Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TED Tuesday: An infection you want your kids to get!

A little bit of inspiration for helping our kids to catch the "I can" bug!

Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

p.s. Remember you can do this, it all starts with a first step and it will last a lifetime

Monday, March 29, 2010

A few chemicals with your pancakes?

I made pancakes the other morning for my fiancee and I. They were great and we used a Teflon coated pan from IKEA to cook them in.  Several weeks ago, a friend of mine Annie Bourgault of Nurturing Motherhood asked Andreas about what kind of pan was the best to use for cooking (he's a chef) and the conversation turned into a talk about Teflon. 

I stopped to reflect why I had never questioned myself before about Teflon? Was it really so bad? What kinds of chemicals did we just ingest along with our yummy pancakes?

So I have done a little research and wanted to share it with you.

This is from a study done by the Environmental Working Group about the chemical releases from heating a pan coated with Teflon. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE FULL SIZE)

Source: http://www.ewg.org/reports/toxicteflon

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported that using the Teflon coated pans didn't present a significant health risk so long as you kept the temperature down. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fined Teflon maker DuPont $16.5 million for two decades' worth of covering up company studies that showed it was polluting drinking water.  This is in addition to settling a $107 Million class action lawsuit filed by residents living near the West Virginia plant who claimed that the chemical [PFOA - see below] had contaminated local waters.

Useful Information:
  • Teflon: Teflon is a brand name, it is not a single chemical. Teflon can refer to PTFE or to a fluorotelomer or to any number of perfluorochemicals. Perfluorochemicals are often termed "Teflon" chemicals or as having "Teflon" chemistry.
  •  PTFE: Polytetrafluoroetheylene. Polymer used for cookware and other non-stick applications. Brand names include Teflon and Silverstone. A physically expanded form of PTFE is used to make Gore-Tex. PFOA is an ingredient in the manufacture of PTFE.  PTFE fluoropolymer resin is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most slippery substance.
  • PFOA: Perfluorooctanoic acid. Breakdown product of fluorotelomers and backbone of many DuPont products. Also used as a surfactant to produce PTFE, the Teflon in pans. Sometimes called C8.
  • C8, et al: The range of chemicals that are identical to PFOA but with carbon backbones of varying length. PFOA/C8 has 8 carbons, C7 has 7, and so on. These are breakdown products of fluorotelomers.
An important consideration is the chemical PFOA used to make Teflon chemicals is considered a persistent, bio-accumulative man-made compound. This means that it NEVER breaks down because nature isn't able to "digest or metabolise" it in its own natural systems. By using chemicals like this, we are continually undermining the long-term health of the planet - including our families.

I'll let you make up your mind about how safe these pans are and if you feel you'd like to use an alternative, Planet Green has a great article that will help you with your decision making process.

Many families are opting for a different non-stick pan option such as:

Inert, Non-Reactive Cookware -- A Superior Choice
Enamel is actually a fused glass surface. Brands: Le Creuset and Chantal.
Will last a lifetime. Buy quality as once enamel is chipped the underlying metal will react with food.

Titanium is nonreactive and lightweight but a poor heat conductor. Typically labeled as aluminum cookware that has a fused ceramic-titanium, nonstick coating. This cookware is expensive, but durable and a healthful, nonreactive choice.

Glass coffee pots and casserole dishes are inert and affordable. Favor glass containers for storing food.

Bamboo steamers and paddles as well as wooden spoons, chopsticks and crockery are non-reactive and modestly priced.

Earthenware and ceramic are inert. They emit a far-infrared heat, the most effective and beneficial heat for cooking. Ceramic casseroles and pie pans are available from your local potter. (Note: antique ceramic or earthenware pots may contain lead; do not use without testing. To test for lead, purchase a lead test kit for $10 at a hardware store.)

Paper Goods are, in some applications, effective. Line reactive aluminum cookie sheets or muffin tins with parchment paper or paper muffin cups. And for food storage, as is practical, favor waxed or butcher paper over plastic wrap or bags.

Silicone cookware is inert, FDA approved and safe up to 428 degrees F. If heated above its safe range, silicone melts but doesn’t outgas toxic vapors. Silicone is a synthetic rubber now made into baking pans, baking sheets, muffin tins, spatulas, ice cube trays, molds, rolling pins and more. It is the only non-reactive, non-stick material. The advantages of silicone include heat resistance (below 428 degrees), flexibility, the fact that it can go directly from the oven or microwave into the refrigerator or freezer and that it is generally easy to clean.

Moderately Reactive Cookware -- A Good Choice
Stainless steel is the least reactive metal, and for many people, the most versatile and healthful cookware option. Of the various weights, heavy-gauge stainless or surgical steel is superior. It makes an acceptable set of basic pots, pans and bake ware. Remove food from metal as soon as it is cooked to minimize the food from developing a metallic taste. Once stainless steel has been scratched, through normal scouring, the leaching of metallic ions is more noticeable. Better yet, don't scour stainless cookware. When you've burned something onto the pot, cover the damage with baking soda or a strong detergent and let it rest for a day. The soda will "lift" off the scoarched food.

Carbon steel is inexpensive and is ideal for a wok or sauté pan because it rapidly conveys heat. To prevent rusting, carbon steel must be thoroughly dry when not in use.

Cast iron pots are good for quick breads, pancakes and crêpes and for sautéing vegetables. Do not, however, cook soups, liquids or acid foods in cast iron, as these foods leach harsh-tasting iron from the pot. Although a soup cooked in cast iron becomes iron-enriched, it’s not a bioavailable form of iron, and is therefore undesirable.
Source: Rebecca Wood

Resources for further reading:
Environmental Working Group's 4 years worth of research on Teflon chemicals
Environmental Working Group's Perfluorchemical Dictionary (reference for some facts above)
NY Times Article about EPA fining Dupont
DuPont Fluoro Products Homepage
CBC News Report on Non-Stick Cookware Largely Safe
Environmental Protection Agency Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Fluorinated Telomers

Tracy Lydiatt  - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

p.s. Remember you can do this, it all starts with a first step and it will last a lifetime

Friday, March 26, 2010

Warning - Don't Watch This Video

If you like to drink bottled water, refuse to take your own reuseable shopping bags to the store, and aren't bothered by Styrofoam take-away containers - this video isn't for you.

Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

p.s. Remember, you can have an effect, it just starts with one step and will last a lifetime.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

PERTH Sun Fair - This SUNDAY (March 28)

I missed this last year and regretted it! Going in the morning this year then off to the Roots and Blues Festival in Fremantle. The festival is KID FRIENDLY and full of Kid's Crafty Fun.  As well there is a  roaming theatre throughout the day, and children have the chance make their own energy using  exercise bikes and scale electric sets.

From their website:
The Sun Fair is aimed at introducing the people of Perth to sustainable living concepts, technology and lifestyles. Major themes of the fair include renewable energy, energy efficiency, environment conservation and natural living. 

On Sunday 28th March 2010 people from all walks of life will come together on the Oak Lawn at the University of Western Australia to share information and experiences so they can return to their homes with a knowledge that they can make a difference to the future of the welfare of this planet and all its living systems. 

The fair demonstrates that sustainable lifestyles are environmentally sound and cost effective and are very much an attainable reality.

Environmental change is a challenge facing all of us and will only be addressed when government, business and individuals act together to achieve a common goal of sustainable living.

See you there!
Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

Toxic Take Down for Electronics

Two important aspects of "greening up" your family act are reducing the amount of fossil fuels & heavy metals used and hazardous materials - often found as chemicals or toxic compounds in household products.  Electronics have been evaluated thoroughly and Greenpeace publishes a Guide to Greener Electronics which you might find useful?

So What's the Big Deal?
Part 1 - Bringing the products into your house
This is a big decision in itself as budget, space and functionality are factors that need to be considered.  Sustainability aspects such as fossil fuel used in the production of the product and the chemicals and hazardous compounds the product might contain are important considerations - because the chemicals might affect your health, fossil fuel use affects climate change and your purchase sends a message - you are essentially VOTING WITH YOUR WALLET! (photo credit: The Jing - Flickr).  When you purchase one product over another it sends a strong message to the manufacturer by saying, "Hey I like your product over your competitor". 

Step 2 - Disposal of the product
How long will that product be in use with your family is an important consideration in your purchase. You don't want to waste your money on a product that will break before you get your money's worth of use out of it.  Another important consideration is where it will go to get disposed of?  Often if electronics end up in the garbage dump, crushed up they can leak heavy metals into the ground which are toxic.  If hazardous chemicals are part of the make up, those will end up back in the environment as well - either as air or ground pollution.  There is a social element as well - companies who do not properly recycle computers and ship them off to a developing nation to be "recycled" are contributing to conditions for workers where their health is severely impacted. Check out this video to see what I mean.

Here is Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics and how companies stack up!  Use it to inform your next electronics purchase

Full details can be found here. 

Also, ask yourself, "Do I really need this product?" and if you do make a purchase, responsibly dispose of your old one - for example return the equipment to a manufacture or find an electronics recycler with good ethics.  Metals will only become more and more valuable as their scarcity increases so keep your eyes open for more recycling options - guaranteed they will develop..it's only a matter of when!

Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Sustainability Framework Explained for Kids

Love this video - thank you to Thibaud Joubert (Canada) for creating it. It's a wonderful resource to share with your family as it easily explains the basics of a sustainability framework. This framework is called "The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development" and is sometimes referred to as The Natural Step Framework. 

This framework is useful to families and shows us the four ways we undermine all living systems on the planet, which impact the health and long-term endurance of our society.  To create a sustainable society and maintain a healthy planet to support that society, we must encourage families investigate things they are able to change and take action.

Further posts on the blog will focus in more detail on these aspects. 

Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

Monday, March 22, 2010

In honor of World Water Day...

Welcome to the world the new documentary - "The Story of Bottled Water"!

Does this apply to you and your family? Do you use a lot of bottled water? 
Are you able to commit to "saying no to bottled water"?
If you are concerned about the quality of your tap water check out this website from Environmental Working Group where they rate the quality of tap water in cities in the USA.

They also have resources for evaluating which water filter is best for your family?

If you feel your family is doing well when it comes to tap water - perhaps consider helping out a family that could benefit from safe drinking water through Oxfam's Unwrapped program. This one is only $14!

To your health,

Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What Bothers Your Green Conscience?

A friend of mine recently shared a website with me of a wonderfully talented and creative woman in Canada - Franke James. She has just published a book called "Bothered by My Green Conscience" and one of her wonderful illustrations is shown below.  It's a clever concept - she's asked people what things happen in their lives that bother their "green conscience" - a newly discovered part of our brain!

So.... Families...What bothers YOUR Green Conscience?!
(leave your answer in the comment box)

Here's my list:
- receiving a present that I know I won't use but am unable to give it back
- buying food products that I really enjoy eating but are wrapped in packing unable to be recycled
- giving into my partner when he wants to drive somewhere short because I don't have the energy to argue about it
- allowing food to waste 
- throwing away metal - aluminum foil & bottle caps
- watering my lawn (in Australia) because I'm under a rental agreement to keep it alive

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I made this!

I received a phone call last week from a friend inviting me over to her place to learn how to knit and crochet.  There were 4 ladies involved in the evening (including me). Two Canadians, one Irishwoman, and one Dutch woman.  So many accents, stories and laughs. It was a warm and wonderful evening where I felt as if I had a small community around me and I felt connected, relaxed and at at ease....even when I got frustrated with my crocheting skills!  While we were sitting around the table, eating, drinking tea and talking I was reflecting on the whole process of making things and wondered...


Is this something we are making a conscious effort to teach our children? So many stories were shared around the table that night about who taught them to knit, crochet, spin, weave, bake, cook, preserve etc. Everyone was taught by Grandmas or both their Mom and Grandma.  In a heartbeat, I wished there were 20 people sitting around that table and I felt panicked there were only 4 of us....

I'm not saying we have to go back to making everything we use but I do think that people of our Grandparents generation have a very different perspective on consumerism, being thrifty and creative to meet their needs. They didn't have the luxury of "cheap oil" to power so much of the industry that is used today to create items we use in our daily lives.

Transition Towns also speak about this:
"For those of us born in the 1960s when the cheap oil party was in full swing, it is very hard to picture a life with less oil. Every year of our lives since WWII (apart from the oil crises of the 70s) has been underpinned by more energy than the previous years.

In order to rebuild that picture of a lower energy society, we have to engage with those who directly remember the transition to the age of Cheap Oil, especially the period between 1930 and 1960.
While you clearly want to avoid any sense that what you are advocating is ‘going back’ or ‘returning’ to some dim distant past, there is much to be learnt from how things were done, what the invisible connections between the different elements of society were and how daily life was supported."

ATTENTION Parents - Do you know how to do something such as:
  • wood working
  • construction - framing, tiling, etc
  • mosaics
  • making jam
  • knitting
  • re-finishing used furniture
  • painting
  • gardening
  • weaving
  • sewing
  • metal working
  • preserving
  • etc etc etc 
If yes - are you able to share those skills with your kids? Are you able to have a block party and share those skills with other families?  

Believe me, I sure appreciated Mindy's grandma for teaching her how to crochet - someone will appreciate you as well when they can proudly say - I MADE THIS! I DID THIS!

Check out Tinkering School for Inspiriation

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru 

Friday, March 19, 2010

These Little Pigs aren't scared of the Wolf!

I wanted to share this REALLY EXCITING project happening in Perth, Western Australia. It's called the Green Swing and is an urban development but done a little differently!

The project is a collaboration between two Perth families: Mark and Alana Dowly and Helmuth and Eugenie Stockmann. They are concerned about:
  • Urban sprawl
  • Climate change
  • Environmental footprint
  • Lack of community feel
  • Little encouragement for creativity
  • General health & well-being
  • Car dependency
The project is in the initial phases of development and they are working with an architect who specialises in Passive Solar Design and a Landscape Architect who specialises in Permaculture.  They will also be designing the buildings to be strawbale architecture - being so close to Western Australia's wheat belt it is surprising that more buildings are not looking to this renewable resource - often something that goes to waste!

I'll be following along and updating the progress of the Green Swing as Helmuth and Eugenie are friends of ours!

For those families who might be contemplating a move or a new house to build, here are some thoughts to consider:

- Did you know that approximately half of the world's houses are built using straw, mud and brick?
- Straw bale house building can be very inclusive - easy for people of all ages to become involved and help out
- Straw bale houses cost approximately the same conventional framed houses but the superior insulation benefits from the bales can reduce energy costs by up to 75% (over a 30 year mortgage), saving money and vital natural resources.
- Straw bale buildings do not pose a higher fire risk, are not prone to pests and rodents and allow moisture to pass through the walls, increasing the interior air quality without causing damage to the house or bales

- can look very beautiful and like 'normal' houses!!

Australian Strawbale Building Association
Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition
European Straw Bale Building Association

Great Blog
Andrew Morrison - Strawbale.com - Frequently Asked Questions 

Amazing book list from http://www.thelaststraw.org
The Straw Bale House  (and others at Amazon.com)

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We want COOL cars for a HOT planet

I have been contemplating another family car for quite awhile.  (My dream car is pictured left - the Tesla Roadster - Hawt!)

For 1.5yrs, we shared driving one car and did our best to make it work with both our schedules.  The reality is many of us are currently "trapped" in a system where we HAVE to use our cars to get around as it would be far less efficient (usually time-wise) or impossible otherwise.

I hummed and hawed for 5 months as I really didn't want to buy another GAS/PETROL burning car as at some foreseeable point in the future this commodity will either:
a) be so expensive that I cannot afford to drive because of increasing gas/petrol prices or
b) the emissions of my car will heavily taxed making it cost prohibitive OR

Options I considered were:
1) buy a small diesel vehicle and convert it to run on waste veggie oil
2) buy a Toyota import truck from Japan (they make diesel, light duty vehicles) and covert it run on waste veggie oil
3) Save up and buy a brand "new-to-me" (i.e. second hand) hybrid vehicle or SMART car
4) Wait until plug in electric (full/hybrids) become readily available

This is such a tough decision to know how to move in the most informed and best-for-the-planet direction. I found myself plagued with many questions:
  • Do the environmental costs of procuring materials for producing a new, hybrid vehicle outweigh the benefits that this technology contributes to the reduction of green house gases? 
  • Do I want to save the money to buy a new hybrid?
  • Will the costs of shipping over a diesel truck from Japan be balanced by running it on a renewable and "waste" material (i.e. Waste Veggie Oil)?
  • Can I find a vehicle that fits in my budget and is safe to convert to waste veggie oil?
  • Do I want to deal with also building my own infrastructure for collecting and processing the veggie oil? (As a friend of mine pointed out, "You don't appreciate how much 55 liters is until you have to collect, filter and pump it yourself!)
So many things to consider and I finally found an option that worked for me and our situation. I bought an old 1979 Mercedes Benz 300D that has a double tank system. It starts and ends on diesel but runs on waste veggie oil which we collect from my partner's workplace (they pay to have it taken away so were happy to donate). Yes it takes us some time, effort and is a bit messy to process but we enjoy doing it and the payoff is when I sit and idle in traffic, I smell like french fries! That is when I'm not walking or riding my bike!

So what CAN YOU DO? Options to consider:
  1. FIRST OFF - figure out ways to DRIVE LESS - the cheapest gallon/liter of fuel is the one you don't buy!!!
  2. Offset the carbon dioxide emissions of your car each year - As listed on the David Suzuki Foundation page on Carbon Neutrality, here are more resources for your perusal!  Guide to purchasing Carbon Offsets
  3. Burn Fat not Oil by riding my bike as much as possible
  4. Substitute walking for short car trips (think about places you would spend less than 10 mins to drive to)
  5. Keep searching for flexible options and start a savings account for whatever direction you decide is best for your family needs/values and driving needs.
Other resources that provide tips this topic:
The 20/20 Planner: A Practical Guide to Reduce Energy Use by 20% at home and on the road
US DOE Comparison of Vehicle Mileage & Tips for Reducing Vehicle Emissions
An Inconvenient Truth - Take Action
Greenpeace Canada - Energy Saving Tips
Sierra Club - Energy Saving Tips
Lick Global Warming
Cool Companies

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Debunking the "Third World Myth"

A very instructional and enlightening video <20mins which talks about our misconceptions about the "third world" (not so politically correct any more) or "developing nations" in their relation to more "developed nations".  I liked the message of this video in which Dr. Rosling is saying it's really just one world and using the mindset of "us" and "them" might not be so valid anymore.  I am from Canada and this is, generally speaking, I feel is still a dominant mindset among the general population. 

Why is this important to families? Aside from teaching children about acceptance, compassion and understanding of different cultures, greening a family has social considerations. For example, in my post on March 10 - The Story of Stuff, video host Annie Leonard explains why we are able to buy consumer items so cheaply. It's because often the labor used to produce them is outsourced to "developing nations" where in some (many?) cases, the price of the product does not accurately reflect the true cost to society and the environment.  (I will examine this in further detail in later posts but what is important today is the social costs that are not included.)

Were the workers fairly paid?
Were their working hours fair?
Do they have safe working environments?
Are they under-aged? (child workers)

This is an area that will begin to have more and more focus on it in coming years - with more detailed information available to consumers so we can make informed choices. I know it's not that easy right now!

For now, if you'd like an engaging review of changing perceptions around social sustainability aspects please watch!

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fighting Over Avocadoes

I had a very intense conversation with my fiance the other night after I commented that I didn't enjoy how our town is laid out so that there is no public infrastructure for transport. We went to one of the local grocery stores and didn't find what we needed, an avocado.

So we decided to drive to the other grocery store and by the time we got there (all of a 1.563 min drive) I was really hot and bothered that we HAD to drive to get there.

I felt so very frustrated that we didn't stop to think ahead or even have a conversation about HOW we were going to get to the store - which frankly - wasn't that far away!

Could we have planned better and walked, enjoying the warm weather? DEFINITELY! Could we have pumped up our tires and enjoyed a leisurely 5 min bike ride together, enjoying the smells of the blooming trees and the giggles of the kids using the water park on the way to the store? DEFINITELY! We had the choice and we were so used to doing it this way (driving everywhere) prior to me going to school, we never bothered to challenge ourselves with contemplating other methods....So believe me we contemplated. I think it's been a bit of a wake up call for him but I continue to speak my truth and show by example, hoping as a couple we can find some common ground.

So my fiance brought up the point about organic food being more expensive and so we had a conversation about the 'real' cost of the food and how traditionally (or should that say industrially) farmed food does not account for the cost of damage to our soil nor the toxic accumulation of pesticides and their health implications resulting in dis-ease and pressure on our health systems. These are NOT reflected in the price.

He asked me a good question that I'm still thinking about...."Would you buy a non-organic avocado in the grocery store you have already driven to or would you drive to another grocery store in order to buy an organic avocado?". I said I would have been happy to ride my bike there to buy it for him!

It's an important example of how we are so muddled and swamped with evaluating the global health pros/cons of our actions these days. A friend said that everything we do is hypocritical so why bother? I personally think there is a happy medium with a whole systems perspective out there....it's just not an easy nor quick answer.

My suggestions:
1. Dematerialize how much fossil fuel we are using by riding our bikes
2. Commit to buying organics because they often represent food produced without the use of bio-accumulative, petroleum based insecticides/pesticides (substances which accumulate in our ecosystems)
3. Commit to buying organics because they often represent farming practices that do not systematically destroy the soil's productivity and stop the loss of valuable top soil
4. Evaluate the frequency of eating a fruit that is not found locally

Really, it comes down to doing the best you can personally with the information you have. I have made a commitment to myself to watch less TV, blog more and READ more. My next read is a book that is relevant to this blog post and will hopefully provide some food for thought about my carbon footprint. I will let you know the verdict.

"How to live a low-carbon life : the individual's guide to stopping climate change" by Chris Goodall.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's that time of the year again....Curbside Shopping!


I am a big fan of recycling goods and reducing my consumer tendencies for brand new items as much as possible. We have been frequenting garage sales in order to outfit our new place in Perth with 'loved' goods (and great on the pocket book of course - we think we have saved about $3500-$4000 as a result of outfitting our house with items found curbside shopping!!). We didn't expect to fill our whole house with 2nd-hand goods but we are doing our best to have it be the majority and have found some fun projects along the way!
I'm a fan of 'freecycle' a global, online community for recycling goods for free, based on geography. (Check it out in your area - Freecycle.org) and have found something new I'm so excited about......

Since moving to Australia, we have found out about 'bulk rubbish pickup'. Each community will have a curbside service where twice a year, they pick up bulk household items and garden waste. When we first moved to Australia we had the best day curbside shopping:

It started with attending a couple of garage sales north of Perth and where we picked up a few small items (laundry basket of wicker, toaster, picture frames). We noticed that everyone in the neighborhood had massive piles of "junk" and yard clippings outside of their house on the curb. We started looking around just to be curious and ended up spending 3.5hrs combing the neighborhood. We affectionately called it "trolling" -fishing for good deals and were joined by a number of cars (with trailers!!!!) also doing the same thing! We ended up finding a wicker table base and wicker chair to add to our wicker bench (also found in a curbside pile earlier in the week) to make a set for our patio area!!!  It's freakin' GREAT! I'm in recycle-repurpose heaven!

Then we found a washing machine! We went into the yard and rang the doorbell and the woman came out and told us there was nothing wrong with the washer and they had been using it up to a few days ago and they had recently upgraded.

So we continued on and found a beautiful wood corner unit that will hold a TV and other things. It had doors on it (not attached - we had to dive into the pile to find them with the help of the owner). He offered to keep the unit in the open garage and we could pick it up closer to the weekend when we have my friend's truck.

By this time, Andreas was delirious and I was laughing so hard at his enthusiasm! Never in my life did I think we'd be curbside shopping in Perth together. Our final scores for the day were a giant wicker basket (notice a theme here! Happy it's not plastic...) and a working, fairly new, bag-less vacuum.

We had so much fun! Andreas got really into it (much to his surprise) and even asked if we were offsetting our emissions by not consuming?! An interesting thought.  I certainly didn't mind spending a few hours and about $5 in petrol looking and collecting. It felt good to recycle things so they wouldn't end up in the landfill and will have a new home and loads of good use.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly didn't set out to make a habit of getting excited about large piles of curbside 'trash' but seriously, curbside shopping is way more appealing when the words 'dumpster' and 'diving' don't even come together in the same sentence. This is much more civilized and way cleaner! (not that I've ever truly dumpster dived...)

We missed out on numerous tables, chairs, plants, plant pots, a Webber BBQ, about 8 boogie boards (aka Shark Biscuits) and a great black metal futon frame! Most just needed a little TLC, a good wash with a garden hose, some soap and water and VOILA! Brand new life......

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Totally Freaked Out!

This was the title of an article just published in Toronto Life Magazine and was sent to me by a friend of mine (Thanks Tim!). The article is authored by Siri Agrell (illustration by: Asaf Hanuk) and touches on something I think more and more parents are beginning to feel - a complete besiege from "invisible threats" such as pesticides in food, chemicals in toys, plastics, paints, personal care products and so on.

It's a great article with some local resources listed for those of you who live in the Toronto area and shows a good example of how passionate parents are working hard to modify the current system - the way things are done. I think that is a point I often communicate - we have to work within our current system and sometimes modifications to that system take some time.  I always tell people though, "choosing to do nothing is also a choice".

A HUGE part of the challenge of "greening your family" is working within the current social and economic system you are in.  It's easy to become overwhelmed so if you are concerned about something in your life and its impact on your family's health but it doesn't take much to start to do something about it!

For example, let's take food.  For this easy exercise,  have 3 actions in mind:  
1. Make a list of the common foods you eat - split into sections if it makes it easier (i.e. canned food, dairy, processed food, packaged food, fresh food, dry goods)
2. Pick the top 5 or 7 things you eat regularly as a family and put it on the table
3. Investigate the label and look at the ingredients - or in the case of things like fresh food, write down if it is organic/home grown/pesticide free or not
4. If you feel it's safe - put it back in the fridge/cupboard/pantry = KEEP
5. If you feel it's really unsafe to eat - dispose of it = TOSS (of course recycling and composting where possible)
6. If it requires further investigation - go to some of the following websites below to start = INVESTIGATE

What's on my food?
Shopper's Guide to Pesticides
Non GMO Shopping Guide 

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Day I Embarrassed My Partner Over Plastic Wrap

I like to shop at the non chain stores in our local area - often in our case it's IGA (unless I'm at a farmers market on weekends).  I love the fact they are continually expanding their organic and local produce section but my blood used to boil every time I'd go to buy organic veggies.

This is what I would see.


This is a hostage of our screwed up system! LET ME OUT - can you not hear that beautiful organic bell pepper screaming!?

My local IGA *used* (yes, thankfully in the past tense) to do this - they would styrofoam tray and plastic wrap individual ORGANIC veggies for sale.

Finally, after a month or so of feeling totally angry while shopping I decided to say something to the manager. My partner was SO embarrassed and I think he would have run out of the store if he could have.  I think to his relief the produce manager wasn't in when I inquired but we did have a lengthy phone call when the manager responded to my concerns several days later.

I made some suggestions and countered a lot of his arguments about identification and theft of produce and flat out told him how angry and defeated I felt trying to make a conscious choice about buying organic food only to be rewarded with creating plastic wrap and Styrofoam waste. Not to mention the HUGE savings IGA would make from cutting out the need to buy miles of plastic wrap and trays.....

About 2 weeks later I noticed all of the organic veggies had been liberated and if you chose to, there were brown paper bags available for your use with the veggies.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.  I mentioned it to a friend and she said it had made her just as angry and frustrated - to the point where she had gone and made a complaint too!

If you think you cannot make a difference - think again. 

Veggies not your thing - check out this guy's efforts...

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Day My Bike Beat A Car

I am not a particularly great bike rider.
My bike is not a super fast bike - as you can see it's yellow, has a wide seat, fat handlebars and a basket.
It also has red tulips on it (anyone cringing yet?)

I love it and wanted to tell a story about leading by example in my own life. This photo is from Cottesloe Beach in Australia but the story is from a small town in British Columbia where I used to live.

My partner and I were invited out to dinner at a friend's place a couple of years ago just after I finished my Masters degree in Sweden. So - after catching the "biking bug" in Sweden, I told my partner I was going to bike to dinner. My hometown is NOT big (~10,000 people) and from where we were staying, you could walk to our friend's place in about 25 mins. A bit long for us as we often run a bit late...so biking was the next best option in my mind. Not so much for my partner!

So I said fine - you drive, I'll bike.

And....guess what?

I beat him there! We even left at the same time!!!  It was so exciting to me. He got stuck at one of the two traffic lights in town and I cruised on (safely down some back roads). I felt so good when I got there - blood was pumping and I felt alive. He was quite surprised and amused I beat him. Point taken I think.

I LOVE biking because it's such a great way to connect with your surroundings and I notice a lot of different things I wouldn't normally when driving....now I bike in Perth where we live and one of my favorite things about it is during the spring/summer the air smells sweet from all of the flowing plants, bushes and trees. I certainly don't smell that while sitting in traffic waiting for the light to change.

Ask yourself - is there somewhere you can you bike to today? (or for those in the Northern Hemisphere - schedule a bike tune up and ask yourself the same question once the weather gets a little bike friendlier).

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Battle of the Green Sexes!

Therapists Report Increase in Green Disputes 

This was the title of a recent NY Times article published Jan 17, 2010 & authored by Leslie Kaufman (photo credit: STACK COORDINATION)

 It stood out to me like a blaring red traffic light!  I found this part particularly interesting:

"Women, Ms. Birkhahn [executive director of the EcoMom Alliance] said, often see men as not paying sufficient attention to the home. Men, for their part, “really want to make a large impact and aren’t interested in a small impact,” she said.

That is certainly the case in her own marriage, she said. Her husband, Kurt, an engineer and federal employee, sometimes seems to be baiting her by placing plastic yogurt cups in the garbage or leaving the reusable shopping bags in the car and coming home with disposable bags instead.
In the ensuing discussions, Ms. Birkhahn said, her husband argues that the changes she is making may have a large effect on their lives but have little or no effect on the planet. He fought every step of the way against the gray-water system she installed in their bathroom to recycle water to flush the toilet, calling it a waste of time and money, she said. The system cost $1,200 to install.

Ms. Birkhahn said she found it hard to dispute his point but thought it was irrelevant. “I am trying to be a role model for my son,” she said."

I'm going to talk more about leading by example in later posts although I find it interesting that she was unable to dispute his point (last paragraph). This is the very point I was addressing in my March 9th blog post.  We all have our own areas of influence and we need to do what we can within those areas to be role models, shine our lights and stick to our guns - KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK MS. BIRKHAHN!

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff

This is one of my favorite videos which provides an easy to understand overview about our patterns of consumption and the effects.  It's under 20 minutes and gives a great overview about our "stuff" comes from.

They tell the story of our "stuff" from extraction to the garbage dump, with most stops along the way. It's a fantastic summary but be warned - you might not ever view the cheap electronics or cheap pair of shoes you just bought the same way!

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

If I hear this one more time....

If I had a dollar (heck $10) for every time I've heard someone say, "Why should I care!? I am just one person, I won't make a difference", I would be well on my way to being very wealthy!

Yes, you might be one Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter, or Friend to someone but guess what - you influence them whether you want to or not! So, I often encourage people - whether this is in a business/corporate setting or as individuals that you cannot save the world alone but you can sure take a look at who/what you influence and see if there are things you can do differently! (I'll be posting more later about this topic specifically).

Here is how we look at "The System" from the broadest perspective - the planetary one. See - you are but one person yes, an Individual within a Family system.  That Family sits within a Community which might be a local town, parents group, civic group, church group or all of the above.  The Community is part of Society - yet another sub-system - within the biggest system, the Biosphere. Without the Biosphere we'd be goners!

What's in the Biosphere?
...just to broadly name a few important things.

So as an individual you can do the following:
1. Look for areas you have influence over and can make changes easily
2. Look for further support from your family and friends
3. Look to the "communities" you are involved in for support and collaboration opportunities
4. Look how you can contribute to creating a sustainable society (more details on this later)
5. Remember we are all connected to the Biosphere. We need it to be strong and healthy.

Here is a small "spoof" video that I think you might enjoy to further illustrate my point:

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Monday, March 8, 2010

The best advice is sometimes forgotten

Have you ever heard the saying:

Use it Up
Wear it Out
Make it Do
Do without

This is my grandma. Her name is Sylvia. She is 88 years old this year (and she still lives by herself!).  She's an amazing lady and beyond teaching me the value of family, she was the one who taught me the above saying. The saying is cross-stitched and hanging in her guest bedroom. I'm going to specifically request it when she departs this world (hopefully not for a long time still)...

 She lives by it too and while I think it can get a little out of hand (i.e. pack-ratish) and can create situations where you might go a little overboard (like having gas masks from the 1940's and cans of beans about the same age...I LOVE YOU Grandma!) it's an important concept and one we can learn a lot from.  I will never forget stories my Grandma told me about times during the War and the Great Depression in Canada where they coveted cardboard and would do anything and everything with it - including using it as shoe liners when the soles of their shoes had holes in them.  Another story she always tells (yes, she's not as sharp as she used to be!) is about when jackets wore out, they would un-pick all of the seams, turn the jacket inside out and then re-stitch the whole thing together again.

W-O-W! I remember thinking - while we do not have to go to such extremes in our normal lives an important lesson is the limitless creativity that is borne from constraints. They didn't have access to all of the resources we have now so they had to USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, MAKE IT DO and DO WITHOUT.

I think this mentality is one that we often forget in our modern society. Just think about your life right now if you applied just a little bit that saying to it... would anything change?  What would you do differently?  Maybe you are living close to it already?

Not that we have such extreme situations as when Sylvia was growing up, nor am I advocating the mass hoarding of cardboard.... but you have to admit, if you are trying to save money and lessen your impact on the planet as a family, that handy little saying might just help you re-evaluate.

What can you use up?
What can you wear out?
How can you make it do?
What can you do without?

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Welcome to my Green Families Guru Website!

Hey everyone! I am The Green Families Guru and I am beginning to post my articles, strategies, tips and tons more to help you cut through all the frustration and confusion associated with "going green".  I know is there a lot of information out there and I want you to be successful because I know you care about your family, saving money and making sure the planet is healthy enough for generations to come. 

I am in the process of writing a guidebook for families which will support you in your plans to "go green" in the best way possible. It will help you plan and take action in ways that suit your budget, time and family needs!

Tracy Lydiatt
The Green Families Guru