Wednesday, April 29, 2009

grandma really did know it all.

Most of the people in my life now [including Matthew] never met my Grandma. She died right as I was getting to know all the people I know now. And that's a shame, because their lives really would be better having known her. I may be a little biased, but in my opinion she was just about the wisest, most genuine person on the planet. Reminiscing and realizing I was copying some of her habits, I decided to specifically remember and try to implement some of her wisest ones. So now, I am sharing them with you. And if you think about it, I'm sure your own Grandma's little bits of wisdom could help you out in a pinch too.

1. The Communal Rag.
This is something that will probably make anyone slightly germophobic shrink back in terror, but I obviously did not die of any crazy disease growing up, and neither did anyone else who stayed with my Grandma. So I'm sticking to it.
This came to mind when Matthew mentioned that we were on our last roll of paper towels. AGAIN. I really really hate buying paper products. It seems so wasteful! You run out over and over again, you have to use a ton to clean up anything, and they're not cheap, unless you want to get the kind that run out in a day and a half. And I'm pretty stingy, so for me to talk junk about the cheapo kind means it's BAD. So, frustrated about the $20 or so a month we spend on napkins and paper towels [and that's getting them on clearance at BigLots!], I remembered my Grandma's communal rag. This was a rag that sat in the kitchen, usually draped over the faucet, and was used to clean up anything and everything that got spilled. At meal time, she'd wipe mine and my sister's hands and faces [obviously either with a different rag or the same one washed out], and then the table, and BAM! Clean kitchen. Clean kids. No paper towels or napkins. No trash, no wasted money, no environmental impact. Was she thinking about being green? Porbably not. But she wasn't wasting her money either, which, like I said in my last post, usually go hand in hand. "Waste not, want not." Remember that?

2. The Big Freezer.
Some people will argue whether or not this is green, but if you get an energy efficient freezer it can be, and just the basic principle behind it is pretty green, no matter how you implement it.
My Grandma would freeze ANYTHING. She had a shed out back that had a big deep freezer in it, and she had it full at all times - all kinds of broths, soups, fruits and vegetables, meat, water - if it could be frozen, she would freeze it. And she kept that thing full. Now, let me explain the difference between my Grandma's freezer and most people's freezers they have out in their garage or wherever:
1.It was filled with leftovers and extra of things she had made or grown in her garden. Not $12 bags of chicken fingers and egg rolls and microwaveable frozen dinners. People go out an buy freezers to make their Sam's Club membership seem like it's not a waste of money. They put a few bags of frozen vegetables that have no nutritional value or processed, fake, overly salted meat products [example : chicken wings/fingers/strips...they're horrific for you] in it that they paid way too much for and call it a day. My Grandma's way is greener and cheaper because first of all, she didn't go out and buy crap food in bulk just to put something in a freezer she bought to seem economical. She needed to save all that extra and leftover from what she already had so that she wouldn't have to go out and buy more. Opposite principles.
2. Also, it wasn't a drain on her energy bill because she kept it full - even in your freezer attached to your fridge, you should always keep it full, even if it means filling a milk jug wth water to have something taking up space - this makes the freezer use less energy to stay cool.
And I can't even begin to explain how tasty it was as a kid to go out to the freezer and get frozen fruit juice - from canned fruits, she'd pour the syrup or juice into a tupperware container and freeze it. This was much less fattening than ice cream, albeit probably just as much sugar, and it was free for her. She just used excess from what she had.

3. The Clothesline.
This may be my favorite, and I had a clothesline at our old house that I miss having here -I'm looking into rigging up an indoor one for our apartment, even though we don't pay for the washer and dryer use. It's just plain relaxing to hang up clothes! Especially outside on a pretty day. My Grandma always did this, and again, it probably wasn't to be green, but her simple lifestyle just lent itself to being green. Next to your refrigerator [which is like 30% of your energy bill!! Cut those temperatures back!], the dryer uses the most electricity to run. So next time you think it's a waste of your time to go out and hang up clothes, remember that 20 minutes of hanging up could save 10 to 15% on your energy bill...and then see how wasteful it feels.

4. Gardening and Using What You've Got.
So I've already announced myself as a big big fan of gardening, and to me, if you're going to me out there manicuring your lawn and planting flowers, why not have a little patch that actually does you some good as well? My grandma had about a 5'x10' garden, where she grew amazing tomatoes and cucumbers, not to mention mint and other cool stuff. She always used what she grew and loved giving it to visitors when they came. I love tomatoe sandwiches more than anything to this day because of her tomatoes! It saved her so much on her grocery bill to be able to walk outside and pick fresh produce! Which, by the way, she made her own compost to fertilize. :]
She also used what she had in terms of backyard growth. She had a pear tree with a strawberry patch around it that she didn't have to do much to take care of, but she could pump out some strawberry jam and pear jelly in that little kitchen of hers thanks to those random things in her yard. Also, she had a huge pecan tree in her yard, and she used to let my sister and me go out and collect all the good ones and had a huge basket to keep them in inside. And nuts are flippin expensive!! She could've just raked them up with the leaves and done what everyone else does and go buy pecans and pecan pies, but she used what she had and saved more money buy picking them up and using them. And no one ever complained that they didn't taste store bought!

That's about all I have for now. Matthew and I went and bought some washcloths today to try the communal rag deal, so I'll let you know how that goes. I'd encourage you to sit back and try to remember thing from your childhood that your grandma did. They lived through worse recessions than we have, and they made the best of it. Pretty smart ladies.

Monday, April 27, 2009

jesus is green.

So I've been learning a lot over the last couple of years about simple[cheap!] living, green living, and christlike living. The more I learn about each, the more it seems they have in common. Over the last few weeks it has become increasingly evident to me that living simply and taking care of the environment are not just choices, but callings of people who claim to follow jesus.

If you're reading this and you're not a "christian", you don't have to stop reading just because I mentioned jesus. I'm not sermonizing or anything, just venting a little frustration with myself and fellow "believers" for being...well...not very much like jesus.

So think about americans [I don't like this term either...canadians and mexicans and anyone in south america are also americans, but we claim the phrase as our own...sorry...another vent.] are very, very, VERY spoiled. Very wasteful. VERY self-pleasing and self-absorbed. ALL of us live beyond our means and use up well more than our share of natural resources. It's destroying the planet [that, if you believe the bible, was created by God for us to live on] and reducing the quality of life for people all around us [love your neighbor...? that's in there somewhere, right? oh yeah, jesus said it was the SECOND GREATEST commandment.].

After thinking about my own level of spoiled-ness and wastefulness, I got pretty bummed out. Not just because of the environmental and people impact of my greediness, but because it says a lot about my character and my love for God, His creation, and other people. And if you're a "christian", it really should bother you. Sorry if you don't like that. But stewardship is a pretty flippin big deal in the bible, and we're horrific stewards of the planet. And it's also the opposite of how jesus was/is to be so self-absorbed that we let our lifestyles destroy so much and so many and think that it's the way it has to be, because we "deserve" a certain lifestyle.

So...I set about to make some changes in my own life, and I'm flirting with the idea of getting some community things started [because Greenville, NC, ironically enough, is NOT very green friendly]. Here is my first little step : I'm going to show you what I've done in our little home to prove that it's not impossible, expensive, or crazy to lower your impact [matthew and i still shower!].

First Green/Simple Step: Indoor Garden.

This was super easy, incredibly inexpensive, and shockingly fulfilling. Matthew and I got some seeds for some vegetables we like over the winter, when they were on sale for about 25 cents a pack. I got some leftover potting soil from my mom [it was actually a pot that she'd had a poinsettia in, and so i just pulled out the dead plant and scooped out the soil. for free!], grabbed our paper egg carton [you know...the grey kind that aren't styrofoam], and planted a couple little seeds in each hole. I had seedlings from all of them within a week, and before a few weeks had gone by I already needed to move them into bigger containers! I used two pots I got for 70 cents at BigLots for the two biggest sprouts [beans and corn, not pictured], and cut some little holes in the bottom of some plastic punch cups left over from our wedding for the rest. When I can find the right container, I'll start saving shower water for watering them like I did at our old house [just catch the water in a container whenever you're letting it run to warm up...that's a lot of wasted water!] So I'm saving money and will be eating healthier for free, and it's been really cool.

Also in these pictures, you can see two of our little solar lanterns I put in the window every day that serve as nightlights around the house after dark...nice, free light. You can also see that the curtain is pulled up just enough to let in light for the plants...leaving them closed while the sun is out keeps our apartment noticably cooler during the day. With that plus the windows open a little plus two ceiling fans, we don't even have to use the air conditioning until it hits around 90 degrees outside, and that's saying a lot for my husband, who serves as my personal space heater when it's cold outside.

Second Green/Simple Step: Indoor Composting.

Let me preface this by saying most of what I'm doing would be easier outside, but I live in a 500sq ft loft apartment with no yard, and most people in cities live in apartments with no yard and use that as an excuse to opt out of these things. So if you have a yard, use it! If not, don't be lazy!
So, composting. Much easier and much less smelly than you'd expect. I just took a coffee container that we had emptied, lined it with a ziploc bag, and started filling it with things like coffee grounds, used tea bag, egg shells, and any fruit or veggie waste we have. In a couple of weeks, I'll have free, fresh, nutrient rich soil that I can put on my indoor garden to make it grow like crazy. So I'm wasting less, and I don't have to go spend 25 bucks on miracle gro to have healthy plants. And people always flip out about the smell, but I honestly haven't smelled it yet. Our garbage disposal smells disgusting and it's not even giving me free nutrients.

Third Simple/Green Step: Recycling and Repurposing.

This lamp is a good example of something that could've easily been thrown away but is now a piece that we love. We got this gold reading/desk lamp from matthew's parents a while back because we like lamps more than overhead lights. We really hated the way it looked and had it unplugged and set in a corner to be taken downstairs and tossed out. Then, feeling especially crafty one night, I pulled it out along with some black acrylic paint, beaded ribbon and hot glue gun I had in my craft box and went to work. When Matthew got home from band practice, I presented the new and improved version, and it now proudly sits as the first light we turn on when we open the fron door. And the cost? $0. Environmental impact? 0.This was something I did out of frustration with having to clean up the backyard at our first house. I decided to make it worth my while, and grabbed a uniqe stick, a candle I got out of the "free" bin at Habitat for Humanity, and a scrap of some material I got from HfH [about 50 cents for 3 yards or so, and I just used a strip for this left over from re-upholstering our diningroom chairs]. I tied the candle into a nook in the stick, and Matthew loved it and we've had it displayed since then. In this picture, it's in its new home in our bathroom in our apartment. Cost? $0, since the fabric was so cheap and I only used a scrap of it. And it helpd me clean up my yard. :]

This is just fun. Matthew's sister gave us a calendar with daily quotes from The Office, and instead of throwing them away every day, we save them and rotate the funniest on our refrigerator so they can be enjoyed by anyone who comes over, and for more than just a day. Easy. Green. Funny!
This is the sewing box my mom gave me when I moved out. It has proved invaluable since getting married. I've salvaged shirts and jeans for both of us, saving us tons of money on clothes, something we really try not to buy [we've worn the same styles for a long time...t shirt and jeans never really go out of style, and we both still get by just fine in clothes we've been weraing for years], I've sewn pillows, made gifts, and recently with our news that we're having a little girl, I've been able to do lots of girly decorating using stuff we already have instead of wasting money on the expensive crap at baby stores. Learning to sew is not an old fashioned, anti-feminism skill. It's amazingly useful and my husband appreciates it a lot.

Along with all the repurposing [one of the best waste-reducing practices out there], we also recycle, of course. Although my recycling amount has gone down since finding new uses for things, I still appreciate having it available for the things I'm not creative enough to reuse.

I'll stop here, since anyone who's read all this is probably getting cross-eyed about now. Be encouraged! Start taking little steps. Take shorter showers, turn off lights, watch less TV, get some flowers for your window, or whatever works for you. We have a huge responsibility and we can't just ignore it. Please feel free to comment with suggestions or examples of other things we can do to minimize our impact!