Help Protect the Endangered City Forest: Plant a Tree!

Getting ready to plant a fruitless olive tree so I don't have to stare
at my backyard neighbor's second-floor balcony all day.

Several months ago I walked into my local library and saw some young people sitting at a table with a giant "Free Trees" sign. We had recently purchased a home and for the first time in many years were in a position to change our own landscaping. So I wandered over with my three little kids in tow and started asking questions. The table was set up by Our City Forest, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of trees in my metropolitan area.

Our Endangered City Forest

Through this organization, I learned some disheartening facts about trees in cities:
  • Large American cities are losing trees four times as fast as they can be replanted.
  • Between 90 million and 100 million trees must be planted each year over the next decade to develop and maintain America’s urban forest.
  • The average life of a street tree in America is as little as 8 years, compared with 40 years or more for trees removed from urban stresses.
  • The number of trees per person in the U.S. has declined by 13% during the past 9 years.
  • One million acres of forest are lost to American city growth each year.
  • California's urban forests are becoming shorter because cities are planting more short-statured trees; as the urban forest is downsized, many of the ecological benefits that large trees provide will be diminished or lost. 

The Benefits of Trees

Easy Eco-tip Tuesday: Clean with Vinegar

Today's Easy Eco-tip

Green your cleaning routine by cleaning with vinegar. 

The thought of replacing all your favorite tried-and-true household cleaners with greener cleaners, whether homemade or store-bought, can be overwhelming. A very simple and cheap way to green your cleaning routine is to just clean with a spray bottle filled with straight or diluted vinegar. I personally use straight vinegar with a wet sponge and don't bother with dilution. Use vinegar to clean your kitchen table, kitchen counters, bathroom counter and toilet surfaces, mirrors and hard floors. (One caveat: do not use vinegar or other acidic cleaners on natural stone.) Vinegar disinfects, deodorizes, is completely safe, and very inexpensive. I buy two gallons at a time at Costco. It has a strong smell, but it dissipates quickly and after a few minutes there is no smell at all.

What is your favorite green cleaner?

Eco-novice's Back-to-School Guide

I meant to write this post several weeks ago. I also meant to begin getting ready for my son to return to school several weeks ago. If you are already back in school, I hope you've had a peaceful and happy transition. Here are some back-to-school tips for the procrastinators.

Avoid PVC in backpacks and other school supplies.

Why avoid PVC or vinyl (the #3 plastic)? According to the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
PVC, also known as vinyl plastic, is the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment. From production to use and disposal, vinyl releases a toxic cocktail of chemicals...Scientists have found certain vinyl chemicals linked to asthma, cancer, birth defects, learning and developmental disabilities, obesity, diabetes and other preventable chronic diseases on the rise. (emphasis and link mine, source)

Buying an Eco-friendly Outdoor Wood Play Structure: Why I Chose CedarWorks

After our used pressure-treated wood play structure debacle, I began researching options for new wood play structures. I seriously considered six different manufacturers. I searched online for reviews and discussions in parenting forums, drove considerable distances to look at play structures in person, asked salespersons and customer service representatives numerous questions over the phone, and crunched a lot of numbers. Although it was a bit of our stretch for our budget, in the end we chose to purchase a CedarWorks Frolic play set for the reasons explained below.

Why I Chose a CedarWorks Frolic Play Structure

Do You Line Dry Your Laundry?

Line drying: so simple, so frugal, so green.

And yet, kind of a pain. In green blogger circles, you sometimes here this confession: I no longer line dry. We all have a finite amount of time in the day, and it could definitely be argued that the time and effort you spend line drying might be better spent participating in writing letters or making phone calls to your representatives regarding your concerns about climate change.

I have many frugal friends who rarely touch a dryer. My friend Heidi even considers hanging her laundry somewhat therapeutic or meditative or something. Even though I've fallen off the line drying wagon I still always line dry certain types of loads:

Eco-novice's Advice and Rules for a Green Remodel

About a year ago, my husband and I purchased a home that needed some remodeling. I'm no green building expert. I'm just an eco-novice who needed to make some renovations to a home. But I'll share with you what I learned during my crash course in eco-remodeling. If I could give you one piece of advice, should you need to make renovations, it would be to hire a green contractor. Make sure you get a good one of course and still ask a whole lot of questions, but by doing this one thing you will probably save yourself countless hours of research and a lot of anguish and even the regret that comes with 20-20 hindsight.

I, however, couldn't afford a contractor, much less a green contractor for most of our renovations. The next best thing to using a green contractor, I believe, is to find a green building supply store, and then pick the employees' brains (and buy lots of materials from them too). Late in the game I found an incredibly helpful person at a green buildings supply store near me when I was shopping for paint. How I wish I had met her sooner (and had purchased more things from her)! During our renovations process, I also found information by searching the web and checking out books about green building from the library.

Eco-friendly and Budget-friendly Arts & Crafts Supplies

Kids love to cut, glue, draw and make things. Unfortunately, the less expensive conventional arts and crafts products often contain ingredients that are unsafe for small children. For example, finger paints may contain toxic heavy metals and developmental toxicants. Not very kid-friendly!

Make It Yourself

As is often the case, if you are on a limited budget but want to avoid toxic ingredients, your best option is to make it yourself. Luckily, many of kids' favorite materials are super easy and inexpensive to make. Here are a few recipes to get you started (click on link to source for additional instructions and photos):

Choosing Arts & Crafts Materials that Are Safe for Kids

Kids love to cut, glue, draw and make things. Unfortunately, the less expensive conventional arts and crafts products often contain ingredients that are unsafe for small children. For example, finger paints may contain toxic heavy metals and developmental toxicants. Not very kid-friendly!

What to Look for

Luckily, there are lots of eco-friendly and non-toxic arts and crafts products on the market now. When shopping for eco-friendly arts and crafts materials, I look for (click on links for examples): 

An easy way to find such products is to shop with green businesses such as MightyNest or Abe's Market, which both have a great selection of arts and crafts products. Another easy option is to subscribe Green Kid Crafts, an earth-friendly craft project subscription service (see my review here). You can also try making certain arts & crafting materials yourself from scratch.

What to Avoid


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