Friday, May 30, 2008

Car-less and carefree!

Here's my challenge for you: commit to a car-free day at least once a month (more if you can) this summer.

We started having car free days about a year ago. We chose to buy a home 5 miles outside the city, in Albemarle County, so we wanted to intentionally set aside days where we stayed out of our car. We shifted life in Charlottesville (preschool, music lessons, etc) to the other side of town and we decided to limit our trips and track (and sometimes cap) our miles.

But it's probably been over a month since we enjoyed a 24 hour car-free period. And every time I do it, I think, why don't we do this more often? My four-year old and I had a glorious car-free day at home.

We decided to make our day an unbirthday celebration!

We baked cookies and invited a friend over. We made windsocks out of scrap paper and old ribbons from presents we have received over the years. We took the dog on a walk. We sang happy unbirthday to us. We listened to our favorite songs.

Betsy Taylor in her book What Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy reports that over and over again what kids really want is YOU. Your time and your presence. Away from the cell phone, away from the work computer, away from the rushing from here to there. Americans working outside the home spent 142 hours (3 1/2 weeks) more per year on the job in 1994 than they did in 1973. Overworking and lack of down time as a family affects everyone.

Ms Taylor in her book says:

*examine your core priorities and all the work options within the family
*commit to time together
*create kid-centered routines (10 minutes of an evening chat or a daily walk)
*make vacations count
*play hooky a couple times a year
*PLAY - break out a board game, have your own dance party, cook a meal together

I highly recommend Betsy's book. She is the founder and president of the Center for a New American Dream. And enjoy your next car-free day!


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Crozet kids bridge green and global with Peace by Piece

Seven years ago Margie Shepherd was teaching world geography and loving it. Then the state mandated physics. What's a teacher as passionate as Ms. Shepherd to do? Turning lemons to lemonade, she began an end-of-the-year project celebrating world culture known as Peace by Piece.

A post SOL, end of the year project, Peace by Piece allows students to creatively express their vision of a better world. At the end of the year students aren't up for doing intense study, but, Margie told me, "they are excited about sanding and painting and quilting" and putting their creativity to good use.

The proceeds from the silent auction sale of their artwork, furniture and crafts benefits a locally-based international organization of the students' choosing. Past proceeds have gone to building a library in Guatemala, clothing for Mongolia, and help conserve rainforests.

This year they chose Dr. Ford's orphanage in Haiti (money will fund a much-needed well) and Bill Langford's Central American Solar Energy Project, an amazing organization that helps women around the world build solar ovens. Past proceeds have gone to building a library in Guatemala, clothing for Mongolia. A special surprise this year: Tom Cogill, a local photographer who has traveled with Bill, will give a sneak preview of his slideshow of the women's co-operatives and solar ovens in Central America.

The project has been an opportunity for creativity and oftimes a lesson in the three r's. This year students have re-newed (made new again) an old quilt and a beat-up chair, to name two, with paint and recycled fabrics from Bill's travels.

Friends and families will sell their handmade crafts as well as T-shirts and reusable canvas bags. Food will be provided by the French and Spanish classes.

Above all the project has taught kids and their families about the importance of reaching out, creating a cultural dialogue and broader awareness of the challenges that we face as humans. One family sponsored a foreign exchange student and created a lasting friendship that transcends geographical boundaries.

This middle school in our home town is reaching out in a very meaningful way, showing respect and stewardship for the planet we all call home. Thanks for building a better world, Henley! See you all there (details below taken from Betty's "Events" page),

Peace by Piece
Henley Middle School Rt. 250 West in Crozet
May 29th
4:30 - 7
Peace by Piece at Henley Middle School on Rt. 250 West in Crozet. This is a silent auction of student made crafts, depicting a vision of a better world. All proceeds go to save the world projects selected by the students. This year we will contribute to building a well in Haiti, and to the Central American Solar Energy Project, which teaches women to build their own solar ovens. In addition to the quilts and floorcloths made by students, many are refinishing and reinvigorating old chairs, tables and bookcases. There is also a "friends and family" table of crafts created by our school community. We'll also be selling great grocery bags with the words "Neither, thank you." on them. In green, of course. All are welcome, no entry fee.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Second Life for Smelly Socks

As you are going through your sock drawer (or if you're like me and you keep stray pairs hoping to find the match one day), wait no longer to give a second life to those socks. Here are some creative uses for those orphaned socks...

*Make a hand puppet. Add yarn or string for hair, button eyes, felt-fabric lips (or just use a marker). Scrap pieces of fabric make great earrings or funky glasses.

*Packing. Cut those socks up and use them as packing for your next gift to family members. Smelly or not it would be a nice courtesy to your recipient to to add some lavendar or rosemary.

*Speaking of ... What about making a drawer freshener potpourri bag? Dry some lavendar or rosemary and fill your sock and tie with a recycled bow.

*Cat toy. Get creative!

*Winter socks. Mismatched socks are perfect for throwing on when sending the kids out for some sledding or snowman-building.

*Swiffer sock. Avoid buying new swiffer pads and opt to use old socks and wash them after use.

*Dust rag. Slip over one hand and you've got yourself an easy-to-use dust rag. Reuse.

Hope you enjoyed these tips!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Community Spotlight: Echo

Over the past year of doing research for my website Better World Betty, I’ve appreciated the friendly embrace of the seasoned earth-lovers among us, who have been living green long before it was 2008 and hip to be green and headlined almost daily in mainstream media.

I have found these activists, farmers, citizens, writers, and people from all across the spectrum are happy to see our new faces (though they might wonder what took us so long). Not that we weren’t engaged in environmental-friendly activities before, but the urgency of the matter facing the human race has really propelled so many in an exciting, collective bar-raising of pro-environmental engagement. There’s no room or time to relive past wrongs. We’ve got work to do!

Which is the way Jim and Anne-Marie feel at Echo, a monthly publication in town that has always prided itself on its environmental sensitivity and community-mindedness and fore-thinking. With titles like "Lovin' the wind" (wind power), "Environmental consensus pioneer,: and "Eco-Friendly building materials," in 2002 and “ My 21st Century House" from 2005 Echo has been ahead of the times when it comes to thinking green.

After writing a guest article last month, I recently sat down with them for tea and honey bunches at Cville Coffee to discuss the focus of their publication. Jim Ward, the current owner, editor-in-chief, friendly face came to Echo in 2001 only six weeks after arriving in Charlottesville. Anne-Marie, has consulted with them for over a year now. And it has come a long way from a 20 page black and white paper distributed within a limited radius around Charlottesville. Now the paper is 32 pages of color and features an eclectic array of articles, listings and features and is distributed to places as far away as Harrisonburg and Orange.

Their vision: to be a free, open-minded, upbeat publication that celebrates local people who may or may not be represented by the mainstream media. They serve the “cultural creative” a lovely term for those among us who have creative energy and a drive to do something in the world that will effect positive change.

What I like about Jim and Anne-Marie is that they absolutely love what they do. “We are excited to be connected, really tapped in to positive change.” They acknowledge, no, I should say boast, that many of their topics, like natural childbirth, were ridiculed when they first appeared. But they don’t mind. They like to stay positive and “support the solution.” A perfect example is this month’s article on Heirloom Seeds written by Ira Wallace, the Virginia Master Gardener and co-manager of Southern Exposure Seed. You may also enjoy this month‘s “School Portrait: If School were an Eco-System.”

I hope you take the time to grab a copy and tell them what you think, as a valuable part of the community they serve. If you are interested in a copy or wish to advertise your business there, contact Anne-Marie at # 434 823-1385 or


Monday, May 12, 2008

Betty and fellow treehuggers had a ball!!

Right now I want to apologize to all of you for NOT personally inviting you to this event: the Third Annual Treehuggers Ball! (Please accept my formal invitation to attend next year)

Wild Virginia hosted this fun-raising event for the Living Ecology Center, an alternative community day school in Charlottesville whose curriculum focuses on ecology, living as a creative act, and community awareness. The Ball was held at the Rugby Road location of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church.

I had a blast! The talented Trees on Fire played music for all to dance, as massages, tarot readings, face painting, and human-powered smoothies were being enjoyed.

Back up, human-powered smoothies?

Yes. Someone in Charlottesville (no one would tell me who) owns a bike with a blender affixed to the back. Plop in your berries from the local market, some twin oaks tofu, and some juice and start bikin', baby! (Betty needs one of these, folks)

My first stop, though, was the chocolate bar where I enjoyed fruit dipped in a chocolate fountain and a yummy chocolate decadence cake. I'm pretty sure that's why I was able to do some serious Betty boogieing up until the very last song they played. I liked the band so much, I won their CD, a hat and t-shirt in the silent auction!

The crowd was a beautiful array of some of the most vocal environmental activists who have been around these parts way before my time, so it was an honor to play and dance with them.

So if you couldn't get out this year, see you there next!

What NOT to flush...

A girlfriend called me the other day and jokingly said she needs to drink more water as an antidote to her moodiness, because of all the prescription drugs that they are finding in drinking water.

Now clean water is no joking matter, but before you get too alarmed, let me share some information I learned from a recent Washington Post article.

It's true that a handful of studies have shown that trace amounts of drugs like ibuprofen and antibiotics have been found in drinking water, including D.C. water, but the director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies reports that this stuff has probably always been there we are just getting better at detecting it.

The fact remains that what we produce as humans we can't just "throw away" or "flush" it away --it stays with us.

*Don't flush it. Most municipal wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter out pharmaceuticals. Trashing them is a better option, but still not ideal because they could seep into the groundwater. Another suggestion is to place coffee grounds with them in the original container and seal it carefully and then throw it away. Another option call your local pharmacy annd as if they have a take-back program in place.

*Don't switch to bottled water. Tap water still has more stringent standards than most of the water that ends up in the bottles sold at the store. Not to mention the carbon footprint of bottled water from Figi and the accompanying waste produced during manufacture of the bottle.

*Lead as healthy a life as you can, only taking medication when necessary.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

How are you celebrating Mother's Day?

Here are some of my favorite ways to celebrate Mother's Day (including your Mother Earth)for local dads and their kids...

Are you buying something?
Fresh flowers from the farmer's market
Hand-made craft from the market or the Artisans
or Innisfree Shop on the downtown mall
Yummy local cheese from Feast
Hand-made chocolate from Gearhardts
A gift certificate for your other favorite
locally-owned store
The latest edition of Mother Earth News

Are you doing something?
Plant an organic salsa garden
Weed and mulch the beds
Clean your room!
Take your mom on a hike

Are you making something?
Breakfast in bed with locally roasted organic free trade coffee, of course
Recycled bottles make great vases for moms
A handmade card always brings a smile


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Betty's on the roof!

Betty took an exciting field trip Tuesday to accompany Gregor Patsch, water resources engineer at the County Office Building, for a tour of their 9,000 square foot green roof, the first of its kind to be built in Charlottesville in 2005.

It's a sprawling pastiche of five varieties of seedum which provide even more benefits than this betty realized!

Gregor and his crew have been charting the positive effects with a simple monitoring system on the roof that tracks roof temperatures.

They've found that in the summer the roof is 40% cooler and in the winter 25% warmer than a conventional stone roof. The insulating effects of the plantlife reduce the need for heating and cooling, which is good news for the county building's carbon footprint. But that only scratches the surface (pun intended) of the good things provided by this roof! It also:

*reduces the urban runoff by absorbing the rainfall
*expands the roof's life and therefore is a more sustainable roof building practice for some types of roofs (rooves? :-) see below
*the roof is providing oxygen for you and me
*the roof is providing habitat for bees, bugs, and the butterflies seemed pretty happy with it as well when I visited
*the roof is providing an educational opportunity(Gregor said he's giving around 100 tours a year!)

As far as the applicability for the average homeowner, unfortunately, it doesn't directly translate as a benefit for a couple of reasons. The initial cost of putting a green roof on top of an existing roof would be extremely hard to recoup (and depending on the pitch, may don't be doable). This type of green roof is ideal for large businesses with flat roofs and plenty of square footage. Think of an airport hanger roof.

I would love to see the top of Giant (and attached strip mall) on Pantops or the top of Teeter (along with Barracks' shops) or the Fashion Square Mall roof turn green, wouldn't you? I sincerely hope there is a landlord out there who has taken a corporate meeting coffee break somewhere to read their favorite new blog (uhhum, Betty) because green roofs on these buildings could actually change a cities weather system, says Patsch! Can you imagine cooler Augusts in the 'Ville?

Ahh. Stay tuned for a future green roof top, Charlottesville's City Hall...
(accompanying photo will appear tomorrow!)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Update on the no-buying pledge

Month five of the no-buying pledge and going strong!

As you may know from previous blogs, the no-new-non-essential purchases has been successful. I believe it's been one bionicle (see January's blog about re-gifting), one dishwasher (totally energy/water saver), and the fishing pole replacement (broke my husband's favorite one in the car door). No new shoes or household goodies or random toys for the kids. No retail therapy at Short Pump. Haven't stepped foot in Target.

Of course it's challenging, especially since we have a new puppy (mugsy, the better world beagle) who has a penchant for intimate apparel (ladies bras and underwear - go figure) and flip flops. The former most definitely required 100% organic cotton replacements.

Things were going well. Well that is, until I caved last week because of my husband's upcoming birthday.

Here comes the unsolicited green confession (you know there's actually a website now for this called

See, my husband and I share a deep respect for the American past time, baseball; perhaps not in its current 'roid-ridden state, but the love for the game does run in our blood. My grandfather reminesced about his pitching days up until his death 9 years ago and my husband's biological father had a stint in the minor leagues (for the record I believe with more family support my hubby could have been in the big leagues). During the unit I taught on heroes to my 7th graders, the favorite by far was the story of the courageous Jackie Robinson. Baseball is a great American sport.

Well about a month ago when my husband came across an old-school style baseball glove here in town, I thought I saw his jaw drop and mouth water as he put it on. His birthday is next week. It's a completely nostalgic, sentimental gift that I bought with minimal eco-guilt.

If you don't have a few transgressions here in the world of going green - the occasional strawberry from California, the extra car trip to the gym so you can make it to your favorite nia or yoga class, the fresh-cut flowers from some faraway land -then the green life is just not worth living.

Life is not black and white, you're with us or you're not, "no impact" living in my view. We are humans. We deal in shades of gray. And the shades of green sometimes, too!


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Where to begin "going green"?

This is such a great question - I just got an email from Paige at the Blue Ridge Eco-Shop posing this question and I would love to respond with this blog.

Personally I think this is a question that each individual must ask himself/herself.

The landscape of people's lives is as varied and diverse as the plantlife and animal life which are beautifully contained within it. So I prefer to consider "greenness" as a path you choose to be on. It's a process. And a big part of being on that path is refraining from judgement and comparison with someone else's path. No two paths are alike. It's important to honor your own path. So I think the first step is to decide what feels right for you, your significant other, and your family. Also, how are you going to sustain that. There are times when it is easier to be mindful of every choice I am making, and times that aren't. The most important thing to remember is to STAY on the path. You might take one step forward and two steps back. That's O.K. Small changes add up to big change.

There are lots of ways to begin - with your home, your food, your workplace.

I chose to begin with my trash: what am I bringing into my home, what is leaving my home? That focus allowed me to really look at my purchases(the packaging, the quality, where I was buying), and at the same time look at the trash I was generating (the average American family generates 4 pounds of trash a day). That's when I really upped the recycling (streamlining the organization of it being a huge hurdle - the piles can drive family members crazy - plastic here, newspapers, there, corrugated cardboard, non-corrugated, items to be fixed, items to be donated. Solution five bins that have a home in the garage).

Then I started to compost (cross your fingers next weekend I'm taking the bin batch out and putting it in the garden). Most everything except fish, dairy, and meats.

I also went through my home and began eliminating anything I didn't need or want anymore and I took it to Goodwill, Salvation Army, the Clothing Center, the Boys and Girls Club, Freecycle. Decluttering. Unloading some of the unnecessary material goods that add up over time (like pulling weeds).

And instead of replacing all that unwanted "stuff", I began to rethink what I chose to purchase and where. One source that I found completely helpful was New American Dream.

I also started talking to my kids about smart buying. And what happens to all our "stuff" (if you haven't seen "the story of stuff" - it's a must see, 20-minute inspirational video, which will inspire). We invented the term "catalog cranks" - that's where you spend so much time looking at catalogs and whining about what you want that you don't enjoy the things you have right there already. So we have no catalogs around the house.

I have a book called What Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy, written by the founder of New American Dream, but it's really applicable to all of us. We all want enough safe food to eat, clean air, clean water, flowers in springtime, healthy croaking amphibians in summer, space to throw frisbees, quiet, somewhere to feel connected (community). It's a matter of simplifying and creating space for those values to be truly lived.

In the course of taking these steps, Betty was born!

And now that she's around, hopefully she makes it easier for people to get connected to these better, greener choices. She's that best friend who doesn't judge or criticize you for what you're not doing.

She invites you in for tea and shares information. And when you ask for the "cooking tips" (i.e. where to begin going green) on how to serve up a better, greener Earth, she enthusiastically shares them with you (and only asks that you throw a few bills in the tip jar every once in a while - hence the "donate" button).

That's how I personally began. I would love to hear about your path toward green.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Checks and Betty balances...

I wanted to share with you a great idea from a faithful Betty reader, Adrienne.

"I just wanted to write because I just had to reorder checks because of an address change. While I normally try to conduct these transactions online, I've found that it's still necessary for me to carry a checkbook around. While researching where to order my checks from, I came across This company prints all of its checks on recycled paper with soy based inks. Best of all, the prices are pretty comparable to what your bank charges."

Thanks Adrienne! I took your advice when it was time to reorder my checks. So when I went to write my bills this morning (not all of them are work with online bill-pay yet), despite the dollar figure in the shaded box (ugh!), I was able to take heart in the fact that they are printed on recycled paper with soy ink AND are helping raise the awareness of four of America's most amazing parks!

Not to mention the beautiful memory it triggered this morning during my bill-writing session: my friend Lisa and I spent a summer weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming when we were both enjoying our summer break from teaching. After a glorious hike to one of the waterfalls there, we took a spontaneous plunge into the cool depths of Jenny Lake and swam out to an enormous rock island in the middle of Jenny Lake to bask in the sun. Ahhhhh. I still remember that exhilirating mountain water.

Back to the bills!