Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ringing out the old, embracing the new

As 2009 comes to a close, there is much to be thankful for. For me, it’s been a year of discovery. But it’s also been a year of regrets, illness, sorrow and loss. I imagine it’s been like that for you, too. Every year seems to be filled with a kaleidoscope of both the good and the bad. Sometimes really wonderful things are thrown in there, as well as horribly devastating things. All events adding color to our lives.

As I write this, the noon news is broadcasting a collage of famous personalities we lost this year – authors, musicians, politicians, actors, directors, etc. While I didn’t personally know any of them, I feel heavy with grief over all the losses. And I am reminded of people I know who said goodbye to those closest to them. Times when you want to shake the kaleidoscope and create a new collection of colors.

Unfortunately, a new year does not wipe out all the bad of the previous year. But it can lend perspective to pain and offer new beginnings.

I want to challenge you to be open to new ideas in 2010. Don’t hide behind the comfort of phrases like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” because, many times, the way you’ve always done it isn’t the healthiest way – emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically or environmentally. Face facts folks, our parents’ generation often wasn’t aware of dangers to the environment as they embraced progress without thinking about consequences. Even health issues weren’t thought through as they smoked and drank while pregnant, opted for formula over breastfeeding, rejoiced in the convenience of disposable diapers, fed their children diets of soda pop and French fries, etc. The way we’ve always done it is often the wrong way! It’s our responsibility to embrace knowledge and choose a better way.

This year, I intend to supply you with information to help you on your path to a better way. Sometimes my advice is solid and should be adhered to. Other times, it’s just my opinion and needs to be weighed accordingly.

My daughters are all grown now. Did I make mistakes along the way? You bet. Are there regrets? More than I can count. Through God’s grace, they survived and are thriving as adults. They are also making greener and healthier choices in their lives and inspire me daily.

So, here’s to the year behind us. It is just that – behind us. And here’s to moving forward into a year overflowing with possibilities. May God richly bless you with His grace, mercy and kindness and may you extend the same to those around you.

Grateful for you, my readers,


Monday, December 28, 2009

The Red Glass Pine Cone

Well, Christmas is over and it's time to relax a bit. I promised I would post a piece of Christmas fiction and failed to do so (it was on an old computer and I had to locate it). So, here it is. A Christmas story to read while waiting for the New Year, brimming full of possibilities, arrives.

I hope you enjoy it!

The Red Glass Pine Cone

by Hana Haatainen Caye

My father loved Christmas. Perhaps that is why the weekend following the Greek Orthodox celebration on January seventh was always a stressful one in our home. My mother, brother, sister and I would brace ourselves for the quiet, and sometimes, not so quiet depression that would descend upon this man, who just weeks earlier was jovial and jolly.

We were not Greek Orthodox, by the way. The fact that they recognized Christmas in January instead of on the twenty-fifth of December was just the excuse my father needed to keep the Christmas lights on a bit longer than suited my mother’s preference.

“Why weren’t the lights on yet?” My father would bark as he returned home to a dark house after work.

“Because Christmas was ten days ago,” my mother answered through clenched teeth.

“Not to the Greeks,” Dad would respond, with my brother, sister and I mouthing the words in perfect synchronization

“We’re not Greek,” Mom would remind him, but it didn’t matter. Every year the conversation was the same, with my mother refusing to back down and my dad simply not acknowledging her unhappiness.

Mom liked change. She thrived on it. If she could recruit one of us to help her rearrange furniture, she was happy. Dad, on the other hand, hated change. He only tolerated the new placement of his recliner or the removal of his great-aunt’s end table because the 'newness' of the room tended to make Mom a bit amorous. Once, when they didn’t realize I was playing behind the sofa, I saw her snuggle up to Dad and whisper in a sing-songy way, “Gina helped me move the couch … wanna christen it after we get the kids to bed?”

“If we must,” Dad playfully responded.

Then I watched them kiss and remember feeling a little sick to my stomach. The next time Mom asked me to help move furniture I told her I felt like I was going to throw up, so she put her energy into feeding me Saltines and ginger ale. There wasn’t any cuddling when my father came home.

Taking down the Christmas decorations – and there were plenty of them – seriously depressed my father. He grew sullen and quiet. The darkness out front, where for one month’s time there was red, green, gold and blue light, seemed to swallow up the joy that was evident in him in the weeks leading up to the holiday. I never understood it.

After Mom died, Dad was only able to stay in the house for one more Christmas. My brother, Joel, helped him to put up a few lights outside, but the display had lessened over the years, as lights burned out, cords frayed and Dad’s arthritis got the best of him. The house was too much for him to handle as well, and in March, eleven months after we buried Mom, Dad reluctantly agreed to move into Wellspring, the assisted living community on the corner of the town square.

His room was fair-sized, not too small. He had enough room for a single bed, the tall chest of drawers from the set he and Mom bought on their honeymoon in North Carolina, a TV stand, small refrigerator and, of course, his favorite leather recliner, duct tape patches and all. Joel, Jennifer and I divvied up the furniture and furnishings of the house before we sold it, including the boxes of Christmas decorations. An attic full of memories.

“Not to the Greeks,” Joel mimicked as we separated the outside lights, and the three of us laughed until we cried.

“Why was Mom so stubborn,” I asked. “Why couldn’t she just let him be?”

“Why wasn’t Dad willing to take her feelings into account?” Jennifer snapped.

“This is just great,” Joel interrupted. “Now we’re fighting about it. Good lord.”

“Can’t you see Mom looking down at us and shaking her head?” I started to laugh again. Christmas always brought a mixed bag of emotions for all of us.

“What about the tree and all the ornaments?” Jennifer asked.

Joel knew the answer to this one. “We’re to hang on to them and take them to Dad’s next Thanksgiving.”

Whattt?” Jennifer and I were a bit thrown by this one.

“That’s what he wants,” Joel shrugged, “I’m certainly not going to argue with him about Christmas. He had enough of that with all those years with Mom.”

“But what are we supposed to do with them?” I asked.

“I’m going to keep them at my place.” Joel explained. “I told Dad I’d take care of them for him.”


So, the day after Thanksgiving that year, and every year that followed, Joel took the artificial tree, the strings of lights and the hodgepodge of ornaments to Wellspring. We all helped Dad assemble the tree, all the while enduring his endless complaints about it.

“You know, kids, I always hated this fake tree. Christmas just didn’t seem like Christmas without a real tree.”

“But Dad,” I interjected each time, “Mom was allergic to pine …”

“So she said,” he grumbled.

“But Dad …”

“Leave it alone, Gina,” Joel cautioned me. I just rolled my eyes and proceeded to put branch into base, branch into base.

“Don’t forget to fluff ‘em.” Dad was never without his instructions to us.


It wasn’t until the third Christmas that the stories started to unravel. I had just finished putting the lights on the tree and we were unwrapping the first of the ornaments.

“Look at this one,” Dad said, holding it out in the light and turning it, as if admiring it for the first time. It was lovely; a small red glass pine cone, beautiful in its simplicity.

“I remember where we were when we got this one.”

“You and Mom?” I asked. “Where were you, Daddy?”

“We had taken a trip down to Kentucky and on the way we did some antiquing – you remember how Mom loved to stop at those little antique stores. Well, we were in one and we were talking to the guy who owned the place – told him about you three kids and that we were about to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. Well, wouldn’t you know, he pulled out this here ornament and handed it to me. He told me to hang it on my tree every year in honor of our marriage. It was a gift.” Dad smiled in remembrance. “Isn’t that somethin'?”

“Dad, I don’t ever remember you and Mom going to Kentucky.” I was a little confused, but he ignored me as his bent and swollen fingers carefully hung the ornament in the middle of the tree. I noticed a tear in the corner of his eye.

“Darndest thing,” was all he said.

The next ornament was a bit flashier. Bright green and magenta swirls around a pointed sphere.

“Ahh,” he brightened up, seeming to absorb the mere festivity of the ornament. “That was one of my favorite trips.”

“What trips, Daddy?” From what I knew about my parents, the last time they actually left the state was on their honeymoon when they drove to North Carolina. They didn’t go on trips.

“We were in New Orleans during Mardi Gras,” he continued. “You should have seen your momma. Whooey!” Dad shivered at the memory. “She was decked out!”

“Wha…” I started to question him, but he just kept going.

“She had on the most beautiful red dress. Your momma was quite a looker, even at forty-five.”

“Forty-five? Dad, you weren’t in New Orleans when Mom was forty-five.”

He didn’t seem to hear me … or care.

“We were dancing, right along with everyone else. She looked so young and fresh. That red dress swirled and swirled as she danced and her laughter was like music. That was some time we had ... Go ahead, hang that pretty memory right beside the pinecone … no, to the other side … that’s it. Perfect.”

The next ornament, a glass bird of silver, pink and turquoise with a plume of stiff feathers, simply clipped to one of the branches. I snapped it on quickly, hoping to avoid another story.

“Ahhh,” he started. “Ahhh … that one. The bird. The bird of paradise we called it. We always wanted it to remind us of that week in Hawaii. Paradise. That was my nickname for your mom for awhile there, did you know that?”

“Nnnnooo,” I hesitantly answered, and then, against my better judgment, pursued the question. “When did you call Mom Paradise?” I wanted to add, I bet it wasn’t the week of January seventh, but I refrained.

“Oh, I had a lot of nicknames for your mom. Lily was one; Gypsy was another … I’ll tell you why when we come to the ornaments. Most of them have a story. Like this one here.” He was unwrapping a round gold ornament with holly painted on it. “This one brings back a lot of memories …”


The decorating went on like this for the rest of the afternoon. At one point, I excused myself and went outside to call Jennifer on my cell phone. I repeated the stories to her as I stood under the gray clouds of winter, shivering. A flock of Canadian geese flew overhead and I watched as they reshaped their V, honking as the reconfiguration occurred.

“What is that sound?” Jennifer asked.

“Which sound?” I replied. “My clanking teeth from my shivering, the geese flying by, or the sound of my brain spinning in circles as I try to process all of this. What the heck is going on, Jennifer? Of all years for you and Joel not to be able to be here! Is Dad finally losing it?”

“I don’t know what to say,” Jennifer answered and I could tell she was as perplexed as I was.


Dad died on January eighth, a little over two years after that day. He made it past the Greek Orthodox Christmas and managed to get out of the dreaded task of taking down the decorations for one last time. As we cleaned out his room to make way for the next resident who was leaving his life behind, we discovered a small diary that belonged to my mother. It was twenty years old and when I opened it I started to cry. Here in my hands was a gift, a rare glimpse into a woman I lost nearly six years ago.

I sat down on my father’s bed and started to read.

January 8th

I got up early and made Cal’s favorite breakfast. We had a fun day ahead of us and I wanted it to be special from the start. He got up to the smell of bacon and yelled down to me, “Gypsy, I’m coming down there. You’d better be decent.” I laughed, remembering how much I’d dreaded this day in the past. Funny how things can change.

We fed each other morsels from our plates, acting like newlyweds. I wish the kids could see us like this. I feel so badly that their post-Christmas memories are filled with such ugliness. Cal’s depressions were so dark that even I started to hate Christmas. What an awful thought! Thank God I figured out a way to see him through this. And it’s worked. At least the last couple years. January 8th is now our secret day…a day that only we know about. A special day. My favorite day of the year.

I stopped reading to try to process what she was saying. Why didn’t I know anything about January eighth? I wondered. What changed? As I looked back, I realized things were different, but I never acknowledged that. Isn’t it funny how we tend to look at something the way it always was, long after it changes? If we grew up in a pink bedroom, we’ll still refer to the room as pink, even if the walls were painted green ten years ago? Our minds are funny that way…as are our memories.

Cal brought all the boxes down out of the attic around 11 and set them in the family room. We turned on the Christmas music and started our new ritual. As we took each ornament off the tree, we told each other a story about it. We pretended to be world travelers…well, U.S. travelers! Each ornament came from a different place we visited. We had the grandest vacations ever and with each one an ornament was born. The un-decorating of the tree was such fun today. Why hadn’t I thought of this years ago? Half way through the afternoon of stories and laughter, Cal grabbed me and kissed me and, well, it was awhile before we resumed the undecorating!

 I wonder what the kids would think if they knew how their parents acted in their absence?

 It’s been a good day. I was Gypsy. I was Lily. I was all things in my husband’s world. And he is everything in mine.

We buried Dad with a few of the ornaments – a couple of his favorite handmade decorations we gave to him as kids and a red glass pinecone that reminded him of a love he held so dear.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Release -- A Christmas poem

The sound of merriment draws me to the railing.
Peering below
I feel the pierce of Christmas past.
The sound of me collapsing to my knees
goes undetected as Joy to the World swells
and the clink of cups of eggnog signals the midnight hour.
“Merry Christmas” rings out as hugs are exchanged.
I am chilled in my nakedness,
but my trembling comes from deep within…
a place where this magical eve once lit up my soul.

My soul.
My soul.
Where did I leave it?
Was it lost in a bottle?
A needle?
Did I leave it behind in a stranger’s bed?
Does my mother coddle it like a newborn babe?

Newborn babe…
Christ the Lord.

Oh Lord,
restore my soul.
I give you my despair this eve.
I surrender my pain,
release my bitter tears.
Receive my despair as gold,
my pain as frankincense,
my tears as myrrh.
These are the humble gifts I have to offer.
Receive them, infant King.
Let me once again hear that first Noel
the angels proclaimed.

Retreating to the bedroom,
I drag a comb through my tangled hair,
and dress quickly.

The sound of merriment draws me to the railing.
Triumphant strains of The Hallelujah Chorus
guide me down the stairs
as my voice begins to swell.

                                          By Hana Haatainen Caye

Friday, December 18, 2009

A season of busyness

Lately I've been busy. Most likely, anyone reading this can ditto that statement. By profession, I am a writer, editor and a voiceover talent. This month has been fraught with lots of technical difficulties with my recording equipment and computers. Not fun. As a result, I've spent countless hours trying to be a tech person, when quite honestly, I'm pretty much illiterate when it comes to the technical side of what I do. Just plop me behind a mic and I can do my thing. It's dealing with the tech issues that causes me to consider a change in career from time to time...and lately, more so than ever.

That said, I must apologize for not being as consistent as I like to be with my daily posts. As I sit here yawning, I realize that once again, I won't be posting anything of any value to you tonight. However, if you've never had the opportunity to read all my posts, or if somehow you just stumbled upon my blog and this is your first visit, scan the titles of my prior posts and pick a couple to read.

I'll be posting more consistently after the holidays...I promise. And sometime within the week I'm even going to post a piece of fiction for you. It may not have anything to do with living a greener or healthier life, but it is a Christmas story I'm hoping you'll enjoy. And I might even throw in a poem or two as the days go by.

So please stay tuned....and if you have any suggestions for future blogs or future guests, please let me know.

Enjoy your busyness.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to stop thumb sucking in its tracks...well, maybe

So, you've decided you need to get your toddler to stop sucking his thumb. Whatever you do, don't tell him to stop! By telling him to stop, you've set yourself up for a long battle. And never yell! Yelling at a child for an activity that just a month or two ago you found perfectly acceptable will only confuse him. It could also produce anxiety over other behaviors, wondering if you'll decide he's not allowed to do them either.

Since thumb sucking is often a way a child comforts himself, scolding him will only make him want to do it more. In the same way, pressuring him to stop can produce opposite effects.

Focus your efforts on helping your little one to give up the thumb and be consistent in whatever approach you use. Don't get lazy and let things slide one day and then refocus the next day. Consistency is key.

Have you ever tried to break a habit or change a behavior? What motivated you? What kept you focused? Draw on your own experiences. Often we need a support system of some kind. Be that support system for your little one as he struggles to give up his "addiction." Don't underestimate how strong a pull that thumb can have. When you see your child kicking the habit, lavish praise on him. Positive reinforcement goes so much further than negative comments and ramifications.

Charting his progress can be helpful. And let him work toward a reward. A day at the park or an evening at Chuck E. Cheese's. Recognize that he will probably slip up from time to time, particularly when he's hurt or tired. Don't make a big deal about it.

As your child grows, his thumb sucking can cause real problems in his developing mouth, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. You may want to talk to your pediatrician or pediatric dentist for advice. They may offer a device that will aid in your child kicking the habit by making it uncomfortable to suck his thumb.

You can also use other deterrents, such as Band-Aids. There are mixed reviews about using an unpleasant tasting deterrent on children's thumbs. Some people swear by it, saying their child stopped sucking their thumb because they poured pickle juice, vinegar, bitters, or lemon juice directly on the thumb. Others say this is an ineffective solution. All I can say is, if you want to try it, try it. If it works, wonderful! If not, you might need to seek professional help.

When you see you little one sucking his thumb out of boredom, give his hands something else to do to keep them busy. Did you ever notice it's easier to not succumb to eating snacks while knitting or doing a crossword puzzle? It's the same principle.

There's a wonderful little book out there called The Bear who Sucked his Thumb, written and illustrated by Dr. Dragan Antolos. Reading, and re-reading, this book to your child can have a positive impact when it's time to break the habit. You can learn more about the book at

Recent findings don't look good for the oral health of thumb suckers past the age of two or three. However, earlier research pointed to the psychological benefits of thumb sucking, so I suggest you do your research, stay positive and never, never punish your child for doing something that comes naturally to him

I welcome any comments and suggestions from parents who have faced this dragon and won. I'll be happy to pass along any of your tried and true tips.

Keeping it healthy,


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Green Tip of the Day

Here's another tip from a reader:

IKEA has recycling bins in the front of their store for collecting batteries, lightbulbs and plastic bags. And, of course, there's no charge! So if you have an IKEA close to where you live, collect your batteries and light bulbs and drop the off on your next visit.

IKEA gets a Greeny Award!

Thanks Heather!

The downside of thumb sucking

Pediatric dentists are issuing new warnings about long-term thumb sucking. While the thoughts on this used to be that damage from thumb sucking only occurred if the activity continued after a child got his/her permanent teeth, that is no longer the opinion of experts.

A child who sucks his/her thumb beyond the age of 2 or 3 can be setting the stage for lifelong problems.
Let’s look at what’s actually happening when the thumb sucking is going on. Pressure is being applied to both sides of the upper jaw. Additionally, the soft tissue on the roof of the mouth is affected.

If the upper jaw narrows as a result of this, the upper and lower teeth will not be properly aligned. This can cause a variety of speech issues which can lead to costly corrective measures, such as braces and/or speech therapy. The structure of the jaw and mouth can be affected as the child matures and problems with chewing can ensue.

Unfortunately, the solution isn't popping a pacifier in your little one's mouth, as similar problems can arise from the prolonged use of pacifiers as well. The advantage with a pacifier, however, is that it is easier to break a child of his/her need for a binky by simply removing it. Cutting off thumbs is generally not a good practice!

So what’s a parent to do? Tomorrow I’ll give you some tips on stopping the sucking.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

It's that time of year when kitchens smell especially inviting as the cold weather entices us to make homemade soups and roasted chickens and the holidays dictate baking at least a few dozen Christmas cookies. So I thought I'd pass on some energy saving oven and stove tips.
  • Opt for glass or ceramic pans for baking. They transfer heat so efficiently you can even turn down your oven temp by 25 degrees!
  • Skip the lengthy preheats. Five minutes or so is sufficient.
  • Make sure you turn off the oven after you're done. I can't tell you how many times I've pulled something out of the oven and completely forgot to turn it off. An hour or so later, I discover it's still on. What a waste of energy!
  • After you turn off your oven, crack the door open and let the heat escape to warm up the kitchen. But don't open the door during cooking time. Twenty percent of the oven's heat escapes every time you open the oven door. Use a timer ad the oven light.
  • Make sure your oven seals are in good condition. As soon as you notice the gaskets wearing down, replace them to avoid losing heat while the oven's on.
  • Did you know a clean microwave is a more efficient one? You do now.
  • When it's time to replace your stovetop, consider an eco-friendly option. Induction stovetops heat and cool faster than over stovetops and cook quite efficiently. Before you run out to buy one, however, check to see if you'll need new cookware, as not all cookware is compatible.
  • Warped pots do not cook efficently on electric elements or ceramic top stoves, requiring nearly two-thirds more energy than pots with flat bottoms.
  • Try to stick to using burners that are about an inch smaller than the pan you're using.
  • Keep your burner bowls clean. Burnt on food absorbs heat that's meant for the pan on top of stove.
  • Obviously, toaster ovens require less electricity. Use yours whenever possible.
  • Cook as much of your meal in one pot as possible. Less energy will be used in cooking and in cleaning up.
  • Keep a lid on it! Make sure you cover your pots and pans -- it'll pay off by increasing your cooking efficiency by up to fourteen percent!
  • Take the time to safely thaw your food before cooking. Don't use the oven to thaw and don't thaw at room temperature. The refrigerator is the only safe and efficient place to thaw your food.
That's it for today. I hope you found a hint or two here to help you reduce your energy costs and usage. Feel free to ship me some cookies out of appreciation : )

Keeping it green,


Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Barry Goldwater quote

"While I am a great believer in the free enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean, pollution-free environment."

-- Barry Goldwater           

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When optimism becomes foolishness

"Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so."

-- Theodore Roosevelt      

Friday, December 11, 2009


After spending a long day and evening with my 13 month grandbaby, I'm too tired to blog tonight.

And, content with that, I offer no apology. It was a good day.

Enjoy the time you have with your loved ones. Life is short.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let's get physical

My niece commented today that perhaps her scale is trying to tell her that she's taking the "eating for two" thing a bit too literally. Ahh. What to do? Pregnancy seems to be a license for eating what, and as much as, you want and breaking away from your exercise routine. But how much wisdom is there in that particular action plan?

After years of watching your weight, it's sometimes hard to let go of the obsession and let your body adjust in a healthy way to carrying a new life inside it. But sometimes we swing the pendulum a bit too far the other way. So where's the healthy medium when it comes to exercise. Should a fitness routine be part of your antepartum months? Absolutely! Unless your OB advises against it, you'll find there are countless benefits to exercising during pregnancy, even when you can no longer see, much less touch, your toes!

Let's look at what exercise can do for you:
  • No lullabies needed; moderate exercise helps you get a good night's sleep. While in the past you may have reached for a glass of wine to help you unwind at the end of a long day, the simple truth is that exercise might have been a better option. Why? Because exercise unleashes endorphins, which makes you feel naturally more relaxed and less stressed. Plus, since endorphins are a natural pain killer, your little aches and pains will fade away.
  • Strengthening your back through exercise will help relieve some of the extra strain on your back that results from carrying the extra weight.
  • Exercising makes your heart happy. By toning up your heart muscle, it'll be better equipped to deal with the increased volume of blood that's flowing these days.
  • Constipation can be a major discomfort during pregnancy. Well, the good news is that exercise can keep you regular. That should be motivation enough!
Now that I've provided you with some of the reasons why you should exercise, I'll give you a couple of suggestions as to what you can do.

First of all, avoid all strenuous workouts and stay away from any sports requiring a sense of balance and dexterity. No horseback riding or skiing. Extra pregnancy pounds = less coordination. Also, skip long-distance running, weight training and serious aerobics. This isn't the time to check out all the exercise videos you bought through the years and never got around to watching/doing.

If you've been seriously into exercise before your pregnancy, speak with your OB about what kind of activity would be right for you.

Since the goal is to get the heart pumping into the uterus, try one or more of the following moderate exercises:
  • Low-impact aerobics. A beginner's program at your local community center or YWCA would be an ideal start.
  • Swimming is another good option. Of course, you want to avoid showing off on the diving board...and no bellyflops!
  • A stationary bike can help make even reality tv worth your time. It sure beats vegging out on the sofa with a bag of potato chips!
  • Walking is the most obvious choice when it comes to healthy exercise for pregnant women. The fact that it's an activity you can do for free adds another aspect of desirability to it. Make sure you're properly fitted for a good pair of supportive walking shoes, however. Grab your .mp3 player and download Jodi Picoult's newest book or some upbeat music. You'll find 20 minutes of walking a few times a week not nearly enough to feed your new addiction!
Once your little bambino arrives, you can just slip back into your walking habit with a stroller up front instead of a growing girth. Watching the baby-weight melt off will give you the added motivation you may need, along with your husband's approving glances at the new hot momma in his life!

So c'mon. Turn off the computer and get your blood pumping. You'll thank me for it someday.

Keeping it healthy,


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The gift of recycling

Back on September 14th, I blogged about recycling batteries. Well, today I found out you can give the gift of recycling...including battery recycling. Thanks, Sue Hartman, for sending me this info!

Waste Management offers Green from Home eco-friendly gift ideas for the holidays. For example, for only $16.95, you can purchase a dry cell battery recycling kit and gift someone with the convenience of recycling. The box holds up to 4 lbs. of batteries and includes a postage paid address label so the recipient can ship their used batteries without any inconvenience or expense. How cool is that?

There are also kits for compact fluorescent bulbs, electronics and more. Visit the following link for more information:

This is the greenest gift suggestion I've provided you with this season. So go to the website, order your kits (or gift cards) and bless you loved ones with the gift of green!

Happy shopping!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside

I don't know how the weather is in your end of the world, but here in Western Pennsylvania, it's downright frigid. The furnace is cranked up higher than it should be because, despite the layers of clothing, I'm still really cold.

So I decided to share some energy-saving tips.
  • Switch to a programmable thermostat. If there's no one at home during the day, there's no reason to keep your heat cranked up. But wouldn't it be nice to come home to a warm house or to get up in the morning to a comfortable temperature after having turned the heat down for the night? If you turn your thermostat back by just 10 degrees for eight hours each day and eight hours each night, you can save approximately 20% on your heating costs! You don't even need an electrician to install the new thermostat. It's actually a relatively simple process and the manufacturer's instructions on how to do it will accompany whichever brand you buy. Just don't forget to turn off the power before you start! You can even pick up a programmable thermostat that will alert you when your furnace filter needs to be replaced.
  • A question for all of you who have forced-air heat: When's the last time you cleaned the air intake and exhaust on the outside of your house? Your system will operate much more efficiently if you clear the area monthly while your furnace is in use.
  • While many of us are conscious of keeping things away from our heating vents, we also need to pay attention to the cold-air returns. Because there has to be a consistent movement of air, cold-air returns are an important part of the package. Clear any furniture or drapes away from them and keep them clean.
  • While you're cleaning the cold-air returns, don't forget to clean the heat vents as well. Remove the vent covers and vacuum out the vents at least twice a year and more often than that if you have pets in your home. You might even want to hire a company to come out every few years to clean them professionally.
  • Electronic air filters should be cleaned monthly to keep them performing at their peak. Check with the manufacturer, but in most cases you can simply slip it into your dishwasher (don't use the heat dry cycle, however) or just use a soft scrub brush and some water. While the furnace air filters are a good idea, the filters you can slip into your heating vents are not. Sure, they may limit the amount of dust and dander floating around, but they also limit the airflow, thus causing your heating system to work less efficiently and, in the end, cost you more money!
  • Tune-up. Tune-up. Tune-up. You want your furnace to operate at its best? Tune it up. Newer furnaces need a tune-up every three years or so, while older ones need attention every year or two. Check with your utility company about this. They may offer the service at a discounted rate for customers. Expect the tune-up to take about two to three hours and run close to $150.
  • Grab your caulking gun and attend to your heating ducts. Seams can start to split and leak valuable air if the seal is broken. You can either use caulking or a special tape made for this purpose. Check with your local hardware store associate for his or her recommendations. Also pay attention to the joints between the heat ducts and heat registers. Duct-sealing tape (not duct tape) will work best here.
  • If you have radiators, clean them once a month. Make sure your radiator is cool before cleaning it. Clean = efficient. Enough said. Also, if you have multiple layers of paint on your radiators, they're bound to be clogged. Strip them and start over with a single coat of paint. Oddly enough, dark colors will increase the heat output when accompanied by a piece of aluminum or sheet metal placed behind the radiator.
  • Baseboard heaters work best when clean as well. Make sure the power is off before removing the front panel of your baseboard heaters and then use the crevice tool on your vacuum cleaner to rid them of the dirt.
  • As you can recall from the summer months, humid air simply seems to be warmer air. Either install a humidifier on your furnace or run a humidifier. Filling your home with live plants will help keep the air moister as well. You'll feel most comfortable when the humidity in your home falls between 20-60%.
  • Check to see if there is air leakage in the spaces between where your baseboards meet your hard floors. Again, you can grab the caulking gun, or use an expandable foam under the trim.
  • Another source of energy leaks is exterior wall outlets and switches. You can easily solve the problem with some insulating gaskets. A simple solution that will save you money in the long run.
  • Close the vents and the doors of rooms you don't use. Heating your stuff is just plain wasteful! Magnetic vent covers work well to save energy in unused rooms.
  • Limit the heat loss that naturally occurs from an open flue in your fireplace by installing glass doors. The initial cost will be recovered in energy savings in no time!
  • It's been said that keeping a fireplace damper open on your fireplace equals having a four-foot gaping hole in your house when it comes to energy loss.
  • Consider zone-heating. If you basically spend most of your time in one or two rooms, turn your thermostat back to 55 degrees and use energy-efficient space heaters. Try to keep them set on a low setting and don't forget to unplug them when they're not in use! Radiant heaters are, by far, the most efficient type of space heaters. Regardless of the kind you use, just make sure to keep all combustible materials, fabrics, paper and other potential fire starters at a safe distance. Also, no amount of savings is worth the risk of your child being burned, so if there's no way to keep your toddler away from the heaters, turn them off and crank up the thermostat.
  • Don't ignore your ceiling fans. Switch the setting to a clockwise twirl and let them work on keeping the heat away from the ceiling. Portable fans will do the trick here as well, and circulate the warm air to where it's most appreciated. This is especially helpful when the fan is placed on the hearth of the fireplace.
  • If you use window air conditioning units, make sure you cover them up. Place the cover over the back of the AC units and then tape plastic over the front. It may not be the most attractive solution, but if you don't want to remove the unit for the winter, it's essential for energy savings.
  • If it's practical, switch out one of your standard bathroom lights with a red moisture-resistant heat bulb. Make sure the wattage matches your fixture. Toasty warm bathrooms are my favorite!
  • For those of you with heat pumps, make sure the condenser unit is cleaned regularly. Again, it's important to turn the power off before cleaning. Check with your manual for instructions on cleaning.
Whew. This turned out to be a bit longer than I anticipated when I sat down to write it. I hope something pops out at you and saves you a nickel or two this winter season. Now I'm off to check my exterior outlets and switches...I think a trip to the hardware store is in order.

Keeping it green,


Monday, December 7, 2009

Keeping it Green at Christmas Part Six: Wrapping it up

For those of you who follow my blog, you'll know I've been doing a series on creating a more sustainable Christmas. Well, today we're wrapping it up with some suggestions on minimizing the waste created by wrapping paper and packaging.

Here are my suggestions:
  • Reuse. Remove paper carefully from gifts and neatly fold for next year. There are a few benefits to be gleaned from this practice. The first two are the obvious environmental and cost benefits. The other one is a simple concept of slowing down. Christmas morning so often involves a group of people tearing into a pile of presents without so much as a pause to say 'thank you.' When the chaos subsides, all that's left is a huge pile of paper, bows, tags and questions as to who gave whom what. Sound familiar? Taking time to fold paper eliminates a bit of this hectic pace from your Christmas morning celebration.
  • Wrap gifts in something practical, such as dish towels, pillowcases, drawstring bags, fabric, leftover foil, coloring book pages, magazine ads, baskets, metal cans/canisters and reusable decorative boxes.
  • Instead of packing boxes for shipping with styrofoam peanuts, use recycled PaperNuts ( or protect your packaged gifts with shredded catalogs. Bird lovers can use unbuttered popcorn as an eco-friendly alternative to Styrofoam. Include a note to the recipient asking them to toss the popcorn outside as a Christmas treat for their feathered friends.
  • Use, and reuse, gift bags.
  • Ask for paper instead of plastic when shopping and wrap gifts in the bags decorated with markers, rubber stamps and/or stickers.
  • Tie gifts with old shoelaces, ribbon or yarn. If you are using wrapping paper, avoid using stick-on bows, as they can rip the paper and ruin it for reuse.
  • Buy recycled wrapping paper and tissue.
  • Give gifts that don't require wrapping, such as plants, gift cards, tickets to shows, etc.
Where's the fun in a green Christmas? It's where it's always the family gatherings, the home-cooked meals, the exchange of gifts, the holiday greetings, the worship services, the cookie exchanges, the charitable's still there; although this year, it's not buried under a mountain of trash.

Keeping it green,


Friday, December 4, 2009

Keeping it green at Christmas Part 5: O Christmas tree

There's a lot of debate over which way to go when it comes to Christmas trees. Do you cut down a fresh tree, in the prime of its life, for your own decorative pleasures? Do you purchase an artificial tree, made up of chemicals and plastics that are harmful to the environment during the manufacturing process? Let's face it -- there are pluses and minuses whichever way you go. The greenest solution is to buy a balled tree which can be replanted at the end of the season.

If you opt for a freshly cut tree, find a local farm that raises pesticide-free trees and make sure you arrange for recycling your tree. Some communities use the trees for sand and soil erosion barriers, fish feeders, bird feeders, mulch and more. Contact your local recycling company for more information.

If you already have an artificial tree and decide you no longer want it, donate it to a local thrift store or check with area community theater groups or schools to see if they have a need for one.

Whichever choice you make, let me make one suggestion. Don't buy into the 'politically correct' hype. It's a CHRISTMAS tree. Period. And you don't have to apologize to anyone for calling it what it is.

Keeping it green,


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Natural Tip of the Day

For as long as I can remember, I've suffered from painful foot and leg cramps...mostly at night. It's not unusual for me to wake three or four times in one night with a cramp, or series of them. When I discovered a homeopathic treatment for this problem, I was thrilled.

Last night was another one of those nights and as I reached for my Hyland's Leg Cramp Quinine quick dissolving tablets, I realized this info was too important not to share. Their leg cramp formulas include caplets that you swallow, cream that you rub in and, my personal favorite, quick dissolving tablets you simply place under your tongue. They work quickly to relieve the pain and I don't even have to get up for water.

Hyland's is an awesome company devoted to natural solutions to common health problems. They have arnica cream for pain, cough and cold remedies for children, natural sleep aids, etc. and their products can be found in retail stores and online. I buy mine at our local Giant Eagle grocery store or at Whole Foods. Check them out:

One other quick mention. Their website features a link to Healthy Beginnings: Helping mothers raise healthy kids naturally. If you have little ones, or you're planning on having some, this site needs to be bookmarked! You can download a lot of different stuff here -- a Pregnancy Development Calendar, for instance, and a Baby's First Year Development Calendar. They feature articles on natural home remedies and homeopathy, free activity sheets for the kids and even a photo gallery where you can post your photos. Go to the Hyland's website and visit Healthy Beginnings. My guess is you'll be hooked.

Well, that was a rather long "Tip of the Day" but my hope is you found it helpful.

Keeping it natural,


Keeping it Green at Christmas Part 4: Eat, drink and be merry

I love to entertain! From the decorating to preparing the food, I just love to do it. Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow as much of this as I'd like, but I plan to have at least one party over the Christmas holiday.
But the issue of trash surrounds every holiday gathering and contributes to the massive amount of waste going into the post holiday landfills! The solution revolves around eliminating disposable dinnerware as much as possible.

"What? No paper plates? No paper napkins? Are you kidding me?"

No, I'm not. Now I'm not saying you should never use disposable products. I, myself, use them sometimes. But if you can limit the amount you use, you're doing a small part in reducing the overall amount of waste that accompanies the holidays.

Here are some practical suggestions:


Have you been in a fabric store lately? There are literally hundreds of different designs in Christmas fabrics that can be transformed into beautiful cocktail napkins with a few simple stitches. Set aside a couple of hours to make a few dozen napkins and you won't have to buy paper Christmas napkins again. Cost efficient and green. Don't you love it?


Who says all the plates have to match? Pick up a variety of Christmas dishes at places like Goodwill or your local dollar store. I was able to purchase 2 complete sets of beautiful Christmas dishes, brand new in box, at Goodwill a couple of years ago for less than $10 each. If one gets dropped and broken at a party, it's no huge loss. Fortunately, that's never happened yet.

Another option is to buy solid colored or clear inexpensive plates that can used during the Christmas holidays as well as throughout the year. Red dishes will work well now and will be perfect for Memorial Day and Fourth of July celebrations. Green ones will lend themselves nicely to a St. Paddy's Day party. Metal splatterware plates are perfect for outdoor parties, by the way.


Choices here include high quality plastic flatware that can maintain wash after wash and be reused again and again or the purchase of mismatched flatware at thrift stores or discount stores. The initial investment may be a bit more than buying disposable flatware, but you'll appreciate it down the road when the purchases no longer have to be made. Of course, if you have the money, matching flatware sets can be bought as well. Either way, the need for throwaway plastic is eliminated.


Ditto the above suggestions. Buy cheap glasses, wine glasses and mugs. Store them until your next gathering. Or, if you're serving coffee, tea and hot chocolate, host a BYOM party (bring your own mug) and start a tradition!

If you do choose to go with disposable goods for your next party, please skip the Styrofoam at least, as the dangers to our health and environment are countless. If you'd like to learn more about this toxic substance, please visit the following website:

So this holiday season, eat, drink and be merry with your family and friends. And if you can, keep it green!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keeping it green at Christmas Part 3: Through rain or snow or sleet or hail

Just consider for a moment, how much more mail you receive starting in November. Mailboxes are packed beyond their capacity with greeting cards, holiday sales flyers and catalogs...lots and lots of catalogs. What can you do to curb this onslaught of mail?
  • Contact companies directly to be removed from their mailing lists. There is usually a phone number or address of the distribution company located near your mailing address.
  • For catalogs, simply call their 800 number or visit their website and inform them you no longer want to receive their catalogs.
  • Sign up for electronic billing and email advertisements.
  • Go to to learn more about getting off junk mail lists.
You can also reduce the amount of waste generated with your own greetings. I blogged about this on October 14th, but feel many of these things are worthy of repeating. I do go into more detail in my previous blog, so please check it out if you haven't read it.

Sending out postcards or eCards rather than traditional Christmas cards is not only kinder to the environment, but it's gentler on your budget as well. Postcards don't require envelopes and eCards don't even need stamps. With the rising cost of postage they're more attractive than ever!

At the end of the season, as decorations are being put away, don't just toss your basket of cards into the trash. Christmas cards can be reused and recycled in a variety of ways:
  • Use them to make tags for next year's gifts. Simply cut out a design from the front of the card, punch a hole through it and tie with a ribbon.
  • Make a decorative collage with the prettiest or most meaningful ones.
  • Frame a few for a seasonal wall display that can be enjoyed year after year.
  • Donate them to a local school, church or nursing home for crafts.
  • Donate them to St. Jude Ranch for Children, headquartered in Boulder City, NV, where they recycle them and make new cards. The money earned is donated to help children who were victims of abuse, neglect and abandonment. Visit their website for more information:
When it comes to sending out cards, sit down with your family and discuss how to pare down your list. Is it really necessary to send cards to co-workers you see every day? What about those names on your list that you can no longer put a face to? Just because you've been sending cards to them for decades, doesn't mean you need to continue to do so. Just think, if you cross them off the list this year, they'll most likely cross you off their list next year and fewer cards will bog down your mail carrier.

Rather than mailing cards to neighbors, why not create a greener tradition of hand-delivering a greeting made up of a sprig of holly or a piece of pine with a pretty ribbon and tag tied on? These green greetings can be hung on your neighbors' doors and will be appreciated more than a store-bought card.

I'm challenging you to cut your mailing down by 1/3 this Christmas season. That means sending out only 40 cards if you normally send 60. Will that make a huge dent in the one million tons of holiday-generated trash? Not really. But if you do it, and I do it, and both of us influence someone else to do it, eventually the impact will be felt. Because, like I said only takes a spark.

Tomorrow, I'll address the problem surrounding holiday parties and offer some suggestions on environmentally-friendly alternatives to disposable dinnerware.

Keeping it green,


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Green Tip of the Day

When going somewhere where coffee or tea will be served, take your own mug with you and skip the styrofoam! It may only save one cup that day....but who knows who will pick up on the idea. And we all know it only takes a spark to get a fire going.

Thanks for the tip, Kelly.

If you have a tip to share, please email me at I'll be happy to post it!

Keeping it green at Christmas Part 2: Let's talk trash

From the end of November through the beginning of the New Year, the holidays gain the distinctive mark of being king of the hill -- at least, king of the trash heap. According to the EPA, the holidays garner a staggering 25% increase in the amount of household waste generated. That's an additional one million tons of trash padding our already voluptuous landfills. Minimizing your contribution to this hefty load is the first step toward a sustainable holiday season and, in many cases, can help you save a few bucks in the process.

Tomorrow, I'll give you some tips on how to cut down on the trash that travels from mailbox to mailbox this holiday season.

Keeping it green,


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