Friday, March 28, 2008

Another pair of broken glasses

It seems like glasses always get broken at the wrong time. Not that there is ever a good time to break them of course, but it seems to happen at a time when you can least afford to replace them.

As you may have read, we had to replace our computer last week which was an expense we could have done without. However, since I work from home and we use Skype as our phone, replacing it was something of a priority.

Now after the money was spent, it was time for my daughter to break her glasses, which unless we want her crashing into things all day, we need to replace. Not a big deal generally, but after buying a new computer last week, the funds were just not available. Thankfully we still have an old pair laying around with a similar prescription to get us by.

Well today I ran across a site that seemed too good to be true. They are offering prescription glasses starting at $8 a pair. Really. Now typically I would have just passed this site by as being some sort of rip off, but circumstances being what they are I decided to look into it a bit more. Boy am I glad I did.

They have a huge selection of glasses available and by the large amount of positive reviews available on the web, I feel pretty comfortable giving them a chance. We will order a pair next week and if all goes well I will have a review available shortly after we return from our trip.

Until then, check them out at Zenni Optical and see what you think.

Hopefully this will be yet another option available for those of us going green.

Photography by kat callard

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making the old straw fort into a home

For a short period of time as a kid we used to visit and stay on a farm. Now it wasn't a big farm or anything, but they did have horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens and even a monkey. Don't ask me how the monkey fit into the whole set up because all it really did was stay locked in a cage/shed in the yard and scare the crap out of us if we ever got too close.

One of our chores of course was to clean out the stalls and put out fresh hay for the animals. This meant there were always plenty of bales up in the loft which we felt was our duty to rearrange on a regular basis just in case we could find a more efficient method of stacking them. Generally we would tend to find the best, if not necessarily most efficient method resulted in a stack with a hollow center, complete with hidden access tunnel.

During afternoons of hiding out in the stack we would of course fantasize about living in such places. Little did we know that many people around the world actually do. Of course the straw bale homes of reality bear little resemblance to our dreams as kids, and in fact, other then some superficial differences look pretty much like a normal home.

There are however some very big differences in the efficiencies of the straw bale home that would attract even the most skeptical. One of the most informative sites I have seen on this subject so far is and I encourage you to browse their site for a more comprehensive explanation of the benefits these homes bring to the home owner.

Some of the basics that have drawn my attention are listed below

  • High insulation value- The Department of Energy gives straw bale an efficiency of R-50, much higher then the standard stick built home. The actual value will depend on bale sizes and positioning, but even cutting that in half is pretty impressive. Straw bale homes can save hundreds of dollars a year in energy needs
  • Highly fire resistant- I know that seems backwards, but the fact the bales are highly compressed in the home, along with the thick coatings of stucco and or plaster mean there is very little air to feed the flames if and when they finally do reach the straw.
  • Sound proof- The same thickness of walls that provide high insulation value also provide great sound proofing benefits.
  • Environmentally friendly- Very few, if any trees are needed for these homes and because straw is a byproduct that is often burned it reduces pollutants and is readily available all over the world.
  • DIY- Straw bale homes are much easier for the DIY'r because many of the steps of building can be done by the average person. Those with more skill can do the whole thing themselves if they choose to.
If you are interested in learning more, check out and browse the many resources found there. You can also watch many of their videos on You Tube to see if this is something you would be interested in doing yourself.

Finally, if this is something you would like to pursue or even recommend to a family member you can purchase these step by step instructional DVD's.

While not everyone can afford to build their own home, myself included, I find options such as this very interesting and believe that the more people aware of alternatives such as this, the more likely it is these homes are to become mainstream. That is something that can benefit everyone.

Photography by Craig Jewell

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Phone bill getting you down? Cut the cord once and for all.

As I mentioned before, part of going green to me is cutting back on expenses and consumption. This means we can spend less time working just to afford living.

One of the largest expenses we have cut out is our phone bill. We got rid of our cell phones and our land line about two years ago and replaced them with Skype. Now we have our basic cable bill which includes high speed Internet and pay about $3.00 a month for Skype. This has saved us roughly $100 a month.

So for just over the cost of basic cable we have TV, Internet and telephone. Not a bad deal.

A couple of things to consider though. First Skype does not support 911 calls. If this bothers you you may want to consider other options. Or you can get a $10.00 prepaid cell phone for emergency use and call it good. Second, Skype needs Internet access and electricity to work. If you lose either you are out of luck.

For most people it also requires a computer, however you can get around this by using a Skype enabled WiFi phone if you are set up for wireless access at home.

Last week when our computer crashed we saw just how important getting the WiFi phone is. At any rate, the financial savings and overall quality of service have far outweighed the inconvenience of the last week.

This is yet another way to cut back without adversely affecting your quality of life. In fact once you are no longer working to pay that phone bill month after month you may say your quality of life has improved.

Photograpy by Fillipas T

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Whiling away a week without a computer

So last week our computer died which pretty much led to the end of life as I know it. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but the first couple of days without the Internet almost had me convinced I was the last man on earth.

Besides the panicked scrambling around trying to figure out was wrong and hoping it was all just a bad dream I would wake up from, I had to find other things to do. After the initial shock this wasn't so bad. I put together the basic plan for another blog I will be writing about my lazy square foot garden. I also took some before and after pictures with our our new camera and will continue journaling my amateur experiences both good and bad.

Now this will not be an opportunity for others to learn great gardening secrets, but you can learn from my mistakes or just laugh at my bumbling idiocy.

As I mentioned in a previous post my goals are to provide some fresh food for our family with as little work as possible. This also allows my children to see that food does not come from the supermarket. In addition, I hope to help lower our energy bill this summer by providing additional shade for the windows on the sunny side of our house as well as the deck which reflects heat into our living room.

If you would like to watch or just point and laugh, come check out my lazy square foot garden.

Along with some minor work on the garden I have been learning how to use vista which is the operating system that came with this new computer. Now for the cool part, this whole post was dictated into the voice recognition software. This has been a bit of a challenge and fortunately for my head I keep my hair cut short. Otherwise the baldness I am experiencing would probably be patchy and accompanied by much pain.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ever wished you could light that fart?

Here's a nifty solution that makes it possible to reduce waste while providing both fuel for your home and fertilizer for your home garden.

Sintex Industries has come up with a new biogas digester that turns human waste, cow poo and kitchen garbage into fuel that can be used for cooking or generating electricity. They designed this nifty digester to address India's concerns regarding both sanitation and growing energy needs.

The digester uses bacteria to break down waste which in turn emits gases, mostly methane. These gases are then piped into a storage canister.

They claim a family of 4 can provide enough energy to cook all of their meals as well as fertilize their garden, and at $425 pays for itself in 2 years in India.

With fuel prices headed no where but up, an investment such as this makes sense here at home as well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Drive for Free?

We recently paid our car off and right after I ran across this 6 minute presentation that could have saved us a TON of cash had we seen it and taken heed.

Since I believe going green is more about lifestyle changes that can affect your families overall well being in addition to our environment I thought I would post this here for you to take advantage of as well.

No, I am not recommending you sell your car and buy a bike or walk everywhere (unless you're really in to that). Instead, this video is for anyone who is about to commit to those monthly car payments that will trap you for many years to come.

You will learn how to get a car that you own in full by paying yourself instead of the bank in a very short time. If you are really serious, it will show you how to own a newer car every 5 years or so without ever paying another dime after the initial investment. I know this is how we will buy any future cars as any other way is a silly waste of money and time away from my family.

Now that you know how to save a couple of buckets of money on your next car purchase, make sure not to blow it all on gas and get something as fuel efficient as your needs and pocket book will allow.

Photography by Thiago Felipe Festa

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The pen is mightier then the...pocket book?

I have said this before and I will say it again. I am relatively new to this whole environmentally friendly thing and other then recycling, haven't done much until recently.

The last couple of years though, I have participated in some online email campaigns touting the evils of various legislation and asking my senators and congressman to vote against policy that is sure to destroy our planet and every single living thing on it. Really.

At the same time I have worked for companies that paid me to contact average Jane's and Joe's and discuss current pending legislation that will surely doom them to poverty through a variety of cost increases if they don't ACT NOW! If they are properly convinced, I would then proceed to write a letter on their behalf asking their representative to take appropriate action to prevent said evil. The letter would then be mailed directly to that very same Jane or Joe in a pre addressed and stamped envelope ready for them to sign, seal and send to the appropriate official. It cost them nothing more then a pleasant chat over the phone with me and the time it took them to review and mail the letter once received. Again, really.

For doing this I was paid quite well.

You may be asking if this is a conflict of interest and my answer is no.

The reason for that is I believe in our free market system and its ability to react to consumer demand assuming our government doesn't discourage it from doing so through endless and senseless legislation and one sided (or severely lopsided) support taken from tax payers pockets (otherwise known as subsidies). Much of what we did supported specific points that addressed getting gov't out of the pockets of business.

Why am I telling you this?

Assuming an even playing field, I believe consumer demand will move business into a more sustainable and environmentally friendly direction. It has been said many times before, but it is worth saying again that if we want something, we can vote with our pocket book. I believe this has never been truer or more important then it is at this time in our history.

But more then that, and the reason I told you what I did above is the saying the pen is mightier then the sword. Companies affected by the various legislation are well aware of this fact and they act accordingly by investing big money paying people to put pen to paper. Believe me, this is very effective or they wouldn't do it.

This same tool can be used in our favor too. You can do like I have done and send in those pre written form emails you see online or get in your in box and they may even help a little. But I am convinced it will only help a little. Or you can write an honest to goodness physical letter and make a real impact.

Now that you have decided to write this world changing letter, who are you going to send it to? Well that depends on the issue and where you live, but generally speaking it would go to your local representative. However I think you can do one better and send it directly to those that matter.

Now you are probably asking who could matter more then our elected leaders and I can understand that but remember I said I believe in our free market system and think we ought to keep Big G out of the way.

Instead of writing your representatives, try writing to the same companies you buy your products and services from. In fact, send a copy to your local news station while you are at it.

But here is the important part. You need to seek out the companies that are already doing the things you like and thank them for it. That's right, send them a simple "thank you" letter detailing what you like about the things they have done and make sure they realize the best way to ensure your future patronage is to continue making improvements in their business practices.

Can you imagine the difference it would make if we started acknowledging and encouraging the positive actions of these companies?

It is easy to forget there are real people in charge of these companies that can be influenced by praise for a job well done. And hey, if the letter you send them isn't enough, the local news running a story on consumer reaction to the positive actions they have taken is sure to get someones attention.

Just another way an average Joe (or Jane) can make a difference.

Photography by Nadya Smolskaya

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Piano sized dreams on a keyboard sized budget?

How about no budget?

Do you need something but just can't seem to scrape together enough money to buy it at the local outlet? Well why don't you just ask for it? Millions of people around the world are doing just that, and people in their communities are more then happy to give it to them. No strings attached.

I mentioned earlier that part of going green is reducing waste as well as limiting the buying of stuff. One of the best ways to do that is to join the local Freecycle group and become one of over 4 million people around the world who are giving items they no longer need to those who do.

On a typical day you can find local people asking for or giving almost anything you can imagine. Do you need a working power cord for that lamp in the corner? Maybe your kids have outgrown some of their clothes and you are tired of them taking up space in the closet. Perhaps you bought a couple boxes of the new frozen pizza rolls only to find you'd rather eat treats out of the litter box like fido does.

Whether you need something or need to get rid of something, chances are you can find a match on Freecycle.

To give it a try, simply sign up for a free Yahoo! account and look for a group near you. Once you have found and joined a group you will need to decide if you want to read posts at the website or if you prefer to read them via email. If you choose email, just be aware a busy group will keep your in box full. In that case, simply select to receive email from the group in digest form and you will typically get them in batches of 25.

Now simply sit back and wait. If you see something you like, act fast because things go quick. As you can imagine free is a pretty popular price with most people. Just remember to give as well as take and be honest about the condition of the items you give. Most anything goes and finding a taker is generally pretty easy.

No group near you? Start your own and help reduce waste in your community.

Have fun, good luck and be proud you are helping to reduce the strain on our planets resources.

Things you can find on Freecycle include:
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Electronics
  • Kitchenware
  • Garden tools
  • Craft supplies
  • Cars (seriously)
  • Boats (again, seriously)
  • Pretty much anything else too (hey if people will give cars and boats, why doubt me?)
Photography by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Monday, March 10, 2008

Water. The miracle cure?

I mentioned in my post on "going green" that we have replaced most beverages in our diet with water and have made an impact by reducing waste and saving a lot of cash. But are we actually saving our lives or at least dramatically improving our health (yet more savings financially) in the process?

This interview with the late Dr. Batmanghelidj may just change your perception of the value of water. In it he discusses how many of our "illnesses" are actually just results of varying levels of dehydration and why some groups would rather encourage us to overlook the health benefits of simply drinking more water.

If you like the article and are the kind of person who wants to hear it from the horses mouth so to speak, visit and read more about the late doctors research.

I can tell you first hand the difference drinking more water has had on me. Growing up, from the age of about 13 or 14 I was getting headaches pretty much every day. After several visits to the doctors and a couple prescriptions of "reading glasses" I pretty much resigned myself to living with headaches as a way of life. This meant years of a variety of over the counter pain medications to help limit but not eliminate the pain.

It wasn't until I was 26 and in Culinary School that I read about the effects of caffeine and dehydration that I finally found true relief. At that point I cut out probably 50% of my soda and coffee intake and replaced it with plain old water. After a few days of caffeine withdrawals, my almost daily headaches became a thing of the past.

What I find interesting all these years later is the doctors approach to resolving the problem. There was no focus on finding dietary causes of my headaches and instead attempts to treat the symptoms via medications and prescription glasses. Had we focussed on finding the cause, rather then treating the symptoms, I could have saved myself years of headaches and a whole lot of money.

Please, by all means seek the advice of a medical professional if you need to. Just make sure you are doing what you can to eliminate any causes to your health issues rather then simply treating the symptoms.

Photography by Mike Munchel

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cow Power

What does aand a have in common?

They may both be powering your home in the very near future. That is if you live in Riverdale California and are served by PG&E's local power company.

David Albers, president of BioEnergy Solutions has spearheaded the Vintage Dairy Biogas Project in California's agricultural heartland. They will soon be adding enough cow power to the grid to provide energy for up to 1,200 homes a day.

The project takes the manure from the Riverdale farms 5,000 cows and produces methane gas that is processed and then fed into PG&E's pipeline.

Next time you are pan searing your steak and onions and drinking your favorite micro brew, take a moment and thank the animal that made it all possible. Not only did he provide the steaks, he brought the gas to cook it too.

Photography by diego medrano and dave gostisha

The Global Warming Fad

The consensus is in... Global Warming is a fad.

After tabulating the results of a rather exhaustive *poll, it is clear this whole global warming thing is just a cash cow for those who stand to make a buck. The whole "is it really happening?" or "is it caused by man?" crap is a bunch of pointless propaganda coming from both sides of the argument ( not debate because neither side really hears or cares what the other has to say).

Don't get me wrong, I am sure there are a great number of good honest people on both sides that truly believe their side is right and the other side for whatever reason has just not seen the light. But they mostly seem to be missing the point. As a result we have millions of people on both sides of the issue throwing a great deal of time and effort, not to mention money trying to prove they are right and the rest are just misinformed.

Behind these well meaning people we also have a large number of groups on both sides funneling in money and support doing their best to ensure their financial interests are protected. Many of these groups are not convinced either way, but instead see a real risk to future profits if the general population swings to the side of the opposition.

The crazy thing is, all this endless back and forth harms every one of us by sidetracking us from what really matters.

Wouldn't it make more sense to move past the endless arguing about the reality of something we probably won't prove satisfactorily for either side in our lifetimes and focus on things that we can control here and now?

How many of us would agree we need to stop raping the planet of it's resources before we either run out or poison ourselves with indiscriminate dumping or pointless waste? How many of us would agree we need to move towards renewable sources of energy so we can once and for all end our dependence on other nations and their whims to keep the backbone of our economy intact and strong? And how many of us would like to see the money spent on all the above kept in our country, providing jobs and opportunity to our people first, and helping others only after we have strengthened and secured our own future?

Imagine what could happen if average people everywhere said enough is enough and just started with themselves at home. If we all stopped worrying about who is right or wrong and began working on going green ourselves. Sooner, rather then later those in charge of supplying us with our goods and services will have to take notice or risk losing business to those who will.

Stop worrying about this global warming fad and enriching those who would profit off of the fear mongering and misinformation coming from both sides. It won't be too long before this fad, like all others is just a bad memory. Instead, focus on making personal choices at home that are more responsible both to your family and our planet. After all, we are each responsible for the impact our personal decisions have on the world around us and everything we do will affect the condition of the world we leave our children.

*Poll was conducted from a random sampling of me, and holds just as much value as any other poll using leading questions and selective interpretation of resulting data.

Photography by
sanja gjenero

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Growing your own

This past summer I started my first garden and it was pretty big success in my opinion. We didn't get huge returns as far as food is concerned, but I did learn without a doubt that an average guy can pretty successfully grow some of his own food without much fuss.

Because we are renters I went with the square foot gardening method or SFG. We had permission to plant, but the fact is our back deck takes up about 1/3 of our yard space and the garden would take away from our kids play area which is a key reason we chose this place over others.

So what I did was build 4 of Mel's boxes and put them up on legs on our deck. At some point this year I will put up some pic's, but briefly what I did was place them half on and half off of the deck so we still have almost full use of the deck and the yard.

They are raised enough that the top of the soil is roughly 2 feet above the deck to help limit some of the bending associated with gardening and the kids can enjoy standing to pick things.

At any rate, the work was minimal and we were able to enjoy fresh lettuce, sugar snap peas radishes/greens and garlic greens through a good part of the summer. I also planted tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and broccoli with less success, but still had the same enjoyment watching them grow.

This year I will try a few things differently and see how it goes, but key among the differences is to plant peas and beans directly in front of our back windows to help keep out the hot sun and lower the need to use the air conditioner. As it is, the garden boxes themselves helped a lot last year by preventing so much of the suns heat from reflecting off of the deck into our home.

So for us, the garden provided fresh food, entertainment, shade and lower energy bills. Not a bad trade off and really very little work involved. Not only that, but our kids saw first hand that vegetables do not come from a can. Now to convince my wife to let me raise some rabbits.

Photography by Linda DuBose

Sunday, March 2, 2008

So what exactly is "Going Green"?

It seems to me there is no clear definition as to what constitutes going green so I think it's time to define what it means to me. I should also point out that as with many things, my personal definition will probably change over time as I learn more and as my families circumstances change. For now however, I think the following about covers it.

For me, going green is more of a lifestyle or life habit change. It covers pretty much anything that improves our quality of life. This covers everything from using or doing things that result in less waste to send to the landfill to deciding not to buy things or paying for services that will result in needing to spend more time working to pay for those things.

It isn't a decision to strictly follow any particular path or guidance but instead to simply try and make better choices that will have less of a negative impact on us and the world around us.

One example is drinking water instead of soda and getting our water from the tap instead of buying it in bottles from the store. This has had a pretty positive impact on our health because we no longer drink acids, sugars, artificial sweeteners/flavors/colors and chemicals as our main source of hydration. We save on our health, money and an endless amount of cans/bottles that would need recycled by giving up something that was really nothing more then a 2 day craving and withdrawal process once given up. We lost nothing but gained a lot.

Another basic example is giving up handys, or cell phones. In my opinion, most people really don't need them. I'm sure many may disagree, but in our personal lives, we see no reason for anyone with our number to be able to reach us 24/7. Heck, these phones haven't even been around all that long and we act as if we can't live life without them. Besides I bet if you think about it, you typically screen/ignore a large portion of the calls that come in on them to begin with so why pay some company month in and month out for that privilege?

How many hours do you have to work each month for that privilege? 1-2-5- more? It may not seem like much, but if you sit down and think about all the little things that don't seem like much, you may find a significant portion of your time is spent working to pay for all the little things. Would you rather be home with friends and family, or at work so you can afford to ignore their call?

For me, going green is as simple as that. Just working towards a lifestyle that allows us to be together instead of at work so we can pay for the things that keep us apart. The funny thing is, contrary to popular opinion and all 800 million commercials on t.v., living a bit simpler is healthier, easier, more enjoyable and much less stressful since we do not have to worry as much about how we will pay for all the extras.

It has taken a long time to realize this and like many I missed my children's younger years working to pay for the extras. But slowly and as time goes by we are learning to make choices that really do improve our lives, instead of ones that distract us and lead to an endless spiral of living to work so we can pay yet more bills.

Believe me, we have the debt to prove we are learning the hard way, but in the end it is a lesson well worth learning.

Photography by Dora Pete