Be Inspired

Ah, the New Year! Now is the time for reflecting and resolving to do better. As my year-long journey with this blog comes to a close, I’ve learned a lot (and continue to do so). The biggest lesson: being green or being in touch with nature is not a black or white game. There’s a whole lot of grey.

For my final post, I want to ask that you be inspired to be greener and notice nature more. I’m not asking that you turn yourself into a granola-muncher, just to make incremental steps and be aware.

There are so many little things we can do. For example, this year, I stopped buying individual containers of yogurt because I hate the taste of the flavoring and the useless little cups. I now buy a big tub and divvy it up into individual, reusable containers. Now, the frozen berries I usually add for flavor may not have been grown in a sustainable way, but at least I’m not throwing away as much plastic (I’m saving these larger tubs for seedlings). Am I an environmental hero? Not by a long shot. But, my yogurt tastes better.

On  a Horny Toad dress I bought, the care instructions start, “Dirty is the new clean. Wear more wash less.” This has inspired me to be conscious about how often I wash my clothes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I work in a small office close to others–I’m not taking this to an extreme. But, with it being cold and layering sweaters, I don’t wash every outer layer every single time I wear it. Think about it: less laundry. Who’s not on board with that?

Here are some things I want to do more of this year:

Eat (and thus buying) fresh foods. They say to shop the “perimeter” of the grocery store–stay away from the processed, packaged food they stock in the center of the store.

Buy local. For me this means visiting the farmers market more often.

Grow my own food. I want a garden not only because I like the taste of homegrown tomatoes, but I enjoy checking on their progress daily once the plants start to fruit.

Buy less and buy used. There are so many interesting finds at the thrift store and sometimes you’ll find the deal of a lifetime at a garage sale.

I can’t swear I’ll do these things 100% of the time, but if I do them only once, it’ll be worth it. If you do them just once, too, it’ll then be REALLY worth it.

Happy New Year!


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Getting Rid of Junk

The holiday season is upon us. I’ve been trying to practice the “something new in, something old out” philosophy of physical belongings. New shirt? Donate an old one. Simple. But, some things are harder to dispose of than used clothing. Like batteries and technology junk–cell phones, cords and batteries.

I researched proper disposal back in the summer, but now that it’s near the time when kids will need batteries for their new toys and adults will be gifted new cell phones to replace their “pokey little puppy” models, I think sharing what I’ve learned about proper disposal is right on time.


My household had 3 old cell phones, 3 cell phone chargers, 1 cell phone car charger, 2 phone ear buds, a crappy MP3 player and 4 old rechargeable batteries uselessly hanging around. A little research and a twitter request got me to the Best Buy website. Ends up, they take a lot. So, I hauled my junk there. It took a bit to find the kiosk as it doesn’t scream at you and I had to go to the customer service desk to recycle the MP3 player, but it wasn’t hard at all and I’ll do it again.

Google yields many organizations willing to take your old cell phone, too.

Hamilton County Disposal

There also is a collection of regular batteries under my kitchen sink. I only have maybe half a dozen, but I learned that my county has drop-offs for household hazardous waste. So, on some Wednesday afternoon, I’ll mosey on over and get rid of those (along with some old cleaners that like to pile up under the sink, too).

Okay, okay, it is kind of a lot of work to dispose of this stuff properly. A Wednesday afternoon? Either I’ll have to take the day off of work or do it on a Saturday and drive to the furthest away location. But, the most work comes from actually researching who will take it and actually dispose of it properly. Maybe with cell phones and computers (I haven’t disposed of a computer yet) there’s the fear of personal information getting loose. I do worry about that, but then I remember that I don’t have any money to steal and no skeletons on my tech junk that I don’t want to get out. Ha!

If you don’t like the work on the back end of products, do a little bit more work on the front end. Buy cleaners that aren’t toxic (or that you know you’ll use completely). Don’t be an early adopter of technology and buy technology that is proven to work well and last and also has a good warranty or guarantee. (That MP3 player had to be returned and replaced by the manufacturer only a few months after I bought it. Even still it only worked for maybe a year after that. Lame.) Buy items that can be recharged (recharging batteries is much better than one-time use batteries). Simply do without. Share a computer, don’t upgrade your cell phone every time you’re eligible and use items from your pantry to clean (vinegar, baking soda, you know the drill).

I’m far from being perfect on doing any of this, but we all have to start somewhere. And, when you take your first step, it feels great. I felt a huge sense of relief and lightness walking out of Best Buy not with a new purchase, but with fewer pieces of junk.

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State of Buckeyes

Let me tell you about how I fell in love with buckeyes. I had heard about them before the fall of 2010, like they bring good luck and how Ohio is “The Buckeye State.” But, I never really paid too much attention until I found one.

In September 2010, on the sidewalk near a coffee shop where I had just met up with a friend, was a dark brown, dense, smooth and cool buckeye. I picked it up and impressed with the way it felt, took it home. Then, I made a point to go back with my husband. We collected pocketfuls of the buckeyes to send to my husband’s aunt who makes necklaces with them. Some were still in their pods and I cracked them open to pull out the 2-3 buckeyes packed snugly inside.

We let them dry, their skin wrinkling a bit and becoming a little lighter, before we passed them along to the aunt, keeping a couple for ourselves.

Found Buckeyes

I started to think about buckeyes and even made them–the candy, that is.

Buckeye Candy

I love how I live in a state that is not known for it’s natural scenery or for being an outdoorsy destination. Ohio’s residents aren’t known for being in touch with nature. (Don’t Colorado, Maine, Alaska, Washington and Oregon seem more nature-centric states?) But, Ohio loves its buckeyes. “The Buckeye State” is the state nickname. The Buckeye is our state tree. You’re a “buckeye” if you were born and raised here. And, even one of Ohio’s universities has a buckeye for a mascot (as weird as having a seed for a mascot is).

Brutus: Ohio State University Mascot

The environment of Ohio has a tremendous impact on the state’s culture. Whether most Ohioans (or non-Ohioans) realize it or not, this state of buckeyes just may be one with nature.

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Advocacy Is Dead

“…it is easy for people seeking to create new products, processes, and business models for life beyond the Industrial Age bubble to become so absorbed in advocating for what they think needs to change that they pay little attention to how they will build and sustain the relationships needed to achieve the change.”The Necessary Revolution by Peter Senge, et al

After reading this quote, I realized sustainability advocacy is dead. Well, it wasn’t after reading this quote. It was while flipping through 2 years of old copies of Better Homes and Gardens passed on to me by my mother-in-law for decorating ideas. Within those pages of Better Homes and Gardens, dating back to May 2009, I saw Wal-Mart ads touting greener products. There were articles about teaching children to be green and how to properly dispose of items so as not to harm the environment. If I think about the movers and shakers of the green movement, I think of Al Gore, founders of fantastic companies like Patagonia along with authors like Peter Senge, William McDonough and Michael Braungart. I don’t think about the editors of Better Homes and Gardens and their readership.

The quote put it into perspective: we are all on board with this green movement. We all understand taking a few steps towards “being green” can save us some money and the Earth, whether it needs our help or not. We all know that having a backyard garden not only supplies us with some damn tasty tomatoes, but if we have kids, it’s a great way to spend time with them and to teach them about plants and taking responsibility. And, not to mention, there is a tremendous joy of reaping the literal fruits of your labor. If I can find information about green products and sustainable actions in a mainstream magazine, then no one needs to convince ANYONE about being sustainable.

Oh, sure, we’ll have our kooks who deny global warming. And, we’ll have our sensationalists who want to go live in a yurt on a potato commune north of the Arctic Circle. But, we may never convince them and they’re not part of the already sustainability-minded mainstream.

What we need to do is build and nurture relationships that will allow us to live better. Let’s share our tomatoes with our neighbors and trade gardening secrets. When you finally discover how to recycle that cell phone, pass along the knowledge. Tweet it so others can recycle theirs, too. When you see someone recycling improperly, let them know the right way. Buy from companies that you know have good practices. And, let go of your old stereotypes. Many times, we feel a company or person needs to be hardcore to even be considered part of this green movement. Did you know the United States Postal Service has over 700 million mailers and packaging products with a silver Cradle to Cradle certification? (I noticed the Cradle to Cradle bug on a package I recently received.) Who would have thought a government agency would have products certified by an organization born from a ground-breaking book? I wouldn’t. Be sure to appreciate every person and company who participates.

Advocating for sustainability is truly dead—unneeded. But, action is still in its infancy and we need to help it grow.

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Green Reads

Reading is an important part of My Natural Education. It provides new perspectives on nature and sustainability. So, let’s take a quick look at the four books I’ve read (or listened to) since January.

First up: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Ironically, I listened to this one while driving my new, longer commute. And, it kind of made me pessimistic about what this commute symbolized, but it also reassured my reasons for moving further away from work. I moved to the ‘burbs after living in Cincinnati proper to be closer to nature. My backyard borders some woods that are part of a small, wooded city park that is complete with a wee creek. I traded neighborhood bars for parks and it doesn’t get much better than that.

This book opened my eyes to how much nature has been villainized in our culture. And, just how much you can find to do outside. While I’m sure this book is written for parents, it’s relevant to all of us. It articulates the impact of nature on the development of kids (and us when we were kids)—they need the ability to roam free in woods, build tree houses and play in creeks.

Next: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Revolutionary. McDonough makes the case for rethinking our whole damn manufacturing process. Even the book is printed on funny paper that is easily reused and repurposed. My only complaint is that he just looks at how to make things in our consumerist culture. Instead of making a carpet that is easily and sustainably replaced when one gets tired of the color, how about we make flooring that’ll last, but is just as sustainable and learn to be happy with what we have? We need to learn to not constantly consume.

I should mention that there is now a Cradle to Cradle Certification. I’d buy a product with this certification with confidence.

Noteworthy quotes:

“…the Western view saw nature as a dangerous, brutish force to be civilized and subdued.”

“Even the idea of ‘natural capital’ characterizes nature as a tool to be used for our benefit.”

(I am reassured that we need to change the way we define and view nature.)

Third: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

I’ve never been a dieter. So I have never read diet books, but this is the best damn diet book out there. It’s just common sense none of us knows. I love how he mentions “food-like products” and discusses food culture. All of this falls right into the “home farming”/farmers market trend. This book will definitely make you think about all the crap-food you buy. I can’t say I’ve made a huge switch in my eating habits, but I’m definitely more conscious about what I eat and how I eat it. My food aspirations are pretty lofty now.

Finally: Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything by Daniel Goleman

I wasn’t expecting too much from this book since Daniel Goleman has a few “_________ Intelligence” books out on the shelves. But, he makes a good case for radical transparency, which means “…tracking every substantial impact of an item from manufacture to disposal—not just its carbon footprint and other environmental costs, but its biological risks, as well as its consequences for those who labored to make it—and summarizing those impacts for shoppers as they are deciding what to purchase.” Think it’s crazy? Look at nutrition labeling and also just calling out bad ingredients (Oh, trans fats, you devil!). All-out information has worked before, as Goleman makes the case, and we need more information about everything we purchase and consume.

Noteworthy quotes:

“…we need to get beyond the thinking that puts mankind outside nature; the fact is we live enmeshed in ecological systems and impact them for better or worse—and they us.” (A running theme, it seems.)

“We settle for what’s adequate rather than search for what’s optimal: once we’ve ‘satisficed’ a product choice, we stop looking. In other words, much of what is known in marketing circles as ‘brand loyalty’ is really just a peculiarity of cognitive inertia.” (Ouch, branding!)

“We go through our daily life awash in a sea of things we buy, use, and throw away, waste or save. Each of those things has its own history and its own future, backstories and endings largely hidden from our eyes, a web of impacts left along the way from the initial extraction or concoction of its ingredients, during its manufacture and transport, through the subtle consequences of its use in our homes and workplaces, to the day we dispose of it. And yet these unseen impacts of all that stuff may be their most important aspect.” (What if branding went beyond telling the story of its personality and its products’ benefits and told the complete story, from start to finish?)

I’ve updated the My Natural Education book list on so you can get the details on each book. (I’m not pushing, either. Check ‘em out from your library if you can!)

Let me know what green reads you think need to be on my list. I’d love any and all recommendations.

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Tricky Trees

On a whim, I attempted to identify the three trees plucked down randomly in my backyard. It really wasn’t on a whim because I had checked out a tree identification guide by the Arbor Day Foundation from the library over a week ago. The time had presented itself to me, so I took the book and headed out. Bad idea. My neck of the woods here in Ohio has been in the 90s for what feels like eternity. There I was, flipping through the book, trying not to sweat too much and trying not to gain the attention of my neighbors relaxing on their screened-in porch. But, this is what I learned, or thought I learned:  those three trees growing in my backyard might be some weird ornamental species, purchased at a landscaping center 10-20 years ago. Ornamental trees aren’t going to show up in a guide divided into geographic and climate areas, right?

I packed up a bag and headed out to the park behind my house. Success! According to the book, I found a Sugar Maple. One of the things I noticed was the “downy” underside of the leaves. There is a slight fuzz on the bottom. This is something I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t set out on my mission to identify trees. But, consulting the guide again, now that I’m at my desk, it says Sugar Maples don’t have leaves with a downy underside, but their cousin, the Black Maple does. Sugar Maples have 5-lobed leaves (that’s what my tree had!) and Black Maple leaves usually are only 3-lobed.


It's the skinny one on the far left.

This uncertainty throws a kink into things. Along with these words: drupe, margin, petiole, samara and sinus. Identifying trees isn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be, even with the Arbor Day Foundation’s easy-to-use guide. I should have known. Have you ever tried to identify a bird? If you don’t have a guide handy, you have to be quick enough to take a picture or memorize its shape and colors. When you get to a guide, you have to distinguish features from your fuzzy digital or mental image. Kind of tough.

Fruit can help identify a tree, but sometimes there isn’t any fruit apparent. Exactly when do those helicopter seeds (samara) form and start to whirl down to the ground? I’ve lived in my house since May and didn’t see them fall, just noticed they had clogged each and every gutter on every level of our roof. I know acorns start to drop in the fall, but when can I see them on the trees? I know buckeye trees start to drop their fruit in September, because I was excited last year when I came across my very first buckeye on a sidewalk and took note of the month. Before my discovery, I couldn’t have told you what a buckeye tree looked like.

My quick little study in trees didn’t teach me that the 3 in my backyard are ornamental (I have no clue) or that Sugar Maples for sure have a downy underside. I learned it takes time to be able to know trees. In Alaska, I can easily identify a Birch or a Cottonwood tree. Birch have distinctive papery bark. Cottonwoods have fuzzy–and sometimes annoying–cottony seeds that create a “summer snow.” In the 22 and a half years I lived in Alaska, I never sought out to identify these trees. I just knew. And that’s what it takes: living, observing and taking a little initiative to get to know your neighboring trees.

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North To Alaska

In June, my fiance and I traveled to my home state, Alaska, for a few reasons: get married, catch up with my family, and enjoy the Last Frontier. You can’t imagine how weird it is for me, a born, raised and educated Alaskan who’s been out of the state almost 6 years to now go back. I gaze in wonder at the mountains not only because they’re non-existent in Ohio, but because they were the backdrop to my childhood. Seeing the state through the eyes of my husband, it’s easy to get excited at the sight of a moose alongside the highway. (Growing up, we always thought tourists were crazy for pulling over just to get a good picture of a moose. Sheesh, they seemed to be in our yard every winter!)

We started out with the basics around Palmer: Frog Pond near my old elementary school, Thunderbird Falls, and the trek up Bodenburg Butte. Frog Pond was a staple of my childhood. Teachers would take us there with nets crafted out of wire hangers and our moms’ old pantyhose and we’d skim the water for pond crud. In the summer, my siblings and I would meander through the trails.

Frog Pond

Thunderbird Falls

From atop the Bodenburg Butte

There was a bike ride guided by my younger brother on the trails of Anchorage. Most notably, we did the entire Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. We took in the views and I did my darndest to ignore my achy knee that was a result of not properly adjusting the seat height of my borrowed bike.

Anchorage from the Coastal Trail

Down to Seward we headed, to take a day-cruise with my parents and my husband’s. We saw eagles, mountain goats, puffins, stellar sea lions, whales, an otter, and my favorite, Dall’s porpoises. They came right up to our boat and swam right alongside. It was fantastic. Our boat had a load of Atlanta Boys Choir members, so kids who appeared to be pre-teens were saying, “Awesome! They’re so adorable!” the entire time the porpoises followed us.

Dall's Porpoises

We quickly went from Seward to Homer where we saw a ton of eagles. At one point we witnessed a raven harass an eagle for no apparent reason. Now, I know ravens are pretty big birds, but they’re nothing compared to an eagle. And, you know what? The raven won. The eagle flew away, pissed off, I’m sure.

The Harassed Eagle

Then, we got married in the courthouse of my hometown in front family and friends. The following day, we dashed off to Denali National Park where we camped and then did the Mt. Healy trail the next morning. This trail is one of several you can pick up right at the visitor center. This was supposedly the most strenuous trail and it was a bit tricky. I stopped near the top while my husband trekked on. (I wasn’t my fittest as the knee that I strained on the bike ride started to talk to me on the way up the trail.)

View from Mt. Healy Trail

Fairbanks was next. We visited my alma mater’s museum since the 4 years I went to school there they were constructing on it and I never went. I still feel Fairbanks is the best location to go to college: the town doesn’t have much to do and it gets so cold and dark there that truly the best, most exciting thing to do there on a Saturday night is to study. Truly.

We spent another night camping in Denali and then headed back to our base camp–Palmer–and in a day we were on a plane back to Ohio.

On a hike the morning we left Denali

After trips home, I feel grateful for having grown up in a state chock-full of nature. When I lived there, I wasn’t too outdoorsy, but when the beginning of your life has a backdrop of mountains, moose are ordinary, and snow days are not an option, you can’t help but to feel a connection to nature. Even if it takes getting away to realize it.

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