September 20, 2011


I have had a very satisfying 10 days and I thought I'd share them with you. Over the past couple of weekends, we adopted a few sustainable ideas (I tweeted about them) that have been on my mind for a few years. Tackling them, feels so good.

Homemade Vinegar:

Since embarking on Zero Waste, I had tried and greatly failed at making fruit scrap vinegar (a cheap way to make it). I have therefore been solely relying on vinegars available in bulk. But when I tried my brother's yummy homemade wine vinegar this summer, I realized, that it was time for me to give it a try and make my own using a foolproof vinegar mother upon my return home. Last week, Scott bought a "mother of vinegar" from San Francisco Brewcraft on his way back from work, I was ecstatic to find out that they sell in a reusable mason jar, and got the concoction started immediately. Since we do not have a convenient/nearby source of bulk vinegar and we have extra wine (from our wine bottle refills), making wine vinegar at home, makes a lot of sense for us. I'll have to keep you posted on its taste when it's ready, in a couple of months.

Down to one car:

For the past three years, I have bugged Scott to sell his Mini Cooper to go down to one car. After all, we moved to a downtown to be close to amenities and use the car less - and we mostly walk or bike around here. We loved the versatility and cargo capacity of the Mini but it could no longer transport the four of us comfortably (the kids would sit with their legs crossed on their seats). Scott used it the to go to work a couple of times a week (he works from home the remaining days). I used my sedan for consulting work and once a week for errands/grocery shopping. We also used it for the longer family trips (including camping). It seemed that one, if not both cars, always sat in front of the house, and that with some planning we could share just one.

For the reasons mentioned, it made sense to keep the sedan. At the same time, Scott was reluctant to give up his beloved Mini, but with mounting repair bills (fly-wheel / transmission problems), last week he finally decided to take it in. Little did we know, that we'd end up trading both our cars for a used hybrid, giving us the comfort of my sedan, with even better cargo capacity (hatch-back) and gas mileage than the Mini (and one less insurance payment). The dealer even wrote us a check to make up for the difference ($12 ;) . We immediately created and shared a "car" calendar. It's only been a week, but Scott and I are super happy with our decision.

Bee Condo:

With the bee population decreasing, many sustainable organizations suggest building a bee condo to provide native bees a place to raise young bees. The first time I heard about the concept was three years ago at my friends launch party for Open Garden Project, and it had been on my mind ever since. With Max showing an interest in city planning and power tools, the project seemed perfect for him. I bought scrap wood for $2 at the hardware store and provided him with drill, drill bits, salvaged screws and hanger, and the simple online instructions. It took a couple days - he said he needed breaks;) but Max is very proud of completing his first ever building. He pointed out to one of the holes and said: This one will be the office;). He will be monitoring the bees' activity closely.

Organic Mattress:

A couple of weeks ago, Max fell asleep in our bed, next to Scott, so I spent the night in his twin bed. OMG what a horrible bed, I found out. I have read and cuddled in the kids beds before, but spending a whole night was a real wake-up call, so-to-speak. Springs stuck into my back all night and the lack of any-softness-whatsoever gave me a stiff neck the following day... as if I had camped out all night. I was really paying for the cheap mattress I bought 10 years ago, and realized that I owed my growing boys a softer nest. Scott and I both had always viewed buying a mattress as fun as buying a used car... But since our last car trade was not as painful as we had expected, we went mattress shopping for the boys this weekend. We went to The Natural Mattress Store, and after "sleeping" around, we fell in love with an Eco-Cloud mattress: 97% organic, made locally and with no packaging (on request). It was all we could have asked for! It was more expensive than the ones made in China, but after a few weekend rentals, the mattress will pay itself off. We had the option of sending the old mattresses to the recycling center, we chose to keep them instead: Stacked in the attic, they'll be perfect as a spare bed/couch for the playroom (our old plastic Coleman mattress/ spare popped a while back: I reused the plastic by sewing to the back of our picnic blanket for waterproofing).

Water Audit:

Last month, our church held a Sustainability Fair. I demo-ed a Zero Waste Home Shopping Kit, and the table next to me offered free water audits. I had meant to sign up for one of those in a long time and finally did. During lunchtime last week, a Marin Municipal Water District auditor came by. He looked at our yard, plants, watering patterns, interior water fixtures and machines. "I thought only 2 of you lived here", he said, when Scott mentioned the kids... "You only use half the water of a household of four." Wow, that statement sure made our day. Many readers have asked about our water consumption due to washing reusables. I don't how exactly much more water we use for that extra washing, but our minimalist wardrobes, and water consumption awareness seem to largely counter it.

We already know that little changes can have a big impact, but numbers prove to us how much and encourage us to do more. Future home projects now include setting up a grey-water system diverting waste water from our laundry machine to our ferns. I can't wait to have it done. And I hope that Scott can fit it in his schedule (maybe in the next three weeks instead of the next three years;)

What sustainable practices have you recently implemented that have been most satisfying?