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May 30, 2009–Today’s Way: The average blow dryer uses about 4.5 kilowatt hours per month, and that is based on only 5 minutes of drying time per day.  For someone with very long hair, like myself, that number goes up significantly.  A really easy way to save some money and some energy is to just let your hair dry naturally.  This time of year, it’s easy…with abundant sunshine and a natural bristle brush, my hair is dry in no time.  Of course, it’s not always feasible to let nature take its course—sometimes we’re in a hurry.  But all those days when we aren’t can really add up.  Just imagine if you didn’t use the hair dryer on weekends only, you could save about 1.2 kilowatt hours per month, or 14.4 (and remember, that’s the conservative estimate).  So, if you don’t have to be anywhere, or if your hair doesn’t require special blower styling, let it fly and save some greenhouse gases for us all.  Your hair will certainly thank you for it (heat damages hair shafts…drying naturally usually results in softer, healthier and shinier hair) and so will the planet.

May 28, 2009–Today’s Way: A simple idea, and not a new one for you organized types is to pre-plan your route when running errands so that all of your stops are grouped along a loop, so that you aren’t driving back and forth across town all willy-nilly.  Also, if you can, plan your route to maximize right turns so that you spend less time idling and waiting at lights to turn.  Overall, you’ll save yourself more time, more money and more fuel, and reduce the amount of unnecessary carbon emissions being pumped out into our atmosphere.

May 24, 2009 –Today’s Way: Okay, all you lawn people.  Listen up.  I know you know we’ve all been sold a bill of goods by the grass seed and weed chemical industry, but we’re intelligent individuals with the ability to think critically and independently, right?  We know that the commercials for weed & feed products showing perfect, exquisitely trim and seductively luscious green carpets, sprawling before us and lit with a brilliant sunset is an impossible dream.  They’re just setting us up for failure, with these unattainable ideas.  I mean, those lawns are not real.  We know better.  And still, there we are, every other day from thaw to frost, going over our lawns with a fine tooth comb, nit-picking and assessing, armed with hazardous chemical spray guns, shooting anything resembling a dandelion and taking names later.  We mow it.  A lot.  We water it.  A lot.  We fret over it.  We fertilize it.  We cover it with pesticides and herbicides, we trim it, we edge it and we look at it.  But how much time do we actually spend enjoying it?  We certainly can’t let the kids play on it, what with all the chemical heat it’s packing.  Nevermind that there are no birds or natural wildlife to speak of, because they’re probably dead.  But by-gum, there’s a lawn out there, and it’s green.  And, um.  Straight.  And…green?

My question is, why are we Americans striving for a perfect lawn in the first place?  Where in nature do we see anything resembling the ideal that we so mindlessly chase?  Why, especially, are people who live in the desert, mind you, spending hundreds of dollars and wasting thousands of gallons of fresh drinking water just to have a perfect patch of green surrounding them?  It’s silly, when you really sit down and think about it.  And it’s also a big environmental problem.  The mowers and all their polluting emissions, not to mention the constant noise.  The chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides which, yes, kill grubs but they also indiscriminately kill the beneficial butterflies and bees and birds as well.  All of those chemicals have to go somewhere, and that’s directly into our ground water, our lakes, streams, rivers and, eventually, into the oceans.  And for what?  Where in the world did we get this impossible ideal in the first place?

It is believed that short grasses first came to be favored by early settlers due to their ability to see potential enemies from afar.  Others believe it was the influence of the great British estates and their manicured lawns and gardens which well-to-do early Americans were attempting to mimic, and then the idea spread to the middle class and the working class and so on…and soon the sprawling green carpet of the estate was shrunk down and applied to every little postage stamp sized patch in the country.  For whatever reason, we Americans have embraced the lawn, and all of the laborious maintenance that comes with it.

Well, I’m here to stand up and declare my freedom from the lawn.  We’ve begun eliminating our grass, one island of garden at a time.  We have the wildflower meadow area (which is just what popped up naturally when we stopped mowing on the Northern side of our property and it’s quite pretty), we have the woodland gardens with delicate native wild geranium, periwinkle and lily of the valley mingling with mushrooms, ferns and wild leeks.  We have the shade garden, where columbines and bleeding hearts glow their brillant colors out from under the cool shelter of trees.  We have the herb garden.  We have the vegetable garden.  And soon we’ll have more.  Our goal is to eliminate as much lawn from our nearly two acres as possible, so that mowing will be a cinch (instead of a day-long project requiring a lawn tractor and several tall glasses of mint iced tea a couple of times per week).  And instead of a lawn—which, let’s face it, is a greedy mistress who just takes and takes—we are surrounding ourselves with beauty and reaping the bounty, in the form of fresh cut flowers, cheerful color, brilliant butterflies, singing birds, leaping bunnies and graceful deer, not to mention fragrant herbs and the juiciest of fresh vegetables.  Most importantly, we’ll no longer be slaves to the call of the machines—the buzz and roar of all those lawn mowers and trimmers and blowers that begins at dawn every weekend, and carried out by the weekend warriors.  And my yard will be one less polluting patch in a greener (not grassier) world.

Care to come along?

May 19, 2009–Today’s Way: Summer seems to have finally found us here in Michigan, and it couldn’t have arrived a day too soon.  With the hot weather, I start thinking about drinking my daily tea on ice.  This weekend, as you plan for your Memorial Weekend cookout, picnic or gardening marathon, harness the freely available sunshine and make yourself a delicious batch of sun tea.  You can use one of those handy dandy sun tea jugs with a pouring spout, but if you don’t have one, any large glass jar with a lid will do.  Fill the clean jar with fresh water, add your favorite tea bags or herbs from your garden (I love combinations of peppermint and lemon balm, or slices of fresh lemons and ginger root), fit the lid and then set outside in the open and let the sun do the rest of the work for you.  A few hours later, strain and refrigerate for a full pot of refreshing tea to restore you all weekend long.  And best of all, you won’t need to use any extra energy or heat up your kitchen on an already hot day.

May 17, 2009–Today’s Way: Of all the kitchen contraptions and doo-dads we’ve acquired over the years, the most valuable by far is our pressure cooker.  Often overlooked in the modern household (or looked at in head-scratching bafflement by friends and family), pressure cookers are a great way to cook foods faster while preserving more nutrients.  Everything from soups to beans and rice to potatoes and even roasts are cooked quicker under pressure, which means that more nutrients are retained.  Pressure cookers also require less water because they trap and pressurize steam to cook the food, in about half the time.  And of course, the less time the food is on the stove, the more energy (and dollars) you’ll save as well.

Look for a quality pressure cooker, which will have a safety locking mechanism as well as a pressure adjustment for different types of cooking.  To learn more about choosing and using pressure cookers, visit this article.

May 14, 2009–Today’s way: It’s not glamorous, but bringing your lunch to work will save you a lot of money and it’ll also save the environment from a lot of excess takeout food packaging in the waste stream.  All those little packets of condiments or salad dressings, plastic sporks, napkins as well as the cartons and bags food is carried in add up fast, and most of them end up in a landfill near you.  And that’s not even considering the amount of energy, trees and water that were used to make that packaging in the first place.  So take just a couple minutes of extra time to plan your meals the night before, and make yourself a healthy, delicious lunch, pack it with your reusable utensils and food carriers and enjoy a trashless lunch.

And to go in style and for inspiration, check out these cool stainless steel lunch containers.

May 13, 2009–Today’s Way: If you’ve got a large yard like ours and using a reel (powerless) push mower just isn’t an option, using an efficient mulching power mower is the next best choice (apart from not having a lawn to mow at all).  Mulching mowers, whether a push-type or riding style, not only cut the grass, but also chop it up into smaller bits and then scatter them across the grass.  The reason this is a good idea is that the chopped bits of grass settle down in between the blades of new grass, providing a light mulch that helps to hold moisture as well as fortifying the soil be eventually composting down to the roots.  It’s a win-win situation, and no one has to follow behind you to rake up the grass and put it into yard waste bags or the compost bin.  Of course, always try to purchase the most efficient modern mulching mower you can afford; it will save you fuel costs as well as reduce the emissions compared to an older mower.

May 9, 2009–Today’s Way: Did you know that, on average, the American home wastes anywhere between 12,000 and 16,000 (yep, those are thousands) of gallons of fresh water every single year, just waiting for hot water?  You know the drill—you turn on the faucet, and depending on how far your water heater is located from the faucet you are attempting to use, you can wait minutes for the hot water to find you.  Luckily, there is a brilliant solution: Tankless water heaters (they’re also called On-Demand Water Heaters and Instant Water Heaters).  An on-demand unit is activated when you turn on the “hot” water on your faucet, and instantly sets about turning up the heat on your incoming water through  a series of tubes and heating elements, and only moments later delivering hot water to where you are.  Instead of a huge tank, which has to continually heat the water it holds whether it’s being used or not, a tankless unit only heats the water you need, when you need it, saving thousands of gallons of water over its lifetime.  And you’ll never run out of hot water again, because the water is heated as it’s being used, so no more cold showers (unless you want one).  These units are typically much more expensive than an average tank water heater, but your energy and water savings over time will be well worth the investment up front.  For large homes or when you anticipate having a high demand for hot water, it can be a good idea to get a few smaller units located closer to the point of useage instead of one large central one, but that’s another great thing about tankless water heaters—they take up very little space compared to a hot water tank and you can find small units which fit right underneath a sink.

For more information on demand water heaters and their energy and water conserving benefits, check out this helpful site or this one.

May 8, 2009–Today’s Way: I know I just did a post about purchasing from local farms via produce stands and farmer’s markets, but I felt that a discussion of food co-ops, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), deserved its own post.

In a time when farms and independent farmers are disappearing in increasing numbers every year, Community Supported Agriculture offers a new approach in saving the family farm.  In essence, CSA is a program where you purchase a year or a season of produce from a local farm in advance.  The farmer then provides weekly pickup or dropoff points of your fresh produce for the duration of your pre-agreed period of time.  Each member or subscriber owns a share of the crops produced, and at the same time, ensures that the farmer is able to stay a farmer.  I love this idea, because it creates a direct connection between families and their food, and decreases the dependence of farms upon government subsidies in order to survive.  Also, most CSA farms focus their growing talents upon diversity among crops, with vegetables as well as fruits and some even provide herbs, honey, eggs and dairy—as opposed to the ubiquitous single-crop fields of corn or grain intended for animal feed which have become the primary focus of industrial farming (and subsidies) in our country.  Increasingly, CSAs are offering certified organic produce to their memberships, which is good for the health of our planet as well as its people.

For more information about where to find a local CSA or co-op near you, visit, or one of my favorite sites,

May 7, 2009–Today’s Way: You can save up to 10% on your average electricity bills just by unplugging unnecessary appliances when not in use.  Energy “vampires” are devices–especially electronics–which are trickling energy from your outlets even if they are not in use.  Phone battery chargers, devices with the block-style transformers, computer peripherals and anything that can be turned on with a remote control are the biggest vampires.  By unplugging them when not in use, you’ll save yourself a lot of cash and help reduce the carbon dioxide that’s contributing to global warming.  If you have a second fridge or freezer that isn’t full or isn’t in use, you can save hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide over the course of a year.  So look around your home or office today and see if you can’t slay a vampire or two.

May 6, 2009–Today’s Way: The early warm spring weather is bringing with it our fresh asparagus, wild leeks, spinach, lettuce and radishes, all poking their little green noses up out of the rich, black earth.  I didn’t manage to get the snow peas in yet and the field mice ate my pie pumpkin seeds but then, there’s always next year.  In the meantime, I know that whatever I can’t grow myself, I’ll be able to get at our local orchards and farm stands.  Even if you don’t live in a rural area like we do, farmer’s markets are popping up everywhere, even in the most urban areas.  And the reasons for shopping at your local market instead of the grocery chain are many.

Food grown locally requires less energy for transport and refrigeration, supports your local economy, tastes better and fresher because it was probably picked within only a day or two (if not that very morning), and if you’re lucky enough to have local organic farmers, then you’ll be able to avoid unnecessary chemical fertilizers and pesticides as well.  Our local markets and farm stands offer fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs in season, plus eggs of all colors, dairy and right-from-the-hive honey, not to mention crafts and handmade goods.  But aside from all the practical and environmental benefits of buying local, there’s just something so rewarding about knowing the faces who grew the food on your splendid table.  It creates a sense of community and keeps us connected to food and nature in a very real way.

To find local farms and markets in your area, the best place to go is

May 4, 2009–Today’s Way: Use your ceiling fans!  And if you don’t have ceiling fans, install some (preferably ones with the energy star rating).  Why?  Ceiling fans use only about as much electricity as a 100-watt lightbulb, yet can reduce your heating costs (yes, heating) by 10% over a winter.  By running a ceiling fan in the reverse or counter-clockwise direction on its lowest speed through the cold months, the fan gently circulates rising hot air back down to where you live, instead of the heat gathering along the top of the room where you don’t.  In the summer, running ceiling fans in tandem with (or rather than) an air conditioning system keeps air circulating, which evaporates the moisture from your skin and making a room feel anywhere from 4-8 degrees cooler.  Most importantly, ceiling fans cost only pennies per day to operate versus dollars per day for an air conditioning unit, and uses vastly less energy while keeping your living areas comfortable.

For more information on choosing, using and installing ceiling fans, see here.

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