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Monday, June 29, 2009

How to use a Jackhammer

When we last visited our intrepid gardeners (that would be Husband and I) they wanted to build a raised garden bed, a relatively simple project. Looks like we pissed off the gardening gods (again) because I found an eight inch slab of concrete growing in my flower beds.

We needed to break up the concrete and remove it before we could build our raised garden bed.


The ribbon of concrete in our flower bed was a result of a sloppy over pour when the builders made the porch. Husband tried using a 3 pound min sledge hammer and a chisel to break up the concrete. He got quite a bit of concrete out of our beds, but further on he saw that the narrow ribbon of concrete was also at least eight inches deep.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Took My Dog to Work Today!

Husband and his co-workers talked about taking their dogs to the office for Take Your Dog to Work Day. Blitzkrieg is very well behaved and would make an excellent candidate. Blitzkrieg LOVES nothing better to spend time with his people, especially Husband. The mere mention of Husband’s name makes Blitzkrieg sit at attention.

I think Blitzkrieg was ready to do whatever it took to go with Husband to his work. Even if it meant getting a more Corporate America look with a haircut and a tie like Blitzkrieg sported in a William Wegman inspired photo taken when we attended Dog Day at the Wex.


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Photo taken by Chet Hey, Dog Day at the Wex 2007


Sadly, there was no official word if anyone at Husband’s office could participate in Take Your Dog to Work Day.


Blitzkrieg was crushed.


I told Blitzkrieg that he could come to work with me. When I have a writing gig that requires me to work from home, I need an office manager. Blitzkrieg’s the right man for the job.


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The Condo Blues Blogging Empire could use his help, it won’t build itself on its own, you know?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Baby Food Jar Chandelier?

I’m always on the lookout for ideas and ways to reuse empty baby food jars. Let me tell you I have one of the most organized Condos around thanks to baby food jars!

“Um, Lisa,” you say, “We know the economy is bad and we’re all trying to save money, but come on…”

No. No. no. It’s not me, who’s eating baby food, it’s Blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg has to take allergy medication. Like most dogs, he won’t take a plain pill, so I smoother it in carrot baby food and he devours it. Baby food* has less calories than peanut butter or squeeze cheese and has our vet’s blessing because nobody likes a porky Peke. Nobody.

Come summer, when Blitzkrieg’s seasonal allergies kick in I’m going to be swimming in empty baby food jars.

I’m running out of ways to use the jars so into the recycling bin they may go. That is until I saw this ingenious baby food jar chandelier in Natural Home Magazine . Who knew a couple of repurposed barrel hoops, chain, wire and baby food jars could look so good?

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Photo courtesy of Natural Home Magazine.


I think it would look stunning hanging over an outdoor dining table.

Do you have any tips on how to reuse empty baby food jars?

*I’m not a veterinarian nor do I play one on TV. Not all vegetables are safe for dogs to eat. Check with your vet first before giving people food to your dog.

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For more Trash to Treasure projects check out Reinvented.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What Can You Do with Mint?

I grow mint in a pot on my patio and as the saying goes, you never grow just a little mint – it grows like a weed and quickly turns into a lot of mint.

Needless to say, my one little mint plant as turned into a boatload of mint! So far I’ve used mint to make:

  • Hot tea

  • Mint iced tea

I’m running out of ideas. I’m experiencing mint overload! What can I do with so much mint? I don’t want to waste it; I want to find a use for it. Help!


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This is Condo Blues’ submission for the July Green Moms Carnival where our topic is Food Matters confessions. The Carnival will be held at Eco Village Musings. Please check it out after Wednesday, July 13th!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mushrooms Growing on My CHAIRS?

I walked onto the patio and saw a dark blob on one of the chairs. Thinking it was a leaf, I tried to brush it off. It didn’t work because…


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… mushrooms are growing in between the tiles of my mosaic chair!


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Funky.

Let’s see that’s one slime mold that killed a bush in our front yard, one dog vomit slime mold that killed our compost, and now a pair of mushrooms growing in my outdoor patio chair.

I’m thinking about renaming The Condo Fungus House.


This post is part of Wordless Wednesday.

Updated June 17. 2009 2:07 pm: Best reader comment ever! Cheap Like Me said... Sounds like a slogan: Condo Blues -- we put the 'fun' in 'fungus.'

Monday, June 15, 2009

Show Us Your Trash! Plastic Challenge

I don’t try to avoid plastic like my friend and fellow Green Carnival Mom Fake Plastic Fish, but I do try to limit the amount I use. I try to avoid sending plastic along with everything else that comes into The Condo to the landfill as much as possible. Recently Beth issued a challenge to collect all of my plastic waste for one week. I accepted.

It’s time to put up or shut up. Here are my results.

Personal description: My husband and I live in Central Ohio.

1. List of Recyclable Items:

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  • 1 milk gallon jug, #2 plastic. My city recycles #1 – #7 plastics.
  • 1 medicine bottle, #1 plastic.
  • 3 plastic caps. From the milk, medicine, and a glass bottle of organic balsamic vinaigrette. The plastic caps are recycled through Aveda’s cap recycling program.

2. List of Non-recyclable Items
I split this category into two sub categories: 2b Reuse, because sometimes I buy things just so I can reuse the container and 2a Toss.

2a. Toss

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  • 1 zip top bag of 4 flounder filets. (Too stiff for reusing to clean up after the dog. Too bad because it has zip top)
  • 2 plastic wrappers that held 1 frozen salmon fillet each.
  • 1 Plastic wrapper from a container of organic mushrooms.
  • 1 wrapper from ground turkey.
  • 3 silver wrappers from my dog’s seasonal allergy medication. He gets half a pill a day.
  • 8 silver wrappers from my seasonal allergy medication. Hey, look, the allergy pill wrappers make a happy face! That’s because I didn’t have enough trash to spell out “Hi Beth!”

2b. Reuse

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  • 1 plastic container from the organic mushrooms. It’s #2 and can be recycled. I’m reusing it in my craft room to store blog business cards that I’m making from reclaimed materials.
  • 1 bag of frozen broccoli. Bag will be reused for pet waste pickup.
  • 1 bag of dried great northern beans. Bag will be reused for pet waste pickup.
  • 1 advertising bag. Bag will be reused to pick up pet waste. We get these weekly on our doorstep no matter what.

We have pooper scooper laws here. I have a dog. I have to have something to deal with this issue. This leads me to an extra category…

2c. Reuse 2 (Doggie Doo)

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When we have an empty plastic bag, I put it away for doggie reuse. Here’s an example of the other types of bags we use/reuse to pickup Blitzkrieg’s daily payloads.

  • The black bag is a biodegradable pet waste bag I purchased.
  • A zip top bag from a gift of dried hot peppers.
  • A clear bag that was part of the packaging of something we purchased. (I can’t remember what) – Bio is printed on the bag because they say that the bag is a corn based plastic and biodegradable.
  • A blue plastic grocery bag. I use reusable shopping totes for groceries. In my mom’s city she has to put her recycling in a blue plastic bag. Many of the stores in her area switched to blue colored shopping bags so their customers can reuse them for recycling. My mom gives me some of her bag stash from time to time since I need bags for Blitzkrieg. Sometimes I use these bags for household trash since my city requires me to bag that too. It takes us about a month to fill a plastic grocery bag with trash.

3. Total number of items

  • Recycle – 5
  • Toss - 17
  • Reuse – 4
  • Reuse 2 (Doggie Doo) – 3

Grand total of plastic items - 30

4. Analysis. Answer the following questions as best as you can.

What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?

  • Organic mushrooms – During the summer we buy fresh vegetables at the farm market as much as we can. However we have snow that means that most of our winter vegetables are fresh nonlocal vegetables from the grocery store.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn't exist?

  • 2 plastic wrappers that held 1 frozen salmon fillet each – I should give up the salmon because it is the only type of fish we buy that comes in shrink wrapped plastic in another plastic bag. But I really, really, really like salmon. We don’t try to eat it very often though.

How many of these items are from "convenience" foods that could be made from scratch with less packaging but might take more time to prepare?

  • Organic balsamic vinaigrette. We bought this bottle for a dinner party and finished it this week by using it as a chicken marinade (NOM!)
  • Frozen broccoli. We keep a small stash of frozen vegetables in the freezer for quick meals or when we run out of fresh.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?

  • Milk. As a runner my husband drinks A LOT of milk. I need to buy it by the gallon which comes in plastic. No creative reuse for the jug in my tally, maybe it will come back to me someday as a free reusable shopping tote?
  • Allergy Medication. I switched both Blitzkrieg and I from prescription medication that comes in recyclable bottles to an over the counter medication that generates some waste (the box is recyclable) due to price, amount of medication, and to cut down on the number of follow visits to the doctor and vet to refill the prescriptions.
  • Pet Waste. I looked into a pet waste composting system but they won’t work with our clay soil. Paper bags didn’t work very well either. I asked Blitzkrieg if he’d stop pooing but he gave me a look that said, “I’ll stop when you stop.”
  • Frozen fish. The plastic free fresh fish are sometimes flown in, which tastes better and has less packaging but use many more resources and is insanely expensive. Frozen and economical win – there’s a recession on you know?
  • Meat. This is how my store sells ground turkey. At least this has less packaging than the plastic wrapped ground meat on a tray method, less expensive too. Our health department is very strict about not letting customers use their own containers for meat.
  • Beans. Dry beans come in plastic bags. When I buy them at Meier’s bulk bins, there’s usually drama when weighing the items at the cash register even when I use their plastic bags. I don’t dare use cloth bulk bin bags at Meijer.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?

  • Stop buying bulk items would cut down on plastic but would significantly increase the amount of our overall recycling/waste in my bin. Often the plastic bottle version is a large size that allows me to generate less household waste or is the only one available unless I want to zig zag all over the city buying one plastic free item here and there. That wastes time, energy, and gasoline (which are how we end up with the raw material to make all those plastics in the first place.) In essance I'm trading one type of recyclable item for another. Buying in bulk also helps us save money so we can easily afford more expensive items like Blitzkrieg’s kibble that’s made with USA sourced human grade ingredients.
  • Grow more food. We are working on raised beds in the front yard that can accommodate more herbs and maybe a few vegetables tucked in amongst the flowers in next year’s front garden. Fortunately my in-laws offered to grow extra vegetables for us in their garden including eggplant, which they don’t even like! Since they offered to grow extra fresh food for us, we opted not to buy half a CSA share this year.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?

  • Soda in plastic bottles. I’m looking for some creative and affordable alternatives to pop in plastic bottles. I’d serve my guests more Ohio made wine and beer in glass bottles but every parent I know and the law frowns upon serving such items to minors. Crazy, no?

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?

I’m pretty selective about what I buy and I think our experiment shows that because our plastic waste is the only trash our household generated for the week. The rest was composted or recycled. We are very lucky to be able to recycle #1 - #7 plastic. We take full advantage of this service especially in situations when the price of the plastic free version of something is significantly more expensive or is of a much smaller size, which would mean that more containers would go into our recycling bin more often. Since we have to take our recycling to a city dumpster instead of easily wheeling it the curb for pickup we are just as conscious about the number of items that go in our recycling bin whether they are plastic, glass, metal, or paper as we are our city trash bin.

Blitzkrieg offers us a way to get an extra reuse out of the plastic bags that we can’t recycle. It’s not perfect, or ideal, because we are still throwing the bags away after one reuse but we’re trying to make the best out of the situation we’re given.

Overall, I think the amount of plastic that we generated was small. Although there's always room for improvement. I was surprised how quickly those allergy pill wrappers add up!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why the Best Tool in My Toolbox is a Book

I was conducting a little house tour and showing off a few of my decorating and DIY projects “How do you know how to fix all of this stuff?” asked my girlfriend. I thought about it for a sec and realized that I have a history of doing home improvement projects.

I made my first DIY project as a toddler. I “helped” my father (as in I handed him stuff) build a stepstool out of scrap wood so I could reach the bathroom sink to brush my teeth. I learned not to be afraid of tools and trying something new in middle school when every kid, including the girls, had to take shop class (and the boys had to take home economics class.) Apparently this was very progressive at the time. That was a big step towards my realizing that anything boys can do girls can do
better
too. I asked my teacher once why girls had to take shop and he said that it’s so the girls know how to do things like hange pictures until they get married and have a husband to do it for them.

There goes progress out the window.

(But I think Mr. Hazlett would be happy to know that even though I’m married I still hang my own pictures on the wall.)

But truth be told, I learned most of my home improvement skills from a book. Shortly after buying The Condo we were given a copy of Home Improvement 1-2-3: Expert Advice from The Home Depot.
as a housewarming present.  This book has been a lifesaver! A money saver too.

Home Improvement 1-2-3 is a problem solving book. The authors looked at the most common projects and questions their customers ask of the Home Depot’s employees and put the answers and how to steps into the book.

One of the things I like about Home Improvement 1-2-3 is that they rate the projects by skill level, which helps me determine if I should do the task myself or hire/ask someone to do it for me. It has clear pictures and descriptions of each step by step process. It illustrates how some jobs that may seem complicated such as sealing your air ducts can be ridiculously easy. I really appreciate this because I’m a visual learner.

The book also has sidebars that offer tips on the most common mistakes that are made during the project and how to avoid/fix them (not that I would know anything about this, ahem), safety precautions, and project tips for the first time DIYer. That’s another thing I like about this book because as I dive into more and more home improvement projects I find that DIY is not as simple and quick as it appears on TV.

Home Improvement 1-2-3 by The Home Depot makes an excellent Father’s Day gift, birthday gift, or house warming present for a homebuyer or renter, or just buy it as a gift to yourself. Yeah, it’s that good.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stylish DIY Dog Toy Storage

I have a dog. He has toys. He likes to help me decorate The Condo by artfully placing his toys all over the living room and our bedroom. Blitzkrieg clearly needed a toy box.

Most dog toy boxes have lids. I didn’t want that because I wanted something that would corral Blitzkrieg’s dog toys in one spot (in theory) but that he would be able to access at any time he wanted to play with them. At the time we were still trying to teach Blitzkrieg what toys where, how to play with them, and that in this house; you won’t get smacked around for pulling your dog toys out of your toy box and playing with them. In fact, I was trying to encourage Blitzkrieg to find a toy and chew on that instead of stress chewing on himself.

PhotobucketOh, and if the toy box could be somewhat stylish that would be nice too.

I mentioned this to another dog owning friend and thought that a wicker basket might do the trick. She said that’s what she used until her dog ate the basket. Apparently there are a lot of dogs that find wicker tasty.

I crossed that option off of my list.

I found a large brass bowl at Target. It was on clearance and it was a little beat up but it would hold a few toys in our bedroom. Hoping for a better solution, I decided not to buy it. You know, bass = 80’s = ugh.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

10 Not So Green Confessions or Non-Eco Indulgences - Take Your Pick

This month’s topic for the Green Moms Carnival is Green Confessions. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone and that even the green super heroines that make up the Green Moms Carnival all have their own versions of kryptonite. In an effort to keep my New Year’s resolution about not embracing Green Guilt or fight a possible case of Green Fatigue I’m going to rename my list Non Eco Indulgences because for the most part, the things on my list are things that I’ve made a conscious decision to keep in my life at least for now. Here goes.


1. Eraser sponges. Sometimes stubborn shower yuck or bathtub ring can’t be moved with vinegar and an old toothbrush. That’s when I break out the eraser sponge. It’s also my go to for cleaning mystery marks off of walls. No one knows how these things appear on our walls. Must be the work of aliens. Or pod people. Or fluffy one eyed dogs and their human male counterparts. Or aliens.

2. Nail polish. There’s some pretty bad stuff in nail polish and remover but I like to wear it to feel pretty and girly. I’m afraid if I have painted toenails peeping from my sandals at BlogHer this summer, another Greenie may pounce on me. On the other hand, I want to look cute during the conference. Help me out, got any ideas for a more environmentally friendly toenail polish?

3. Some organic food. While I garden organically, I don’t always buy organic food, or local, or in season for that matter. We have winter. If I only bought local or in season I’d only have veggies in summer or expensive greenhouse grown veggies (lots more energy to grow those!) the other 8 months out of the year. I shop at the farm market as much as I can during the summer. In some cases I think organic is more gimmick than healthy, for, say, things like organic candy, tortilla chips, and craft beer. I’m pretty sure that drinking too many organic pale ales is going to make me just as drunk and fat as drinking too many regular pale ales – either way that’s not good. Husband and I may have to test this theory further, you know, for science.


4. Pantone chair. Sure it’s a big freaking hunk of petrochemical laden plastic but it’s a damn sexy chair and I want one – BAD.

5. Eggs in a carton. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to raise urban chickens. My parents first home was the ultimate fixer upper (I learned how not to be afraid of tools from the “You want to help? Here, hold this” School of DIY.) The former owners kept live chickens under the kitchen sink. It’s a miracle that my parents were able to save those solid wood cabinets, because - yeah, live chickens kept under the sink! My eggs come from a paper carton from a store or farm market. Always.

6. Plastic packaging. My city recycles #1 -7 plastics so I can recycle almost all of the plastic packaging that comes into The Condo. There are times that I honestly choose something in a plastic container because I can reuse it after the container is empty like in my super duper organized refrigerator. Often the plastic bottle version is a large size that allows me to generate less household waste or is the only one available unless I want to zig zag all over the city buying one plastic free version here and there. That wastes time, energy, and gasoline (which is how we end up with the raw material to make all those plastics in the first place.) I’m still selective about my plastic packaging though, which is another reason why I don’t always buy organic food – sometimes it only comes in a nonreusable or nonrecyclable plastic package. Some plastic items allow me to do very green things like my plastic compost bin for example. Sorry Fake Plastic Fish but I can’t totally give this one up.

7. Coffee and chocolate. Two things that make life worth living. I try to do fair trade, but it’s pricey and we’re trying to economize where we can. That means a little more CafĂ© Bustelo and a little less fair trade for now.

8. Fleece. It’s warm and soft and allows me to turn down the heat in the Condo and save energy. You will have to pry my fleece pajamas out of my cold dead hands on a winter’s day. Don’t even try it, you will fail.

9. Some building and craft supplies. I like using salvage materials in my projects. Often the material I'm trying to make over and keep out of the landfill isn't very environmentally friendly to begin with. Some of the items I'm trying to use up in my craft stash aren't as environmentally friendly as I'd like them to be either (hello craft paint and glue! I'm looking for better options though, if you know of any.) I really try to do what I can but sometimes I make comprisese due to budget or availablity. Most recently I was tempted by a sweet buy one get one free deal on a stain blocking VOC laden paint that normally went for $24 that was on sale for $5 a gallon. I could paint my craft room for only $5! I didn't buy the paint but I was really, really, really tempted to (we bought a carload of organic topsoil and humus instead.)

10. Fast food. I like it. I try not to eat it too often but it happens. Sometimes evening activities give me only 5 minutes for dinner. Or for lunch. Or because it’s Tuesday. Or because Taco Bell hard shell tacos are as addictive as crack.

What are your non-eco indulgences? It’s OK, you don’t have to feel guilty about it, we’re all friends here. I’m just curious. What can’t you just live without?



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This is Condo Blues’ submission for the June Green Moms Carnival where our topic is green confessions. The Carnival will be held at The Green Parent. Please check it out after Wednesday, June 24th!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

5 Ways to Whiten Clothes Without Chlorine Bleach

I like bright white laundry but I don’t like to use chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach has some nasty chemicals in it and if you’re not careful you could ruin your clothes (looks pointedly at Husband who bought a cleaner that contained bleach unbeknownced to me until it ruined the pants I was wearing at the time I was using it.)

Fortunately there are several ways to keep your white’s white without using toxic bleach.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to Save Money and Make Things Last – Date It!

The Condo Blues Law of Oops dictates that I will run out of something only when I’m in the middle of using it to do something like cleaning, baking, or in a project.

Just so I won’t run out of something at a bad time I used to think that if it’s something we use daily like shampoo or toothpaste or cleaner then I should just buy it every time it goes on sale to save money. Then I’d have a backup on hand when we run out. In theory that should work just fine.

Problem was that I still seemed to run out of stuff like brown sugar in mid-cupcake baking frenzy while on the other hand I constantly had at least four extra tubes of toothpaste in the linen closet on any given day of the year. There were times when I had so many extra tubes of toothpaste laying around that I considered giving them out as party favors to guests, “Hi how ya doin'? Want something to drink? Snacks are on the dining room table, and oh hey - here you go - have a tube of toothpaste as a parting gift!”

Husband wisely vetoed my bizarre attempts at generosity.

To get a handle on how long stuff lasted, or not, I decided to write the date I opened it on the label of consumable items like toothpaste, cleaners, olive oil, etc. You may think that’s incredibly anal retentive of me, because, I admit it, it is.

But you know what? Well my little born on date experiment also made me realize a few things. Our happy little family of 2 didn’t go through nearly as many bottles, tubes and cans of cleaners, condiments, and health and beauty aids as I thought. For example, we only use about 2 tubes of toothpaste a year even though we brush our teeth a lot.

I found that I really didn’t need to buy that extra bottle of whatever every time it went on sale if I already had a backup item in the pantry or utility room. That saves me money, cuts down on waste, and gives me a little extra storage room around The Condo!

Husband no longer has to worry about me foisting pantry extras at guests in the guise of parting gifts either.

How long do things last at your house? What are your money saving shopping tips?

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How is the Economy Treating You?

Not to be too nosy, but how is the economy treating you? Are things still good for you? Bad? Sorta Bad? Looking up?

Some smart savers are able to take advantage of the deals out there and take dream vacations or remodel their kitchens like Decorno. A lot, at least locally, are out of work or their jobs and companies are hanging by a thread. Some, (OK, a lot of people I know) like us, experienced a company wide pay cut but are hanging in there. Fortunately, a lot of our environmentally friendly practices such as ditching disposables for reusables, Husband cooking from scratch, and my creative reuse projects also saved us money, which we put into an emergency fund. We’re doing OK for now, until the end of the year when Husband’s company moves his subsidiary out of state.

Bummer.

By the way if you want to hire a writer editor blogger I’m available.

What about you? How is the economy treating you? Have you cut back on anything? Or are you taking advantage of the deals out there and doing some things you’ve been putting off? Discuss.