Archive for the ‘One/Change tips’ Category

Opportunities

I have gathered different bits of information over the past few years about this plot of land.  Though I do not know for a fact that any of my conclusions are true, but my observations are.  We have walked by this place regularly for years and have seen its evolution.  All things change and we can help direct that change for good.

First, if you can imagine, there was a house here.  The house was torn down and soon after hand made signs were put up expressing anger, sadness, injustice, and grief over what took place.  Some of the signs were written as apologies to the person that lived there.  Her home was gone and now so was she.

Very soon after all the small hand-made signs were torn down and replaced by a large city council sign:

Land Use Action Site

Proposed Development Permit

Or something like that.  Anyway, the land had been bought and what they hoped to build was another set of tightly packed, 3 story town homes, each probably being budgeted to sell for at least $500,000.  This has become pretty standard here—probably not just here.  Well, it did not take long before the sign was covered in graffiti, some of it protesting the newly proposed construction.  Fences were put up and the lot set empty for at least a year.  The next thing to happen was that the land continued to sit empty, but one day the large sign was down.  Then again, nothing.  Just an empty lot.

From the beginning you could tell that something in the neighborhood was stirring about this piece of land.  Since, we were mere walk-by observers and remained to be (it wasn’t our fight, sometimes you just know) the signs were our only guide to what was happening.  We just kept hoping the good guys would win….to me that meant the community winning!

The next thing we know, we walk by and there is a notice that the City of Seattle now owns this property.  That still could mean anything.  They could sell or they could turn it into a community space.  But, it wasn’t long before we walked by and saw that it would be a future neighborhood park!  As of right now they are still planning out the space.  There are meetings and discussions, but the lot is not longer vacant.  They have opened it up for temporary use (before the official park construction actually takes place) and it is great.  The community has very respectfully taken advantage of this opportunity.  At first it was just a rocky patch of weeds, which Finn and I played in!  But it is growing.  Now, people are growing food. There is a picnic table.  A table and chairs.  Chalk and a big wall which people of all ages draw on.  Finn and I love going there and I actually like it better than most designed public parks.  It feels like a community backyard.  I kind of think this is the way a lot of things are supposed to work.  People being involved and caring.  It gives the community an opportunity to take ownership and pride in it.

I know I could have gotten involved in this or at least used my curiosity to do some research, but I didn’t.  One thing I think we all need to know are the battles we are and are not going to fight.  We can’t fight them all and sometimes it’s just nice to go for a walk, observe, and wonder.  Remember, this is important too.  Balance.

However, when something does stir in you and pull you toward it…go after it!  There are opportunities and sometimes it works out!

Thank you for all those who created this pleasant and peaceful space.  I already have many lovely memories of time spent here.

Links for more detailed (and accurate information):

Capitol Hill Seattle Blog (CHS): Post #1 Post #2

Seattle.gov: Federal/Republican Park Info

Yahoo Groups: Federal/Republican Park

Stop Unwanted Phone Books

In Seattle if you want to stop getting unwanted phone books the city has made it very easy to accomplish this.

Go to www.seattle.gov/stopphonebooks

I just did it and it took me 2 minutes.

Financial Sustainability: Our Attempt at Living It

As we have come to realize that living a financially sustainable life is important to us being able to living a holistically sustainable life, we have arrived at a method that works for us…most of the time.

We have put all our debt on a dry erase board with the total at the top and have it visible in our home.  It is a reminder to us that we have debt we are working to pay off and an encouragement when we feel discouraged that our choices are making a difference to the financial well-being of our family.

In pursuing this we need to remind each other often that we are limiting our spending so that we can pay off our debt.  We are changing how our brains think about finances and that does not happen quickly or easily.  We are creating new grooves in our brain!

Having a budget that we are legalistic about does not work for our family. So, in the stead of a budget Kendall and I talk to each other about finances, spending, and our debt regularly.  After trying many strategies we have found that this is what works for us.  We often ask the question when it comes to spending, “How does this fit into our No Spending Spree?”  It means that we are regularly evaluating priorities and doing cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether or not to spend money.  It means that we take into account the whole picture of what sustainability means to our family; looking at all the pieces.  In order to do this well we have to know what our priorities are.  There are many things that are important to us or that we really want, that we just cannot afford to pay for right now.  And, when we feel frustrated about this situation we remind ourselves or each other of the importance of acceptance, that this is the path we have chosen, and that it is not our money.  We try to gain a greater perspective on what it is that we are so upset about not being able to have and usually find that there is some greater underlying reason for our feeling.

It also means that there are things we do decide to spend money on. However, it often takes on a different form than it did before.  We are more thoughtful and creative about our solutions:

  • We shop at home.  This is a phrase that I learned from a friend and I love it.  We use what we already have and supplement (often creatively) what we don’t.
  • We have found that when we open our eyes, that living in the city is a great place to just find things for free (Also, knowledge gained from friends).
  • We do a lot more repairing, fixing up, and mending, which often turns out to be fun.  Before we would have thrown or given the item away or not thought to purchase a certain item because it is not exactly what we had in mind.  Now, we get to learn all this new stuff.  The kind of stuff I used to always ask people, “How’d you know that?”.  And when, what needs to be fixed up or repaired is out of our league we pay a tradesperson who is great at their job to do it.

This path is long and often it is hard.  This path has also unintentionally led us to lead a more environmentally sustainable life.  It has caused us to choose do what is better for our family and in many ways that has resulted in providing us with better time together as a family.  This path led us to go camping for our family vacation last summer with our then little 9 month old baby and it was one of the best times we have had together.  It has also opened us up to our community.  We have needed others to help us financially at times and we have also received great amounts of generosity as those in our community spontaneously shower us with help, love, and fun gifts.

We live a more mindful life now and as a result we live a life that is closer to the ideals we value.  I will not downplay how hard it can be and how much we feel like we are missing out sometimes, but without even the slightest hesitation I can say that this is by far better for our family.  Through a ripple effect, living a financially sustainable life has brought us a much richer quality of life, whereas, the life we were living “mired in debt” bought us a life of stuff and stress.

Financial Sustainability in Our Home

Kendall and I have been working on paying off our debt.  We have quite a bit of it.  Most of it is student loans, but there are other significant bits of debt too.  It has accumulated over the years, in various ways for various reasons.  While I have never felt that living in debt was okay, and have constantly been stressed out by our debt, we have treated debt as normal. We saw it as being a normal part of adult life.  So, we made our monthly payments, but we have also made many trips to visit our families, gone on vacations, and spent money as if we didn’t have debt and it was our money to spend.  All the while, doing our best to be financially responsible.  Credit was our way to live the lifestyle we wanted and at the time, it was outside our realm of thinking that this was anything but acceptable.

Over the past few years though, this has been changing.  We began to understand that living a sustainable life extended beyond “being green”.  We finally realized what debt actually was: we owed people money.  This way of living was so completely normalized to us, that this completely obvious fact was hidden from our awareness.  The money that we were earning was not ours, we owed it to other people, even if those “other people” were creditors. Coming to this understanding has completely changed the way we live and it is HARD.

While debt did not exactly sneak up on us, it has taken us years to figure out the impact this debt has on our lives.  Interest rates, monthly payments, the accruement of debt, etc. has bound us.  We were living beyond our own financial sustainability. For years now we have been working (increasingly, as our understanding has increased) to free ourselves from our own debt.  There are times when we want to quit and there are times when we do (but we always get back to our “No Spending Spree”) .  But, our main financial objective is to live a sustainable life and to provide our son with an example of financial responsibility that we never had growing up.

Window Boxes

We wanted to make some window boxes and we knew that our friends over at The Urban Farmers Almanac had some wood leftover from a deck project last summer. We decided to see if we could get together and make some sustainability magic happen.

It did. Oh did it. Not only did they have an extra cedar board that we could use, Dan was willing to help me build it too (actually, save me from severing a finger with a power saw). A few weeks ago, on a Saturday I ventured over to my favorite urban farm to see what we could whip up. An hour later I headed home with this whopper of a window box. Thanks to Dan, Alicia and special help from Hannah.

Later that afternoon, we wanted to take advantage of our newest home/garden accoutrement, so we grabbed our potting soil and seeds and went to work. We dropped some seed for Little Caesar lettuce, Tuscan Kale and Arugula. We’re gonna be eating right this summer! Every time I walked by our garden, I looked to see if anything had sprouted. Not too long after we planted, we started to see little glimpses of our future food. Right now, we’re just starting to see some of the true leaves, but we hope to have some full-blown leaves soon. We’ll keep you updated.

Organic Gardening

grow vegetables in your home

Now that Spring is here and the tulips have bloomed it is the time to start thinking about gardening. Have you considered starting a garden? It is a daunting task to consider, but really a garden is rather enjoyable project.

I only started gardening last year.? I decided to dive right in and found a community garden plot in our neighborhood. Our community that we live in is known to have high lead levels due to the number of houses that are over 100 years old and the lead paint that was used on the exterior of the houses has leached heavily into the soil.? So the community garden was a great option for us because it had all new soil and we did not have to worry about lead or other contaminants.? A community garden may not be an option for you, but if you have even a small amount of space, a container garden may be just the right thing, just make sure you get enough sun (South facing areas are the best).

So why do I care about gardening and think it is worth the effort to go get some pots and seeds or plants:

  1. It costs less than buying veggies or herbs at the store
  2. Whatever you grow will taste better because you put the effort into growing it
  3. You will end up eating more veggies
  4. It feels great when you can say, ?I grew that!?

So if you are going to garden in the yard or in pots or on your window ledge, it really is easy for everyone. For your first year, don?t be surprised if some things don?t grow, pick plants that are hardy and will grow.

  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Tomatoes

Start small, choose a few things to grow.? After a month, if they are still alive and you think you can handle the time to water a few more plants, then get more!

When it comes caring for a garden, it really does not take much time.? Everyday it takes a? few minutes to water the plants. If it rains, then you get the day off.

Every week or so it is good to check the plants that are growing and see if there are any pests eating your plant. Pests are where organic gardening comes in. You can use harmful pesticides in your garden, but then you will end up eating the pesticides that have coated your beautiful veggies. Instead of using pesticides there are plenty of safe, effective, pest management solutions available. When you do find a pest on your plant, make sure it is truly a pest. There are plenty of bugs that help with the growth and elimination of harmful bugs on plants. So if you think your plants are being eaten by a pest, look it up online. There are plenty of resources available online to help solve your garden problems, without using a toxic expensive pesticide.

Enjoy your veggies and herbs!

Sustainable Home Decorating on a Budget

Over the past year I have come to the realization that many people I know have an uncanny knack for something, not that unlike a superpower.? Dan and Alicia have this amazing ability to find anything.? It is almost as if God has sent angels for the sole purpose of bestowing them with free gifts.? Like last Fall, walking our neighborhood they found and gathered enough apples to make gallons and gallons of apple cider.? Meanwhile, Kendall and I couldn’t even find a single apple tree on our walks.? Similarly, Jared is the king of getting steals-of-a-deal when it comes to buying anything from train tickets to office furniture.? Then there is my sister, Kathryn, who can sell anybody anything (usually on craigslist) while never budging on her price.? When moving from Chicago to Houston last summer with only room for what would fit in her Civic, she had to sell many of her possessions and after doing so found that she made a profit in the process.

Well, today, I am happy that we are being joined by one of my superheroes.? Kathryn has been kind enough to agree to share another one of her gifts.? With her cross country moves (Dallas to Chicago to Houston) Kathryn has gotten unbelievably good at sustainably furnishing empty apartments on a small budget.? She has gathered a few of her tricks and ideas and written them out for us below.? Please give her a warm welcome!? Enjoy.

Oh and I think the key to all of their superpowers may be vision and balls.? I am not sure which one I am missing.


?We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors….we borrow it from our children.?
-Native American Proverb

This quote inspired me to share with you some ideas that can not only ?cuten? up your home, but make you feel good about doing it!

One of the greatest issues facing our environment is the severe amount of waste that we produce. We can all do our part to reduce the number of disposable items we use, but we can also help by reusing what we already have. Have you ever had a table that just didn?t work with your room anymore? Or a lampshade you suddenly found dull? Before you toss it, here are some ideas to spruce it up and essentially create a new table, without the waste and without the buck.

An easy way to add a little pop to your room is to recover your table with a cute fabric or paper. Start with the top and move to the legs if you are up for a bit of a challenge. Arrange your paper/fabric (you can combine several different styles to create a fun design) onto the top of the table. Make sure the papers/fabrics are cut to fit the exact size. Place your design aside and paint the table with a water-based polycrylic protective finish. Now lay your design back on top of the glue and set it in place. Use the same protective finish to paint a seal on top of the design. Repeat this process on the legs if you desire.

A more complicated, yet rewarding, approach to recovering your table is to mosaic it. You can always find cheap plates at any second hand store. Just break them up and adhere them in a fun pattern with craft glue. Add some grout and you will have a brand new look.? Here are a couple tutorials I found.

If you like painting, you can always paint (using zero-VOC paint) a solid color on the table and then paint a fun design or pattern on the top or sides. I?m a big fan of silhouettes, so I constantly find myself painting something black and then painting a leaf or floral silhouette on top. You will end up creating a completely unique piece that can?t be found at the closest Pier 1.

Even if you don?t have an older piece of your own to play with, Craigslist and garage sales are the perfect places to find a fixer upper. For $5-$10 you can find solid pieces that simply need a makeover. This way you save money buying used, you cut down on the amount of waste the table could potentially cause, and you find yourself with hours of entertainment creating your own masterpiece.

kat-1

A fun idea I had came about when I was shopping at the Canton Marketplace. I found an old window for $7 in the garage sale section. I also had an Eiffel Tower poster displayed at home in a regular frame and I wasn?t crazy about the look. So, I took the window home, cleaned it up with a rag and then placed the poster behind the window, transforming a regular poster into a really unique addition to the living room. Even better is that it only cost about $15 total for the window and poster.

kat-2

Just remember….don?t limit yourself and don?t worry about messing up! Almost anything can be sanded down for a clean start. These techniques can be used on picture frames or mirrors as well. Basically treat any item as though it is your canvas for creation! Check back in soon to find a fun and easy way to liven up your lampshade and much more!

How can you help those sweet bees and chirpy birdies….

The Birds and Bees

The Bees:

Since the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD) is still being debated by bee keepers, researchers, and scientists we unfortunately can do little to help with the solution.? However, we do know when these kind of crises occur, it is always the small scale operations that are hit the hardest.

So, what can you do?? Support small, local bee keepers by purchasing their products.

The Birds:

We do know the causes (and there are quite a few) of the sharp decline of common backyard birds and fortunately we are able to still act to help.? The best overall resource is the National Audubon Society.? They are a terrific organization that has been around in one form or another since the 1800′s.? This is a list of things you can do straight from their site:

Protect Local Habitat
Join local Audubon Chapters and other groups to protect and restore habitats close to home. Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program offers opportunities to save critical bird habitat, from small land parcels to broad landscapes.

Promote Sound Agricultural Policy
This has enormous impact on grassland birds and habitat. Promoting strong conservation provisions in the federal Farm Bill and Conservation Reserve Program can help to protect millions of acres of vital habitat.

Support Sustainable Forests
The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada is essential breeding territory for many species of birds. Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling.

Protect Wetlands
Support for local, state and federal wetlands conservation programs is essential to protect a wide array of species. Learn more.

Fight Global Warming
Declining birds populations is just one impact of global warming’s mounting threat to people and wildlife around the world. Individual energy conservation along with strong federal, state, and local legislation to cap greenhouse emissions can help to curb its worst consequences. Learn more.

Combat Invasive Species
Invasive non-native species disrupt the delicate ecological balance that sustains birds and other wildlife. Federal, regional, state, and local regulations are needed to combat this growing environmental threat. Learn more. The Audubon At Home program also offers tips for supporting birds with native plants.

The Audubon Society also has a page called Healthy Yard.? It is a great interactive picture that allows you to hover over aspects of it, such as the bird feeder and click through to find out more information, such as:

In the United States, 54 million people FEED BIRDS around their home. Tens of thousands participate in citizen science projects, conducting bird censuses in their own backyards to help ornithologists track population trends.

I found it very accessible and helpful.? It is also a great activity that you can do with your kids and then together you can pick a project to work on.? Encouraging your kids to be informed and be a part of the solution empowers them and teaches them to be actively involved in the world.? If you are looking for more birding activities to do with your children, the Audobon Society has a space on their site dedicated to children’s education.

In addition to/with emphasis on here are my own tips to keeping those crazy birds around:

  1. Condensed urban living is the way to go to combat urban sprawl.? The less land we bulldoze, cover with cement, lots of houses, and perfectly manicured lawns the better.
  2. SHARE.? Whether you live in a house or an apartment transform your yard or the area surrounding your apartment into a healthy living space for birds and other animals (again I will point you to Audubon’s Healthy Yard).? Remember that much of being a good steward and being a part of a healthy ecosystem means having biological diversity within our shared space.? It is not OK or healthy to move into a habitat once occupied by many species and transforming it into a controlled and sterile environment.? So, make room for the birds and other creatures.? We can have our space and they theirs.
  3. Do a little research on what birds are native to your area (look online or check a book out of the library).? They buy or make a bird feeder filled with food for those birds.? It is important that you keep your bird full of clean food.? Birds will come to depend on this food, especially in the winter, so please keep it stocked.? Also, do not feed birds moldy bread or seeds, this will make birds sick when they eat it and try to get or make a squirrel proof feeder.? As a side note, if you do the research of birds in your area with your kids they can begin to look out for those birds.? Encourage them to draw the birds, their feathers, the eggs, what kind of nests they have, and even what they eat.? Some kids may even want to keep a journal recording their bird encounters.

A few resources:

Books

Feeding Our Feathered Friends by Dean T. Spaulding

The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible by Sally Roth

Make Your Own Bird Houses and Feeders by Robyn Haus

Sites

Important Bird Areas Program

Audubon At Home

The Crafty Crow: Feed the Birds and Wild Bird Treats

Mongabay

Birds in Backyards

Mary’s View

Make and Craft have a lot of tutorials on making your own bird feeder

Build A Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder for Under $10

Sweatshop Free/Fair Trade Shopping

I was asked in response to my post yesterday to provide some suggestions as to what some of the best/worst companies to support are with regard to fair trade or to provide a resource.? Co-op America’s Repsonsible Shopper is probably the best resource that I can point you to.? It allows you to search for companies and get information about their environmental and social track record.? It is not a comprehensive list, but they are always adding new companies to their directory. Gap (this includes Old Navy and Banana Republic), Wal-Mart are some of the most notoriously bad companies as far as fair trade practices go.? Gap has repeated accounts of terrible working conditions overseas, including employing children as young as 10 years old in their sweatshops.? Some of the biggest complaints against Wal-Mart involve its treatment of workers in America.? According to reports, thousands of their employees are underpayed and rely on government assistance to meet their basic needs.? Nike is another traditionally bad company to support, however, they have been making a concerted effort to change their overseas labor practices. They recently have been more transparent about the locations of their factories and are being independently monitored.

Co-op America also has a great article on sweat shop free clothing.

Here is a list of some basic tips:

  1. Buy local.? Not only does this support your local economy, but you get to know the person creating the product and you can ask them as many questions as you like about their practices.? This goes for anything from food to clothing.? The clothing will more than likely be more expensive because it is handmade, but it guarantees that the product that wasn’t made in a sweatshop.? Etsy is a fun site to check out for handmade goods.
  2. Buy used products.? Go to a thrift store or local consignment shop and look around.? You will find some great deals.
  3. Research the companies you are buying from.
  4. Look for a UNITE label.

It is important to note that none of these can guarantee that the entire product was made in a fair trade facility.? Most products are assembled from pieces made all over the world and a Made in America label could mean that only the finishing touches were put on in America (like buttons).? However, following these guidelines is still important.? It is just not a perfect solution to the social justice issues of labor practices.

Here are a few more helpful resources in your search for responsible shopping:

No Sweat Apparel

Co-op America’s National Green Pages

Green Home’s Products Page

Fair Green Trade

The Green Earth Directory

Finally, I would like to leave you with an interesting article on Portland, OR, a city that is attempting to go sweatshop free.

Buying local and helping the economy

If you are wanting to help boost the economy the best thing that you can do is buy from small, local businesses. This may seem like a trivial act in light of the current economic crisis; I assure you it is not.

Compared to multi-million/billion dollar companies, local businesses are by many viewed as a novelty rather than a commodity–it is in this realm that locally owned business are a “quaint” reminder of the past. They serve to bring about those nostalgic memories of our grandmothers or even great-grandmothers. Unfortunately, for local businesses the ?quaint? is also viewed as being unimportant to the “big picture” and thus, dispensable. Yet, like many of our grandmothers (and great-grandmothers) small, local businesses are surprisingly wily, strong, and resilient and offer valuable contributions to the community.

What is important with regard to this topic is that small, local businesses strengthen the local economy. A study in Austin, TX showed that for every $100 in consumer spending at a national chain bookstore the local economic impact was $13. The same amount spent at locally based bookstores yielded $45, or more than three times the local economic impact. Another study done in Maine showed that locally owned businesses spent 44.6 percent of their revenue within the surrounding two counties. Conversely, larger corporations returned an estimated 14.1 percent of their revenue to the local economy, mostly as payroll. The rest leaves the state. Finally, studies tell us that small firms give to charity an average of more than two and a half times the amount per employee than do medium or large firms (small firms give $789 per employee, medium-sized firms $172, and large firms $334).

This is just a taste of the benefits of supporting small, local businesses. So please if you are going to go out there and spend money, please do it at a small local business.

**Statistical information within in this post was gathered from the following sources: http://www.civiceconomics.com/Andersonville/html/reports.html
www.newrules.org/retail/midcoaststudy.pdf

http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/pdf/wmtstudy.pdf

**In the spirit of full disclosure the folks running this site are small business owners. (http://www.vigilanteweb.com and http://jessieandanne.etsy.com)

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