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Friday, February 18, 2011

I swear, this time! This time, for sure!

How many times have you said, "I'm going to eat better," "I'm going to work out," "I'm going to read that book?" For many, the lists go on. So many people live in the world of "later." Guess what, time stands still for no man, and if you live in the world of "Later", there might not be another tomorrow holding the same opportunity. If you're like most people - not having a visible plan of action that you've taken the time to create - then your wishes will forever be an empty statement sent out into the universe. I admit I'm the same way. In 2007(ish), in my College Success class I learned about the acronym S.M.A.R.T. for goal setting. It made soooo much sense and when I do follow the steps it actually helps me accomplish my goals, no matter how big or small, short-term or long-term. Here's how:

S - Specific. When you say something like, "I'm going to eat better," it's really a noncommittal statement. Ask yourself, "How?" How are you going to eat better? Do you need more grains or veges in your diet? Less sugar, perhaps? Saying something like, "I'm going to prepare organic, homemade meals using the Food Pyramid as a guide," is definitely more specific and can help you to better judge whether you're on track with your goal or not.

M - Measurable. So you might prepare one or even two homemade meals, but that's not really helping you achieve your goal. You need to measure flour for a cake, right? So it is with goals. "I'm going to prepare three organic, homemade meals a day using the Food Pyramid as a guide," would be considered measurable.

A - Achievable. Say your goal was to "lose 30 pounds in 30 days through eating organic and exercising," besides not being doctor recommended, it's just not reasonable. "Lose 6-10 pounds in 30 days through eating organic and exercising," is way more reachable!

R - Realistic. Is your goal reasonable? If not, you're setting yourself up for failure. For example, if I worked full time and commuted an hour and a half back and forth, had kids, after school activities, and was taking night classes, I probably would not be able to keep my goal of three organic, from-scratch meals a day. Oh, I know some people can do it, but would I have the motivation at the end of the day? Can pigs fly? So I would probably want to revise my goal to, "I will make one homemade organic dinner for three nights." For me, my schedule, family life, and motivation level - this would be realistic.

T - Time Frame. There needs to be an end in sight! If you don't set some sort of time frame, you will keep procrastinating. Think how inspiring it will be when you see that deadline approaching ever closer as you cross off the days on the calendar. "I'm going to prepare three organic, homemade meals a day using the Food Pyramid as a guide for 4 weeks," and at the end of those four weeks, guess what? I'll have a total sense of accomplishment! I admit, I get a high from completing my tasks.

Setting Mini or Micro goals helps too to achieve the larger goals as well. By writing out a monthly, weekly, or even daily goal objective using the S.M.A.R.T principals, it can help keep you on track. For example, my Mini (or weekly) goal might be to have shopped at my local farmers market for the best quality produce for my three dinners. My Micro (or daily) goal might be to secure one hour to look up
new recipes.

What techniques have you used to accomplish goals? Have you tried using S.M.A.R.T. goals? How did that work for you?

'Til next time, Dear Reader,
~*Nicole

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Ten Things I Love About You!"

So I've never really liked Valentine's Day - I feel it's a holiday all about commercialism and consumerism. I feel if you really love someone, you should tell them everyday, not just one day. But, this year, since we didn't do anything for our very first anniversary as a married couple, I decided that I would do something this V-day to make up for it. The catch is - he didn't know. See, my husband shares my viewpoint of Valentine's Day - for most it is a depressing show of materialism, reminding one how very single they are - so we have never really celebrated it. Though, to make it as "green" and as heartfelt as possible, I came up with the following idea, inspired by a Christmas gift I received years ago:

When I woke up that 14th, I ran to the grocery store to get my fresh ingredients and two single pink roses (I bypassed the $20 one's in the front of the store, and went to the floral section. They were sitting in a tub in the fridge, without any wrappings, in personal tubes of water that I will save for another use) while my husband still slept. I heated up some pre-home-cooked, frozen pancakes and set the table with one tiny addition - an envelope tied with a black bow. Inside was a "treasure map" that I customized using Gimp (it's like Photoshop, but free!) - specifically it was a "Ten Things I Love About You" Valentine's Hunt map.

I had printed and hidden ten cards around the house with things I love about him, like his smile, his green eyes, etc. On the cards were clues to find the next card, and so on. I hid them in movies and books, in the kitchen, in the car - all over the house. I stretched the hunt over the day, interrupted only by school and a lovely candle-lit, home-cooked Italian meal, my husband's favorite, consisting of lemon-pepper chicken breast, white chedder shells, caesar salad with homemade croutons, Welch's Sparkling Red Grape juice ('cause I don't drink) and personal pink-frosted heart cakes (picture above).

This next idea was inspired by Gifts.com - and sorry if this is TMI, but I thought it was a creative "green" gift for a guy, plus it didn't cost any money - the hunt continued into the candle-lit bedroom where I laid cute, lacy panties with a printed funny, suggestive little clue, surrounded by rose petals in the shape of a heart. He got such a kick out of that!

I apologize for the "lateness" of this edition, but I had to wait 'til after the holiday passed to blog about so as to not spoil my surprise for my honey. We had such a lovely day and he repeatedly thanked me for my thoughtfulness, and saved each of my love clues. I was so happy it all went off without a hitch and I got to spend a special day with the man I love.

How have you made your Valentine's Days "green" or thoughtful? Or do you chose to celebrate a different special day with your loved ones? If you're single, what are some alternate ways to celebrate? I'd love to hear about it!

'Til next time, Dear Reader!
~*Nicole

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How The 5 R's Aid The Zero Waste Movement...& You Can, Too!

I read an article in Sunset magazine (January 2011 issue) about the Zero Waste Family. They are amazing - a true inspiration. While the average consumer throws out "1,130 pounds of waste each year," they (The Johnsons) only throw away "a few handfuls of non-recyclable waste." Wow! I went on to read that the matriarch and instigator of this lifestyle change, Bea Johnson, said,

"When we started getting rid of things, it was kind of addictive....[and] Photos are a good way to keep the memory of something without keeping it because of emotional attachment or the guilt of letting it go." Put another way: Hang onto the photo of your grandmother in her fur coat, but if you never wear the coat, it's just taking up space in your closet.

It made so much sense! I investigated further after reading by going onto Bea Johnson's blog - Zero Waste Home. Again, it was an inspirational process of how they came to live like this.
How do they do it? It's easy, when their mantra is "'Refuse, refuse, refuse, and then reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot [compost],' explains Bea. "The first step is to refuse products and packaging that you'll have to dispose of later."

The 5 R’s, if followed in order, can help you on your waste-reduction journey.

1) Refuse most receipts, disposable single-use items, handouts, freebies, and even gifts that don’t fit your lifestyle.

2) Reduce you consumption of disposables, like razors, or single-use water bottles, and prepackages items. Farmer’s Markets and Bulk stores are the best places for finding sticker-free fruits and vegetables, carton-free eggs, plastic/cardboard free staples. Reduce your need to “stay on trend” with ever changing fashion or home d├ęcor and opt for a more timeless, simple style. Anything can be reduced if you really put your mind to it.

3) Reuse anything you can think of. That empty cottage cheese container? Use it to store leftovers or to hold supplies. Use your clean mason and jelly jars to get fresh meat/cheese from the deli to avoid its packaging. Old shirt or pillow case on its way out? Turn it into a grocery bag or alternative to wrapping paper.

4) Recycle. We’ve been beaten over the head with this, but if you manage to stick to the above three first, the hope is that you’ll have less to recycle. Plastic/metal/glass can be recycled, but I’d consider donating unused items to thrift stores a form of recycling as well.

5). Rot (Compost). So much food waste and paper/cardboard items can be turned into usable, fertile soil. The food and paper items that end up in landfills, however, have a hard time breaking down since their natural decomposition is slowed by all the different chemicals and toxins from all the different, inorganic materials.

One of the simple ways that the Johnsons succeed in this is by bringing their own jars, totes, and bags to the grocery store and shopping the outer rims of the store, focusing on the bulk sections and they buy fresh at their Farmer's Market. They avoid anything prepacked like the plague.

The part I liked the most in the article was about their two sons' playroom - "In the playroom there are four bins of toys. The rule is simple: if they want something new to them, it needs to fit in the bins."

On birthdays/holidays, family and friends are encouraged to give gifts of experience, like "a weekend of skiing." And I also liked the fact that each family member has a limited number of clothes, for example their sons each have "7 casual tops, 1 dress shirt, 4 bottoms, 3 pairs of shoes, and 1 pair of PJs per season," - it must make laundry a breeze!

As I read, I thought to myself, "Can I do this? How much in my house is unused? How much do I buy and then throw away? Could I sustain something like this?" Well, I'm sure it helps to have money...I was a little discouraged by this fleeting thought since my husband and I are on tight budgets - very tight. Though Bea did say this process took years and she actually shops second hand thrift stores (which I love to do!). In April, 2010, she only spent about "$40 replenishing clothes for her whole family." So the more I thought, the more I was determined to make this work for my budget, too!

The more I thought about it, the more I got excited and I couldn't wait to get home and donate my unused stuff! The tally totaled eight full boxes of stuff! I was originally going to have a yard sale, but the timing was a little last minute, so I just decided to donate it to a local thrift store to get it all out of my living room. I felt cleansed! Bea was right, it is addictive!

My tinted bottles
That article had an impact I hadn't really anticipated. I've started looking at prepackaged things - not necessarily in a new light - but in a renewed light. Though I must admit, that we haven't refused/reduced as much as we could/should, but I have been reusing items in creative and unexpected ways. I've been cleaning and saving our glass and plastic jars when we run out of jelly, or peanut butter, etc. which has come in handy! So far, I've used several peanut butter jars as paint containers for small painting projects and I found a nifty idea for my glass bottles/jelly jars to hang on our balcony garden!

I wish I could shop more bulk foods, but unfortunately there isn't a place in town (that I know of) that has a good selection. However, I have been cooking more with raw foods and I've started bringing my own fabric grocery bags to the store (before we were drowning in plastic bags - however we did use them for kitty litter clean up and for ceramic projects, so it's not like they weren't being used - and then I found out Walmart has a plastic bag recycling program!) and so far I have refused the majority of receipts (a useless waste of paper the majority of the time).

I recently went through all our paperwork, like bills and medical receipts, etc. and filled two huge trash bags with 5+ years worth of unnecessary paperwork to recycle!

For birthdays and Christmas I am going to make fabric totes/bags for gift giving. Last Christmas, 2010, hurt my feelings a little bit when realizing how much pomp and paper and packaging is wasted in this consumerist holiday. Yes, I love a perfectly wrapped present as much as the next person, but if I can wrap in something sustainable and reusable, then, by golly, I'm going to do it! *Update 4/16/17* I pretty much forego wrapping paper as it is unnecessary, like most Europeans do.

I'm excited to see where this journey takes us. I doubt we'll be as hardcore as the Johnson family, but I'd like to be, and I’ve become a lot more conscious about what I bring into my house and what I can prevent contributing to a landfill.

Remember, your dollar is a vote.

~Nicole A.