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Archive for May, 2010

“Think Globally, Act Locally” is a tag phrase created to promote the locavore movement. Ok. Omnivores – eat plants and meat, Herbivores – eat plants, Carnivores – eat meat. Locavores – eat local food.

Being a locavore is very green. You support local agriculture, know your food sources, and decrease fossil fuels used to ship things like apples from Chile or China. In return, you get fresher, tastier, juicier fruits and vegetables!

First, shop your local farmers market. You will find fresh, delicious produce shipped only a short distance in a small vehicle. Many times you can even get to know the people who grow your food. Crazy, but true. I have been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on TV and the kids he talked to couldn’t even identify some types of vegetables. Why? They don’t shop for produce and see it before its cooked. They don’t grow their own gardens. Some of them probably don’t even eat fresh produce – only frozen or canned or packed in heavy syrup. Yuck. In WI, we don’t always have certain produce in season. If you’re a true locavore, you don’t eat strawberries in December unless they come from your freezer. If you’re a semi-locavore, like myself, you eat in-season and local foods whenever possible and supplement with canned or frozen when necessary. Last year, we took a trip to Govin’s Meats and Berries and picked 3 big flats of strawberries. We ate about 15 pounds of fresh Strawberries in June and July and froze a bunch. We just used the last bag last week for a smoothie and my mouth is absolutely watering for fresh strawberries!

Being a locavore is not restricted to produce. You’ll still most likely have to shop at the grocery store for things. But, it’s pretty easy to Check labels at the grocery store. You’ll find you can keep this more local by doing that. For instance, Crystal Farms butter comes from Lake Mills, WI. Thats not to say that all of the ingredients for the butter are local, but, unless you’re going to become a true locavore, then doing your best to keep things as local as possible is a great start. For me, buying dairy products that don’t at least come from WI is unacceptable. Sorry, California, the happiest cows are just down the road! You can also shop locally by patronizing the smaller shops. You can become part of  a co-op, where local food is likely important to them as well.

There are books and cookbooks that I own or have read that have helped me on this journey. One is Simply In Season. It is divided by season to give you some ideas on how to incorporate in-season produce into your cooking. Another, produced in Madison, is called  From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Produce which guides you alphabetically on any produce you can think of. It gives you the season or months to expect it in WI, how to cook it, how to store it for optimal freshness, as well as how to preserver it (when possible) for enjoying throughout the year.

When you close your eyes and really taste fresh produce, you’ll never want to go back to west coast strawberries in November. Last year, we ate at least 50% locally for one month – June. The taste of fresh in-season food as well as the money you can save shopping small, local vendors has been forever ingrained in our minds. Do we still buy Cheese-Its? Yes! (especially when I was pregnant. Cheese-Its and baby carrots were the bomb!). But, we think about where our food comes from and we try our best to eat locally. I started keeping a diary of where I can get local food. My Co-Op even had semi-local flour!!!

My local food:

  • Crystal Farms butter,
  • Lynn Dairy cheese,
  • local maple syrup from Schmidt family,
  • local honey from a beekeeper in Thorp,
  • grass-fed beef from Chippewa County (bought 1/4 at a time),
  • free-ranged chicken from Jessie’s “Behind the Willows” farm – she also sells pork and eggs and sometimes honey- (check out her blog! www.behindthewillows.wordpress.com)
  • milk – local milk from Spring Valley or Land O Lakes and other brands that use milk co-ops to keep milk in the communities it came from
  • pick-your-own strawberries,
  • local orchards (our favorite is Maple Leaf Orchard in Spring Valley – they have everything!)
  • Check out http://www.savorwisconsin.com to find other local sources for food
  • eggs from my backyard (previously) or local farms (there are a LOT of these around!)
  • local wild turkey, venison, pheasant, etc
  • wine from Riverbend Vineyard and Winery 
  • beer from Leinekugels, Chippewa Falls (Summer Shandy, mmm)

My local food and beverage choices are not fool-proof. Ingredients used in some of the products may not be local, but the idea, for me, is to be as local as possible without driving myself bonkers. Where do you get food locally?

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Use cloth diapers. Yes, I said it. Use cloth diapers. I said it again. Here is an approximate cost of diapers in my local WI estimation for a child from newborn up to age 1: $450. This is about what I would have spent in a year diapering Baby J. This is based on the cost of a huge box of Huggies from Sam’s Club. The price goes up if you use name-brand diapers from retailers to closer to $750 for the first year.

No one knows how long a disposable diaper takes to decompose. No one knows? That’s right. No one knows how long it takes. Why? Disposable diapers were only invented, marketed and produced starting about 60 years ago. Those diapers that would have wrapped my parents’ behinds probably still rest in a landfill in WI, although my parents have been potty-trained for quite a few years. It scares me to think that we don’t even know how long these diapers will be around. Most scientists estimate anywhere from 250-500 years for diaper to decompose, if ever.

Retailers listen to consumers. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, check out this search for “reusable diapers” on Walmart.com. Yes, even Walmart sells cloth diapers. 

I have heard people say that cloth diapering is too expensive. Well, it has cost me less $$ to cloth diaper Baby J than it would have to use disposables. And, less “expense” to the earth as well.

Here is a diaper vocabulary lesson. A “prefold” is what you think of when you think of old fashioned cloth diapers… you know, the ones with pins? I still used those, only I used a “Snappi” (like a diaper twist-tie) and a poly-urethane laminate (PUL) vinyl cover – a fancy term for waterproof. A “cover” is just that – a waterproof cover that goes over the diaper to keep wetness away from the clothes. They are generally made out of wool, PUL, fleece, hemp, bamboo… etc, etc. An “all-in-one” is just what it sounds like. The whole diaper is in one piece. No wrapping, folding, tucking, or pinning. These basically look like a disposable diaper, only they are made out of cloth.

My personal stash has included: Thirsties covers/prefolds $100 (2 months – 10 months). I cut a small piece of fleece out of an old blanket to put inside the prefold. Fleece is magic like that… it was tucked next to his skin and the urine flows right through it and stays dry to the touch. I don’t know how it happens, it just does. I could have gotten away with just buying these. I could have spent just $100 to diaper him for a year, but, I have an obsessive personality and I like to collect things, so I also bought some cute Thirsties All-in-Ones. (These are now called a Duo Diaper). They were on sale and they are quick and easy for traveling. These have a PUL outer, microfiber cloth middle layer, and fleece/cotton inside layer that rests next to the baby’s skin. I spent about $95 for 8 of them.  This is enough for about 2 days right now unless he has unusual bathroom habits for the day.

For the first 11 months, I used disposable diapers at night. I was afraid that the cloth ones wouldn’t hold and would leak and I didn’t want to risk anything that could possibly wake up the child in the night! But, for the last few weeks, I have used cloth diapers at night with no leaking. I have played with methods for doing this and, without getting into a whole lot of detail and boring those of you who do not have little kids and yet are still reading this, there are some magical fibers these days that are thin, yet absorbent and can be packed into a cover and hold A LOT of liquid.

I also spent about $9 on 2 dry bags from Walmart. These hold the dirty diapers while we’re away and while Baby J is at daycare. They hold the stink in remarkably well (just ask Stephanie). They are made for camping or canoeing and are not advertised as “waterproof” but have done very well. Commercial diaper dry bags (or wet bags as they are called) run anywhere from $15-20. They are a lot cuter than mine, but I don’t get my undies in a bundle over how cute the bag that holds the dirty diapers is. Besides, throw that dry bag into a cute diaper bag and, viola! Style, function and frugality in one! $195 for diapers + $9 for bags = $204. A savings of almost $250.

The prefolds that Baby J started with are not holding enough for him anymore, so I’m exploring new ideas. The new brand I am looking at is called Softbums. I figure that if I can get them for less than $250, all of my diapers for Baby J’s next year could be considered free! These will likely carry him all the way to potty training. (P.S. people, I could probably fix up the stuff I’ve got to make it work, but, please, refer to the part about having an obsessive personality above…).

Hopefully I have dispelled some myths about cloth diapering. It’s not as hard as you think it is. Yes, you have to clean poop off of a diaper, but you want to know something? You’re supposed to clean poop off of your disposables, too. Says so right on the box. Human waste does not belong in landfills. When it is properly disposed of in the toilet, it makes its way to proper treatment facilities to reduce the spread of bacteria. Bacteria and toxins leach through the soil from landfills and end up in our drinking water. Therefore, throwing human excrement in the garbage could be considered akin to drinking poop. I’d rather clean off a few messy diapers.

It’s not too late! Have an infant who is nearing 1 year old and you think it’s too late? You can still save about 2000 diapers from hitting the landfill – more if he or she isn’t potty trained by 2 years of age!

Let me know if you’re interested and I can talk you through what you’ll need to get started. There are lots of places to buy diapers online and some diaper stores that sell locally. I have gotten my diapers from Punkerdoops in Eau Claire, WI. Amber’s website is www.punkerdoopsdiapers.com. She provides consultation and customer service even after your purchase!

Oh, and a word on shrinking the landfills. These statistics are not accurate, I know, but its meant to make you think a little bit. Remember how I told you that  in 2009 there were 5.6 million people in WI? Well, 6.4% of them were under the age of 5. Lets assume that half of those kids wear diapers. If those kids are anything like mine, they each wore about 2700 diapers in their first year of life. Not as many in their second year, and so on. So, for fun, lets say it turns out to be about an average of 2000 diapers per year per kid… Do you know how many disposable diapers would have hit the landfills in 2009? 361,905,536. That is 361 million diapers… in Wisconsin… in one year.

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Stop buying bottled water. Seriously, just stop it. Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. Car keys? Check! Wallet? Check! Water bottle? Check! And, if you’re still carrying a diaper bag, it’s even easier! Just throw an empty bottle, jug or cup in your bag or purse and off you go. Or, drink out of fountains (bubblers)! The video below gives some good information, but does seem to talk to you like you’re an idiot. I know you’re not an idiot. 🙂

If you have bottled water or find yourself in a situation where you don’t have a choice, make sure that you recycle your recyclables; one ton of recycled plastic saves 685 gallons of oil! (http://www.grist.org/article/plastics/)

When you are at the grocery store, choose non-plastic containers when possible. A simple trade we’ve made in our house relates to applesauce (which the baby LOVES). We buy a glass jar of applesauce for home and buy the smaller plastic travel cups of applesauce only for traveling. (It would be possible to put some applesauce from the jar into a re-usable container, but then it has to be refrigerated…) This was a simple switch, and probably the way things were meant to be anyway!

And, speaking of the grocery store… Bring your own bags when you shop. This is huge. It is simple. Look around your house. Find different sizes of canvas bags that you can use for shopping.

Some cities or countries around the world have begun placing a tax on the use of plastic bags. Most grocery and other stores in Canada charge customers for every plastic bag they use. This has encouraged many shoppers to begin bringing their own bags to the grocery store. It also reduces the number of bags a shopper may elect to purchase for their groceries – instead of placing a plastic gallon milk jug into a plastic bag, why not just set it in the cart and then transfer that to the car? We can achieve the same results with just a little foresight.

When I started using canvas bags, I would often forget them when I went to the store. I started “punishing” myself as a reminder and didn’t take ANY bags. I put all of the items back in the grocery cart and placed them one-by-one into the trunk and then hauled them into the house one armload at a time. It took a few tries, but soon I remembered my bags. I also often assess whether or not I can carry the items in a convenience store in my hands to the car instead of getting a bag. I used to only get plastic bags for produce, but now I either just set them in the cart or put them in small mesh bags that I bought from the Dollar Store.

There are an estimated 5.6 million people living in WI. About 75% of them are over the age of 18 and, thus, shopping for food on a regular basis. If each adult in the state of WI used one less plastic bag per week, we could reduce the number of plastic bags by 218 million per year. That just means using plastic bags more wisely. You don’t even have to do anything extra. Just think before you bag! Two hundred and eighteen MILLION less bags just in WI alone…

Other tips for plastic bags: reuse the ones you have, don’t just throw them away; wash and re-use Ziploc bags, especially those that only held dry ingredients; re-use other plastic bags and containers – bagel and bread bags make good small bags for carrying food, etc; use plastic grocery bags as liners for small bathroom garbage cans – then use them again by dumping bathroom garbage into your kitchen bag before bringing it outside.

Please add your own tips for reducing plastic waste in the comments section. And, Happy Shopping!

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On Being Green

I’m devastated by the gallons and gallons of oil that are pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. I think the pictures of oil-covered birds and thick, red ocean waves are sickening. There is ecology there that is so delicate and fragile that it may never be rebuilt quite the same again. We may lose something in this disaster forever.

It’s easy to get angry about this disaster. Angry with BP. Angry with the government. Some people are angry with President Obama for not doing enough fast enough. I don’t share these sentiments. We need to start with ourselves. Oil companies drill for oil because we use it. It’s a simple case of supply and demand. They are supplying to the level that we are demanding. And, this isn’t all about driving efficient vehicles. It goes way beyond that into taking a look at your carbon footprint – the impact of your activities on the environment around you.

I am an environmentalist. I have considered myself a care-taker for the earth (as hippy as that sounds) since the time I was in middle school. I joined the Environmental Club and, among other things, started paper recycling in our school district, painted storm drains with reminders not to dump things as they drained to our lakes and streams, and helped start a prairie on our school property. But, those of you who know me also know that I am not for big government or big governmental controls. The environment and its care is up to us. Be educated and know how your decisions and your actions affect your environment.

Reducing waste, reducing oil consumption, reducing your footprint left on the earth is your job. Governments do well to place regulations on factories and big businesses that may not easily hear the voice of America, but we are the ones that need to make change for ourselves and to future generations.

I’m not necessarily talking about drastic change, like giving up your car or composting your own poop, I’m talking about small things that add up to big change. Small things we can each do to help.

What will follow today’s post is a series of posts that will help you to reduce your waste, save resources for future generations, and save you money at the same time! Some suggestions will be commitments on your part to do the right thing. Some of them require very little deviation from what you’re probably already doing. Live locally and act responsibly.

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Sometimes its hard to keep track of the websites that you frequently check up on. Google now provides a free and easy way to track your favorite blogs. Google Reader will keep a list of blogs you follow and alert you to when there are new posts or comments. The following is a tutorial on how to create an account to track your blogs with Google Reader.

  1. Go to www.igoogle.com
  2. In the middle of the iGoogle homepage, you should see a box that says “Create your Own Page in Under 30 Seconds” – here you can choose special interests, a theme to decorate your iGoogle page, and set your location. Click the button that say “See Your Page.”
  3. Click on “sign up” or “sign in” on the top right corner of the page
  4. Google will take you to a new page where you can sign in with an existing Google account, or create a new account. You can use any e-mail address to create an iGoogle account
  5. Near the top of the page, on the right hand side, you will see a link titled “Add Stuff.” When you click that, you can search through Google’s available “gadgets” to personalize your page. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will add Google Reader.
  6. You can find Google Reader by searching using the search bar on the gadgets page, and when you see a gadget you like, simply click “Add it Now.”
  7. Click on “Go Back to iGoogle Home” to return to your home page. Google Reader will now be listed on the left side in a drop-down list. You can return to the Gadget shop at any time to add more gadgets.
  8. The best way to view Google Reader, in my opinion, is in its own window. In the picture below, you will see a red oval indicating where to click on your Google Reader box to open a new window. 
  9. Once you have opened up Google Reader in its own window, you will see a button called “Add Subscription.” Here you can type or copy and paste the URL’s for your favorite blogs. They will show up in your list when there are new posts available to read. You can click on the new post to read it in Google Reader or click on the blog name to be directed straight to the blog. For example, you can click “Add Subscription” and type in www.thinkbigmuch.wordpress.com to follow this blog on Google Reader.

Here is a tutorial for setting up an iGoogle account.

This link is a tutorial on You Tube that may also help you to set up an Google Reader with categories to organize the blogs you follow.

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On Moving Up!

I started a blog to have a platform to express my thoughts and write about things that are interesting to me. I have kept journals or diaries before for this purpose, but there wasn’t any incentive to write in a journal. When I blog, people can read what I wrote and write back to me – how fun! So, I started www.radcliffe-family.blogspot.com to write about what was happening in our family. I discovered quickly that I had more to write about than what was happening between the walls of our little house. When my friend Jessie started her blog, she came up with a cool name for it – I started a quest to find a cool name for my blog, too, something that would capture the essence of why I wanted a blog in the first place. A series of e-mails with friends and brainstorming sessions led me to start thinking and listening to those around me. My daughter was the inspiration for my blog name. I used to tell her, “I love you SO much.” One day she said, “I love you BIG BIG BIG much, mama.” From then on, when she wanted to convey something very large, she used the phrase ‘big much’ (I want big much crackers, I want big much milk, I don’t want little bit fruit snacks – I want big much!)

I try to write things that make people think. Think Big Much seemed like a good title for my blog! Blogger.com did not allow me as much flexibility as I wanted for customizing my blog, so I have been searching for another platform. Very soon I will be writing about ways that you can follow blogs easily so you don’t miss any updates posted by your favorite bloggers. One way on WordPress is to subscribe (look to the right of my pages) so you will receive updates in your e-mail inbox. Thanks for reading!

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On Wool Sweaters

When I lay down in my bed at night, I sigh and relax and think of the vastness of hours that spread before me in anticipation of a restful slumber. As I drift off to sleep, forgetting the stresses of the day, I feel my body and my mind relax… letting go… I doze off, peacefully. Then JOLT awake to the sound of a crying baby who decided to start fussing 10 minutes after I fell asleep… “Riley – you go,” I say, as my body, now made of cement, will not allow me to get out of bed. Dutifully, he heads off to Baby J’s room and spends 20 minutes patting his back. Baby J drifts off to sleep and Riley, ever so quietly tip-toes back into the bedroom, collapses onto the bed and sighs, closing his eyes, relaxing. Somewhere, in the dark beyond, a baby again cries. Can’t… get… up… A discussion ensues about how the child cannot be hungry, no dirty diaper, not cold, not wet, not in pain, just not tired. And so, the baby fussed, off and on until almost midnight. I don’t remember drifting off to sleep, but was woken up with a JOLT to the sound of a little girl calling her mama and the distinct sound of the frustrated, disappointed, uncomfortableness that follows an episode of bed-wetting. The time? 2:15 am. I feel my night shrinking. Shrinking away like a wool sweater that has been accidentally thrown in the dryer.

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