All right already, stop asking!

How it happened, I’m not sure, but I’ve become something of a go to for friends seeking enviro solutions to everyday habits. Recently, my clever friend, pal, buddy, sugar momma (but not in the way you are thinking!), wrote a lovely bit about me that I’ve been pondering ever since. It occurs to me, I have some crazy ideas that just might work!

I’ll plunk them here as I think of them. I’m lazy, so this way, when “they” ask me to publish, all my wisdom will be in one place, ready for printing. Oh, and I’ll also try to post a new one each day, but I’m busy you know, saving the world, one weird trick at a time.

Well, here they are, my little tricks that help me cope with the environmentalist demands that only I can enforce – God knows I’m a task master.


18. Bus Part-ay! (Not to be confused with a “Party Bus”!)

Have a kid’s birthday coming up?

Already worrying about how to entertain them for the hours that feel like days?

Take public transit!

My daughter wanted to go skating at an outdoor rink for her sleepover birthday festivities, but the conundrum is always how to get the kids there. Even if we did own two cars, we wouldn’t have enough seats.

No problem. We walked to the end of our street and filed onto the 232.

Kneeling on the bus

Some of the kids had never been on a bus!

To kids, the bus is liberating and daring. No seatbelts. Sometimes you have to stand. You can sit by yourself or curl up next to mom.

They chatted and giggled and sat on their knees to look out. They wondered when the bus would come, how to pay the fare, and how to get off. They wanted to pull the string for our stop and they figured out how to open the back door.

Our bus trip became part of the festivities.

Taking the bus in Vancouver is convenient because it is well-connected, and it is getting easier all of the time. This year, Translink is moving toward a refillable fare card. The “Compass Card” will be a much more convenient means of paying for and validating fares, and the system automatically determines the fare rate based on where you “tap in” and “tap out.” No more guessing which fare applies and what time of day and for how many zones!

In the meanwhile, I keep passes on hand so we can hop on the bus anytime to explore our city! (Without having to hunt for change!)

HOT TIP!  Get a transfer when you board the bus. Most transit systems validate fares for 90 minutes. You might be able to get there and back on a single ticket!


17. Christmas Tags

Happy New Year!

By now you are all turkeyed out, you’ve seen enough of your families, and if you see one more twinkly light you’re gonna scream – yes? I love packing away Christmas. I potentially love packing away Christmas more than setting it up. I’m not a scrooge, I LOVE Christmas, but there is something so satisfying about seeing empty mantles, having space in the fridge, and more than anything else, listening to anything other than Christmas music!

Normally my hubby packs everything away, but this year he has decided to take on a “five minute job” that should frustrate him for the next week.

Feng shui desk

Jobs like this are “blue” for good reason. I tend to turn the directive “return each item to its storage bin” into “overhaul our entire holiday décor collection.” Needless to say, I’ve had three cups of coffee and two meals since beginning this morning. “Pink” jobs are done right! Or at least, over an extended period of time.

While sorting through this year’s cards and Christmas wishes, it occurred to me that not everyone rips off the card covers before tossing the messages into the recycle bin. Why would I do that, you might ask? Well, that’s what we use for tags on our gifts to each other – more upcycling!

Christmas Cards cum Tags

People are thoughtful about the greeting cards they choose, and I love seeing them displayed because they are all so different. It seems impossible to have so many variations on exactly the same theme, year after year. Yet somehow, Santa and his elves, Jesus and his followers, and non-Christians and all of their warm holiday wishes continue to reinvent themselves. I just can’t bring myself to waste the lovely artwork and clever messages.

Hot tip! Keep this year’s cards at hand to help you plan for your own Christmas greeting mail-out. It’s also fun to read the current and previous year’s cards, so don’t cut up this year’s cards until next year!


16. Noise (Part deux of my car series)

Tis the season… to sit in a tire shop waiting to pay some grease monkey (is that okay to say?) to change my tires.

“What?!?!” you ask, “The woman who fixes bolt locks with play dough and dishwashers with elastic bands (long story) doesn’t change her own tires?” Let me explain.

Yes, I do know how to change a tire, but in my zeal for saving the Earth I bought a Prius, and it is as high-tech as cars can get. So, if I were to buy rims for my winter tires, I would also have to buy a pressure sensor for each individual tire. That would amount to $150+, and that’s on top of the treads!

I suppose it would be less expensive in the long run, but this way, a skilled mechanic inspects my tires every season, while I get my knit on. But, Vancouver doesn’t get very cold, so why bother? Because:

  1. Metro Van gets just cold enough to make the perpetually wet asphalt icy, and
  2. Tires that harden in the cold do not grip the road as well, and winter tires are designed to stay soft.

Then there’s the question, “Why not leave your winter tires on all year round?” This is where my enviro tip comes in: Because they are noisy. No, noise is not just a problem for the nature or your own comfort; the promise of quiet inside your vehicle only muffles the problem. Noise is another form of energy that’s moving your ear drums not your car. A few of the sounds I hear while cars drive by:

  • Winter tires rumbling, as each tread grips the pavement
  • Roof racks whistling as they interrupt the streamline of the car
  • Mufflers growling because of damage or wear
  • Money passing from the hands of drivers to the hands of oil and gas executives

Remember in Tip 13 I told you to commune with your furnace because a noisy furnace is an inefficient furnace? Well, your car is no different. Noise holds a lot of information about wasted energy. Every so often, open your window and listen. Then get rid of as many noise-makers as you can.

Weird fact: I never owned winter tires in Ontario. In Ontario, the roads are well-plowed and over-salted. In Vancouver, only people from Ontario bother to “shovel out” because the snow’s gone by mid-morning.

Hot tip! Talk to your local tire experts. Get advice on the tires best suited to your area AND the areas you travel to. Your car will perform better, optimizing its efficiency with your safety. the Toronto Star article: How do winter tires differ from snow tires? provides information about the difference between snow and winter tires.  General preparation for winter driving conditions is well laid out at autos.ca and tips for changing your tires are available at autoguide.com.


15. Swedish for “air flow”

Classic problem: You have a new Pax cabinet from Ikea and the perfect place to put it, but there’s a heat vent in that exact spot.

Classic solution: Assemble the cabinet on top and forget it ever existed.

FYI DIYers. that’s not a solution! That’s just how we sneak candy from children: Out of sight, out of mind. (Would you believe that I just had to go out and buy some replacement candy because my husband actually ate ALL of the chocolate bars out of our daughter’s Hallowe’en bowl?!??!?!?!! She’s gonna notice.)

Imagine driving in the winter with your defrost on. What would happen if you threw your wet mittens onto the dashboard to dry them and they covered the vent? You would get a foggy spot on the window above that vent. Well, your cabinet will cause a “foggy” spot in your household heating if you cover it up too. It’s a huge waste of heat, and you are depriving yourself of your own comfort.

In theory, the air flow of your HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning) system is designed for the layout of your space, so if you cover up a vent, you bugger up the system. I’m not preaching. Oh no. I’m just as guilty, which is exactly why this issue has come to light. I just swapped some furniture with my sister, which resulted in moving my giant TV cabinet.

Handsome Heady Handy

(Hand-crafted by my hubby using wood from my great- grandfather’s farm! Oh yes, I am proud of him. Especially given that he is a cognitive psychologist – WHAT! That’s right, he’s book smart AND he’s handy. Hand’s off people, this one’s mine.)

Low and behold a heat vent appears out of nowhere. OUT OF NOWHERE! In our coldest room, we have had a heat vent covered!!!!!!!!

Are you as worked up about this as I am?

Needless to say, I was not making that mistake again. So, in the midst of a laundry/mud room reno, I’m harping to my husband: “Handsome, heady, handyman, you must not cover up that vent!” Of course, it was 3am, which is when I am always thinking about these conundrums, so he groaned and rolled over. Clearly, this would be my problem to solve, so I get to thinking: Why can’t I make my own ductwork?

Homemade ductwork          Setting homemade ductwork in place

Does homemade ductwork fall into the upcycling category? This one’s made out of cardboard that was destined for my recycle bin and shiny duct tape. It’s not fancy like jewelry made out of bike parts, but it sure makes use of seemingly useless cardboard.

It could be said that I use wikipedia too much (three times in this post alone), but then, at least I’m not defending my corporate reputation. In any case, at least I didn’t get the ductwork idea from wikipedia, that one came straight from my furnace contractor, Heath. I spied on him 🙂 and learned a lot about ductwork, not the least of which is that contractors sneak through wall spaces and under stairwells using shiny backed cardboard, or as they call it in Sweden: luftflöde.

*****Update*****

My father’s worried that we are pumping hot air up the back of the cabinet and out at the ceiling. Of course not Dad, that would be grossly inefficient, just as you have taught me, Master Craftsman. So people please, do not do as my father fears I have done. Pump out the hot air at the floor and put as few bends in the ducts as possible. Good catch Dad!

Homemade low profile ductwork in place

Homemade low profile ductwork in place

Drilled holes in the cabinet kickplate for air flow

Drilled holes in the kickplate for air flow

Hot tip! Have you ever looked into your heat vents? They are usually full of crap! Vacuum them out regularly to help keep your furnace filter clean. It’s less work in the long run.


14. Litter, it’s in you to pick up

(I’m not sure that tag line is working, but I suddenly had a flash of the line Canadian Blood Services uses: It’s in you to give. I find the ads a little creepy, but what a memorable catch phrase!)

Where was I?

Oh right, litter.

Kick the Can

Blogged under the title “The Common Good Games,” Kick the Can is mentioned for its social benefits, but if you kick it all the way to a waste bin, then there are environmental benefits too!

We have a rule in our house: If you kick it, you pick it up. This has some funny effects. For one, the kids will actually leap over top of garbage to avoid kicking it, which is entertaining, but, it tells me that they have noticed it.

You can’t be surprised that they avoid it, but what might surprise you is that I let them. Here’s my logic:

I can accept that we are not in fact going to save all of the fishes in the deep blue sea by picking up that one piece of litter, but I am certain each piece of litter my children see has a lasting impact.

They ponder why anyone would throw waste on the ground.
They make sure their own waste is properly disposed of.
They make the link between personal responsibility and the health of the environment.
They understand that there is no “someone” who will take care of it.

There is only us playing Kick the Can, until we happen upon a blue bin.

Hot tip! Stuff a waste bag in your pocket whenever you walk somewhere, like to school, to the park, along a shoreline. You never know what litter you might stumble upon, and, chances are, a waste bin is not far away.


13. Clear the air

This is your furnace filter:

Anatomy of a furnace filter

Anatomy of a furnace filter: Yes, the little arrow is indeed important.

This is your furnace filter on drugs:

Your furnace filter on cake, a cake of dust that is.

Your furnace filter on cake, a cake of dust that is.

Ever try to vacuum with a full canister? You don’t like doing all of that work to no avail, so don’t make your furnace suck and suck and suck with no happy ending!

Speaking of vacuuming, vacuum your cold air returns. For one, it’s gross seeing fur on them, and two, if they are dirty, then your furnace filter likely is too. Use them like a reminder to change/clean your filter.

I’m lucky because I live in an house that is inverted, you might say; the bedrooms are in the basement. Because I walk by the furnace room multiple times a day I invested in a high-end furnace for more than just it’s efficiency: I didn’t want to be able to hear the fans. (Yes, there are at least two. One you must know, but the other blows of gas fumes so the furnace doesn’t explode. That’s a happy thought.) The second side-benefit is that the slightest furnace noise signals: Time to change the filter!

Come on though, folks. Tell me you don’t have an electronic calendar that can send you reminders. You could have a specific calendar for household maintenance reminders. In fact, I’m going to set one up right now! I’ll even make it public!! It will send out reminders to change your furnace filter, your fire detector, you name it!!!

Wait! It already exists!!!!!!

Lifehacker

(That’s right, real time posts, right here, right now.)

Hot tip! I pilfered these photos through Google images, which led me down a rabbit hole of useful tips, like: How to change or replace your furnace filter. As you can see by the first photo (Anatomy of a furnace filter), the direction of airflow does in fact matter, make sure it goes in the right way! Sage advice.


12. CBC

Just assembling my morning (Fairtrade : ) coffee, when I stumbled upon this lovely piece by Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC:

7 ways to reduce household food waste

“Experts say that curbing household food waste starts at the grocery store, where people tend to make impulse purchases and often buy more than they need. (iStock)”

On the heels of the shocking recent revelation that it’s Canadians at home who are wasting over half of the “$27 billion of food wasted countrywide.”

$27 billion worth of food. Last year, the World Food Program (WFP) purchased 2.4 million metric tonnes of food at a price of US$1.23 billion. “On average, WFP aims to bring food assistance to more than 90 million people in 75 countries.

World Food Program: Our Work

“WFP’s post-emergency and development operations are built around projects focused on preventing hunger taking hold in the future and breaking the cycle of hunger which is at its root.”

How many people could be fed with even half of the $27 billion of food Canadians waste every year?

Moral of the story: Read your national news, they have good ideas at times. Besides which, your taxes pay for them!

By the way, your taxes also pay trucks to haul away all that wasted food, process that waste (less than 1/4 of which was “diverted from disposal“), and, in most cases, clean up the effluent oozing out from the dumps that we decorate with public parklands (that your taxes also paid for in order to cover up our waste!). Of that buried waste, organics make up a whopping 40%!

To be clear, the term “organics” refers to more than just food waste (yard waste, for example), but that just means we should also be asking: WHY IS YARD WASTE EVEN IN THE WASTE SYSTEM IN THE FIRST PLACE?!!?!?!?!?

Another day, another post…

*****Update*****
Recent UK-based study claims half of the world’s food is wasted!

Hot tip! Plan your week’s menu, but dedicate one night to leftovers. I always have too much for at least one meal, and as long as they are kept in the fridge, leftovers should be good for the week. I often “repurpose” my leftovers to avoid eating the same meal twice. Perhaps a new page on leftover recipes is in order…


11. Hrududu (the first of my car series)

I often find my family’s long line of matriarchal legacies earn credit in my writing, but today is Dad’s turn.

Cars. We are stuck with them. The fortunate pocket of folks in our society who can live deep in urban centres and rely solely on the amazing transportation infrastructure that only cities can sustain, is a small proportion of our society. As for the rest of us, well, there just isn’t quite enough space for everyone.

That doesn’t mean we are without choices. Here’s where my Dad comes in. He’s an accountant. He seeks out the numbers and the US Department of Energy provides exactly that. When I was buying my first car, Dad put me onto this fantastic interactive USDE website that allows visitors to compare the fuel economy of vehicles. Hint: Look for the highest number possible in the Fuel Economy column.

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

Because of this website, I own a Prius. It is my family’s only car, so my husband and I took the liberty of spending a pretty penny on it. Regardless of size or type of personal vehicle , the Prius wins, every time. My vote was uncontested.

Recognizing that not everyone has the option of being a single-car family or buying a $30,000+ vehicle, here’s today’s tip:

Just because it is a Hybrid, doesn’t mean it is your most fuel-efficient option (setting aside Prius and Electric Vehicles for the moment). A hybrid SUV and a Smart Car both send out the message: Hey, I have a lot of money, so I give back to the environment! But, the Smart car is much more fuel efficient, despite not being a hybrid.

Smart or Escape? That is the question

Smart or Escape? That is the question

Determine what class of car you really need. If it’s a second car, be honest with yourself, must it have seats for everyone in the family, plus the dog and cargo? Whether or not you even need a second car, well, that’s another discussion. And the topic of e-vehicles deserves it’s own post. In due time…

For now, take my Dad’s advice, and check out the USDE Fuel Economy website.

P.S. Anyone know the story behind the name of this post?

Hot tip! These numbers are lab tested and cannot accurately account for individual vehicle wear and tear, or local driving conditions. Living on the west coast guarantees that I don’t get the same MPG reported by the USDE, so the car’s longevity/durability may be another aspect you should check out, and who better to tell their personal experiences than other bloggers? As far as terrain goes, well, no matter what car I choose, I’m stuck with Vancouver climate and terrain!


10. Litterless lunches, the sequel

Contentious as it is, there may be a case for Ziplock bags.

DON’T RUN AWAY ENVIRO-FRIENDS!!!!! I have an argument! I HAVE AN ARGUMENT!

Exhibit A:

Island of misfit containers

Island of Misfit Containers

Kids lose stuff. No one can accuse me of being easy on my kids (read previous tips for proof), but they are still kids, and we have this running pile of misfit containers whose mates have either been lost or broken.

Exhibit B:

Wash and go Ziplocks

Wash and go Ziplocks

We wash our bags. We do not use them for meats. They take quite a beating, they’re tough, and take very little room. They return home from school as often as, if not more than, their rigid plastic cousins, in part because they are a one-piece system. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Exhibit C:

WCS Recycling knows what to do with Ziplocks

WCS Recycling knows what to do with Ziplocks

WCS Recycling takes my Ziplocks for recycling. True, they also take the rigid plastics from my Island of Misfit Containers, but Ziplocks are arguably less material intensive than rigid plastics. If we recall the first of the three Rs, REDUCE, then it would be fair to say that the initial material input of Ziplocks is more favourable than that of rigid containers. Yes? This is a working theory, so add your thoughts!

This may be a discussion of semantics, I don’t have the exact details, such as the energy or water intensity of both kinds of plastics. Some will argue for containers made out of other materials, but metal and glass are also energy, material, and water intensive, and again, are just as likely to be lost by my children. Perhaps clever bags and wraps made from recycled fabrics win this debate, I’m just not sure.

Hot tip! Techniques for washing Ziplocks are invaluable. I put my dish soap and hot water right into the bags as I’m filling the sink for washing up, then rub the dish cloth inside each bag. Just pay close attention to the corners. Turn them upside down for a while to drain the bulk water, then flip them over to let the condensate out. (Oh yes, these are indeed the sweet nothings that I whisper to my hubby at night)
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9. Litterless lunches
I can’t do this justice. I hate packing lunches as much as anyone else. So this is just a plea:

STOP USING PRE-PACKAGED SNACKS!!!!!

For brilliant ideas about simple, lovely, healthy, litterless lunches, I am pleased to present:

Late Night Plays

Late Night Plays

Late Night Plays: Bonkers for Bentos

I do, however, have some favourite local artisans who make great packaging alternatives to plastics, and I’m certain you can find similar ingenuity at your local craft shows. If not, I think they ship.

Gogo Bags make cool little sandwich bags.

Gogo bags

Gogo bags

There is also Abeego. They make beeswax wraps. Beeswax is a natural preservative and is anti-bacterial!

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8. Push, don’t pull

or even better, you guessed it, make the kids mow the lawn!
Girl pushing rotary mower

Without even mentioning the noise
push mowers get a running start. Lawn experts will tell you that lawns are healthier when they are trimmed by reel mowers (when kept sharp!).

Manual reel mowers are significantly safer than power mowers. They stop when you stop and they blades are more like scissors than knives. A person would have to stick his/her finger between them and then manage to deliberately push the mower in order to potentially cut themselves. On top of which, the mower stops dead when it hits a stick, let alone a finger. They are safe, and kids think they’re fun. My kids have been “playing” with ours since they were toddlers, and they still love to mow the lawn.

This also links back to my point about how stupid gym memberships are. Push mowers are great for core strength and once again, tally up your wasted exercise time, and allow for a little more time mowing the lawn.
Related rants: Ditch your gym membership

Hot tip! You can get your reel mower sharpened at a small engine repair shop. Do not, I repeat DO NOT have some yahoo with some wet stones in the back of a second-hand van talk you into a cheap once over! You will end up with knicks out of your blades and sick grass (sick not sik, don’t confuse the two).
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7. Labels

Boy eating blue cotton candy

His 2am puke was the same colour!

I fully support labeling kids. We need to know at the outset what kind of person each kid is, and it is our social responsibility to inform others about their personality types. Labels help kids take on their expected roles and they help others know how to treat each kid.

Now labels on food? I’m against them. We need professionals and experts to promise us it is good for us, not nutrition data. What does it all mean anyway? GMOs, petroleum based food-dyes, high fructose corn syrup, who even notices that stuff? It’s too confusing.

You’re not really buying this crap, are you?

I LOVE labels!!!!! And my kids are learning to read them – and use them against me, which is highly entertaining.

This summer, I had a weekend getaway, so Dad spoiled them with treats like white bread – oh the horror! As soon as I arrived home, they accosted me with the Wonder+ bag, “Look Mom, 4 grams of fibre per 2 slices!” Tempting to let it rest because they had obviously picked up the most important lesson, but I am a lone soldier in the trenches of my children’s health, am I not? “Yes, but we eat bread from Silver Hills Bakery and it has 5 grams of fibre per SINGLE slice!”

I’m off on a bit of a health tangent, but my thesis is coming together, slowly, but surely.

Canadians are so fortunate. Eating seasonly is now but a romantic notion from our grandparents’ memoirs. In her memoirs, my grandmother recalls my grandfather dedicating one full day per year to picking berries. He returned home sunburned, mosquito bitten, sweaty, and exhausted, but he had collected a winter’s worth of preserves and fruit pies – imperatives for wintering in Canada.

Blueberries from the west

Grape sized berries in BC, but I’m not convinced they taste as good…

Questions about food security are bringing about Eat Local movements, along with innovative urban agriculturecommunity gardens, and fruit tree harvesting programs. One of the best lessons you can teach your kids is to look for local produce. It’s also one of the hardest (if yours love fruit like mine do).

We walk past aisles of apples and melons and berries, longing for a taste, but resist until we see the signs “BC Blueberries have a arrived!” In the off-season, I buy exotic fruits like bananas, mangoes, oranges, because I figure they’re being shipped anyway.

Ultimately, a “truly dedicated” environmentalist would be canning and preserving throughout the summer, but that’s not who I am. Maybe that’s an excuse, but it’s closer to how the general public would feel, and let’s face it, we’re more likely to see a mass social shift if we stop pressing for everyone to give up their careers and get back to the “simple life.”

My second defense against preserving my own food, is that it is unreasonable to expect individual households to have the capacity to store a winter’s worth of foods. One of my favourite tips comes from a health argument that frozen is better than canned. If you can find a local food producer that flash freezes produce and sells it through the winter, then you can still eat local without giving up your day job to prepare your winter stores. Is eating local healthier? That’s contentious, but I found a great forum on the topic that explains: food that is to be shipped is generally picked before it is ripe. The act of shipping is not a disbenefit (setting aside fuel and emissions arguments), preventing the food from fully ripening is the issue.

Labels, teach your kids to read them for nutrition and locality – SAVE THE WORLD! As far as labeling kids is concerned? The only labels I support are Mabel’s Labels. Order some, you’ll see why.

Hot tip! Teething babies LOVE frozen blueberries. They turn to mush, so I don’t think choking is a problem. Although, perhaps you’d want to stick with the strain more typical to eastern Canada. The ones out here are the size of grapes!
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6. The List

No, this is not a Hollywood teen romance…
Scholastic Book Order

For this month’s order, she has zeroed in on this little gem, reasoning: “I’ll read the book too!”

As if navigating the world of “crappy trinket toys for all” wasn’t hard enough, Scholastic Books insists on sneaking them onto book orders. Thanks to this advertising line, with direct access to school children under the guise of fundraising for our school (or maybe they get books, or something, doesn’t matter), we now own such treasures as a 2″ tall plastic Diego complete with a jaguar Hallowe’en costume, a bracelet making kit that is stored in a book-like package, and God knows what else.

I was a weaker woman then, convinced that I should foster their excitement about book orders – ha! Kids love sitting down with the order sheet and circling everything that catches their eyes; they could be encyclopedias and they’d be happy. No trinkety lures necessary. A hardened mom now, we order books from book order sheets, not toys.

It gets worse, as I’m sure you knew it would.

You know that pressure to buy them stuff? You could be in the auto department at Canadian Tire, and they’d be angling for a pair windshield wiper blades, convincing you they would help wash the car if those blades were to come home. They like shiny new things (who doesn’t?), and I’m happy to buy them shiney new books, but the toys (and wiper blades!) can stay in the warehouse.

The two sentences in my repertoire that keep cheap toys at bay:

“Put it on your list!”

and

“In lieu of a gift, a donation will allow her to select one group gift and donate the remainder to an organization of her choosing.”

The first refers to the running wish list we keep for whichever event is due next (Christmas or birthday). I keep an electronic version on my desktop to track which requests stick and which ones fall by the wayside.

The second, has a double benefit. My kids are older, and $20 doesn’t go very far anymore, so they get to pool some money together and buy more interesting, quality toys. Also, it presents an opportunity to talk about the ubiquitous and diverse range of need that surrounds us, and our good fortune is highlighted. (The kids typically donate to Camp Trillium, a camp in Ontario for kids living with cancer. I think it’s because learning they can help in an uplifting way is powerful.)

Eco Science Toys by Green Science

Eco Science Toys by Green Science

Hot tip! Purchasing “eco” toys for older kids is more difficult given the inevitable competition with screens. Stick with projects, kits, or gear that bring out the budding artist, scientist, athlete, musician, or engineer. Better yet, give them gift certificates for specialized camps or classes. Even the wannabe veterinarian can bulk up on experience through child and youth programs at some SPCA sites. And, if in the end, screens win, buy second-hand video games!

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5. Ditch your gym membership

My biggest, BIGGEST pet peeve? The act of driving to the gym.

Sit down for a minute and sum up all of the time you spend driving in a week – ALL of it, zipping to the corner store, commuting, shopping, EXCEPT the time it takes you to drive to the gym – and then all of the time you commit to exercising for the sake of exercising, INCLUDING the time it takes you to drive to the gym. Did you catch that? The time it takes you to drive to the gym is included with the time you’ve committed to exercising.

I need your help here, because I haven’t belonged to a gym since aerobics was the thing in high school (a few years ago… or so), and I really am curious about this. I would deeply appreciate you posting your results in the comments of this post.

Before moving to the suburbs, I walked everywhere, now the destinations within that 2 km (1 mile) range are limited. My “somewhat walkable” community scores a meagre 50 on the walkability scale, based on the proximity of its amenities.

An example of a neighbourhood's walkability according to walkscore.com

My neighbourhood is “somewhat walkable”, what’s yours?

Now that I know the neighbourhood better though, I’m shifting to cycling to expand my car-free range. With some tenacity, I should be able to shed the extra 5 lbs that have been stuck on me since moving here. (Skeptical about the health benefits of walking? The Mayo Clinic isn’t!)

So, you have calculated your weekly driving time and your weekly exercise time, now calculate the financials? How much do you spend on fuel and how much does your gym membership cost?

Here’s what I’m proposing: Take the time and money allotted to that costly gym, commit it to walking and biking more often (as well as some all-weather protective clothing). You’ll certainly save money, but you’ll also save fuel (not to mention emissions, auto maintenance, maybe even the money it costs to have that vehicle at all, if you decide to sell it!). Those are the direct outcomes, but what about the pleasures of getting to know your neighbourhood?

Quiet spot to think

Sitting in the crook of a tree, contemplating.

Remember how it was when you were a kid? You knew every back alley, every secret pathway, every fallen tree, and every quiet spot to think. You knew who was around to play, the fastest way to get to all of your friends’ houses, where to stash your contraband – What! Where did that come from????? You were the kingpin of your world. You had a sense of place.

When cycling and walking become a means of transportation, rather than a leisure activity, you embed their benefits and pleasures into the drudgery of the day-to-day, and actually make it more enjoyable.

Hot tip! Next time you are buying a house, find a real estate agent who includes walkability as a tool to help you decide on a house. Check out your walkscore!

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4. Rotten tomatoes, bears, and freezers

I actually have a graduate degree in waste collection, yet the web of rules for separating our waste has had me confounded. Recently our “ahead-of-the-times” municipality introduced organic pick-up. I keep a composter, so the only organic waste streaming out of my house are the dredges of our prepared meals, meats, and cheeses. I need a bin about the size of a 2L milk carton. I am obliged to use these gigantic bins:

Image

Seriously, 77 L is the smallest bin? Green bins need the most frequent cleanings, yet this is the size we are expected to manage.

Our resident bear in our driveway after brunching on our neighbour's garbage
Neighbourhood bear in our driveway after brunching on our neighbour’s garbage

Not only that, as the website repeatedly reminds us, we live among wildlife (big wildlife). By law, we have to lock up our garbage, and in the land of carports, storage comes at a premium.

This “tip” is quickly digressing into a rant… again… sorry : )

Rotting meats and cheeses are a problem, no matter how your waste is streamed, so, why not freeze them! (A tip mom gave me years ago.) Now that we have organic waste pickup, we can’t just freeze them in an old bread bag (in case you have been asleep for the last 40 years, we have discovered that plastic does not in fact break down).

Kitchen catcher in the freezer

Soooooooo, now we keep our “kitchen catcher” in our deep freezer.

The night before waste pickup, we drop that frozen mini clump into the echo chamber that is our curbside bin, and voilà, we have evaded the bears and maggots and legal infractions, but done our part to save the world one rotten tomato at a time!

HOT TIP! Line the bottom of you curbside bin with scrunched up newspaper or yard waste to put some distance between the goopy organics and the bottom. Although, depending on the time of pick up, your frozen organics may stay goop free – double bonus!
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3. Kids in the candy store

Yes, I can make even that a mission to save the world! When I started writing these, I didn’t promise it would be easy. In fact, I think that’s one of the major downfalls of the enviro-sell; people want a magic bullet and environmentalists want to promise anything to get you on board.

Don’t lynch me envirofriends. I’m not saying you are lying or wrong, not even close. You’re absolutely right on, it’s just that without our deeply committed tolerance, people don’t have the patience for the steps we take, now matter how quick and easy you promise they are.

Back to the matter at hand. As if the candy/chocolate/chips, treats in general, aren’t enough of a gift, producers have to deck the yummies out in shiny colours that enrapture kids’ eyes as much as their taste buds?

The holy grail of candy: Hallowe'en
The holy grail of candy: Hallowe’en

I have a rule, which I’m certain Dad doesn’t enforce (coward), that they must consider packaging in their treat du jour. It makes for long, thoughtful choosing, which can be painful at times, but they are now thinking about packaging and have been heard to gasp upon seeing over-packaged goods. Yes, I do imagine the conversations they’ll have with their therapists… often.

That specific candy isn’t changing their world, but the consideration is changing their worldview.

HOT TIP! Dentists are more concerned about frequency and the time teeth spend eating candy, than they are about amount. Try limiting them to once in a day and for a set period rather than limiting the amount. If you’re really a hardcore enforcer, make them brush/floss/rinse afterward.

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2. Get your kids on their bikes

Bike tow bars must be THE most brilliant inventions since, well, the bicycle! When we moved to Vancouver (actually North Vancouver, but it’s a suburb that has no meaning without it’s famous southern buddy, so…), our kids were not bicycling inclined. “I’m just not a bike person,” claimed our worldly 8-year-old. Like hell you’re not! We love to bike, but in the hills of here, cycling is a pretty tough sell. Really. Don’t let the granola distortions fool you, not many people bike here, and for good reason!

Random mom and kid riding bikes

Random mom and kid riding bikes

That said, there are some great trails, such as the Seawall around Stanley Park, The Demonstration Forest at Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, and such. Our problem: If the hills at home are too big for the kids to just hop on and go for a ride, how will the ever build up stamina for biking?

Random mom towing kid on bike

Random mom towing kid on bike

No worries, mate! (There are also a LOT of Aussies here, but that’s another story… Hammy Hamster anyone? No?)

Arms that attach to the adult’s bike are ever-ready to help the little one when s/he needs a break, but swing out of the way when s/he is energized (by the granola, of course) and ready to ride!

By the end of our first two months here, our 5-year-old could ride around the Seawall, the whole 8 km, or so, all by herself, thanks to the easy, no pressure practice using the tow bar.

She’s 8 now, mastering our hilly north shore and reveling in her independence while riding to school. Our 11-year-old rides the 12 km of curvy hills at the Demonstration Forest without breaking a sweat.

Me towing my daughter on a traditional trail-a-bike

Me towing my daughter on a traditional trail-a-bike

HOT TIP! Make sure the little one understands how his/her breaks work : ) It makes for tough riding when s/he applies them without authorization!

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1. Litter, a dirty job

Get your kids to do the dirty work! The little grubbers are never clean anyway, what do they care? All kidding aside – I’m on a role here – they need to understand the waste stream as well as anyone else. And, you’ll see later, that if they learn about “end of life” for the products they consume, your arguments for other issues become easier to digest.

It’s not just the big events like the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, it’s also your household streaming. They should know the words “organics” “paper recycling” “hazardous waste” (Okay, that last one OBVIOUSLY has some restrictions!).

My daughter collected 30 lbs of garbage in an hour just around a trail next to our block!

My daughter collected 30 lbs of garbage in an hour just around a trail next to our block!

HOT TIP! Did you know there is a mat of our garbage adrift in the Pacific Ocean? Check out this TED Talk by Capt. Charles Moore to learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.


Live within limits without limiting life

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5 responses to “All right already, stop asking!

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