Archive for April, 2009

It’s Maple Sugar Time

A couple of weeks ago a blog post came through on TreeHugger talking about the effect of climate change on the maple syrup industry in the Northeast.  According to the post, tree migration, warmer weather in the winter months and shorter “cold recharge cycles” are to blame.  I would like to add severe weather to the list, since Western Massachusetts was hit with a huge ice storm this year, which devastated trees of all kinds and also devastated the maple syrup industry in Massachusetts.

These developments are really sad, and upset me on a very personal level.  Every year a group of girlfriends and I make the trek to Western Mass or Southern Vermont for our annual “Maple Weekend.”  We have a core group of five, and periodically there are guest appearances by other friends or family members.  This year we had our first outing with a baby, when one of my friends brought her 8 month old daughter for her first maple experience.

Regardless of the destination, the trip consists of making the rounds from one sugar shack to the next.  This year we had a light year, visiting only 3 or 4 shacks on our one day outing.  In past years we’ve done two day trips  and visit up to 5 shacks per day.  We even have a theme song that we listen to as the expedition gets under way (courtesy of BV): “Maple Syrup Time” by Moxy Fruvous (a cover of a Pete Seger song).

Red Bucket Sugar Shack

Red Bucket Sugar Shack (That's steam from boiling the maple sap!)

The one thing that all of the shacks we visit has in common is that they boil their own syrup, other than that they are very different.  We usually start the day at a shack that serves a solid breakfast complete with all the maple syrup you can eat.  One year we went to a place where they gave out shots of maple syrup.  Yumm!!!

Next we move on to a place with maple cotton candy and maple roasted nuts.  They even have maple kettle corn.  After a couple of additional stops we end the day at Scary Jerry’s, where they make the most amazing maple bakes beans, cole slaw and sugar on snow (you guessed it, maple syrup served over actual snow).  You can only imagine what its like in the car home with 5 of us all hopped up on  maple sugar!

The sign inside Scary Jerry's

The sign inside "Scary Jerry's"

This weekend is one that I look forward to every year, and the years that I have missed have been very sad for me.  I can’t imagine what it would be like if the maple industrydisappeared from New England.  While I would be sad for myself and my friends, I would be even more sad for the people who have dedicated their lives to maintain this age- old tradition.  I don’t think any of them are getting rich as it is, and if they didn’t have maple sugar to rely on for income, I’m not sure what they would do for work.  The areas they live in are quite rural and I don’t think there is much opportunity for work outside agri-tourism.

In the meantime, I plan to do my part to stop climate change by buying local and supporting these great entrepreneurs!  Here are some of our favorites:

New Favorite This Year:

Hanging Mountain Farm
(and they are open year round)(Amazing Oatmeal & Egg Bake)

413-527-0710

188 North Rd, Westhampton, MA 01027
hangingmountainfarms.com

Old Stand Bys:

South Face Farm Sugarhouse

755 Watson-Spruce Corner Road
Ashfield, MA 01330

413-628-3268
http://www.southfacefarm.com/

Red Bucket Sugar Shack

413-238-7710

584 Kinnebrook Rd, Worthington, MA 01098
(great variety of products including kettle corn and cotton candy)

Windy Hill Farm (Scary Jerry’s)
West St, Worthington, MA 01098
(savory lunch stop and Sugar On Snow)

High Hopes Sugarhouse
413-238-5919

1132 Huntington Rd, Worthington, MA
(don’t eat her but stop for the photos)

Happy mapling!

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Now I know what to do with my old cell phone…

Last Fall I was doing some organizing around the house and found three or four old cell phones.  I knew I shouldn’t put them in the trash, but really wasn’t sure what else to do with them.  I had heard that you could donate them to charities but wasn’t sure how to do that.   A few weeks later, a friend sent me a link to the Women’s Funding Network, a group that connects over 130 organizations that fund women’s initiatives globally.  Areas covered are include health, human rights and education.

The group has a list of online actions that people can take to help the cause of women and girls across the globe.  One of these actions is donating your old cell phones.  Great!  I went to the page where you can request a mailer and filled in my information.  Within a few days a self-addressed, postage paid box was delivered to my door.  Now I had to find enough cell phones to fill it!

I had a few cell phones of my own, but that was not nearly enough to fill the box.  I spoke to the IT department at work.  They were in the process of upgrading Blackberries, and were able to contribute several additional phone to the box.  It’s been a few months and my collection efforts have stalled a bit.  I’ve decided to pack up what I have and sent it off tomorrow.  A dozen phones saved from the landfill are better than none!

If you decide to request a mailer, I would suggest the envelope rather than the box, unless you have a huge amount of phones to donate.  I have about 12 in the box and it is not even close to being full.  Happy recycling!

cell_phone_recycling

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Organic Fruits and Vegetable Delivered Right to Your Door

Home delivery service for organic fruits and vegetables has to be a good thing, right?  I’m not entirely sure…

Yesterday I signed up for Boston Organics, a local service which does home delivery of organic fruits, vegetables and other products.  I found out about the service at the D2E Expo I went to a couple of weekends ago.  Seems like a great idea and was reasonably priced.  How can it be bad, right?

Well I was feeling very proud of myself after signing up and updated my Facebook status with the following:

“Just signed up for Boston Organics. What’s better than organic fruit and vegetables delivered to your door?”

Here are some of the comments I got:

“be careful – it is a good thing for a few weeks and then suddenly you are trapped in your apartment by kale and strange citrus fruits which seem to be multiplying in your refrigerator every time you turn your back on them!!! Or I guess I could actually cook my deliveries…”

“I agree with the comment above – you hit a certain point where you get strangely psychotic when faced with yet more vegetables, and you do crazy things like holding a giant parsnip to your forehead to be a vegetable unicorn! No….more….veggies…..”

Now I’m a little scared.  I ordered the smallest box available, so let’s hope I’m not over-run with produce.  I’ll also have some out of town guests next week, who will hopefully help me eat all the veggies.  I guess if it’s too much I can cut down to every other week.  I’ll have to wait and see.

My first delivery is next Thursday.  Wish me luck!

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Cultural Differences

I kind of take it for granted that in this day and age everyone recycles.  I take the time to separate out all of my glass, plastic, paper and aluminum.  I even compost.  However, it’s become very clear to me recently that not everyone does.  It seems that there are what can only be described as “cultural differences.”

This became abundantly clear to me in regards to the women who clean my house.  Over the time that they have worked for me, I have noticed more than once that my recycling has ended up in a trash bag and left neatly by the door for me to take out to the trash cans outside.  When I catch the error, I take the recycling out of the trash bag and put it back in the recycling bin.  I’m rarely home when they come to clean, so there is little opportunity to talk to them about it in person and even if I did I’m not sure I could convey my point effectively because English is not their first language, and it is the only language I speak .  Instead, I remain vigilant and rescue the recycling whenever possible.

The situation reached a new level of ridiculousness last week.  I (finally) purchased a counter-top compost container, lined it with a biodegradable plastic bag, and diligently collected my food scraps to be taken out to the compost bin in the backyard. I forgot that the cleaning people were coming that day, and so therefore didn’t take out the compost before they got there.  When I was cooking dinner later that night I went to put some food scraps in the compost container and realized that it had been emptied and in place of my food scraps was a fresh, bio-bag.  Ughh!  Then the search began.  I opened the trash bag left neatly next to the door to find all of my compost scraps neatly tied  up in their bio-bag.  I pulled  them out and took them straight to the compost bin in the backyard.  Ordinarily I don’t like picking through the trash, but this time it was fine since the only other “trash” in the bag was my paper recycling!

I can only imagine how this must all appear to the cleaning ladies.  They probably think I am so lazy that I can’t be bothered to put the trash in the trash can, even though it is right next to the recycling bin.  Either that, or they think I have some strange hoarding disorder where I must compulsively stack all of the wire hangers in a little caddy (to be returned to the dry cleaner, and yes this has ended up in the trash bag, too).

A friend suggested that I put labels in their native language on the recycling and compost, asking the cleaning people not to touch them.  I think that’s a great idea.  A simple, yet brilliant solution that I wish I had thought of myself.  We’ll see if that helps to  overcome our cultural differences!

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Times, They are A Changin’

A few days ago I wrote about my experience last Fall trying to find a contractor that could source green materials.  I figured that my experience would be the same while dealing with caterers for my father’s upcoming birthday bash.  I’m glad I was wrong!

My father is turning 80, and we want to celebrate in style.  My mother decided that we should throw him a big party and invite everyone my father cares about and who cares about him.  We’re renting a place and getting outside caterers, which is way more effort than my family has put into any party in a long time!  My job is to work with the caterer to handle all of the logistics.

I called the caterer my mom chose this morning.  We were discussing table linens and dishes and she gave me my options: china or premium plastic.  Hmmm.  China is more fancy than we need for this party, but I just can’t in good conscience order the plastic.  I mentioned this to the caterer, and started talking about other options.  Unlike the contractors I dealt with for my home repairs, her response was “Wait, there is another option. There’s stuff that’s, um, what’s the word that starts with a C?” “Compostable?” I ask.  “Yes!” she says. “We’ve had some vendors come in to talk to us about them.  Let me talk to my boss and see what we can do.”

I can’t tell you how happy I was!  Having a little more time on my hands these days, I was ready to source the plates and cups myself.  (A simple Google search returned several vendors including:  www.ecowise.com, www.MyGreenSupply.com. and www.biodegradablestore.com.) However,  it was a great surprise to find I didn’t have to.  Next time I talk to her, I’m going to bring up using only organic, locally grown produce.  We’ll see how she handles that.  Based on our plate conversation, I’m very optimistic.

Times they are a changin’!

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Should Pets Go Green?

Last summer when I kicked my greening initiative into high gear, I decided that my two cats needed to jump on the bandwagon as well.  This became even more urgent when I learned a little more about where cat litter comes from and the impact on the environment (a good discussion of this can be found at http://nydogsworld.com/articles.aspx). While I didn’t really know what my cats would think about this, I just assumed that they were totally on board.  In hindsight, I should have tried to get a little more buy- in before initiating the change (more about this later).

I went to a local branch of a national pet store chain and was pleasantly surprised by the selection of green litters they had.  After reviewing my options, I settled on one that was made from recycled pine shavings. The cat litter looked a bit like rabbit food or chopped up pretzel sticks, but it smelled good, and had very little dust.  In addition, it was very light, making it a lot easier to handle than the 20 pounds tubs I was used to buying.

I got home and replaced the clumping clay litter I had been using for years with the new pine litter.  It seemed like the cats liked it pretty well.  I scooped debris from the box every day, and there were no accidents outside the box.  Pretty good, right?

My first sign of something strange happened about a week into the experiment.  I was scooping debris from the cat box and found what can only be described as a human sized poo.   Yes, a human sized poo.  For those of you with cats, you know that this is highly unusual.  Even on their most productive day, my cats’ poo is really not that big.  One of my cats was recovering from some minor surgery, and I attributed the change in poo size to the antibiotics he was taking to prevent infection.

The cat poor cat who didn't like the pine litter :(

The poor cat who didn't like the pine litter

I kept an eye on the cat box over the next few days, with nothing unusual to report.  At the same time, however, my calico cat, was becoming more and more lethargic.  While it was not unusual for her to sit on top of the kitchen cabinets, she had gotten to the point where she was spending all of her time there.  She was sleeping more and more, and wouldn’t even come down when I ran water in the kitchen sink.  This was highly unusual.  In fact, she even stopped responding when I called her name (also highly unusual).

I was about ready to call the vet to bring her in when I found yet another human sized poo in the box.  Hmm.  Didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something was up.  A friend suggested that I switch back to the old litter and see what happened.  I made the switch immediately and within 24 hours the cat was back to her active, affectionate self.  Mystery solved.  My poor cat hated the pine litter so much that she let herself get totally impacted : (

I realize that I could have handled the transition to the new litter a lot better.  In hindsight:

  • I should have gotten “buy-in” from the cats.  Okay, I know its a bit strange to say that I should have gotten “buy-in” from them, but most people would agree that the reason many projects fail is that the people in charge don’t get the agreement of the people being affected.  I guess this is true for cats as well.  While there was no way to talk to the cats to get them to agree that green litter was better,  I could potentially have achieved something similar by by adding the new pine litter to the old litter a little bit at a time so they could get used to it.  This is the method suggested on Green Little Cat, which has a great post on how to handle the transition (http://www.greenlittlecat.com/?p=23).  I wish this post had been available last summer.  I’m not sure it would have changed the outcome, but it would have increased the odds that the cats would adapt to the new litter.  Even with this knowledge, I’m hesitant to try changing the cats’ litter again.  Instead I freecycled what was left of the big bag of pine litter.
  • I should have tried a litter that was more similar to the clay litter the cats were used to. There are plenty of natural litters on he market, each with a unique look, feel, and smell.  I may try to find one the cats like sometime in the future.  For now though, I think I’ll leave my cats alone.  They didn’t ask to go green.

There are also a lot of different ways to help your pets live a greener life, changing cat litter is only one option. Green Little Cat had a wonderful series “The 30 Day Green Cat Challenge.”  Check it out to see what else you can do to help your cat be more environmentally friendly.

To answer the question: “Should pets go green?” the answer is yes if your pet will tolerate it, no if they won’t.   Any effort to green your pet should be done with great care.  Even changes that seem pretty minor can have a huge impact on it’s health and well being.  Your pets’ health and wellbeing is just as important as the environment, and as their stewards we need to balance their needs with our wants.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my approach to greening my life is to start with small changes that will be easy to implement but whose impact can be quite significant.  One of these measures was to place a plastic bottle filled with water into the tank of my toilet to instantly turn it into a lower flow toilet without having to spend money or send the old toilet to the landfill.  Easy, right?

Not so fast.  My first attempt at this failed miserably.  I didn’t have the 2 liter bottle suggested on the video clip I saw on Planet Green, but I did have a 16 oz one.  No problem, I thought.  I’ll just start small.  I filled the bottle with water, placed it in the tank and was very proud of myself.  The first few flushes went just fine, and I was really happy to be saving 16oz of water with each flush. (Little things make me happy).

Just when I was sure that everything was fine, I was proven wrong.  I flushed the toilet, left the room.  A few minutes later it was still flushing.  I opened the tank to find that the bottle had flipped over and wedged itself under the stopper (not sure that is the technical term, but that’s what I will call it).  With that one flush I flushed away enough water to negate everything I had saved by putting the bottle in the tank in the first place. Ughh!

Not being one to give up after one small defeat, I decided to try again. This time it was a 1 liter bottle.  Bigger and more stable, this worked well for several months.  Today, however, I was twarted again!  I was having some plumbing issues elsewhere in the house, and called a plumber in.  I figured that while he was there I should have him take a look at the toilet, which just didn’t seem to be flushing as well as it used to.  The plumber opened the tank, pulled out the bottle of water, and said “The first thing you need to do is get rid of this!”  So much for my effort to be green : (

According to the plumber, each toilet is designed to work with a certain amount of water.  If you place something in the tank to displace the water, the toilet may not perform well because quite simply it doesn’t have enough water moving through the system to effectively do its job (if you know what I mean).  The plumber’s recommendation was to replace the toilet with an actual low-flow system, which I plan to do in the future (i.e. when I can afford it).

So much for saving water.  It feels like one step forward, two steps back!

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