Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Solar Panels

Dan wrote a blog for Low Impact Living about our solar panel installation and it has some great information if you are considering solar panels.
To add to the blog, Our system cost $15,000. It would have cost $25,000 if we would have had it professionally installed. We got $8,000 in rebates from Pasadena Water and Power and we hope to get $2000 credit from the federal government this year. So overall, it should be about $5,000 out of our pocket.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Making Biodiesel

Dan has been making biodiesel for a few years now (this is the first fill-up). He taught himself how to make it and built his own processor. Biodiesel powers both of our cars, a 3/4 ton Dodge Ram truck and a 1982 Mercedes Station Wagon.

Dan did some videos where he answers some common questions about biodiesel and then explains how he makes it.

How To videos

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Living with Ed makeover

The bedroom makeover we did for the Living with Ed show can be found on Planet Green. They do a lot of reruns of the Living with Ed show.

I am very excited because I thought the bedroom came out great and it highlighted some great materials and local businesses. Unfortunately, most of the local businesses we tried so hard to promote did not get mentioned in the show. So here is all the info:

Reclaimed Wood Furniture:
The best part of the room for me was the furniture made of reclaimed wood. They were custom made by a company in Van Nuys called Urban Woods. They use wood from old buildings in LA that are being torn down. Not only is it a great way to recycle the wood but the wood is extra strong because it was harvested so long ago from old growth forests.
Check out their collections on Urban Woods also uses water based stain and organic fabric in their designs. Our headboard fabric came from this beautiful bolt of fabric I found at a garage sale for $4 (score!).
In our furniture we used Kirei for the faces of the drawers and the bed. It is a plywood that is made from the stalks of the sorghum stalks. The stalks would otherwise be thrown away so it is a great way to recycle and it is a neat looking wood.

Bamboo floors:
We did not know that the floors we picked were such a great product. We just thought they looked good. Later we learned they are bamboo strand which means the bamboo is woven, making it very strong (the company claims it is as strong as oak). It definately is stronger than the $1.99/per square foot bamboo we put in my daughter's room. It is also harvested from bamboo that is at least 5 years old when it is harvested, helping to make it stronger. So far we are very happy with it. The company the show got it from does not sell directly to the public but I have seen bamboo flooring that looks like it is the same at Lu
mber Liquidators.

Organic Cotton Sheets:
I was so happy to find a local store in South Pasadena that sells a wide variety of organic cotton sheets. Although b
amboo and organic cotton are available at a lot of stores and online I wanted to find a local store and I wanted to see the bedding. Organic Rush in South Pasadena (on Mission just West of the Metro tracks, near the Farmer's market) has a bed set up with a variety of sheets and pillowcases to see and touch. They also have a lot of home accessories, kitchen and baby stuff and beauty products. You can see their products online at

Tiled Mirror: I was very excited at how well my first tiling job went and that the entire mirror only cost me a few dollars. Dan helped me make the wooden base with wood we had leftover in the garage (a large piece of MDF would also work). Then we cut a piece of mirror we had leftover from a mirrored closet door and used liquid nails to glue it on the flat wooden base. The glass tile is from a box of samples that Shayna, the helpful interior designer, had around her house. Our friend Mark taught me how to tile and then I just spent hours sticking all the tiles on. The project was not hard at all, it just took a little time. A great place to get leftover tiles is the Habitat for Humanity Building Surplus Stores (there is one currently located on Fair Oaks Ave in Pasadena and the info is online).
The square wooden frames shown at the left are made from recycled Redwood and I got them at Organic Rush (see info above). I got the silver frames shown below from the Habitat for Humanity Builder's Surplus store and just stuck some of the extra tile on using tile adhesive.

Palm Leaves and Kaisa Grass Baskets: These baskets are from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade store in Pasadena (on South Lake across from Borders). It has beautiful handmade home accessories along with great unique gifts. I will write another post to highlight how Fair Trade products are environmentally friendly.

Porcelain Flower Candle Holders: I purchased those from Organic Rush.

Burlwood Tray and Soy Candles: These were purchased from Regeneration in Eagle Rock ( It is a great store which has recycled/eco-friendly/fair trade home goods, clothing, and lots of unique items. It is located next to Fatty's on Colorado Blvd. Go check it out.

Closet and Paint:

Dan and Mark used FSC certified plywood and formaldehyde free MDF to build the closet. The doors were made by Urban Woods. The paint is No VOC paint from Dunne Edwards.

Jute Rug: Purchased from Cost Plus.

Lights: We used low-voltage lights in the hallway, but deadlines for the show prevented us from finding eco-friendly sconces. The only redeeming value for the ones we got was that they are made of recycleable glass and metal and can hide a compact fluorescent.

It was a great experience to makeover the room and to get a chance to get to know all these great local eco-friendly retailers. Thanks to Shayna for all her help and all the Low Impact Living staff who recommended us and especially to the Living With Ed crew.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summertime Projects

It has been a long time since we updated the blog. We have been recovering from the eco-home tour and the first year of preschool. So after a few weekend vacations and some time to sit and read a book I am inspired to update on our environmental endeavors. First I would like to say how much we enjoyed talking with everyone who came to the eco-home tour. It was great to meet people who are inspired to make changes in their homes. Since the house was all cleaned up (which is a great feat when you have a 2 and 4 year old) we got a few pictures of our place to share.

Summer so far has been really fun. Some of our goals for the summer
  • drive less
  • make enough biodiesel to take us to Seattle and back
  • make some progress on the electric jeep
  • watch some good documentaries and read some good books
  • research SRI (socially responsible investments)

There are a few reasons we are trying to drive less, even though we run all our cars on biodiesel. Biodiesel is messy and a lot of work so if we can drive less it means less work for Dan. We are also trying to save fuel for a three week road trip in August to visit family in CA, Or, and WA. Also, walking and biking are healthy and a great way to know our neighborhood better. On that front we are all doing well as a family, Dan has biked to work in Alhambra (7 miles) at least two days a week for the past three weeks and enjoying it. He has found some back roads which makes his rides more enjoyable.

I have been walking with friends and all six of our kids (combined) to swim lessons (1.1 miles) a few times a week. The kids will start off on scooters or skitters and eventually end up in the stroller but they make a good effort. The pool, library, water park, ice cream shop, and lots of great friends are all within walking distance (1 mile) so we should have a good summer even if we don't drive as much. I don't mind walking in the heat too if I end up at a pool or ice cream. Ask me in August though to see how die hard I really am?

As for the other goals, so far Dan is doing really well with stocking up on fuel, and slowly all his parts are coming in for the jeep.

We have caught some good documentaries, Last week we saw The Corporation again ( a good overview on the positive and negative effect large corporations can have on people, the environment etc) , and we also saw King Corn. It follows 2 guys who raise an acre of corn in Iowa and try to follow through to where it will end up in our food. It explains how corn is so prevalent in our food and how government subsidies work (in a way that even I could understand). It is pretty interesting.

I am working on the SRI but am feeling a little less inspired to wrack my brain on that one right now. Maybe I will wait until winter on that one.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Goodbuy to old shopping habits

One of the major changes I have made in the past few years are my shopping habits. I definitely have found great joy in consuming. I was very faithful to Target and Vons with about 20 other stores in between, especially if they had a clearance section. I once bought enough stuff to fill two carts at Target, and those carts are big. It does not help that Pasadena has every store imaginable within 15 minutes.

My husband and I have always strived to be socially conscious people and I somehow thought buying in the clearance aisle was doing something good for the world. I certainly felt good buying it. At one point I had a small epiphany and realized there was better stuff out there to buy. I wasn't ready to stop consuming but I could do it in a way that actually benefited people and the planet. This also came at a time when I wanted to simplify our lives and buy healthier products. Since then we have changed about 85% (rough estimate) of our purchases to make more environmentally friendly/people friendly product choices.

My first change was to try my local Trader Joe's. I used to go there every once in a while to get great desserts or flowers but I realized I could shop there all time. Then I started loving the fact that I only had a few good choices of cookies instead of 20 good or bad or who knows what is in them cookies and I did not need to cut coupons, plus it took me half as long to get around the store and get to my car. Alleluia!! My life suddenly became a lot easier. I could get healthier organic food in smaller portions and my culinary senses were inspired all over again. Automatically I was buying better by just changing my frozen pizza to one with whole wheat dough and organic vegetables. I have since discovered the huge Whole Foods on Arroyo which has fair trade bananas and a whole lot of yummy stuff and the farmer's market. I have to give props to Vons though for having a great reasonably priced organic line now.

After I changed where we shopped for food I was once again inspired by Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade store that moved into Pasadena a few years ago. My motto had always been cheaper is better which meant I had bought a lot of things over the years that were poorly made or just bad ideas. I thought fair trade was expensive because they actually paid the artisans well but it is actually really reasonable because there is no middle man. To learn more about fair trade go to or and I will surely write about fair trade later. They had beautiful stuff that was made in the developing world and my money went to strengthen the communities that made the stuff. They actually know the artisans names, novel idea. So two years ago I got most of my Christmas gifts there. Then I discovered a few more environmentally friendly/people friendly local stores through my research which made Christmas shopping this year a lot more fun. I will do a blog on my favorite places to shop for things later.

I still love my Target like an old friend, but last time I went I only bought their great eco-friendly diapers (props to Target on that one) and stayed away from the 99 cent section. They have a great selection of eco-friendly cleaning products and body care products. They are on the right track.

So here are the new guidelines I follow when I shop that are helpful to me

*Stay away from the 99 cent sections
*Try to avoid plastic, go natural
*Try to go without something for a month before buying it
*Try to borrow or improvise before buying something
*Don't buy gifts if I do not have a specific person and event in mind
*Don't buy cheap, pay more for quality items.
*Buy Fair Trade, buy local, buy organic
*Research companies to find out what they are about
*Look beyond advertising
*Consider the eco-friendliness of the packaging
*Make presents or buy people food, tickets, plants or other creative gifts
*Read labels, looks can be deceiving
*No gadgets, I can do a lot with my own two hands

So right now I have purged most of the things I have bought over the years and not used, how sad. Suddenly our house is roomier and there is more room for breathing space. I still enjoy shopping but mostly at garage sales where most stuff is recycled and inexpensive (better than a clearance aisle). I try to get my therapy from the gym, reading, and gardening instead of shopping and I found I actually have a lot more time.

As far as the effect my new shopping habits have on our budget. My $150 a week Target bill is about $50 every two weeks or even less. I spend more on things we need because I buy quality products but I don't buy all the little junk I used to. Our food budget is more because we buy more sustainable organic food but we do save money by buying less meat, growing vegetables and being more careful to eat all the food we buy. For me eco-friendly/people friendly products are worth the time, money and the wait. This huge change took me a while so take your time. Hopefully you are inspired to look at how you shop and can find some inspiring stores and products.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Native Gardens

Today I was reminded how beautiful drought tolerant plants can be. My kids and I went to the Arlington Garden off of Pasadena Ave. Right now you can't miss it because there is sea of poppies. It is a great public garden in Pasadena that is all Mediterranean plants and a great place to get inspiration for your garden.

This garden is helpful to me because I have been pretty recently converted to natives. About 4 years ago Dan discovered natives and started planning how to landscape our yard using them. I used to dream of a beautiful English garden at my house with roses and other large flowering plants and did not understand my husband's excitement about these leggy, woody shrubs and grasses that are native to this area.

Although they were not very beautiful to me, I did appreciate that we did not have to water them after the first year, they did not need any fertilizer, and they required little maintenance. Now they have certainly grown on me (Ha, Ha) so much so that I just planted about 25 more this year. Although some look a little weary now, they have great potential. They don't look great all the time but that is the fun of it. One day they are blooming and there are bees, butterflies and hummingbirds around them and I feel a great appreciation for what God put in this particular area. There are also natives like the Matillaja Poppy that I like just as much as a beautiful rose.

One of my favorite places to hang out now is the Theodore Payne Society which is native plant nursery in Sun Valley. Along with all a great selection of native plants, they have wildflower seeds, art, gardening books and kid's book about local creatures and plants
They also do great educational stuff like help with garden design and garden tours (I'm sure they look a lot better than our humble garden). Theodore Payne sells small plants but many local nurseries will sell larger plants. Lincoln Avenue nursery in northwest Pasadena has a great selection of drought tolerant plants.

Here are some tips in planting natives that I have learned
*plant and seed in the fall
*some natives have brittle roots like matillaja poppies and carpinterias, so follow planting directions
*water and put mulch around your natives for the first year
*go visit some native gardens/Mediterranean gardens to get ideas

Some resources

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

cloth diapers

In celebration of my daughter going one whole day without any accidents I decided to write on cloth diapers. After four long days of potty training I am allowing myself to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I may sound overjoyed at the prospect of never washing a cloth diaper but I do appreciate the money and the landfill space we have saved.

We started cloth diapers about 4 years ago with my son so by now the velcro does not stick too well (which made repeated public nudity a problem with the 2 year old) and the diapers aren't absorbing like they used to. We bought our cloth diapers and wraps through DyDee in Pasadena and we used the simple kind. There are other types available that have everything in one piece and other nice features but they are more expensive.
Our investment of
12 small prowraps
24 small cotton diapers
12 large prowraps
24 large cotton diapers
Came to under $200. That is not bad considering how much regular diapers are and that the small cloth diapers are still being used by a friend.

Some of the things I have learned in washing them is that Oxygen cleaners like oxi-clean and Oxo brite work great when added to the detergent and they are environmentally friendly. Vinegar also helps with the smell when added to the fabric softener compartment. Bleach is no good for the diapers or the earth. I have used bleach for the load right after I wash the diapers but I would urge anyone to find another solution.

So if you are still scared there are ways to take some of the pressure off. Why not let DyDee wash them for you, you won't get the savings but you will get the good feelings of doing something for the earth. And don't be too hard on yourself. To make our life easier we chose to not take cloth diapers on trips with us or not stress out when the diapers sat in the pail too long waiting to be washed. Then there was the three months that I was pregnant with our second child and we were remodeling our house that we ditched the cloth.

For those days you can't muster up the strength to deal with the cloth diapers, there are better options now for more environmentally friendly disposable diapers. I have tried a few and I personally like the Target ones, Nature Babycare. They are chlorine free, 100% biodegradable, and the bag is compostable. Plus they fit and work well and don't cost a bundle. For those of you brave souls who are going to do cloth diapers I leave you with some encouragement, potty training should come quicker.