze substance (commonly found in the liquid in our cars).

Safe Paw works up to two degrees below zero and does not heat up like many compounds do (such as calcium chloride which can cause burns to skin if not handled properly). Additionally the product claims to leave a shield after it melts the ice (also claiming to begin melting immediately) so ice will not refreeze for up to three days.

This is a product I will keep in mind for when I move out of an apartment and into a home. I would love to hear if others (especially those with pets or children) have used or will give this product a try. For the innovation and potential environmental benefit I am granting Safe Paw a Three Leaf Rating. Once I try it out someday that might even go up!

Congratulations for the effort Safe Paw!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ho, Ho, Ho, Oh No!

With just a few short days left until the big holiday it seemed smart to feature a couple places where we can all acquire fantastic little goodies with expedited shipping…just in case!

Tree Greetings - Plant a tree for someone you love (under $10!!!)

Felted Finery - Felted wool (this shrug is only $15!!!)

Way Spa - Can even deliver via email

Reiter 8 - Funky stuff made from old ship sails

Repower America - Any denomination -- give the gift of clean energy

Or consider baking something and bringing it over!

Get creative and you are sure to be a hit this eco-holiday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Further Exploring Milk Paint

A couple days ago we went over a home improvement list and one of the items I mentioned as being a Greener option to latex based paints was milk paint. I received a comment from Ginger, my favorite Vegan With A Purpose, who raised an excellent point with regard to obtaining the milk for the paint. She said:

okay, i have to say it: i can definitely see how milk would be a much safer option than some nasty chemical, but considering how much land space and food it takes to sustain one cow for that milk, not to mention the consequences to her and her children, i don't think i'd call it environmentally friendly. i do like that brick wall finish though. :)

First off, thanks for the compliment on the brick (latex, fyi). Second what an interesting point with regard to the environment! It is no secret that, although I have greatly reduced my intake of anything with a face, I am still a carnivore so this was something I had not considered. In addition, I pride myself on being environmentally aware as I do my day job of painting so I was even more intrigued to dig into this question with gusto!

Ginger you raise a very interesting point with regard to milk based paints. I must admit that I have never used these paints (primarily why I suggested to try Eco Spec) so I went digging to do more research on their composition, mostly to see if milk paint is actually made from milk.

Milk paints generally come in pigmented powder form and are mixed with a liquid. The milk comes from salts of casein (the protein found in cow's milk so yes, in its truest form milk paint is actually made from the proteins of milk). The casein is the binding agent which allows the pigment be transferred to a hard surface (this is why once the powder is wet it will actually spoil, just like milk).

Before I lose everyone let me share a few key points about paint and some of the terms associated with it.

Paint is typically made up of three substances: Pigment, Liquid and Binder. When we go to a home improvement store and pull a pre-mixed can of Navajo White off the shelf we are purchasing tint (pigment), water (liquid) and latex (binder). Pigments can be derived from sources found in nature (blueberries, grapes) or created as chemical compounds in a factory. The liquid (water, oil, milk, etc) is used solely as a carrier to ensure the pigment can move across a surface and it will eventually evaporate. A binder holds the pigment and liquid together and is generally a resin of some kind (an organic substance derived from plants) which allows the pigment to attach to the liquid for application.

A fourth substance sometimes used in conjunction with paint, but not always included, is called Extender. Common uses are: for increasing length of drying (open time) or leveling (ability to spread) such as glaze, to act as a mildew resistant and, moisture repellant. When selecting extenders be sure to utilize similar properties to the selected paint -- “water and oil don’t mix”!

It is important to note the subsequent evaporation of the liquid in a paint is where the bulk of VOC will come into play. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds and are the gasses emitted into the atmosphere as a liquid dries (evaporates). This is why many painters choose to avoid alkyd (oil) paints as their solvent make up is higher. Paint might be dry to the touch in an hour or so but paint will not fully cure (dry & bond) for at least 30 days, if extenders are added it is longer and all that time gasses are being released into the space it inhabits.

So with all that said, why is milk paint a less safe alternative since it likely utilizes 100% all natural based ingredients?

As Ginger indicated it is all about the cows. To raise just four cows it is advisable to garner upwards of two acres of land. (Sadly I could not locate the exact proportion of casein to additional substances so I was not able to determine an exact number of milk required to produce one bag of paint, but for kicks let’s say it is the four). In this projection, for every bag of milk paint we would need two acres of land. These four cows would need to be fed and given water as well…and then look out for the methane gasses produced. It is estimated that upwards of twenty percent of the methane found in the atmosphere is simply from cows breathing. The more cows, the more they breathe, the more methane, the quicker that ozone layer deteriorates.

So what is a good faux finisher, painter, homeowner and environmentalist to do?

We weigh the options and determine the most environmentally sound one for our own personal benefit. Ginger is a vegan, therefore would be hard pressed to ever consider using a dairy based substance on her wall. Although not a vegan, I am concerned with the environment which leads me to use latex based paint for a few reasons.

First, more methane is produced from cows than harmful gasses are produced in the creation of latex based paints. Second, since milk paint would spoil if left to its own devices, a sealant top coat is required. That is twice the water to wash brushes and twice the product being created. Third, latex paint is readily available meaning I can purchase it from a local source if I so choose, which reduces transportation to get it to me. Finally, I am not nervous about the health risks to my respiratory system or the emission of VOC into the atmosphere due to the introduction of products like Eco Spec or other paint labeled as No VOC (be mindful that some chemicals are still emitted even with Zero VOC paints).

The bottom line is always “think globally, act locally”. Consider the overall environmental impact to the planet but make smart choices based on your own personal environment.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Coal in the Stocking Is an Even Bigger Threat Today

When I was a kid there was no greater fear than waking up on Christmas morning to find a stocking full of coal as opposed to delicious candies, yummy smelling lotions or socks like I usually got. I knew that I was not the most well behaved child on Earth but still I considered my chances of being on the ‘Nice’ list pretty good. Looking back, I do not think as a kid I even had a clue what coal was. Now that I am an adult and fully aware of the substance I am even more excited to have never received it on Christmas day.

What strikes me as ironic, yet still amusing, is that kids today will be far savvier to the downfalls of the actual item and not just the threat of getting something they can not put in their gaming system, on their bodies or in their bellies. It makes me wonder what type of threat item our children’s children will be faced with receiving or if coal in the stocking will stand the test of time!

For all Greenies out there who enjoy learning through laughter I highly recommend reading all the Rustle The Leaf comics as well as the information on their website. They are fun and well written to get the point across.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It Is Showing Up Everywhere

Last night I went to my first event in about five years at the TD Banknorth Garden here in Boston. The Bruins were playing Atlanta and we were invited to go because my Aunt had inadvertently purchased two extra tickets. On the way in we were running a little behind so we managed to get to our seats in just enough time to watch the B’s take the ice.

The game was fantastic, although I am not much of a fan of the sport because the penalties are a mystery to me (I do not even really know what icing is sorry to say!) and other than the puck ending up in the goal of the opposing team I am blissfully unaware of much else going on. When that puck entered the other net four times last night though I definitely cheered.

The Bruins, who are currently in first place, won the game 4-2 and we hung around for a few extra minutes after the end to ensure the largest of the crowd dissipated before we made our way out. As soon as we came out of our exit from the stands I spied something excellent placed all around the outer rim of each level of the Garden:

Cool! These bins are for bottles and say on the side “A Greener Garden”; the word Garden is in the standard yellow lettering on the outside of the venue. These would be hard to miss while walking around due to their fun shape and on the front is a slot just big enough for a bottle to slide through. There would be no way to confuse this with a trash can.

They are sponsored by the owners of the Garden & Bruins, Delaware North Company a hospitality management firm. I have searched all over the internet for what company actually produces these fun bottle shaped recycle bins but to no avail. Well whoever you are bottle shaped recycle bin creator I am giving both you and the Garden a Three Leaf Rating for your innovation in design and installation, encouraging even the largest crowd of crazed hockey fans (or basketball, concert goers) to do the environmentally responsible thing. Outstanding!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Home Improvement Is Good

The most important benefit of improving our homes is the added level of comfort we achieve in our space. So what solutions are available to make our homes snazzy and comfy without breaking the bank or killing our planet?

Paint! It is the quickest and least expensive way to freshen a space. There are a multitude of products on the market today in almost every price range that are environmentally friendly such as milk (casein), clay or lime wash options. Readily available (and one I can personally recommend from having used it multiple times while installing faux finishes) is Eco Spec from Benjamin Moore. Low VOC, low odor, tintable to most Benny color palates and available in three finish options (flat, eggshell and semi-gloss).

Well I mentioned it so I might as well recommend it…faux! For the cost of a can of paint, glaze, some tools of the trade and a few hours of labor it is possible to “install” various woods, stones, metals or tile, using water based paint products. Think of how great it would be to show off your loft style living room and when people go up to touch the bricks they find out it is faux. Here is one I did recently.

How many trees could be saved using glaze treatments instead of real wood? Here is a great example of mahogany wood graining from one of my favorite finishers Ron Ames.

Flooring! A new rug adds an entirely new feeling to a space and the folks over at FLOR have displayed their love for the planet by giving us gorgeous, interchangeable carpet tiles made from renewable and recycled materials. Ruin a square with an organic red wine spill? No biggie, they even take returns to be recycled into future carpet squares.

Get moving! No, I do not mean packing up and going somewhere new, I am talking about rearranging within the existing space. It might feel boring if the sofa has been placed on the same wall for ten years so why not pull it into the middle of the living room, move the entertainment center to a new wall, create angled furniture arrangements, move accessories from one room to another. Thinking creatively, our homes can feel brand new.

Lighting! Before running out to buy all new energy efficient CFL bulbs consider that light colored surfaces reflect light wonderfully. Save money, and disposal of items, by directing light upwards to reflect off a brightly colored ceiling. Add illumination in soft, creative ways by using soy based candles or from led bulbs on holiday decorations.

So when we are feeling a case of cabin fever this winter it is inexpensive and easy on the environment to make a few minor changes that will keep us feeling refreshed until the sunshine and warm temperatures return.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Plastic Soup

Picture this -- You get up in the morning, brush your teeth and get ready to go to work. Grabbing your travel mug you head out the door to the office. The day is long so you order lunch from that place down the street. You finish up the day and head home, picking up some take out because your effort to cook, after such a long day, is really low. You get home, sit down to watch some television with dinner and finally wash your face and go to bed.

This day sounds innocent enough, typical of many people out there in the working world. How could a day like this contribute to what is known as Garbage Island? Or, more importantly, what is Garbage Island?

Yesterday Julie posted a link in Facebook to TOXIC - GARBAGE ISLAND, a twelve part video series on, detailing the trip to, and discovery of, what is known as Garbage Island, a swirling current (the North Pacific Gyre) approximately 1,000 miles off the shoreline of California where accumulation of plastics of all shapes and sizes have floated to stay. Since plastic does not biodegrade but instead disintegrates into smaller particles that float, the ocean is the perfect catch basin for much of this debris. The crew on this mission discovered everything from birthday balloons to helmets to tires but the most frightening thing of all was the volume; the ratio of plastic to marine life in some areas was upwards of 1000:1. Yikes. So where did it all come from and how did it end up in the Pacific?

Go back to the day of the average person again and instead of being so vague let’s detail some of the places in this story where plastics could have been used.

You get up in the morning and hit the off button of the plastic alarm clock beside your bed. Brush your teeth with a plastic toothbrush. Women apply makeup (housed in plastic containers, using brushes with plastic handles); men shave their face (using either an electric razor encased in plastic or a disposable plastic razor). You grab your insulated travel mug with the plastic lid, jump into the car (I can not even fathom how many plastic pieces are utilized in a car) and head into the office. Using your plastic badge you enter the building, sit down in your plastic based office chair, turn on the plastic based computer and work until lunch. At lunch you order soup and a salad from the deli down the street; each are stored in a plastic container. You head home and stop for take out (in a Styrofoam [plastic] container of course) and turn on the plastic based television while eating. After an evening of scrolling through the channels using the plastic based remote you wash your face with that stuff you love that comes in the plastic tube and finally, go to bed.

On the lowest level this person used fifteen plastic based items in one day. As our society has become more disposable minded all of those items are built to wear out quicker, causing a need to repurchase and toss the old item. Many times this garbage will fall off a ship but more than not it comes directly from the land. This is possible even when we do not realize it is happening -- next time you see a plastic bag floating in the breeze think about how far the wind might blow it before it stops, when a bottle whooshes into a storm drain after a particularly heavy rain think about where that waterway ends.

One of the quotes from the video series particularly struck me and it said:

“Persistent Organic Pollutants are chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment.”
- United Nations Environmental Program

Bioaccumulation is when substances like harmful compounds (toxins) amass, in diverse tissues of living creatures. In this example the obvious organism would be marine life but the chain of ingesting toxic chemicals grows as birds eat the fish, other fish eat the fish and humans eat the fish. Contaminates are introduced into our daily food supply and are seriously impacting sustained life of entire species on this planet (an example is when a bird goes out to eat and returns to feed their young, the young end up with stomachs full of plastic as opposed to the essential nutrients they need to survive and they perish as a result).

So what can we do? Can we physically clean up all the pieces that are already there? Unlikely. Can we make an attempt to stop putting more into the ocean? Absolutely!

Yesterday I posted a question from Linda with regard to plastic shopping bags and indicated that extending the life cycle of those bags is most paramount. This is true of all non-biodegradable plastics. When we act as consumers we need to think of the total life cycle of the item in question -- how long do we intend to use the item, what do we do with the item upon the end of its life span? If we are throwing it away we should be conscientious as to how we do so -- do we recycle our plastic or throw it in the trash, is there a way to reuse it, can we upcycle the item into something functional that may last long beyond the initial intended life span?

Opening our eyes to the issue and reducing our dependence on disposable plastic products is the first step in fixing the problem and this video is a fantastic eye opener. Please be aware that the twelve parts (plus the five minute extra) are an approximate total run time of a little over an hour and some very colorful language is used throughout but putting that aside this was the most informative, best hour I have spent learning in a long time.

Because of all these factors I am bestowing a Four Leaf Rating on this entire video series. Well worth the investment of time; well worth thinking about every day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Can Plastic Grocery Store Bags Be Useful?

From time to time I am asked certain questions when it comes to living a green lifestyle. People become concerned about their eco habits and wonder if the things they are doing will have a positive or negative environmental impact. Yesterday I received a fantastic question from Linda at the Cozy Craft Corner concerning plastic shopping bags and I wanted to share her question as well as my response because I think everyone can benefit from the communication. Also hooray to Linda for pulling out the reusable shopping bags! Here is to many more uses in the future!

Today I remembered (the first time) to take my grocery bags with me to the store so I would use less plastic. My question is what do you do with your little garbage cans? Do you not put plastic bags in them? I use my grocery bags for that, car garbage and to use for a tote bag now and then.


Hey Linda!

Great question! The most important thing is reuse in this case. Although you are using the plastic bag in the garbage can it has now been used twice, extending its life further than the original intention so immediately that cuts the impact right there. How about further extending? When we use plastic bags in our bathroom trash can we tend to just dump the trash into our big kitchen can to take it out & leave the plastic bag behind, using it multiple times until it perhaps rips or becomes damaged. Same can work in the car! Most important thing is to continue to reuse as long as possible and not beat yourself up for the choices you make but to just be conscious of the ways you are [currently] & can [in the future] make a difference :)

Glad you're enjoying reading & thanks for asking!


The important lesson in this case is reuse. The longer we can extend the life of any item, the less of them will end up in landfills and that will have a serious, positive, environmental impact starting right now.

Do you have a question regarding to your living or working habits? Concerned you might not be as eco-awesome as you want to be? Feel free to pass your question along via email!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Environment Gets Funny

Back in November, NBC promoted Green Week, the second annual, week long effort on every show the network airs (from daytime soaps to late night comedy) to promote the concept “Green Your Routine” by including bits and pieces of environmental jargon, product placement, conversation or practice. Would this concept fly? Would the nation believe that two people could walk down the hall of wherever they work (even if it is a secret Government agency or police precinct) discussing things like global warming or recycling?

Considering the average person may actually discuss these issues off the cuff in their day to day lives, there were plenty of ways to fit it into scripts without sounding preachy. There are characters that have always had an eco edge, prompting all of us to subconsciously absorb smart practices. For example, the character of “Munch” on Law & Order: SVU was talking about the benefits of recycling years ago. This is all well and good for the shows that can casually drop in a line or pan out from a wind farm as the characters run to save the world or something, but when it comes to the live shows there is an inherent challenge to make eco-speak flow as if it was a completely normal part of daily speech; it is one thing to show a five second frame of Chuck recycling a water bottle but it is quite another to get eco in stand up comedy.

Comedians sometimes use the reverse psychology method to bring awareness. They mention all the things they “do” which the public can infer as a joke, laugh at, but subsequently become more aware of in the process. Laughter can be an amazing tool for learning. Done completely tongue in cheek, Conan O’Brien from Late Night told all of us how to be more environmentally aware in our daily routines, even though he simply can not follow suit.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pop-Cycle in Tucson Brings Upcycled Fun to Fourth Ave

When my sister told me that one of her contacts, Jen Radler, was opening up the eco friendly shop Pop-Cycle on historic 4th Avenue in Tucson, Arizona, I knew she would have to be featured! Turns out there are three creative ladies behind the shop; they all create fun items utilizing environmentally friendly, upcycled and recycled materials. Located just southwest of the University of Arizona campus, their location could not be more perfect as 4th Ave is a known hot spot for funky and fun wares. The shop also features thirty local eco-artists, proving their commitment of support for their community. If you are in the Tucson area, please stop by and show them some love.

Who are the ladies behind Pop-Cycle?

Jennifer Radler of Monster Booty Threads DeeDee Koenen and Shannon Riggs of DDCO Designs

Can you tell us a little bit about what each of the ladies specializes in?

Monster Booty is a line of apparel and accessories made with recycled materials.DDCO Design creates kitschy and pop art products by using upcycled wood, paper and glass to make both furniture and gifts of all types.

What was the inspiration behind starting this business together?

We decided that we would like a venue to showcase our products and to promote upcycling and using sustainable materials to create kitschy and usable items.

How long have you been creating your items featuring monsters?

I have been developing Monster Booty Monsters for 2 years. They continue to morph and change with time.

Is there a story behind your brand name Monster Booty Threads?

There is! It was a collective effort over the phone of myself, my sister, sister-out-law, and sister of sort. Once Monster and Booty came together we all laughed and knew it would stick.

Do you feature work by other artists in the Pop-Cycle shop? Are all of those artists local?

We have over 30 other artists represented at Pop-Cycle. Most are local artists. We have at least 7 artists from around the country. All of our artists are chosen based on whether we like their art and if it fits our philosophy of sustainability. We require at least 50% recycled or natural materials for our products.

How long have you been interested in upcycling materials into functional and fun art?

We have been upcycling materials since we first started making our products. We also sponsor 3 young artists in an effort to promote using recycled and green materials and to make ART!

What inspires you to take care of our planet?

I have 3 children that will be here longer than we will and they need to think about the future and to realize that it is not difficult to preserve.

Is there a green practice you personally do that has become a natural part of your lifestyle?

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle. Use FreeCycle. Give used items to thrift stores and help the community in the process!

Are there any green practices you recommend readers try out? of course! Buy from local thrift stores. It helps the environment, social services and your budget!!

As an independent artist what is your greatest challenge?

Finding time to promote my product.

Do you remember the feeling of your first sale? Is that still the same feeling you get with each sale now?

I do! I am very excited when people get the idea of Monster Booty. It is to make people laugh.

What do you think is the most unique item you carry in the shop?

The Canjo. It is a playable instrument made from a can of stripper and the neck is from pallet wood. It's cool!

Do you have an online presence where readers can see more of your work?

Yes. Popcycleshop is our website. ddcodesign as well.

Where is the brick and mortar shop located and what are your hours?
HOURS: 11-7 daily

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Impossible Not To Notice

Meet the Press is one of my personal favorite ways to spend a Sunday morning. Although I do not consider myself highly politically motivated, it is still important to me to watch how the people running our country respond to pointed questions that in other circumstances they may not want to answer. Tim Russert was my favorite host of this show because he was tough and relentless. After he passed away last summer and they brought in recently retired Tom Brokaw, replaced by Brian Williams on the Nightly News, to temporarily fill in I thought it was a fine choice.

This morning the televised interview was one that Tom recorded yesterday in Chicago where he interviewed President Elect Barack Obama. The interview was well put together with excellent questions as well as brilliant follow ups and there were times that Tom appeared to put a bit of the hammer down on Barack, such as the time frame for the middle class tax cut now that things have changed, economically speaking, so much since his campaign, or when it comes to his smoking. Like I said, the interview was good but that is not at all what struck me over the course of the hour long program. For the first time I paid more attention to the commercials than the program I was watching.

I wish I had counted because it would be a safe estimate to state that approximately 75% of the televised support was from companies or organizations promoting the environment.


There were some old standby ads such as those offered by Exxon Mobil for fuel efficiency or a spot or two of the NBC standard “The More You Know” but one commercial in particular, shown near the beginning of the program, struck me so positively that I actually remembered the website without writing it down.

That site is called This Is Reality.

The commercial is shown immediately upon clicking on the site so speakers are in order and what we hear is a gentleman telling all of us he is entering a new clean coal facility. He walks through the door and we see him suddenly standing in the middle of the desert. The end of the commercial flashes one simple sentence on the screen:

In reality, there is no such thing as clean coal.

Halleluiah! With all the mind boggling confusion over this extremely sensitive issue it is great to see someone finally putting the truth right out there.

The reason that coal is not a clean energy resource is complicated. Mining it involves disruption to the Earth itself -- destruction of mountains -- and because of the location anything left behind, missed or forgotten can enter run off rain, ending up in our waterways. The coal itself is a dirty substance as it is essentially a rock created from biodegraded plants preserved in earth and water. Burning this substance will release CO² emission, better known as greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. If power plants were able to capture those emissions prior to their release (known as carbon capture and sequestration or CSS) it would create a system where coal could in fact be burned more cleanly but still there is no way to be 100% “clean” when it comes to coal.

Sadly, not a single plant in the United States has put into place a way to capture the gas or address the other environmental challenges presented with ecologically responsible coal mining. The coal we burn is about as far from clean as we can get. Not to mention that since coal is a fossil fuel source it will eventually run out. So what is the alternative to burning coal since it is the number one leading resource for creation of electricity in this country?

Renewable resources such as wind, solar or hydro power can replace the dirty, dangerous business of coal mining and burning. These are areas where efforts in this country could truly make a world of difference and This Is Reality has reminded me today of why we should all look into those resources to keep our planet strong.

I am granting This Is Reality a Four Leaf rating for its information, desire to get it out there and courage to tell the truth.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

To Love the Color Green Means

Generally it implies nature, peace or money but looking around recently it seems more likely to signify nothing more than a marketing campaign making use of a color we are beginning to more strongly identify with. According to Kate Smith, founder of Sensational Color:

Green occupies more space in the spectrum visible to the human eye and is second only to blue as a favorite color. Green is the pervasive color in the natural world that is an ideal backdrop in interior design because we are so used to seeing it everywhere.

The natural greens, from forest to lime, are seen as tranquil and refreshing, with a natural balance of cool and warm (blue and yellow) undertones. Green is considered the color of peace and ecology. However, there is an "institutional" side to green, associated with illness or Government-issued that conjure up negative emotions as do the "slimy" or bilious greens.

How the color green effects us physically and mentally
* Soothing
* Relaxing mentally as well as physically
* Helps alleviate depression, nervousness and anxiety
* Offers a sense of renewal, self-control and harmony

Soothing, relaxing, harmony…? What advertising executive would not want to use those tactics to reel us in?

The color green is being used for advertising everything from theme parks to cooking oil and everything in between. Do not get me wrong, it is wonderful that the color is becoming one that moves to the forefront; people are beginning to associate it with more than just the color of the tree but ensuring that same tree remains strong and standing as well.

Environmental protections and the services and products that accompany those industries do tend to use this color as the subliminal call to action -- the advertisement is green, green = Green, this is an eco-friendly product, consumer clicks. I have heard friends ask, with surprise in their tone as they point at their magazine page, “That’s environmental?” because the color green being used in the slick. My hope is that consumers are not tricked into purchasing products or services they think are eco-friendly simply because of the use of the color green.

To avoid being sucked into a marketing ploy the most important thing we can do as consumers is educate ourselves. Learn the definitions of green terminology, research the product on its website or through the Better Business Bureau and determine for ourselves what the environmental correlation is, if any. If there are two vehicle advertisements side by side, both featuring green as a prominent color we can look for the word Hybrid or the mpg of each of the vehicles to determine which, if either, are the more environmentally conscious choice.

Identifying with the color green is certainly fantastic, so using it in marketing just makes sense. It is us as consumers who must be diligent in determining which of these products and services are the ones that meet the environmental needs we possess and are not just there to play on our eco-open minds.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Lights on Our Tree Shine Bright…Green

When the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia began gifting spruce trees to the city of Boston back in 1940, as a thanks for the help provided to them after a 1917 explosion killed over 1,700, it is safe to assume they were not thinking of saving energy in 2008 but this year Mayor Menino and the Park’s Department both have a green twinkle in their eye as the holiday tree will be illuminated by energy efficient LEDs instead of standard incandescent bulbs. This change is part of an effort to provide at least twenty percent more eco-friendly holiday decorations in the city; Frog Pond and the Parkman Bandstand will also be shrouded in a crisp blue-white glow this season.

This is the first year Boston will green up their holidays. Mary Hines, spokeswoman for the Park’s Department, is confident that most people will not be able to tell the difference and will be pleased with the change; presumably since it will likely save the city some of that other type of green. With approximately 8,000 LED diodes, there will be plenty of light to shine bright and once the season is over, the city will do a comparison to determine the level of electric energy we managed to save this year.

For those in the Boston area, the lighting ceremony begins tonight, Thursday December 4, at six o’clock and will be accompanied by a small fireworks display to give a little extra sparkle to the forty six foot tall spruce gifted by Clemantsvale residents Craig and Marina Cook who were grateful to be able to be a part of such a long standing tradition. When Boston discovers the beauty in energy saving, old traditions will meet with new as efficient LED bulbs twinkle on the tree every season to come.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Raising My Hand In Class

A couple days ago I interviewed Ingrid McEntire and she left me a comment which I received this morning that got me thinking about our opportunities and how we will pursue making changes in our environments. She said:

Hope that everybody, especially the Children, make now a better world through recycling....In school their should be a class "Creative Recyling". Green Leaf should contact the new President to inspire this.Great job Creations By Ingrid

Creative recycling classes. Genius!

Parents should be responsible to provide their children with the initial desire to make green choices, to open their eyes to the state of the planet and what we can do to help fix it but it is important to remember that children are far more easily influenced by what they watch their parents do they what they hear them say.

What are we teaching the youth of the nation about getting greener and where are they learning the lessons? I fully agree with Ingrid that this type of subject matter should be taught in schools (Attention all art teachers!) but if it is not, are positive lessons being taught at home instead? Do we follow through on our own statements -- practice what we preach?

With the advent of the Green Collar industry taking a major foothold, are we preparing our children with abilities that will ensure they can garner these positions or are we instead telling them that “green is good” while we throw away the plastic water bottle we just drank someone else’s tap water out of?

I make every effort to live as green a lifestyle as possible but I do admit, there are things about my living habits that are less eco-friendly than I would prefer them to be. Generally speaking, the reasons for this are financially motivated as our family is in a moderately precarious monetary position just like so many others across the world. It comes down to weighing what our own personal tradeoffs are:

Can we pay our bills, buy groceries, contribute to charity, cook a meal for family or friends - yes.

Is there a little extra left over so we can get on the somewhat higher cost wind power option from the electric company, buy locally grown and organic foods, send larger donations as we usually do every year at the holidays, share fabulous bottles of organic wine at dinner - not so much.

I do not have children so I am only responsible for myself, that is, in my own home. If I choose to drink out of a plastic water bottle while I open the refrigerator door for ten minutes then throw that bottle in the trash when it is gone there is no one to call me out on my actions; I am not spreading a message of disposable waste to an impressionable younger person so Ingrid’s comment really got me thinking about even the most basic message of recycling -- bins in schools.

There are a lot of questions here that I sadly have no answers for at this time but in an effort to open my own eyes to what our youth are learning about eco-friendly practice I am setting out on a mission. Over the course of the next few weeks my goal is to visit the principal of each school in my home town and ask just two questions:

Do you provide recycle bins for students to drop in all potentially recyclable items (paper, plastic, metal, etc.)?

If no, why not?

We are a smaller town so the tour should be quick and efficient (saving as many emissions as possible people!), something I can likely complete in one day. In my town there are seven grammar schools (K-5), one junior high school (6-8) and one high school (all public). I do not know what can of worms I will be opening by approaching this issue, perhaps I will find out that none of the schools have this available resource and begin a lobby in my town to ensure installation of such bins (as well as proper removal by the town DPW). Perhaps I will discover that all of the public schools here already participate in recycling and laugh that I am so behind the curve since these bins have been in place for years. Either way I am looking to educate myself as to how educated the students here are in the ways of green.

Anyone want to join me in your own hometown and report back on your findings? Do you have kids and want to share your own story? I would love to hear how some of today’s parents are encouraging green behaviors in their own homes and share those stories. In the meantime, wish me luck on my new adventure, I will let all of you know how it goes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thank You

This blog started out as nothing more than an idea based on a desire to share information about how fantastic we can make our local and global environments if we all give a little heart and soul to the cause. I have been sharing snippets and bestowing Leaf Ratings for just under two months now and I guess it must be going ok because my little corner of the virtual world just received over 1500 hits!

It is not enough to simply thank everyone who has made the effort to follow, subscribe, read, comment and contribute to this eco-journey we are all on together so instead I would like to happily grant a Five Leaf Rating to all of you as a sign of my most sincere gratitude for your support.

Every bit of happiness and joy is sweeter when I share it with all of you!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Artist Spotlight on Ingrid McEntire of the Eco-friendly Shop Creations By Ingrid

As a bag designer on the side, I marvel at the creativity and innovation other artists display with their bag designs so when I came across Ingrid McEntire’s shop, Creations by Ingrid based out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, my jaw about hit the desk. Her items are so funky and functional and completely make use of almost every bit of an old item giving it a new, fresh persona. In addition to reuse and upcycling of fabric she has displayed a penchant for turning even the most unlikely items into some amazing bags -- magazine pages, books, even former cat food bags! Her story is really cool so read on to learn about her and please visit her shop to see if there is a one of a kind, upcycled bag that suits you this might even be made from a suit!

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?

I was born and raised in Germany. After World War II we did not have much money to buy clothes. Women all ages sewed clothes, especially for the children. In School we had a subject, it was called handarbeiten (handiwork). From early childhood on we learned how to sew, knit and crochet. Especially, I always remember the time on Christmas. Every year we made Christmas Decorations from Apples, Paper, Nuts, Pine Cones. Also we made Leaf prints in school, Doll Paper outfits, Halloween Witch Mask etc. There was no such thing as a ready made kit for craft items.

When I had my own children I have knitted them many winter sweaters rather than buy them. As long as I can remember I have been crafting and it is a kind a therapy for me to be creative and work with my hands.

I also have a BS in Special Education, Minor Art. While in College I took several classes in painting, pottery and design.

In 2005 I decided to launch my business CreationsbyIngrid with the emphasis using recycled materials.

What inspires you as an artist?

I am inspired mostly from my available resources, such as trash, discarded fabric samples, vintage ties, recycled aluminum and the many awesome people out there, especially

When did you first discover your ability to upcycle such interesting materials into functional pieces?

Three years ago I started to make my denim booty bags. The little ones for girls are very popular, and then it progressed into other areas. My brain never stops to come up with something new.

Where do you acquire the materials used in your designs?

Most of my material I find from discarded material around the house, friends give me their discarded material, businesses, such as furniture stores let me have their discarded fabric samples for free.

Do you carry one of your own designs, for example a men's suit coat purse?

Yes, I have made a few from suit coats and they are my design. The collar is sewn in the front diagonally and made pockets out from it. For the back I use suit coat pocket. I also made a few bags from suit coat sleeves.

If so what type of responses do you receive when out in public?

The reactions I get from the people (all ages) are great and supportive. Sometimes they can hardly believe what I have created. One of my reasons I am using recycled material is to show the younger generation that you can make some very unique and interesting items for functional use, especially from trash.

Do you feel that you could make a purse or wallet out of just about anything?

Yes, I think I could. Sometimes it will take a while to figure out how to execute different materials but then suddenly it will hit you and you have the idea to put it together into a functional piece.

Why are you committed to a green lifestyle?

It is important for me to keep as much trash out of the landfills as possible, even if it is just a small piece of trash that day. Also we must leave the place where we live in much better shape than it is now for the next generation. We owe it to them.

Is there any one green practice you do daily that has become second nature?

I recycle as much as I can. Always carry a shopping bag with me in case I need it to eliminate those nasty plastic bags and paper.

What is an easy way readers could become more green?

Buy several recycle bins, then recycle, cut down on napkins, use towels instead paper etc.

Do you have a favorite green expression?

Because I do use a lot of recycled material my functional items are usually ONE OF A KIND.

Do you have an online presence where readers can view your work?

I do sell my functional items on and both under username creationsbyingrid

Is your work featured in a brick and mortar location/boutique?

I do sell my wallets, jewelry and bags at a Nonprofit Organization Store which is called Endless Possibilities in Manteo, NC and in a Gallery called Indigo Moon, Manteo, NC and several Community based Galleries in my area.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

“The Present…

…is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.”
~ Frank Lloyd Wright

There is no moment like the one we are living right now and we choose to live it in the best way we know how -- as the grateful and generous people we have become! This video is just under nine minutes but it includes such soothing music and wonderfully inspiring quotes from so many interesting people it flew by faster than I would have expected. The quote I liked best came in at about 7:30, so true! I hope everyone takes a few minutes to relax and enjoy this calming but uplifting video during such a go-go-go weekend of shopping, and please feel free to come back to it anytime the time is right to be quiet and reflect. Have a wonderful weekend full of smiles everyone!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pimpin It For The Planet

Solve this equation:
Upcycled fabric + style - shipping cost + holiday gift ideas - parking lot drama = ????

Stumped for the answer? OK I will tell everyone that the answer is…

Chucka Stone Designs handmade, one of a kind fabric fashions and accessories of course!

I never do this kind of thing, I generally prefer to promote others over myself but for one day I guess it won’t kill me to give my own little corner of the eco-friendly cyber world some lovin right? This is mostly because there are some amazing events coming up over the next couple weeks that I am taking part in to help others so I wanted to share a few of them with everyone!

I am adding tons of items to the shop through Cyber Monday but here is a little mini preview of some of the goodies available right now that can take advantage of my FREE SHIPPING sale through the end of 2008.

My Mom and I will be sharing a table at the CUREFest Craft Fair in Tilton Hall at Clark University in Worcester, MA on Saturday December 6 from 12:00 - 5:00. This event is rad because the proceeds from table fees go to Worcester AIDS research and over 90% of sellers are independent artists so come on out, say hi and shop for some truly unique gifts!

Team Eco Etsy is promoting a phenomenal event as well and I was eager to be a part of it! From December 7 - 14 10% of all sales in my Etsy shop will be donated to Heifer International, an organization dedicated to eradicating hunger world wide. If it does not sell at CUREFest I hope to see it go during this week to help another truly worthy cause!

Finally, as I was spending some time in the Etsy forums last night promoting my shop and some of its new items, I came across a message from kaleidoscopestudio about feeling invisible. As I tend to be a rather frequent thread killer (read: I show up to chat and everyone already in the thread goes screaming in the other direction, leaving me all alone), I was drawn to her title immediately. Turns out, her message was a bit more serious. Her mom passed away recently after a long battle with ovarian cancer and left behind a loving family but a stack of medical bills. She is holding a silent auction in New Hampshire in February and was asking for donations to help raise money for paying off those bills. Since Matt and I are in an odd situation financially right now I do not have a lot of cash to donate to the charities I usually support every year but I can certainly send Erica a kickin’ tote bag instead! I have a few options for the ones I am thinking of sending up to her but welcome suggestions so feel free to swing by my shop and check out the selection. The link to the thread will allow you to contact Erica through her shop if you would also like to get involved.

So in the end I guess I am still promoting for others in addition to myself but ‘tis the season to do so after all! For all of us independent artists I wish many, many, many sales to boost our economies this festive holiday season.

Buy handmade and go green!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Uncle Traveling Matt: Episode II -- In the Workshop

Although he was not sending postcards to Fraggle Rock, there were a lot of picture messages sent to me from the cave-like workshop where Matt is working on our free entertainment center. He has had to slightly modify the materials in order to ensure the unit will be structurally sound and will not warp as the temperature and humidity levels here in New England rise and fall, however in keeping with the original basis of a completely free piece of furniture, he is utilizing “scrap” wood from friends and family in addition to his neatly cut pallet planks.

Here is Part II of Matt’s entertainment center construction journey.

March of the Pallets: Part 2 (Reality Strikes!)

Having obtained a large sum of free pallet lumber, I was faced with the challenge of turning the raw materials into something useable. If any of you have ever seen pallet lumber, it's a little...well....ugly. There are splits, nail holes, and the surface of the wood is usually filthy. Just below the surface, however, lies some of the most attractive wood you will ever see. And it's all available for free!

My first step in renewing the wood was to cut the end 2-3" off of each piece. This removes most of the splits, and 4 out of the 6 nail holes. I then squared up each side of the wood on a table saw, cutting off about 1/4" on each side. At this point, I started to get a preview of the color and graining of the wood. The filth and wear that pallet wood exhibits barely sinks below the surface, so once you cut just a small amount off, you can see the true beauty of the wood. Then comes the real show! I ran each piece through a planer/joiner removing about 1/4" from both faces of the lumber, and that revealed the full glory of new-old wood. Each side was now showing as if it was fresh, new lumber....except for two small nail holes in each piece.

After the work to square up and clean up the lumber, I took some time to cut it to length to build the frame of the entertainment center according to my ever changing plan. Enter my friend, B. B has been doing woodworking for as long as I can remember. He has a better equipped wood shop than most professionals, and probably as much experience in fine woodworking as anyone I know....except for maybe my Father-in-law....who IS a professional woodworker. B had a few comments that made me take a step back from the project and re-evaluate how I was going about it. Sometimes reality sucks, but it's better than the alternative.

Pallet lumber is a solid hardwood. Solid hardwoods expand and contract rather substantially with changes in humidity, temperature, and other environmental factors. If I had continued to build the entire entertainment center out of just the pallet lumber alone, B pointed out that our 100+lb TV would have most likely ended up on the floor the first day with relatively low humidity. As the wood contracts in dry weather, all of my fancy wood joints would have either cracked or pulled apart, and our TV would have landed in our downstairs neighbor's apartment. His suggestion was to use the pallet lumber as a non-structural coating to dress up a plywood case.

B also pointed out that re-using pallet lumber may only be a mild savings to the environment, as the amount of energy used to re-cut and re-plane each piece of wood is probably more than a lumber mill uses to cut it originally. Additionally, the wear and tear on blades to rework the lumber may be a factor, as the creation of the metal used to manufacture a replacement blade would have an adverse environmental impact. The upside, however, is that less trees need to suffer for our need for a practical storage solution.

In the spirit of creating this entertainment center with little to no additional "virgin" lumber, B had some scrap plywood from prior projects that he offered to the cause. It was a little smaller than I had designed the entertainment center around, but with a slight rework, I was able to utilize the scrap plywood with virtually no waste.

Keep tuned to The Green Leaf Reviewer to see the progress of the pallet/scrap wood entertainment center.

For those still keeping track:

Time Spent to Date: 24 Hours
$ Spent to Date: $4 (all transportation related)