Going green is hard. Being green is easy.

Earth Day graphicWhen I first set out to cloth diaper, it was mostly as a means to save money. I wanted to stay home with Hannah, and saving two grand seemed like a great way to manage the financial change of not returning to work. I quickly began to search for more and more ways to save money with reusable products.

There I sat on the interwebs scouring for reusable zip lock baggies, Eco-friendly car seats, and bpa-free storage containers. It took me a long time to realize that green living wasn’t an apples-to-apples transition at all. It’s about evolving to fit the seasons and the surroundings. I had to learn not only to be resourceful, but understand what my actual resources were and how to use them. It wasn’t just about swapping from non-stick cookware to stainless steel. No, I had to learn the secrets of cast iron cooking (which is also non-stick). Just when I thought I was finally catching on, I discovered that the ease of eating raw food is such a simple option that it is often overlooked. Through it all, I’ve realized that I’m done Going Green.

I am at the beginning of a new life of being green and it is a beautiful thing. The problem is, the days that I truly feel green, I’m not very entertaining. We watch grass grow. We listen to the trees. We take half the morning to cook lunch, do the dishes by hand, and then cook dinner after a nap. For me, I’m torn because I desperately want to be the blogger I set out to become. I want to share about great experiences and give handy advice. On the other hand, I want to walk out the door with my family, head to a desert island and never come back. If that does happen, you better believe I won’t stick around to tweet about it! Consider this my pre-written blogging Eulogy. Life is good. I predict it will get even better. There is a lot for me to learn. After all, you’re talking to a girl who, at age 2, replied to the pediatrician’s inquiry about green leafy vegetables that “My Mom never makes me those.” For now, I will be here learning and living. Maybe I will teach some of what I learn, but I need you to know that I am not an expert on green living. I am a Mom on a journey to make a better life for the next generation. If you think I am unique or different or crazy, you may be right! However, there are lots of other green bloggers with terrific information about how to be green. Whatever it is that inspires you to love your surroundings, dive into that. Go ahead and Google “Does Target carry Eco-friendly shampoo” or “Local Organic Dry-cleaning.” Live guilt-free by trying your best. Don’t be surprised if one day, you fall off the wagon into your own green backyard paradise with everything you need. No matter the journey, some day we will all be dirt. I’m just going to get used to that now.

In celebration of Earth Day and life in general, I’m taking a few days off the internet to enjoy everything that I have. You better believe I’ll be kicking off my shoes and walking barefoot through the grass with the girls.

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Benefits of Composting – Grocery Stores, Take Note

We just started enjoying the benefits of composting in our home. In a few short months, we have completely overhauled our waste output. Adding the simple task of composting to the mix helps us tackle food waste from the ground up.

As soon as we started our compost collection bucket, I immediately felt happier. A lot of the foods that I prepare are from fresh, wholesome ingredients like carrots, apples and celery, and it always irked me to have so much waste from their prep. Now that we compost, I get my little one involved in the process and she eagerly helps me toss the scraps. We’ll work on our compost this year so that next year’s garden can benefit from the rich addition to our soil. I can’t wait to show my little one how this all works!

The other day we were at the grocery store and I noticed that Wegmans has ready-made packs of prepared veggies all throughout the store. At first I thought it was a great idea to prevent food waste because they are obviously using up the veggies that would otherwise go bad by displaying them for quick sale. Although there’s a bit of packaging that’s going to waste and I would love to see a creative solution for that, there is another issue at hand. The big question I had was, you guessed it, “do they compost?” So I asked via Twitter:

benefits of composting wegmans

@Wegmans Do you compost all the fruit and veggie scraps from your ready-to-eat packs?

Sadly they do not, but they are passing my suggestion along. I’m enthusiastic about this because I think we can help them make a positive change. The reason I never composted before was that no one said, “Here’s how you compost” or “Why don’t you compost” until all of a sudden a bunch of people I knew started to talk about composting. I quickly discovered how easy it was to get started and haven’t thrown a scrap in the trash ever since. 

What do you think would happen if we all (nicely) let Wegmans know that we think it would be cool if they implemented this sustainable business practice? They’re sure to save money by eliminating the trash bags and collection service fees. Plus, I would love to see a partnership with local farms who might use the scraps to enrich their soil. Wegmans is always asking for feedback, so let them know on the next e-form they send or leave a comment here and share this post with a friend who might have a connection. Changes like these can take time, so let’s get the ball rolling and start asking friendly questions today.

Tweet: Hey @Wegmans, do you compost all your fruit and veggie scraps? #happyscraps

Quit Throwing Out the Most Expensive Ingredient in the Kitchen

Think.Eat.Save – Reduce your foodprint!

Food waste doesn’t start in your fridge and it doesn’t end in your trash can. I’ve seen estimates that Americans as a whole discard at least 40% of the food they purchase. That is a sad fact because if only one in five people are hungry, we clearly have more than enough to go around. I think the biggest problem is too much diversity in food choices. By attempting to please everyone, we make it easier to discard something unappetizing. Here’s my plan to cut down on food waste.

leftoversAt home, we’re keeping our meals simple, especially during the winter. This is one of my favorite ways to be green while saving green. First of all, I’m using the same ingredients over and over so I can save by purchasing the larger quantities. I also don’t balk at buying organic because the prices are closer to the small, non-organic counterparts. We’ve cut back on buying processed foods and I am still campaigning to get my husband on board with drinking more water instead of other beverages. At around $60 per week, our grocery bill is completely manageable even when we factor in $125 at the butcher each season.

It was easy for me to accept the idea of eating chicken noodle soup 4 out of 7 days per week because I grew up eating PB&J nearly every day for years at a time. I’m used to repetition of favorites and I’ve found that my daughter likes it, too. By having this one simple meal as our staple, I can splurge a little on other things. We make a great spread for each Holiday and we like to have a hearty breakfast every weekend. Whether we make french toast or pancakes, our Saturday breakfasts can’t be beat. No matter how small, the leftovers are great for my toddler in a pinch so I save everything.

My microwave is my biggest ally in the kitchen. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to put a healthy meal on the table so quickly for my daughter. My own version of ‘fast food’ generally consists of leftovers. Often, I use 2 oz jars to freeze small portions, but old spaghetti sauce jars also make great storage vessels for anything in the freezer as long as they aren’t filled to the brim.

We finally began composting late last year and I am thrilled that we’re off to such a great start with the practice. I love discarding our leftover peels and kitchen scraps knowing that in a few months they will feed our garden healthy soil. I’ve seen a huge drop in the amount of trash my family produces from the time when my husband and I were just a new couple. Because I changed, I know that others can, too. Taking on a new habit is a challenge, but living with a new habit like being mindful about food consumption is so easy.

There are a lot of additional costs to factor beyond just the price of any food that ends up in the trash. Think about the cost of your trip to the store or the transportation of the food throughout the production process. How much did the packaging cost? When you throw food away, how much are you paying for garbage bags? Your county may even be raising the cost of garbage pickup because of the volume of trash in town is so high. These changes need to start at home because the big companies are even more wasteful. I have seen few fast food restaurants or grocery stores with recycling programs in action. For me, that is inspiration to stay at home and cook a healthy meal.

I value my time at home with my family above all other things. I enjoy taking fewer trips to the grocery store in favor of lazy afternoons reading book after book with my girls. Going to the grocery store with two under two is a huge challenge, even when I wear the baby. By keeping our shopping list consistent and slim, I can get in and out of the store in under an hour. What I’ve noticed so far is that my toddler is very receptive to eating healthy foods when I keep them readily available to her. In fact, I’m going to grab her a carrot right now. We’ll peel it together, compost the peelings and then split the healthy snack. The same foods that used to end up in my trash after being forgotten are now our favorite staples.

I am so happy I made these changes and I invite you to change your food mindset as well. What is one thing that you can do to minimize food waste in your house?

I wrote this post to enter to win an amazing  trip to blog for United Nations Environmental Program’s World Environment Day 2013. If it inspired you to reduce your foodprint, please comment, like, share, tweet, pin and help me get the word out about this important message. Thank you for your support! Learn more: http://unep.org/wed/blog-competition/howto/

Old Man Murray’s Organic Soap Review + Giveaway

My first step to making some eco-friendly adjustments to my beauty routine is to start using organic soap. I recently found out about Old Man Murray’s soaps through a network of Green Mom bloggers and I had to give them a try. Each of the scents has a name that offers an authentic nod to the herbal remedies of the past. There are four divinely feminine soaps and four distinctly masculine options. I selected Honey Butter for myself and Gin and Tonic for Mr. Eco Incognito. Of course he decided to use mine anyway, but I would say that they both offer a refreshing cleanse so they are certainly appropriate for either gender.

Until recently, I’ve been a body wash junkie, but I’ve never found one that has had a lasting effect on my skin after a shower. I was always hesitant to use bar soap because I thought it dried out my skin. However, I was missing the important step of lathering up with lotion after showering. A body wash contains lotion and lots of water, so it generally costs more than using a bar of soap and your own lotion. Plus, taking the additional step after a shower helps lock moisture in your skin and promotes relaxation. I don’t have a lot of time these days for a beauty routine, but I’ve decided that this is worth it.

To put Old Man Murray’s to the ultimate test, I even shaved my legs using just the soap. I have always thought I had sensitive skin, but now I’m wondering if my reactions were to the parabens and additives in popular shave gels. I was surprised and delighted to find out that I could get a clean, close shave simply using a bar of soap. Even the packaging is a great alternative to the cans.

There are a lot of reasons why I want to ‘green’ my beauty routine and I feel like adding this soap to the mix is a great first step. I hope you’ll give it a try, too! I love this list of ingredients in the Gin + Tonic soap. Look at all the great benefits of each component.

handmade natural soap

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

You can win the Old Man Murray’s soap of your choice by commenting on this post! Simply click over to http://www.oldmanmurrays.com/ and let us know which herbal organic soap you would love to try in the comments below.

You can earn two extra entries:

1. ‘Like’ Old Man Murray’s on Facebook, then come back and leave a comment letting us know!

2. ‘Like’ Eco Incognito on Facebook, then come back and leave a comment letting us know!

3. Follow Old Man Murray on Twitter.

4. Sign up for the Old Man Murray’s newsletter on the bottom-right of the home page at http://www.oldmanmurrays.com/

Contest is open to US residents only. Winners will be announced 2/19/13 and contacted via email. 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Mr. Eco Incognito says: Use Your GI Bill to Grow Greatness

Squids and Devil Dogs, take heed. When you’re driving out the gate for the last time and wondering, “what am I gonna do next” the best answer is to use your GI Bill. I know how you feel. I took a summer off before deciding my life direction and while I did enjoy sitting by the pool browsing the job market, I never would have thought that a program like this was available. The G.I. Bill will give you the opportunity to do a little hard work at the school of your choice in order to move closer to your next career. I just found out about a unique program in Pennsylvania that only takes one year and gives veterans accelerated training to fill the needs of the agriculture industry. Click this link to learn about the certificate in Organic Agriculture Education from Delaware Valley College: http://www.delval.edu/academics/for-military-members-veterans/veteran-organic-farming-program

gi bill

Here’s your chance to spend a year along side some good people who know the value of an honest day’s worth of work. Being from Kansas and growing up with a love for the outdoors, I would have jumped at the chance to get this certificate after getting out of the Navy. Sure they’ve got expert teachers and a well-rounded curriculum, but we all know that the best part is going to be getting your hands dirty all day during the summer. After taking the classes, you’ll be ready to lead the farming industry. Pennsylvania is home to many farms and a growing population of people who are seeking healthy food. This is the perfect place to learn how to grow a successful organic crop and then enter the market as a leader.

The best part is that the VA pays 100% of tuition plus a generous housing allowance for a living stipend. Ditch the BDUs for a pair of dungarees and go back to your roots. Help things grow and take some time to think. You deserve to find something great after all your hard work. Why not grow greatness yourself?

Eliminate the Top 5 Budget Busters for Financial Freedom

Last year my family cut costs and stocked our home with useful goods for promoting financial freedom. I finally realized that eliminating wasteful costs could open opportunities that would have taken us much longer to attain. We bought a home, paid for a home birth out of pocket, and completed a myriad of household repairs. This financial windfall would be difficult on any budget, but it was even harder to attack as a single-income family. We did it by leveraging responsible debt and substituting the biggest budget busters for sensible alternatives.

budget busterWhat are the Top 5 Budget Busters?

1. Diapers

2. Paper towels

3. Ziplock bags

4. Food and Beverage Waste

5. Cleaning Supplies

By purchasing these items month after month, we were literally throwing out money. Although it may seem like disposable products save time through convenience, when you factor in the need to purchase them repeatedly and the time spent earning the money to pay for them, they are not nearly as great as they seem. Attacking these parts of your budget first can free up funds for entertainment and experiential rewards. As a new family, it’s easy to literally throw away TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS in the first two years of your baby’s life. Spending money on diapers, wipes, trash bags, and gasoline for trips to the store doesn’t make sense compared to the simple alternative of using cloth diapers and washing them at home.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m standing on a soapbox here, but I really think it is important to put this in perspective. For all the Moms I meet that are burnt out, that $2000 could easily be spent on a maid, a relaxing getaway, or multiple spa visits. I suggest spending this money directly on yourself as opposed to initiating a college fund or adding toys to the playroom. You deserve a reward for your hard (and downright dirty) work! Whether you use a disposable or reusable diaper, you will still be handling poop. I guarantee that a bright fluffy cloth diaper will soften the experience and open your eyes to a great green world of savings. Plus, when it is time for Baby #2 (no pun intended) you will relish the savings even more!

At first, establishing a family budget was an uphill battle with my husband. No matter how much we talked through plans, we would always go overboard and add unnecessary stress to our marriage. Ask Mr. Eco Incognito about the 3 months we spent without cable and he will tell you that it practically led to a divorce. Even though I would eagerly ditch cable again at a whim, I recognize the importance for him and have worked around that. Bending other budget lines to accomodate that made me realize that entertainment should be one of the first line items to fill, not cut! Why else should we work so hard?

Here’s my suggested breakdown for a well-rounded budget that will suit your needs and fulfill your wants at the same time no matter your income bracket:

25% – Home

15% – Food

15% – Auto

15% – Entertainment

10% – Outdoor Experience

12% – Clothing

5% – Garden

3% – Cleaning Supplies

Why Bother Being Resourceful?

Even more important than saving money for today is teaching our children how to be resourceful in the future. We are constantly hearing that our resources are dwindling, so we must all take the time to educate the next generation on how to live in an eco-conscious fashion. If you ever question the value of going green, look at a young child’s reaction to practices that aren’t green. Her fascination with trash isn’t merely intended to annoy you. In fact, she may just be searching for a way to repurpose those goods!

Which of the top 5 budget busters would you like to eliminate from your household?

Hannah’s First Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

They say that Chicken Noodle Soup is good for the soul. This is my first winter testing out the homemade version and I already whole-heartedly agree. First of all, it couldn’t be easier to make such a healthy and satisfying meal for my family. More importantly, Hannah LOVES to eat the chicken and fresh veggies. Finding the time to cook with two little ones is not alway easy, so I decided to bring my little assistant into the kitchen with me. Overall, she was an enthusiastic sieu chef. She also performed the royal tasting duties to ensure that the ingredients were safe to eat! I demonstrated how to peel carrots and gave her a peeler. Over time, we’ll work on making that her job.

Chicken Noodle SoupThis recipe is far from perfect, but I like to serve it to Hannah as a finger food with just a little bit of broth. It’s perfect for her because it is light on the salt and heavy on the veggies. I love to watch her eagerly pick up the pieces and announce “NOM!” with every bite.

Ingredients:

1 Whole Chicken

8 Cups Water

6 Carrots

6 Stalks of celery (or, use lots of the smaller stalks and reserve the large pieces for snacks)

1 Onion

4 teaspoons salt

1 clove garlic, diced

1/2 Pound Rotini Pasta Noodles

Directions:

Chop carrots, celery, and onion into 1/4 inch pieces. Dice the garlic. Combine all ingredients, except noodles, in a large pan or slow cooker. For a slow cooker, simmer on low heat for 6-8 hours. If using a dutch oven, bring to a rolling boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for an additional 2 hours. Remove the chicken, then skin and discard the bones and fat from the chicken. In the meantime add noodles to the broth to cook for 20 to 60 minutes depending on the cooking method. Dice the chicken and add it back to the soup. Store in quart sized reusable containers and freeze any portions that won’t be eaten within 3 days.

Recipe adapted from: http://www.food.com/recipe/slow-cooker-chicken-noodle-soup-198707

chicken noodle soup recipeThe thing I’m learning about soup is that it’s a great way to use up anything in the fridge. Don’t let veggies go bad, instead make a broth or chili. Freeze extra chicken to include in your next batch of soup. On the other hand, when you cook a chicken like this, you can reserve some for other dishes like quesadillas. Let your creativity guide conscientious food use in the kitchen!

For those who have been following this blog, I’m happy to report that we are now composting. We started reserving scraps over the Holiday and received a new compost bin on Christmas day from my in-laws. Making this soup, reserving the peels for a veggie stock, and then sending everything out to the compost bin where it will ultimately help enrich the soil in our garden this summer was a huge boost for the soul. The meals I make may not always be pretty, but from now on they will be hearty and thoughtfully prepared.

This is a recipe I will be proud to pass down through generations in my family (even if they do add extra salt.)