Category Archives: Crafts, Home & Garden

Rocking a compost (when your thumbs don’t know green!)

We’re finally composting!

Anyone who knows me, knows that my thumbs are a color not even remotely related to green. Just ask my mom if I’ve ever watered her plants correctly or ask my dad if I did a “great job” mowing the lawn, summer of 2000. That’s why I am so excited and proud to be rocking my backyard compost!

I decided that a proper compost was the next thing we needed to implement in our daily routine in order to handle our family’s waste better and living a greener life. Reading zero waste blogs, by people who are like experts in the matter, inspired me so much to get this done!

For the longest time we’ve been all about reusables, recycling, bulk buying and BYO bags so my husband and I hardly ever took out the trash (I’m also an expert at turning leftovers into new meals). We were also letting living in Houston hold us back – so humid, so many possums we feared – would a compost work? But it was just us being lazy, dragging our feet, and making excuses! Fall 2016 – we got down to business.

Here it is. My soil factory!

Made in USA Envirocycle tumbler composter
Made in USA Envirocycle composter

What do we compost?

A compost should consist of about 75% green material and 25% brown. The green is ALL the food scraps and grass (except meat and bones if we ever have that) and the brown is the paper towels, toilet rolls and dry leaves. I don’t pay too much attention to my compost “mix” at the moment. I am just filling it with kitchen scraps and watching it all decompose.

Why do we compost?

It’s important to compost because even the “natural” waste we throw in our kitchen bins cannot decompose in a landfill. All bio products need oxygen (air) to do so, and if none present, which is the case in landfills, all you’ll have is trash build up (that’ll last forever) causing methane emissions. Even if you use bio-degradable bags, food scraps will NEVER become soil in a landfill. About 20% of human methane (powerful greenhouse gas) emissions in USA come from waste decomposition!

The CO2 created in a compost is negligible in comparison and is part of a natural system of turning food into soil. After you’ve had a compost for a while, you end up with fertile, rich soil you can sprinkle in your yard or use to plant flowers or veggies. (Or even sell to hobby-gardeners who don’t compost themselves!)

How do we compost?

I am lazy. I need pre-made comfort. So, we use two tumbler type compost bins from Envirocycle. These little guys come pre-assembled, in a box, so the effort is minimal (hurray!). I got them online and yes, off course they’re made in the USA!

The Envirocycle compost is rust-protected, BPA free, and comes with a five-year warranty. Most importantly the design is small, modern-looking, possum free and easy to use, even for a garden disaster like me. We fill one up (for about 2-3 months), rotate the drum every 3-4 days, and then watch the trash turn to black soil, while we fill up the other. It came as a total surprise to me how fast the smell inside the tumbler goes from “trash” to the smell of the rich dirt I remember from playing outside in my childhood. Black gold. Thumbs up.

We also collect compost tea in the bottom of the compost, which we use as fertilizer for indoor plants. The large tumbler is $229 and the small is $169.(We bought the small one first to try the system, then added a second one when I figured out how I wanted to do it. The larger tumbler does roll a lot better than the small one does. Read more at Envirocycle.com.)

Inside, we use an air-tight Tupperware for collecting the greens and a large open bowl for the browns. We decided to just use containers we already had at home. Every few days, or up to a week sometimes, I empty them outside in the compost.

There are lots of ways to rock an eco-friendly compost bin and reduce kitchen waste; anything from fancy indoor compost systems like the Zera Food Recycler to classic outside worm bins. Search online, check zero waste blogs, and I am sure you’ll find a system that works for your family too.

If we can do it – you can do it!

Eco Nuts! All natural laundry detergent (my review)

It’s been quite a while since we picked up our first box of Eco Nuts at a Whole Foods Market here in Houston. I knew about the product after seeing it on Shark Tank, but had actually never run into it before. Immediately I knew we had to try it.

Eco Nuts. Despite the funny name, there are some serious benefits hiding within this little paper box of laundry detergent.

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We’re talking about a detergent that is certified organic, biodegradable, non toxic, non-GMO, contains no dyes, chemicals or perfume, and is all natural.

See, the Eco Nuts are actually dried berries from wild trees that grow in the Himalayas. These trees are amazing! They love poor uncultivated soil and the soap (saponin) produced inside the berries are a natural pesticide.

So that’s all grand! But, how about the stain fighting and freshness power? And how do they work?

Using Eco Nuts is easy. The box comes with two small fabric bags, in which you put about five nuts, and throw in the washer with the load. The soap is inside the shell of the dried berries and the same ones can be used for up to ten loads. Once they become paper thin they’re “done” and can be composted.

Now to the important part; the effectiveness! Well, we’ve found that Eco Nuts are great for all our normal loads. That’s our cold and eco warm washes of office wear, undershirts, bras, jeans, sweats, linen napkins and blankets. The nuts provide a general freshness and the clothes feel clean.

For more serious stains, or hot (sanitizing) cycles of towels, sweaty shorts, sheets and cleaning rags, we still use Seventh Generation or other eco-friendly, biodegradable detergent. I’m a sucker for flower scented towels and the Eco Nuts honestly don’t pack the punch for deep cleaning and tough stains.

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That said, we buy the gallon sized “regular”detergent and I don’t even know how long we’ve had the same one at this point! By using Eco Nuts for the majority of our washing, I estimate we’ll go thru less than one bottle per year, and with that we are saving a generous amount of plastic packaging (which was one of the most important reasons I wanted to test and use Eco Nuts.)

On a side note, ever since we switched to eco-friendly, biodegradable detergents over four years ago, our front-loaded washer never smells. I honestly believe that Tide (and other famous brands) make your washer smelly on purpose, so they can sell you their washer cleaning packets. Yup.

Try Eco Nuts and let me know your experiences!

More info at EcoNuts.com.

No more Crocs, it’s time for Clogs (American made ones!)

My husband doesn’t get enough credit on the blog for his environmental efforts and his participation in the not made in China challenge. We make a good eco team, as I’m all about planting trees, reducing waste, eating plants, shopping local and buying less, while he’s all about electric vehicles (read Tesla) and ending the empire of fossil fuels once and for all.

Funny enough, we’re almost half way through 2016 and the only clothes he has bought since 2014, are two pairs of jeans and some motorcycle gear, while I have bought what feels like tons of outfits. Hmmm. Finally he needed something new.

Yard clogs!

We bought his previous (made in China) Crocs in 2012, long before the challenge started, and they’ve lasted almost four years, which is not bad actually. As for the replacement, naturally we wanted made in USA, and I suggested trying a pair from Okabashi.

With a zero waste production line, their clogs are recyclable, vegan-friendly, latex-free, dishwasher safe and come with a two year warranty.

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Made in USA Okabashi Brown Copenhagen Clogs

I will admit, they’re not the sexiest pair of shoes I have seen, but when are clogs ever awesomely hot looking anyway? Fortunately, these “Copenhagen Clogs” have proven to be much more comfortable than the Crocs, with a massaging insole, ergonomic foot-bed, good arch support and anti-slip sole. That’s the important stuff.

All for the price of 19 American dollars. Makes it kind of hard to justify importing a pair, doesn’t it?

I’m hooked on these utility hooks!

Just in time before the weather turns drop dead hot and all the mosquitos south of Maine come to spend their summer (dining) in Houston, we had a chance to tidy up a bit in the yard. Among other things, we hung our ladder, a bike and a few cords in the shed.

How did we do it? The Elfa system! Mostly made in Europe, this is a great option to the made in China selections at Lowes and Home Depot, which for me is a no-can-do.

You may have already noticed that Elfa has completely taken over the smart storage section of the Container Store. Well, it is actually owned by said American chain since 1999, but headquarters are still in Sweden. I will admit that the Container Store people always attack us when we browse, trying to sell us all the smart and awesome Elfa stuff. It’s so tempting! Good thing is, as long as you don’t need (or fall for) the full walk in closet re-model, it’s just as affordable as the next well-made utility hangers and hooks.

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The hooks we bought ($14.99) are made in Poland and the quality, size and functionality is superb! They were very easy to mount and came with the needed screws. (The ladder is an extension ladder by Verner, made in our backyard, Mexico.)

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I’m super excited about the not made in China tidiness. Not so much about the mosquitos to come.

To my dear Crate & Barrel; Thanks for making it easy to shop made right (here)!

We moved into our house 2 years ago, and only now have we finally decided on a bed frame for our master bedroom. Yes, we take our time. The winner; a royal brown quadrant king bed from ever so stylish Crate and Barrel.

I love Crate and Barrel. I love their webshop too, because they actually list where the furniture is made! All online retailers, in my opinion, should tell you where things are made, but very few do. It makes shopping online so much easier and safer! Sure there are pieces from China, but at least Crate and Barrel tell you. I did a random check in all sections (furniture, accessories, towels) and it is always listed under “Details and Dimensions” or “Details”.

The bed we fell I love with, is custom made right here in North Carolina. The fabric is from Taiwan, that’s not exactly grand, but at least it’s all upholstered in USA.

The bed had a 6-8 weeks delivery (they had to make it for us!) time, but it was worth the wait! Not to go too much in to details about this, but their delivery service was great and when you call them, an actual person picks up the phone! Must be that friendly midwestern way of doing things, right?

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Now I need to dig through all our moving boxes, the ones that are still left unopened, to see what to put up on the walls. We’ve also decided to paint the nightstands blue, to add some color to the room.

See that little blue pillow? It’s made in America from Bed, Bath and Beyond! I am shocked they had something domestic!! I love that vintage look too, and for 24.99 – it was a steal.

Even the most common, mainstream stores can surprise you, just read the labels. And, hey, no judging on my bed making skills, please :)

A place of trash, a place of treasure

The Homegoods store is a place of treasures and I’ll admit, sometimes trash. But I always look around when I pass by for inspiration.

I was happy to discover that right now they have quite a selection of wall art made in USA. My husband and I picked up some ocean themed art, finally (!), for the master bath. I’m not sure what the brand is but they were all American made and perfect for our color scheme in the master. We also found some gorgeous, rustic frames, made in Mexico.

PTM images, maker of said frames, apparently manufactures most of their wall art and frames in Mexico at their own manufacturing facility. It’s quite unusual to find frames ‘not made in China’ nowadays, so I was definitely excited to find them and read that! They also have a statement on their web-site about creating jobs in USA, which they are doing by growing their business and keeping a good relationship with our neighbor Mexico. Designed in USA, made in Mexico – I can live with that! They also recycle production materials (wop wop) into new products. PTM’s headquarters are in California.

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All this knowledge gathered, from a simple shopping spree at Homegoods and then Google. This is why I am doing this challenge, to find new products and companies that do things just a little bit differently.

Home Depot online, and K-mart Online has this brand, I’m sure you can run into it other places as well.

For my plants, from Europe with love

I had been looking for a watering can for a while and found this cute one at Home Goods. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a plastic item like this one not made in China. This one is German. Ja, bitte.

Lucky me and lucky plants.  Now they actually have a chance of making it.

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I looked up the brand online, Koziol, and it is very interesting for sure. All their products are 100% made in Germany. So a safe haven for a NMIC-shopper like me (yay!).

I don’t mind supporting the Europeans, they need some income to that union.

Here’s a quote from Koziol’s webpage “We are a one-stop manufacturing shop. Modeling, development, construction, mold-making, production, shipping, marketing. Forget the Far East”. Yes please!!

They never use BPAs or softeners. All of their production waste is recycled into other products, so the production line is zero waste. To me, that’s so important when dealing with plastics and a must to be an eco-friendly company.

Love, love, love their concept and products. Check them out here. 

Scrap! (Crap!)

The world of scrapbooking is a slippery slope. Since I can’t find the charm in digital scrapbooking, I need to make my hobby work somehow without paper crafts from China.

Only thing I’ve needed so far was those 12×12 plastic folders that hold the finished pages in the albums. Started at Jo-Anne’s. China. Went to Michael’s. China.  “How much gas are you going to waste driving around looking?” asked my love. Good question.

(Well it so happens that those two stores are very close to each other and we had hardly started looking in my opinion. But I figured Google would help me)

Came across this great store in New Jersey, Dalee Book Company, that make albums, scrapbooks, binders, desk accessories and more. They even pledge to use only American raw materials whenever available. They had the folders I needed! Check them out!