Wednesday, July 30, 2008


What the Hell's In My Tub?

Research time again! Go to your bathroom and grab all the hygiene products you use on a daily basis: shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, soaps, lotions, antiperspirants, toothpastes, makeup, shaving cream, you name it. Drag all that crap down to your computer (or, if you use a lot of product, take your computer to your bathroom) and log on to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

Now start looking up the toxicity level of all those products you slather on your skin every day.

And then think about how porous your skin is.

And then think about whether or not the word "is" is a preposition.

And then think about why your flamboyant 10th grade English Teacher told you to never end a sentence with a preposition.

And then start to wonder if his "roommate" was actually....


It's all starting to make sense now, isn't it?

Anyhow, once you go through and determine the toxicity level of your beauty regimen, start to think of which items you can maybe live without. Or at least find out what alternatives might exist. And where you might buy them at.*

I'll be tossing out some helpful tips over the next few weeks. You know, fun stuff I learned the hard way. But in the meantime, feel free to start swapping toothpaste recipes and paraben-free shampoo products Yahoo! Group.

*Now there's a preposition! And yeah, I spent 50 minutes of the past hour Googling "prepositions" and "dangling participles" and all of 10 minutes writing the actual post. Because I'm thorough like that. ;-)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hot Idea In the Morning

A lot of folks think that "going green" means giving up the niceties of life. While occasional sacrifices are made in name of the environment, some changes actually result in a higher quality of life. And I'm not talking about "spending more time with family" or "appreciating the beauty of nature". None of that philosophical crap (Don't get me wrong - all that philosophical crap is true - I just don't write eloquently enough to express it without sounding like a moron). I'm talking about something very real. I'm talking about a better tasting cup of joe. This little gem of a change was one I made shortly after I purchased my Kill-A-Watt device.


I have been plugging EVERYTHING in my house into my fabulous, geek-o-rific Kill-A-Watt device and am learning all sorts of unexpected lessons. For instance, one of the biggest energy hogs in my house (besides the heat, a/c, and major appliances) is my Mr. Coffee! When it's just sitting there displaying the time, the thing barely draws any energy -- in fact it doesn't even register a watt. However, when it is brewing or just keeping the hot plate on (which it does for at least two hours each day), it cycles itself on and off at about 900 watts. YIKES!

This one is such an easy fix, though, and it doesn't even require me to break my compact. When the coffee is done brewing, I simply pour it into my already-got-one-so-I-don't-need-to-buy-one coffee carafe. How cool is that? So now I only run the coffee pot for 10 minutes to brew and then that sucker gets turned off! Bonus? The coffee stays nice and hot all morning long and the last cup doesn't have that nasty Burn-O-Matic taste.


The heating element cycles on and off at 1 minute intervals. When on, it's drawing approximately 900 watts, or .9 kWh. So, two hours per day, every single day equates to 27 kWh a month, 324 kWh per year (which, by the way, is about $32.40 in dollar-savings). HAHA! Paid for the Kill-A-Watt and then some!

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Already owned the carafe, just blew the dust off it and set it on the counter. Life just doesn't get any easier than that, does it?


There you have it folks. A better cup of coffee, a cleaner environment and dramatic special effects. What more could you want out of life?

What's that? You want your own Kill-A-Watt? You got it. Temporarily, at least.

Sign up at the Yahoo! Group in the "Kill-A-Watt Borrowers" Database. I'll mail my Kill-A-Watt to the first person on the list. That person can mail it on to the next on the list and so and so on until someone manages to break it or the post office loses it. Whichever comes first.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Good News Saturday

I try to avoid I try because every time I hit that site, I find some news story that is so heart-wrenching that I end up sick to my stomach. But, like a bad car accident, I can't help slowing down to look at the carnage. I'm a sick puppy.

But today, I found this nice little gem about a man who sends used bicycles to developing countries. One man making a difference. I love that kind of shit. Instead of slowing down to look at wreckage, I pulled over to see the rainbow.

Pretty corny analogy, but it's early.

Friday, July 25, 2008

We're On A Roll!

Ditch the Paper Towels, Baby!

Last Monday we all gave up paper napkins. For some, it was an easy change; for others? Well, let's just say making the napkins was a bit more challenging than they thought! But the difficult part is behind us now, just sit back and enjoy the cottony (or linen-y) softness on your lips and the classy look of your table with the new finery.

And as long as we're giving up paper napkins, let's take the next logical step and ditch the paper towels too. TODAY. Take whatever stash of paper towels you have and hide them. Now.

Yes, right now. What other type of "now" is there?

I can still see them. Get up off your arse and hide them in the pantry or in the garage or behind the fridge or wherever you stash the chocolate. Somewhere that's a big enough pain in the butt that you won't automatically reach for them every time there's a spill.

Besides, you'll be happy to have that hidden stash later, when the dog pukes all over the floor or that cat squidders on the couch. In the meantime, though, get in the habit of grabbing a sponge, washcloth or dishtowel for the day-to-day quicker-picker uppers.

If you've already switched to cloth for the paper towels, then how about giving up Kleenex in favor of cloth hankies. And if you've already done that? Well, there's only one other disposable paper product left that comes to mind....

Maybe we really can become a "paperless society". Thoughts, Questions, Comments, Concerns?

Join the discussion at our Yahoo! Group!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Fine Print

Well, it happened again. I had The World's Best Post all typed up. Witty, insightful with just a touch of sarcasm (ok, a little heavy on the sarcasm, but that's how I like it). And then BAM! Blogger frickin' eats it. Sucks to be me.

Frick. Now it's creepin' up on bedtime and I don't feel like trying to recreate the magical post that got away. So you're stuck with this crap instead. Now it sucks to be both of us.

So the heck with this post, go read a book instead. One that deals with environmentalism, preferably. One that you borrow from a friend or library or bought used. But not a new one. Not this time.

I'll offer you some suggestions from what I've read so far:

***** Deep Economy
***** Omnivore's Dilemma
**** In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
***** Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
*** Last Child in the Woods
* Affluenza (I didn't like this one much, but others find it amusing)
** Consuming Kids
*** Simple Prosperity
** Common Wealth

Those are supposed to be "stars" next to the book titles, but after losing a post to blogger purgatory, I'm in no mood to fancy shit up. If you're looking for in depth review of eco-books, check out the awesome Blogging Bookworm site set up as a continuation of Green Bean's "I'm a Bookworm" Challenges.

And as always, feel free to hop on the Yahoo! Group and share your envirobook recommendations!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why Cloth Napkins Are Better Than Paper

10. Paper cranes look more like wounded sparrows
9. Cloth napkins don't clog your lint trap
8. Napkins rings look silly on rolled up Bounty sheets
7. Paper doesn't soak up the red sauce before it stains your skirt (leaving an embarrassing red stain where it ought not be)
6. Hard to emphasize your point in an argument by angrily throwing down your paper napkin
5. Can't snap a paper napkin at a cute guy's ass
4. Takes your table from trailer-trash to Martha Stewart in under 10 seconds
3. Initial investment vs. 10 year cost analysis
2. Reducing AND reusing all in one change
1. Deforestation in the name of mouth-wiping = bad eco karma

It's been over a year now that I've been gracing my table with soft, cotton, love-squares and I'll never go back to paper again. This is one of my earlier changes, and since its implementation, our little family has avoided using over 2,000 paper napkins.

My favorite Christmas gift last year came from my 2-year-old niece, Libby, who took a set of nearly-new napkins from Goodwill and used fabric paints to add her handprints to them. They are absolutely adorable and we use them every single night.

Switching from paper to cloth is not a difficult change to make and I'm surprised more people don't do it. It's cheap and classy, how often does that happen?!? Let's face it: cloth napkins aren't just for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. They are for everyday, every meal.

Today's challenge is to give up the paper napkins in your house and switch to cloth napkins for daily use. If you're already a cloth-convert, then scour the second-hand shops for a set to give to a friend or neighbor. Personalizing them, as my niece did, or making them yourself is a beautiful way to say "I love you, now stop killing trees".

Friday, July 18, 2008

Got Gas?

Whew. I'm pooped. Are you pooped? I am. And it's got nothing to do with soiling myself. It's been a long week. My sitter is on vacation so I'm hanging with the kiddos 24 x 7 - in addition to trying to keep up with all the summer sewing orders. Not easy my friend. Not easy.

So let's make today's change an easy one. You good with that? I mean, it's Friday... the weekend's almost here... I'm exhausted....

Now let's see... easy change... simple... hmmmm....

OOH! I know! Yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeahyeah. Super easy. And gas-related, which seems fitting, since I've recently started to think I may be lactose intolerant.

Today's change is: Don't start the car till you're ready to go.

Wow. Earth-shattering stuff here at Burbanmom. I'd expound on the idea, but I already did that in the original post. I could copy and paste, but that sounds a lot like work. And did I mention I'm TIRED?

And for those of you who don't drive, but instead rely on public transportation, bikes, or Nike Power. Take the day off. You've earned it! And if you've got a free moment, stop by and watch the kids so I can take a nap.

Join the discussion at the Going Green Yahoo! Group.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Soiled Myself

And you can too!

I started the process last September, when I bought a Garden Gourmet composter (because, yeah, I'm too lazy and inept to build one). And now I have all the nutrient-rich soil I want for use in my container gardens, around bushes and plants, or just to fill in the holes that Ethan and Oreo are constantly digging in the backyard.

Getting up and running with composting was a daunting task for me. Mostly because I'd never done it before and I was afraid of the unknown. Would it stink? Would it be difficult to maintain? Would the neighbors or HOA have a problem with it?

Well all my worrying was for naught.

It took me all of 10 minutes to set the thing up (it just pops together - no special tools required). I haven't had a single problem with critters getting into it (other than the soldier fly larvae) and there is no nasty odor coming emanating from it.

It sits in the oh-so-neat-and-tidy trash bin alcove between the air conditioning condenser and the "real" trash can on the side of the house. No one would ever even notice it, since HOA rules require us to have all that crap hidden behind a lattice structure anyhow. In fact, the first four months we had it, my husband thought it was a trash can. Very unobtrusive.

It's also easy to use. I keep a tupperware container under the sink into which I dump all my kitchen scraps. When it's full, I dump it the contents into the composter and then cover it all up with a layer of dried leaves (kept from last year or scavenged from nearby woods). Occasionally, I turn it. But not often. Amazingly enough, it is doing it's organic thing all on its own - turning into nutrient-rich, dark soil. Ain't life grand?

The really amazing thing though? This one simple change has accounted for a HUGE decrease in the amount of waste we send to the landfill! Instead of paying someone to haul our food waste away and then paying to buy dirt for my plants, I'm doing all the work here at home. The only cost was the initial investment of the composter!

There are many different options to choose from. Here's the low-down on the top four:

Basic Bin Composters: Usually sit directly on the ground. Easy to install and use, but difficult to turn and harvest. Might want to get two so that you can fill one for a season, then fill another while you "harvest" the first.

Tumbling Composters: Free-standing unit that looks like a barrel suspended on legs. You put in scraps and use brute force to literally tumble the compost (like a rock tumbler). Easy to use on a day-to-day basis, but can get difficult to tumble when they get full and heavy. And, you don't need to have a yard to set it on, a deck, patio or roof would work just fine.Again, might want to consider having two so you can fill one while harvesting from another.

Electric Composters: Plug-in unit, about the size and look of a small trashcan. They work by using electricity to heat and aerate the compost (although once it's up and running it generates most of its own heat). Easy to use, takes up very little space and you can harvest the compost in as little as two weeks, while continuing to fill it. Theoretically you can install it right in your kitchen. Realistically, they're best suited for the garage or deck. The downside? Price. They start at $299.
Worm Bin Composters: Also called vermicomposter, but that's a mouthful. These are small bins that hold layers of wet newspaper and red worms. The worms eat the food scraps and give back their own special pooptastic dirt which is like black gold for plants. Fun for kids, a great learning tool and quick to break down scraps. However, they require constant monitoring of temperature, moisture and other factors to keep from killing the worms.

Of course, the links I've given are all for commercial items you can buy, but with a little handiwork and some online blueprints, you can build any of these (except maybe the electric one!) at home. But don't fear the composter! It's a lot easier and not nearly as skeevy as you think!

So the task, if you haven't guessed already, is to start composting! To quote a huge, multi-national shoe conglomerate: "Just Do It!".

Already composting? Offer to let your neighbor compost their waste with yours, or offer some of your homemade magic soil to someone who gardens or has outdoor plants. (tip: don't use compost on indoor plants -- you may be sorry when little critters start to hatch!)

Questions about composting? Log onto the Going Green Yahoo Group and ask away. I'm sure you'll find many folks who have the knowledge you need to get started or keep going!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Cat is (MMMRRRRROOWWWWW!) Outta The Bag

You know, one year ago when I started carrying my own reusable grocery bags everywhere, I felt like Supreme Eco Dork. But now? It's totally vogue.

Did I start this super trend? Of course I did. not. But it is cool to see so many people with their own set of reusable bags trotting around Kroger.

I imagine most of you who are reading this blog have your own set of bags too. If you don't - that's your challenge. Pick up a few bags - you can usually find them right at your grocery store for under a buck. Target has some really large ones that fold up flat and fit in your purse. You can always make your own as well, or just re-use some sturdy bags you have laying around at home.

If you already use bags for groceries, step it up a notch. Make sure you carry your own produce and/or deli bags. And don't forget to take your bags with you when you shop at the hardware store, the bookstore, the mall. Basically, vow not to take another plastic bag from anyone ever again.

And if you're already doing all that, then practice a random act of kindness to the planet. The next time you're at the grocery store, give one of your bags (you know you've collected way more than you need!) to the person behind you. I promise they will appreciate it and, who knows, you may just convince someone else the value of going green.

**That photo is offered courtesy of fellow eco-blogger, Organic Needle, who happens to sew produce bags and other organic cotton items and sells them on Etsy. And yeah, this is as close to an "ad" as it gets on my page. And no, she doesn't send me any money. In fact, she doesn't send me anything. Not even cookies. But she has promised me a reusable iced tea bag sometime soon. And boy am I thirsty. ;-)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Meat Market

Food has played such a HUGE role in my greenification (my word, you can use it - 2% royalty, though). From joining a CSA, planting a Victory Garden, shopping at the Farmer's Market, buying organic (ummm, how did I manage not to make that a blogpost?), meal planning, eating less meat, avoiding factory-farmed meat, avoiding corn syrup. The list goes on and on....

But I promised this would be easy. One year to a greener you. So let's take it one small step at a time. We'll start with the big impact stuff first - Stop Eating Factory Farmed Meat.

You've heard the stats before, but I'll put them out there again - just to remind us all how many resources are required to raise feed-lot cows for food.

  • Ten people could be fed with the grain that you would feed a cow that would be turned into food for one person

  • Each pound of steak from feedlot-raised steers that you eat comes at the cost of 5 pounds of grain, 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and about twenty-five pounds of eroded topsoil

  • Over 30% of North American land is devoted to grazing

  • Over 50% of America's cropland is dedicated to growing feed for livestock

  • The livestock industry consumes over half of the water used in the US

  • Livestock produces 130 times the amount of waste that people do

  • Every second of every day, one football field of tropical rain forest is destroyed in order to produce 257 hamburgers

  • Feedlot cattle produce almost one fifth of global methane emissions

In the past few generations, Americans have become a country of beef-eaters. This, no doubt, is due in large part to the fact that most of us don't raise our own food anymore. If we had to invest all the grain, space, time and energy required to raise a calf to maturity, we damn well wouldn't take that precious commodity, grind it up and brown it in a skillet with Cheesy Macaroni Hamburger Helper every night. It's insane to do that. What a huge, inefficient waste of resources.

Now don't get me wrong here, folks. I love to splurge on a nice, juicy porterhouse now and again. I'm a carnivore from way back. But the thing is -- and this is a hard concept for many of us to grasp -- we need to eat beef in moderation. If and when we do buy beef, it should come from a local farm that feeds the cows grass - not grain.

If you want to read more about this subject in depth, I highly recommend Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. Great read. For the attention-span challenged, just check out this NY Times Article - it says all the things I'd like to say, but without having to copy, paste and properly annotate.

Anyhow, I think if you're reading this blog, you already know that eating feedlot beef is bad for the environment. So the challenge is to reduce your current consumption of feedlot beef to ZERO. That's right, the big donut. None. Zilch. Nada. Nuttin'.

That doesn't mean you can't enjoy a good steak now and again. It just means you need to go find a source other than your grocery store. Like maybe, I dunno, a farmer. It's easier than you think - start at And if any of my non-US readers have sites that will help their fellow countrymen find local, sustainably raised meat, by all means share!

If you've already given up all factory-farmed beef, then your job is to introduce someone else to the world of sustainable agriculture. Share a burger or steak with a friend or family member to let them taste the difference. Take them to the farm where you buy your meat. Show them the nasty-ass video of sick factory farm cows. Explain to them that grass-fed beef is not only better for the environment, but better for their health. Basically, try to get them to join our side.

And don't think I've forgotten about you vegetarians. Sitting there all smug like you don't have to participate. HA! You've got the toughest job of all! Hop on the Yahoo! Group and share your favorite vegetarian recipe with the rest of us! A good, filling one. Not one that will have our hubbies saying "well that's pretty and all, but where's the food?"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Recycle This!

I received a lot of comments on my post about switching to a renewable energy source that said something to the effect of: "Renewable energy wasn't available in my area last year, but then I checked the site and now it IS available! WooHoo!" (ed: WooHoo! emphasis added). And so I thought it might be a good time for all of us to revisit another old friend - our municipality's waste management site. You know, just in case things have changed and we somehow got left out of the loop.

Checking what can and cannot be recycled in my area was one of the first changes I made last year, and I was SOOOOO glad I did it! I moved to Virginia from Upstate New York three years ago and never bothered to learn how my new town handled recycling. A lot of things I thought were recyclable in New York, weren't in Virginia and vice versa. I learned that cereal boxes could be recycled in Virginia, but pizza boxes could not. I learned that my local recycler can accept #1 and #2 plastics, but that #3, #4, #5, #6 & #7 were not recyclable where I live.

I could ramble on and on about what I learned, but it would be pointless, since every municipality is different. You need to see what is recyclable where you live. So off you go, on another hunt for information. Shouldn't take too long, just Google your county/parish/city name and the words "recycling program". Yeah, it's a party in a pc. Nothing says "good times" like spending an afternoon scouring the internet, looking for information on recycling. It's like surfing for porn, except it's boring and you can use both hands when you type.

If you happen to go to your local area's recycling site and don't learn anything new, then you get an A+ today for being such a smarty. You also get an extra assignment: Plan a field trip to the recycling facility to see how it's all done - in person! I visited our recycling facility this past spring and learned stuff at the site that I never would have discovered just by perusing their website.

When you're done, tell us something interesting or weird that you learned about recycling in your area!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Real Deal or Just Another Blow Job?

Interesting article about oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens introducing a renewable energy plan. Is it an altruistic act, a smart business move or a little of both? And should we even care about his motives?

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Let It All Hang Out

Line Drying The Wash

Now that you've switched your energy supplier to a renewable source, let's get started on some energy saving changes. Otherwise, you might end up with a higher bill than usual. Yes, the winds of change do cost a bit more, but by changing some wasteful habits at home, you'll actually see a significant reduction in your monthly bill.

I started rack and line drying my clothes this past spring and was amazed by how much money I saved on the electric bill. It really shouldn't come as much surprise, though, considering that a dryer is one of the most energy-sucking appliances in the home. My particular model uses about 3 kWh per load to dry. Multiply that by approximately 20 loads per month (or more) and you're looking at over a $6.00 savings for one simple change.

Now, I've heard a bit of discussion online about the many reasons people can't / won't line dry: prohibitive HOA rules, allergy concerns, arachnophobia, bird poop, limited space, no line, inconvenience, blah, blah, blah. However, if you hang your line inside the house, most of these issues become, well, non-issues.

Here's the deal: if you have room for a washer and dryer - you have room for an indoor line. I have one of those 5-line retractable jobbies that is mounted right over my washer and dryer. Works like a frickin' charm and holds an entire load of laundry. If I happen to run out of room, then I start tossing clothes over the shower rod, onto the backs of the kitchen chairs or on door knobs. Sure my house sometimes looks like a stripper convention just met, but hey, I'm saving loads of electricity!

So really, the only excuse that really holds water (so to speak) is that hanging laundry is a bit of an inconvenience. Mmmmhmmmm. You know what else is inconvenient? Not having a habitable planet. That's really inconvenient. So nut up and install an indoor line already. And use it. Daily. No more excuses.

For those of you who are already line drying - take it to the max. Do it ALL. No more "I'll just put the load in for ten minutes to fluff it up". What are you? A delicate little flower? Toughen up already! Wear those crunchy panties and be proud! Besides, it'll de-sensitize your ass so that the recycled toilet paper won't bother you.

Already taking it to the max? Convince a friend or family member to give line drying a try. Help them install a clothes line or get them a 'nice rack' as a gift. Because once you go rack, you never go back.

As always, stop by the Yahoo! group for further discussion. The folks there always have tons of great ideas!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hey You Guuuuyyyyyyyssssss!

Welcome to Day One of the Going Green program here at Casa Burbanista! Our first change is easy to implement - if you happen to live in the right area.

It is to simply change your energy supplier from a coal-burning or other traditional, resource-sucking energy source to a renewable energy source such as wind, solar or biomass. I made this change last fall and it immediately lifted a buttload of guilt off my shoulders whenever I would accidentally leave a light on or need to dry clothes in a hurry. Here are some snippets from my original post on the subject:

Conventional electricity sources include coal, nuclear, oil, natural gas, and large hydropower facilities. These sources supply about 99% of the electricity used in the United States today. Many of these sources of energy would not be economically competitive if we were to pay their full costs, including damage to the environment and human health, security risks, and long-term storage costs.

These costs are borne by society, but are not reflected in our energy bills. They are paid for in other ways: higher health insurance premiums and defense expenditures, and long-term depletion of resources. Incorporating these external costs into the price of energy to give consumers accurate information on the true costs of energy is one of the most important challenges in creating a sustainable energy future.

My previous supplier of electricity was Dominion Power, whose energy source is mainly coal and nuclear. In fact, Dominion is spreading across the US, and is planning three new coal-fired power plants, one in Virginia, one in Ohio, and a mega-plant in an undisclosed location.

Fortunately, due to energy de-regulation you may be eligible to choose where your energy comes from. Yes, it's true! The US Department of Energy has a very user-friendly website that lest you click on your state to find companies that offer "green power" in your state. The results will include utility green pricing programs, retail green power products offered in competitive electricity markets, and renewable energy certificate (REC) products.

Now you might be thinking, yeah, that's green and all, but won't it cost more?

The short answer? Yes. A few cents per kilowatt hour. However, I know that Dominion, at least, has recently announced they will be increasing their rates by 18% soon, so the increase might not be so great. Plus, I PROMISE to bring you enough energy-saving tips over the next couple of months that will more than make up the difference!

What if there are no alternative energy suppliers in your area? Well that just sucks. Go grab your handy-dandy list of representatives and write them each a short letter asking them what they are doing to facilitate alternative energy options in your region.

What if you've already made this change? Congrats to you! But that means you get stuck with a harder assignment: You need to go talk to your employer about changing their energy supplier.

What if you need help finding an alternative supplier and you don't live in the US so all the informative links I gave do you no good? Hmmmm, this one's trickier. Lord knows I'll be no hope, since I'm already on vacation! Why not try hopping on the Yahoo! Group and asking for help... that's what it's there for!

Good luck with this change! Hope to hear some discussion on the group. Have a safe and sane Fourth of July, my American friends. I'll see you all on Monday.

- 'Burbs