Archives for March 2009

Featured Do-Gooder: WWF and Earth Hour

From time to time Smart Family Tips will feature an organization that is a “Do-Gooder”: a group that works to help both people and the environment. The Do-Gooders may be companies, nonprofits, or any organized group that focuses its efforts on making the world a better place.


Earth Hour is tomorrow. Consider joining the World Wildlife Fund and millions of other people across the planet by turning off your lights for one hour on Saturday, March 28 from 8:30-9:30 p.m. This is a great way to VOTE for the Earth and against global warming.

According to,

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

We all have a vote, and every single vote counts. Together we can take control of the future of our planet, for future generations.

VOTE EARTH by simply switching off your lights for one hour, and join the world for Earth Hour.

Saturday, March 28, 8:30-9:30pm.

Smart Family Tips is all about how our actions, though small, add up and how together, we can create change. Imagine if they reach their goal and one billion people really do turn off their lights for one hour as a statement against global warming. Now that would be cool.


Featured Do-Gooder: Earth Promise

From time to time Smart Family Tips will feature an organization that is a “Do-Gooder”: a group that works to help both people and the environment. The Do-Gooders may be companies, nonprofits, or any organized group that focuses its efforts on making the world a better place.

earth-promise-logoEarth Promise is a community site where people share their promises for making the world a better place. It’s all about the effect of many people doing small things — the fact that when many people make a small effort, it really does add up, a concept I try to focus on with this blog. Earth Promise says it’s,

an online community where environmentally conscious people use the site as a platform to document changes in their everyday lives, whether large or small, that will improve the earth’s condition caused by global warming and related issues. These changes, or Earth Promises, can have a tremendous effect when grouped together.

One small Earth Promise that a person makes can grow with the care and attention that is needed. Let’s say, you promise to use recycled paper. On its own, it does not appear to be much. But what if 100 people made that same promise? What about 1,000 people? Or 1 million? Or we can think of it differently. What if you told ten friends about the promise you made and then they told ten friends and so on. That can turn into a lot of people. In both instances, this one single promise has a very positive impact on the environment. That is powerful.

Earth Promise’s goals are to:

  • Provide an easy way for people to make, track and keep promises about changes that will benefit the environment.
  • Connect people with others who share the same vision for change.
  • Enable visitors to easily spread the word and teach and motivate others.
  • Encourage people to make a difference.

It’s all within our reach – the power of the Internet has connected people across the globe, and Earth Promise makes it easier for all of us to do our part by making these changes in order to have an impact on the environmental issues.

Want to have an impact on something so important that affects everyone on the globe? With Earth Promise, it is within our reach.

Get inspired and inspire others. Care, commit and connect. Together we can make a world of difference.

There are lots of great tools on the Earth Promise site. You can make your own promises or choose from a large list of promises other people have already made. You can also find suggestions for easy ways to get started, or use the Earth Promise Wizard that will ask a few basic questions and find promises that will work for you.

Similar to Facebook, you may choose to add “friends” if you’d like, but this isn’t required. They also have Forums and a useful Resources page.

One of my favorite aspects of the Earth Promise site is an excellent blog that has interesting and useful articles. Some of my favorites are

Environmental Kids’ Sites Worthy of a Bookmark

Green Your Child’s Reading List

Revive the Victory Garden

Green Vehicle Tips

Water Bottles: Bad For Our Planet, Bad For Our Body

It’s easy to subscribe to the blog via RSS or email. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Earth Promise is doing a great job of promoting responsibility and awareness while creating a sense of community. Please take the time to visit their site and maybe even make a few promises of your own.

Good, Green, Cheap Fun

I’ve mentioned this here before: often that which is cheaper is also greener. The same principle applies to fun. Spring is on its way and whether the day is sunny or dreary, there’s something fun for you and your family to do that’s both easy on the wallet and easy on the planet.

Movie Night (Recession Style):

Start with a $1 movie rental. Many grocery stores now have kiosks where you can rent newly released dvds for $1/night. If this is not an option where you live, check out the local library for an even better price — free.

Make your own (much healthier) popcorn. If you’ve read about the dangers of microwave popcorn, you know those are chemicals you don’t want to ingest. All you need is a brown paper lunch sack, 1 cup of organic popcorn kernels, and a little olive oil. Combine the popcorn and olive oil in the bag (yes, the bag will get a little greasy), fold the bag over and clamp shut with one or two staples (the metal will NOT cause a crisis in your microwave) and microwave for approximately 2-3 minutes or until there are 3-5 seconds between pops. Be sure to listen for the popping to slow down. You can play around with flavorings by adding salt, Parmesan, or anything else to the bag you like.

Make fruit flavored water to go with the popcorn. Get creative. Add lemons, limes, oranges, or anything that strikes your fancy.

Load the floor with blankets and pillows and pile on for a fun (and cheap) family movie night.

Have a Field Day in Your Very Own Yard

Set up an obstacle course where you (and the kids) have to dodge trees (or sticks, or rocks, or cones — whatever you have). Jump from one spot to another or in and out of rings, if you have them.

Egg run. Make two lines at opposite ends of the yard and try to run from one to the other while balancing an egg on a spoon.

Set up a 3-legged race.

Have a water balloon toss.

See who can jump rope the longest without tripping.

Get creative — make prizes if you like, or reward everyone with popsicles or ice cream when you’re finished.

Family Art Day

Start with paints and paper. Make it a game by having each family member paint (or draw) something that starts with the letter “b.” Keep going with different letters of the alphabet.

Have each family member draw their version of a broad category. For example, draw a dog, or a tree, or a flower.

Ask little kids to paint or draw something and then describe to you what it is. Write their description, along with the date, on their artwork.

Choose one sample of each person’s work to hang in a place of prominence for the next week.

Create a Book.

Cut an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper in half, horizonally. Stack as many sheets together as you want and fold in half vertically. Either staple in the center, or punch two holes along the center line and run string or yarn through the holes to hold the pages together.

Have each person write and illustrate their stories on the pages. Younger children can draw pictures and dictate their stories for you to write in the books.

Create a Gratitude Journal.

Make a book as above, but have each family member write things they are thankful for on the pages. Each person can keep their books and continue to add to them.

Have an Indoor Picnic & Camp-out.

Turn your living room floor into a campground.

Begin by spreading out a tablecloth on the floor and eating dinner picnic-style. Focus on sandwiches and foods that can easily be eaten without utensils.

After dinner, clear away the picnic and set up a tent in the middle of the floor. Load it with sleeping bags and flashlights. Tell camp stories until it’s time to go to sleep.

Start an Indoor Garden.

Paint terracotta pots in various sizes with low-VOC paint in pretty colors, or consider using chalkboard paint so kids can update their designs.

Once the pots are dry, fill with organic potting soil and seeds you’ve pre-selected.

Water and put them in a sunny spot to watch them grow over the coming weeks.

Having fun doesn’t have to require a lot of money or a lot of wasted resources. What does your family do for green, cheap fun? I’d love to read about your ideas in the comments.

A Few Updates

◊ Check out the Green Mom’s Carnival hosted by Tiny Choices for lots of great tips on Green Spring Cleaning. My post on Spring Cleaning made the list!

◊ Allie at Allie’s Answers has a great Gaim reversible rug giveaway. The rug, made from recycled soda bottles, is crafted by artisans in Thailand who receive fair wages for their work.

◊ A couple of site updates: I’ve added two new pages, a Green Resources page and a Take Action page. The Green Resources page highlights companies that are committed to safer and more eco-friendly products. I’ll regularly update this page as I find more companies committed to these causes. The Take Action page is for people who are feeling overwhelmed, but also want to try to do something to make things better. Check them out when you can. Links to both pages will remain in the navigation bar.

Green Spring Cleaning


Ah, spring cleaning. For some, it’s a welcome adventure; just think how clean everything will be! For others, it’s a daunting task that ends in unfinished projects and jobs grudgingly done. However you feel about spring cleaning, this year try to do at least one thing to make it a little more green. There are two primary areas of spring cleaning that lend themselves to green: Clutter (reducing and reusing) & Cleaning (using safer products & going waste-free).

Green is all about Reducing (our footprints, our trash, our stuff). It’s also a lot easier to clean less stuff than it is to clean hoards of stuff. Assuming, that is, that you could even get to the surfaces that need to be cleaned if you’re a serious hoarder. Why not start your spring clean with a giant purge? If you have a lot of stuff, the old standby of setting up 3 boxes in each room works well: one for trash (I use two: one for true trash and one for recyclables–I tend to find a lot of old magazines when I purge), one for garage sale items (if you’re so inclined), and one for donating. If you don’t truly love it or truly need it, put it in one of these boxes. It’s important to act on the boxes as quickly as possible. As soon as you finish a room, take the trash box to your trash can outside (and/or the recycling bin), the garage sale box gets marked and placed in a predetermined storage area, the donate box goes straight into the trunk of your car and is dropped off the very next time you go out.

One you’ve reduced, and also promoted reuse by donating unwanted items, it’s time to get cleaning. There are plenty  places online to find checklists of what needs to be cleaned. A few are listed below.

Spring Cleaning Checklist @ iVillage

Complete Spring Cleaning Checklist @ Real Simple Magazine Online

HomeEc 101 has a great series on spring cleaning: Room by Room; Detailed posts on Living Room/GreatRoom/Family Room and  Bedrooms. And lastly, Spring Cleaning for Disastrously Messy Homes

I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years about the cleaning products I used to regularly spray, squirt and swipe along nearly every surface in my house. The sad fact is that most of these cleaners at best, are respiratory irritants, and at worst, can contribute to the causes of serious disease. There’s a reason there are warning and hazard labels on the backs of almost all cleaning products sold in stores. If it says “Caution,” “Warning,” or “Hazard,” it’s not good for you. It’s not good for the planet, either. Not surprisingly, most of the stuff that harms the earth, harms people, too. Fortunately, we have more options than ever where cleaning products are concerned, and some of the best options are those we’ve had for a very long time. If you’re interested in making your own safe, eco-friendly, and inexpensive cleaners, recipes are easy to find. To get you started, I’ve listed a few below.

Care2 has 8 different recipes listed here. has more non-toxic cleaning recipes here.

There’s a large list of 25 cleaning recipes at Tree Hugging Family here.

But, what if you’re not into making your own cleaners, and are now afraid to buy the standard stuff? Fortunately, there are many more safe and eco-friendly products on the market than there used to be. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of fakers out there. The problem is that anyone can put words like “natural” on their products, regardless of the ingredients. The safest bet is to go with trusted companies and those that have third party certification regarding the safety of their ingredients. The best list of these products I’ve found is over at Debra’s List. She’s done an amazing job putting this list together and her site explains what many of the seals and certifications mean. She also has a great Green Living Q & A on cleaning.

Armed with safer products, my final suggestion is to go waste-free. Use more rags and old towels rather than paper towels. Scrub with a cleaning brush instead of a sponge. Get creative. Go for reusables instead of disposables wherever you can.

I admit that I do not make all my own cleaners, though I do make my own laundry detergent. However, I can attest to the nearly magical powers of white vinegar. A couple of weeks ago I made the stupid mistake of overheating some butter in a glass bowl in the microwave. The entire stick exploded all over the inside: colossal, greasy mess. Based on something I read online, when or where I no longer recall, I filled a clean bowl halfway with water and another third full with white vinegar. I put it in the microwave and turned it on for 4 minutes, then let it sit another 10. When I opened the door, I dipped a rag in the hot vinegar water and began wiping out the inside. To my amazement, it cleaned up every bit of the butter and left no greasy residue. I dumped the rest of the vinegar water in my sink (with the stopper in place) and let it sit for a few minutes. I wiped it out and unplugged the drain. My sink has never been cleaner.

I can’t say that I will make all of my cleaning supplies for this year’s spring cleaning either, but I can tell you that vinegar will have a place in my arsenal.

Best of luck with your spring cleaning. Remember that if you do even one thing to make it a little greener, it will help. If you have any suggestions for greening spring cleaning, please let us know in the comments.

Photo Credit: amy_b