Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

It’s Spring! Time to Think About A Greener Winter

I’m just back from my spring vacation and feeling refreshed and ready to tackle all the things I’ve been putting off. At the top of my list is Winter. That might sound a little odd considering that the leaves are unfurling on the maple where a pair of cardinals hunt for buds and bugs outside my window, but stay with me here and I promise it’ll make perfect sense.

As I’ve said before, we live in a drafty, old house whose saving grace is that it’s in the middle of sixty private acres of woods and fields. Also on the property is a small building with two studio apartments in it, where my late mother lived until October of 2005. Now, we use it for storage and for a guesthouse, mostly in the summer. Although we installed a pellet stove three years ago, and although we keep the heat down to 68 in the daytime and 55 at night, and even lower at the apartment house, our oil bill is enormous and getting bigger with each winter.

Every winter, we resolve to do something about it and every spring, when warm weather comes, we promptly get sidetracked by gardening and outdoor pursuits. Then, before we know it, it’s fall and we’re scurrying around, trying to weatherstrip and figure out how to cut down on heating costs. This year, it’s going to be different. This year, we’re going to prepare for winter during spring and summer.

While we were on vacation, the kids and I brainstormed and came up with several ideas to save money and help the environment next winter. First on our list of things to do is weatherstripping. Our doors and windows are old and we can’t afford new ones, so we need to do more than stuff the cracks with plastic bags, like we did with the door in the basement. The frame is so warped that no amount of weatherstripping completely fills the cracks, so in desperation one cold winter’s day, I shoved supermarket bags into the cracks around it with a piece of old wire. It worked, somewhat, but it wasn’t pretty.

Next week, a local carpenter is coming over to give us an estimate on weatherstripping all the doors and windows – the right way. In our windy, top of the hill location, we need more protection from the winter blasts than just shopping bags can give us, that’s for sure. If the frames need to be squared, he’ll be able to do it so that the weatherproofing will work.

In order to pay for the carpenter, we’ll be saving money by hanging the clothes outside to dry. In the warmer weather, this is easy, but we’re going to continue to do without the clothes dryer even when it’s cold. Of course, in Maine, hanging out clothes in the winter can mean frostbite and frozen clothes, so we’ve come up with another idea.

We already use clothes racks in the basement near the furnace for delicate items all year ’round. Why not add some more racks and a retractable line or two and use them to dry all the clothes when it’s too cold to hang them outside? That way, the humidity from the clothes will also add moisture to the dry winter air that bothers us all winter. The exercise from hanging them and retrieving them won’t hurt my winter weight gain either, let me tell you.

With the dryer shut off and saving us about $60/month, we’ll be able to turn our attention to another big utility hog – the room over the garage. It’s zoned with our bedroom, bathroom, living room and study and it’s not very well insulated. Of course, the unheated garage beneath it doesn’t help and then there’s the fact that it faces northeast, where most of our windiest, coldest weather comes from. So, we’re going to get rid of it.

No, not by hiring a demolition expert. We’re going to have a heating technician cap off the pipe to the baseboard heater that goes to it. That way, we can just close the door to the room’s stairs and keep the heat in the rest of that zone. We don’t use the room in the winter anyway, only in the warmer months, so the cold won’t hurt it.

We’re going to do the same thing on a more drastic scale to the apartment house. We’re having an expert “weatherize” it by draining the pipes, filling them with food-grade antifreeze and doing whatever else needs to be done to get it through the winter without heat. Because its oil tank is outside, we have to use a higher grade of fuel for its furnace, so this should save us a bundle.

I’m sure there are other things that we’ll discover while we’re waging our campaign to make next winter less costly than this winter was. I’m thinking we could paint the outside of the basement wall black instead of white and get some passive solar heating going and Son is thinking of making a solar window heater he’s seen plans for.

What about your house? Did it cost you a bundle this winter because it isn’t weatherized? Are there things you could do, like drying clothes on a line instead of in a clothes dryer, that would help the environment as well as your budget? Or do you know someone who could use your help with projects like these? Maybe an elderly relative or neighbor or a single mom or dad who’s struggling to make ends meet. Whether you do it for yourself or someone else, it’s never too early to prepare for winter.

Authors bio: Brooke from Spovangelist.com, Spokane has the potential to offer a special quality of life offered no where else on earth. Our story is one of unwavering enthusiasm, and belief in the transformative power of Spokane’s continued redemption and rebirth.

Eco-Conscious

It Isn’t Easy Being a Green Tween or Teen

Back in the late 60′s , when being green usually meant that you had sneaked a cigarette, I argued unsuccessfully with my mother over wearing makeup. I was for it; she was against it until I reached the magic age of fifteen. For some reason I never did fathom, in those days, that was apparently the age all parents had agreed upon as being appropriate for female cosmetic use. True, some of my more daring schoolmates snuck cocoa colored lipstick into their pockets and applied it on the bus, but most didn’t. However, like me, they couldn’t wait to apply the potions and polishes that their older sisters and cousins wore.

Now, I have a tween, an 11 year old daughter who is already begging me for nail polish, lipstick and anything else that will make her look like Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana. She and I are having some of the same discussions I had with my mother, but because I’m NOT my mother, we hold them a little differently.

Rather than forbidding her to “make herself up like a hussy”, which is what my mother did with me, we talk about why it’s not such a hot idea to paint, polish and perfect herself with the stuff that comes out of those little tubes, bottles and pots. For instance, we talk about what’s in all the glamourous potions that make you look better. We also talk about why it’s good to realize that it’s not necessary to enhance your looks on a daily basis and how looking like yourself is the best thing most of the time.

Recently, she found some water-based, “non-toxic” nail polish at a health food store and you might have thought she’d found the holy grail. Excitedly, she showed me the beautiful colors it came in and assured me that there was nothing harmful in it. Then I got her to look at the label and we saw that there was polyurethane in it. She pouted. I went to look at organic honey. She came over to me and asked if she could get it and only wear it once in a long while for special occasions.

I thought about it and said she could. Her face lit up like the sun and she floated out to the car and then to our hotel where she applied two coats of the magic elixir to her fingernails and toenails. That was two days ago and most of it has worn off, but she hasn’t asked me if she can reapply it and the bottle is still in her backpack. If she does ask, I’ll remind her that it’s only for special occasions and has an ingredient that isn’t good to put on her skin more than once in a long while.

I’m sure I’m not the only one facing the cosmetic clash with a daughter. Now, however, girls start wearing makeup and nail polish when they’re toddlers and no one seems to think anything of it. I even know Green mamas who let their tots smear their lips with bright lip gloss that has artificial flavors, colors and petroleum products in it. These are the same mothers who won’t let their kids have anything with corn syrup in it. I don’t get it.

It seems to me that, along with issues about self-esteem, body image and feminism, girls need to know what kind of chemicals they’re putting on their skin. Educating them about carcinogens and endocrine disruptors like parabens, phthalates and BPA is just the start of it. What about the animal products in some cosmetics and the animal testing? What about petroleum products, hormones, nano particles and all the other things that are on the label?

And it isn’t just girls. Boys use cosmetics too, even if the products have “manly” names and black, chunky bottles to make them more acceptable to boys. Even harmless-seeming things like hair gel, shave cream and deodorants have things in them that they need to know about and think about before using.

A bright spot in all of this is that most teens and tweens are eco-conscious and can be reached on that level. So, that’s where I’m trying to make a connection with my daughter. She cares about the planet and the animals and plants on it. She knows that what we’re putting into the air, water and soil is hurting the earth. She’s all for going green when it comes to products that we buy. I’m just hoping that it will carry over into her choices for personal care products and cosmetics in future, both for the planet’s sake – and hers.

Authors: Kristin J. Lavigne from RideLugged.com

Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

Green and Frugal Home Furnishings

Is your sofa a little worn? Has your recliner declined? Does your coffee table look like it’s been attacked by a family of beavers? Maybe you need to redecorate, but that doesn’t mean you have to fill your living room with toxic chemicals or spend a fortune. If you’re willing to be flexible and a little creative, you can furnish your living room with cozy furniture that won’t outgas and doesn’t cost a fortune.

Do a search for patio furniture. That’s right. Find furniture that’s green, made of sustainable materials and sturdy enough to stand up to the elements – or your hyperactive toddler and Black Lab. Whether it’s made of bamboo, “polywood” which is a recycled material made from milk jugs and other plastic, eucalyptus or another sustainably harvested wood, patio furniture can be used to decorate a living room, den or even a dining room

Add some cushions to a wooden couch. Use a bookcase for a bedside table or divider. Put a bamboo lounger in front of the TV and really relax. Hey, there are no rules anymore. Anything goes, as long as you like it and it’s comfortable. Of course, if it’s eco-conscious and fits into the budget, it’s even better.

May I suggest that you investigate making your own cushions with kapok or natural latex rubber filling and cotton or wool coverings? If you’re not into sewing, maybe you can find some cotton slipcovers at Goodwill or have someone run you up some for a small fee. Or maybe you can barter. If there’s something that you have that a seamstress wants, you’re in business.

I once traded some healthy strawberry plants for a dining room table. There are all kinds of possible deals if you talk to people wherever you go. Let people know that you’re looking for a sustainable wood kitchen island, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly one will turn up. Start looking at patio furniture as less expensive eco-furniture for the living room and you’ll be sitting pretty in no time.

Eco-Conscious, Great Green Sites, Green Consumer, Health Alert, In the News

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Into The Water – 1,4-dioxane

Sometimes I feel like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, running just to keep up with developments in Green products. Bisphenol-A is discovered, then it’s banished, then we find out it didn’t really go completely away.

We learn which companies to trust – then find out that some of them have been lying on their labels or just leaving ingredients out of their label list. What’s a concerned consumer to do?

Take 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen and petrochemical. Now, wouldn’t you think that companies like Seventh Generation, Ecover, Method, Nature’s Gate and Aura Cacia – to name just a few – would do the right thing and list it on their products that contain it? And how can they get away with NOT listing it if it’s in their products?

Well, there’s a little loophole in the labeling laws – one that I wouldn’t expect ethical companies to take advantage of – but they do. 1,4-dioxane is considered a “contaminant”, not an ingredient. So, it doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient. It’s produced as a by-product when a process called “ethoxylation” is used to cheaply make products milder when they contain harsh ingredients.

So, it’s in the product, but they don’t tell you it’s in the product, so you don’t KNOW that it’s in the product and that makes everything all right. Right? After all, consumers won’t mind when they find out that they’ve been putting this carcinogen in their dishpan, in their washer, on their kids, on their pets and on themselves.  And, so what if a little bit of it gets into the environment and filters through to the water table and into the soil. It’s not on the label, therefore, it’s not really there and it can’t hurt anyone, right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty burned up about this. If you can’t trust supposedly ethical, Greener than thou companies like Seventh Generation and Ecover, who can you trust? I’ve been paying more for their products over Clorox and other mega-companies who’ve just jumped on the Green bandwagon, because I wanted to support the companies who were Green before it was popular. Now, I’m rethinking that whole idea.

Do they really deserve my loyalty if they’re willing to lie by omission about a known carcinogen? I expect this kind of thing from mainstream manufacturers who have been doing it for years and getting away with it. It’s not a shock when I find that Dial, Lever, Johnson and Johnson, Ajax, Palmolive and Olay, for instance, also sell products with 1,4-dioxane in them and don’t list it on the label.

I need to hear from these companies that they’re not going to do this kind of thing again. I want to be assured that they’ll tell me everything – and I do mean everything – that’s in their products, no matter if it’s an ingredient, a contaminant or something that leeches out of the container into the product.

In the meantime, if you’d like to make sure that your personal care and cleaning products don’t contain 1,4-dioxane, The Organic Consumers Association, where I got most of this information, has a really nice Pocket Safety Guide to Personal Care and Cleaning Products that you can print out and take with you when you shop.They also have a lot of information on this and other subjects of interest to Green consumers.

Or, if you’d like to read about alternatives to products with carcinogens and hidden ingredients, you can stop by “Best of Mother Earth” where my friend, Karen recommends and sells several. I’d like to thank her for her post which alerted me to the 1,4-dioxane scandal in products from “natural” companies and for all the posts she writes about something she’s passionate about – the earth and all who live on it.

Eco-Conscious, Green Consumer

A Little Idea That Could Change The World

Everyday, it seems that some big company or other announces “the biggest solar/wind power project yet” and everyone oohs and aahs. “We can power the United States with solar panels in the southwestern deserts”, they say, and everyone applauds. And why not? Wouldn’t it be nice to be out from under our dependence on foreign oil and dirty power plants? Well, yes, and no.

While I’m all for using the sun and the wind to produce energy, I’d prefer that it be a little smaller and closer to home, rather than from some huge, major grid project that has my Maine home’s electricity coming from solar panels in Nevada or windmills in the mountains of Vermont. And instead of covering acres of wilderness and mountaintops with solar panels and wind turbines, why can’t we use the rooftops of structures that already exist for solar panels and reclaim the mountaintops Big Coal scraped and scarred for wind turbines?

My idea of a better system for generating power includes more individual control. Allowing big corporations to control the oil supply for decades led to the mess that we’re in now in the Mid East and in the United States. Having a huge grid system to deliver power to each region of the country leaves us vulnerable to equipment failure and weather-related outages. No one owns the sun or the wind and everyone can use solar and wind power, as long as their location will support it.

So, am I saying we should all go out and buy solar panels, climb up on the roof and install them ourselves? Well, it’d be nice if we all could do that, but not all of us are spry enough or good at building things. Some of us can, if we’re able to afford the materials and handy enough with tools to follow directions like these at Your Green Dream, where there are several plans for DIY home solar and wind projects.

For those of us who are hammer and nail challenged, it would be very helpful if there were low-interest loans available for home solar and windpower – and hydro and geothermal also. There are new heat pumps that work even in cold climates and small hydropower generators that are suitable for homes or clusters of homes. How about a planned community – maybe Section 8 or for elderly people – with its own solar power, small wind turbines or hydro-generator?

Thin-film solar panels are competitive in price with metal roofing and there are new, more compact, quieter wind turbines that can be installed on the roof of apartment buildings, schools and factories. Because they’re vertical axis, they don’t pose a hazard to birds or ruin the aesthetics of a building’s roofline. I would think that wind power could be shared by several homes, also. What if developers included the renewable energy source from the beginning of the planning stage and included the cost in the price of the homes? If buyers realized that they’d be saving a bundle on energy costs in future, it could be a strong selling point.

More tax breaks to encourage consumers to use renewable energy, drive more fuel-efficient cars, use public transportation and conserve resources should be part of the next president’s plan to both free us from our dependence on oil and also address global warming and environmental degradation of our soil, water and air. Instead of giving millions to big companies, why don’t we invest money in many smaller projects on rooftops in every city and town? After all, freeing consumers from high energy bills would give them more money to spend and save, which would be good for the economy.

If this post has inspired you or if you already have solar in your home or life, here’s a link to a company that will give you a free t-shirt just for sending them a photo of your solar-ness. They even say that they’ll send you something if you draw them a picture of “an avenging sun god doing battle with an army of winged zebras.” I wonder if they allow stick-figure zebras?

Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

6 Simple Ways You Can Save Money On Utility Bills

Utility bills are a big part of our budgets. Gas and oil prices are rising everyday and electricity is expensive. Trying to keep up with rising prices is hard enough without wasting money on energy thieves. Are you guilty of these cleaning mistakes that waste energy?

1.How about the baseboard heaters? When is the last time that you took off the covers and gave them a good vacuuming and then a wipe with a damp cloth? Did you know that dust build-up reduces heat output? So you’re wasting money on oil or electricity if your baseboard heaters are dirty.

2.What about your computer’s CPU? When you start thinking about places that dirt can build up in your environment, think about anything with a fan. Anywhere that a fan pulls in outside air – for instance your computer’s CPU – should be vacuumed at least every few days. When dust builds up on components inside the CPU, it takes longer for heat to dissipate, which shortens the life of the unit and uses more electricity.

3.Hairdryers also have fans. When is the last time you really looked at the intake on your hair dryer or gently vacuumed the lint and hair out of it? If you let it build up too long, it can actually catch on fire. Even if it doesn’t, just like the baseboard heaters, it has to work harder to do the same amount of drying, so keep it clean and save electricity and drying time.

4.When was the last time you cleaned your dryer vent? Especially in winter weather, many people forget to clean their outside dryer vent. Sure, the little door is supposed to open automatically and release lint into the air, but lint still builds up on the inside of the vent and even on the pipe inside the house. It’s very important that you check the vent regularly, clean the vent and as far inside the pipe as you can. There are long brushes that can do this and you can find them at hardware or home products stores.

5.Have you vacuumed your fridge lately? Not the inside; the coils. Either in back or underneath your fridge, there are coils of tubing that hold the refrigerant that cools your food. These are delicate and you have to be careful when vacuuming that you don’t break them, because the refrigerant is poisonous. Just gently vacuum the surface, because when they’re dust-covered, they don’t work as efficiently. It takes more time and electricity to cool the interior.

6.Isn’t this a bright idea? Clean your lightbulbs. When they’re off, just wipe them with a damp cloth. Dust makes them dimmer and can even make some of them overheat, which can make them fail sooner than a clean bulb.

It doesn’t take long to get the dust and dirt off these items. The time it takes is worth it when you think of the money you’ll save. And let’s not forget that using less energy is better for the environment, which is certainly as important as saving money is.

Eco-Conscious

A Bad Case Of The Bends

I think I’ve cursed myself. Remember my mantra, “I’m a willow; I can bend”? Well, as my ds would say, I’ve had to bend so much I’ve been pretzelized! It’s my own fault, because I will keep making these foolish plans and writing “To Do” lists. And then, to compound my folly, I actually try to follow them. What is that definition of insanity again? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to turn out differently? Yeah, that’s the one.

So, yesterday, the first thing on my list was paying bills and the last thing on my list was digging out the yummy sock yarn that I’ve been holding out like a carrot on a stick, to force myself to do what needs to be done. It’s three skeins of Fortissima Colori self-striping superwash wool that will make a gorgeous pair of socks for me to wear with my low-rent Croc-clone clogs this Spring.

Unfortunately, between the bills and the yarn was a list of several other things that I had to wade through, so I poured another cup of tea, sat down at the trusty Compaq and fired up Billpay. Or tried to. Actually, I never got as far as Billpay, because I couldn’t log onto online banking. The bank’s software was delusional and told me my computer wasn’t registered, so I’d have to enter my bankcard number and pin and issue number on the front of the card. Issues! I’d give it issues! I’m the one with issues because I knew that I had registered my dratted computer a long time ago and had used the online service almost daily since then.

Fuming, I entered my information. But the stupid software wasn’t buying it. Another error message flashed on the screen, this time telling me that my information didn’t match their information and if I tried to pull this stunt again, they’d lock me out of my account. An empty threat, I thought, since I was already effectively locked out of my account,because their idiot programmers had evidently been under the influence of hallucinogens or bad takeout food or something when they set up the damned site.

I called the bank’s help number, navigated my way through several levels of choice menus, none of which had the choice I wanted, and finally got to an actual person. In a slow, measured monotone, he introduced himself as Scott, but I didn’t catch his title. He may have been the janitor for all I know, but I was so happy to hear human-speak instead of robotic phonetics, I didn’t care at that point. I told him my problem, gave him my account number and he said he’d look at the log. That sounded promising. Now we’d find out where the bank had screwed up.

“The problem is that your computer isn’t registered,” he said.

“I registered my computer,” I said, “I’ve been using it since I registered it, so I know it’s registered.”

“You may have registered it,” he answered, “But it’s not registered.”

Ah, this certainly helped to clarify things. My computer was registered but not registered. No wonder I was having problems. Maybe it was one of those quantum physics things like quarks or antimatter or neutrinos. You know, where something is something and its direct opposite at the same time. Or maybe it’s that something is nothing and something at the same time. Well, we’ll have to go into that in my Stephen Hawking post and that’s slated for later. I bet he’d know what to do with a wonky banking site.

Well, anyway, Scott and I soldiered on, backing and filling until we got to a state of detente, only a little less shaky than the one between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We really could have used Jimmy Carter, but we had to make do with his supervisor, Emma, who spoke with a heavy Indian accent and only understood about one word in three that either Scott or I said. She suggested that the problem might lie in my “goo key”. There was a moment of silence after she said this, but then Scott jumped on the “goo key” bandwagon and said, “Of course, that’s almost certainly what it is.”

Ah. So, was my goo key stuck? Had I inadvertently hit the goo key by mistake, which would be easy to do since I wasn’t aware that I had a goo key until Emma brought it up? And, most important of all, I asked, what does one DO when one has a problem with one’s goo key?

“Well,” Emma said, “You must undo this goo key and then re-do the goo key with another goo key. But this time, you must make it a good goo key, not a bad one.”

Of course, why hadn’t I thought of that? I’m sure by now that – unlike me – most of you have figured out that “goo key” was Emma’s mispronunciation of “cookie” and that’s why my computer wasn’t showing up as a registered computer on the bank’s site. Fixing it was simple, according to Emma. All I had to do was re-enroll my account on the online banking site and I’d be paying bills like nobody’s bidness inside of five minutes. She and Scott even walked me through the whole thing, just in case I was as stupid as their impression of me indicated, so it only took about twice as long. Think Gandhi giving directions with Ben Stein doing a voice over – simultaneously.

The bank site let me in. I thanked Emma and Scott, profusely, hung up the phone and, with tears streaming down my cheeks (I was eating a sandwich of tuna and red onion because by now it was lunchtime), I clicked on Billpay and turned to reach for the folder of bills on the filing cabinet behind me. When I turned back, I almost choked on my tuna. There on the top of the screen was the Billpay payee list, where I keep all the information I need to pay all my bills each month. And there underneath the “Payee” tab was a small line of print that read, “You have no payees on your list”.

After a couple minutes of stunned silence, my brain managed to grasp the fact that re-enrolling had deleted all the information I had so painstakingly created over the years that we’ve had the account. The only way I could pay bills from Billpay was by entering each creditor’s account information into the payee list all over again. Of course, I didn’t have to do it all in one day. I only needed to enter the bills that were due immediately. There were five of them and it took me about an hour to gather the information and then enter it. True, if I was more organized and didn’t shove paid bills into a dresser drawer, stash vital information on the kitchen counter with one of my daughter’s Bratz dolls for a paperweight, and lose about one third of all the pieces of paper that come into the house, it might have been easier and quicker. Hey, so I’m not Martha Stewart. (On the other hand, I haven’t been to jail, never ask my friends to use my handmade Ultrasuede coasters and I’ll let you turn around in my driveway without calling the cops. So maybe it’s a draw.)

By two o’clock, the bills were paid and I had managed to unload and load the dishwasher, but I was definitely flagging in the stretch and there were still four things to do on my list before I got to cast on my socks. I won’t turn this blog into a book. I’ll just say that I cleaned the pellet stove, which consists of knocking the slag off the burn box with a hammer and chisel and washing the window with glass cleaner and paper towel. Then I helped my son cook fudge for his friend’s sleepover, which would have been easier if either of us had remembered to get butter the day before when we were shopping. Luckily, the little store four miles up the road had some when I boogied on up there, but by the time I got back, it was too late to do the last thing that separated me from starting my socks, which was re-hanging the homemade street sign at the end of the driveway. (Vandals stole the official one last Halloween.) That was, unless I wanted to do it by flashlight, and I didn’t.

So, no socks. No yummy self-striping yarn winding sinuously around my fingers and the bamboo needles, making little swooshy noises as it turns itself into k2p2 ribbing. Nope, I made myself a promise and I stuck to it and I’m a better woman for it. No one can say I neglect my duties to pursue my pleasures. But, today, I sent my son down to put up the sign and sat myself down with a cup of tea, an oatmeal goo-key and my yarn, and got to the second item on today’s “To Do” list. “Complete ribbing on two socks.” When I’m done, I’ll get on to the rest of my list – if I have time.

Eco-Conscious

Can You Hear Me Now?

I’m still shaky from a bout with a flu-like illness that knocked me for a loop, so bear with me if I’m not up to Pulitzer Prize winning prose at the moment. However, that’s never stopped me before, now has it?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how hard it is for humans (that would be me) to let go of things, even when they don’t work for us anymore. I guess it’s the time of year that has me so philosophical.

As I approach 60, I find myself examining my life with an eye to streamlining it and removing the clutter that I’ve been dragging around with me like Marley’s chain. (No, not THAT Marley, the other Marley, the one in A Christmas Carol.)

My cell phone, for instance. I hate phones, even landlines. I find it very hard to have a conversation with someone I can’t see when I have to respond immediately. In an email, I can think about what I’m saying and avoid the dreaded “foot in mouth disease” that I’m so prone to over the phone.

When cell phones entered my life, I realized that one of my refuges from phone calls, the car, was now just another place where I was on a leash. But, because I had a sick kid and two other kids who weren’t always with me, I rationalized that I really did need to keep my cell phone on at all times.

Why, then, did I almost never get a call that couldn’t have waited? Most of my calls were from my geek husband who loves phones more than he likes interacting in person. Or from my teenaged son, asking me when I was getting home and could I pick up more chocolate.

After a while, I started wondering whether cell phones were a health risk. I read studies, many of which seemed to indicate that they are. I discussed it with Geekdaddy and he agreed that there might be some degree of risk with them, but disagreed when I suggested that we might be able to live without them.

Well, I’ve thought about it and read some more results from studies and I’m losing my cell phone – or almost. I’ll still have one in my car, but it’s going to be turned off. If I need it, I’ll turn it on and use it as briefly as possible. And it won’t be to tell my son that I’m on my way with more chocolate. It’ll be because there’s something that really can’t wait until I get home to be dealt with.

When I’m writing, I tell my kids not to interrupt me unless there are flames or blood. And more than a drop of blood at that. It’s the same thing with cell phones and me from now on. Unless I need an ambulance, AAA or a Saint Bernard, my phone will be off.

I no longer have a sick kid and my other two kids are 11 and 18 and well able to dial their geeky dad’s cell phone which is permanently welded to his belt. Or they can wait until I get home like I used to do when phones were black and came with wires.

Eco-Conscious

Put The Right Fuel In Your Tank When You’re Running On Empty

America is a nation of coffee drinkers. In spite of the inroads that regular and herbal teas are making, most of us start the day with a cup of coffee and continue to drink it until we go to bed. This may be why America is also a nation of insomniacs who need more and more “sleep aids” to go to sleep.

If you’d like to ramp down on your coffee consumption, but wonder how you’ll make it through the ten o’clock, one o’clock or three o’clock slump, here are some alternatives that will increase your energy without turning you into a bundle of nerves.

One thing that many people don’t realize is that your energy level in the afternoon is deeply affected by what you fuel your body with in the morning. Eating something in the morning is what revs up your metabolism and wakes you up.

Sure, a cup of coffee will wake you up and it even contains some antioxidants, but it doesn’t do anything to nurture or sustain your body. Worse yet, when the caffeine buzz wears off, you’re faced with a slump that makes you feel even tireder than you did before.

So go ahead and enjoy your morning cup of coffee, but have something with it. Whole grain toast is nutritious and supplies B vitamins for energy. Spread a little peanut butter on it, add a small dollop of organic blueberry jam and you have antioxidants and something sweet that’s actually good for you.

If even toast is too much of a hassle when you’re still bleary-eyed, grab a banana or an energy bar or even some cold pizza from the night before. Make some muffins and pop them into the freezer, so you can nuke one in the morning or leave it out the night before to defrost.

But what about that mid-morning or after-lunch slump, you say? When your chin hits your desk or steering wheel and you still have ten pages to type or your daughter’s soccer practice to drive to? There are better ways to stoke your energy fires than with a latte.

Sip some green tea, which has less caffeine than coffee, more antioxidants and l-theanine, which calms you down without making you drowsy. And while you sip, munch on some protein like a few almonds or cottage cheese. Nibble a few black olives for the omega oils they contain. Put a pinch of ginger in your tea or eat some candied ginger.

One of the most effective, but little-used ways to revive your flagging energy, is with scent. If you’re at home, light a stick of incense like sandalwood or jasmine – both guaranteed to stimulate your senses and make your brain come alive.

Or sniff some Rosemary essential oil. Rosemary is the herb of remembrance for good reason. The pungent, pine-like smell sharpens your senses and opens your eyes. Peppermint, spearmint and cinnamon are also good wake-up calls for your nose. (Put a cinnamon stick in regular or herbal tea and double the effect of both.)

Exercise is good for that afternoon slump too, as is fresh air and sunshine. With all the emphasis on avoiding the sun to prevent skin cancer, I think we’ve become too solar-phobic. After all, life on this planet, including human life, depends on the sun. Without it, we’d die.

The sun helps our bodies manufacture Vitamin D, which energizes our bodies and strengthens our immune system. Catch some rays at lunch with a short walk and feel your body respond to the light and warmth with renewed energy and stamina.

Whatever you do, stop drinking coffee at lunchtime, especially if you have trouble falling asleep. Too little sleep leads to tiredness the next day which leads to increased caffeine consumption which leads to too little sleep … Obviously not a cycle you want to fall into.

If you’re already in it, cut back slowly on your coffee consumption, starting with the cup you drink at the latest point in the day. Then cut back from there, day by day, until you reach the point where you’re only drinking two cups.

If you’re still having energy/sleep problems, you might have to consider the fact that caffeine is a problem for you. Some people are sensitive to it and need to avoid it entirely. If that’s you, switch to decaf and herbal teas, plain water or juice mixed with seltzer to cut calories and sugar.

Running on empty is no fun. If all of the above tactics still don’t have your motor revving, see your doctor to rule out thyroid problems or another reason for your lack of pizazz. It’s bad enough that the world is facing an energy crisis. Don’t let low energy turn into a personal crisis too.

Eco-Conscious

Paper, Plastic or Weatherstripping?

I almost always remember to bring my fabric bags when I shop, but one day last week, I found myself checking out without them. When the cashier asked if I wanted paper or plastic, I told her that I use the plastic bags for weatherstripping my basement doors. She was somewhat taken aback, but she gave me several extra bags and said she’d pass the idea along to a friend who has drafty doors.

I’m frugal, so this is only one of the many little ways I save money by not buying things that I can get for free. If you think about it, there are a lot of things that we accumulate without even trying, and many of them can be used for other purposes. Like those little foam trays that veggies and meat come to us on. My daughter’s teacher at the home-school co-op tells me that they make nifty block printers for the kids. They also make neat stencils, because the foam is thick enough to hold onto and trace around without breaking.

We have a neighbor who used a car wheel to make a windmill, but I’m not quite that handy. (Neat idea, though.) However, I have used old car tires, piled up, to help my son learn parallel parking, along with some trash barrels with rakes and shovels sticking out of them. If he hit them, they’d just fall over and wouldn’t hurt the car.

We use old sheets to cover the veggies when frost threatens. When they get threadbare and stained, wash cloths become napkins for pizza night. Why use paper ones or dirty our good napkins? Son knows how to make spoon rings out of thrift store spoons. Daughter uses old shoe and cereal boxes for “houses” for her stuffed critters and also makes them clothes out of old socks.

I bet if we all looked around we could come up with a lot of ingenious ways to reuse things. That’s what people did during the 30’s and many people who lived through the Depression kept that frugal habit. It’s not only practical, it’s good for the earth. The more things we reuse, the fewer things we’ll have to make and that’s a good thing.