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The holiday catalogs have been pouring into my house for weeks now and they usually go straight to the recycle bin ( or the bathroom ) The photo is just from last week alone. 15 catalogs a week. WOW. So of the 19 billion catalogs mailed out to consumers this year, I am getting a big chunk of catalogs.

Last year I spent a few hours of my time to send out requests to companies to stop sending me their catalogs and gradually the pile has gotten bigger. Some companies are worse than others and will send a catalog a week. I can’t imagine what their print order must be. I work in printing so you would think I would be happy about all the printing going on but my environmentalist brain kicks in and wants to condemn this practice. I am a magazineaholic at heart and am in the correct business but I also have a small house and can only fit so many magazines in it. This spring I managed to purge many of the magazines in my house and took out what I wanted to keep and recycled the rest of the book.

Earth911 has an article on catalog waste that says, ” Of what we throw away, 34 percent is made of paper and only half of this gets reused. These catalogs and paper products in landfills increase the amount of level of methane gas emissions. Methane gas has a significant carbon footprint, as it is about 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

According to Catalog Choice, a project sponsored by the Ecology Center, these 19 billion catalogs have a serious environmental impact:

  • 53 million trees used
  • 3.6 million tons of paper used
  • 38 billion BTUs of energy used to produce this paper, enough to power 1.2 million homes for a year
  • 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to the annual emissions of two million cars
  • 53 billion gallons of water used, enough to fill 81,00 Olympic-sized swimming pools

Most catalog companies don’t use recycled paper. Many use bleach and gloss coated paper productions which release chemical toxins into the environment.

All municipal recycling programs accept catalogs. If you do have select catalogs to which you subscribe, be sure to put them in your recycling bin.

Of course with the economy the way that is is the companies are trying to lure us in with free shipping. And I admit, living where I do I am an avid internet shopper during the holidays. But I use the internet to shop and not the catalogs.  Amazon is a biggie at our house because they offer so much that isn’t available in Toms Brook.

There are companies that you can contact like this one Catalog Choice that allow you to opt out of having the catalogs delivered into your mailbox.

Maybe I’ll join the One Tree Club and get a patch to wear around like the one on the site. Students are joining this club and taking the Catalog Cancelling Challenge. On their site they state that if 360 catalogs come from one tree (19 billion catalogs divided by 53 million trees per year), then canceling 60 stops 360 and saves one tree. Using this DOWNLOADABLE LOG (click here) kids can track their canceling and aim for 60.

Be sure to at least recycle the catalogs that you get this year and consider contacting some of the companies to take your name off the list so you don’t get so many next year. That is certainly what I am going to be doing in January.

To home-made miracles of bread?

We love homemade bread and I have been making it for as long as we have been married so I thought I would share my bread with you today.

Cover of

Cover of Joy of Cooking

I use the Joy of Cooking cookbook’s recipe for White bread but I use Whole Wheat flour and instead of sugar, I use honey. We received this Joy of Cooking Cookbook as a wedding present and the poor thing is really starting to look worn out. (but that was 30+ years ago and we are starting to look worn out too!) Ours is the Eleventh printing of the book that was done in 1978. I think they have since reprinted it and updated it but I don’t know what they changed in the new one so I am hesitant to get a new one. I need to also add that I don’t have or ever intend to own one of those bread machines. I use a kitchenaid mixer and a bowl and just let the dough rise on the radiator. Less small appliances, less electricity and no more work and by mixing my own ingredients, I know what I am putting into my bread, unlike the mixes that you don’t know what preservatives they may contain. And this bread is usually gone before it goes stale anyway.

So here is the recipe as it appears in my book:


Wrote Louis Untermeyer:

“Why has our poetry eschewed
The rapture and response of food?
What hymns are sung, what praises said
To home-made miracles of bread?”

Two 5 x 9 inch loaves


1 cup milk


1 cup water

1 Tablespoon shortening

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons sugar ( this is where I add honey )

1 Tablespoon salt

In a separate large bowl, combine:

1/4 cup 105º-115º water

1 package active dry yeast

and let dissolve 3 to 5 minutes. If using compressed yeast, crunble 1 cake yeast into 1/4 cup 85º water and let stand 8 to 10 minutes. Add the lukewarm milk mixture to the dissolved yeast.

Have ready:

6 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour ( I use King Arthur’s Whole Wheat)

Stir in 3 cups flour, beat 1 minute, then stir or work in remaining flour by tossing the dough on a floured board and kneading well until it is smooth, elastic and full of bubbles. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn the dough over once and cover with a cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, at least 1 hour. Punch it down to its original size and, it time permits, all the dough to rise until double once more. Otherwise, skip the second bowl rising, shape the dough lightly into 2 loaves, and place them in greased pans. Cover and let the dough rise again until almost doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 450º.

Bake the bread 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350º and bake for about 30 minutes longer. Remove the loaves from the pans and cool on a rack before storing.

(I usually have to cover the tops of my loaves after a few minutes so that the tops don’t burn or get too brown, but you will have to get to know your oven and what happens in there)

So in a few hours, the house will smell wonderful with the smell of bread baking and for the next several days we will have bread for sandwiches for the rest of the leftover turkey, toast for breakfast and as it gets older we can soak it overnight in an egg mixture for a really great french toast. I hope you find time this week to bake a couple of loaves. It is really easy and aside from the mixing time you basically just wait out the rising times and the baking.

Remember to “Be Thankful”

As I look at the design blogs that inspire me, I have been noticing some simple natural Fall decorations. So I am making a “Be Thankful” garland to hang in the dining room as a reminder to all of us as we gather with family to pause to think of how lucky we are to have the things that we have. These days, it seems that it is hard to find enough to be thankful for with the economy as it is, but I think our focus should be on our relationships with our family, if we are healthy, and the peace that comes from sharing a delicious meal together and enjoy each other’s company, if only for a few hours. And not so much on things but good food and good company. (Well, and maybe a small fire in the new stove in the living room and an old dog to keep you company too.)

So, I have created the garland with some simple items and my printer. I printed out the letters that will form the words, “be Thankful” and put them into circles that I am going to cut out and string together to create the garland. To add interest, my letters are all in different fonts but all about the same size to fit within the circles. I also chose a fall color of brown and a beige. I know that I have yarn or a string to thread them on and will probably have to drill holes in the wood pieces and the acorns.

When Herb and I went for a hike in the Shenandoah National Park on Sunday, I gathered some acorns and sticks and brought those home. And at my workplace there are sweet gum trees that litter our parking lot with these natural spiney balls that will work great to string together with the acorns and I will gather some of the colorful leaves that are still available from the yard and string all this together to form my garland to hang on the rafter above the bar in the kitchen.

Things you will need if you want to make one:

  • A drill to put the holes in the acorns, acorn tops, pieces of wood and sweet gum balls.
  • some glue for the letters
  • string
  • a vice or vice grips to hold the acorns, etc while you drill them
  • some floral wire
  • a nail to push the string through

I had made two copies of my letters so that my garland can read from either side. I cut out all the letters and laid them out so that I had the letters in the correct order The “L” was on the back of the “B” etc. and cut the string to length and found the center of it. Then I used a glue stick to put the letters on the string. I glued the top and bottom , leaving the middle of the letter glue free so that it would slide on the string. That way I could position it if I needed to later.

Use the drill to drill the holes in your items.  I put a piece of wood under the nuts so that I didn’t make a hole in my table. Then you just string them onto the string and hang it from nails on the wall or in my case from the rafter between the kitchen and dining area of my house. I also went out and got some fall leaves that still had some color in them and put those on either end of my garland to hide the nails and to add some color. Then I strung the natural items on either end making it balanced with knots to spread out the items.

After all the items were strung, I then hung it up leaves that I wired with floral wire to cover the nails on the rafter and to add some color to the ends. ( sorry this one is out of focus some.)

And from the back of the garland on the kitchen side.

So, if you have time to take a walk this afternoon, pick up some “treasures” and turn them into a natural decoration for your house tomorrow before the rain comes and use it as a gentle reminder of the simple things that make us thankful to be here.

6 Easy Earth Friendly Thanksgiving Ideas

Herb carving the bird, circa 1988

As the holidays are fast approaching, I thought I would share 6 things that I have done for years, not just at the holidays, but simple practices that will help save resources. (and maybe a little $$$ too)

  1. Cloth Napkins are something that we have used for as long as we have been married. We have an old farm table with a drawer in the side and we have always kept the cloth napkins there. They get thrown in the wash and put back into the drawer.  We have never bought paper napkins and, over the years, I’d say the only occasions I have ever bought paper napkins were for a party that I wanted to have a theme and found some that matched the theme.
  2. Don’t make too much food. Try to plan for your meal so that you don’t make too much food. The extra energy that is consumed in doing so is wasted and even though leftovers are awesome for a few days, you will still end up throwing out some food which is wasteful and takes up landfill space. If you have a compost bin, you can compost everything except dairy and meat products. Those are the items that could end up in the landfill.  And even in the landfill, because they don’t receive any air, they never decompose.
  3. Buy Local…This one can be tough. We try to do this but some things you just can’t find. Local pumpkins and apples, of course, my greens are out in my cold frames, but we will probably purchase a Butterball turkey, which I know isn’t local. Reading a food magazine from work yesterday, there was an article where they  had a contest for winter strawberry recipes. What bothers me about this is,the fact that the magazine was promoting an out of season item for areas such as Nebraska due to the strawberries having to travel from Florida. So, my goal is to try to find food that hasn’t had to travel far to get to my table. This is where eating foods that are “in season” is the important goal. If something isn’t grown in your area, bananas or pineapple or lemons for example, then maybe you look for a different recipe that is something “in season” and is grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of your house.
  4. Real Dishes, no paper plates or plastic. Break out the good stuff. Don’t use paper or plastic plates. Yes, there will be dishes to wash but it is a holiday and you want it to be festive anyway, so be kind to the earth and use a reusable item instead of a throwaway item. Try to use aluminum foil as opposed to plastic wrap to cover your leftover dishes if you don’t have lids. The aluminum foil is recyclable and the plastic wrap isn’t. Here is a video about the effects of plastics on the oceans.
  5. Watch your water usage when washing dishes. A pet peeve of mine is when I see people who have dishwashers, but insist on washing their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher. Dishwashers today are so efficient that they will usually take all the food off of your dishes so that you don’t have to waste water by washing your dishes twice. If you are concerned about a dish that may have had something baked on then, by all means, pre-scrub that dish before loading it into the dishwasher but turn the water off while you scrub. This is not to say that some things may need some additional cleaning but you will be saving a very valuable resource if you try to do more with less. You might take a pitcher and catch the water that you are rinsing and use that on your houseplants. Every drop is valuable and if it goes down the drain and not being used remember that you are still paying for it. Watch this 2 minute video on Youtube Also, remember to only run the dishwasher when it is full. Dishwashers actually save more water than washing dishes by hand. Another tip is to not allow your dishwasher to go through the drying cycle and just open the door and stop the process.
  6. And finally, use reusable bags when you go shopping. We keep them in all our cars and so they are readily available. Get in the habit of taking them with you even if it means putting a note on your door to remind you to take them with you. And another note on the dashboard of your car to take them into the store. You will eventually remember them all the time.

Styrofoam Cups


Image via Wikipedia

I went to work early yesterday for a Quality Management System Auditor meeting. I have been asked by upper management to serve on this committee as an auditor of our processes of producing a magazine. RR Donnelley is doing this in all their manufacturing plants and it is a way to make sure we have processes in place to produce our product and are following these processes to produce a quality product.

At this meeting were 18 individuals of our upper management that are the leaders of this QMS task. As I looked around the table of the 18 individuals, 9 of those had brought a beverage with them for the 2 hour meeting. Seven of those beverages were in a company provided styrofoam cup and the other two were plastic bottles, one was juice and the other was water. Throughout our plant are posters with environmental facts so that employees will turn off lights, use less water, and be mindful of our impact on the planet. That is what I find disturbing about the continued use of the styrofoam cups in our plant. I understand they are cheap and they are readily available so that if we have a customer in the plant we have a way to serve them coffee or tea, but this meeting room contains a kitchen equipped with a dishwasher so our company could provide the customer with a ceramic mug and then collect them at the end of the customer’s visit and put them in the dishwasher. Then, within the plant, encourage all employees to bring in a mug and wash it in our break rooms. In my own department, I am proud to say that many of my coworkers already do this. We have a policy in our work area that drinks are not allowed without a lid so that has forced the use of personal cups due to the company not providing lids to the styrofoam. Plus, our spillage is a problem around the keyboards on our computers.

According to the EPA’s blog, polystyrene is non-biodegradable which means that it will never go away. And if it does break up and “disipate” it runs the risk of contaminating our ground water and having harmful effects on the animals that might decide to eat it or to leach into the plants surrounding it. And it also releases chemicals into our air.

In 1986, the EPA identified 57 chemical byproducts that were released into the air through its production and many of the pollutants are known to cause serious health effects such as the reduced functioning of the lungs and nervous systems. Check out Earth’s Resource’s website to learn about the ways polystyrene can affect our health and environment.

Green Irene offers a sugarcane biodegradable product that is similar to the styrofoam cups but when I researched this product last year for the Friends of the North Fork’s Fish Fry you have to find a facility that composts this product in order to compost the product. You can’t just put it in you outdoor compost bin and they disappear in 90 days. My facility was about 3 hours away and we would have had to transport the used product to the facility, which defeats the purpose of composting locally. We chose to talk to our caterer about using “real” dishes and have them wash them and place pitchers of water on each table to eliminate the need for bottled water.

So, my recommendation to my workplace would be to eliminate the styrofoam cups and encourage employees to bring in their own mugs or stainless steel water bottles. I do. I also have a container that I now take to restaurants with me so that I can avoid the styrofoam take out container. I got it at and you can see it here. I usually ask for a piece of foil or wax paper to go on top if there isn’t one on my table.

So if those 7 employees that were using the styrofoam cups decide to use a new cup every workday at 5 days per week, for 52 weeks per year (not including their vacation time) that would be about 1820 cups used. We can only hope the two plastic bottles in the room got recycled, right?