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Last Minute Green Holiday Gifts

I have to admit I’m freaking out a little bit that there are only 10 days until Christmas! I felt like I had so much time and suddenly Christmas is right around the corner! I think I’m pretty set on gifts for the kids, but still need to mail a few packages and figure out what I’m getting for my husband.

For those of you who are still wracking your brains, check out the suggestions below. You’re sure to find a green idea or two to help you on your merry way. 🙂

Last Minute Green Gifts

Now for some Eco-friendly Gift Wrap Ideas

Do you have tips for other last minute green gifts or eco-friendly wrapping ideas? Please share them in the comments. 🙂

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

Photo via Perspicacious.org: Paper bag gift wrap

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Eating Locally – Good for So Many Reasons

It’s harvest season in the United States. In other words, ’tis the time of year to eat locally and preserve all of that gorgeous locally grown produce!

This weekend I snagged a second case of local organic roma tomatoes (for the amazingly low price of $15) with plans to make and can more sauce. You see, I already processed one case of the local romas and put away six quarts of sauce (so deliciously *thick a wooden spoon stood up in it). Six quarts is not nearly enough though, so I got the second case. Today I canned six more pints and two quarts. It’s still not enough, but being that a frost is expected tonight and when I got the second case, I was told that was the last of the romas, my sauce making days may be over for the season.

I’m not complaining though. I am actually quite proud of the canning I’ve been able to accomplish this year. It’s definitely my most productive canning year since I started two years ago. A shelf in my garage contain jars of apple sauce, pear sauce, nectarine preserves, dilly beans (like dill pickles, but with green beans), and now tomato sauce (and more that I haven’t moved out there yet). About 2/3 of the food I preserved came from right here in my city and the other 1/3 came from within the state.

It’s not a ton, but it makes me feel good and I like to look at it. 😉 Maybe I should arrange the jars by color for more of a rainbow effect. 😉

There are a lot of reasons why it’s good to eat locally.

According to One Million Acts of Green:

A lot of the food we eat in North America has travelled a great distance to get to us. On average, various food items travel more than 2,400 kilometres (or nearly 1,500 miles). That’s a lot of energy, transport and storage. Plus, all that food is shipped in controlled environments, which depletes nutrition. Buying local produce means your food is fresher. It also helps local farmers and reduces air pollution.

Treehugger points out additional benefits of eating locally:

… farmers who sell direct to local consumers need not give priority to packing, shipping and shelf life issues and can instead “select, grow and harvest crops to ensure peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste.” Eating local also means eating seasonally, he adds, a practice much in tune with Mother Nature.

“Local food is often safer, too,” says the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD). “Even when it’s not organic, small farms tend to be less aggressive than large factory farms about dousing their wares with chemicals.” Small farms are also more likely to grow more variety, too, says CNAD, protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food security.

Another benefit of eating locally is helping the local economy. Farmers on average receive only 20 cents of each food dollar spent, … the rest going for transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and marketing. Farmers who sell food to local customers “receive the full retail value, a dollar for each food dollar spent.”

One of the many Acts of Green from One Million Acts of Green is to Purchase Locally Grown Produce. I’ve been appreciating the importance of this more and more over the last few years. Of course there are the benefits to eating seasonally as was mentioned on TreeHugger. There are also the benefits of preserving (either by freezing, dehydrating, or canning) locally grown food while it’s in season. It can be time intensive, but the more I do, the more rewarding it is.

I also admit I love to hear my six-year-old — upon seeing the jars of sauce on the countertop — say, “We sure are getting ready for winter!” I like that the idea of canning and freezing food for the winter is just natural to her.

As I said in my intro post to One Million Acts of Green, “I don’t claim to live a perfectly green lifestyle, but I do the best that I can in the moment. I try to lead by example and inspire others to do what they can too.” If buying a bit of your produce locally at the Farmer’s Market or local farm stand is something that feels good to you, go for it. I have to say it’s kind of cool to know just where your food is coming from and to even meet the people who are growing it. Or perhaps you have a friend or a neighbor who’s garden is producing too much for them. Most gardeners are happy to share the wealth. All you have to do is ask.

Do you buy locally? Do you preserve food for winter? If not, what’s holding you back from getting started?

If you haven’t yet checked out One Million Acts of Green, I encourage you to read my intro post and learn more about how you can start logging and sharing your Acts of Green.

* I cooked my sauce in a stockpot on the stove, but moved it into the crock pot to cook down on low (uncovered) overnight. It worked like a charm. 🙂

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

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Green Your Halloween with National Costume Swap Day – Oct. 9

I have fond memories from Halloween when I was a kid. My crafty mom made a point of sewing costumes for me and my siblings, often creating a theme for all three of us. One year we were Princess Lea, Darth Vader and an Ewok. Another year my brother was Superman and I was Batgirl. Our little sis was a clown. Not exactly sure how that tied in to our super hero theme. Oh yeah, it was a costume my mom made years prior that both me and my brother had outgrown. 😉 I’m not giving you grief for reusing costumes, Mom. Really, I’m not. 🙂 I actually love it and would totally do it myself! Actually, I am this year. 😉

As a kid, I loved having costumes that were unique and now that I’m older I appreciate even more that they were made with love and care and have lasted through the years. My kids might be able to enjoy wearing them too!

These days, as Halloween-themed stores pop up across the city in buildings that usually lie vacant, you can buy just about any disposable costume imaginable. But instead of shelling out the cash for something you or your child is likely to wear for one night, why not participate in a costume swap? National Costume Swap Day — “a country-wide event encouraging local kids and families to trade Halloween get-ups instead of buying new ones to reduce waste” — takes place this year on Saturday, Oct. 9. The event is being promoted by KIWI Magazine, Green Halloween and Swap.com.

According to Green Halloween, if just half of the children who celebrate Halloween swapped costumes instead of choosing new ones, annual landfill waste would be reduced by 6,250 tons, which is equivalent to the weight of 2,500 midsize cars!

To find a swap near you, register a swap or get information about how to host a swap, visit Green Halloween’s Costume Swap page.

Kellie Brown, who organized the online Colorado Costume Swap, said, “While many are trying to cut costs and pick up a second hand costume, others just want to avoid making new purchases. Motivation aside, gently used costumes are the way to go for a green Halloween.”

On Inhabitots, Julie Knapp points out the benefits of costume swaps.

Swapping costumes means that fewer costumes need to be produced by manufacturers each year. In turn, fewer resources are needed to make those costumes, less packaging is required, fewer costumes need to be transported from other countries or to your local store, and less waste will be produced since many consumers trash their Halloween costumes once the fun is over.

Cool Mom Picks asks, Halloween costume swaps – Frugal or just plain smart? Personally, I vote for both. CMP points out that even if there isn’t a costume swap in your ‘hood, you have options to participate online instead.

CMP favoritethredUP has even developed a way to participate in this swap online: Put together a box of outgrown clothes to swap and include a Halloween costume in that box. Label it as a “Halloween Box” and then offer it to their members. Then, search their database for a costume for your child.

Over at Confessions of a Psychotic Housewife, Storm points out this swap doesn’t have to be just for people who celebrate Halloween. “Even if you don’t celebrate Halloween, it’s a great chance to fill up your child(ren)’s dress-up box, or to get costumes for plays and Church functions.”

Whatever your motivation is — being frugal and saving some green, wanting to keep stuff out of the landfills and being green, or just wanting to stock up on dress-up clothes for the kids — this costume swap is a great option. Visit Green Halloween’s Costume Swap for more information. Happy swapping!

Related posts:

Photo via Crunchy Domestic Goddess. (Yep, that’s me up there! Batgirl to the rescue!)

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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Go Meatless One Meal Per Week

Last week I introduced you to a cool project I’m participating in called One Million Acts of Green (OMAOG). If you haven’t yet read my intro post, I invite you to check it out.

Today I want to talk briefly about one of the ways we’ve chosen to “Go Green” in my house and that is by rarely, if ever, eating beef. Here’s a weird but true fact from OMAOG about cows:

Cows are a major contributor to greenhouse gases. As the old adage says, what goes in must come out, and for cattle, a lot of what comes out is methane gas. And just like carbon, methane gas gets trapped in our atmosphere. Since the 1960s, the amount of methane in the air has increased by 1% per year—twice as fast as the build up of carbon dioxide. As worldwide demand for beef increases, so do the number of cows and the methane they produce. Also, in many countries around the world, forests are being clear cut to make room for growing beef. Cutting down trees reduces the planet’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

GO MEATLESS ONE MEAL PER WEEK

Also, if you haven’t yet heard of Meatless Monday, you might want to schedule your vegetarian meal of the week for Mondays to coincide with it (and maybe even plan on going meatless for the entire day). Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative (totally unrelated to OMAOG) that provides recipes and info to start each week with healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives. The goal of Meatless Monday is “to help you reduce your meat consumption by 15% in order to improve your personal health and the health of the planet.”

At our house for dinner tonight we had eggs with spinach, salsa and cheese. We tend to eat about 50% of our meals without meat and although I don’t always schedule them to coincide with Meatless Monday, today it just worked out. (In other words, I was feeling lazy and eggs were a quick and easy dinner. *wink*)

If you eat meat, do you take a meal or day (Meatless Monday) off from it each week? If not, would you try it?

  • Register at One Million Acts of Green and log your first Act of Green: Eat a Vegetarian Meal This Week. Remember, you can see the impact of each of your Acts of Green. They all add up and will help the United States reach its goal of completing one million acts of green (and beyond!). 🙂
  • For more simple ways to go green, check out Green U: Simple Ways to Be Green (for beginners and experts).

Photo via CALM Action on Flickr.

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

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Dyeing Easter eggs naturally – a tutorial

Easter is right around the corner and since I’ve been totally immersed in house prep/selling stuff for the past month and I haven’t had time to do much blogging, I’m going to recycle this egg dyeing post from last year. Hope you give it a try! 🙂

Originally posted: 4/4/09

So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

To get started you will need:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below – As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I used last year along with comments on the colors that resulted.

RED

  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue

PINK

  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink

RED-ORANGE

  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color

YELLOW

  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow

GREEN

  • A mix of spinach leaves, canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color – I think it would work without the spinach leaves, but I happened to have some that were wilting so I threw them in.

BLUE

  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue

GREY BLUE

  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color

GREY

  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Instructions:
Last year I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from Organic.org. The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On Organic.org, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It was like a fun science experiment that the whole family could get involved in. Happy egg coloring! 🙂

Pictures:
The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

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Compost through the winter with worms in your house!

It’s no secret that I hate to see things go to waste. I have been known to dig recyclable items out of the trash and attempt to Freecycle or otherwise give away some of the craziest stuff before I will consider tossing it in the trash. It makes me anxious when my 3-year-old leaves the water running or stands with the refrigerator door open too long. And I really have a hard time throwing away table scraps and fruit and vegetable peels, especially considering my children eat fruit like there’s no tomorrow. All of that fruit adds up to a whole lot of orange peels, apple cores and watermelon rinds. Honestly, that’s the biggest reason I started composting. I hated seeing how much food waste was going into the garbage and knowing it only ended up in the landfill. Sure, the end result of making your own fertile soil which is great for gardening is an added bonus, but mostly I compost to reduce my family’s garbage output.

I didn’t start out trying to do vermicomposting or composting with worms. We got a composting bin, set it up in a relatively sunny spot in our mostly shady backyard, and got to work. Along the way, I threw in several shovels-full of dirt, hoping it would speed up the composting process. Apparently I threw in some worms too, which reproduced like rabbits. It didn’t take long for my regular compost bin to become a worm composting bin. I think it’s a little freaky, but my kids get a big kick out of all of the worms in there and have been known to fish some out just for fun. 😛

However due to the cold in Colorado this winter, my compost bin hasn’t been working very well. In fact when I dig into the pile I find lots of frozen (dead?!) worms. I’m sorry wormies. And my food waste is not being broken down like it is in the summer. As a result, some of our food waste has gone down the garbage disposal (which isn’t a good option because it uses a lot of water and energy to process at the water treatment plants) and I’ve also thrown some into the *gasp* garbage. It breaks my little green heart.

My friend Julie who also lives in Colorado has run into the same frozen composting dilemma this winter and decided to start worm composting in her basement. The idea of having a bin full of worms in your house might skeeve some people out, but the worms are contained and it’s a very practical way to keep your food waste out of the landfills. While I haven’t set up my own system yet, I have started learning more about it. Not only is it a great option for people who live in colder climates, but it’s great for apartment-dwellers or others who don’t have a yard to put a traditional compost bin.


Photo credit: Bramble Hill

Why compost?
Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle, and cut down on garbage going into burgeoning landfills.

What is vermicomposting?
In the simplest terms, “vermicomposting is a system for turning food waste into potting soil with the help of worms.”

What do I need to get started?
According to Worm Woman, you will need:

  • An aerated container
  • Bedding such as shredded newspaper
  • Moisture and proper temperature
  • Small amount of soil
  • Redworms (Eisenia fetida)

Learn more about vermicomposting:

If not for the fact that we are trying to get our house ready to go on the market and I need another project like I need a hole in my head, I would totally set up a worm composting bin in my house right now. But the worm bin project (along with the getting chickens project and what else is there?) will have to wait until we have sold our house and have moved into our new abode.

Cross-posed on BlogHer

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Eco-friendly upcycled holiday crafts for kids

Green or eco-friendly crafts for children using recycled or upcycled (repurposing a waste material into a product of higher quality materials) are plentiful this holiday season. In addition to being better for the environment, crafting from items found around the house has the added benefit of being economical.

No Time for Flashcards is one of my favorite blogs for finding activities to do with young children. No all posts are green, but three posts that do fit that category include recycled Christmas tree using paper from an old catalog, A “Bow”tiful Christmas tree made out of a grocery bag and misshapen present bows, and a Bell Christmas ornament made from an Easter egg. All three are great crafts for toddlers and preschoolers. My kids, ages 3 and 5, and I made some of the recycled Christmas trees using magazine pages earlier this week.

Photo credit: No Time for Flashcards

For little ones who like to paint, why not try painting holiday cards or making your own wrapping paper using paints made from berries and beets! The Green Art Project has a tutorial for making your own natural paints using fruits and vegetables you may already have in the house.

Over at This and That, there’s another idea for making your own gift wrap. Money Saving Mom also suggests having the kids help make homemade wrapping paper.

Here’s a beautiful and easy craft from Maya*Made to hang on the tree – a “snow”-covered pinecone ornament.

Photo credit:Maya*Made

There are a lot of fun ornaments that can be made with a burnt-out incandescent light bulb. It’s upcycling at it’s finest! There’s a snowman face ornament, Rudolph the recycled light bulb, the light bulb penguin, and there are some more cute ideas over at Keep’n the SunnySide. You could also keep it simple and let your child paint and glue whatever they want on the light bulb.

Photo credit: Crafts by Amanda

Summer at Wired for Noise suggests embroidering pictures on old pillow cases and had fun teaching her son the handicraft.

Another craft idea that we’ve tried in our house is transforming old, broken crayons into new crayons. The Red, White and Green says you don’t need to spend $30 on a Crayola Crayon Maker (made of nearly four pounds of plastic) to do it either. If you want to make holiday-themed crayons, you just need some holiday candy molds. Zakka Life has a tutorial on how to recycle old crayons into new crayons using candy molds. You can also just use muffin tins for round crayons. Raising Maine also suggests making the recycled crayons into ornaments.

Photo credit: Raising Maine

Older children may enjoy stringing popcorn or cranberries on wire or thread as garland to be hung on the Christmas tree. When the tree is taken down, the edible garland can be strung outside for the birds or put into your compost bin.

Another fun idea for a craft and/or gift for older children from Little Birdie Secrets is felted soap. “You cover a bar of soap with this fabulous wool fiber, then felt it, and you have a soap and washcloth in one!”

Photo credit: Little Birdie Secrets

Celebrate Green Blog recently came across some eco-friendly holiday crafts from Family Fun magazine using upcycled materials, including retro ornaments made from toilet paper rolls, Christmas carolers made from toilet paper rolls, holey socks and old sheet music, and a Flame-free menorah.

Photo credit: Family Fun

Lastly, there are some creative recycled craft ideas over at Monkey See Monkey Do including a milk carton nativity or Christmas village and a mop-head Santa, as well as coat hanger snowmen and reindeer and a trash bag wreath.

Looking for more green craft ideas? Check out Books make great gifts for green crafters over at Crafting a Green World. She suggests Green Crafts for Children: 35 Step-by-Step Projects Using Natural, Recycled, And Found Materials by Emma Hardy especially for green mamas and their green girls.

Have more eco-friendly holiday craft ideas for kids? Please share them in the comments.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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10 Simple Ways to Green Your Thanksgiving

First there was 10 Simple Ways to Green Your Halloween. Now here are 10 Simple Ways to Green Your Thanksgiving and reduce your impact on the earth. Pick one or two or do them all. Every little bit helps. 🙂

1. Be aware of the amount of packaging in the foods you purchase. For example, instead of buying a can of pumpkin to make a pumpkin pie, buy a pie pumpkin. Instead of buying a ready-made pie crust, make your own from scratch.

2. Just say no to environmentally destructive factory farms. Buy a free-range Heritage turkey or go meatless.

3. Buy organic. Buy local. Whenever you can, buy organic foods. Organic foods aren’t just better for your health, they are better for the earth and animals as well. If you can buy local foods and reduce your meal’s carbon footprint and support your local economy, all the better.

4. Use a cloth tablecloth and cloth napkins. No disposable paper products.

5. Use real plates, glasses and silverware. If you don’t have enough place settings for all of your guests, ask them to bring their own. Again, the trick is not to use any disposable paper/plastic products.

6. Centerpiece. Use things from around the house to make a one-of-a-kind Thanksgiving centerpiece. Have your kids help! Or if you must buy flowers, make sure they are organic.

7. Eat your leftovers. Make sure you put away leftovers in a timely manner into the refrigerator or freezer. If you don’t think you will eat them all, send some home with your guests.

8. Compost your table scraps.

9. Recycle anything that can be recycled.

10. Be thankful. Don’t forget to express your gratitude for all that you have, including the earth.

Related posts:

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Save the leaves! (for your compost bin, of course)

At my house there is never a shortage of green material (also known as wet or nitrogen-rich matter) – orange peels, corn husks, dinner food scraps, yard waste, etc. – for my compost bin, but when it comes to finding brown (also known as dry or carbon-rich) material, in the past I’ve often ended up coming up short. The trick, of course, to getting compost to work and breakdown into that coveted nutrient-rich soil is to have the right combination of both green and brown matter.

Two years ago, however, I posted my first Green Tip of the Week suggesting that my readers keep a bag or two (or three) of their dry fall leaves to use throughout the coming year as brown material to add to their compost pile or bin.

If you don’t have a lot of leaves in your yard, chances are you can find a neighbor who’d be more than willing to part with a couple bags of their leaves, especially if you agree to rake and bag them!

Luckily (I guess) for us, we have a tree-filled back yard and never have a problem accumulating several bags of leaves to hold onto, which is exactly what I did last fall and was so happy to have the dry material whenever I needed it. The only problem is that I sometimes still forget to add it (oops!) and then end up with a huge fruit fly problem at the end of the summer (which I thankfully found a remedy for).

After letting the kids spend a good deal of time burying themselves and sliding into the leaf piles, Jody and I got them all raked and bagged. Right now I have about 12 bags of leaves out on the curb for the city to pick up (and mulch), but I’ve also saved three bags in my back yard to add to my compost bin as needed. 🙂 Over at Terminal Verbosity, you can learn more about how to compost.

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