Sunday, May 31, 2009

Painting our new home : Choosing non-toxic paints

Good morning.

We are only a month away from moving to our new home now and my husband and I went shopping for paint colors yesterday. One of the things we had promised ourselves with our new home was that we were going to paint with eco-friendly, non toxic and VOC (Volatile organic compound)-free paints. So off we went to find such a marvel!

I had done a bit of research on them before, especially after posting about plants and the way they can help purify the air we breathe indoors, and was shocked by the amount of negative impact one can of traditional paint could have on your health and environment.

According to, there are many benefits to using non-toxic paints :

  • Health : Reduced toxins benefit everyone, including those with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
  • Environment : Reduces landfill, groundwater and ozone depleting contaminants.
  • Effective : Low-VOC products perform well in terms of coverage, scrubability and hideability (covering flaws on previous coats).
  • Water-Based : Easy cleanup with soap and warm water.
  • Little or No Hazardous Fumes : Low odor during application; no odor once cured. No off-gassing. Painted areas can be occupied sooner, with no odor complaints.
  • Not Deemed Hazardous Waste : Cleanup and disposal greatly simplified.

Their section on non-toxic paints is WELL WORTH A LOOK and offers a great and extensive list of Natural, Zero-VOC and Low-VOC options. The natural paints even included soy and milk protein based paints. I thought that was simply wonderful! Until I tried finding such brands here in Quebec and hitting my head to a wall. The only one that was anywhere near me was Benjamin Moore and up here, they are so expensive, I couldn’t even imagine buying gallons over gallons. Plus they are in the low-VOC category and I wanted VOC-Free.

So back to square one, my husband and I headed to Home Depot and SURPRISE! We found one!

C.I.L. Dulux, a long standing paint manufacturer from Canada, has come out with their own line of 100% acrylic, VOC and solvent free paints that are eco-friendly and practically odor free. It also comes in eggshell and semi-gloss finishes. The best part is that, any color in their color swatches that is white-based (symbol W/B) can be made from this paint. Now, I understand that adding color pigments may compromise a bit of the “pureness” of the paint, but the solvents and VOCs will still not be there.

So I was pretty happy and cannot wait to start decorating our new home! I will keep you posted on the progress when the time comes.

Have you looked around for ways of reducing harmful materials in your home? Please share!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 100 mile diet… or our own variation : Part 2

Good morning to all of you.

So as I mentioned a few days back, my husband and I have decided to go for a summer attempt at the 100 mile diet challenge. Well the challenge date has been set : July 1st! On that date, we will start a 2 months 100 mile challenge in the hopes of living a simpler life this summer, finding ways to lower our carbon footprint and getting to know the place we live in and the local growers and businesses that make it work!

Why July 1st? Well first, we will be moving into our new home that day so what better time to start on a new challenge. Second, we will already be playing the “empty out the fridge and cupboards” game to try and not have too much to move so we will need to restock anyway. And third, everything will be in full swing here for the Quebec growing season so all the farmer’s markets and food stands will be out and ready for us.

Why 2 months? Because as I have mentioned before, I’m really worried about the fact that I don’t eat meat and my husband eats very little. Quebec is not exactly the grain and legumes growing capital of the world. What does this mean? So far, our only protein sources would be eggs and dairy. We can’t exactly start eating a pound of cheese a day so we may have to get awfully creative.


We decided to start making a list in the next few weeks of staples, foods we would want to KNOW where to get before the diet starts. What prompted this is that we were walking around the farmer’s market (although it’s more a flower market right now) and came upon a stand for a local winery that was having a tasting of all their other wine and fruit derived products.

Vignoble Le Petit Pré is only 20 minutes east of downtown and not only has award winning wines, but a selection of preserves, non-pasteurized multi-flower honey and a line of traditionally crafted vinegars. See, vinegars like balsamic, red wine and white wine are things I use almost everyday in my kitchen and I never even thought of “where” I would get them once the challenge started! We also bought a jar of their honey and were floored. Such an amazing product and only a few miles away since their stand will be open, only a few minutes walk from our place, for the whole summer.

So it is a start!

As I am discovering hidden places in my area for little 100-mile-treasures, I will share them with you. Hoping to inspire you to go out and discover the little local delicacies your corner of the world has to offer!

Do you have favourite local spots?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Our garden – Year 2 : Our perennial patch!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Saturday morning!

As I had mentioned in my previous post about turning over and preparing our community plots, we are lucky enough this year to have two separate plots to which we have decided to give two very separate vocations.

We decided during the holiday week-end (last week) to turn last year’s 10 X 12 sq.ft. plot into a perennial garden. The idea of having one patch that would not have to be replanted every year was very nice and since we do not have a yard of our own yet, having our own little flower area seemed like a wonderful long term project!


Well, aside from the fact that half my favourite plants and flowers are perennials (including hostas and hemerocallis – commonly called daylilies), there are quite a few reasons to go for perennials. Even though at first look, perennials are more expensive then annuals, they will cost you less and less every year as they multiply and spread, making your garden lush and green. Also, good ground cover perennials like sedum, wild thyme, and many alpine plant varieties, once they spread, will help keep the soil shaded and cool which means less watering! And that alone is a good reason for me!

A few things to keep in mind when buying plants to start a perennial flower bed is to take good note of your hardiness zone, of the sun exposure of your patch and of blooming times. Most perennials have shorter blooming seasons then annuals, and even though their leaves are lovely, if you want to insure a presence of flowers throughout the whole growing season, pick species that flower at different times.

So everyone knows of the traditional perennial ground covers such as clover, sedum, hostas, certain grasses, but here are a few plants you may not know are perennials :

  • Lavender
  • Daylilies
  • Daffodils
  • Tulips
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Marguerites
  • Sage
  • Marigolds
  • Irises
  • Lobelia
  • Bluebells
  • Primrose
  • Bleeding hearts
  • Columbines
  • Poppies… just to name a few!

Plus, if we stick to the basic definition of perennial which is really any plant that lives more than one year, vines and shrubs are great additions to any perennial garden patch! Also, depending on space, try adding fruit bushes! We’ve decided to go with hardy kiwi vines and blueberry bushes.

This is the picture of our plot when we started this season :

And this is what it looks like now :

I know it may look a little empty, but considering most of our plant choices will triple in size in the first year, we think the “bare look” will be worth it to have our garden come back in force next year!

On a side note : All our plants, vines and bushes came from local sources! Look around and find nurseries that grow plants in your area. Plants that have been imported mean more of a carbon footprint and more probability of species that are not well adapted to your climate! You may pay a little more, but you will get quality plants that last!

Please stop by and share your plans for a garden this year!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rethinking recycling – When you move, donate goods and share resources!

Good morning to you all.

As I have mentioned before, my husband and I are on the verge of moving to a new apartment. When looking for our new place, we came to the understanding that we would have to sacrifice space for location in order to be happier and greener :

  • Moving to a better built and more recent building meant less energy wasted through unsealed windows and outdated heating.
  • Closer to work and our community garden meant less of the car being driven.
  • Walking distance from the farmer’s market and our favourite local stores for food and fun meant the same.

But in this process, we lost 160 sq.ft and no longer have a basement storage unit. (Not that I’m complaining because we have now an underground parking spot so no need for de-snowing and idling the car in winter.)

So, we decided this would be the perfect time to really reassess what we were actually going to move and what we were getting rid of. Hard and long process, but a satisfying one to say the least! So I thought, since we are probably not the only ones doing massive spring cleanings or getting ready to move, I would share some ideas on items you may not have thought of donating but that are great to share and give away.

Toys and clothes :

That is an easy one! Everyone knows that they have local clothes banks and toy drives. No surprise there, but still, a reminder is always good. Toys can also be donated to daycares, children’s hospitals and shelters.

Bedding, towels, wash cloths :

You can donate all kinds of linens to homeless shelters and women’s shelters around your city. Towels and blankets can also be donated to local animal shelters to be used as beds in the cages.

Dishes, utensils and cookware :

Soup kitchens and shelters always have a need for extra dishes and things to cook with. Or, you could simply ask a friend if they need them! I’ve made so many starter kits for friends, I lose count. It’s always a great way to share.

Pet supplies :

Animal shelters need everything from litter boxes to food dishes, food, leashes, bedding, toys, carriers… if you use to have a pet (or like us, have pets that have outgrown their first litter boxes and carriers), then take them to your local shelter. You can also donate old hamster, bird, rabbit cages or aquariums to local grade schools to use in classrooms.

Books and magazines :

Local public libraries, high schools, grade schools, clinics, hospitals (long care units can use the books) and even local detention centers and prisons, will gladly accept donation of reading materials.

Shampoos, conditioners, soaps and other toiletries :

We all have in our home leftover bottles of shampoo, body washes, soaps, etc. that we have gotten on a whim and not used fully. Places like women’s shelters, were women and their families come in with very little in their possession, need things like that to help out.

So as you are going through your old things, please think of how they can be reused.

I hope you have a great day!

What do you share and donate in your community?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Play and donate FREE RICE!

Help end world hunger

Just a quick stop to tell all of you about a fun site I found :

At FREE RICE, you can answer questions about all sorts of subjects (like english, math, art, chemistry, geography and languages) and for each correct answer, the United Nations World Food Program will donate 10 grains of rice to help fight hunger. You can play as much as you want and help the UN donate food.

I know you may think 10 grains isn’t much, but I played for 5 minutes and donated 260! 5 minutes a couple of days a week could make quite a difference in the end!

Hope you’ll check it out and play for a few.

Have a great day!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The 100 mile diet… or our own variation : Part 1

Yesterday, while driving to our favourite local nurseries for flowers and bonsai materials, we decided to get off the highway and take the scenic country roads back home. Since it was raining madly (only two crazy gardening and bonsai nuts would have gone shopping for open field grown hostas and hemerocallis in such a weather), we were driving extra slowly and got the time to look around a bit more than we usually would have. I was very surprised to find a local farmer that specialized in all kinds of potatoes!

Coming from Canada, potatoes for me are a Prince Edward Island thing. When I’m at the grocery store, it is my first thought : “Are they from P.E.I.? Then they must be good!” But now, I must admit, I will probably check his stands out when the growing season is here because he is local and because he is about 20 kilometres (15 miles) from my house.

After noticing him, I started looking more closely : Within those 15 miles until we got home, I found a local cheese maker (that uses milk from local milk farms), a few apple orchards, blueberry and strawberry fields, two organic farms and one apple cidery. That was when we decided to check out the 100 miles challenge website!

100 miles = 167 kilometres

The first thing I did was to figure out what my 100 miles was. Living mainly in metric, for me, 100 was not much. But after the conversion and seeing it on the map, the idea of living locally started to get more and more appealing.

Am I ready to take the challenge yet? Not quite.

What is holding me back?

  • First thing is that I’m an ovo-lacto vegetarian. A lot of the recipes and ideas for living locally come from eating local meats which is fine. At least most local small farms are not chopping down thousands of acres of forests to raise their cattle. So even though I eat eggs and dairy, it is not my main source of protein and through my research, I’m yet to find a local producer of such legumes as chickpeas, soya beans, lentils, beans in general, which are a staple of my diet. Now, I do try and buy Canadian grown legumes and grains that come from our prairies, but that is DEFINITELY more than 100 miles.
  • Second thing is that the growing season in Quebec is very very short. We live in a hardiness zone of 3 to 4, which means that we get 3, maybe 4 (if we are lucky) growing months a year. So you can imagine how scary it is to me that I may have to go so long without a variety of foods that I consider necessary to stay healthy.

So what to do?

For now, we are ready to take one pledge : From the moment the local farmers open their stands at local markets and along local country roads (which is usually late-June to late October), we will eat all local produce, milk and cheeses and drink local wines and ciders.

It will be hard to give up some of our favourite foods such as citrus fruit, bananas and tropical fruits. Also, what is Mexican food without guacamole? But I think it will be an exercise in creativity and we hope to be able to tough it out.

I will keep you updated on the exact date we will start and plan on doing more research into incorporating more local finds as we get ready for it.

What are some of your local favourites?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Join EWG's Bottled Water Label Scavenger Hunt!

Good morning!

Just a quick post this morning to share with all of you a fun email I got from the Environmental Working Group about a contest they are having until June 15th.


Ever look at a bottle of water and wonder, "Where does the water come from? Is it purified? Did the FDA make sure it's safe and clean?"

Join EWG's Bottled Water Label Scavenger Hunt and get your questions answered.

Here's how to get involved (and win EWG prizes!):

1) The next time you buy a bottle of water (even we EWG'ers sometimes forget our reusable bottle) choose a non-sparkling, unflavored water bottled in glass or clear plastic.

2) Carefully remove the entire label from the bottle. We need all the information from the label, so if necessary, cut the plastic around the label to get it all off.

3) Write down:

  • the name and location of the store where you purchased the water
  • the date you purchased the water
  • your name, email and mailing address

4) Mail your labels and other information to:

Environmental Working Group
Attn: Nneka Leiba
1436 U St. NW, Suite 100
Washington, DC 20009

Whoever sends the most labels (duplicates not counting) by June 15 will win a stainless steel water bottle with the EWG logo and a jumbo-sized, reusable grocery tote printed with EWG's pollution solutions tips. Plus, everyone who participates will get a Shopper's Guide to Pesticides magnet!

Thank you in advance for helping us with our research to make sure bottled water companies are honest with you about the water you buy.


EWG Bottled Water Research Team


Good luck!!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How to make your conventional electric hot water heater more efficient – Insulate it!

Good morning everyone.

Very soon, my husband and I will be moving to a nicer, more recent apartment building (having outgrown the “college” setting we are currently residing in) and I will be, for the first time, paying all my utilities, including hot water. That one is very new to me since I’ve always lived in buildings where the hot water tanks were in the basement, gas heated, and I never had to worry about them.

But as of July 1st, we will have access to our electric water tank in our apartment and will have our own separate counter. Not only do we see this as a great way to start really paying attention to how much we use, but it will be a great start to us finding ways to making the adjustments and changes in order to make our conventional water heater as efficient as possible.

According to Natural Resources Canada and the Office of Energy Efficiency :

Storage tank water heaters are by far the most common type used in Canada. These systems heat and store water in a tank so that hot water is available to the home at any time. As hot water is drawn from the top of the tank, cold water enters the bottom of the tank and is heated. The heating source can be electricity, gas or oil.

More efficient storage tank water heaters can perform as much as 40 percent better than conventional models. An energy-efficient model will typically have one or more of the following features:

  • extra tank insulation for better heat retention and less standby loss (loss of heat through the walls of the tank)
  • a better heat exchanger to transfer more heat from the energy source to the water
  • factory-installed heat traps, which allow water to flow into the tank but prevent unwanted flow of hot water out of the tank
So if you are shopping for a new water tank and cannot afford green power like solar panels for water heating, look for the more efficiently rated ones.

But if you are like me, renting and don’t have a say really over the tank that you have or not able to get a new tank, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it!

Our tip is to go to a place like Home Depot or Lowes and buy a hot water heater blanket. Now be sure you take all your measurements because not all water heaters are the same! But these places will sell most conventional sizes for under 30$.

The U.S. Department of Energy has posted a very comprehensive guide to installing an insulation blanket that I plan on using to make sure our tank is well fitted. According to them, “adding insulation to it can reduce standby heat losses by 25%–45%. This will save you around 4%–9% in water heating costs.” Not too bad for a 30$ investment. And less water heating means a lesser carbon footprint which is once again the ultimate goal.

Hope this was useful!

What ways do you use to save on your energy bill?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Aubrey Organics, Men's Stock, City Rhythms Shave Cream – Product Review

* This is a post by my first guest blogger, my husband Jason, who has wonderfully taken the reins while my carpal tunnel syndrome is acting up. I thank him for sharing my passion with living a greener life and for his "guy" insight on this product review.

This past week my wife spoke with me and asked if I would make a guest appearance on her blog. We have been making the change to green hand in hand, and I believe it is the best thing: having someone to take the steps with you and test out new products.

In our quest to be more earth-friendly we have been experimenting with products there is no doubt in that. I believe some of the items are easy to find and don’t take much adventure, like dish soap, laundry detergent, and cleaning products. Then there are the personal hygiene products, this is where the adventure in green living comes from sometimes I think. It takes a thick skin to try out a new deodorant while at work. Really who wants to be known as the onion in their place of work? Or another good trip is toothpaste and mouthwash; I mean we have all grown up thinking mint is what makes your mouth clean, just the scent of it makes me think it. Then you go and look at the natural and organic products and that first leap of putting algae based product in your mouth, I don’t think anyone knows what to expect. There is not a doubt in the world there has been success and failures along the way. The adventure into green has not been a dull one that is for sure.

Time to get back on track with what this post is all about. One of the things that I was worried about when making the step to a greener lifestyle was shaving cream. I am a very sensitive skinned guy so finding something to use that is not going to leave me with razor burn all over my neck was something I was a bit worried about.

I must say though it did not take long to find something that worked; actually I believe I hit the nail on the head the first time. It is a great little product called Men’s Stock City Rhythms Shave Cream from Aubrey Organics. This product is completely vegan friendly, not tested on any animals and is organic. When you pop the top you are invited to a smooth shave with scents of Cedar, Sandalwood and Bergamot. Now this is not your normal shaving cream with the super lather either, it is almost more of an actual cream. Not too much is needed either, an amount about the size of a “Tooney” (Canadian 2$ coin the size of a silver dollar) should cover.

Some other benefits that are found in the cream are Organic Avocado and Wheat Germ Oil, which help with razor glide. Witch Hazel Extract to soothe irritation along with Camphor, Menthol and Organic Eucalyptus that provide a cool invigoration during the entire shave. Personally I feel no need for after shave with all these goodies, but they do offer such products if you are interested. Price is not too bad either at around under 7$ US, it will not break the bank. You can go directly to the Aubrey Organics site and order it; they have great deals on product lines, but will not ship to Canada. We have found a great little online company called that has all the Aubrey Organics product and ship not Canada for very little. They have some great deals too. This shaving cream sells for under 6$ US.

Personally I can last about 6 weeks on one tube by shaving once every 2 days. So if asked would I recommend this to other people I most certainly would. This is not to say there may not be other companies out there; I just haven’t felt the need to explore.

What products have you changed lately that you really enjoyed?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where to dispose of CFLs, cell phones and batteries properly - a follow-up

As a follow-up to a comment posted on my previous blog topic, Heating through light : Another reason for using CFLs in your home, I decided to take a few minutes this morning and do a quick search on where we can dispose of certain products such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), cell phones and batteries.

CFLs :

For all of us in Canada and the US, Home Depot is one of the easiest ways to dispose of CFLs. If you are like me, there are at least 3 Home Depots within a 10 mile radius from your house so drop off is easy. You can grab a disposal bag and bring it home with you, store your used bulbs and take them back. Another big name store to take back CFLs is IKEA. They were actually ne of the first company to offer a take-back program.

Rechargeable batteries and cell phones :

One of the greatest sites I found while surfing the net this morning was the RBRC - Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation that has a wonderful search engine where you put in your postal code or ZIP and they will give you a list of businesses and drop off points with the distance from your house and directions through Yahoo maps.

One place that seemed to come back a lot in the United States is Radio Shack. Again, very widely spread, they are an easy drop off points in most towns and cities. Staples is another common store in most every area that will take back your used products.

In Canada, Canadian Tire stores take back rechargeable batteries nation wide and some take back old cellies. Our equivalent to Radio Shack, The Source, supports the same programs as in the US. I’ve also gotten hits on various other home hardware stores and Sears here in Canada.

Do check out the RBRC site! It is worth having a good list of drop points to not dispose of them in the trash.

Car batteries :

I know that here in Canada, Canadian Tire recycles them. Your best bet is to call your local car parts place and ask them if they recycle. Many of them will and it will prevent them from ending up in landfills.

Regular one-time-use batteries :

As much as I would like to believe that people have stopped using these, the average person still buys dollar store discount batteries and most of these end up in the trash! They cannot be recycled unfortunately, but here in Canada, Future Shop/Best Buys have drop boxes and takes them in for proper disposal. I would think that Best Buy in the states would do the same, but I wasn’t able to find a reliable source. They do take in rechargeable ones, but that is as far as I was able to find.

In most cities, if you call the sanitation department, you may be able to find out where to take your non-rechargeable batteries. But the best advice from me would be :


On a final note, I did find a company in the United States called Battery Solutions that sells iRecycle kits in various sizes. They come with the safety containers for storage and pre-paid postage for sending your batteries and other things for disposal. They accept :

  • Household batteries, both rechargeable and non-rechargeable, such as D-cell, C-cell, AA, AAA, 9-volt, and button cells
  • Rechargeable battery packs from: Cell phones, cameras, laptop computers, power tools, etc.
  • Handheld electronics: Cell phones, iPods, PDAs, pagers, etc.
  • Any other dry-cell batteries.
So I hope that this provided a good follow-up to my previous post that suggested using CFLs in your home to keep cooler this summer.

How easily can you reach a recycling or disposal drop-off point in your area?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Heating through light : Another reason for using CFLs in your home

Good morning everyone.

With the warmer weather approaching, the time to think about a greener and energy efficient summer is upon us. That is right; it is time to find alternative ways of cooling our homes that won’t leave an insane carbon footprint on the world. So while I was reading back issues of Green Living magazine, I found an article by Mary Teresa Bitti that was published last summer entitled “Cool it : 7 ways to chill without warming the planet” that had a lot of good ideas like :

  • Getting rid of the air conditioning units (or if simply cannot live without them, go for Energy Star rated ones)
  • Using ceiling and floor fans that use up a fraction of the energy to run.
  • Closing windows drapes and blinds during the warmer days and opening them up at night.
  • Create patterns of cross-ventilation by strategically opening and closing specific windows to create “wind paths” in your home.
  • Make sure your insulation in your attic and basement doesn’t have any gaps and holes so that the cool air stays inside your home.
  • Add natural shade to your yard and home by planting trees or by not removing too much of the natural canopy that will provide your home with cooling shade.

All great ideas! But you are probably thinking “there are only 6 tips there!” That is because I wanted to talk more in depth about one of them that surprised me and intrigued me more than the others :

  • Replace all you incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)!

Did you know that more than 90% of the electricity used to power a traditional bulb is lost through heat?

According to Natural Resources Canada, only 4 to 6 % of the energy used to power a traditional bulb goes towards producing visible light. Which means everyone of your old traditional bulbs that is glowing is not only using up a lot of energy, creating more waste buy having a shorter life span, but is also heating your home when you are desperately trying to keep it cool! CFLs produce 75% less heat when lit up.

So as an extra green step to a cooler home this summer, if you hadn’t already made the switch, replace your old traditional bulbs with CFLs.

Thank for reading!

What will you do to lower your carbon footprint this summer?