Monday, March 26, 2012

Green Up Your Lawn and Garden--and Your Wallet

Welcome to Week No. 2 of Re: a weekly post of ideas for living a greener life. If you are interested in guest posting on a "green" topic, please contact me. Relevant topics include anything related to reducing, reusing, recycling, reclaiming and repurposing.

Can you believe how quickly winter slipped into spring? Seems brown has given way to green virtually overnight. Yes, spring definitely has sprung in the Midwest.

In our neck of the woods, precipitation was relatively scarce during this past winter. Nothing wrong with that from a driving perspective. But as the daffodils, tulips and hostas begin to shoot skyward, the lack of moisture can be problematic.

Before you drag out your hose or awaken your sleeping sprinkler system, pause a couple minutes to take in a few tips on using water wisely--a move that can help you beautify your lawn and garden, while keeping your water bill in check during the growing season.

Water Saved Is a Penny Earned

Water covers about 70 percent of the earth's surface. Of that, only 3 percent is freshwater--97 percent is saltwater. And, of the freshwater, 68.7 percent is trapped in glaciers and unavailable for drinking water.

The average American household uses about 100,000 gallons of water annually--inside and outside. Here are just a few of the ways you can help reduce the amount of water you use outside this year.

Choose your watering time wisely. Watering between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. is ideal to minimize evaporation. Up to 30 percent of water is wasted through evaporation when you water midday. Why water in the morning instead of the evening? Lawn care experts say watering at night can promote the growth of fungus, which can be deadly to a green lawn.

Also pay attention to the wind, as a significant amount of water evaporates when the winds are strong--not to mention that most of the wind-blown water lands somewhere other than where it's needed most.
Save rainwater for outdoor use. Okay, I feel a tad bit guilty listing this one even though it truly can help cut your water bills. Collecting rainwater for later outdoor use is a relatively inexpensive and easy step--and yet I haven't put my money where my mouth is. Shame on me. But I did hint about a rain collection barrel for Mother's Day.

You can find a suitable barrel at nearly any price point ranging from under $100 up to several hundred dollars, depending on your wants and needs. Barrels come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from utilitarian in appearance to something slightly more stylish.  The one above, available from Sears, looks somewhat more decorative than most. Check your local garden shops or hardware stores to see what's available in your area.

Recycle other sources of water.  Don't let everyday sources of water go down the drain. Instead, capture and use water from your air conditioning condenser, dehumidifier, bath or cooking. Consider saving the water from boiling eggs or potatoes, letting it cool and using it on your container plants. My grandma never let a good pot of water go to waste. What potato water she didn't reuse in cooking always went into the garden.

We live in an older house that doesn't have a whole-house dehumidifier. Living in the Midwest, we have enough humidity and square footage to run two portable units almost constantly for six or more months of the year.  I collect enough dehumidifier water to keep 25 or so large outdoor pots moist during the entire growing season.

If you reuse household waste water such as bath or dish water, be sure it is free from bleach, automatic dish washing detergent and fabric softener, all of which can damage your lawn and plants.

Install a rain sensor on your sprinkler system. Don't you think it looks goofy to drive down the street on a rainy day and see the neighbors' sprinklers running full bore? If your sprinklers are competing with the rain, you might want to install a rain sensor that will let your system bypass a watering cycle when it rains. In the long run, the device will pay for itself in lower water bills--ours did.

Fix any leaks in your faucet or hose.  If you hose has any leaks, patch it with plumber's tape or purchase a new one. If leaks at the junction of the faucet and the hose attachment are spraying your money all over the side of your house or dripping it into the ground below the faucet, try replacing the rubber gasket inside the hose attachment. Tighten the hose as much as possible when you attach it to the faucet.

If you're looking to cut your total water bill in half, these simple tips likely won't do that. But, following even a couple of them can help mitigate the spikes in your outdoor water use during the summer months. Every penny counts. And, even if you didn't save any money by putting these ideas into practice, you could feel good knowing that you're helping to conserve that precious 3 percent of the earth's fresh water.

Have an outdoor watering tip to share? Post yours in the comment section.

Make it a great day!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Egg-ceptional Decorating Device

When my husband and I were shopping a few years ago,  he came across these nice plastic eggs. I really liked them, but he loved them so much, he bought every one the store had! What would I ever do with all those eggs?

Well, turns out they're a perfect addition to any springtime decor. You can see some of them around the dining room, along with a few bunnies to mark the beginning of spring.

Make it a great day!

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Feature: Ideas for a Greener Lifestyle

 Don't blow it. Good planets are hard to find.
--As quoted in Time magazine


When raising their two daughters in the 1950s and '60s, my parents instilled in us a tremendous respect for the earth and its limited natural resources.

They taught us to respect nature, to use and reuse, to repurpose and to save. That nurturing made my sister and me who we are today. For as long as I can remember, my little sis and I have sought out other people's cast-off treasures and have repurposed them right along with many of our own well-worn but salvageable belongings.

And, in my family's household, we continually look for new and better ways to contribute to the greater environmental good and reduce our carbon footprint.

It seems a shame not to share some of the great information I stumble across when I'm out surfing  "green" blogs and articles. So, today I'm kicking off Re:, a simple little feature to share a variety of ideas about how we can all adopt more earth-friendly lifestyles.  I hope to provide a good mix of crafty and repurposing ideas, along with some more practical, everyday-type tips for saving money, energy and the environment.

My plan is to post Re: every Monday--hope I don't disappoint and can keep it up. And, I hope you'll be able to take away an idea or two to put to good use in saving our good Earth. Maybe you'll even save some money along the way.

Re: kicks off with an eye toward fashion. Refashioned fashion, that is.

Repurposing old clothing, linens and other soft goods is nothing new. Every day there are literally thousands of designers, artists and craftspeople who contribute to the green movement by rescuing items from the brink of the landfill and repurpose them into weird, wild and wonderful creations. The ingenuity of these talented people never ceases to amaze me.

Not only does repurposing help reduce the amount of material that ends up in landfills, it has the potential to save you a little of the green stuff (money, in this case). If you're inclined to be entrepreneurial, repurposing might even be a cash cow for you.

So, for this maiden feature, I thought I'd feature a couple of designers whose reclamation projects are especially clever and interesting.

Recently, I came across the website of designer Catherine Edouard Charlot, Himane Sustainable Designs. According to her bio, Catherine strives for creative, innovative, classy, earthy one-of-a-kind items that are locally made. Her primary "raw" material is the fabric from "found" and "retired" umbrellas.

A recent story I found on Earth911 quoted Catherine as saying she literally picks up a lot of the umbrellas she uses off the streets of New York City. The pickings are plentiful after a rainy day in the Big Apple, she says. Can't you just imagine her fetching mangled and tossed umbrellas from gutters, sidewalks and trash cans?

For a look at the wonderful bags, accessories and clothing Catherine creates, I hope you'll hop on over to her website. Check out the Earth911 article to be delighted by her stunning umbrella wedding dress.

As if clearing the New York streets of umbrella litter weren't enough, Catherine commits a portion of the proceeds from each item she sells to establishing a sustainable school for the children in her home country of Haiti.

Since about halfway through her first year of blogging, I've been following Marisa at New Dress a Day. Early in 2010, I stumbled across her fantastic website and her incredibly fun challenge to make a new outfit a day for 365 days on $365. That's a dollar a day. So, you guessed it--no clothes shopping at Gap, Ann Taylor or even Kohl's or Target.

Marisa, instead, did her shopping at local thrift shops and could spend no more than $1 per item. If that weren't enough to pique one's interest, what she did with those bargain-basement-priced items will knock your socks off and just might hook you as it did me!

Since beginning her project in 2009, Marisa's daily sewing projects have evolved, but the fun, surprise and delight continues in full swing. Most recently, Marisa is taking item donations from readers who seek to challenge her creative talents with the good, bad and ugly of rejected garments they contribute to the fun.

These two women--Catherine and Marisa--like so many of you who make a difference one reclaimed piece at a time, represent the "new environmentalists."

Yes, we all try to do our part recycling our newspapers and cans and plastic. We put our heat and air conditioning on timers. We turn off our lights when we leave a room. And, we keep our vehicles properly tuned to realize the best gas mileage possible.

But, for me, little is more satisfying than knowing I've kept a piece of furniture, a well-used kitchen item or an outdated article of clothing out of the landfill by turning it into something "brand new."

Ahhhh. That feels good.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It's not.
--Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax

Make it a great day!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Gift Box 40 Years Later

Some time back, I bought an ugly-duckling of a box at a thrift store for 98 cents. It was wooden with a hinged lid that looked like it was intended for something like holding stationery and pens. 

Looks like someone had lovingly hand-painted the lid, signed it on the inside, created a nice velvet lining and given it as a gift back in 1972. I began sanding the paint off the lid before I remembered to take photos, so the Chinese letters that had been painted in super thick gold paint are almost gone at the time of this photo session.

Even though I chose to redo this box with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, I had to give the lid a pretty deep sanding.  The decorative paint that had been applied back in the '70s, was so thick it had substantial ridges that would have shown through any new paint job.

After I applied a nice coat of ASCP Paris Grey, I used Rosemary's splendid blender pen transfer method to create the wonderful image from The Graphics Fairy. Then I distressed the entire piece. I followed that with a coat of Annie Sloan soft wax and then a light brushing of the dark wax for a more aged look.

In reality, though, it wasn't as simple as all that. When I tried the blender pen transfer the first time, rather than transfer the image, the blender pen simply stripped the paint off the lid. Not to be deterred, however, I painted just the image area with another coat of Paris Grey, let it dry, and added a second coat to that small area. And, believing that the third time was bound to be the charm, I added a third coat for good measure. It worked!

I replaced the red velvet lining with a nice selection of handwritten papers, a couple of which also are from Karen's wonderful collection at The Graphics Fairy. After positioning and repositioning the pieces a few times and finding the arrangement I liked, I attached each with a thin coat of Mod Podge and then gave the entire inside a generous coat of matte finish Mod Podge to seal it.

The hinges were in good shape, but tarnished. Even so, I wanted a more aged look, so added some black acrylic paint with a soft cloth, removed the excess paint and sealed it with a clear spray-on sealer.

As I sit here at my laptop and review the photos of this lovely reclaimed stationery box, I suddenly have an urge to handwrite someone a personal note.

Make it a great day!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sprinkling o' the Green

Our family is Irish. Well, about half Irish. Strange, but true: my husband is half Irish and half Danish. And, so am I. I was born with an Irish surname and I've married into an Irish surname. I went from having a more rare Irish name to having one of the most common. In Ireland, you can't swing a pot o' gold without whacking someone with our surname in the head.

Even though we're Irish, I don't decorate for St. Patrick's Day. But anyone who steps into our home for the first time around this time of year might think I honor the saint by bringing out all things green. Truth is, green is my favorite color. Colleagues at work joke that I wear green every day. Friends and family know that if they want to pick up a small gift for me, they're always safe with the color green. 

So, since St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, I thought I'd feature some of the green I've sprinkled around--simply because I love the color.

Yes, it's a green day.

Make it a great day!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Let Them Keep Cake

A few years ago, my husband found this nice, vintage metal cake carrier at an estate sale. He was drawn to its chic metal frame like a magnet.

Funny thing is, he doesn't like cake. Just the carriers. Reminds him of his childhood, I guess. Although, I don't think his mom was into making layer-cakes. And, I'm certainly not. I can't remember the last time I baked anything. Ask my adult children if they remember me ever baking them anything.

Well, the cake carrier came home with us. I put it on a shelf in the storeroom and forgot about it. Occasionally, my better half would say, "We should display that somewhere." I'd nod and promptly forget it.

Enter Cake Carrier No. 2, which my husband found and purchased at an estate sale two summers ago. This time, I decided that rather than having these bulky things--which actually are quite fun and interesting--sitting on a shelf somewhere, I should put them out and enjoy them. So I displayed them on my Hoosier cabinet along with several other bright-colored vintage kitchen items and some of my Thermos.

They say that whenever you have two or more of something, it can be considered a collection. Well, within the last month, my husband doubled the size of his cake carrier collection. when he found these two beauties at estate sales.

The chrome carrier has seen some hard use, but it has great character and wonderful detail around the cover and a wood acorn that serves as a handle.

I love the yellow carrier--definitely my favorite. The mid-century modern design is fun and interesting and reminds me of Sputnik.

The Hoosier cabinet and vintage picnic baskets provide a perfect background for the colorful collection. They also pair nicely with the Bauer custard cups my mom gave me, as well as my collection of Thermos.

So what if we don't bake cake in our household. My husband bakes a mean brownie and these useful treasures are perfect for shuttling pyramids of his delicious goodies.

Cake carriers are space hogs, for sure. They can chew up a lot of real estate on the storage shelves. But, in the "off season," they can store decorative plates and other small glassware and pottery.

If hubby picks up any more of these vintage beauties, I might be in the market for another antique kitchen cabinet to display them on.

Make it a great day!