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.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Meet the Sharps

Welcome to our blog. I (Maya) will probably be the one writing most of our posts and hopefully Dan will contribute some of his expertise once in a while. This blog is to share the information that we have learned over the past few years as we have changed our lifestyle significantly to reflect our ever growing understanding of our impact on the planet and others. My plan is to add to this blog in the next month to share info on solar panels, biodiesel, native gardens, fair trade, and a myriad of other things we wish we had at out fingertips a few years ago.

We believe local is good so we will focus on all things close to Pasadena. In actuality we don't get out to far because we have a 2 and a 4 year old and we want to cause as little property damage as we can.

To let you now about us a little more, Dan's day job is as a civil engineer but on the side he is a contractor, auto mechanic, biodiesel brewer, environmental expert, speaker and so many other things. He keeps me busy. Aaron is a 4 year old aspiring engineer, demolition man, teacher, stuntman, and politician. Celeste is 2 years old and she prefers to be reffered to as Diego the animal rescuer, Nemo, Super Why, or Conquering Kid. Maybe she watches too much TV. Whoever she is, I hope her alter-ego can be potty-trained quickly.

I am a stay-at-home mom who actually needs to get out quite a bit to keep my sanity. As a once reluctant environmentalist I am writing this blog to share that being more mindful of your impacts on the earth and the people in it is really not as hard as it may seem and it is actually very freeing. Read on to find out more, we have a lot to share.

Monday, March 10, 2008

We just started a blog, yeah

We will be posting all the info about the Pasadena Eco Open House on here when we figure it out along with other Sharp family activities.