Best of... 2011!

Coral Honeysuckle
As the school year draws to an end... I thought it would be a good time to once again look back and check on all the choices and lifestyle habits we made during the 2010-11 year in order to try and keep ''green'' with our family and support our community. For more ''Best Of'' posts, please see the June 2010 blog posts!

YES! Paper recycling. We started doing that last year; it is incredible how much paper trash we generate, whether it is school work, mail, paper boxes from food and household items that we purchase. Most public schools now have recycling bins just for paper, and actually benefit financially from their recycling. Please take your paper to be recycled at your favorite school and help them earn much-needed funds.

YES! going to our local heath food store. They have the best quality, freshest, and most likely local, fruit, milk, bread and vegetables. As an example, I just called Grassroots Market to ask when they will start carrying watermelons again. Someone picked up the phone, and promptly told me that there is a shipment coming in June 2 from Lady Moon Farms, FL. Lady Moon is the same farm that has given us the most beautiful, yummiest FL strawberries this spring, as well as cherry tomatoes and other veggies. Now try and call Costco, Target or another corporation to ask about their watermelons, and see how many times you have to dial 1 or 2 on the phone until you get a live person that can answer your question. Watermelons at Costco come from California. Why support CA agriculture when you can invest in our very own Florida farms? And why support multinational corporations when you can support small local businesses and keep your dollars right here in Jacksonville?

YES! Riverside Arts Market. We have gone almost every saturday this season! That is where we get the bulk of our vegetables, every week. I feel very fortunate to have access to such wonderful, fresh, good food. The farm of choice is, of course, Down to Earth Farm. We also buy cheese and meat there, from Sweetgrass Dairy and  J.D. Beef respectively. We also buy olives and yummy grape-leaf wraps from ''Olive my Pickle", as well as baguettes from ''JC's Daily Bread".

YES! Natural pest control. We started using the St.Augustine company Nature's Way for in-house pest control. It has been almost a year now, and we have had absolutely no problems at all. Highly recommended. And the owners, who themselves apply the product in your house, go to the Symphony -imagine that!

YES! Natural lawn care. We starting using it last fall, and our front lawn has done remarkably well, even throughout this hot and dry spring. The side of the house is filled with native plants and mulch (leaves)- it took a few years to change that area from lawn to native, but it is beautiful to look at, and requires virtually no work. Leslie Pierpont, of Native & Uncommon Plants, gave us great advice and help with the plants.

YES! Timer and insulation on the water heater. Once you install it, you don't ever have to think about it again- just make sure you set it right! I opted for the timer that instead of installing a solar water heater. I had considered and researched solar panels last spring, but there is just too much shade on our rooftop for a solar panel to work properly, especially in winter.

YES! Clothes line- works great! I barely ever use the dryer anymore, unless it is raining for days on end and we have a ''school'' emergency. Even if I hang clothes inside (on a smaller, portable clothesline), they still dry just fine with either AC or heat on. The only problem with the outdoors clothesline... mosquitoes. You will get bitten as you hang the clothes, no matter if it is morning, night or noon. And I have had one of my sheets pooped by a bird once... but other than that, it works great. Just don't forget to check the weather forecast...

YES! Rain barrel. Again, another no-brainer. All you need to do is install it, and it works beautifully. Take the water cans to the spout, fill them up, and water the pots and vegetable garden with the rain water.

YES! Recycled paper towels, napkins, tissues and toilet paper. I buy them at Publix. Yes, they are not as soft or fancy as the brand-new paper ones, but at least they are not coming directly from freshly chopped trees.

YES! Stainless steel bottles: they never break. Yes, they eventually get a little banged up, especially if you are like me and constantly drop stuff... but even if they are a bit dented, you can be assured that they are not leaking anything into your water. Not only you are saving millions of plastic bottles from ending up in the landfill, or worse, the ocean (only 25% of water bottles are actually recycled... and recycling uses up energy as well), you will actually drink better quality water when you drink from your tap. Tap water is subject to much more stringent federal regulations than bottled water, and since almost half of all bottled water these days come from municipal taps... you might as well save your money to pay for your own, 1,000-times cheaper, better-quality tap water. Plastic bottles not only leach chemicals into the very same safe and pure water they are meant to carry and protect for you, their production and transport uses the energy equivalent of millions of barrels of oil every year- 54 million barrels in 2007 alone... If your concern, like mine, is water safety, your best bet is to buy a good-quality water filter for your drinking water. We installed a Multi-Pure Drinking Water System years ago over concerns of chlorine in our water; all we have to do is change the carbon filter once a year. A note on the bottles: don't confuse them with aluminum bottles, which are coated inside with chemical substances that do chip and break down. An easy way to tell if your bottle is coated is to look inside the bottle. If it is yellow or orange, that is a chemical coating; whether or not it is BPA-free, it still breaks down.

YES! Stainless steel lunch boxes and snack containers. They also get a bit banged up, but have now endured 2 years of daily school and work trips without any problems other than sitting on the counter a bit lopsided. Have not had to buy or use (and throw into the trash) a Ziploc bag for almost 2 years now. Had to use one last summer to put a boiled egg in for about an hour for a car trip. I could taste the plastic in the egg. Not sure what those bags are made of, but don't want to eat it.

YES! Stainless steel bakeware. I got rid of all the Teflon bakeware in the house, and substituted it for stainless steel. They work just like the aluminum ones; no worries about scratching, and they are easy to clean.

YES! Keeping the thermometer at 81ºF. Sometimes, when I am cooking in the late afternoon, it does get pretty hot and I have to turn it down a bit, but I do try to keep it at 81ºF at all times- especially when we are out of the house. I turn if off and open then windows at night in order to get fresh air into the house, turn it on again late -mornings.

YES! Melitta porcelain manual coffee maker. Suffice to say that every night I go to bed looking forward to coffee next morning. Not only there is absolutely no plastic involved in the process (think of the insides of electric coffee makers- plastic... just like playing kitchen with plastic toys, except you really are drinking that boiled water), the (BPA-free) coffee really does taste incredible.

YES! Raised herb garden. The raised beds work great to keep our dog, and even kids, out of the garden. But I did not do so well with the vegetables this year. I did not have the time and energy to care for them, so the result was pretty paltry-looking. But the herbs did, and continue to do well. I think I will continue with herbs and butterfly-friendly, hardy native flowers so as to keep watering and maintenance to a minimum. The strawberry plant (bought at the Riverside Arts Market) was the exception: it was planted on a pot with fresh good dirt, and since it (and the ensuing fruit) belonged to my daughter, it was cared for and watered every day.

YES! LED lights. They are expensive, but if every time an old incandescent or halogen bulb dies you replace it with a LED light, it becomes definitely more doable.

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