Be fresh with me

Since the last time I wrote — two months ago — I have grown and harvested oyster and portabella mushrooms thanks to growing kits my family gave me for my birthday. Just in the past year I started to enjoy portabellas but I was a little scared about the oyster mushrooms. No need to be because they were delicious.

Growing mushrooms in my house may not become a habit although my mom has passed on some links to show me how to do it were I so inclined. Which I probably am not but I will definitely not be passing up the ‘shrooms on the menu or at the grocery store any more.

Here’s the process for the oyster mushrooms:

This black bag has little holes in it. For the first few days, I sprayed water onto the bag once a day.

After about a week, these little buds sprouted.

The mushrooms kept growing, covering most of the bag. Then I was ready to harvest them.

You just twist the clumps off and cut out any that are shriveled.

The mushrooms wound up in a pot with black olives, artichokes, feta and pasta. It was yummy, just ask my book club.

A few weeks ago, I got my first Irv & Shelley’s Fresh Picks order.

There was chard (which went into pasta with some sausage), frozen peas (still frozen), beets (roasted and put on a salad with goat cheese), arugula (also into pasta) and eggplant (roasted with the last of my portabellas and some tomatoes then put on pasta, used as a pizza topping and spooned cold on crackers for a pseudo-bruschetta).

The Irv and Shelly's bounty made for some good eating.

Pretty soon I will just have to go outside for some fresh picks. The front walk is lined with strawberries, and Bob spent most of the weekend putting in tomatoes, hot and green peppers, beets, garlic, eggplant, radishes, carrots, leeks, lettuce, cucumbers, melon, squash and beans.


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Enviro Jen is back in business

This time around, I have no challenge but to be as good to myself and those around me as I can. I am going to try to get some new readers and keep them posted on what they can do on a day-to-day basis to live the green (or at least greener) life.

And greener is the best I can do. I can only do the best I can and not beat myself up about it.

Last year had a few triumphs and a few failures, such as meat. I have a horrible diet and meat really is my downfall. For now, I am trying to eat less meat, and no meat on Mondays for sure, thanks to the Meatless Mondays campaign. Visit the link for some recipes and to take their pledge to swear off meat at least one day a week.

Another failure was clothes shopping. Jan. 1 pretty much found me at the mall, getting some new shirts. I have kept away from leather, although my attempts at shoe buying have been dismal. Shopping for shoes without leather (or probably any shoes for that matter) over the Internet have not been very successful. And, sadly, Levi’s new Water > Less brand is only available in men’s.

On the flip side, boxed wine is really great. I absolutely love it. Too white trash? Sorry, but there are some good wines out there that come in a box and it’s nice to have one glass (OK, two) with dinner and not worry about wasting the rest of the bottle.

Almost all of my household cleaning products are natural. In fact, baking soda takes care of just about anything. I use it to clean burnt-on pans (Bob was cooking again) and as an exfoliant for my face. And just abut anything in between. We also hardly ever use the clothes dryer. We have a clothes line up in the basement where everything gets hung. When it’s dry, I pop it the dryer on no heat to break up the starchiness and everything is good to go. I think having that extra moisture in the air has helped a lot with my dry skin. The new plants have helped with that as well (thanks, lisa!).

Once the weather gets warmer and there’s more humidity in the air, the clothes line will have to move outside. My undergarments will probable still get strung up in the basement, though.

All in all, last year made me learn a lot of new things about how to live a cleaner life and made me think about what I wanted from that life. I hope this year, and those beyond, will keep that journey going and that I can give others some easy things to do to make their footsteps a little lighter. And, of course, I would love to hear how everyone else manages to stay sane and greener at the same time.

What did we learn on the Web this week, Jen?
This may or may not stay around, but it seemed a good segue this time.

Although it’s probably best to avoid plastic bags completely, sometimes you just need a baggie. But now Ziplocs can be recycled with your plastic shopping bags. It’s better than the landfill, but if you can’t reuse it, then make sure you recycle it.

Coming soon
Last year, I had wanted to write a post about how awesome iPhones are and how many excellent and helpful apps (green or not) there are, but I never got around to it. After an email from a friend asking about my must-have apps, and after I shared my iPhone love with Bob by giving him my old phone when I upgraded, I think the time is near to tackle this subject. And there’s a lot to say!


Filed under boxed wine, cleaning products, green, recycling, sustainability

Week 52 | Putting it to rest

So, this is Week 52, the end of my yearlong challenge. I really can’t believe I made it this long — I am not known for my attention span or finishing up projects I may start with the greatest of enthusiasm. But here I am, and I would like to thank all my support staff for your comments and encouragement this year. Without an audience, I would have quit.

This will not be my last blog; however, the postings will not be as frequent — I don’t think I can find 52 more things to do. Although, recommitting to some of the challenges from this year will be at the top of my list.

But for the last official blog, I would like to cover some of my final wishes. Yep, a green will.

I have no plans of dying any time soon, but when I do, I would like to be dealt with as greenly as possible. So no embalming and no grave liner or burial vault.

While the EPA says formaldehyde is a “probable” carcinogen, most other first world countries think it’s more than probable. (Again, the U.S. lags behind.)  At this point, it won’t matter to me how dangerous it is, but the chemical can leach into ground water. Also, funeral directors have a much higher incidence of myeloid leukemia, according to the Green Burial Council. I don’t want to contribute to that.

The liner or vault is made of concrete and is used to keep the ground from shifting. It also takes up space, a much needed commodity in our over-populated world, and the manufacturing of it is intense.

This leaves me a couple of options:

  • A green burial with no embalming and a biodegradable casket. There are cemeteries and burial grounds popping up that help the dead get back to nature as quick as possible. The Natural End helps setting families up with services and places.
  • Cremation. “Cremation certainly uses far fewer resources than traditional burial, but it has its issues. The biggest is that it burns fossil fuel,” according to Metals, such as dental fillings or toxins built up in the body, can be very polluting.
  • Resomation. This is a new process that reduces the body to ash through alkali, water, heat and pressure. It seems to be much less toxic than cremation and much, much less than regular burial.
  • Promession. This is not yet approved in the U.S. but its sounds like the neatest way. Basically, the body is freeze dried to remove any moisture. Then it is agitated to break into little pieces. Any metals are removed and the remains are placed in a biodegradable coffin. It then takes about a year for the coffin and remains to break down. By removing the moisture, the body will not rot but will return to the soil. Pretty cool, huh?

Before any of that happens, as much of my organs and tissues would be reused where ever needed. Also, I would have to be dead.

I will get around to making a will one of these days, but for now, let this stand as what I’d like done with me when it’s too late to decide myself.

What did we learn on the Web this week, Jen?
Again, thanks to my sister for passing this in.

For those who had real trees this year and don’t want to just kick them to the curb, you could turn them into the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to be turned into a fish habitat.  The drop-off is Jan. 12 from 8 a.m. to noon at Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in Wayne.

Happy New Year!




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Week 51 | Nailed it!

I can’t call my beauty routine high maintenance. It’s more in the as-needed or as-the-time-opens-up category. The last time I got a manicure was the spring, and a pedicure was probably in 2009. Sad, but true.

I love a good mani or pedi, but the chemicals used in the process are pretty scary.

From National Geographic’s Green Guide for Everyday Living:

Nail polishes have come under fire lately for containing three chemicals dubbed the “toxic trio”: toluene, a solvent linked to low birth weight and development problems in children; formaldehyde, a known carcinogen emitted as certain preservatives break down; and dibutyl phthalate, a hormone disrupting chemical used to keep polishes flexible. All three appear on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. …

Solvents such as acetone and ethyl, butyl and amyl acetate can trigger headaches, dizziness, and eye, nose and throat irritation. Methacrylate resins, used to make acrylic nails, can irritate skin and cause redness, allergic reactions, pain and swelling in the nail bed. Ethyl and methyl methacrylate are the two adhesives used in applying acrylic nails, and they too are extremely irritating to skin, eyes and respiratory tracts. Methyl methacrylate has generated so many worker complaints of allergic reactions that it has been banned in 30 states.

Europe has banned the use of those chemicals, as well as a slew of others, while the U.S., as usual, lags behind.

I don’t use nail polish often — I prefer a natural look — but my niece will be getting some non-toxic polishes for Christmas.

My concern about my owns hands is that they look a little raggedy. I will be trying some new, all natural ways to shape them up. What supplies I don’t have, I will pick up at Whole Foods or Fruitful Yield this week.

Here are two guides/recipes to getting natural nails:

I’ll also go through all my old nail polishes and turn them into the Hazardous Waste Center.

What did we learn on the Web this week, Jen?
Let’s hope this passes: The EPA bans triclosan, the ubiquitous antibacterial chemical.

Triclosan helps build suberbugs, just like cockroaches that never die because they develop resistance to each new crop of pesticides. Triclosan also can mess up gland and hormone functions in humans and animals. Regular soap is a great way to clean up; so is hot water, without adding more chemical to the environment. Maybe we should try it a little more.

Treasure hunting
I am pretty disappointed in myself, but I haven’t had time for much shopping lately. I did hit up some resale shops and got some new-t0-me clothes, including a trench coat and a sweater dress, but that seems more mundane than finding treasure. After the next week or two, I may be able to get back in the swing.

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Week 50 | Ice maiden

Some people think I can be a little cold, but I really am. At least I am today when there’s a high of 14 degrees.

This last week has brought winter to Chicago with a vengeance. We have had snow, rain, bitter winds and bone-chilling temps. I am a very lucky person to have a roof over my head, control of my thermostat and access to extra layers.

I also have access to an ergonomic shovel and an electric snowblower to clear up some of the recent white stuff. But it’s still pretty icy out there, especially between the steps and the car. We are almost out of rock salt so I have been looking into a greener alternative because that salt is nasty stuff.

The EPA has this to say:

When spring rains and snowmelt occur, the salt that has accumulated over the winter is carried into storm water catch basins and streams. In surface waters, such as lakes, ponds, and streams, salt can harm or kill aquatic life, including fish and plants. Salt also attracts animals, including moose and deer, to the roadside, where they can be struck by traffic. Along the shoulders of roads, salt damages vegetation and soil, leading to erosion issues.

If salt reaches surface and underground drinking water supplies, it can cause problems in people with hypertension. It can also affect the taste of water and corrode plumbing infrastructure. Salt gets into the drinking water in two ways: it can collect in lakes and reservoirs, or it can infiltrate into the groundwater and contaminate wells. Once in the groundwater, salt remains there for decades.

The safest alternatives to rock salt are sand, which needs to be used sparingly because it can clog drain pipes, and calcium magnesium acetate. CMA is said to be as corrosive as tap water and is not harmful to vegetation or concrete.

I also saw mention of bird seed and natural or biodegradable kitty litter. These, along with sand, are good for traction but not necessarily for getting rid of any ice.

It's too cold to go outside so I took these pics through my office window. Here's the snow blower.

This is the ergonomic shovel and its friend, the push broom.



What did we learn on the Web this week, Jen?
While trying to come up with all my self-imposed challenges, I have asked myself some questions about what is green and what can I do to live a more sustainable life. This is a good question but not one that I would have ever thought of:

I have often wondered if it would be possible to unplug my fridge at night when I know for certain that no one will need to open it for eight hours. Would the unit keep in the cold if the doors remained closed?

The short answer is no. For the full explanation, go to Mother Jones’ Econundrums.

Treasure hunting

The swap party was a great success. We had 10 participants, two of them part of a tag team effort. I think (hope) everyone went home with something they will really enjoy. I  know I did. The leftovers were taken to the Goodwill. We are going to try to make this a biannual effort at anti-shopping and closet cleaning.




Some of things I took home will be presents for Christmas; others are all for me!



Among some other fabulous prizes, I took home some red shoes, a new game for my game night grab bag, a covered dish, an embroidered jacket and some big earrings.




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Week 49 | That’s (re)filling!

My printer is a heavily used piece of equipment. I make all my own greeting cards, print out photos and fliers, and use a lot of graphics and art in my crafts. That makes for a lot of ink.

I never throw out the cartridges — they always get turned in at the office supply store. But I think I can do more.

1. Use refillable ink cartridges. I can take my empty tanks into Walgreens or Office Max and have them filled. Or I could do it myself but I think I’ll take a pass on that.

2. Recycle the cartridges through Cartridges for Kids, Recycle 4 Charity or Recycling for Charities.

3. If I get really ambitious, I could make art out of them. Here’s some ingenious works:

“Remanufacturing one toner cartridge keeps an average of two and a half kilograms of plastic out of landfills. Also since up to 80% less energy is required to remanufacture cartridges (versus creating new ones) overall green house gas emissions are significantly reduced as well,” according to the Office Depot Guide to Buying Green.

What did we learn on the Web this week, Jen?
One of my loyal readers (OK, my sister) emailed me about this. And I am glad she did.

Kraft Foods’ Lowville, N.Y., plant, which makes Philadelphia  cream cheese, is lessening its carbon footprint by using alternative energy sources. The plant is converting waste into methane gas, which is helping power the plant. They also are using energy-efficient lighting, lowering water intake and practicing recycling. Awesome!

Treasure hunting
Tonight is the swap party so we’ll see what we find!

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Week 48 | Green Christmas

There’s lots of way to make Christmas a little healthier for the environment. Below is a list of ideas. I don’t know that I can do all, but I will do as much as I can.

  • Use LED lights on the tree if you need to buy new ones.
  • Reuse or recycle those old lights.
  • If you are putting up a tree, get a real one with the roots. This can then be replanted. (I’ve got room in my backyard if you are looking for a place to replant.)
  • Make instead of buy something. Or buy something some else made by hand. (Both things I plan to do.)
  • Buy (or swap) something gently used. (Done and done! Or soon to be done.)
  • Cook or bake your gifts. (I love truffles and they are easy to make, hint, hint.)
  • Buy locally.
  • Skip holiday cards unless you have really cute kids or something important to say. (I have neither.)
  • For wrapping, use recycled content or kraft paper or fabric. (I have been collecting scarves and unusual boxes at estate sales so I won’t have to rely on traditional gift wrap.)

For more ideas:

For shoppers:

What did we learn on the Web this week, Jen?
Jam-packed family weekend so no time for reading.

Treasure hunting
Jam-packed family weekend so no time for treasures.

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